Saturday, March 29, 2008

You can live without a microwave

My microwave fried itself about four or five months ago. I don't remember exactly when. It made some scary noises and a lot of sparks. I thought maybe I had a container with metal in it, so tried a different container. Same thing. I unplugged it and that was that.

I've been planning for a couple of years to remodel the kitchen and with that to install all new appliances. So I decided not to replace the microwave until the remodel. As a result, I've found out that anything you can cook in a microwave, you can cook on the stove! (That's a reverse on the old sales pitch from way back when microwaves first entered our lives.)

Really. Those microwavable popcorn packets? Just empty the contents into a hot saucepan with lid over medium high heat. Shake occasionally to get the kernals to drop to the bottom and avoid burning. It works great. And frozen burritos? Steam them to cook through and then fry to brown slightly. They're much better than the tough microwave result. And for some reason, even hot water from my tea kettle seems to make a better cup of tea than the nuked water did.

However, as I was reminded, I'm going to need a way to heat up food during the remodel when I have no stove. Okay so I guess I'll buy a cheap one for now just to get by. But it has been an interesting experiment getting along without something I had come to rely on on a daily basis.

Now I've started wondering if I could do without TV. I am disgusted with the cost of Dish Network and I watch such a limited number of channels. Plus, I've had so many hassles with that company, I'd like to stop doing business with them (that's another whole story in itself).

Here on the north side of a hill in North Salt Lake, you have to have cable or dish to get even the local channels. I do watch TV for news, home improvement shows, and a couple of prime time shows. But often it is just background noise while I'm doing other things. Could I really do without it completely?

The internet can fill the gap for some things. And non-news shows will soon be in summer reruns anyway. I might just give this a try. I'm sure glad I didn't buy that flat screen TV for Christmas!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Year of Wonders

Author: Geraldine Brooks
Rating: ***

Our Reel Women movie group decided to take a foray into books and perhaps even alternate between book and movie club each month. Judy's daughter-in-law even thought of a great new name for us: Reel Women with Spine!

So to kick off the book club, March's selection was Year of Wonders, Since I'm writing this review, the rating is solely mine, and would have been higher except for a flaw I'll mention later.

The book is set in a real English town in 1666. According to the book notes, some of the characters in the book are based on real people and others are fictional. The story centers around the main character, Anna Frith, who loses so much and in the end proves to be a strong resilient woman in the face of the tragedies she witnesses.

The town is beset by Bubonic Plague, introduced most likely by fleas carried on fabrics. The town in real life and in fiction, under the leadership of its minister, decides to isolate itself from the world - no-one will leave, no-one will enter - until the plague has passed. They rely on supplies from a nearby wealthy landowner. They leave requests by a boundary rock and stand back while previous requests are delivered.

The illness is terrible, the toll is terrible, and the story intersperses some interesting human interactions that might be imagined living under those circumstances. Our group agreed it was particularly of interest how the two main women took over the herbal medicine practice of the town "witch" and through their study provided much-needed medical care.

It was an interesting book and occasionally challenging to read. The author's liberal use of early English vocabulary, many words I'd never heard of before, gave it a ring of authenticity. The subject matter seemed to be well-researched, making the story believable. Some in the group felt that some of the characters failed to show sufficient emotion at their loss, but Judy, our reviewer, suggested it might be more true of that time than we realize, that life expectancy was much shorter and infant mortality much greater, and, in context, it made sense that those people were more accustomed to such losses.

I won't reveal the ending of the book, although we know historically how this devastating illness ran its course. But to mention the one flaw I found in the book, our heroine made some dubious choices at the story's end that I thought were totally out of character. I would have liked the story to have ended differently for our fictional character. I will say that some in our group agreed with me and some did not.

The author is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her book March.

Our group enjoyed a lovely evening hosted by Judy and her husband Sydney, with appetizers provided by each member, and joined by Judy's son and daughter-in-law, Michael and Sara. We agreed that perhaps we should stick to movies with our group and not pursue the book club route. I'm relieved as May is my month to choose and the next book club would have fallen on May.

But since that was probably our first and last book club for the group, I'm posting this review here instead of on the Reel Women page.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A place in the sun

There's a sunny place at the end of my couch every afternoon just after I get off work. The timing is perfect. I curl up with a cozy blanket for 30 minutes or so -- those warm sun rays insisting that I sleep at once deeply and pleasantly.

A friend of mine has been telling me of the joys of napping. I don't take naps. I'm too busy, too old, too something. But what the heck. I have a perfectly good sunny spot going to waste. I might as well use it until the sun moves on north and messes up the timing. So I tried it. I liked it. Now I look forward to it and am disappointed if something interferes.

It reminds me of relationships. You start out in a warm sunny place. But eventually the sun moves north or south and you have to change your routine. Sometimes you give it up, sometimes you adapt.

I'm starting to like that little afternoon nap and I may just continue on with it even when that spot is no longer sunny. But it's oh so nice for now - my place in the sun. Cats got that one right.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Moving mountains

Whoever dreamed up the phrase "making mountains out of mole hills" never met the gophers that live in my yard.

One of the advantages of working from home is that I can spend 30 to 45 minutes of my lunch hour working in the yard, then make a quick sandwich and back to the computer. Today my task was to move all the dirt piled up by gophers. Seemed easy at first - they bring up mostly sand and it was an easy matter to load it into my large wheelbarrow. Two problems. 1) The wheelbarrow then was too heavy for me to move, and 2) it had two flat tires.

This is a very cool wheelbarrow, I bought it especially because it was one I could drag instead of push and it worked very well for me. When it had inflated tires. I had a can of Fix-A-Flat in the garage, but maybe it had been there too long as it didn't deliver anything to the tires when I followed the instructions on the can.

So I resorted to loading a bucket from the wheelbarrow and carrying it across the patio to the apple tree where I'm getting some erosion and piled it there. It took all my allotted lunch time and now it's time to get back to work. But I did manage to move the largest pile of dirt. And really those gophers helped me a bit as I did need some soil to fill that eroded area, and I won't miss it at all from the myrtle bed where it originated.

Now, I must get those tires fixed as I plan to have a truckload of bark delivered and I'm going to need a functioning wheelbarrow.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The robins are back

Noisy creatures. Long before the sun is up - chirrup, chirrup, chirrup, chirrup. They keep an eye on me when I'm working in the yard, making bird comments to one another. I think they are nesting nearby again, though so far it doesn't appear to be in the apple tree. That turned out to be a very vulnerable location.

But they are busy with their spring tasks and so am I. Last night I raked through half of the myrtle bed and today will finish that. I'm debating killing all the myrtle and putting in nothing but bark and trees. Last year one lovely yucca volunteered. Now I have three or four baby yuccas with it. An earlier volunteer I tried transplanting with no success, so I have to decide whether to cultivate these where they are. If so, I must kill some of the myrtle as yuccas and myrtle cannot co-exist.

The work to be done is overwhelming. But I focus on a few square feet at a time. That's the only way to do it. Some things I can only hope to maintain. Others I will try to change. It's a very gradual process. But I am one determined woman and will do whatever it takes to get it done - eventually.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The other day a friend and I were lamenting things that were disappearing - such as phone booths. One of the things that I think will eventually disappear is classical opera. I think my generation did not gain an appreciation for this art form, and the following generations barely know of it.

My love of opera goes back a long time. My mother used to listen to nothing but classical music when I was a very small child. On Sundays after our noon meal, we were all required to be quiet for an hour. Mom would turn on the old radio - a big brown amazing instrument, taller than I at the time, with fascinating dials, knobs, and strange noises. She would tune to a classical program, the one I remember most was called "Intermezzo" and it came to mind just last Sunday as I was posting a video of one so-named piece. Many classical melodies were familiar to my ears long before I learned to love other types of music. I never lost that early love.

Not many people I know share my love of opera - except my ex-husband, who probably was more passionate about opera than almost anyone I know. His favorites were by Puccini, particularly "La Boheme". We were season tickets holders for many years for the local opera companies. We listened to the Met broadcasts on Saturdays. We had an extensive CD and DVD collection.

I recently took myself out to see a movie, "Atonement". I went alone as no-one could go with me that evening and I was determined to see it. It was a good movie, but at one point, as the young man is writing a love letter, he is playing a recording of a love duet from La Boheme. It took me by surprise, and touched me deeply and somewhat painfully to hear that beautiful duet. Certain operas will trigger for me reminders of happier times and regret for all we lost, I know.

But I am determined not to give up listening to opera and I believe I will get past those difficult feelings. The Utah Opera just announced the selections for the next season. The Utah Festival Opera will be doing Aida and Manon Lescot in the summer. I plan to see them.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The rules of pruning

Some years ago I heard some advice about how to prune a tree. Rule #1. Cut out branches that cross through the center of the tree. That seems simple- encourage branches that grow away from the center. Rule #2. Like sculpting, decide the shape you want, and cut away anything that isn't that shape. Not quite as simple, but an interesting experiment.

I got all the trimming done on that maple that resides on the narrow shelf between a lower and upper retaining wall. I then raked out all the leaves and trash in that dark corner that intimidated me last year. But with bare branches, I had good light and could see there were no scary little critters back there waiting to surprise me.

The wisteria was not so easy. Since it sends out tendrils in every direction, neither rule one nor rule two can be confidently applied. I estimate this project is going to require three or more phases. Phase 1, today, consisted of cutting as many runners and cross branches as I could without sitting on the wet ground. And raking as many leaves as the tree would allow (snagging my rake with runners on every pull). I hope my neighbors didn't overhear me reassuring the old girl that this was for her own good and she would be much better off if she would cooperate with me. Phase 2 will require getting under the tree to remove many more long runners at the source - and more raking. Phase 3 will be to find some supports that will pull that stubborn old thing more upright. Oh and probably apply some agent orange to those runners that have run far afield of the original plant.

And a 3rd pruning rule. When using loppers, don't wrap your fingers all the way around the handles - close the loppers using your palms. And rule 4, after you've pinched your fingers five or six times between handles, try to remember rule #3. Maybe I need new loppers.

Oh, and since emergency vehicles have now made their third trip up the hill today, I'm reminded to use an abundance of caution while working in the yard. No more accidents.


This is the first Saturday in a long time that I don't have one single thing planned that I have to do. So the entire day will be filled with things I choose to do.

I have informed my Scrabulous partners I will be alternately working in the yard and making Scrabulous moves. At the moment I have three partners and three games going. Last week I had four partners and five games going, but two games were with Jenn and she is now on vacation.

The day is wide open, the sun is shining, though it's 30 degrees at the moment and rain is forecast, and I'm ready for anything.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More R&B, or make that Soul - can't get off this tack

An incredible selection from a great movie. The Commitments: Try a Little Tenderness. If you like this, click on the links to Mustang Sally and Dark End of the Street also by the Commitments.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Ain't it the truth.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Everyone can stop nagging me now . . .

I finally got an x-ray and good news, it's not broken, just torn ligaments. So now I have a lovely brace to wear for a few weeks. I can walk, I can work in the yard, I can even ski - the doc says the ski boots are great because they keep the foot in a flexed position and the ankle doesn't move at all. If the swelling goes down, I'll be back on the mountain.

And in two to six weeks it will be healed.

Oh, and here's the best part: before taking the x-rays, the young technician asked me if there was any chance I might be pregnant. "Not a chance," says I, "since I'm 60 years old." "No way," says the technician, "I can't believe you're 60. I'd have guessed maybe 42." I know, she was stretching it a bit, but wasn't she nice to say it.

And I'm kidding about the nagging. I appreciate the concern.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Endings and Beginnings

There's a certain wistfulness in the air. All good things do end. But spring really is coming and my yard is already producing new life from the cold ground. I'm reminded that daylight savings time starts this Sunday, so I'll spring forward with it. I'll begin new things as I always have done and remain grateful for all the good things that have come and gone in my life.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A gopher truce?

No new gopher hills today. They don't dig, I don't put out more poison. So it's a truce of sorts. But tentative.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Girls and their tea sets

This weekend my sister gave me a lovely surprise - the tea set I had as a little girl. I must have been eight or nine years old when I got that for Christmas. My sister Wendy had a similar set, and we kept them in a charming little china cupboard with glass fronted doors. The little pieces say "Made in Japan" as was common circa 1955 or so. The pattern is somewhat inconsistent in coloring, making it appear that the dishes were handpainted. It is not a valuable set, and a few pieces are missing: a cup and saucer, the creamer, and a little platter. But it is very special to me. As girls we played and played with our little dishes, and my younger sisters played with them too. We ate off of them, we washed and dried them (I wonder how much lead was found in those plates!). It's a miracle any of them survived our clumsy little girl hands. Upon finding them years later, my mom gave them to my younger sister, thinking they were hers, but Deb knew they must be mine and yesterday passed them on to me.

In July of 1980, my then-husband and I took a belated honeymoon trip to France for three weeks, spending our first wedding anniversary in Poitier. There we decided to buy an anniversary gift for ourselves. I don't recall how we chose this - it must have been my idea, but we picked a lovely yet whimsical tea set with place settings for six, pitcher, creamer, sugar bowl and platter. But we called it a breakfast set with the small salad plates and flat bowls. Upon our divorce, my husband said I should keep them, he didn't want them. And I have kept them and use them often.

I have always had a weakness for charming dishes. But I had thought I might sell the dishes from France. However, this finding of childhood artifacts makes me a little more sentimental about all my tea sets.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Out in the yard - things are coming up

Jupiter's Beard shoots (these are coming up all over the place) Artemesia shoots
Day Lily shoots
I could not resist. The temperatures have been so nice all week, the snow is almost gone, and my tour of the yard last weekend revealed all the many things that need cleaned up after the winter. Today was the day. I raked, trimmed, cleaned up after my neighbor's dog that visited my yard during the winter. Just worked in the front gardens and the side up to the garage. I spent just over an hour as the ankle is still sore and weak, but am very satisfied with the result. That's how a woman my age cares for a yard this big - an hour or two at a time.

I need to devote a full hour to the wisteria and trim all the lower vines away to continue my efforts at shaping a tree. It's certainly a lot easier to do right now with all the foilage off and the limbs clearly exposed. That will be a high priority for my next warm day. Same with the low-hanging branches of that tree on the uppermost level. I don't like that corner where it resides, and I need to do some trimming so it's not such a scary place.

Apart from that, it's just the usual cutting back of all the drought-tolerant plants. The Russian Sage is so fragrant as you cut it, and then bagged up in my garbage can, it provides a pleasant aroma when you lift the lid or even just walk by.

And I'm still trying to kill gophers. Three new larger hills yesterday, but I found the burrows easily and put the gopher bait well inside. Two small hills today, and the same thing. I will win this war!

Many shoots are already coming up: day lilies, daffodils, the silvery artemesia. But the winner and still champion is the Jupiter's Beard. It is the first to bloom after the tulips, stays lush and green all summer long, retaining some of the red flowers even late into the fall, and it produces many baby plants, even in its first year. I do love that plant. I will have plenty to give away this year.

Oh, it was hard to make myself come inside. But a girl's got to pace herself - especially when injured. But they say snow is coming. So I needed to do the outdoors things early. Then after lunch with ReNae, perhaps I'll get some water softener salt and a new comforter I've been wanting. Then settle in and do the Janke web site and some laundry. And then a little relaxing.

It's March! Let it snow.