Monday, December 31, 2007

New Year's Eve


Time to make resolutions.

I have a couple already. One is to research, and possibly join, a local quilt guild. There are pluses and minuses to joining. On the one hand, I don't like group dynamics. Reminds me too much of dysfunctional family relationships, I guess. I used to belong to a romance writers group (Sharyn knows of what I speak), and it got weird at one point. I bring a lot of the weirdness with me, I'll confess, and there's a negative synergy that can crop up, but every once in a while I wonder if it's not entirely just me...

On the other hand, quilt guilds are wonderful sources of fellowship and camaraderie. They encourage quilters to actually finish quilts and to contribute to the community. So I owe it to myself to find out, at the very least, about my options here. That's resolution number 4.

(Resolutions numbers 1 through 3 are the old standbys: Eat better, lose weight, get more exercise.)

Number 5: make four quilts this year. That's actually a bit ambitious, what with one thing and another, but it can be done. I have to make (well, I don't have to, but you know what I mean) two baby quilts soon, before the children in question grow up. (I'm still stitching away on two cross stitch projects for siblings who, while not yet enrolled at Harvard, are considerably bigger than they ought to be for birth announcement stitching!) Anyway, baby quilts are manageable, so that just leaves two quilts for here. I can do this, honest. I just need to apply myself.

The only other thing I've got for 2008 is to resolve my medical mystery. (Quick recap: symptoms consistent with gallstone pancreatitis; ultrasound shows a normal pancreas and no gallbladder, even though I'm pretty sure it's still in there; next step: meet with surgeon and get more tests.) It's been quiet recently, but I wonder if the stodgy limbo I've been in has something to do with the medical limbo I've been in. In other words, no diagnosis/treatment plan = no progress in other areas of my life. So all I have to do is meet with the surgeon, get more tests, and fix the problem.

Piece o' cake, right? No wait, cake's probably contra-indicated by Resolutions 1, 2 & 6.

Piece o' carrot, right? There. That's better. Now, where did I put that exercise DVD - ?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

My Best Christmas Presents

It really has been a wonderful day. I got all sorts of great presents, including things that really reflect who I am (e.g., a book on Q school from Coffee Jones, who probably doesn't know much about how golfers get onto the PGA tour and must surely care even less!) and things that are just fun to have, like a mini-IQ test. (That last one is curious -- on the top of the box, it explains that people with IQs of 130 or more make up 2.2% of the population; on the side is says, "130 I.Q. -- smarter than 98% of population." Um, we round up?) I love everything I got, and I'm very grateful. (Thank you notes are in the mail, btw...)

But at the end of the day, I know what the two best presents are: my companions for the weekend. That they are my current- and ex-husband is just part of what makes me quirky. But it's how well that particular situation is going that is the real gift. And believe me, it's not something I could make work single-handedly.

I can't do the set-up justice. You'll just have to believe me when I say that all the obvious pitfalls are missing. There's no sexual jealousy. The men in question don't indulge in testosterone-based challenges, gambits or games. There isn't even that much competition for the middle link, namely me. (Hey, I'm down in my office now, alone, while they're amusing themselves elsewhere in the house.) They aren't best friends, Starman & Hub 1.0, but they get along okay.

The one thing I am honest about is why it matters so much to me to have Hub 1.0 here. He's my family. I've known him for over 36 years, although for much of that time we were on opposite sides of the Atlantic and not in touch at all. I would love it if this meant we had shared history, but Hub 1.0's memory is lamentable, so he recalls nothing of any (distant) past dealings with me. He's more like my brother than my brothers are. Hub cares about me, in an admittedly tepid fashion, but if I'm sick or hurt, he makes this sweet, dorky soothing noise over the phone, and I cheer up mostly from the silliness. I can tell Hub stuff and he knows the context of my life. He's familiar and stable, and he treats me with good will. Where I come from, that counts for a lot.

At the same time, I've been thinking a lot about how wonderful Starman is. You know that expression, "He's just not that into you"? Well, Starman is really into me. He thinks I'm smart and lovely. He really believes that he's the lucky one!

And comparisons are odious, so I avoid them where Hub 1.0 and Starman are concerned. That's mostly not hard; they are very different people once you get past the British/cryptic crosswords/technogeek thing. But this weekend I had an epiphany about them, and their attitudes about me. Hub 1.0 had been languishing in an okay-but-nothing-special life in the U.K. when I swept in and whisked him back to the U.S. And his life in the U.S. is, I believe, undeniably better than it was in the U.K. But he wasn't all that thrilled with my role in that transformation. To say he resented me would overstate the matter considerably, but I don't think it's wrong to say that he didn't romanticize it either.

By contrast, Starman really loves his life here at Harmony and with me. He doesn't gush with gratitude, either -- this is no green card marriage! -- but he is grateful to be here and with me. Where I was a transit point with Hub, I'm the destination for Starman. And it's awfully nice to see that in his eyes!

For me, I really feel lucky twice over. I truly love Hub 1.0 -- but I can see now how monochromatic our marriage was. A lovely marriage, but a bit . . . bland, perhaps? Certainly all the feeling I have for him fits neatly into the quasi-sibling relationship we have now. That wouldn't work with my feelings for Starman, that's for sure.

But enough about me, what about them? Well, I don't know about Hub -- and he can comment if he needs to set the record straight -- but I know it's been a challenge for Starman to accept that a connection to Hub was part of the package deal. Mind you, they knew each other before I came on the scene, but not well, and it was an acquaintance strictly framed by their mutual interest in crosswords. Geography helps here; Hub lives 160 miles away, and we only see him a handful of times per year. If he lived down the road, this might not work.

Well, it wouldn't work now if they didn't make it work. And that's saying a lot. I really have to give them both credit, and I hope they get something good out of it for their trouble. If nothing else, I get a lot. I get a mini-family all my own. I get someone to invite for the holidays, and the fun of planning things for all three of us to do together. (Jigsaws, games, puzzles, movies, walks down the storm-damaged dirt road . . . just the same sort of family stuff everyone does at the holidays, right?) I get a feeling of belonging, and of mattering. I get to share.

So thanks, guys. Thanks for giving me a warm, peaceful, happy Christmas. Thanks for making this house feel like a family home, and not just a couple-specific abode. Thanks for being my past, my present, and my future. I have truly never been happier.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays

I've been resisting posting anything for a while. I've been a bit depressed recently (not too bad, and it's already passed, but thanks for your concern), and that tends to warp my perspective and make me a bit grumpy. You really didn't want to read my vituperative opinion of the county district attorney, who uses his column in the weekly newspaper here (a column entitled, "From the Desk of the D.A.") to violate the Establishment Clause, and by so doing, my constitutional rights. That's just a bummer.

So, instead, here's a pleasantly generic holiday greeting for all of you: whether you celebrate a religious holiday (of any persuasion), a secular holiday (ditto), or nothing at all, please do so with a happy heart, health & wealth, good food and better friends, and the knowledge that life continues to offer joy and surprises. I hope all your gifts, both given & received, are perfect. And you don't have too much to clean up when it's all over.



Postscript -- I have finally spoken to the DA (as Starman calls him) and found him charming. I therefore retract my criticism of him personally, I apologize for the animadversion expressed above, and hope he will forgive me. But I still think his holiday columns are unconstitutional, and will work toward persuading him that it's not worth the risk that I'm right. At least now I know it'll be a pleasant conversation!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Puzzle Mania

I have a new obsession. Online jigsaw puzzles. I have been going to JigsawZone and wasting time! A lot of time. An embarrassing amount of time. I admit it.

And now I'm going to be a pusher as well as an addict. Here's one of my photos (lilacs, as promised, and because Sharyn loves them too), done as a jigsaw puzzle. Enjoy!

Click to Mix and Solve

I've checked, and it seems to work. Which means I haven't been (working, that is).

Time to go get dressed!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

And now for something completely floral . . .

It snowed here the day before yesterday, about nine inches, and we dutifully pulled on our boots and winter woolies to trudge down to see Nina & Rudy, our next door neighbors, who were leaving first thing yesterday to drive to Bozeman, Montana for their annual skiing sojourn. That's the local harbinger of winter here -- they leave mid-December, and return in early April. They will be missed!

Yesterday, I used the tractor and its snowblower attachment to clear the driveway in front of the barn, and the driveway in front of the house, of Thursday's snow. Tomorrow, I'll use it again to keep ahead of the snow that is due to fall tonight and tomorrow. And I'm sure I'll be using it on Monday to clear the rest of tomorrow's snow.

Meanwhile, in other news, I went for an ultrasound yesterday. I did mention, very briefly, that there's something wrong with my GI tract. Well, we're working on getting a diagnosis. Nothing too unpleasant, and I'm feeling fine now, but it's been a busy couple of weeks.

So between the weather and medical issues, I thought it would be nice to look at some flowers. These photos were taken by Starman last summer, when our daylilies were in bloom. We do have other colors than this salmon pink and that yellow, but these were the ones that posed for us, so to speak.

I hope it's nice where you are. But if it's not, here's something to cheer you up. I present these in honor of Hub 1.0, who likes getting and using in his office the calendar sent by our New Zealand cousins, which shows pretty summer flowers in January and December, and snow-covered mountains and skiing in July and August.

I think someplace I've got photos of lilacs (my favorite flower), so if this winter drags on, I'll use those next...

Saturday, December 8, 2007

I just don't know about this one...

I've been looking for some new blogs to read (all recommendations more than welcome) as I've gotten fed up with Dooce's new design, clearly intended to discourage all of us who are OLD and can't read tiny print and don't care about cutting edge design tissue boxes.

This has led me to look at quilters' blogs. Mostly boring. (Sorry, but we can be boring. Myself included.) But they do take you to odd places. Just as you can rate yourself as a nerd, you can have your own fairy name. Here's mine

Your fairy is called Columbine Goblinfilter

She is a bringer of riches and wealth.

She lives in mushroom fields and quiet meadows.

She is only seen on midsummer's eve.

She wears lilac and purple like columbine flowers. She has gentle green wings like a butterfly.

Get your free fairy name here!

(The cleverpants among my readers may notice that my fairyname doesn't exactly match up with either fairy as pictured. Okay, okay -- so I raided Google Images for suitable fairies. Now you can sue me -- I went back and got copyright-free fairies!)

Just another of the many perks to reading my blog: It too is boring AND you get a fairy name out of it!

Busy Busy Busy

Every week I think, "Next week will be better," meaning that next week will have entire days with NOTHING scheduled and nothing special going on and nothing needing to be done, and I'll be able to relax, sew, read, etc.


This past week was taken up with being ill (I have something wrong with my upper GI, and when I know what it is, I'll share that information with you) and then recovering from being ill, and then doing laundry, legal work, and shopping. Next week may be better, but Starman and I are in Philly for two days, which cuts a bit into potential sewing/reading/relaxing time.

Today, though, is different. Hub 1.0 is here for the Annual Cookie Baking Weekend, where we flip through special cookie magazines, pick out the best ones to make, and then make them. I've picked 12 recipes, which seems like a lot, but with a little organization, it's not too bad. I have to get upstairs to get started, so this will naturally be brief.

This is the kind of busy I like. So much so that even with a day full of baking ahead of me, I made multi-grain pancakes for breakfast. I really do like to cook, and I like guests around the place, and while I know my days of plain white flour pancakes slathered with butter and syrup are over, at least I found a fun recipe to try. And I bet when I make it with fresh whole wheat flour, they'll be really yummy. (My compliments to my Brit Boys for eating them with every appearance of satisfaction -- mind you, the pancakes weren't bad, just not as good as they could be. Still, I'm lucky to have two happy eaters in the house.)

I hope everyone else is enjoying some aspect of the preparations for the holidays. It's a nice time, even if it is busy busy busy.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Two-House Problem

Supposedly one of the ten annoying things rich people say (there are only ten?) is "Oh, bother! My favorite Asser & Turnbull shirt is in the Hamptons house!"

Well, in our case (this would Hub 1.0 and me, circa 2000-2005), it was more likely to be a jacket or book left in the wrong house, but I can still sympathize. And, as I've discovered, the two-house problem runs deeper than you realize.

We bought Harmony because both us grew up with two houses. In my case, my parents lived in Schenectady and then Albany (a geographical region in upstate New York known on the radio as "the Capillaria") but had a beach house in Maine. The distance, and financial circumstances meant they used it three or four times a year, and rented it out the rest of the summer, but when they rebuilt it as a year-round house and retired there, I would think nothing of getting in the car on Friday night and heading out for the 210-mile trip just to spend the weekend there. (Yes, I was younger then. Thinking about that drive now makes me want to take a nap...) In Hub 1.0's case, his parents lived in London but had six acres in Sussex, which they visited every other weekend from the time Hub was about ten.

So when we married, we instinctively thought about a weekend place. I'd been inspired by a former colleague who had a watercolor of a charming yellow house on her office wall. I asked about it one day, and Kathy told me that it was their place "up in the mountains." They'd found it by drawing a circle representing the distance they reasonably felt they could drive away from Philadelphia, contacted a realtor, and bought the house. It just seemed idyllic. We tried the realtor approach, but it didn't work for us. The woman we tried assumed (in a big way) that we wanted waterfront property. Around here, that means lakefront. I'll swim in salt water, and I'll do a swimming pool any day of the week, but fresh water? All murky and who knows what's down there? Not so much. After the third lake house she showed us -- and they were tiny and very very close to their neighbors, which was off-putting -- she was driving us back to town when we yelled at her to stop the car! The land had dropped away across a valley toward a distant line of hills. "That!" we told her. "We want that! A view..." She understood immediately precisely what we wanted, and we never heard from her again.

I found Harmony by doing a google search for "Endless Mountains" and "view." It was listed as being sold by the owner, but when I called the guy, he said they'd had to list it with a realtor. His partner (gay couple, who had run it as a B&B for the five years they got under the tax code to depreciate their improvements, like a barn for the horses) had been relocated, so the employer got a relocation company to handle the sale. They promise the home owner a guaranteed price; if they get more, that's fine, if they get less, the difference is paid by the employer in whose interest it is to have the home owner out of the house pronto. The relo company has a strong incentive to accept any reasonable offer, particularly if the house hasn't sold for a while. That meant that if no one bought it in six months, we'd have a steal on our hands.

We didn't really want to wait six months, and we had some inside knowledge. The owners had been asking more money for the house (the classic $50 less than a really round number), but the relo company took a much more pragmatic approach and had it relisted for about $35,000 less. I worked for a big firm, and a colleague told me that one of the paralegals in the real estate department used to work for the very same national relo company; she told me that the company routinely priced houses at 3% over what they actually hope to get. So we made an offer at the price point we calculated they wanted. They accepted.

Suddenly we owned 24 acres 160 miles away from where we owned a townhouse that needed work. It's not entirely true that any work we did, we did to Harmony, but I'll acknowledge that Hub 1.0's house did not get its fair share of attention. It didn't help that we did no entertaining there. It was always easier and nicer to invite people to Harmony.

Thus, one of the most significant aspects of the Two-House Problem is that both houses suffer in some way. Harmony was neglected during the week. There was that horrid mid-winter night when we arrived to the sound of running water and discovered 200-year-old wood floors needing refinishing and a basement ceiling in pieces on the floor. And Hub 1.0's house just never got the attention it deserved.

I'd bought it from a law firm colleague for $92,000. By the time we split up, it was worth more than Harmony, solely on the basis of its location in a classic South Philly neighborhood on the cusp of yuppification. Hub 1.0 has taken on the challenge, though, and with gratifying thoroughness.

For example, he's installed a new gas fireplace with the intention that it look like it's always been there. Let's start with the before picture -- you should be noticing the blank chimney wall on the right with a gold-framed mirror leaning against it.

Here's what's in the blank space now:

And a wider view:

Pretty awesome, hunh? Now that it's the single house of a single man, it's looking a lot better than it did as one of a two-house-couple.

I'll try to show you some of the improvements here as a result of full-time ownership, but it will have to wait. I've gone on way too long as it is.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Happy December!

Here are this year's advent calendars. Carefully purchased in the UK last year (on sale, knowing me) and put aside until last week. I love advent calendars; Caspari used to do a wonderful line in charming, cartoony (but not too Disney) calendars. I loved them so much, I've saved them for reuse. I'm not sure either of these will be as wonderful as my decades-old Caspari calendars, but I'm willing to be lucky this year.

[Speaking of reusing calendars, in the course of unpacking stuff from Philadelphia I came across a quilty-style calendar that Hub 1.0 must have given me for Christmas 2000. Each month has a cut out design different from the other months. When stacked together, it makes a Lone Star block of some complexity. (For the non-quilter, just think of an eight-pointed star with lots of different colors.) And because you can stack them in all kinds of ways, each month is different. Well, 2001 started on a Monday just like 2007, and neither was a leap year, so . . . I reused it! This isn't so much frugal as appreciative.]

Last year, Starman and I had traditional (in the UK) chocolate advent calendars. Each window opened to reveal a teeny tiny wrapped chocolate. It was okay. I like the cute designs better.

I think you can click on either of these to see it larger and with more detail. Try it and see!