Monday, January 28, 2008

While you're just waiting for me . . .

I do have photos from our trip last week. I do, really. I just having importing them into my machine. And as I'm downloading the latest version of AOL at the moment, I think I'll keep the photos on my "to do" list.

I'm downloading AOL because for a year or more, I get an error message when I log onto AOL. Something about how there are key files missing needed for videos (or something) and this will mean certain files can't be run. What-EV-er. In a year, I've not once had something not work for me. Until today.

Do you remember I mentioned that Coffee Jones gave me a neat book for Christmas, about golf? Well, the guy who wrote that book, John Feinstein, has written several other books about golf, and I've been reading them one right after another. (Note to self: Books-as-equivalent-to-potato-chips = good topic for future blog post.)

Only, there's a funny undercurrent -- just a whiff of something odd -- in his books. He doesn't much like Tiger Woods. Feinstein wrote an entire book about the first U.S. Open championship to be played at a municipal golf course ("Open" -- he's got a way with words, our JF). The tournament was won by Tiger Woods, but that really didn't get more than a tangential mention in the book.

Don't get me wrong -- these books are really fun to read (assuming you LIKE golf; I would imagine that if you didn't like golf, you'd rather read Moby Dick, War and Peace, or our personal favorite for unreadable classic: The Last of the Mohicans, than a John Feinstein book). But, in honor of Tiger's 62nd tour victory -- tying Arnold Palmer's spot on the all-time list -- I thought I would google both Feinstein and Tiger and see what he really thinks.

It's bad, people. Feinstein has actually written an anti-Tiger book. That's bad.

I kinda, sorta get it. If your hero is Arnold Palmer (and he seems to be Feinstein's), Tiger Woods isn't going to cut it. Feinstein writes about how warm and friendly Palmer is -- he remembers everyone's name, takes time to chat with the up-and-coming players, and is a gracious host. (He also makes a packet of money every year as a corporate shill despite the fact that his last tour victory was in 1973, but that doesn't take away from his popularity.) Tiger Woods is not Arnold Palmer; he's VERY private, terse, likes very few people, and has to work at it to encourage the "younger" players.

But here's a funny thing: Feinstein loves Arnold Palmer, right? But he doesn't see the irony when he quotes Palmer as saying that the PGA Tour isn't as intense and competitive as it was in Arnie & Jack's day. Palmer would like to see players be more serious on the golf course, to play harder and really want to beat the other guy. Guess who that sounds like!

Anyway, I find a webcast with some golf guy interviewing John Feinstein. There's no date on the site, but there's a reference to Torrey Pines, the course where Tiger won yesterday. Ooh, goody -- let's see if Feinstein has softened about Tiger, I think.

Because -- and I know I think way too much about all this, but still -- Tiger Woods is a cool phenomenon. First off, he's good. No, he's great. Actually, he's probably better than that, but let's keep it scaled down to what we have today. He's 32, about to enter his best playing years. (Phil Mickelson didn't win his first major until his early 30s.) He's already won 13 majors, and there's serious talk about Tiger's chance to win all four majors this year, a feat unequaled in modern golf. He's won on tour 62 times; he's only been on tour a little more than 11 years. Imagine what he can do in another 11 years.

He's a multi-millionaire, and likely to be sports' first billionaire. He's a significant fund raiser and philanthropist, creating a learning center in California for disadvantaged youth, and planning another one on the east coast.

He's committed to playing around the world, which means he provides a positive example of American skills and abilities in other countries.

And he's black. Not 100% black, but black enough that as a child he was tied to a tree and had "the N-word" spray painted on his chest. Black enough that he gets criticized for not criticizing others for racially-charged language. He's a black man who's popular (with a lot of people, even if not John Feinstein) and successful. That's a good thing. And it's different enough from Arnold Palmer's background that I think it matters.

So I was interested enough in what John Feinstein had to say on the subject that I reinstalled AOL and tried again. Here's the result: I seem to have substituted one error message for another, but I was able to listen to the webcast, only it was from last May and clearly part of Feinstein's publicity tour promoting the book Coffee J. gave me.

Now I get to call AOL's help line and see what this NEW error message means.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

We're Baa-ack!

Flew in from Heathrow last night; Hub 1.0 picked us up in our own car. He seemed willing to be thrown out of the car at the exit ramp as we whizzed back north, but no, we're not that crass. We "let" him make us coffee before we left Philadelphia! (I've recently learned that Starman used to drink coffee but thinks it's bad for you. However, the incremental health damage from a cup o' joe at 3 a.m. G.M.T. is WAY outweighed by its benefits if it keeps you from falling asleep at the wheel!)

I have news and photos (not of anything interesting, but you specified photos -- next time, say if you want them pretty!) but it's all going to have to wait for the jet lag to ebb. In the meantime, I'm going to watch Tiger Woods play golf. I may watch with my eyes shut...

Monday, January 14, 2008

Off to Old Blighty!

Starman and I fly to England tonight. We've got ten days in which to register for the privilege of getting married there in April. I can almost see their point (if I squint really hard) -- they don't really want people showing up to get married in a lay-over at Heathrow. But we're just going to stay with Starman's brother & sister-in-law for a week, then tell the nice people that we've been resident for the requisite 7 days, then fly back home. We could have done this in April, but I think Starman was (properly) concerned that we not leave this to chance. Also, the registrar's office in Harrogate might have balked at an assurance, "No, really, guv, we'll be there a week ahead ..."

So off we go. Also on this trip: a visit with the lovely woman doing our flowers, a visit (I sincerely hope) with the harpist that Starman wants to play before and after the ceremony, a stop at the up-market Waitrose pastry chefs who'll make the cake (I'm trying to make this sound fancy-schmancy, but it is a supermarket when all's said and done), and a shopping trip with two not-so-metrosexual men to buy suits. And then there's the tasting.

Yes, people, we decided to have the astronomically priced tasting. I can say no more about it -- I will report in with the results when it's over.

In non-wedding-planning news, we hope to see all of Starman's siblings and their progeny, including Lily who's at Sheffield University. We are registering our residency there. Lily's busy, but we hope she'll have lunch with us. We start, though, with a visit to Starman's mother, who's been increasingly unwell. She's a lovely woman; I know this even though I first met her just weeks after the fall that precipitated the hospital stay that led to having full time carers in the home . . . it's been a rough two years for the whole family. I'm pleased that my sweet man gets at least one more chance to be with her.

No sightseeing, no shows, no fancy meals out (other than the tasting -- but I said I wouldn't say more about that so I won't), and the only shopping is for wedding suits. Hardly the classic holiday. Still, I love my in-laws. We have lots of gifts for the kids. And it will be wonderful to see how happy Starman's family is about the wedding.

I'll blog as I can, but if you don't hear from me, don't panic. I'll be back.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

So Little Time, Part 3

In other news, I met two important people this week: Stephen, or as I like to call him, The Famous Stephen. The Famous Stephen is the man who's going to make my wedding dress. As you can see from the photo below, I'm no willowy size 6 bride! And not meaning to disparage anyone's anything, larger women in wedding dresses can sometimes look like a Rubic's cube in white satin. The Famous Stephen is going to fix that. As he put it when I left, I'll look like I've lost 30 pounds.

It's all, I gather, in the bodice. Now, I'm not completely unknowledgeable about fashion design and the history of dress design. I can probably get within 15 years the date of most dresses made after 1750. But when Stephen started to say, "Oh, well of course that was only in style for eight years," and you just know he could tell you which eight years... I'm well & truly out of my depth.

He's now going to start making a toile (a muslin version of the dress) for me to try on. Bless you, Famous Stephen. That's all I can say. (Ooh, and he's going to come up with something for Coffee Jones, aka The Crone of Honour!)

Other important meeting? I met My Surgeon this week. Dr. Castellanos -- he looks like a bunch of famous people, the only one I can think of now is Pedro Almodovar, the Spanish director. I know -- too obscure. I'll keep thinking about it.

Anyway, he would have whisked me into an operating room on the spot if it weren't that this would be seen (by the insurance companies, at the very least) as premature. So, even though he doesn't think any test will show my gallbladder, he's going to do some more investigation. Next up: a contrast study of my upper G.I.

But of course, none of that happens until after Starman and I get back from England. We leave on Monday! Which means the next 58 hours are jam-packed. Gotta go now to the local township meeting to discuss our washed-out road!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Our Little Basting Party!

Here is the barn, basting table, quilt sandwich & me, safety pins in hand.

Next up: The very picture of a loving husband: the couple that bastes together shares Band-aids together...

Oh, and if you're interested, you can see that the blocks -- which were supposed to go in diagonals -- don't. One does; that would be the one I was using to make sure they all did (ahem!) but the rest got uppity and moved around on me. Now, I can smile about this. Then, well let's just say I wasn't smiling.

Starman working on a section of the basting. Honestly, I'm telling you -- he's such a star (all puns intended).

So Little Time (Part 2)

I have to get all these stories down before we leave for England, so let's get right down to it, shall we?

I'll start with the quilting one. Now, don't panic -- it's not really about quilting, but in order to get the point across, I will have to tell you about the process involved.

I'm in the middle of making the first quilt I was prepared to keep. See, it's easy making quilts for other people -- the recipient of an original, homemade quilt is so pleased with it that he/she/they aren't worried about little flaws. As the maker of a flawed quilt -- well, I can be (cough cough) a bit self-critical.

But after several quilts, I thought I was ready to make one I could stand to look at even though I'd know where the mistakes were. I had a fat quarter set I'd bought on the Internet and the pattern that went with it. Basically, it had two different blocks (a Greek Square and a Providence Quilt block, for those of you playing at home) and four different color ways for each. That's means there were multiples of eight different blocks laid out in a 6x7 pattern: 42 blocks total.

After making all the blocks, I came up with an arrangement that pleased me. I then sewed the blocks together into rows of six each, then sewed the rows together in pairs, and then two pairs together, with the other three sewn together in another large piece. And that's where I'd stopped in November.

As you know from other posts, December wasn't a great month for me, and the whole thing just sat in my studio for week after week. I meant to get back to it, I really did, but I'd come to realize that there were small flaws in the construction that was going to be tricky when I quilted it. These flaws are the understandable result of several factors: I was sewing non-standard pieces (triangles, pentagons, and so forth) that had exposed bias edges; I'm still learning as a quilter what is hard and how to do those hard steps well; and I'm no perfectionist. (I'm thinking as I type this that it's pretty ironic then that I hold myself to perfectionist standards, hunh? There's a shortcut to neurosis, wouldn't you agree?)

So I was discouraged about the process. Somewhere, though, I had vowed not to start accumulating U.F.O.s (unfinished objects) meaning individual blocks that never quite get to the level of being one entire quilt top, or they make it to quilt top status, but never get quilted, or it's quilted but not bound -- that sort of thing. Thus, I was obligated to finish the quilt or else.

The weather plays a part here. Years ago, Hub 1.0 made me a basting table: three hollow-core doors painted a sunny yellow that fit together and rest on trestles. When it's a basting table, it has a large surface perfect for taping down the backing fabric, then the batting, then the quilt top in what's called the "quilt sandwich." This lasagna of fabric is then safety-pinned all over, making it ready for quilting. My basting table is upstairs in the loft of the barn, and while it's theoretically possible to set it up in the house, it would be a palaver. As the barn is unheated, I wanted a nice "warm" day to do the basting in. And that day was Tuesday.

I was determined to get this done on Tuesday, and as I had the pre-trial motion to do on Monday, I was burning some midnight (and 2 a.m.) oil to get the final bits of sewing done: put the last two slabs of blocks together, then sew on two borders (an inner border in a lovely leaf green, and the outer border in a nice, coordinating floral), including miter corners. I finished that Tuesday lunch time, then sewed the backing fabric, and hauled everything out to the barn around 3:00 in the afternoon.

Starman joined me in time to help lay everything out, but then he wandered off to sharpen the chainsaw. I had just started with the safety pins when I made this sad little noise. I'd known there were small mistakes with the construction, but I'd just discovered that the 42 blocks were not laid out in the pattern I had intended. I was heartbroken.

Here's where a long story gets longer.

I do some things pretty well. I can knit almost anything, I cross stitch almost as well as Coffee Jones (a professional, after all), and I make entertaining look easy. I take no credit for any of that -- my thinking is, if it isn't hard, why should I be praised?

I do some things badly. I can't play a musical instrument; when I was a small child, I would get so frustrated that my stubby fingers couldn't make the piano sound the way it did in my head, I would break pencils. I can't speak (or read) a foreign language. I can't tat (obscure lace-making technique -- I tried to teach myself but couldn't get the hang of it). And those things I don't do well, I just don't do.

Quilting is the perfect fulcrum to this teeter-totter: I really, really, really want to make quilts. And I can't do them as well as I would like. Were I still seven years old, pencils would be broken right and left. I know the EASY answer to this is to cut myself a huge break: It's quilting, not brain surgery! I should be happy that I can do it moderately well, and leave it at that. But that frustrated seven year old is alive & kicking inside me, and I really do have a problem with the gap between my ideals and my abilities.

When I saw that the I'd screwed up the block order, I could feel that tidal wave of shame and disappointment and frustration just over my shoulder. But Starman was there, and he heard my tiny cry of dismay. He came over to help me baste (which was the only reason I got done in time) and asked what the problem was. We then had this charming meta-negotiation about the conversation about to happen.

"I really need you to say something nice to me," I told him.

"Okay, but you can't correct me or tell me that I don't understand," he countered.

"Okay, but you really have to think about what you want to say. No falling back on the default of 'I really love you'," I insisted.

Done deal. He thought about it, and said that it reminded him of compiling software. He worked every evening and weekend on his principal software product, Sympathy, even though he had a day job in London. He'd get completely lost in the coding, working sometimes 12 hours at a stretch. When it was done, and he'd released it, inevitably some customer would write in about a bug Starman had missed. He would feel awful about this -- "gutted" as they say in the U.K. -- and just want to die.

It was a great conversation; among the best in my whole life. I talked about how no one in my family appreciated accomplishments, nor encouraged us through our struggles to improve. He talked about his perfectionism. It was very . . . well, healing. Before long, I loved that bumpy, ruffly, jumbled up quilt more than I can say. We even named it: the Harmony Triangle Quilt. We agreed we'd always remember the time in our lives, filled with a crazy lawsuit over a nearby triangle of land, when I made it. But most of all, I'll know it as the first quilt I forgave for being a lot more imperfect than I had wanted.

[I have photos but Google isn't letting me post them just at this moment, so I'll put them in another post.]

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

So Much to Blog, So Little Time

What a busy day yesterday was: we (Starman and I) got the quilt basted -- lo-o-ong story there! -- and last night I finally (finally!) got to meet with the genius Stephen, who will make my wedding dress. That's also a long story.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to tell either of these long stories. I have to drive to Philadelphia to meet the surgeon and learn what my next assignment is in the scavenger hunt known as "Let's Figure Out What's Wrong With Magdalen's Gallbladder." So far we've had acute episodes of gastric pain, a non-conclusive ultrasound (it just didn't show my gallbladder at all...), and the next step is to hand me off from my internal medicine primary care physician (the guy I call "my doctor") to the surgeon, who I suspect I will end up calling "my surgeon," as though I'll only have one in my life.

After the visit with My Surgeon, I get there rest of the afternoon off -- calls to Starman and Coffee Jones are anticipated -- and then dinner with my favorite man in the whole world, J. As much as I love Hub 1.0 and Starman, I *ADORE* J. I only see him a couple of times a year, so this is a big treat.

And that means tomorrow I'll have two more long stories to tell. I promise --hold me to this, now! -- I'll tell all as soon as I can!

Monday, January 7, 2008

So Far So Good

We got done this weekend what we wanted/needed to get done. How often can I say that??

My motion in limine (with alternative forms of order) is done (the first draft -- but I'm not a multiple-draft kind of gal); my plan is to get it to Charlie this afternoon for signatures and have it filed tomorrow. That will truly be "something accomplished; something done" as my mother would have said. I also have some other work to do today for Charlie, but it's not too much (I hope!) to get done in the time allowed.

The Christmas ornaments have been put away (we follow the tradition of my parents -- the tree goes up just before Christmas and stays up for the twelve days of Christmas, which takes you to January 6) although we haven't yet gotten around to the Christmas cards and advent calendars. We have also denuded the refrigerator of its extensive magnet collection. The fridge is very elderly and so gets replaced on Wednesday with one almost precisely the same except that the drawer for cold cuts and cheeses won't fall down so often!

We also collected the basket o' books I won at the Forest City library raffle! I was in there mid-November and the raffle had just started: $1 per ticket or 3-for-$2. I really love this little library, so I handed over a $20 bill and then spent a LOT of time writing out all my raffle tickets. I was told once that you want to fold your slips of paper (which is what these raffle tickets amounted to) more than just once, so I did most of them into quarters and some into thirds. (Mind you, that technique didn't work at the Farm City Feast, where Starman had his heart set on winning a John Deere toy tractor, but hey -- that's life.) A couple days after Christmas we got the call: I'd won! So we drove down last Friday and collected it -- a huge basket filled with a couple dozen books at least, and of all sorts: Madeleine Albright's memoirs next to a Nora Roberts romance next to a James Patterson thriller next to Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera." And a fair selection of children's books, which have been sorted out for Starman's nieces and nephews, and the Jumping Bean & Beanette, Coffee Jones's little ones.

And we finished (even the extent of finding the last piece on the floor) the 1,500 piece jigsaw of a thatched cottage with extensive spring garden. We've been in a jigsaw groove for a while; we did one when Hub 1.0 was around for Thanksgiving, then another with him over Christmas, followed by the puzzle Starman got for Christmas (a challenging jazz painting that was borderline abstract), and now the behemoth cottage.

And with the holidays officially over, it's back to wedding planning: We're having trouble planning a tasting for the caterers. First of all, it's amazingly expensive: £350 (roughly $700) plus VAT (another 15% or something). I figured no way, but Starman -- who is worried that we're spending a huge amount of money on food that we've not tried -- seemed willing, provided it wasn't just us. We'd have liked to have had his brother's entire family come along, but the caterers can't do the Saturday (already booked for another event), Starman's sister-in-law can't do the Friday, the caterers can't do Wednesday or Thursday, and it's iffy for the Monday, and we can't do the Tuesday. *sigh* I'm not encouraged, but then I was okay with not doing the tasting. We'll just have to see how that all plays out.

I am relieved that an authority no less than Martha Stewart allows a nice, large window for getting wedding invitations out: two to four months before the event. I figure as ours is a small wedding and most of the invitees know they're invited and what the date is, we can wait until after our trip to England to get them out. That will be just under three months before the date, and I think that's okay. Which is good, because I don't think I have time to do them before we leave: They're a bit fussy, and I'm doing them myself.

Tomorrow -- if the fates allow! -- I'm off to see the famous Stephen, who I want to design & make my wedding dress. We've had half-a-dozen appointments fall through, mostly because of the weather. Tomorrow is supposed to be well up into the 50s here, so I think this one may actually happen.

The one thing that's a pressing deadline for me is also weather-dependent: quilting. I know that sounds weird, but as I mentioned before, I have to baste my current quilt (which is bed-sized) out in the barn, and it takes a long time, so I don't want to do it when it's around freezing. Tomorrow is supposed to be the warmest day for ages, so I've got to get out there. This is a bit of a crunch -- we're also due in Binghamton to sign our wills & other legal documents -- but I can do it if I make it a priority. So, it's a priority!

And that's my life: recent past, present, and tomorrow. As I say: So far, so good.

Friday, January 4, 2008

January Thaw

I am feeling much perkier. It really was a December Doldrums problem, I guess. I recall being depressed pretty much every December for decades, but not so much recently. Of course, there are all sorts of factors at work here -- not the least of which is that, like pain, it's hard to recall the precise sensation of being depressed. For all I know, I won't recall this past December's doldrums once I'm well away from them.

Okay, so I've got my legal work underway, and I'm feeling confident about that. I also have some sewing to do on the current quilt to get it ready for basting. The weather mavens here are predicting a 50-degree temperature swing in the next couple of days -- it was literally 0.1 degree Fahrenheit the night before last, and it's supposed to be in the fifties next week. If I want to baste my queen-sized quilt, I need to get into the loft of the barn on a mild, sunny day and get that done. Don't want to be working in there (unheated/drafty space) unless it's reasonably warm!

Meanwhile, I have started a new blog to augment this one. It's called Unusual Two No Trump and it's about bridge. And life. And partnership, communication, card sense, and -- well, I just don't do anything in a straightforward, linear fashion, so expect this to be a similar sort of jumble. If you hate bridge, or cards, or games, or games-players, you may want to give it a miss. But if you think it's "all Jacoby Transfers and Roman Key Card conventions all the time," it's not.

I started it because of a book I received for Christmas. The book's okay (upgraded from lousy -- I was seriously unhappy with the author halfway through!) but it seemed unfortunate that a guy who doesn't like bridge was given the job of writing about it. I like bridge. Always have. So I figured I'd write about the struggle to learn the game properly; at least I'd write about it with some affection.

But I'm not abandoning you, dear reader(s) -- I have lots of non-bridge things to ramble on about!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

First Day of the Rest of . . . oh, you know

I know, I know -- a new year, a fresh start. I should think this way, but for all sorts of reasons, I've been dreading this week. And, really, there's no reason for unease, let alone dread.

I have to go to Philadelphia tomorrow to do some legal research for my pro bono case. It's a manageable amount of research, and when I get home on Thursday, I have some motions to draft. Now, that would be a lot of work, but for the fact that I don't have to do everything to the Philadelphia Large Law Firm level. Still, case law is important.

I did one smart thing. I contacted one of the computer-based legal research companies and explained that I wasn't making any money as a lawyer, I just need to do some research for this one pro bono case. The rep seemed to understand, and thinks (keep your fingers crossed!) he can get me a password for a week's free trial! That would be awesome and would make such a huge difference. Thank you, Mike!

So what am I afraid of? Well, it's not the work, and it's not being a lawyer, although I have a tepid affection/hate relationship with my profession. I think it has something to do with the transition from December (not a great month for me historically, and 2007 didn't exactly break the trend) to January, when things have to happen. I have a long list of stuff I have to do, and while I could reasonably put it off during the holidays, the holidays are officially over so everything is now on project status. The lawsuit, the wedding planning, our trip to the U.K., my impending surgery -- it's all on. Makes me want to pull the covers over my head!

But that's not an option. Starman has dug out the Honda (it's so light -- great for gas mileage savings, but lousy on a snowy dirt road) for my trip, and I have to pull together all the documents I need for my research. I also need to contact the people we need to see while we're in England: the caterers, the florist, and the supermarket where we'll order the cake (remember the cake?!). Yup, we have to do all that and more -- we need to register so that we can actually get married (this, mysteriously, involves stopping by a registrar's office when we get to England and then stopping by when we leave -- as long as those two events are a week apart, we're good to go) and shopping for Starman & his brother's suits.

Okay, so writing all that down was very helpful, and I feel less overwhelmed. I can do this -- heck, people with real jobs and real lives do that much, right? I'll quit my griping and just get on with it. After I huddle under the covers for a while, that is...