"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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Dressing Well in Hard Times

I'm quite sure my visitors, who arrive here in increasing numbers, don't stop in for musings on economic gloom and doom. Neither do I. But to ignore the news of the day/week/month/year/decade? is a bit too ostrich-like, even for me, a congenital Pollyanna. I won't claim to be unaffected by what's going on--I know I'm not alone in being an investor and shareholder who pays attention to the variations in the stockmarket.

My two current mantras:

"What goes down will come up again."

"A decade ago, only a crazy person would've predicted the market would ever reach 10,000. Let alone 11,000. So let's take the long view, and just calm down."

My knowledge and experience of credit is very, very limited. I paid cash for my first brand new car, after grad school, so I've never had a car payment. You could accurately call me a fiscal conservative. I've got a couple of credit cards, one in my own name for my business/personal expenses (this is the very same account I've had since I went off to college, although the name of the bank on the card has changed several times.) We have a joint card for household purchases. Also a few department store cards, which I only use if offered an extra discount for using them. I'd never shop with cards at all if I couldn't pay off the balance in full when the bills arrives.

We are fortunate to be living an entirely debt-free lifestyle. And I assume, though perhaps I'm mistaken, this is somewhat unusual.

Last week the Chap and I attended several lavish social events, at which the participants were often overheard bemoaning the altered economy. As Jimmy Stewart comments in one of my favourite films, The Philadelphia Story, "The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying its privileges." I don't actually agree with that, there are many prettier and more pleasing sights I can think of, but basically it's what we were doing. And it seemed to me that some of these people felt their privileges might be threatened.

On the night of the banquet and ball, I was as dressed up as I'd ever been in my life--since my wedding day, that is. If, in these hard times, I'd spent a fortune on my clothes, I'd be embarrassed and guilty.

Here's a revelation: my entire outfit that night cost less than $100. And every item but one was purchased on Ebay. And just wait till you hear where that other item came from!

Let's run down the list.

Ballgown. Upmarket. Designer sample. Ebay Buy It Now purchase. Cost (including postage): $73

Matching shoes. Upmarket. Ebay Auction purchase. First time I've ever bought used shoes, but they were barely worn and the Perfect Colour. Cost (including postage): $12

Evening shawl, Chinese, 100% silk. Gorgeous. Ebay Buy It Now purchase. $13

And now for my non-Ebay purchase....

Hair clips. Same colour as ballgown. After an exhaustive search in every boutique and department store in Central and Seacoast New Hampshire, I found exactly what I needed at the Dollar Store. Yes--the Dollar Store! How cool is that? Cost (no sales tax in NH): $1. (Sorry they don't show up in the pic, but I did wear them.)

If you do the math, as I finally got round to doing after I was home, you'll find that the entire ensemble cost me a whopping $99. Less, in fact, because I rounded up.

I strongly doubt that any of the other elegant ladies can make that claim!

I can't help feeling chuffed about my thriftiness, especially since I got loads of compliments on the night. Admittedly it helps--a lot--having a dress and shoe size that enable me to buy items off the internet that fit perfectly.

Oh, and one more thing. That skirt I wore to the French Ambassador's party--embroidered satin and sequins--

--found it for $15 on a sale rack at a local shop!

Sunday, September 28, 2008


The dinner party with the Presiding Bishop was lovely and very well attended. I had the challenging duty of driving her and her canon in a blinding rainstorm at night, not something I often have occasion to do. Imagine my sense of responsibility--seated beside me was the Primate of the American branch of the Anglican Communion. Who also happens to be a licenced pilot. And due to the rain, little toads and frogs were hopping all over the roads. I think I managed to avoid them all.

We had a safe passage, and luckily the rain had subsided somewhat by the time I returned our distinguished guests to their hotel.

Here's my VIP (Very Important Passenger).

Yesterday morning I attended a service in the big Concord church, where many of our diocesan family assembled. Every hymn sung was a favourite of mine and Bishop Katherine's sermon dealt with angels--tomorrow being the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels. Michaelmas, in old Anglican language. Her concluding observation resonated with the congregation in a wonderful way.

I was set to lunch with a Seacoast friend but due to illness she had to cancel (feel better soon, S!). I proceeded to Lowe's to pick out paint colours for the bathroom. (A sign that the project is nearing its end? I wonder!) It was an easier task than I expected and when I returned to the Lodge armed with chips the Chap wholeheartedly endorsed my selections.

Spent the afternoon switching out summertime clothes for autumn ones. Which explains why the weather suddenly morphed from damp and chilly to damp and warm and muggy. Whenever I try to get a jump on the season, the climate abuptly changes back to what it was before I made the change.

My cool season clothes fit differently. It appears that skirts might need to be Taken In.

It's been a while since I've posted a dog picture. Here are Jewel and Ruth in cabin fever mode, waiting for me to toss the red ball.

Just before supper a toad hopped up onto our front step.

Jewel and Ruth were fascinated. So was I.

On NPR's Morning Edition, there was a lengthy interview with Dar Williams. On the webpage there's also a concert you can hear online if you're so inclined.

Hurricane Kyle is bearing down on coastal Maine. Not sure what impact it will have here, apart from more rain.

Sunday Stroll

A brief tour of the neighbourhood round the Lodge.

Brilliant colour can be found only minutes from our little lake, where the trees are just beginning to turn.

For additional strolls, go here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Just in Time

It's a sad and strange thing,
But it's time and I am changing,
Into something good or bad well that's your guess.
I'm my own sovereign nation,
Dedicated to transformation,
Marching on with this target on my chest, oh yes.
And it's alright, it's alright, it's alright.

--"It's Alright," music and lyrics by Dar Williams, 2008

Just in time to get me through the insanity of late September and the looming madness of October, Dar Williams released a new album, Promised Land. I picked it up before we left for Washington, and it's my constant companion in the car.

It suits my mercurial moods perfectly as I veer from wild optimism on a range of issues into the depths of gloom. I'm not normally pessimistic, but for some reason I'm unusually affected by uncertainty, weariness, the weather, and a desperate longing for transformation. Or, in the political parlance of the day, Change.

Re-entry into Lodge living has been odd.

It was a joyous reunion with Ruth and Jewel, of course. On the way to their hilltop kennel at sunset I had to stop so a procession of a dozen turkeys could cross the road in front of me.

The trees are changing rapidly and beautifully, pockets of intense colour can be found round every bend in the road.

The demolition--sorry, re-construction of our master bath has resumed, with new projections about the completion date.

Almost from the moment of my return I was plunged into activity. A make-up mandolin lesson. An evening meeting about thorny and seemingly insoluble social problems affecting area youth.

I've got a bunch of decisions to make and numerous details to oversee. I'm afraid to make lists, for fear of being overwhelmed!

It's very rainy and will be all weekend long. After a dry spell, that's usually a good thing but actually it's quite nerve-wracking because there's a flood watch. My district has had about 4 (I'm losing count) 100-year floods over the past 3 years. Another one is unimaginable.

I expected to feel better, refreshed, for having been away. In a way I do, and in a way I don't. Washington was sunny, I was hanging out with titled foreigners and dining on delicious food and dressing up and seeing relatives. By the end of the trip I was more than ready to come home. Now...I long to escape again. Not too far, just to the cottage on the Big Lake. But I'm anchored here for the time being.

Not that we don't have impressive dignitaries here in New Hampshire. In fact, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is making a visitation over the weekend. I'll attend a dinner with her this evening and our Bishop gave me responsibility for collecting her at the hotel and delivering her to our hosts' home. Preparations for this unexpected honour entailed de-dogging my automobile. Which now looks fab, I'm proud to announce. No more dog drool obscuring the windows, or fur sticking to the leather seats.

I was leaving Washington as things heated up over this congressional bailout business. I know, I know, I should've stayed and solved the problem myself. Easy enough to do. I'd have marched down to the Capitol and knocked heads together, and advised them to be sensible and collegial and less political. If met with resistence, I would yank them out of their offices and wrest them away from their photo ops and send them all to the National Zoo together. My visit with all those lovely animals, seeing families with kids and smiling visitors from all across America and the globe did me a world of good.

To conclude on a happy note, at least for me, despite the temptations at table I returned home at the same weight I was when I left. An achievement in discipline! Will I be able to repeat it in London?

Wishing everyone what I hope for myself, a pleasant, angst-free weekend. It's a testing time. But as Dar so aptly says...It's Alright.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Zoo Animals from A to Z (Anteater to Zebra)

More photos from my afternoon at the National Zoo.
Arranged alphabetically...




Grey seal

Hippo (full size)

Hippo (pygmy)


Sea lions




I saw--and photographed--many others.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Another insanely beautiful day, and I spent it well. Didn't do anything I hadn't done before, but that was the fun of it.

I walked from Scott Circle down 16th Street to the White House, quite beautiful in the sunshine. I walked along the side where the networks position their stand-up reporters, but the President was in New York today at the United Nations and the press corps was with him.

The Corcoran Gallery, which I'd intended to re-visit, is closed on Tuesdays. I sat beside the Elipse to eat my lunchtime banana, gazing upon the Washington Monument and watching a soccer game. I then continued along Constitution Avenue. Popped in at the Natural History Museum for a peek at the Hope Diamond and the National Gem Collection. Never can resist bling on the grand scale.

My destination was the National Gallery of Art. It wasn't at all crowded...standing nose to nose with a Rembrandt or a Renoir is such a thrill. I crossed over to the East Building (I.M. Pei designed) via the Concourse, and in the Bookshop found the most useful and wonderful research book, complete with a reproduction of the Duchess's portrait.

After dazzling my eyes with art (Luini madonnas, Fragonard frolics, Raphael, Titian, Cezanne, Calder) I strolled up towards Judiciary Square--the view of the Capitol while stuck on a traffic island in the center of Pennsylvania Avenue was simply breathtaking--and boarded the Metro, which brought me back to Dupont Circle.

The Chap completed the business conference that has taken up his time yesterday and today. Tonight we dine at The Grill from Ipanema, a Brazilian restaurant we've been haunting for years.

I predict I'll have alligator for a starter, because I always do. Not sure about my main course.


I spent Monday afternoon at the National Zoo. I've been going there all my life, since I was a tot. With grandparents, my mother, with the Chap, on my own. Never before were the animals so visible, so active, so photogenic!

Like so many visitors, I was particularly eager to see the Giant Pandas, Tian Tian and Mei Zhiang and Tai Shan. Two of them--presumably the adultes--were outside in their separate enclosures and having a busy time.

I lost track of which is which.

It was feeding and clean-up time in the Red Panda area--the pandas and their keepers were very interesting to watch.

Many more animal photos to come!

I met the Chap at Biddy Mulligan's for a draught cider (me) and Guinness (him). Then we went to our favourite French restautant, Bistrot du Coin. I drank more cider--only French for a change--and had a Salade de Chevre Chaud followed by escargots. He had mushrooms to start followed by moules in a curried cream sauce. Amazing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Channeling Cinderella

Busy weekend.

On Saturday the Chap was involved in various activities that didn't include me, so I amused myself with walking and shopping.

That evening we had a ball. Literally. And a banquet.

The Dress.

The Dress with the Shawl.

Dessert plate at the banquet, which took place in a hotel adjacent to the house in which we stayed.

Back at the house. Passing from the garden terrace to the ballroom.

The musicians.

Part of the ballroom showing staircase and balcony.

We didn't actually dance, I'm ashamed to report, because we were too busy socialising, chatting with friends, and wandering the rooms. By the time we returned to the ballroom, the musicians had packed up and cleared out.

So we headed upstairs to our room.

Yesterday was fantastic--a luncheon in Old Town Alexandria, with members of my husband's association, and the French aristocrats.

A young piper (grandson of our host and hostess) piped us in.

My aunt and uncle picked us up and gave us a tour of Old Town and environs. The afternoon ended at their residence, on the banks of the Potomac, with drinks and dinner.

Here's their view of the river.

During the Friday cruise to Mount Vernon we passed right by their building, only I didn't realise it!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Stroll: Mount Vernon continued

At Mount Vernon, we paid our respects to General and Mrs. Washington.

This is their mausoleum.

Our stroll to the house took us through some delightfully pastoral surroundings. Here is one of several sheep pens.

Baa, baa, black sheep. (I'm sure he's tired of hearing that!)

Bulloks. They were very handsome.

Washington was so weary of war that he wanted his weathervane stop the cupola atop the roof of Mount Vernon to include a dove of peace with an olive branch in its beak.

Saturday, September 20, 2008


Friday was a perfect day for a cruise along the Potomac River to Mount Vernon.

Our vessel.

As we depart the docks, a view of the Washington Monument.

Living history--John Washington and his son John, many-times great-nephews of George Washington.

A French duc.

A French comte.

Arriving at our destination.

The sun shines upon Mount Vernon.

We had the run of the place. The new museum is outstanding.

At the end of the afternoon, a reception was held on the lawn overlooking the Potomac.

The day concluded with a delicious dinner at the Mount Vernon Inn. We did not return the way we came, but were delivered to our door by a chartered motor coach.

Till tomorrow, when I plan to offer a Sunday Stroll.