Wednesday, December 20, 2006


My mother collected words which used to end in -ed but no longer use the ending. I know, some people collect thimbles or stamps. I even have a friend who collects Lincolns. But my mother collected words.

It piqued my interest but I tend to forget the words as soon as I notice them. I've got iced tea, waxed paper, barbed wire and here's a new one: hedged fund. Scroll down to "Origins and definitions." I've forgotten how to do that in the link.

Dropping the -ed may make pronunciation simpler. But it blurs the line between nouns and adjectives. No wonder young people have trouble diagramming sentences. Well, maybe that's not the main reason.

Okay. Some days start out stranger than others. But you go ahead with the day you've got, not the day you wish you had.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Just look at this weather! Temperature in the 50s. It makes it hard to stay on track with holiday preparations when it feels like I should be outside. I could be turning the compost, cleaning up fallen branches, clearing more of the saplings in the chicken yard...

But we are making some progress. Here's the tree with lights. I try not to rush into anything. That's a gentle way of saying that I procrastinate like crazy. Anyway, I'll be adding decorations bit by bit all week. I may even save a few for Maggy to put up when she gets home Friday.

And the disorder on the dining room table is more wrapping paper than crafts in progress. It's rare that I do this much wrapping before Christmas Eve. It's giving me the illusion that I'm on top of everything.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


This is the gift I'm so proud of. These are four inch square glass coasters displaying my photos of a tree atop Mt Pleasant. The gift exchange was at a party on Mt Pleasant and probably everyone knows where the tree is, tho' no one has as close a relationship with it as I do.

My note accompanying the gift explains:

I take lots of pictures of this tree.
I call it "The Mt Pleasant Tree"
and we've kind of become friends.

P.S. You can use your own tree
or your own friend
or whatever...

I'm happy to say that the person who went home with the gift loves the photos and will probably not replace them with his own.

On the flip side, the gift I drew is this hilarious book by Amy Sedaris. The subtitle, "Hospitality under the Influence," says it all. I was second to draw a gift, giving the other eleven people a chance to steal my gift. (see my description of the gift exchange process) I managed to intimidate everyone to leave it with me. It helped that ten of the thirteen guests were men. To put them off I had only to hold up a few of the comical graphic illustrations of things only girls talk about and only in private. The other two women were the hosts and they were too kind to disappoint me by stealing the gift, tho' one said she's going to buy a copy for herself. In defense of my men friends, the gift was contributed by a man who said he spent an hour in Borders reading the book and laughing out loud.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Winter Festivity

I need to give more recognition to the beautiful wreath from Ludgates. I got my tree there, too - a delightfully fragrant fir. I understand some of their trees come from Ed Cope in Caroline. We visited him last summer when we were collecting information for the Renewable Energy Ordinance because his house is powered with wind and solar energy.

This door, by the way, was handcrafted by my father using a stained glass window made by my best friend from grad school. (Who'd guess that she was studying biology and I was studying labor relations. She's now an ASL interpreter and I'm, well, not a labor organizer.) The door is beautiful heavy cherry. I could never have afforded to buy a door this grand. I think my father enjoyed making it and was proud of it tho' it did cost him a couple of days in the hospital as a result of an instant of inattention to the miter saw.

So, I've got the one decoration up, but this is my dining table. I hope I don't have serve dinner on it before next week.

I've got a great photo of the gift I made for the party I'm going to this weekend, but I can't post it 'til Sunday. A couple of the people who will be at the party also read the blog.

The gift exchange is complicated and fun and secrecy is important. Everyone draws a number. The person who draws #1 chooses a wrapped present. The #2 person may choose a wrapped gift or "steal" the gift that #1 has unwrapped and revealed, in which case, #1 chooses another wrapped gift. And so on... It gets more complicated and more fun as more gifts are revealed and available for stealing. I can say modestly, that in past years there's been some mock fighting over the gift I brought. It may be second in popularity only to always coveted Home Depot gift certificate. I'm very happy with the gift I made this year. I hope it pleases someone as much as my past efforts have.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Holidays for Cats

Well, I have no decorations up yet except a beautiful wreath. Thanks to, I think I've got the gift giving under control but I haven't done a bit of wrapping yet. Haven't made the Holiday brunch and dinner shopping lists yet. Oh, well. Plenty of time. It's all about savoring the season.

For cats, it's really all about the boxes.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Word of the Year

Omigod! He wasn't kidding! Stephen Colbert pointed out tonight that "truthiness" is the Merriam Webster 2006 Word of the Year.

truthiness (noun)
1 : "truth that comes from the gut, not books" (Stephen
Colbert, Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," October 2005)
2 : "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true" (American Dialect Society, January 2006)
Check out Merriam Webster for the rest of the top ten words of 2006:

Do we detect a theme?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Bad Days

We've all had them. My favorite, in a twisted way, was Maggy's. But last week I overheard a friend unwinding at dinner. I didn't hear the whole saga, but when she said "... and I've got six missile launchers coming in and I've got to figure out where to put them..." I thought, well, that's a problem most of us aren't going to have this week.

Speaking of friends at dinner... Coconut cream pie is a really good thing. We had this one last week.

Chocolate Macaroon Crust
2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
Pinch of coarse salt
Nonstick cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 325°. Lightly coat a 9-inch glass pie plate with cooking spray; set aside. In a medium bowl, combine chocolate, butter, sugar, coconut, and salt. Using your hands, mix until well combined.

2. Press mixture into bottom and all the way up sides of prepared pie plate. Bake until firm but not yet browned, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Crust can be made up to 2 days ahead, and refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap.

Coconut Cream Pie
1 teaspoon gelatin
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure coconut extract
Pinch of coarse salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks
2/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

1 cup heavy cream, whipped
1 cup toasted shaved coconut, or as desired, for garnish

1. In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 1/4 cup cold water. Let stand for 5 minutes. In a medium saucepan, whisk together coconut milk, sugar, gelatin mixture, coconut extract, and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with cornstarch until combined.

2. Slowly whisk one-fourth of the hot-milk mixture into egg yolks; return to saucepan. Cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture returns to a boil, about 1 minute. Stir in shredded coconut. Transfer to a large bowl; let stand 15 minutes.

3. Pour filling into the prepared crust. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours, and up to overnight. Spread whipped cream on top; garnish with toasted coconut, if desired.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Iraq Study Group

I would not have thought it was possible to feel as optimistic about national policy as I do this morning. I have a whole new list of names to research for possible inclusion in my list of heroes. One of the most wonderful aspects of yesterday's news about the report of the Iraq Study Group is the surprise factor. It's been a long time since Congress and the President accepted an independent report with such apparent open-mindedness as they have received the report of the Iraq Study Group. That indicates that the Iraq Study Group has done its job thoroughly. It's not enough to write the report if you can't get anyone to read it.

I'm comforted by the mere existence of United States Institute of Peace, facilitator of the Iraq Study Group; by the knowledge that not so long ago Congress acted on an idea, first stated in 1792, to establish "an office for promoting and preserving perpetual peace in our country." I am similarly comforted by the roles played by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Center for the Study of the Presidency (CSP.)

From the Timeline page of the Institute of Peace:
In March, Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) asks USIP to coordinate the Iraq Study Group and appropriates funds for its administration. Three other organizations are asked to assist: the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for the Study of the Presidency, and the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. Congressional organizers select former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, and former chairman of the House International Relations Committee Lee Hamilton as co-chairs of the ISG. The co-chairs, in consultation with the supporting organizations, choose the other members of the ISG.
I recognize problems with the process. Why did we wait three years to start the study? Why did we wait 'til after elections to release the results? I question the use of the term "bipartisan" instead of "non-partisan." I'm horrified at even the suggestion of committing more troops to Iraq. But at some point I'm prepared to accept the work of well qualified people who seem to done a thorough job of collecting the facts and exploring the alternatives. I haven't read the entire report yet. I'm printing it out now. So far, it seems to be an example of the clearest thinking and clearest writing I've seen in a long time.

This image is a tile I've had since I was in high school. I bought it at the drug store around the corner from my best friend's house. On the back it's got sticky tape with remnants of sheetrock from someplace I lived in the past.

Picasso painted many versions of peace doves. This one, with the many colored people dancing, has always been my favorite. Doves are not enough. In fact, as Bill has explained to me, doves are not inherently peaceful at all. Having no meaningful weapons, they haven't developed any behavioral inhibitions for aggressive behavior. You may have seen them beating on each other at your feeder. In fact, in captivity, they engage in bloody battles. (Sidenote: For some reason Bill met the Postmaster General of the United Nations in the fifties and this dove issue came up in conversation. The Postmaster was so impressed that he declined to use any dove designs for UN stamps for the duration of his term in office.)

So, with fervent hope and a grain of optimism, today I'm hanging the peace dancers where I'll see them every day. Perhaps in some magical way, the energy of being reminded daily of the possibility of peace will coalesce and contribute to the peace effort. Or perhaps it will remind me to talk to everyone I know and lots of people I don't know yet, about the possibility of peace and the importance of working for it.

(Cross posted at Dryden Democrats)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Winter Solstice

Most Americans - most people worldwide - celebrating a winter holiday will overlook the centuries old traditions surrounding the natural phenomenon of Winter Solstice. No matter what other cultural or religious traditions people embrace, we would do well to celebrate the relationship of the sun and the earth, the foundation of our existence. This year at about 7:20 PM Eastern Standard Time on December 21 the tilt of the earth's axis will bring the northern hemisphere to its farthest distance from the sun resulting in the shortest possible span of daylight. From that point on daylight will increase until the height of summer.

The winter celebration is all about light. For decades we've mounted bigger and bigger displays of electric lights. They're beautiful and I love them. But I'm increasingly returning to the centuries old traditions of candles and fire. It doesn't take much thought to stick a battery operated candle-looking light in the window. And I like the sense of welcome it gives me when I come home after dark. But lighting a candle requires some attention and gives me a much more satisfying opportunity to reflect on the meaning of light in my life.

Making ice candles has become an important detail in my Solstice preparation. It requires paying attention to the outside temperature. (Well, I suppose I could make them in the freezer - but that would defeat half the purpose) The candle molds have to be outside just long enough to freeze partially. So, it all depends on how cold it is and I have to watch them somewhat closely to get it right.

This year Solstice nearly coincides with the New Moon. So, it will be very dark. Just as, despite my best intentions, I usually failed to go to Midnight Mass, now I generally fail to manage a Solstice bonfire. Maybe this year...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

More Carnivals

I'm still hooked on Blog Carnivals.

First there was the Festival of Under 30 Finances. There are links to some good writing. What grabbed me was how similar the writers' circumstances are to Maggy's. While I was reading those posts I was also listening to a Washington Journal guest talking about student loans. A caller commented that young people take student loan debt for granted and it's just a short jump to consumer debt. And then where are you?

The Working at Home Carnival led to some interesting blogs. My favorite is SharpBrains: Your Window into the Brain Fitness Revolution. Take a look at the Top 10 Brain Teasers.

The Dragon Slayer's Guide to Life was worth a look for the name alone and it didn't disappoint me. The post "Think Money Wouldn't Change You? Think Again." Led me full circle back to my initial concern about young people and debt.

When did we start thinking that the reason to go to college was to command a higher salary? When did we decide that made college loans a good investment? I understand why economists measure everything in dollars. It's a convenient common denominator. But I think Ms Lauria's idea for high school english students was better. She gave them extra credit for every time they reported something they heard outside of class that they had previously studied in class. Many kids became aware of references they wouldn't have understood if they hadn't talked about them in class. And isn't that really the point? Education makes our lives richer.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Blog Connections

There's a box in my sidebar that announces current blog carnivals. Carnivals, collections of blog posts on specific topics, are a great way to find people who write about things you're interested in.

The carnival that caught my eye this morning is Festival of the Trees. JLS writes a lovely blog about "trees, forests, and wood, and everything in between."

One of the fun things about discovering an interesting new blog is finding blog friends already there. I found Lene, Roger, Cindy, Bev, Karen, Greenman Tim, and many others whose blog names I recognize but whom I don't really know well yet.

JLS also writes Brainripples "discussing writing, art, creativity, and entrepreneurship." I'm off to visit there now.

Another Change of Season

The weather has been just great the past few weeks. Well, way too much rain and not enough sun, but it's been warm. It really feels like April and I'm not the only one feeling that way. Last week peepers were singing in the yard.

But the forecast is dire. It was in the 50's today. By Sunday the daytime high will be in the 20's. So today I covered the roses, emptied the big outdoor flowerpots and firmed up the deer fencing around the rhododendron. Tomorrow I'll turn off the outdoor water faucet and that will be that. It's time to hunker down.

So my thoughts are turning to decorating for the holiday. I found a terrific silver spray paint and I'm collecting things that with a coat of paint will be shiny tree ornaments. This oak leaf shows every vein through the paint. The berries are Multiflora Rose hips. I know the birds like them, too. But there are plenty to share.