Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Letters

I've written a few Friday Letters to recap my week, say what's on my mind, and take the opportunity to offer a thank you or two. Let's open the mail...

Dear Town That I Live In,

Please explain this to me one more time. Someone in the borough thought that the abandoned Agway feed mill (yes, the same one that is due for demolition within the year) was an eyesore and we should use taxpayer dollars to pay for this somewhat hideous mural. I know the artist put a lot of time and effort into it, but I'm still unclear how this is an improvement. The paint is already peeling, I'm not sure what the subject has to do with our town, and the BUILDING IS GOING TO BE KNOCKED DOWN! I can hardly wait for the next improvement project.


Dear Mad Men,

I've watched a few episodes this week in my search for a Netflix series to "watch" while I knit, and I can't decide whether I'm repulsed more by the rampantly arrogant misogyny or the inane idiocy. I wanted to give you guys a fair trial, but I'm afraid I'm just going to tell myself that Peggy grows up, loses her naivete, becomes a powerful business woman, and abandon you in favor of Elementary reruns.
P.S. I don't get the appeal of Breaking Bad, either.


Dear Justin,

I've been thinking about you all week, wondering what you're doing at your internship and how you like it. You don't often text or call, but I have to tell you that your texts have made my week. I agree with your assessment of "Grocery shopping sucks", but I think there may be a life lesson to be learned with this one: "I spent $52 but buying food seems like a waste of money. I'd rather eat at home and spend money on truck parts instead." "I miss you" may have been the best one of all. Keep texting.


Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and safe weekend!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ten on Tuesday: 9 + 1

Today's Ten on Tuesday topic is 10 Things You Did This Weekend. It wasn't a big extravaganza here, but low-key is fine with me! Here are nine things I did this weekend, along with one important thing I didn't do:

  1. Said goodbye to both sons on Sunday.
  2. Said goodbye to my husband when he left on a business trip to England.
  3. Mourned John Nash. I once rode with him on an elevator at Princeton, and even though he was simply a quiet, elderly man for the several minutes we were in the elevator, he was a commanding presence. Mr. Nash was a unique genius with an incredible wealth of mathematical contributions and this is truly a sad and tragic loss.
  4. Mowed the lawn. I even trimmed, since my birthday present last year was a good rechargeable weed trimmer. (I know, my husband spoils me!)
  5. Putzed around in the garden - planting, weeding, and watering. I also fiddled in the flower beds - pruning, weeding, and watering.
  6. Took care of some vacation details - transportation to the airport, bought fishing licenses, assessed knitting and reading to take along, held the mail, etc.
  7. Cleaned out all of the linen storage areas, Kon Mari style. These included a linen cupboard, a gigantic storage space in the bathroom, drawers in both sons' rooms, and several piles in the back bedroom. We've got four beds here, and the boys have sheets, comforters, blankets, towels, and curtains from their college days, so it was time to pile it all in Ryan's room (once he wasn't in it!), and spend the afternoon choosing what to put back. 
  8. Read - trying to get a good start on Book Bingo!
  9. Knit - this helps a lot when you miss your sons.
  10. Thankfully, I did not electrocute my husband this weekend. Our gardening efforts involve an epic battle against the deer, groundhogs, squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons that seem to be under the mistaken impression we plant the smörgåsbord for them. We've always powered the electric fence surrounding the garden with a solar rechargeable power source, but it died this year and a regular plug-in model was half the cost of a new solar battery. I had unplugged the battery for mowing, then plugged it back in when I was done. I told John that it was plugged in, but that seems to be one of the rare occasions he wasn't listening to me. He was weeding near the fence, and before I could yell, he touched the fence and the charge knocked him back a few feet. It looks like the fence will scare away the varmints, and a valuable lesson was learned about the importance of listening to your wife.

Monday, May 25, 2015

And Then There Was One

I've been the chief chef, laundress, chauffeur, and putter-awayer here for many years, but that changed as the nest started emptying. Ryan moved to Fort Collins in 2013 and has proclaimed that he's never moving back east. Justin has been in college for the past four years, but it was only about an hour away, so this has helped me to very slowly adjust to this empty nest thing. John and I have gradually learned to live as a family of two. Sometimes it's quiet, but it has also meant a lot less cooking and laundry.

All four family members have been home for the past week for Justin's graduation. It's been truly wonderful having everyone under the same roof, but I was a bit shocked at the amount of food that was prepared and consumed, and how fast the laundry hamper filled up. How quickly I had forgotten!

The house has gradually emptied over the last day; Ryan left Newark airport at 5:00 am yesterday for a math conference in Calgary, and we waved goodbye to Justin a few hours later when he left for his internship at Mainframe Whitetails in New York state. John is winging his way to Manchester, England this morning for business, so I'm on my own. It's been a little sad and lonely (for maybe 15 minutes!) but now I'm reveling in the alone time to completely plan my Summer Book Bingo reading, doing plenty of actual reading, and finishing some knitting. There will also be Thai food for dinner and quite a bit less cooking and laundry. I might even make time to strip and paint the front porch floor, but I'm living on the wild side and putting some fun first!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Summer Reading

There is just something wonderfully evocative about summer reading for me. It recalls those relaxed childhood days long ago when my mother would take my sister and me to the library, I would come home with the allowed ten books, spend all my time reading until my mother told me to go play outside, then go outside and read.

As an adult, I can't lie around and read all summer, but Books on the Nightstand podcast has a way to recall some of that fun with Summer Book Bingo. I participated via Mary last year and even though I was a little leery at first, I read some of the best books ever. It's a way for me to get out of my reading comfort zone and hopefully find some great books that I wouldn't have come across otherwise. Mary is doing it again this year, and I'm going to keep her company with that dreaded "At least 800 pages" square. My card is quite animal-centric, but I'm okay with that. I can't wait to read the book "That your parents wouldn't let you read" and find out why my mother banned it!

Carole is participating, playing herself and creating cards for her library patrons, and I hope you'll consider joining in for some summer reading fun. I've never liked "competitive" reading, and don't set reading goals for myself because that takes away some of the pleasure of reading for me. Summer Book Bingo isn't about winning or losing or even getting a bingo, but it is a chance to virtually read with others and find some great new books. Get your own card here and get reading!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ten on Tuesday - My Two Cents at Commencement

This week's Ten on Tuesday topic is 10 Things You Would Say If You Gave a Commencement Address. I listened to at least five speeches at Justin's commencement on Saturday, and in honesty, found them a bit rambling, and maybe even...boring. That may have been because I was anxious to get to the good part (Justin walking across that stage!), but I did do a bit of daydreaming during the speeches, thinking about what I might say. I know none of my pronouncements are unique (and could maybe even be boring to listeners!) but here they are:
  1. You will fail, possibly spectacularly, at some of things you attempt. Reassess, learn from your failures, and keep trying.
  2. Find and nurture your support system, as the people in it will be thrilled when you succeed and necessary when you fail.
  3. Your time is limited, so don't waste it or squander it away without thought.
  4. Work hard, but also play hard and love well. Your work is not who you are.
  5. You've learned quite a bit, but you are not going to get far based solely on what you already know. Keep learning, always.
  6. You may not be able to plan the impact you are having in the world, and you may not even be able to recognize it at the time. That is why you always need to do your best and pay attention.
  7. Know that life is not fair.
  8. Your ideas of what success is will change over time, just as you will change over time. Make this growth positive.
  9. Know yourself - your strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. Be completely honest!
  10. Your dreams are important, and your actions even more so.
What words of wisdom would you impart to graduates? 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Saturday was...

a truly wonderful day. The kind of day that we haven't had for quite a while, where it felt as if all was right with the world (and it was)! Justin's graduation day started with some heavy downpours, but even that couldn't dampen our spirits much, especially because it cleared up and became a lovely day (possibly even over-warm if you were wearing a black gown).

There was the usual procession, pomp, circumstance, seemingly endless speeches, and then the conferring of degrees with plenty of cheering, pride, hugs, and photos.


We are incredibly, exceedingly proud of Justin, for his graduation with a 
B.S. in Conservation and Wildlife Management from Delaware Valley University, 
and every day, just for being Justin!


Friday, May 15, 2015

Today He's 22...

and tomorrow he graduates from college! It's gone by far too fast, but Justin has grown into a young man that I'm exceedingly proud of. He's charming, funny, able to think for himself and do the right thing, even when it's not the easy thing.

He's willing to get into some tight spots to help out.

Dance like no one is watching (but we all were, since this is so not like him!)

Create some mayhem

Worry his mother when he's out on his motorcycle

He also spends lots of quieter contemplative time in nature, 
with his fishing rod (always catch and release) and bows.

Happy 22nd Birthday, Justin! I wish you many, many more Happy Days.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

I Wonder ...

I wonder about lots of things, and can often find the answers to my questions through books, Google, the library Reference desk, asking some of my wise friends, etc. But lately I've been coming across some questions that I can't find the answers to. I started writing down my questions; maybe someday I will find answers.

  • Is there a word for people that can't stand the feel of straps (or anything else) between their toes? I'm looking for new summer sandals, and because I'm one of those people, my sandal choices are very limited. I can't explain what an awful feeling this is to me; it doesn't hurt, but I just hate it. My search for sandals got me wondering what this might be called.
  • You know those lovely, sparkly light reflections you see undulating on the bottom of a pool? What are they called and where are they reflected from? I've always been fascinated by them but have never known for sure what they're called. I read a poem once that led me to believe the word was coruscations, but I haven't been able to confirm this with a dictionary or physics professor. The dictionary talks about a sudden flash of light, but that's not how I would define these constant shimmerings. 
  • Why do rainbows have an arced bow shape? I understand that raindrops act as prisms, refracting light to gives us the ROYGBIV colors, but I've never understood why rainbows are bowed; why aren't they just straight lines across the sky? Trying to find the answer to this question (in a way I could understand) raised more questions: 
          How many rainbows can appear at once and how do multiple rainbows happen?
          Why are the colors on the outermost rainbow of a double rainbow reversed?
  • This winter, I had many tufted titmice at the feeders. They often fed upside down or sideways, so I wonder how the tufted titmouse, nuthatches, and woodpeckers swallow "up" when they are hanging upside down.
What are some of the things you wonder about? I wonder about that, too!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Ten on Tuesday - I'll Do It Later

The Ten on Tuesday topic this week is 10 Things You Need to Do and Stop Procrastinating. This is a timely topic for me. John and I have been having an ongoing discussion about the things we both put off. Lately he has been starting many sentences with, "I should...", and I finally asked him why he didn't just do them instead of talking about doing them. I'm certainly a practiced procrastinator myself, but I keep moving the odious chores on my list further down the list without announcing my "shoulds" to anyone. I just hide my procrastination better! So, publicly, here are 10 things I need to do:

  1. Clean up all the oak catkins. We have two giant oak trees that flower, release clouds of yellow pollen, then shed their flowers onto everything (cars, driveway, patio, porch, and gutters), which then form tumbleweeds of catkins. I swept and raked several times last week, have four garbage cans full, and they keep on coming. I love the trees, just not at this time of year.
  2. Mow the lawn.
  3. Plant the rest of the marigolds I started from seed. 
  4. Start (and finish!) the small mountain of ironing I have stacked up.
  5. Try on some of the "dress-up" clothing I chose to put back into my closet, hem and iron as necessary, and decide what I'm wearing to Justin's graduation.
  6. Make sure I have shoes to go with whatever I'm wearing to graduation.
  7. Plan dinners for when I have all four family members here for a week, make my grocery list, and actually do the shopping. I haven't cooked for four people in a very long time!
  8. Complete all the necessary paperwork to transfer our Health Savings Account (HSA) to a new vendor. We have a High Deductible Health Plan, so the IRS says we can put pre-tax money into our HSA and use these funds to pay medical bills. I was thankful for this account when we had lots and lots of bills to pay related to this, but my husband's employer has decided to "transition HSA administration". So far, the list of do's, don'ts, and paperwork is much too similar to doing taxes.
  9. Take a risk (albeit small) and choose a book to read without endlessly researching or reading reviews ad infinitum. I haven't read a 5-star book in which I was totally immersed in several months even though I have been searching. As of right now, I'm done reading about books and am going to focus on just reading.
  10. Stop spending/wasting time on the internet. A long time ago, I promised myself that I would spend only twenty minutes in the morning checking email, blogs, making sure my kids haven't posted drunken photos on facebook, looking at Goodreads, reading the NYT, looking at Ravelry, etc. This time has gradually expanded far too much, to the point that I'm reading about books, knitting, and others' experiences more than actually doing these things myself. 
I may will revisit this list within a month and see how I've fared. What do you procrastinate about?

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Marie and Me

I'm late to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up party, but a friend loaned me her copy (see, I'm already not further cluttering my home with extra books!) and I finally read it. After I got over my initial skepticism and eye-rolling, I began to understand and appreciate Marie Kondo's basic premise - take everything out and choose what to put back.

"If I had been a little smarter, I would have realized before I became so neurotic that focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness. Why? Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of."

There may be some craziness in her book, but I think there are also some real truths, such as “the question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

I've spent years organizing all the stuff and crap I've accumulated, with limited discarding along the way. My mindset towards tidying has always been, "Oh, no, now I'm faced with the difficult and emotional task of getting rid of things." I've approached my kitchen, clothing, and books with this new "choose what to keep" mindset for creating order, and have been relatively successful. Kondo advocates tidying by category (clothes, books, papers, etc.) rather than by room, but I made the executive decision that looking for joy room by room would work better for me, and keep family members from wondering why all of our books from multiple bookcases throughout the house were piled up in a single looming mountain.

There is still the hurdle of getting rid of the things that I've chosen not to keep, but I have donated many, many boxes to Salvation Army and our library's book sale over the past few months. I have sold jewelry. Recycling takes care of all the old recipes I've clipped and saved but will never make, and I threw away an embarrassingly large number of trash bags full of stale spices and expired food items. Much has been made of her idea of asking yourself about each item as you hold it, "does this spark joy?", but she also cites functional, informational, and emotional value as reasons why we keep things. Kondo goes on to say that most of the time we’re lying to ourselves about that value, so I really had to be completely honest with myself when deciding what to keep. I still have to do the tough stuff - photos, mementoes, and yarn, but that will come in time.

Marie Kondo is an interesting person, and I find it even more interesting that there are so many of us globally who feel a need for her book. I didn’t use the book as a way to purge everything and discard my ideas about the value of money, things, and frugality, but as a guide to applying those values to my own situation. It's clear that needing to tidy is a first world problem. And let’s be honest about this - this is a joy that comes from privilege.

A friend recently sent me this article about the KonMari rules for shopping. Some of them are just as crazy as some of the ideas in the book, but what really caught my attention was that she is expecting her first child this year. I can't wait to see how she'll deal with a child and the clutter of stuff that seems to arrive (and stay forever!) along with children.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go make sure my socks have room to rest and thank my purse for its hard work. :-)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Ten on Tuesday - ¡Viva Comida!

Hey, it's slightly better than Taco Bell!

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, this week's Ten on Tuesday topic is 10 Favorite Mexican Foods. You can probably tell from the title of this post that I know next to nothing about Mexican foods. Living in central New Jersey, this is not a surprise. We have several restaurants that serve American versions of Mexican foods, but we don't have access to anything authentic (or very tasty). So, my favorite Mexican foods are:
  1. Burritos
  2. Tacos
  3. All that good stuff Carole posted about here. Even though I haven't tasted any of it, I can tell it would all be delicious from the photos.
A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who recently returned from a sabbatical in Oaxaca, Mexico. When I asked about the food, she admitted that could possibly have been her real reason for going to this region. I told her how little I knew about Mexican cuisine, and she highly recommended these books: 
  1. Authentic Mexican
  2. Mexican Everyday
  3. Rick Bayless' Mexican Kitchen
I have them on hold at the library so I haven't tried any recipes yet. Maybe by next Cinco de Mayo I'll actually be able to come up with 10 favorites!

Monday, May 4, 2015

How Do We Change the World?

Last week after the earthquake in Nepal, I asked people to comment about the ways in which they had helped others recently. Later in the week, the news was filled with many more happenings in which help was clearly needed, in Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Sometimes it gets a bit overwhelming to hear about such sad and tragic circumstances, and at times it can feel like there isn't anything meaningful that an individual can do, and yet...

Mary helped last week at the nursing home (and I'm fairly certain she does this on a regular basis); one woman needed reassurance that her half double crochets were still half double and another needed help with finding her lost knitting needle in her handbag. Carole donates regularly to Doctors Without Borders, and while on vacation in Mexico she befriended 2 young women from Amsterdam who were staying at their hotel. She and Dale gave them a ride to the grocery store, and helped them with advice on where to go and what to see. Carole pointed out that helping is a two-way street; she and Dale were also beneficiaries because they made new friends.

So thank you to Mary and Carole for giving me hope with some lovely examples that show help is happening all around us. I'll be mailing your yarny prizes out to both of you tomorrow! The ways in which we help others may be unsung, but they are never unimportant.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Friday Letters

I've written a few Friday Letters to recap my week, say what's on my mind, and take the opportunity to offer a thank you or two. Let's open the mail...

Dear Dr. P.,

I know you don't have the time to be concerned with the trials and tribulations of your patients' lives, but after driving more than 200 miles yesterday and making some complicated arrangements to get my father to your office for a consultation, it would have been greatly appreciated if we hadn't had to wait an extra two-and-a-half hours in your waiting room for the 12 minutes you spent with him (I timed you). I understand and appreciate that you and your staff are busy and emergencies do arise but there has to be a better way of scheduling that respects your time along with that of your staff and patients. I'll use my five hours in the car to prepare my constructive suggestions for next time.


Dear Wine,

Thank you for making me happy every time I partake.


Dear Next-Door Neighbor,

It's a real shame you had to hurry inside so quickly. You missed my energetic, high-decibel renditions of Trapped, Cocaine, Layla (all three versions!), Burn it to the Ground, Down by the Water, and the rest of my Mowing playlist. Luckily, you'll get plenty of chances to hear me sing while mowing this summer!


Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and safe spring weekend!