Saturday, 31 January 2009

A Word for January

RECIDIVISM n. Habitual relapsing into criminal or otherwise antisocial behaviour. As for example, a neighbor's habitually letting his German shepherd run loose in the street, playing Scott Joplin records at full volume, or assaulting itinerant Mormans. Note the difference from atavism, which is the re-appearance of a more primitive form of behaviour; as, for example, a neighbor running loose in the street himself, playing Scottish country dance records at full volume, or not assaulting itinerant Mormans.

The Superior Person's Book of Words, Peter Bowler

I was thinking more along the lines of how this might apply to broken resolutions...
but I'm still doing well with my goals, thank you!

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Liverpool – Day Three

In preparation for the trip to Liverpool I had done some internet research about the tourist sights, but figured I would learn much more once we got there; this was true. What I mainly did online was identify the fabric shops and the charity shops in Liverpool from Then I looked up all the postcodes for the latter from and found that the wealthiest area was a village called Crosby, with 4 charity shops on one road.

Thursday morning I went around the corner to Lime Street train station, found a bookstore and bought a detailed street map of Liverpool and surrounding areas for £4.99. This included Crosby, though I already had a rough idea from looking it up on It was also useful for finding the other train station - Liverpool Central -- where the Northern line connected. (Note: I like Multimap because when one asks for directions, it also tells the distance between 2 places, helpful when deciding whether or not to walk rather than drive).

Along the way to the Central Station I saw the place Bill had noticed our first night out, the Crown Hotel.

Ken told us he’d only been in recently for the first time and was astonished to see the ceiling looked like meringue. He was right, but I'll show you that later. I also spotted The Vines, another amazing building.

My day out at Crosby was enjoyable, though cold and windy. I did make a good haul at the shops, however, not having consulted my list of addresses I brought, I walked a long way out of the way. I took a detour into the village to have some lunch, thinking that I had stepped off of Moor Lane, but the pedestrian road was Moor Lane, the main road was the by-pass! I even saw the very shops while looking for a cafĂ©, but didn’t think they were the shops on my list. I walked 1.39 miles (per Multimap) beyond, nearly to the next village, before realizing my mistake.

For lunch I chose the 2nd cafe, the one without the singing waitress, wanting a quiet meal, not a karaoke. The bread was rubbish in the place I picked, but good bread isn’t really a British thing, maybe because poor Brits live on chips, not bread. If one wants really good bread, it may be found in France where they would be ashamed to serve such a rock and call it French bread. They gave me an alternative, 2 slices of white bread, which is excellent for making dough ornaments, but not to eat. I settled for a liquid (soup and tea) lunch.

On my long unnecessary walk, I did see some very big houses with grounds and private roads, and came to understand why it was the wealthiest area around Liverpool, only a short commute on the train. Nothing struck me as worth of a picture, however.

Further north on the train is is Aintree where they race horses, something any Dick Francis fan would know, and then on to Southport. We may have to go visit those places some time. Liverpool is only about 35 miles from Manchester and Bill needs to go see Simon and Helen more often, doesn’t he? In the meantime, I need to do some research about fabric and charity shops in Manchester!

I got back to the hotel about 4pm, dumped my new (to me) clothes on the bed and headed back out the door. My new map showed the fabric shops were only a few blocks away, also clustered on a single street. It was late, but at least I could get an idea of whether I needed to drag Bill there first thing the next morning.

The first couple were nothing special, but the third was a huge, two-storey warehouse that sold fabric by weight, not length. Prices ranged from £7.99–23.99 per kilogram of fabric, most around £10.99/kilo. I would have thought lightweight georgette and chiffon would be more expensive than cottons or velvets, but they were similarly priced. I didn’t buy anything because I was completely out of my depth, having no clue about what was a bargain or not. I was so daunted I just went upstairs and looked at their few ragged pattern books for a few minutes until closing time.

In looking around I did discover that in fact the cotton Christmas prints didn’t appeal to me after all, which was useful to learn. I decided I’d rather go for the luxury look than use kitschy prints. I’ll have to do some research before I go back. I suspect there will be numerous fabric shops in Manchester, and selling by weight may be a custom in that area.

That evening Bill and I called in at both the Crown and the Vines on our way to Paradise Street where the internet listed many restaurants on offer. At the Crown, Bill was taken with the etched glass windows

and both our mouths fell open when we walked in a saw the ceiling.

The Vines was similar but somehow just a little less loved somehow. It also had etched windows and the semi-private spaces with a button to press for service (a historical rather than current amenity, I assumed).

Rather than the white ceiling it had a lot of copper around.

The young man behind the bar saw me snapping pictures and asked if I would like to see back room...just kidding. It was their 'function room', rented out to groups for special occasions. It was called the Heritage Suite (Smart Dress Essential).

The dim lighting challenged my photography skills, but I think I got the gist of the place.

Bill formed the theory that during their heyday these public houses / hotels were frequented by the officers of the many ships that called into Liverpool and that they were in fact brothels. The decor certainly makes me think it was meant for other than the crew, but as to the other activities, I didn't see any evidence one way or the other. I'll take his word for it.

We carried on to Paradise Street but there was nary a restaurant in sight. We nearly gave up -- particularly as I was wearing heels, silly me -- until we realized that they were all part of the big shopping mall. We had steak at a place called Las Iquanas. Although they seem to think themselves pretty special, we rated them as only very average.

Bill says our trips to Oklahoma have opened his eyes to how a good steak should actually taste. The only other place I think comes close to cooking a good steak is Spain, also cattle country. Britain as a whole doesn’t have a clue, unless you can find an Argentinian restaurant; they seem to know what to do with beef. Just as well, red meat isn't that good for you anyhow....

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Liverpool - Day Two - Part II

Last on my list, in the NE corner of my map, was to see the two cathedrals. Apparently it is unusual to have two of them and Liverpool has the (Anglican) Liverpool Cathedral and the (Catholic) Metropolitan Cathedral; poetically, they are at either end of Hope Street. First, I had to walk UP Parliament Street which was mostly ugly. What Bill later told me I might not have liked was that it bordered on Toxteth, an area of town that had riots back in the 1980's; I just knew it was unpleasant. They do have a nice library, however.

The Anglican Cathedral reminded me more of a castle surrounded by

a moat. It was good, but it didn’t strike me as being very accessible.

Later I learned that the 'moat' used to be a quarry and is now St James Garden, a public space. It looked like a very pleasant place for a run.

Hope Street had terraces of lovely big houses.

Many of these appear to be being acquired by either of the two local universities which also had other buildings in the vicinity; UK universities like every other entity here seem to have to fight for space. They don't get a huge lot and monopolise a whole town, like Norman or Stillwater, or Provo for that matter. Also on this street was the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic (a rather plain building) and a its much fancier dining rooms.

Down the road was Everyman Theatre and a restaurant of the same name. I wonder what happens if you 'cheat' and go to the restaurant that doesn't match your evening's entertainment?

I loved the name Hope Place; Bill later commented what a lovely little street it was. At the opposite end, we came to the more modern Catholic cathedral, which I didn’t care much for, initially. I warmed to it a bit later.

I thought the back was quite weird until I learned that the site had been bombed and the back was the remains of the older part, a crypt. I still thought the pyramid thing looked weird.

Across from the Cathedral was the Victoria Museum, the outside of which I absolutely loved.

(Bill, it is the Victoria Building, not the Walker Building).

The maze of fencing around the construction work there made me wonder if the construction workers were having a laugh, another sort of class war making the students walk well out of their way to get across the road. Later Bill said it was just ‘Health & Safety’.

I decided to 'do' the Victoria Museum, thinking Bill and I would spend Friday at The Pierhead and Albert Dock. I was not very impressed with the exhibits. There was a small room allocated to Audubon paintings and stuffed critters. The next room was given to Stuart Sutcliffe.
Sadly, he died of a brain haemorrhage in Hamburg in 1962, aged only 21. However, I thought his paintings were unremarkable and that they are only exhibited because he was in John Lennon’s earlier band, the Silver Beetles.

The best exhibit was of E. Chambre Hardman’s photography; you can Google "Chambre Hardman" in images if you want to see some of his fabulous work. His pictures include the crowded back streets of 1930’s Liverpool up to the Metropolitan Cathedral, re-built sometime after 1960. He also did some portrait work of famous people, including Margo Fonteyn and Ivor Novello. One of my favourite films is Gosford Park in which Ivor Novello is a character; it was only later that I discovered he was a real person.

Upstairs was a large hall. I used to think a ‘hall’ described a long narrow corridor – and I suppose it still does – but here a ‘hall’ is a very large room, usually with a grand high ceiling. The Tate Hall once had large wooden beams across, but they were removed at some point to modernize the room and replaced with metal rods.

There is still a beautiful arched ceiling with the beams in tact and the shape and size of the room is grand. The exhibits I can remember included an alcove showing an old dentist’s office, glass cases with horrific critters in (scorpions, eels, crabs, strange fish, etc), something to do with Egyptian archeology and an alcove (with warning for children) depicting plastic replicas of all the complicating positions of childbirth, ie feet first, shoulder presentation, twins, etc., and the instruments used to assist delivery over the last few decades.

The best part of the Victoria museum was the building itself, the tiled walls, high ceilings, grand staircase. I probably could have taken pictures, but I checked my bag as required and didn’t think it ask about pictures at reception until I saw a young student using her phone camera.

It was dark and raining when I came out. I got back to the room about 5:30 and Bill was doing his email. I took a hot bath to sooth my tired legs. This was an unfortunate choice. In order to drain the tub I ended up pulling up the plug with my fingernails and extracting a large mouse-sized mat of hair. I later wrapped this in toilet paper and took it to show the manager, but I only saw the ‘duty manager’ who referred me to the ‘day manager’ who was head of housekeeping and would be in the next day. I never did see that manager having other things to do than wait at reception, but I did take a picture (which I will spare you) and sent it with a letter to the hotel manager.

Just today I received an apologetic letter inviting us back to prove it was an isolated incident, offering one night's accommodation and breakfast for 2 people. I liked Liverpool well enough to consider this and even that doesn't work out I think it was a fair and appropriate response to my letter. This is the second time I've travelled with Bill for his work and my complaints about the hotel have netted us something for free! It's great being retired, ie having the time and energy to make formal complaints when they are warranted!

All the company managers and 2 of us partners attended the meal that evening. The menu sounded grand (ie, duck terrine), but then that's part of chef school, of course, learning to write slightly disingenuous menus. I sat across from a manager of one of the local homes who is originally from Trinidad. His dream is to retire at 50 to the island of Granada. It sounded good to me! I hope he makes it.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Liverpool – Day Two - Part I

There was a group meal planned for the evening and I was certain Ken would be asking me what I’d seen that day. I wanted to be able to give a good account of myself; this meant not lolling the day away in bed.

I knew of some of the sights on offer, but didn’t really have much preference. Mostly to please Ken and to burn off some calories, I set myself the target of covering the four corners of the city centre map provided by the hotel and tourist information centres. We were staying at The Liner hotel, located next to Liverpool Lime Street train station. The location is probably the best one can say about it, all other things, bar one very negative exception, being entirely average.

Armed with camera and backpack, I headed for the Walker Art Gallery because it was close and Pies and Prejudice somehow led me to believe there was tourist information there. This wasn’t true, but a man there very kindly directed me to the Queens Square where I loaded up on brochures and booklets I never looked at again. On the other hand, the weight added to my calorie burning efforts, I suppose.

Next to the Walker, an amazing building,

was the International Library and Liverpool World Museum, which are also, I’m guessing, Victorian; and of which I only imagined I took pictures.

These are situated on one side of St George’s Hall, which wouldn't all fit into my camera frame, it's so large

and which is across from the Empire Theatre

which is next to the Station Hotel, which isn’t half bad either.

I was already beginning to see why Liverpool was named Capital of Culture and I hadn’t even got down to the thing they are probably most famous for: The Mersey (enter Gerry and the Pacemakers singing Ferry Cross the Mersey, and let it whine on and on and on). I sang along with this often as a child and had no clue what or where the Merzy was.

Liverpool, like many big industrial cities in the North, has the well-deserved reputation for being a dirty slum. The fact that people flocked to these cities to work long hours in noisy, dangerous factories and live in unimaginably dirty, crowded houses suggests to me that life in the countryside wasn’t that great back then either. Then when industries fell into hard times and the workers were laid off there was even less to make the misery worthwhile. Whilst this experience is common across most of the big cities of the North and they have all done quite a bit of slum clearance and regeneration, they still poke fun at each other, maybe in part because of the football rivalries. No one in Newcastle said anything that prepared me for what I saw in Liverpool; I suspect most of them have never been themselves. One doesn’t do the touristy things in one’s backyard, does one? Most people I know make a bee line to a warmer place like Greece or France whenever they get the chance.

I made my way down to the Mersey, looking for the famous Royal Liver Building. I say ‘down’ only because it was on the bottom of my map. Although Bill commented he’d never realized how hilly Liverpool is - serves him right for going for a run each morning - it is relatively flat around the river. This is a contrast to Newcastle where there is a steep hill down to the quayside; one has to be willing to climb back up that hill to visit what is probably Newcastle’s most attractive tourist area.

The Royal Liver Building and its Liver Birds are visible from quite a distance all around the city; Newcastle’s most prominent structure is the Newcastle United Football Club stadium, not nearly as classy. The Liver (which rhymes with diver not river, for what reason I don’t know other than a name that sounds like a body organ isn’t very appealing) was built in 1911 for Royal Liver Assurance, a life insurance company.

Speaking of the 18 foot Liver Birds, according to this website,

"Local legend has it that if they fly away, Liverpool will cease to exist. The Liver Birds are a cross between an eagle and a cormorant (the bird of good luck to sailors). A German sculptor called Carl Bernard Bartels, who was living in England, designed them. When the Great War broke out, Carl Bernard Bartels was arrested as a German citizen and imprisoned on the Isle of Man. The City of Liverpool removed all reference to his achievements and at the end of the war, despite having a wife in London, he was sent back to Germany."

On a less serious note, Maconie’s book quotes Rough Guide:

"They can never mate as they have their backs to each other; she looks out to sea for the returning sailor, he looks towards the city to see if the pubs are open."

I was well impressed by the Liver Building, but a bit disappointed at how dingy it looked. Across the road was the much whiter Tower Building

and I thought it showed the Liver up a bit. Next to the Liver is the Cunard building, a low-slung ornate block, and of course Cunard was another cruise ship line. (The link shows the fate of cruise ships: sold, sunk or scrapped). I think that building could use a good scrub as well.

My favourite of the "Three Graces" was the grand -- and relatively clean-looking Port of Liverpool Building, originally called The Dock Office.

These three buildings constitute The Pierhead, something I only understood after reading a caption of a picture in a museum; prior to that I kept looking for something that might be The Pierhead and even photographed a couple of mysterious structures! I gather they are quite a sight when viewed from an approaching ferry. Bill and I never did get to do that, which is one reason I wouldn't mind returning to Liverpool.

Incidently, this stripey structure is what used to be the offices of the White Star Line, but it's not right on the quayside. Maybe that's where they went wrong?

I wandered as far as I could go along Princes Dock, but there was a lot of construction going on. Ever since I saw my first big ocean going ship on the Mississippi River at New Orleans, I’ve measured other rivers against it according to the ships they can accommodate. The Mersey qualifies as a big river: there were several big ships around as well as the ferries to various locations, but none of them were very photogenic it seems. Couldn't be my skills, could it?

Turning around, I was a bit confused about the location of the (typically British) sun in the West-ish? when I was thinking it should be East, until I saw a map showing how the Mersey enters Britain from the North and curves around to the East.

There are a number of memorials to the merchant navy heroes of WWII. This is Capt F.J. Walker who was apparently good at nailing U-boats.

Each brass plaque on this memorial names a ship lost and lists the crew that died at sea.

Then I walked over to Albert Dock. This is basically a row of squares constituted by warehouses surrounding water. In the mid 1980’s these warehouses were renovated and now house museums, restaurants and shops.

I stopped here for a pot of tea and a scone (a large, heavy biscuit with raisins) for a very late lunch. I didn’t want to do much else here as Bill was taking Friday off and I wanted to save seeing Albert Dock to do with him.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Finally Paying Attention...

Well now. I had a thought cross my mind the other day about all the space Blogger said my photos were taking up. I mis-load a lot of pictures and delete them as I write the posts and I wondered if the deleted photos were removed from the Picassa albums.

Nope, they are not. Any picture I ever put into a post has remained to take up space in those albums. I have somehow acquired 7 albums containing anywhere from 1 to 500 pictures, even though I've never done anything with Picasa other than to look at Simon's photos there. Very strange.

It will be tedious, but I think I will spend some time clearing out what I can without tearing apart the blog pages. I wonder how many people start paying for storage before they really need to...

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Pepper Paucity

This is the bell pepper 'crop' from the front porch. I finally pulled the plants down as I didn't think they would do much more. It's not much, true, but then they were free, planted from seeds of store-bought peppers. Also, they are very handsome plants and I could almost enjoy them for that alone.

I'm going to start my next pepper plants this month -- in the same way -- to get a head start on the growing season this year!

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Liverpool – Day One

The drive from Newcastle to Liverpool took about 3 1/2 hours; though we didn't leave home until about 2:30 we managed to miss rush hour traffic at Leeds. (Day to day names here in Britain; from the US I remember when they sounded so exotic, like Tulsa and Muskogee to Bill!)

We freshened up and ate (chicken tikka masala) in the bar, rather than in the restaurant where we saw some of the other managers from London. Ken, the local manager, had organised a pub crawl (British version of bar-hopping), to show us his hometown. This is pretty much de rigueur for socialising with one's work colleagues. One doesn't necessarily have to drink alcohol, but standing around holding a beverage ('bevvie') and talking is required.

Ken led us on a slightly winding route as the boss and another manager had arrived late; we dropped them at a Weatherspoons to eat and join us later. Ken took us first to the White Star where in the little back room there was a big fireplace, lots of broad wood beams and the walls were covered with pictures of ships from the White Star Line, two of which were of course the Titanic and the Lusitania. The latter was actually built by Cunard which later took over White Star. Titanic never docked at Liverpool; she was only registered there, but they claim her as their own. I later learned that about 90 of the crew were Liverpudlians. Chatting with Ken was very pleasant, as it reminded me of the times I’d seen the Beatles on the TV, his accent being very much the same.

After that we went to The Grapes in Mathew Street. The Grapes is a pub that was across the street from the Cavern, where of course the Beatles played. There is a picture over the fireplace in the back room showing the group (with Pete Best, not Ringo Starr) seated next to that fireplace. The wallpaper over the bench is darkened with nicotine and dust, but is now covered with protective plastic and one can see that it is the same pattern as was probably new in the picture. They all look about 16. Even then, John Lennon has a cynical sneer on his face. I think he was born that way.

Aside from that photo and that history, there is nothing to recommend The Grapes other than a couple of the girls who were fashionably dressed in patterned tights and mod dresses; we could almost have been back in the 60s, only the dresses were black, not psychedelic prints (though there were plenty of those in the store fronts). There was a karaoke going on and it was bad (is there any other kind?). Several of us noticed the carpet had a peculiar spongy texture that wasn’t fully explained by soaking with beer. Perhaps it was also original to when the Beatles hung out there. The smell of the place, probably the carpet, wasn’t so much stale cigarettes and beer (smoking in public buildings went out a couple of years ago) as dirty, sweaty feet or old vomit. I declined anything to drink from their bar or sit anywhere and was very pleased to leave. I did wish I’d brought my camera to get a photo of their photo. That said, I don’t think I ever would go back to get it.

Our last stop – the others continued crawling until about 3 am, I understand – was thankfully much cleaner, looked more recently decorated and had bare wood floors. It called itself the Cavern Pub and sure enough one had to go downstairs at the entrance, but this is just one of several establishments on Mathews Street using the name Cavern (being of course in the Cavern Quarter). At the entrance, a teenaged-looking boy chatted up one of the women in our group, a tired-looking 30-something sort-of blonde; he told her she was ‘sex on legs and you know it’. No disrespect to her, but he was clearly drunk, and she knew it. He followed us in, but sat at the front near the stage. The main act was a large older guy with a classical guitar who was competent enough. He sang his way through a number of 60s hits from other groups – I only remember Lola - interspersed with Beatle’s songs and then it was time for karaoke. Wouldn’t you know it, our drunk teenage friend got up and sang. He actually wasn’t too bad, actually, which is almost breaking the rules.

Nevertheless, a small group of us left and walked back up to the hotel. I enjoyed the cold fresh air and I slept well in spite of the tiny, flat pillows provided.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

It Found Me

We were leaving the house the other day when I spied some 'litter' in the corner of the front garden. I hate having trash in my yard and always pick it up as soon as I spot it. Sometimes I think a corner lot attracts more than usual, but whether it is dropped by the wind or by people, I'm not sure. In any case, I pulled this out of the hedge and my annoyance turned to delight.

When I lived in Salt Lake City I bought rolls of wallpaper people had donated to Deseret Industries, the Morman charity shops, to use for gift wrap. It worked wonderfully and protected the gifts from water as well.

I think this is a lovely print and such is wallpaper that I just rinsed off the little bit of mud on the back and draped it over a radiator to dry. I'm sure it will grace some lucky lady's birthday present in the coming year.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Back from Beatle-land

We've been away the past few days, in Liverpool; Bill for business, me to see the sights and to eat out! I met several of the other managers in Bill's company. They all expected I would spend my days in the shopping malls. Bill's boss, having experienced how careful Bill is with the company's money, teased me about Bill being so stingy. If he only knew.

In preparation for the trip I got a list of all the charity shops in the Liverpool area. Then I looked up the postcodes from a statistics website that gives information about virtually everything about an area, including the relative income. This allowed me to identify the wealthiest neighbourhood, which turned out to be a village called Crosby, about a 20 minute train ride north of Liverpool city centre. I did my shopping in the 4-5 charity shops there and did quite well: a purple velvet jeans jacket, a grey wool sweater jacket, a cashmere sweater, a pair of jeans and 3 tops all for £27 plus £3.20 for my return ticket.

The first day, however, I walked around the four corners of the city centre map and as you might guess I took more than a few pictures. For me, the fact that the Beatles came from Liverpool is probably the least interesting aspect of the place. I wasn't a big fan during their heyday, though I have come to appreciate what genius there was in the synergy of Lennon and McCartney's songwriting. There are far more interesting parts of that city's history and culture and I knew this before I went, having read
Pies and Prejudice by Stuart Maconie. If I've not mentioned it before, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding more about Northern England.

The main reason I wanted to see Liverpool is that it beat out Newcastle for the European Capital of Culture 2008. When we lost out, people said they had thought it was about a city that
had culture, not one that needed some money to get some culture, a typical sour grapes response. I did begin to assume that it was about helping a city regenerate itself and perhaps it was in part. Having been there, however, much as I hate to admit it, I do see why they won.

I'll be showing you some pictures, of course!

Sunday, 18 January 2009

North Shields

We went for a little walk before dinner a while back. We left it a bit late and so it was getting dark, but I took the camera anyhow just to see what would happen. Most of the photos didn't turn out but I thought I'd share a couple.

This is standing in the car park at North Shields fish quay, which sells the world's best fish and chips, looking east at where the River Tyne flows into the North Sea. These are the lighthouses on the North and South Piers. One can walk along the North Pier in good weather; in bad weather, the Pier is closed as the waves can wash a person out to sea, even over the 4.5 stone walls that shelter the walkway.

It's a popular weekend past time for the locals to drive down the the fish quay, buy their fish and chips and sit in the car looking over this view while they eat (but in daytime). North and South Shields were fishing villages beginning at least back in the early 1100's when Tynemouth Priory was re-built. They provided food for the monks of the Abbey. (This link also has some awesome photos of Newcastle from the air).

Having walked along the promenade towards Tynemouth Village, I turned around and took this picture of where we stood, by the lights reflecting on the water. If you click on this picture, the tall building just to the left of those lights is called the Low Light. There is another building further up the river which is the High Light. In historic times, ships navigated their entrance to the river by aligning those lights. I believe those buildings are now private homes -- very unusual homes, I'm sure! If you go back to the (historic) link above, select 'slide show' and 'slide show of the harbour', the 9th image shows these tall white buildings on the riverside.

I tried taking quite a few pictures as it got darker, but of course most didn't work very well. I commented to Bill about the sound of the black waves against the prom. We could still see the white crests and sense the texture of the waves, but it was difficult to judge the height of the water in the dark. I've always found being near the sea at night to be a bit creepy. I just have too vivid an imagination, probably permanent psychological scars from sitting in the front row when we went to see Jaws.

It was nice to see the warm lights of home when we returned.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Books (etc) in 2008

This constitutes the rest of the books I read in 2008. I evidently did get out of the A's and into the authors' names starting with B (big accomplishment?). I think I mostly read books I already own, and they aren't on this list. I also rented some DVDs from the library for the evenings when Bill was working in Hull and, as I mentioned Bill and I both enjoy cooking shows, I checked out some of Jamie Oliver's that the library had on offer for free. They were quite entertaining.

Looking back on this list, the authors I would still most highly recommend are Jill Paton Walsh and Geraldine Brooks.

Bill Bryson’s African Diary – Bill Bryson
Knowledge of Angels – Jill Paton Walsh
The Red Hat Society’s Domestic Goddess – Regina Hale Sutherland
March & People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks
Agnes Grey, Anne Bronte
Son of War – Melvyn Bragg
The Professor – Charlotte Bronte
The Rules of Engagement & Leaving Home – Anita Brookner
The Emigrant’s Farewell – Liam Browne
Invisible – Jonathan Buckley
Second Glance – Jodi Picoult

Jeremiah Johnson (DVD)
Girl with a Pearl Earring (DVD)
Atonement (DVD)

Make Your Own Jewelry Using Metal, Wire, Paper and Clay – Ann Kay
Hairdressing: The Foundations – The Official guide to S/NVQ Level 2
The Little Book of Quick Fixes for a Spotless Home – Bridget Bodoano
Introduction to Macrame – Jim Gentry
Small Gardens - C.E. Lucas Phillips
Excellent Employment – Hiring the Best People to Help Your Business Grow – Ann Andrews
a guide to fashion and style – Claudia Piras
A Girl for All Seasons – a year in high heels – Camilla Morton

Jamie at Home (DVD) & Jamie’s Kitchen (DVD) – Jamie Oliver

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Blogroll - at Last!

Here are the blogs I attempt to follow without giving over my entire life; somehow I think I fail on both counts. You know how one good blog just naturally leads to another 50?

Actually, when I think about what a time suck blogs are, I feel almost guilty introducing you to all these. I'll just assume you are a consenting adult and that you are already an experienced blog addict. Then again, you might not be interested in the same topics I am. I expect people who know me will find the fact that I read some of them wildly amusing (ie the ones about domesticity and uncluttering).

Be aware this is an equal opportunity list. I don't have to agree with everyone to enjoy what they share. Some of these blogs are strange, but sometimes that's what makes them fun.

4 Reluctant Entertainers
A Dress A Day
A Spoonful of Sugar
Advanced Style
all buttoned up.
Apron Thrift Girl
Behind The Seams
Blissfully Domestic
Blue Yonder
clementine's shoes
Couture Allure Vintage Fashion
Craft Chi
CRAFT Magazine
Craft Tutorials Galore at Crafter-holic!
crazy mom quilts
creative little daisy
darling petunia
diaryofasewingfanatic Blog
dooce® main feed
Edey's Vintage and Current Needlework
FiberArts Afloat, a misnomer
Flint Knits
Friday Playdate
Frugal Hacks
Frugal Luxuries by the Seasons
How to Live Online
Hungry Zombie Couture
In My Kitchen Garden
Kathys Cottage
lamplight designs
Like Merchant Ships
mama urchin
Mason-Dixon Knitting
Mighty Girl
Miss Celie's Pants
Mrs. Micah: Finance for a Freelance Life
My 50's Year
My Chihuahua Bites!
My Crafty Life
My Money Blog
Nesting Place
not martha
Notes from A Cottage Industry
Pins and Needles
Pleasant View Schoolhouse
Politics for Moms
ProBlogger Blog Tips
Rachael Rabbit
Random Acts of Vintage
Resurrection Fern
Rick & Joanne's Excellent Adventure
Rocks In My Dryer
Rosemary's Sampler
Sarah London Blog
Scribbit | A Blog About Motherhood in Alaska
Sew Shy
Six In The Country
Stretch Mark Mama
Suburban Kamikaze
SundryBuzz | advice you didn't ask for
Terri's Notebook
The Coffee Lady
The Grocery Cart Challenge
The Happiness Project
The Inspired Room
The purl bee
The real food revolution
The Secret Pocket
The Sewing Divas
The Simple Dollar
The Thoughtful Dresser
The Vintage Traveler
This Vintage Chica
Tie one on
Tip Diva
Tree Fall
Vintage Pleasure
Wardrobe Refashion
Whip up
Zen Habits

Monday, 12 January 2009

Kid Stuff

There is a lot of buzz on the stay-at-home-and-be-frugal-crafty-mommy blogs that I seem to be strangely drawn to read. It's about the soon to be enacted law in the US that will require mandatory testing of products intended for children aged 12 and under for lead and, apparently, phthalates (any clue as to how this is pronounced??). The concerns are about the eradication of the second hand market for children's clothing and toys, also about small handmake toymakers being put out of business. They see this as having a substantial impact on their frugal lifestyle choices and I appreciate those concerns. Finally, there is concern about the amount of stuff that will go to landfill, which I also appreciate.

Back when I knew about environmental stuff, I was very aware of the problems lead exposure could cause for children. Acute lead poisoning can be fatal, though it is fairly rare in developed countries. The greater threat is low level exposure to young children, particularly those under 6, as there are no observable symptoms, but lead in a child's body interferes with brain development and causes a small lowering of intelligence. It is considered a major public health issue and the Centers for Disease Control and State Health Departments spend a great deal of money to prevent it. Removing lead from gasoline and from paint were major steps towards reducing the risk for many children. More recently acute lead poisoning cases reported to CDC have involved toys imported from developing countries.

I didn't encounter any phthalates issues in my work life (just typing that word makes me feel I have a lithp) but briefly looking it up it appears that some scientists feel it is a potential endocrine disrupter, that is something that has an adverse effect on reproductive, neurological, developmental or immune systems. Phthlates are apparently used in making plastics more flexible and given that I expect we encounter them far more than we realise. I suppose not having these substances in the things children put into their mouths is an improvement, but I'd hate to give up my Ziplock bags or my PVC window frames.

I'm all in favour of protecting children, but I'm horrified at the waste that is about to occur starting Feb 10. I don't need any children's clothing or toys, but I hate to think of all that fabric -- potential craft material! - going in the bin. I keep thinking there must be some sort of business opportunity here, importing second hand stuff from the US to sell here in the UK -- until of course the EU follows suit with their own consumer protection law. I wouldn't want endangering the health of UK children on my conscience either, and I'm certain I don't want to have to figure out all the rules the UK would have about such a thing: import duty, Value Added Tax, probably business licenses, health and safety, etc.

Besides, if you sell kids' stuff, that means you have to be around... kids! Oh well, the US is a big place, they can fit in a few more landfill sites.

Update: Apparently the law has been modified to allow re-sellers to sell items which do not exceed lead and phthalate levels, but they don't have to do the least that's what I think this says...

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Great British Traditions

Like many of the other blogs I read (must do a list some day), I plan on using up some of the food we already have instead of going out and buying more. One of the things we seem to have accumulated a lot of is tinned beans, the kind of beans we used to call "pork-n-beans", I guess because of the small white cube of pork fat included like the prize in a box of Cracker Jacks. I ate one of those fat cubes once; I wouldn't recommend it.

Any how in Britain one is spared the cube of fat; it's just beans in tomato sauce. But they commonly do something with it that I never heard of in the States: Beans on Toast. It's really simple to make. Just toast a piece of bread, put it on a plate, heat the beans, pour them onto the toast and eat. I heard about it long before I ever tried it because I thought it sounded disgusting. But then one day Bill made it for lunch and I tried it and it was amazingly good. It's also very low fat and a good source of protein and whole grain (if you use whole wheat bread), not to mention cheap.

Beans on Toast: I recommend it!

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Lipstick Story

There once was an eccentric American woman who lived in the north of England. She had subscribed to, read, highlighted and took notes from The Tightwad Gazette. This had changed the way she thought about things and the way she lived.

This woman loved pink, particularly pink lipstick. She wore it almost every day, unless she was wearing her favourite red jacket which was approaching vintage status or her long purple skirt with orange flowers, acquired at Oxfam. Then of course she wore red or orange lipstick, not pink. However, most days she wore black, brown, navy or burgundy clothes and they just demanded pink lipstick, which was also great with the jeans that she wore at the weekend.

One day when she was cleaning out her bathroom drawers, she noticed there were a lot of used-up-but-not-empty lipsticks in the pink lipstick basket. She gathered all these up and took them to the kitchen. Using a small wooden ice cream stick she scraped all the lipstick into a small plastic box that had a lid. She had purchased silver filigree earrings when they were on holiday in Malta and had kept the box they came in, thinking it could come in handy for something else one day; that day had come.

When all the lipstick was in the little box she put it in the microwave and nuked it, watching carefully until the lipstick was just melted. The colours were still separate but blended around the edges where they met. She then put the lid on the box and popped it into the freezer, making sure it was horizontal. Sadly, all the now completely empty lipstick containers went to landfill, as she had not yet learned a way to re-use them. Her previous attempts to put all the lipstick product into one of those tubes had been highly variable and did not produce a useable stick for application, so she preferred the box approach.

The next morning she had (the coolest) new cosmetic and she used it every morning with a lipstick brush as she got ready for work. Her purse still contained a pink lipstick for re-application at the office, but at home that little box of lipstick was her first choice. She used it happily almost every morning for a full two years, until there was no more lipstick to be brushed out of the box.

Friday, 9 January 2009

No. 1 Goal: Health

One thing about being ill for the past few weeks, it's made me appreciate the blessings of relatively good health. Just not to hurt in a debilitating way is a joy that I will not overlook for a while. I'm not quite there, but my humour has returned at least. There has to be a comedy sketch involving the positions one assumes when a cough is coming and one wants to protect sore places from the shock. I could see it as a cold remedy advert. I didn't think it was funny last Friday, though, when I sneezed and something in my back seemed to snap and spasm; being sleep deprived didn't amuse me much either. I'm getting better now, thankfully. A good night's sleep is a glorious thing!

I've lived with the diagnosis of asthma for probably about 10 years now, though I didn't really accept that I had a chronic illness for quite a while. I've thought of it as more a nuisance than an illness, as I've never had the scary attacks one hears about children having where their chest tightens and they can't breathe; those sort of attacks can actually be fatal. I just have an annoying chronic cough and the occasional bad coughing spell. I have in the past considered that these aren't as serious as they might be because of my aerobic fitness, i.e., being able to do without air for a bit longer than I might be able to otherwise, until I get myself sorted out. Lately, though, I've let my aerobic fitness slide as well, running only occasionally and of course this doesn't work well at all.

Colds are bad news for me. I remember back in 2005 when we were training for the Rotterdam marathon and I caught a cold about a month before the race. I was pretty much over the cold by the day, but my asthma had not settled and I wasn't able to face the last 6 miles. I was really disappointed at quitting, but I didn't feel my body could cope with running and coughing any longer. Around that time I shared an office with 2 other people and I remember worrying that my constant coughing would disturb them. After one particularly bad spell, I saw Steve looking at me with concern. I told him, "In my next life, I'm going to have better lungs."

Trying to boost my immune system to avoid colds as much as possible has been the impetus behind our very high consumption of vegetables and fruit, along with frequent hand washing and sporadic purchases of fizzy vitamin C tablets and other alphabet-named pills. The problem is, I don't really like swallowing pills and so the vitamins probably lose most of their efficacy by the time I get around to taking them!

I confess to not being a conscientiously compliant patient (I hate that noun) either. I regularly take my asthma tablets but have been erratic with the inhaler. It always seemed to me that the inhaler only stirred things up, but this cold with the sore muscles and back problem has shown me how the inhaler really does help. I have resolved to be more religious in its routine use. I am rarely around any cigarette smoke these days, but I am considering replacing my gas stove top with an electric one. Exercise, particularly in the cold, tends to make me cough at the start, but once my lungs are settled, they seem to function at their very best in the second part of a run.

I posted sometime back about having the goal of running 4 times a week; boy, was that a disaster! It went fine for a few weeks until I measured the course I was using. I was so disappointed at how short it was considering how long it took me to do it that I gave it up altogether, in spite of Bill's encouragement and pointing out how hilly it was. I see now that it was a mistake to make any judgment about my performance. It is pointless to compare what I can do now with what I could 5 years ago. I have made several stops and starts at running throughout the past year, but I'm clearly starting over again now.

Being aerobically fit and maintaining a healthy weight is quite a lot of trouble; most people I know outside the running club just don't bother. However, having enjoyed being really fit for a number of years -- I would say between about 24 and 49, when I did aerobics classes and/or gym work and/or ran regularly -- I'm not content to settle for less. I have settled of late, but I've definitely not been content!

So, my Number One Goal for 2009 is to regain my health:
  • to keep my asthma symptoms as minimal as possible by using the medication as instructed and avoiding what triggers I can;
  • to exercise regularly and to eat well with the aim of getting my weight closer to the middle of the health range instead of at the very top.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Putting the World to Rights

I don't know about you but by the time evening rolls around, particularly after I've eaten dinner, I'm ready to sit down and do something leisurely, like watch TV. Only TV around here is so bad it's more irritating than entertaining.

I love all sorts of movies, but Bill only like a few specific types of films and one can only watch Harry Potter so many times before it begins to pall. We sometimes go for a walk after dinner to pass the time and get some fresh air, but usually when it's warmer than now. Neither of us has a really fascinating book on the go just now, so reading in front of the fire doesn't seem to do the trick either at the moment.

Unless I come up with some other idea, Bill will sit and play Spider on his laptop the entire evening or watch You Tube videos of his favourite musicians. When he does this I can read or knit or play on my laptop as well. Unlike with reading a book, however, intermittent conversation isn't really possible when one is working out the Spider strategy and of course his ear plugs also shut me out, so I don't find his laptop activities to be very companionable.

So, when I ran across a couple of 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles I bought ages ago on sale, I thought we might give that a try. We are both fascinated by maps: I had the local street map on a wall for ages. Bill's big Route 66 holiday involved intensive map use to plan. When we bought holiday souvenir places mats for the kitchen table that were laminated maps, our food was neglected for finding places we'd been or meant to go next time. I thought we'd start wtih the puzzle map of the world and see how it went.

I'm not sure it's a companionable activity, though. We seemed to almost compete rather than cooperate! I set about putting the pieces into stacks by continent, calling out names I had no clue about. Bill starting putting together the pieces around the border. When he started taking my stacks and putting them together, I was a bit miffed at having done the ground work and missed the fun of the completion. It's hard for two people to sit in front of the puzzle at the same time, so someone will always be shut out and have to work around the edges. I got used to all that after awhile.

I left him to do the US and Europe and set about figuring out Russia and China, about which I know nothing. I wouldn't say I know a great deal more, though I have a better appreciation of the relative size and position of Russia, China, Mongolia, SE Asia, etc., and I might recognize the names of a few of those tiny little islands a bit quicker. I probably won't feel any sense of accomplishment or learning until we've done the puzzle again. The other one is of Western Europe and it should be much simpler, but then it is still 1000 pieces and so quite detailed. I'm looking forward to that one.

One puzzle I definitely feel I've solved: I found something else Bill really likes to do! He says it doesn't even need to be a map, he just likes solving the problem of getting the pieces together to make the picture. Thrift stores, here I come! I'm sure this is yet another one of those things that says we're really old...