Friday, 29 April 2016

Home Fires Theme Song

Home Fires is a dramatic series (OK, soap) set in a Cheshire village during WWII. The main characters are members of the Women's Institute, which is why I started watching it. Now in the second series I'm not sure it has much to do with the WI any longer but, too late, I'm hooked.

No idea if it is available in the US yet but if it comes to your area I recommend watching it, at least once. In the meantime, enjoy the theme song.


It's written by Samuel Sim. The artists are vocalists Heather Cairncross, Ioanna Forbes L'Estrange, Rachel Weston and Grace Davidson. Chris Richards (clarinet), Ileana Ruhemann (flute) and Caroline Dale (cello).

This music has grabbed me almost as much as the TV show.

Monday, 25 April 2016

This Year's Stack

Inspired several years ago by LR at Magnificent or Egregious, I started posting about the books I got for Christmas. I'd meant to do so back in January and so set them up and snapped a photo, then another that was a bit straighter. The only two photos I took in January 2016. Amazing.

So here they are:

The Sustainable Fashion Handbook, Sandy Black. Haven't read it yet. I'm hoping it will inspire me as much as a book I saw everywhere a few years ago, but can't find now. It was about how clothing designers were finding ways to reuse textiles or design for zero waste. 

An Historical, Environmental and Cultural Atlas of County Donegal, Jim MacLaughlin and Sean Beattie. A wonderful book that covers so much I feel I've already been to Donegal. I admit to skipping the chapters about glaciers and geology; I simply don't have the vocabulary to understand it. But I read every other word from front to back, making frequent reference to the map showing towns. If I manage to keep at this blogging lark I'll no doubt have more to say about this!

Women in my Rose Garden, Ann Chapman. Started on this but wasn't grabbed. Will have another go. I think I thought I would learn something practical about roses, but my initial impression is that it is a collection of stories about the women for whom roses were named. 

Quilted Bags and Totes, Denise Clayson. A gift from Vivien! I've not tried quilting yet, but I think it would be an interesting addition to the scrappy bags I love to make.

Sew Useful, Debby Shore. This got passed around the craft group one evening and I snapped a photo so I could put it on my wishlist. Several projects in there I want to try.

Snobbery, Joseph Epstein. Dipped into this but haven't found it fascinating. As far as I read I didn't learn anything new about the class system in America. Will go at it again, but I'm thinking it holds not even a matchstick compared with Paul Fussell's book.

The Hands-On Home, Erica Strauss. I've long enjoyed Erica's blog, Northwest Edible Life. I latched onto this thinking that gardening in Seattle might be similar to here in NorthEast England. That may or may not be true. Having read through this book several times, what I've worked out that is NOT similar is my supply of energy. I was never the homesteader type to begin with, but there are still any number of great ideas in here - and it's not just a repeat of her blog as far as I can tell, which is impressive.

Gardening for a Lifetime, Sydney Eddison. I was hoping there would be some magic solution to my laziness / ignorance / dislike of cold / increasing age. This is more a book about her specific garden and about all the paid and volunteer helpers she had over the years. I gleaned two ideas from this. One is to plant bushes, not flowers. The other was a specific recommendation for plants that have great colours year round. I will be looking out for that. And I've got the name and number of a friend's gardener.

Fabric Flowers, Kate Haxell. This is another book that went around the craft group. Not sure I'll manage to make any flowers, but perhaps this is an idea for our WI craft group. Will have to have a go.

Flapper, Joshua Zeitz. A fabulous book about not just 'flappers' but women of the early 19th century, a snapshot of social history. I felt as though I was reading about my maternal Grandmother, who was an enigma to anyone who knew her. Bill enjoyed reading this book as well.

Gregor the Overlander series, Suzanne Collins. Since I totally love the Hunger Games series I decided to try these other books. I never thought I would enjoy a book whose characters were rats, cockroaches and other species I generally avoid, but I did. And so did Bill. 

The Snowball - Warren Buffett and the Business of Life, Alice Schroeder. A very large book, but incredibly readable. I enjoyed the book because it was about mid-America during my lifetime and it opened my eyes to any number of financial goings on that never blipped my radar at the time. The short version is that Buffett owes his success to having a hateful mother and being extremely boring.

The Secret Rooms, Catherine Bailey. About the Dukes of Rutland, in particular the 9th one who lived around the time of WWI. I'd not ever caught up with the Rutlands (or realised that Belvoir Castle is pronounced Beaver). I had seen the present Duchess of Rutland on the telly with Alan Titchmarsh (a gardner whose made it big) about the landscape of Belvoir. I liked it a lot for the history and the time period, for its despicable / pathetic / mysterious characters, and the insight into how the writer worked on this book. Bill enjoyed it as well, though he got quite exasperated with some of the characters. Sometimes having a hateful mother can be one's downfall as well as one's saviour.

The Pauper's Homemaking Book, Jocasta Innes. Haven't read this yet, but I shall shortly. Simon gave me this for Christmas but reminded me it was on my Amazon wishlist so I shouldn't be insulted. I just laughed at him. I doubt Bill's kids will ever understand the concept of tightwaddery.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo. I've been curious about this for a while, having read snippets from other blogs, etc. I felt as though I were visiting another culture, her outlook is so different to mine. There are some good ideas in here about folding things in drawers...things that don't wrinkle that is. I don't really wish to anthropomorphize my possessions and I'm not sure I understand her definition of 'joy'. I agree that a lot of paper work bring the opposite of anyone's idea of joy, but throwing it all away is a catastrophically bad idea and I hope no one is foolish enough to follow that advice. I plan to make a few notes and then pass the book along so it can bring 'joy' to someone else.

Aprons and Silver Spoons, Mollie Moran. I read this even before 2015 was over and really enjoyed it. Whether I needed to own it is perhaps another question. Our libraries have downsized in recent years, selling off much of the stock that would have interested me. I've bought books for £1 that I don't really have space for because I didn't want to see them disappear before I'd had a chance to read them. I will pick this one up again and if I enjoy it as much the second time, it stays. Otherwise I need the space. I don't remember many of the details, but remember I pictured Rose Leslie, the actress who played Gwen the housemaid-who-became-a-secretary in Downton Abbey.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Remembering My Dad

Several people have remarked to me (IRL) that I've not written much here lately. I always say I've not quit, I just have other stuff to do. I didn't get much feedback from readers here and while I do post mainly for my own amusement, it got a little lonely at times. Facebook is far easier than blogging for social contact. However, I don't want to stop my habit of remembering my loved ones here and Facebook doesn't seem appropriate for the sort of brain dump I do here; not to mention it's impossible to find things there once they drift off your screen. Anyhow... 

On this occasion of my Dad's birthday I've pulled out some photos that seem quite unlike him to me. It's not just that they were taken before I was born, it's the hat. By the time I came along he didn't wear them any more. I think we've lost something with the demise of regular hat-wearing.  

I never saw him wear vests either. I think they're called waistcoats over here; a vest refers to the undershirt my grandpa wore, sort of like a tank top. My dad never wore that sort of vest when I knew him, but he always liked loud neckties, as you can see here.

I like these photos because he looks happy and relaxed. I'm guessing they were taken up north in Minnesota (because of the big lake) so this will have been in the late 1940s. 

I think this last picture is my favourite. It shows one of his characteristic expressions. 

Happy Birthday, Daddy. Long gone but never forgotten.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Sending Christmas Emails

Happy Christmas everyone!

I was amazingly organised (well, for me) this year and it has gone much smoother than in previous years. My best tip is to start making lists in October and execute a few items each week.

One thing I like to do is to send a Christmas email to the folks I'm not sending cards. It's not as personal as a card, I know, but I figure if I do a little drawing, it's better than just a few words sent electronically. Several people quite liked this and asked me how I did it. 

"Paint" is a programme that comes with Microsoft and I've found it very useful for manipulating and making picture files. You'll have to fiddle with it a bit but my tips are:

I open Paint from the Microsoft symbol at the lower left corner of my computer screen. If you don't see an artist's palette and the word 'Paint', click on All Programs and see if it doesn't come up.

Click on 'Home' to open all the tools: your pens and brushes (I like to use the 'spray can' tool) and your colours. You'll have to click on Home every time you want to do something different. Play with the different options and see what each does. You'll need to hold down the left mouse button while you doodle. The Esc(ape) key gets me out of corners most of the time.

Unless you're very patient or a pretty good computer artist, stick with simple shapes and ideas. I've managed trees, gift boxes, snowmen and candles. I don't mind the child-like character as it make it all the more obvious you did it yourself!

As soon as you get a beginning of anything at all that you like, save the file by clicking on the blue box to the left of 'Home'. If you have a newer version than mine, I can't guarantee it's the same, but I doubt it will be much different. Save the file often, so long as you like what you have. I tend to save mine as JPEG files, as it seems to be more universally accepted than some of the other formats. Save your file often, to make it easier to correct mistakes.

Of course, you will make mistakes. I use the 'eraser' tool a lot! If you want to get rid of a lot of your work, you can use the blue arrow keys at the top to 'undo the last action'. 

If you want to add printed text (I find writing with the mouse incredibly difficult), click on the box with the letter A in it. You can choose the colour of your words and the placement of the box with the text in it. 

When you're happy with your image, save it to your desktop, or some easily accessible place, and open your email. Mine is Hotmail and it lets me send pictures 'inline' as well as attached. I find picture attachments can be a nuisance, needing to be downloaded and not always allowing me permission to open them. Inline pictures are visible when the email is opened.

Send the email to yourself to make sure it looks as you want it to. 

When you're happy with how that works, you can build your list of recipients using 'bcc' - blind carbon copy. That name goes back to the old days when letters were typed on typewriters and copies of the letters were made using sheets of carbon paper between the sheets of typing paper. A carbon copy noted as 'cc' would appear at the bottom with a list of the names of persons receiving the copy and everyone could see who got it. A blind carbon copy was noted as 'bcc' and this was typed only on the copy for the person receiving the bcc and on the file copy that the writer kept for their records. It was all rather complicated for the typist and not very common in the offices I worked.

Bcc is useful on email, however, to send emails to a long list of people without their seeing everyone else's addresses. Send the email to yourself with everyone else's email's entered using bcc and it will be nice and tidy. The downside is not being able to add a personal email to each, but of course that is also an option.

Write your personal email to each person and insert your drawing inline before sending it. Almost as personal as a card sent through the post!

Happy Christmas and Best wishes for 2016!

Friday, 4 December 2015

Grandmother's Birthday

This is probably how Grandmother looked when I came along. She stopped letting people take her photo not long after and threatened to break people's cameras if they caught dared try to capture her image on the sly. She was always definite in her views and you always knew what they were, I'll say that for her. Grandmother died in 1990, only a couple of months after Mom, so she too has been gone for a quarter of a century.

I've been thinking about what tradition I could observe to remember her and I'm sure it has to do with making pies. I was thinking of her when I made the crusts for my (five!) pumpkin pies at Thanksgiving this year. 

I've always said that making (American style) biscuits and pie crusts are two 'Grandma' skills I'd love to master, but I don't really want to have eat all the practice! It occurred to me as I was pressing a fork around the folded edge of my pie shells that I buy a ridiculous number of boxes of oat crackers (which I don't like) for Bill to eat. I'm pleased to report that he's moved away from cheese / margarine / butter on these crackers and now goes through jars of peanut butter. Because of all the running, racing, long distance walking, etc., he does, he's still quite slim. I decided we could afford for me to practice buttermilk biscuits and pie crusts so long as he eats the outcome more than I do.

Grandmother's favourite was cherry pie...

What do you remember about your Grandmother?

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Alphabetic Silliness

Much as I'm amazed at how productive I am (well, relatively) now I don't write here regularly, I do miss this blog. I'm not resigned to giving it up yet. Perhaps in winter I will make more time for writing.

In the meantime I have been keeping my reading list up to date. With all the efforts I'm putting into other things - crafts, homemaking, taxes (ugh) and now Thanksgiving preparations - I find I'm less inclined to read non-fiction and want a bit of fluff to lighten my thoughts before dropping off to sleep. This means trips to the library where I've been picking up some of Sue Grafton's work. I've read most of hers, but so long ago I no longer remember the plots.

It crossed my mind that she's given us a new phonetic alphabet.  Instead of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie (which previously in Britain were Able, Baker, Charlie) we could use Alibi, Burglar, Corpse, etc. I would hear Bill telling our post code as Noose-Evidence instead of November-Echo.

Wouldn't that be fun?

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Grandma's Birthday

I'm writing this back in April, having just been to a meeting of the WI where the speaker was talking about dementia. I wasn't much looking forward to going but I had things to discuss with other members and so I resigned myself to sitting through the meeting. It was much better than I expected - I actually laughed a few times.

Clara Rose (1890-1974)

The speaker had great passion for her topic: she worked on a ward for people with dementia diagnoses and her mother had dementia. Her presentation was part of a major initiative by the Alzheimer's Society to educate people in England about dementia. They had already met their first target of talking to a million people; we were part of the journey to the next target of 4 million. We played word Bingo and some sort of Simon Says game where we all pretended to be 73 years old with a six year history of dementia. She used a wadded string of fairy lights to serve as a model for the parts of the brain. She gave us a card afterwards to highlight "five things you should know about dementia":

  • It's not a natural part of aging
  • It's caused by diseases of the brain
  • It's not just about losing your memory - it can affect thinking, communicating and doing everyday tasks
  • It's possible to live well with dementia
  • There's more to a person than the dementia
It wasn't until she got to this last point that my fairy light flickered and I remembered that Grandma had dementia. That's major progress, as it used to be the main thing I remembered about her. I got to scribbling some notes at that point and I'm writing this now whilst I still have a chance of remembering what they mean.

Whilst dementia is not a natural part of aging, about a third of us will develop this after age 65. She pointed out that it doesn't happen the day after our 65th birthday, some people develop this quite a while after that time. Dementia is caused by several diseases, the most common of which is Alzheimer's, followed by vascular dementia. I got the impression that a fair number of women present had experienced loved ones with dementia as the variety of types called out was wide - more than I knew about. I don't think Grandma ever had a specific diagnosis back in the 1960s or 70s. Given her history of stroke, perhaps she had vascular dementia. I'd not thought of dementia as an umbrella term for a set of diseases of the brain; and why shouldn't the brain be vulnerable to disease just like any other organ in our body?

The fairy lights, meaning the parts of the brain, could flicker off and on; they could grow dimmer but remain lit; or they could just go out. Presumably there are analogous brain functions but she didn't really go into further detail. She did say that besides memory loss a person's thinking might be affected in a variety of other ways. They might confuse words and start calling something by a different, incorrect name. They might perceive things differently, for example a shiny floor might look wet; a black, rubber mat might look like a big hole; a patterned carpet might look like it's moving and be interpreted as 'snakes'. They might have trouble with logical order and have trouble dressing themselves, ie putting socks on over shoes.

In addition to the fairy lights another analogy the speaker used was of book cases. She asked us to imagine a person with dementia standing next to a bookcase the same height as themselves. This was a bookcase of facts and events in that person's life; let's say she is in her 80s. The books on the top shelf are the most recent events of her life; books at shoulder height may be from her 70s or 60s; the shelf at knee height might be from her teens; you can fill in the rest. She said the bookcase could be likened to the part of the brain called the hippocampus, where information is stored. 

We were asked to imagine the bookshelf rocking quite hard. She then told us to imagine the bookcase is only made of plywood and so it will move quite a bit when rocked. Of course the books nearest the top are most likely to fly off the shelves but the older memories are more likely to remain. This is a familiar concept to any of us who have known someone with dementia. 

She gave us some examples of events for our imaginary person, who was in her 20s in the 1950s. She used to put on her tea dress and her lippy for when George was going to come for her and take her down to the seaside for a bag of chips. Other memories were about raising children, having a part time cleaning job to help make ends meet, losing George to a heart attack (I'm making up some items that my own holey brain has already lost, but you get the idea).

Then the speaker asked us to think of a second bookcase on the other side of the person. This bookcase has the emotions associated with the facts and events shelved on the other one, but the emotional bookcase doesn't rock so much; perhaps it is made of good old English oak. The emotions remain. That part of our brain is called the amygdala. 

The speaker mentioned two scenarios that must be very common for families of persons with dementia. One is when there is a big argument and everyone gets upset. The family may comfort themselves that Mother doesn't remember a lot of things and she'll not remember the fight. She may not remember the fight, but she may well remember being hurt and angry. This may influence her behaviour in ways that don't make much sense to other people. 

Another scenario is where Mother keeps forgetting who they are when they take time from their busy schedules to come see her. They begin to think it doesn't matter if they don't make such an effort, since she doesn't even remember who they are. She may not have the facts straight about whether it's George Jr or her brother Henry, but she remembers feeling loved and wanted. So it is worth them coming to see her even if they don't get the response they would like to have. 

It is the last two of the five points that surprised me the most, and I gathered a few others there as well. I'm not sure everyone agreed that one can live well with dementia. I took away that a lot depends on what stage one is at and on having the right support - that is people who understand dementia, which is part of the purpose of this educational programme. I can see how a person with early dementia who is well supported could still enjoy life and perhaps even in later stages, though I'm not sure how one can tell. 

The last point she covered was to remember that there is more to a person than their dementia. An example she gave (fictitious or not, I've no idea) was of a woman who lived in a care home. She had the habit of tapping on any surface near her, tapping all day long. This drove the people around her nuts. One day her niece from Australia came to visit and they asked about the tapping. The niece didn't know way she did that. However, they were talking about her aunt's life and she reminded the staff of something they already knew, that the aunt had worked at Bletchley Park, where the Enigma Code was broken. They began to surmise that the aunt might believe she was tapping out Morse Code. Just holding that idea and remembering that this person had made an important contribution to winning WWII made everyone tolerate her tapping much more easily.

That's the point at which I remembered Grandma, who died when I was 18. She'd been senile since I was about 12, possibly before. I always thought of her as that 'dim housewife'; I thought that had she done anything to exercise her brain she might not have succumbed to dementia. Talk about blaming the victim! I think that's something we often do these days: comfort ourselves that bad things won't happen because we exercise / eat right / wear seat belts / etc. Grandma's dementia just took the form of her seeming to be lost all the time, even in her own home. She didn't have much to say at all, didn't remember the simplest of self-care routines. She seemed to just walk around the house picking things up and putting them down - sometimes somewhere they couldn't be found. She would sometimes remember to latch the screen door, though, particularly when Grandpa was outside taking care of the back garden! The poor man worked hard to take care of her in their last years.

I've written on this blog how angry I became with Grandma in particular when I learned (at age 54) that my Dad was adopted, decades after everyone else involved had died and I couldn't get any explanations. Over time, writing these posts, talking with people who remembered her before before dementia and piecing together observable traits from the pictures and clippings she carefully left specifically for me I have strangely forgotten her dementia. I know that she was lively, passionate, loving and dedicated. She 

  • was devoted to all her family
  • wrote hundreds of letters to siblings and extended family members
  • was literate and expressive
  • loved pretty clothes
  • desperately wanted a son
  • was fascinated by family history
  • was frugal
  • was perhaps spiritual rather than religious, as they seemed to change churches periodically, but Christian beliefs remained central
  • took pride in keeping her home tidy and pleasant

When I visited the link provided on the WI website and learned that we would be asked to become 'Dementia Friends' I was determined to say no. Although they said it didn't mean making any commitment to do anything like visit nursing homes and have tea with doolally residents, I was sure there was a catch. Turns out they wanted people to spread the word about dementia, just as I've just attempted to do.

Looks like they caught me after all...