Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hello, Blogger, My Old Friend ...

I've come to talk to you again. I'm failing abjectly at my various resolutions to blog more or at least on a more regular basis. It wasn't the fall I thought it would be, and the winter is shaping up about the same. Extra projects at work (though one is so much fun that I have to make sure I get other projects underway or done before I start this one), projects taking much, much longer than they usually do, and so on. One of the prices I pay for being able to work part-time, flexible hours, from home is that I pretty much do as I'm told. Anyway...

Back in August, I saw a Travelzoo blurb about a bargain winter three-night trip to Iceland. Iceland. Been there, loved that. The husband was up for it, so I booked us for January 11-14, before the husband has to start teaching. Our flights left from Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which is a three-hour drive with no stoppages around the Washington, D.C. beltway. We booked a hotel for the night before we flew out and for the night we got back. This let us leave the car somewhere for free and reduced the stress of driving up too quickly or driving back too tired. It was a good call.

I said the trip was a bargain. At least I would call $649 per person for round-trip air fare and three nights in a hotel in downtown Reykjavik a bargain. Why was it that cheap? A big reason is that the air part was not on Icelandair but on WOW, one of the new, cut-rate carriers on which you pay for almost everything separately. For example, the base fare allows you to carry on one (1) bag that weighs less that 5 kilos (11 pounds). If you want a heavier carry-on, but still only one, you pay more. To check a bag, you pay. You pay for a seat assignment, too, and for any food or drink items. The trip price included one checked bag weighing no more than 20 kilos (44 pounds) for each of us. Until we learned that, we were actually planning on going with one heavier carry-on each. Instead, we ended up each checking one bag, the two of which together weighed less than the 20 kilos each. We kept our carry-ons less than 5 kilos and willingly paid the $30 ($15 for each of us) each way to be able to sit together.

I must admit that there were people who looked at us askance when they heard we were flying WOW. Some even told us various reasons why we shouldn't. To all those folks, WOW was wonderful, and we'd fly it again in a minute. For one, while they don't enforce size limits on your carry-on, they do enforce the weight and number. After your checked luggage, if any, is weighed at check-in, the clerk weighs your carry-on. Ones that meet their appropriate weight limit are marked with a tag. Our first smile with WOW was noticing that this tag read "You shall pass." Let's hear it for channeling Monty Python. If you present your boarding pass to get on the plane and have two bags, you are turned away and told to consolidate everything into one bag. If you can't, you have to check one of them. No carry-on with a personal item on WOW. One carry-on, one only.

As you might imagine, everyone's having only one carry-on makes boarding so much smoother. More people put carry-ons underneath the seat in front of them. Passengers aren't shuffling back and forth around their seats looking for places to put their bags. They're more likely to be laughing at what is on the drape at the top of each seat, "Hi. I am your seat" or "Be my guest." If you happen to be looking in the seat-back pocket for the safety card, you might even like the air-sickness bag printed with a "Vomit-Meter." Once in the air, the flight attendants take a cart down the aisle giving passengers the chance to purchase food and/or beverages. Until garbage collection at the end of the flight, there are no more cart runs. This makes it much easier to relax and possibly get some sleep.

With so much going for it, something had to go wrong on the flight over, right? The plane was almost at capacity, meaning that there were no two seats together to which I could request for us to move to when the woman sitting to my right, in the window seat, spent most of the flight, coughing and vomiting in her sleep--I kid you not--into a large plastic shopping bag she had with her. Needless to say, I got very little sleep on that flight and was quite happy to land.

Keflavik Airport is about 45 minutes outside Reykjavik; one catches the Fly-Bus to get into the city. There really wasn't much to see on the ride it given the hour of 8:45 a.m. local time. I did a few quick photos of nothing just to capture how dark it was, Here's one of those.
Something of a non sequitur in terms of my photos. I thought long and hard about carrying my Canon DSLR with a long, zoom lens, which I used in Vietnam and on our 2010 trip here. It's big and heavy, and I worry about hitting it on something. I then thought long and hard about taking the smaller Canon with the most amazing zoom lens, which I used in Australia. Then I thought just how many times have I looked at the photos taken on those trips or how many times I'd used them for anything other than Facebook or one of my blogs. I decided to take a pocket-size Pentax point-and-shoot and not take as many photos. I didn't want to feel as though I didn't experience something because I was too busy trying to photograph it. The husband also took a pocket point-and-shoot, a Nikon.

 On our first trip to Iceland (in 2010), we didn't see snow in Reykjavik until halfway through our time there. This time, we landed in the snow and watched it snow for the first full day we were there. I was glad I'd worn my water-resistant hiking boots rather than the running shoes I often wear.
When you arrive at a hotel at 9:00 or 9:30 a.m., you can't expect your room to be ready. The very nice desk clerk instructed us to go to the breakfast buffet before it ended at 10:00. It wasn't included with what we'd paid for, so I figured the charge would be on the bill at check-out. But no, there may be not such thing as a free lunch, but we got a free breakfast.

We actually were able to get into a room right after breakfast. We stashed our bags and decided to go to a place we had not visited on our last trip, Hallgrimskirkja. This is sometimes referred to as a cathedral, but it is in fact a Lutheran church.
(photo by the husband)
You can see some unsnowy photos, including one taken from the front, here. This site also includes information about what can only be described as an unbelievable pipe organ.
This, coupled with the basic huge interior is likely why people refer to it as a cathedral. It has much in common with the cathedrals I've toured elsewhere in Europe.
(photo by the husband)

For a small price, you can go to the top of the amazing spire. It's an elevator for most of the way followed by some steps to the highest level. The view would be more colorful but no less dramatic on a sunny or at least non-snowing day.
At the very bottom center is a statue of Leif Erikkson that was there before the church was built. It was a gift from the United States in 1930, honoring the 1000th anniversary of the first meeting of Iceland's parliament.  


When the husband and I visit a city, we like to walk and use mass transit or a cab only when absolutely necessary. Despite the snow and cold, it was not necessary here. We spent a good bit of the rest of the afternoon walking, stopping for a lunch of carrot-coconut soup and fresh bread. I am going to have to look for a recipe, because that soup was quite tasty.

There were a few things I could not keep from photographing.




I've always wondered if famous people or fictional characters from the U.S. know that they are often used as marketing tools abroad. Supposedly, the Lebowski Bar has a bowling lane in it.

What I don't know is if any of the movie cast or crew has ever been there on a promotional or personal visit.

And if The Big Lebowski rates its own establishment, can Chuck Norris be left out?


And if Chuck Norris were to walk in, would the theme music from Walker, Texas Ranger play in the background?

Included in the cost of the trip was a bus tour outside the city in search of the Northern Lights. That tour was supposed to be on our first night there, but was cancelled due to the heavy cloud cover. We rebooked for the next night, in hope that the forecasts of clear skies and high auroral activity were both correct. To get ready, we spent that next day, what else, walking around Reykjavik, We left the hotel just before 11:00 a.m.
Our plan was to walk to the National Maritime Museum. Along the way, we encountered a lesson in satellite telecommunications. If you go far enough north, the dishes actually must point down in order to receive the signal.
We also encountered some graffiti I did not expect to see there.
The Maritime Museum was quite good. We arrived there just in time to take the extra tour of the Icelandic Coast Guard vessel the Odinn (the d should be curved with a line through it, but I have no idea how to get that to print here.) The Odinn was active in all three of the Cod Wars between Iceland and Britain. While I took some photos on the tour, they are mostly of engines and engine parts that I know nothing about. I do, though, know that if you can dodge a wrench you can dodge a ball. I just don't know if I could actually throw this wrench.
There was a special exhibit of Icelandic seawomen that I found very interesting. I especially liked the two poems that were printed at the start. 

The second one, especially, appeals to me, especially the line about laughing in the face of all danger. If I were to say that often enough, might I be able really to do it?

We got on the bus for the Northern Lights Tour between 8:30 and 9:00, The sky was clear, and the guide said the aurora forecast was still good. The plan was to go to Pingvellir, about 50 minutes out of Reykjavik. Anglicized as Thingvellir, this was the place the first Icelandic parliament met in 930. As we traveled, the guide explained a bit about the Northern Lights and why they happen. The physicist husband said she only got one detail wrong, and she got at least one right that he did not think would be mentioned. When we arrived at Pingvellir, there was another bus there. We got off the bus carefully as the ground was quite icy. Several people had brought tripods and a large array of photographic equipment. Having photographed the aurora in 2010, I this time wanted to just watch it.

Besides the icy ground, there was a brisk breeze making the wind chill quite noticeable. There was an aurora visible, stretching from one horizon to the other and passing directly overhead. It was not an obvious one; you really needed to know what to look for, After spending quite a long time, more than an hour, looking up, most of us got back on the bus to try to warm up. After 15 or 20 minutes, someone stuck their head in the door and said we might want to all come back out. It was readily apparent why we should. What had been a very faint band resembling thin clouds as much as anything was now a bright yellowish-green band with sides that pulsed in and out and with swirls of green to the outside like the bottom of the letter j. The green band resembled a broad brush stroke on which someone had taken a fine-tipped red pen and highlighted small areas along the two sides and again where the stroke hit the horizons.

If I knew what to list, I would give the link to the photo album on the Facebook page of Reykjavik Excursions, the group who ran the tour. Instead, I will put up one photo that I "borrowed" from their Facebook album. It's pretty representative of what we saw as midnight approached.
(photo from Reykjavik Excursions Facebook album)
This was the most active aurora we've seen on our various aurora-hunting trips. I know that I saw the Northern Lights as a child growing up in Montana, but I don't really recall how they looked then. The Canadian husband has seen many more auroras than I have, and he said this was right up there with the best. It was definitely worth the cost of the trip. If we had done nothing else on the trip, this alone would have been worth the journey.

It was also worth staying up until almost 2:00 a.m. after getting back to the hotel, emailing a couple of people, and generally winding down from the rush. We started a bit slowly the next day. The plan was to look for a knitting pattern for an Icelandic hat, followed by the National Museum and the Phallological Museum. Yes, that last one is basically the Penis Museum. I did find two pattern books to buy; these turned out to be the most expensive things we bought. I did not look for a pattern for this sweater
since I know that Biscuit would refuse to wear it or, if she were to wear it, she would not move until the sweater had been removed.

The National Museum was the furthest away from the hotel of all the places we visited. We didn't mind since walking was all the exercise we were getting. The day was quite sunny, offering the chance to show where the sun is at noon in mid-January.
The museum offered an almost-overwhelming look at the history of Iceland from 800 to the present. The exhibits were excellent, though, and well worth the long walk. By the time we were walking back, it was around 4:00 in the afternoon, offering another look at the sun's angle, this time from behind us.
(photo by the husband)
We did visit the Phallological Museum, more to be able to say we did than anything else. I will spare readers of this blog post the photographs I posted to my Facebook page. One of my Facebook friends guessed that the museum must have been started by a male. She was correct. I would recommend a visit only if, as with us, you want to be able to say you went there.

And so ended our quickie, two full days and three nights visit to Iceland. We saw interesting things, ate some good food, and drank some good beer. The flight home was even better than the flight over given that the person sitting next to me spent the time watching Battlestar Galactic on his laptop rather than vomiting into a shopping bag. We were glad to have made plans to spend the night at a hotel near BWI and drive home the next morning after rush hour.  I'd do it all again in a heartbeat if the timing were right.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Another Nutrition Challenge Recipe

I already posted a recipe for whole-wheat pie crust. If I make another pie (if? bah! when!), I will use white whole wheat flour rather than "plain" whole wheat flour. The crust then would not look quite as strange as this one does.


As for the filling, this is a modification of the Land O' Lakes butter company's Blue Ribbon Apple Pie. The husband (who is not doing the Nutrition Challenge) gave it rave reviews and said he actually preferred this non-refined-sugar version because the taste of the apples was not overwhelmed by the sweetness. There are obviously a number of ways this could be tweaked; feel free to experiment. Here's the pie filling recipe:

1/2 cup honey (this replaces the 1/2 cup granulated sugar)
1/4 cup coconut sugar (this replaces the 1/4 cup brown sugar)
1/4 cup white whole wheat flower (this replaces the 1/4 cup all-purpose flour)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 cups tart cooking apples, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch (I used half Granny Smith and half golden delicious)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine all filling ingredients; toss lightly to coat. Spoon apple mixture into prepared crust. Add a top crust over the filling. Trim, seal, or flute edge. Cut 5 or 6 large slits in crust. Cover edge of crust with 2-inch strip of aluminum foil or a pie shield. Bake 35 minutes. Remove aluminum foil or pie shield. Continue baking 10 to 20 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and juice begins to bubble through the slits in the crust. Cool pie 30 minutes; serve warm. Store refrigerated.

And it's also darn good served cool or cold.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Sweater from Hell

I've been calling it the Sweater from Hell because that's certainly what it felt like more than a few times over the past 33 months or so. That frustration is fading with time, though, and I expect to end up liking this sweater as much as any other I've made for myself. I first saw the book, Knit Swirl, at the 2011 Fall Fiber Festival. A woman was looking for mink yarn (yes, this really exists, though no minks are killed in the making of it) with which to make one of the sweaters in the book. Intrigued, by the sweaters not the minks, I put it on my Christmas list. The husband came through with it and I read through it with excitement followed by sadness. The instructions might have made sense if I was a more expert knitter, but I shelved the book thinking there was no way I would ever make what has come to be called "a swirl."

The book has a companion website that might help you understand why these seem so complicated. The sweaters are essentially cardigans in that they have an open front. They are knit in one piece ending with one seam to sew to produce the sweater. They can be made as circles or ovals, with the neck opening either centered or off-centered.

Fast forward 11 months or so from Christmas 2011, and the Needle Lady, one of our local yarn shops announced a Knit Swirl class to be held one weekend in January 2013. We would pick out yarn and check our knitting gauges on Friday night, then knit all day Saturday and Sunday. The Sunday class was held at a local country club and included their Sunday buffet. Once I learned that I knew why the class was a bit more pricey than I thought it should be. One of the instructors has a yarn-dyeing business, and we were somewhat steered toward her yarns as the best for our swirls (many of the sample ones had been made from her yarns), making the cost a bit more pricey. Nonetheless, I was all in because I was finally going to get the help I needed to understand the instructions.

The sweater I picked to make was called Depth of Field, a centered circle. I chose to make it using two different yarns held together for a nice mix of colors. People who knit will understand what it means when I say the the first step was to cast on over 500 stitches onto a very long circular needle. After knitting three or so rows, I connected the oh-so-long strip into a circle. I was very careful to make sure that I did not twist it (knitters will understand). I counted the stitches several times, each time orienting the stitches to all face in the same direction. There were a couple of women in the class who weren't as compulsive as I; they discovered after knitting about six inches that there was a turn in their work. I felt for them as they realized they would be un-knitting and re-knitting many thousands of stitches.

The sweater is knitted in welts--five rows of stockinette stitch, four rows of reverse stockinette stitch, repeat. The sweater from hell ended up having fifty welts. I think I may have finished about ten welts by the end of the class on Sunday, and that didn't even begin any of the "fun" part separating the circle to work in sleeves of the correct length. I can't remember if we were told in class to check the tutorials on the website or if I discovered that myself. There were various formulas for figuring out the number of stitches to add or drop to shape the sleeves, get the torso a certain length, etc. I extend my thanks to all my math teachers, even the one who kicked me out of his class.

But first, the rest of the story. I made good progress on knitting the giant circle, regularly decreasing the right number of stitches in the right places and possibly even starting the sleeves until February 17, 2013, the start of an adventure I can't believe I did not blog about at the time. The quick and dirty, highlight version is that younger son was driving back from Seattle to start a new job in Northern Virginia. On February 17, he got stopped for speeding just outside Rawlins, Wyoming. Running younger son's license showed that it had been suspended by Virginia in December, a paperwork glitch that did eventually get resolved a month or two later. In the meantime, I had to quickly fly to Denver, where younger son's college roommate picked me up at the airport and drove me the four hours it took to get to Rawlins, Wyoming. Roommate got his gas tank filled courtesy of younger son and headed back to Denver. I got into what was once my dad's car, a Pontiac Firebird with various markings removed and new ones added so that it looked like a Ferrari. This was also a car that my dad never let a woman drive. Drive, I did, to Denver, and then eastward right into what the Weather Channel named Winter Storm Q. Along the way I managed to spin out on the interstate, ending up facing the proper direction but in the shallow ditch along the side of the road. Fortunately, I was able to drive back up onto the road. We made it just into Kansas the first day before playing it safe and stopping at the last town for 100 miles. The next day, we made it those 100 miles in four or five hours only to encounter "Interstate Closed" signs. We did finally make it back, but by that time I was behind on work and other things, and the sweater from Hell got pushed aside.

I eventually did pick it up again, but it took some reacquainting myself with the specifics of sleeves, increases, decreases, special knitting on the arm cuffs, and so on. Life intervened in not too short a time, and I put it away yet again. I picked it up again maybe about a year ago; I've repressed even the approximate when. I made progress until ... I should know better than to knit at night without several Ott lights (one was not enough) ... I dropped some stitches. I took a deep breath and tried to pick them up. I dropped more stitches. To make this all the more difficult, I was at that point knitting two separate sides of the sweater, each using two strands of yarn. I dislike both of those types of knitting, which may be why the dropping of additional stitches resulted in my sobbing hysterically, carefully putting the sweater and all the accessories and pattern book into a cardboard box that I shut and put out of sight.

Not too many days later, I emailed a friend who at one point had working in a knitting store. She said she would rescue me. Several attempts at setting up a time fell through; she was working through some family difficulties. At one point, I got an email newsletter from the Needle Lady owner. What the heck! I replied explaining about the sweater and could someone at the shop help me. She replied immediately saying to bring it in right then and there. I replied truthfully that that day was not a good one and could she suggest another time in the coming week. Never heard from her.

While working the polls last November, the sweater came up in conversation with the other assistant precinct chief who, it turns out, is an expert knitter. She said to give her a call, she'd be glad to help me. After the election, one thing and then another got in the way and I never called her. By then, I was feeling more than a little sheepish. I kept thinking that I should start another knitting project but every attempt to pick something out fell flat. I finally decided that I had a mental block against starting another project before I had finished this one.

As it turned out, my friend picked up the extra stitches and got me back on track in less than thirty minutes. When I came home and gathered my wits, I was embarrassed to realize that I only had about ten or twelve rows to knit to finish the knitting. After working all the loose yarn ends in, I had to tackle blocking the sweater. More experienced knitters will shake their heads when they hear me say that I had only ever blocked one sweater before, and that was a special case of needing to put a zipper in where I had cut a steek. The shape of the sweater from Hell was going to make blocking a bitch, so I sought more help from my friend the expert knitter. She loaned me something called blocking wires and explained how to use them.

To show you some of the frustration of the knitting, blocking, and seam-sewing to come, here is what the sweater looked like after knitting and right before I blocked it.


The two parts folded over in the center are the sleeves. I had to pin each side if the shape to be the same length and line up various points. All that was easy compared with the next step, figuring out where to put the seam. I read what the book said. I read the tutorial from the website. After much profanity and some tears, I said, "Screw this I am just going to start pinning and be done with it!" And pin I did which was okay until I realized the next day--as I was about to start on the sewing-- that what I had pinned was not one continuous seam. It was two short ones off each end of a long one. Fortunately, it was easy to see what I had done wrong, so re-pin I did and commenced sewing. I normally hate sewing knitted things together (one reason I absolutely love Icelandic knitting), but I really wanted to see the end of the sweater from Hell. And here it is...


It came out a bit smaller than I thought it would, possibly due to a gauge issue I shall discuss with my friend the expert knitter. I still like it, though, and will wear it when the weather turns cold. I just need to find a nice shawl pin to hold the two sides of the front together.

I was adamant while finishing this that I would never make another. Now that it's done, and I can see what it looks like, I think I may make another one. That one would be done with one strand of yarn only, and I might try an oval to get a longer back. That will be in a while, though. I'm meeting with my friend the expert knitter next week about a multiple cable sweater I've been wanting to make for longer than the sweater from Hell took me. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

STPT Nutrition Challenge Recipes!

In the recipes below, I've replaced white flour with whole wheat and sugar with honey. Once I figure out the best substitute for white flour in my apple pie filling (whole wheat flour? cornstarch? something else?), I'll add that recipe here.


Pie Crust 
(adapted from The Moosewood Cookbook)

The following makes one (1) crust. Double or otherwise multiply as needed.

Cut together 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/3 cup cold butter. Use a pastry cutter, two forks, or two knives. If the butter is unsalted, add 1/4 teaspoon salt. (The original recipe noted that 4/5 white flour plus 1/5 whole wheat flour was a nice mix.)

When the mixture is uniformly blended, add about 3 tablespoons cold buttermilk (the recipe says one can use cold water instead, but I've always made it with liquid or even powdered buttermilk plus cold water)  or enough so the mixture holds together enough to form a ball.

The recipe says to chill the dough for at least one hour. When I do this, it is incredibly hard to roll out, and the second crust always rolls much more easily than the first. Chilling it for a while is good, but a half hour suits me better than a full one.

Hearth Bread 
(adapted from a King Arthur flour recipe)

This makes two loaves. I make this in a Cuisinart mixer using the dough hook. It can be made by hand, but kneading it will be a real workout. Put 1 tablespoon yeast, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 tablespoon honey in a bowl. Add 2 cups hot water (I use the hottest water that comes out of my tap) and let it proof. Add 6 cups of whole wheat flour, 2 cups at a time, beating a bunch after each addition. 

When it's all beaten together and reasonably smooth, give it a couple of kneads by hand. Put it in a buttered bowl, flipping over so that there's butter on the top as well as the bottom. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel. Put the bowl in a warm place. I let my dough rise on my stove, beside (not on) the burner that vents from the oven, with the oven temperature set at 500 degrees F. Let the dough rise an hour or until doubled in bulk. 

Punch the dough down, split it and give each half a knead or two to get it into a loaf shape and put it into loaf pans sprayed with cooking spray. (Aside: I have trouble getting the whole wheat version into a "pretty" loaf. Taking taste over appearance, I don't mind.) Let the loaves rise for 30 minutes.

Fill a 13 x 9 inch cake pan halfway with water, and put this on the bottom shelf of the oven. After 15 minutes, put the loaves in on the middle rack. After 10 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400 degrees F. After 10 more minutes, they're done.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Travel with a Small Dose of (Emotional?) Baggage


The husband will turn 65 on his next birthday, so our financial advisers had us complete a questionnaire about retirement needs, wants, plans, and such. Since he plans to work until he is 70, we're still talking "future," but we know all too well how plans can change unexpectedly.

One of the questions concerned "extras" that we'd like to have in retirement. We don't want a second home, a nicer car, or anything material. What we want is to be able to travel. We've enjoyed being able to do that now that the sons are out of college, and have no desire to stop, especially since we'll have more time and more flexible schedules then.

We already have a couple of trips on the horizon. I saw a great deal on a three-night trip to Reykjavik, Iceland in January. We'll be flying WOW Air. They're one of the new low-fare airlines where you pay extra for just about anything. You're allowed one carry-on weighing no more than 5 kilos (11 pounds). If you want to carry on a heavier bag, you pay. If you want to check a bag, you pay. If you want to check two or even three bags, you pay more. If you want a seat assignment, you pay. Getting an idea now of how the deal I saw was so great?

We've got our fingers crossed that we'll return to Hue, Vietnam in June 2016. It's the tenth anniversary of the start of the University of Virginia - Hue University connection, and it sounds as if they'd like the husband to do another class. As for people who tell me how hot and humid it will be in Vietnam in June, I already know that. The husband was the concerned one, at least until I pointed out that he would be living in an air-conditioned hotel, teaching in an air-conditioned classroom, and working in an air-conditioned office. I'm the one who would (will) be outside in the elements for long periods each day.

The limited luggage on WOW Air actually ties in with how I was thinking of packing for Vietnam. Ready? I say that because I realize that there are people who are going to tell me I am crazy, especially when I note that the list of things I'm thinking of packing includes what I would be wearing while travelling. Two pairs of light-weight cargo pants that can unzip into shorts (not that I plan to wear shorts in Vietnam); two t-shirts; two long-sleeved, collared, buttoned shirts; one skirt; one of my ao dais; one pair each of sandals and walking shoes; and socks and underwear in corresponding numbers. Except for the fact that some of the Asian airlines only allow one carry-on, that's a carry-on sized wardrobe.

The other thing I expect some people will see as crazy is that I'm planning that the husband and I each take a camera. Sounds fine, right? At least until I say that those cameras will be small digitals, the kind that can fit in a breast or a jacket pocket. Why? Largely because I'm tired of lugging a heavy (with longer lens) DSLR or even a mid-weight one with me. I never videotaped any of the sons' performances as they grew up because I didn't want to focus more on the taping and less on them. It's the same here. I feel as if I'm thinking more about a photo than I am about what I'm seeing. I will be honest and say that I can't recall the last time I looked at any of the photos from our previous Vietnam trips. Getting the lead photo here was the first time in a long time that I'd looked through the photos from our trip to Australia in May 2014. And I've only looked at the Vietnam 2012 photos or the Iceland 2010 ones a handful of times.

I wonder, though, whether this is just due to a felt need to jettison some baggage in more general, life terms. I occasionally have a Barnes and Noble coupon for which I can't find a use. (Older son always can, though.) I walk through a store to get one item in particular and see things that I might once have wanted but now approach with a "Meh." If I see something that will make a perfect gift for someone else, I still buy it. I just don't impulse buy for myself. I will continue to ponder this all as the Iceland trip approaches. If I change my mind and decide to take a larger camera, I'll so confess. In the meantime, I need to post this and get on writing about the sweater from Hell.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Coloring the Rainbow

I've always loved Harry Chapin's "Flowers Are Red" as a comment on our educational system. The young boy starts school coloring believing

"There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one"

only to be told by his teacher 


"Flowers are red, young man
And green leaves are green
There's no need to see flowers any other way
Than they way they always have been seen"

Eventually the young boy adopts the party line after which he no longer uses the many colors of the rainbow, at least not for flowers.

I had a love-hate relationship with coloring and coloring books as a child. I remember finding it hard to stay within the lines even when they were lines I'd drawn myself. And having been a bit brainwashed myself, I looked at the neat, within-the-line coloring of other kids and thought how much better it looked than mine. I have no idea if that is what others thought, but it was easy enough for me to believe.

Coloring books are back and one of the new "in" things for adults. Supposedly meditative and calming, they're touted as a stress-reduction tool. I recently received a coloring book of mandala designs for my birthday and can say that there really is a meditative element to it as long as I make a concerted effort to stay within the lines. It takes concentration which makes other, unnecessary thoughts vanish into the ether at least for the time I am coloring. I should perhaps try color on a regular basis, especially since I've gotten better at staying within the lines.



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Letting Time Go Lightly



I let time go lightly when I'm here with you, 
I let time go lightly when the day is through.
I keep a watch on time when I've got work to do, 
I let time go lightly with you.
- Harry Chapin

The men in my life gave me the watch shown above for my birthday. It has a 24-hour dial. Each number, from 1 to 24, has three ticks in between. There is one hand which makes one revolution per 24-hour day. I have seen it advertised as the "slow watch." It is impossible to tell a precise time using this watch. The norm becomes "It's between 3:00 and 4:00" or "It's getting close to 1600 hours" (4:00 p.m.). Using the watch to arrive somewhere at a certain time really only works if you're willing to get there early. 

The men told me that they hoped this would help me to slow down a bit, something I occasionally say I should do. Two weeks in, their plan may be working. Today, I put on my old watch so that I did not miss the proper time to leave to take the dog to a 3:30 vet appointment. As Harry said, "I keep a watch on time when I've got work to do." As soon as we got home from the appointment, I swapped the watches out. I'll put the old watch on again tomorrow morning so that I can time the run(s) I will be doing. After that, it will be back to the new watch.

I am enjoying letting time go lightly.