Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hope, Spring, and Eternal Issues

Dale has alerted me to the first squirrel I've seen in months, hopping around the front yard. He must have just awoken from hibernating. Squirrels hibernate, right? I feel bad because he just climbed the birdfeeder pole and found nothing. There hasn't been food in it in months due to my having learned that feeding birds isn't good for birds. I should take down the feeders. This spring I plan to switch to feeding butterflies and hummingbirds. Yes, I realize hummingbirds are also birds.

It warmed up to 45 or so today and the snow pack is trying to melt around the edges. It would take a few days for it to melt totally and we're supposed to be heading back below freezing tomorrow, so this is just a tiny taste of spring. We went to the library this morning and Stanley remarked as we walked through the back yard that it would be nice to do some gardening again. This made me realize that now I have seen all the perennials, weeds, and tree and shrub blossoms that come up automatically around our house, so I can plan accordingly for annuals or splitting up hostas or trimming back certain weeds so they look like I intended for them to be there, and pulling up other ones as soon as I see them, rather than after they have sent roots into the bedrock. We don't have any big home projects planned this year (except trimming trees, fixing the chimney, and installing a projector TV in the basement, but those won't take long) so it looks like we'll have time to enjoy the deck and yard. Party!

Anytime I ever named a favorite color before now, I was lying. I would just make something up if I had to name a color. I never wanted to settle on a favorite color and I always felt that there weren't enough choices. But now I am happy to say that I have fallen in love with this one:

This shows several shades of it because I don't have a favorite shade of this particular color, and in fact I wish this swatch also contained darker and lighter version of it. I also don't like to label the color because it seems like color labels aren't consistent. But if you want, call it aqua, blue-green, peacock, teal, or turquoise. It bugs me though because the only way to know if something "turquoise" is going to be the color I want it to be is to look at it. I don't like the color of every turquoise I've seen. So I'm giving the color it's own name, which will be the random squiggly letters I'm asked to enter when I go to the comments page. The name of the color is "bermet". If I'm honest, this is the fifth option I was given after reloading the page to get a new letter string. I didn't like the first four.

This is great. I've succeeded in taking a giant step forward with my favorite color issue, while at the same time taking several giant steps backward with all the descriptions, qualifiers, disclaimers, and pretenses about the color.

A lot of the things I've purchased in the past few weeks have been this color and I was just going to post some photos but Stanley has arrived home from the grocery store so I need to put the food away.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Favorite Magazine Is Biting the Dust and I've Been Working on My Dressing Room

I'm perplexed and annoyed to hear that Domino, my favorite magazine, is ceasing publication, and closing its website as well. I checked my account and my subscription isn't set to run out until April 2010. A few months ago, another home decor magazine I subscribed to, House and Garden, stopped publishing, and the publisher made up for it by offering to extend my Domino subscription by the number of issues of House and Garden I had paid for already. That was fine, since I wanted to cut back on my subscriptions anyway. But now what's going to happen? According to blog comments, which are second only to BBC News in their timely and accurate reporting of the facts, I might expect to get offered subscriptions to Lucky (blech) or Vogue Home (meh). But really I'm just sad about losing Domino. It was so fabulous. It gave me lots of decor ideas. And it was only $12 per year.

But I shall carry on.

Check out my dressing room re-do, currently in progress, as is every decorating project I have ever begun, because that's the nature of the beast.

Before: A dark, dank, depressing, dangerous dungeon.

After: An okay place to get dressed and store guests.

I love it now that it's got more furniture and color and things on the shelves (belts, shoes, jewelry, etc.) but it's not done, of course. It probably needs some adjustment of the existing elements and it needs to be painted badly. Right now the walls are exactly the color of silly puddy. This is a paint color that should never have been created. I can't imagine where or how anyone would have ever thought it would look good on a wall or any other surface. I am a little stumped as to what color to paint the walls, but I'm thinking it should be a light color such as light beige (warmer and lighter than silly puddy), cream, light green (not mint, more of a light forest green, if such a thing is possible), or light gray. Or you know, light pink would be great, just really light so you don't immediately think "pink". If it's mainly a dressing room, a color that doesn't clash with my alabaster-white-with-pink-blotches skin tone would probably be the most cozy and flattering. On that note, cream that is on the warm red/orange side of yellow rather than the green side of yellow would probably work for warmth yet still keep it neutral. And the ceiling (both the high side and the sloped side) will either be white, or a lighter shade of the wall color. I might paint some black and yellow stripes on the sloped ceiling so people don't bump their heads. Just kidding.

So then the trick would be to actually get that color onto the walls, knowing that it's not going to look the way I expect based on how it looks on the swatch or even if I were to paint a big square of it on the wall like Domino (sniff) and other mags have advised me to do so many times. I bet the silly puddy color looked great on the swatch and as a little square on the wall. I bet it looked great right up until the last of the old color was covered up. At that instant it went all silly puddy on them, so they put the house up for sale. I'm sure that's what happened.

The landing outside the room that connects to our bedroom and bathroom is also silly puddy, so I should paint the landing as well. The bedroom is brown, bathroom is light blue, so I don't want to add yet another color, so perhaps the landing and dressing room should still both be painted the same color, whatever that turns out to be.

Another item on the to-do list for this room is to add a rug. I'm thinking neutral. It could also stand to have some art on the wall, and a chair or two. The bed is a temporary blow-up bed which I am too lazy to take down from the last time we had more people stay over than would fit comfortably in the guest room, but it works fine in the space and the only thing that would be better is just comfortable seating that can be moved when the bed needs to come out. Or a sofa bed. The cats will scratch it up, though.

As always, I'd love your opinion.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Europe Trip Journal Part 5


Day Trip to monarchical-era palace and grounds at Versailles. Toured main palace w/ hall of mirrors, walked through gardens, toured Grand Trianon (a mini palace about 30 min walk from big palace, on same property). Huge palace and gardens, an embarrassment of riches, can see how people would revolt.

Dinner at a cafe back in Paris. Sat by the window, watching people, had smoked salmon, cantal cheese, foie gras. After dinner we went to a movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still, starring Keanu Reeves, in English with French subtitles.


SNOW!! Approx 1/4 inch. Makes the city look even better. Stanley woke up not feeling well, so we went to the Louvre later in the morning than planned to avoid the crowds, but it was not crowded at all. We glanced at various ancient treasures,

but tried to head directly to the piece de resistance - le Joconde (a.k.a. Mona Lisa). As expected, there was a big crowd around her, and she was behind glass, and it all seemed kind of ridiculous. There have been better paintings, you know.

Then we went home and Stanley went to bed for the rest of the day while I shopped and looked for take-away meals. I was lucky to find take-away soup, which was delicious and made Stanley feel better. We think it was something he ate, perhaps the foie gras.

A nice surprise on the TV - Breakfast at Tiffany's, very well dubbed into French. "JE PROTESTE!!!!!"


Stanley feeling much better today. Packed everything up, Then walked to Musee Rodin - a really cold walk - prob in 20s F. Saw "The Thinker", Gates of Hell, both of which were roped off and we couldn't approach "for our safety" due to tiny amounts of ice and snow. It's all relative.

Said goodbye to Paris and took the train back to London. Dinner at Seashell, a fish and chips place recommended by Stanley's dad.

Huge amount of food, and was apparently good but made me finally realize that I don't care for fish and chips. (So now the list of foods I can't eat or don't care for gets slightly bigger. Let's go ahead and lay it out here, just for fun: Fish and chips, whole wheat bread, jalapenos, orangina, sea urchin).

We used our last pence to buy a New Yorker magazine. Looking forward to going home. Laptop not fried after all.


Going home today! Uneventful but long and crowded flight from London to Toronto. Sat in middle row w/ a soldier on leave from Afghanistan next to Stanley and a mortgage broker next to me. It was like a little slice of current events. No free internet in Toronto this time, which made me realize just how much I was looking forward to free internet in Toronto. But at least I'm not being shot at, which the soldier confirmed was a horrible experience (we didn't press him for his thoughts, he freely expressed them), so I can continue to use that comparison to keep things in perspective.

The End

Monday, January 19, 2009

Europe Trip Journal Part 4


A little more souvenir shopping in the morning, then got on the 1:00 p.m. train back to London. Shoaib met us at the station near his parents' place in Worthamstow (suburb of London). Spent the evening w/ Shoaib and his brother Mo and sister-in-law Asna and sister Meriam (sp?). Shoaib cooked chicken satay and a bunch of sauces and chutneys - delicious. Played poker and roulette, and shot off New Years fireworks in the small, enclosed back yard at midnight. Fireworks went horribly wrong and began firing sideways, towards us, and we had to duck for cover in the garage - quite scary and I feared for my life but in hindsight it was a lot of fun. Also released a large Chinese lantern - like a hot-air balloon.

It went straight up 20 feet, and then took off extremely fast over the roof so we tore through the house to the front steps to watch it ascend - looked like a bright star and finally disappeared after 5 min or so. Much less frightening than the fireworks.

Shoaib cooked us breakfast. Took 1:10 p.m. train for Paris. Have to look up train speed - too fast, in my opinion. (According to the Internets, top speed of 186 mph. I was right. Too fast. Somehow it just doesn't feel right to be going that fast, so close to the ground. The scenery shoots by and it's almost a chore to look out the window. But I guess if you want to get from London to Paris in a little over two hours, you'll want to go that fast.)

Arrived in Paris approx 4:45 (Paris one hr later time zone than London) and stood in line to buy Metro tickets. This is where we had our worst memory of the trip: a woman fell down the stairs next to the ticket office, screaming, her stuff flying everywhere, was really frightening. People nearby helped her and police arrived in less than a minute. She seemed to be okay, just really angry; I couldn't tell for sure because she was speaking French, but she seemed to be saying someone tripped her, and another woman had a bloody nose, apparently because she got hit by the woman as she fell down the stairs. Not a nice welcome to Paris and it put me in a shady mood for a while, which made it difficult to navigate around, on top of the language and culture barriers. But things got much better after that, and really it was probably a much worse experience for the lady that fell down the stairs than it was for us.

Made it to hotel, Metro system kind of confusing since we never used our ticket, but prob. b/c New Years Day so not charging for rides. Receptionist at hotel desk is from New York, has lived in Paris 20 years, but I spoke French to her anyway. :) She insisted on speaking English. Dinner at a creperie - I had a foie gras and caramel pear crepe; Jason had fruits de mer - tres delicieuse. Credit card denied! I used horrible French and hand guestures to tell annoyed waitress that I would wait at the table while Stanley went to ATM.

General issues at beginning of time in Paris figuring out how best not to annoy people. I slowly realized that they prefer than I not speak more than necessary - just keep it to bonjour, au revoir, s'il vous plait, merci, and don't ask questions unless you really need the answer; don't waste their time. So I could have gotten by with only one year of French in high school.

Walked into what must be a tourist trap cafe and paid 10 euros each for a cup of coffee and some toast and jam (they were out of croissants!!?!). Took Metro to Notre Dame.

(I call this photo "The Unorthodox Evolution of Stanley".)

Really great stained glass in this church.

Walked around shopping and getting a feel for everything, and found a Starbucks, which we would have rather skipped for culture's sake, but we really needed a normal amount of coffee in a paper cup. I snapped a photo of Stanley entering, which added to the embarrassment for me.

If you click on the image to zoom in, you'll see that everyone at Starbucks is smoking, except Stanley. If you could zoom in farther, you would be able to read the gentleman's lips as he says "Stupid American".

Walked to the Louvre museum - just the outside today...

... then through the Tuileries Gardens and down Champs Elysees (any shop you can imagine that is too expensive to bother entering) to Arc de Triomphe,

then through side streets to the Eiffel Tower!!

So pretty, definitely worth seeing. Plan to ascend tower another day - lines too long. (We never ended up ascending it; would have to wait for hours no matter what, and on the day we had considered doing it, it was closed due to snow.)

Went looking for a cafe or something for dinner and stumbled on rue Cler street market, which was on our to-do list. Bought quiches for tomorrow's breakfast, and pear tarts for tonight's dessert.


Went walking toward St Germain-des-Pres neighborhood and Musee Rodin but were distracted by street market that appeared near hotel. We bought ham and cheese crepes and tiny potoatoes sauteed in duck grease - magnifique. Set off for St Germain again and I was lured away from the route by tons of shopping opportunities. So I shopped and Stanley accompanied me for a while but eventually got bored and sait in a cafe, reading, until I was done (got a lot of great stuff at H & M and Zara; hope we don't need to buy more luggage), then I met him at the cafe and we had dinner there - Jason had a plate of cheeses and I had a salad w/ cured pork shoulder.

Computer may have gotten fried yesterday, which would mean going through some effort to retrieve our trip photos. (Turned out fine; not fried, just dead battery.)

More to come soon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Europe Trip Journal Part 3


Train to Edinburgh, Scotland. Was confusing figuring out where we were allowed to sit; finally settled into seats with a big table between them and realized later they were reserved for people getting on at the next stop. But the stop came and went and they didn't appear, so we got awesome seats for the 3-4 hr journey. :) :)

Arrived in Edinburgh a little after noon. Nice hotel - bigger room than in London and quite pleasant. Edinburgh looked interesting on arrival (and proved to be so) - ancient churches, a castle on a hill (actually a dormant volcano), and monuments next to modern architecture and carnival rides, with a huge train station in the middle of it. Our hotel is at the bottom of the Royal Mile, which stretches from the Palace at Holyrood (where the Queen stays when she's in town) to Edinburgh Castle at the top of the hill where past kings and queens of Scotland lived before England took over. We walked along this path browsing gift shops and looking at the old magical streets and buildings.

The sun seemed to set very early - like 3:30 or so, and the low light on the old buildings looked amazing. The streets and buildings are laid out kind of interestingly in that instead of alleys, they have "closes" which are enclosed courtyards between the buildings, only accessible on foot, and mostly private with entrances to people's apartments but they all have names like "Jackson's Close" and, my favorite, this one:

One of my favorite buildings was Scottish Parliament, which took an interesting modern approach to representing primitive structures - windows and awnings looked like big sticks lined up (photo from google):

See that bluff in the background? Been there done that. Stay tuned for details.

After dark a crowd gathered in a church courtyard, lit torches and marched about a mile to a hill to light a bonfire. The amazing thing was the sheer number of people. In the thousands for sure. Apparently it's a tradition and tonight was the most people ever. We walked with the mob but didn't carry torches because of my thing with fire - but this allowed for some good photos.

After the angry mob, we found a shortcut back to the hotel - a dark, steep, stone staircase.


Breakfast at a Turkish restaurant - because hey, when in Rome... Food was surprisingly good. Hiked up small mountain (Holyrood Park). Great views of the city and according to Stanley was a good "highland" experience.

Enjoyed ruins of St. Anthony's chapel - built sometime before 1426.

Fruit smoothie and a caramel brownie for lunch - best brownie I've ever had - caramel, nuts and fudge chunks on top.

Arrived for a tour of Edinburgh castle as the sun went down. Enjoyed getting a feel for the old Scottish monarchy. Need to read up on the castle and the kings and queens.

(This is taken inside the castle walls; it's a pretty big campus or whatever you want to call it.) Saw the royal crown and sceptre. Kind of sad that no one is using them these days. Apparently they were officially given to Queen Elizabeth II a few decades ago.

Pub for some beers, then dinner at a great Indian place - lamb vindaloo was hot enough for Stanley and lamb kurma was hot enough for me.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Europe Trip Journal Part 2


Rode London Eye, which was not disappointing - got a little vertigo from the height (over 400 ft.) and glass-podiness. Was pretty cool.

Walked down South Bank, went to Tate Modern to see a favorite painting of Jorge's by Yves Klein. I think it's called Blue:

Unfortunately, the guy at the info desk informed us that this painting was currently in Liverpool. Walked across Millennium Bridge, built in 2000 for the Olympic games:

to St Paul's Cathedral (in background above). Beautiful mosaics, gold and marble. Walked up 376 tightly winding steps to Whispering Gallery (balcony high above sanctuary, just below dome - vertigo) and Stone Gallery (higher up outside balcony - more vertigo). Drinks and dinner w/ Shoaib and friends at a candlelit Asian/Indian bar and Moroccan restaurant. Took a weak stab at belly dancing.


Camden Market w/ Shoaib - huge indoor/outdoor market with lots of great crafts from all over. Spent 3 hrs there.

Then to Harrod's dept store, which was MOBBED - was not expecting the crowds. Jason bought a smashing Barbour coat (in all photos of him from here on) and we got a couple of xmas ornaments as souvenirs. I liked how the staff was all in black suits with gold nametags. Dinner at a pub near the hotel - Yorkshire pudding, which was totally not what I thought it was.

(Photo from google images.) It's like a phyllo pastry shaped into a bowl. It came with meat and veggies on the side.

More to come.

In current news, I baked molasses cookies and they were really easy and turned out fabulous!!! They are chewy with a lovely sugar crunch on the outside. So here is the recipe. Only thing I would change is to use about 1/3 less salt.

Also, yesterday I did something I've never done before in my life. I cut my own hair. It was at first frightening, then liberating and exhilarating. I wanted long layers (instead of all one length like it was) so I went on the internet and read various DIY instructions and followed a combination of the ones that contained punctuation and didn't sound like they were written by unintelligent nine-year-olds. Then I picked up the scissors and never looked back. I have a before picture...Yes.

And here is the After photo, but keep in mind that it looks different all the time and I'm still trying to figure it out.

Okay well there is no After photo today because all the pictures I just tried to take look kind of creepy. And maybe it is creepy to post a photo of yourself for the sole purpose of showing people how you currently appear. So inevitably there will be a photo of my new hairdo somewhere. Oh here we go. Here is exactly how I currently look.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Europe Trip Journal Part 1

Hi there! I'm back. I kept a journal during our two-week Europe trip over the holidays. Here it is, piecemeal, with photos.

12/23, 12/24

Minneapolis flight to Toronto delayed 2 hrs, then Toronto to London delayed overnight, due to weather. Slept in airport - tried to sleep beginning @ 2:30 a.m. Stanley didn't sleep but I slept on and off for 2.5 hrs. Woke up to noise of people arriving for early flights. After waiting for our 10:30 a.m. flight, we were able to get on the 9:00 because we hadn't checked any bags. First class!!!

(I highly recommend first class. Eight hours of pure bliss. Completely made up for spending the previous night in the airport.)


Walked from hotel to Hyde Park, Green Park, Buckingham Palace,

Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus, Whitehall, Big Ben,

Parliament, and attended Christmas service at Westminster Abbey, which was interesting in that the ushers were extremely strict and zealous about crowd control, to the point that they kind of ruined it for us. Also, very few people could actually see the choir or speakers, so it was more of a listening exercise. The choir was awesome.


Boxing Day! Which means a lot of things are closed, we found, such as coffee shops early in the a.m. Met Shoaib (our friend who lives in England that we met a couple months ago when he came to visit our friend Geoff) and his brother and friends on Oxford St. for post-Christmas shopping "Bedlam". Stores and sidewalks were incredibly crowded with shoppers, mostly wearing black. (I didn't take a photo but here's an image I found on the web showing Oxford St and Boxing Day crowds.)

It was interesting trying to buy anything at all. But I bought 2 cheap t-shirts and 2 long chunky necklaces which I love. (Too lazy to post a photo.) Had some drinks in a pub, then took the tube to the South Bank after dark and saw London Eye all lit up.

Walked along South Bank as far as Tate Museum of Modern Art, which turned out to be closed due to Boxing Day. :( Had dinner at a pub and dessert at another pub with a nice view of the Thames River and London skyline.

Shoaib gave us two cell phones to use during our entire trip, which is fabulous - it's good to have communication so we can separate now and then without having to make all sorts of meet-up plans.

More to come soon.