"It was imprudent of us, in the first place, to become authors. We could have become something regular, but we managed not to.
We were lucky, but we were also determined." Roy Blount Jr

"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Seeing Out the Year

Round here, the perennial end-of-year lists of the biggest locals news stories are mostly about disastrous weather: historic (almost record) winter snow totals, floods, devastating tornado (coming too close to the Lodge for comfort), destructive ice storms. Then there are the political stories (NH Primary, NH as a Presidential swing state, another historic NH general election with highest-ever turnout.) I won't mention the various controversies and tragedies the media are so eager to remind us about.

The national news is much the same.

Well, on this snowy final day of a busy year, I'm somewhat reflective and almost entirely focussed on the Good Stuff.

A long, productive summer by the Big Lake. Floriferous rose bushes. An extended period of autumn colour. Positive professional developments for the Chap. Finding out that my constituents wanted me to continue representing them in the State House. Occasional infusions of $$$ as my mostly out-of-print novels continue to sell well in foreign lands and languages. Rewarding diocesan activities. Seeing my longest, bestest friend not once, but twice--in NH and in our hometown.

In the mind-over-matter category, I'm chuffed about losing 26 pounds (as of this morning) since April. I'm in striking distance now of what I weighed on my wedding day...possibly also of my dancing/acting days. But I've no interest in ever being that thin again!

Terrific travels! The novelists' conference in New York. The ball, banquet and nostalgia overload in Washington, DC. Spending time with my family and surprising my dad on his milestone birthday. A longer than usual annual trek to London, hanging out with friends and researching the book and seeing a Queen.

I can report a horticultural triumph. Some of that kudzu I imported from the South in November (along with lots of cuttings from my parents gardens), is not only alive, it's thrown out new leaves!

And it appears to be sending up green shoots from roots I feared might be dead.

No idea if I can keep the kudzu going, but at least I can celebrate keeping it alive thus far.

Contemplating my year, I have regrets, but not huge ones. Our longest-lived dog Lola left us, but in such a lovely, graceful way--while I'll always miss her presence and grieve her inevitable loss, I rejoice that she lived to be 15 and was so vital almost to her last day. My novel still isn't finished--not that it was actually a goal. Didn't accopmany the Chap to Montreal this year and had second thoughts too late. Could've done a much better job groundskeeping at the Lodge after that first frenzy of spring gardening.

Recent days have been very busy, especially yesterday--mandolin lesson, post office, bank, cookbook project meeting. Watchmaker, because altogether six of our watches wanted replacement batteries. Plus my vintage tank watch needs a thorough cleaning and tune-up. (I've heard the Chap boast that he's got watches enough to wear one every day for a month without a repeat. Possibly longer. My collection numbers in the single digits--7 or 8 in good working order.)

I stopped at the furniture store to pick up a new acquisition. Miraculously, after years of searching, I found the perfect side table/bookshelf for the downstairs sitting room, at 50% off. At this moment it's wedged into the back of my car. Not permanently, I hope! This was a lucky discovery connected to an additional purchase at the same store. After a hunt of about 2 years, we also found the perfect stressless-type, swivel leather armchair with ottoman for the Chap, to replace the one he received as a wedding present long ago. The old chair isn't entirely trashed, it's going on to the cottage for an extended life of more limited use. The new chair is on order. We're so pleased that a local, independent downtown furniture store supplied all our needs. Quality goods at a significant bargain.

For the past couple of days I've ignored my general logey-ness until it became increasingly apparent that I picked up a Bug, most likely at church. It's the time of year when good spiritual health can be detrimental to physical health! As preparation for wintering in Reps Hall with 399 germ-bearers, I brought back from the UK lots of Serious Cold & Flu Drugs, the sort unavailable in the States with labels that make me nervous--but don't deter me. Consequently I'm doped to the max and intend to remain that way. Until I need to drive myself again. And I needn't leave the Lodge till Tuesday, so plenty of opportunity for rest.

By family tradition (mine) this is the day to de-Christmas the house. About half the ornaments have been removed from the splendid tree.

Last night at the library I picked up 4 DVDs and today Netflix delivered a 5th, so we're well-equipped for our snowy, sickly holiday. I'm making Italian tonight: angel hair pasta and fried calamari with a marinara-type sauce.

We'll see in the New Year twice, London via BBC America, and US via the television network of our choice. The bubbly is chilling. We'll have a fire, because I'm still scarred from the ice-storm power outage and doggedly determined to return to the mindset that "fires are pretty and fun and romantic" rather than "fires are essential to our survival." The girls, our precious companions, are sporting their festive kerchiefs with a sense of anticipation.

They join me in wishing you a happy, healthy, prosperous, productive, love-filled, and thoroughly rewarding 2009!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Monday, December 29, 2008

Our Icy Little Lake

The brief warm spell didn't change the look of our little lake. There was surface melting, leaving puddles, but the ice sheet is intact. With frequent thawing and freezing cycles, it's not very thick yet and therefore extremely unsafe!

The skaters and the ice fishermen must wait...for a sustained spell of brutally cold weather. I do want the lake to freeze hard but don't want to suffer for it!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Stroll: Winter Lake

We departed for the Big Lake right after church. Partly because at that location we are already 1/3 of the way there, and partly because the temperature was in the 50's, and mostly because we hadn't the opportunity to go since the big ice storm. We assumed if anything catastrophic had occurred on our property, a neighbour would have alerted us.

It has been many years since we stopped in during Christmas Week, not since the year Chap's sister spent a super-white holiday with us. Usually we don't go up till February.

At the tip of the Bay we found ice cover, though not yet thick enough to support the seasonal airstrip, or any ice fishermen's bob houses. The farther up the Bay we drove, the less ice we saw. Our bit of the Bay has open water still.

The trees on our hillside offer good shelter from snow, not much cover. At this time of year, the entire cottage--stretching across the ridge--is visible from the dock. In summer the foliage conceals a part of it.

Down by the water, our dock wears a dripping, icy skirt.

And the rocks are decorated with a dripping fringe of icicles.

The red berries look very festive round Ruth's favourite swimming spot.

Icebergs were floating up the Bay.

Before we leave, I perform my ritualistic "tossing rock to break up ice floes" routine.

Up on the path, we find mysterious scat. Much too big for a deer. We don't know what it was, but something used our property as a lavatory.

On our road we saw only one of our year-round neighbours--met him twice, as we drove in and as we drove out.

The village is very quiet and still at this time of year. It will be busier when the ice is all the way in.

For other strolls, head in this direction!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

Ah, Christmas, one of those days when the immortal question "What's for pudding?" can be answered with the giggle-inducing reply: "Pudding!"

And here 'tis. Last night, rather than blazing up the whole thing, we ignited individual servings.

We keep a quiet Christmas and Boxing Day is much the same. Today's plan: eat less food overall, and devise a vegetarian supper. Not that I've eaten any more than usual. I've lost an additional 2 pounds this week!

Because we had Xmas pud yesterday, I waited till today to make the ultra-traditional Evans holiday dessert, without which no festive occasion can be complete. All my life I've associated it with my Grandmother Evans, who served it at any time in the period between Christmas and New Year's (although it has appeared at various birthdays as well, on request!) It has a Story, although one without many specifics. The recipe has been in the Evans family for generations...it "came over with them from England"--"or Wales"--either in the early 19th or more likely the 18th century. It does not derive from any more recent immigrant, that's certain. Apparently it dates from an era when mace--an essential component--was an expensive and impressive and special flavouring.

Basically it's a version of the familiar French iles flotantes or oefs a la neige. Thomas Jefferson's household had a similar but quite different receipt, which at Monticello was known as "Snow Eggs." During his ambassadorship to France, Jefferson's cook James Hemings trained in French cuisine.

To make ours, one follows the Rule of 4: 4 cups milk, 4 eggs separated into whites and yolks, 4 tablespoons of flour, 4 tablespoons of sugar. And mace. The process isn't terribly complicated, but I always feel like I'm supervising a chemical process.

The finished product:

As well as being Boxing Day, it's St. Stephen's Day, and thus the name day for my parish church. Most importantly, it's the date not only of my own brother's nativity (a slightly tardy Xmas present) but also of my only female first cousin. Including members of an older generation now departed, from 23 December to 31 December my clan had 5 family birthdays to celebrate. In addition to Christmas and New Year's Eve. By the time we welcomed the New Year, we were exhausted, over-stuffed, and couldn't face any more wrapping paper!

Which might explain why simple Christmases like this one are still something of a novelty for me!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Very Lodge-y Christmas

When I was a little child, my Sunday School teacher taught me that on Christmas morning, my first thought on waking should never be, "I wonder what Santa brought me?" but instead, "Today is Jesus's birthday!" And being the teachable, obedient sort, every year I follow her sage advice.

What the Chap brought me on Christmas Eve.

Last night at church we had a Carol Sing before the Christmas Eve service. Both were lovely.

After breakfast (I ate grapefruit from the vast supply of Florida citrus my brother sent us!) and special coffee (from his sister), freshly ground, we had our stockings.

First we take care of the girls. New chew toys all round!

My stocking contains the usual delicacies from abroad. Including the chunky Kit-Kat made only in the UK! Hooray! (Like the girls, I, too, get chewables!)

Among other things, the Chap finds the proof set of the new UK coinage--exactly what he wanted! Purchased at the Tower of London.

After stockings, we went to the downstairs sitting room for the Queen's Speech on BBC America--broadcast from the Music Room at Windsor. "We were just there!" we cried in unison.

More coffee, then we headed to the upstairs sitting room--and the Tree!

A very savvy relative sent each of us this t-shirt:

From British friends:

Huggable Hounds--I Haz Dem!

I asked for a new laundry hamper for Xmas...and it came fully loaded!

An ideal present for the incoming Vice Chair of the Fish & Game Committee!

This year's gifts followed several themes: kitchen-y, bed 'n' bath, electronic, traditional/annual, goofy. The pile of pressies dwindled into mounds of wrapping paper and empty boxes.

Look, a foot massager! (To match my new fuzzy blue lounging socks from the Chap!) Ruth is bored, nothing to with her.

The excitement over, it swiftly becomes a Very Yawn-y Christmas--for the girls!

We have our festive meal later in the day. After a light lunch there's downtime for phoning family members and friends across the country--and the world--and emailing photos similar or identical to the above. Fairly soon I shall busy myself with heating up our Christmas pudding--made for us specially by an English friend in her French kitchen (!) and hunting for my brandy butter recipe. The Chap has just taken Ruth & Jewel for a snowy, sunny, breezy walk. Soon the Lodge will smell of plums, other dried fruits, and spices. We'll be sure to flame up the pudding properly before serving!

Happy Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

How much snow have we here at the Lodge? The best illustration is the track the Chap maintains so our fuel oil delivery man can reach the input for the tank behind the house.

Usually it looks like that in oh, February! We think we have 2 feet of snow on the ground at least.

I cannot recall a busier Christmas Eve Eve. Yesterday morning the girls had a rollicking trip to the vet. When I loaded them into the car, they were convinced we were headed to the lake cottage for a nice long walk to the Point! Sorry, but no. Jewel had her annual exam, and except for a couple of jabs and toenail clipping (requiring 2 vet techs to hold her down), she was extremely well-behaved. Our vet examined a red spot on Ruth's paw and sent us home with a tiny bottle of medicine to apply. Both girls are very popular, they loved all the attention (except when it involved the clippers). I love that they each got pedicures! I do it at home when I must, but am far happier to let professionals handle it!

Twice last week on my errands runs, at the same time of morning, I spotted the flock of wild turkeys in a friend's cornfield, fairly near the road, picking over the stubble. Now the snow has covered the stubble. No more turkeys. The deer are on the move, they've carved deep trails in the snow in a nearby meadow.

After dropping the girls at home, I hastened to the capitol city to meet 2 friends (Bishop's canons) for lunch. We strolled down 2 blocks to Main Street--and had to maneuvre through great piles of snow along walkways and right down the center of the street! So nice, catching up on our lives and news before we scatter for the holidays, a perfect kick-off to my Christmas celebrations. The chaps generously bought my lunch...as I only ate a starter (Blarney puffs in Guinness cheese sauce) it didn't set them back too much.

Then my mandolin lesson. Then the state liquor store (crazy crowded) for holiday libations. Then the shopping center--terrible traffic, hardly any parking spaces--and B*rd*rs to pick up a little something from the Chap. The checkout line ran from the registers all the way to the reference section, practically at the back of the store, but it moved like lightning! Ran into friends, a former legislator and a current one.

My lunch had put me in such a sunny mood--as did the sunshine--that nothing could mar it, not the frantic shoppers or the crazy drivers. The weather crises (ice storm, blizzard) means everyone was behind, and you could tell by their faces. I smiled and smiled, and many smiled back. I wasn't shopping with a Plan, yet miraculously discovered several items that the Chap can really, truly use, as gifts and stocking stuffers. This success boosted my spirits even more!

Last night we watched the Grinch on telly.

Another programme I've been watching is PBS's Great Performances, the San Francisco Ballet's production of The Nutcracker. Quite the most visually attractive and engaging version, its design based upon the 1915 World's Fair in SF. We can access 4 different PBS stations via satellite or antenna, and whenever the ballet repeats, I tune in!

Right now I'm listening to Lessons & Carols on BBC Radio 4.

It's a messy morning. The Chap was at his office but has early release.

The girls are festively attired and eagerly awaiting Santa's arrival.

They're also keeping watch over interesting occurrences outdoors.

They join me in wishing you a most merry holiday!

To all my blog visitors and other bloggers, whatever you're celebrating, may this season bring you joy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Things Done and Not Done: My 100 List

I resolved not to blog today, in order to spare you more and more photos of Dogs in the Snow. Yes, our drifts are insanely, hilariously deep, and the dogs are entirely dwarfed and adorable.

But then...making my morning blog rounds, I stopped over at Michelle's place, and found this list. I probably should've spared you this, too, but I have a very low immunity to these things. So here's a long list of factoids about me, with Yes answers in boldface.

1. Started your own blog.

2. Slept under the stars.

3. Played in a band. Bear in mind, I'm defining "band" very loosely.

4. Visited Hawaii. On the way home from New Zealand I was there for a few hours.

5. Watched a meteor shower. Whenever I can.

6. Given more than you can afford to charity. Oh, I give...it's just that I can probably always afford to give more.

7. Been to Disneyland. I saw Disney World in FL when it was very new.

8. Climbed a mountain. Big ones in CO. There's a little mountain in our backyard here at the Lodge, I think that's the only NH one I've climbed.

9. Held a praying mantis. I prefer to photograph them but I'm not afraid to touch.

10. Sang a solo.

11. Bungee jumped. Not an ambition of mine!

12. Visited Paris. Multiple times.

13. Watched a lightning storm at sea.

14. Taught yourself an art from scratch.

15. Adopted a child. No, just dogs.

16. Had food poisoning. Only once. Isla Mujeres.

17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty. I like it best from a distance.

18. Grown your own vegetables.

19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.

20. Slept on an overnight train.

21. Had a pillow fight.

22. Hitchhiked. Once. During our grad school years the Chap & I hitched a ride to the university's football stadium with somebody else who was headed to the game. Even under these relatively safe conditions I was extremely reluctant!

23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill. Not that I recall. (I almost never take sick days when I am ill!)

24. Built a snow fort. Not for years. I've got enough snow right now to re-create a walled medieval city, actual size, if only the snow weren't so powdery dry.

25. Held a lamb. I don't recall whether I've gathered one into my arms. But I'm going to say yes, because I've definitely hugged lambs.

26. Gone skinny dipping. I refuse to elaborate, except to say there has been more than a single incident of this shocking behaviour.

27. Run a marathon. Very funny!

28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice.

29. Seen a total eclipse.

30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.

31. Hit a home run.

32. Been on a cruise. Not a cruise where you live on a ship for days on end. Probably can't count the MS Mt Washington on the Big Lake, or the Potomac cruise I had in September. Or my canoe.

33. Seen Niagara Falls in person. Don't think I can count fly-overs. But it does look very cool from the air!

34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors. Many of them.

35. Seen an Amish community. No, just the Mennonites' and Shakers'.

36. Taught yourself a new language. I've worked a bit at Welsh, Manx, and Jersiaise. Really obscure ones!

37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied. When I think hard and seriously and honestly about it, it has to be "Yes."

38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person

39. Gone rock climbing. It's so not me.

40. Seen Michelangelo's David

41. Sung karoke.

42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt. No, but I saw similar geysers in New Zealand.

43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant. It's entirely possible I've done this, if I picked up the tab for a large mixed group and didn't know every single person. But I'll say no.

44. Visited Africa. Not me...I experienced it vicariously through the Chap, though.

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight. Many beaches.

46. Been transported in an ambulance. I'm not entirely certain, it pre-dates my first memories, but I suspect so. My first memories are periodic subsequent hospital stays as a result of the incident that would've involved the ambulance ride.

47. Had your portrait painted. About 4 times. Totally embarrasing!

48. Gone deep sea fishing. I went out on a boat but didn't actually fish that day.

49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person.

50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. I like it better from a distance.

51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling. Snorkeled, but not very well.

52. Kissed in the rain. I've done almost everything in the rain. Almost!

53. Played in the mud.

54. Gone to a drive-in theater.

55. Been in a movie. Three of 'em. And a tv show.

56. Visited the Great Wall of China.

57. Started a business.

58. Taken a martial arts class. Jujitsu, when I was a little kid.

59. Visited Russia.

60. Served at a soup kitchen.

61. Sold Girl Scout cookies.

62. Gone whale watching. Why ever not? The boat is only 50 minutes away....one of these days!

63. Got flowers for no reason.

64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma. If only I could! I'm not allowed, due to living in the UK before, during and after the mad cow disease scare. And isn't it great, knowing your life's blood might be dangerous--deadly, even. Mooooooooooooo!!!

65. Gone sky diving. Ha!

66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp. Wouldn't care to.

67. Bounced a check. Once, I think. Which is fantastic, considering how lousy my checkbook oversight can be!

68. Flown in a helicopter. No thanks!

69. Saved a favorite childhood toy. Many of them. Most of them.

70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial. Lots! It's totally awesomely impressive at night.

71. Eaten Caviar.

72. Pieced a quilt.

73. Stood in Times Square. Well, mostly I keep walking. But yes.

74. Toured the Everglades

75. Been fired from a job. I've barely ever had a real job!

76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London.

77. Broken a bone. Collarbone, when very, very young. No big deal. My hysterical panic attack during the x-ray was the worst part.

78. Been on a speeding motorcycle. Trust me, this will never happen. Because I'm unlikely ever to get on any motorcycle.

79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.

80. Published a book. At last count, 12 of them, if I count the novella and don't count the Master's thesis.

81. Visited the Vatican. One of these days...but I keep going to Venice instead of Rome.

82. Bought a brand new car. And I paid for it with a personal check...not the once that bounced!

83. Walked in Jerusalem.

84. Had your picture in the newspaper. An embarassing number of times!

85. Read the entire Bible.

86. Visited the White House.

87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating. If fishes count.

88. Had chickenpox. And barely survived it.

89. Saved Someone's Life. I like to think so.

90. Sat on a jury.

91. Met someone famous. Where do I start? Pres. Elect Obama? Vice Pres. Elect Biden? Alan Alda? Shaun Cassidy? I could continue...but won't.

92. Joined a book club.

93. Lost a loved one.

94. Had a baby. Came close, once. See #93.

95. Seen the Alamo in person. Should I?

96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake. This does not sound fun to me. Not even if I were skinny-dipping. Especially if skinny dipping!

97. Been involved in a lawsuit.

98. Owned a cell phone. I use it more like a walkie-talkie and practically only ever ring the Chap on it.

99. Been stung by a bee. When you spend your childhood catching them in Mason jars, it's bound to happen.

100. Read an entire book in one day. Often. Thinking about doing it today!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Stroll: Blooms and Buds

We got more than half a foot of snow since Friday night. It was falling lightly when we went to last night's party down the road. The snow started up at breakfast time today. By this evening we could have as much as another foot. The temperature is 11 degrees, not counting windchill--it's very blustery outside.

Even so, we made it to church. It was a very white drive.

"What do you want for Christmas?" the Chap keeps asking. To respond with "Nothing, really," isn't especially helpful. With so much activity at our feeders, in the past 48 hours I began answering, "A 50 pound bag of safflower seed, a 25 pound bag of cracked corn, and several suet cakes."

So after church we stopped at the local farm store and stocked up. I'm happy, and our wild birds will be happy!

Because of the severe climate outdoors, I'm strolling my indoor garden today.

My many-years-old cyclamen is showing seasonal colours.

As is the crown of thorns plant the Chap gave me for Christmas some years ago.

I'm afraid the house got so cold during last weekend's power outage that I lost a couple of plants. My heirloom Christmas cactus (which bloomed before we left for London) is no more, and the arabica coffee plant (a gift from the Chap many years ago) was also killed.

But I'm making more plants. In this indoor greenhouse area, I'm rooting the cuttings I took when visiting my parents last month: sasanqua, banana shrub, and sweet/tea olive from their gardens.

And here are the wild holly cuttings I took from Nell Gwyn's forest outside Nottingham.

The Lodge will be brightened by more blossoms very soon.


My white azalea.

And the insanely fragrant sweet/tea olive--not from my parents' garden, but purchased commercially.

To see where the other strollers strolled, hop over here!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Snow Scenes

The Chap made his way through the snow to deliver the last lot of Christmas parcels to the Post Office, and to purchase stamps for the cards. We had lots of snow overnight, it's snowing still, and at least as much snow expected tomorrow. A very, very white Christmas this year....

Ruth checks her reflection. "I look super-cute in the snow!"

Jewel prances like a reindeer.

Checking out the backyard, making dog trails in the snow.

"It's cold out here! Let's go back indoors!

A busy morning at the suet feeder.

Spot of colour in the woods.

The male hairy woodpecker sticks the landing.