Thursday, December 08, 2011

Lo, for a thousand tongues to sing...

I finally managed to scratch enough time out of my schedule to join the choir at the Methodist church I've been attending. I was excited to join because they were singing a cantata for Christmas. Even if I couldn't be at every rehearsal, or every Sunday, at least I could sing the cantata. It's not Christmas without a cantata.

Except, this choir is unlike any one I've ever been in before. I like the choir members. Don't get me wrong. They are a fun group of people, and for once the men almost outnumber the women. But they are a very...democratic choir. Meaning, at any given moment, any one of them might be talking to their neighbors. Conferring about what page we're on. Where we are starting and who exactly is singing second soprano and did you remember that we're not turning pages until the solo is done? The choir director is the sweetest, meekest woman I've ever seen stand in front a choir, and has absolutely no inclination to interrupt anyone. She also directs using a kind of stabbing motion...anyone who's ever been in a music group knows how helpful downbeats can be, but they are cast aside here. In addition, the children's choir director (who's less talented in the directing department, but a more forceful personality than her adult choir counterpart) is apt to leap up and offer her two cents. Her cutoffs to held notes can take two or three beats. Enunciation, ending words with their proper consonants, matching vowels--oh, trying to blend a choir full of Southerners, a few Eastern Shore-ers and me, a Yankee surely must make angels wince--all these techniques are lost on these folks.

I truly despaired after the first rehearsal. The choir, enthusiastic as they are, seemed more interested in getting through the music at top volume while loudly complaining that the CD moved too quickly for them. Oh--did I mention we're singing to canned music? Yup. I get that it's a small church with few resources for musicians. But I would rather sing with a plain piano or organ than a CD. I honestly questioned whether this was a group I wanted to get involved with. Even the cantata seemed a little boring. Too much reliance on key changes for dramatic effect. I'm embarassed to admit that I thought I was "too good" for this choir. I've had the advantage of excellence musical training in my life, which, like the proverbial bicycle, comes back without a second's thought.

Yet, after that first rehearsal, as I was standing there metaphorically pulling my hair out at the fact that we had accomplished about an hour's worth of singing during a two-hour rehearsal, something happened. People came up to me, introduced themselves, and said they were glad to have me. When i went to the second rehearsal, people came up and again introduced themselves, and again said they were glad to have me. They encouraged me to pull out that high "E" at the end of the cantata "--if I could!" and seemed relieved and appreciative when I did. I practised good choir skills, sitting straight on the edge of my chair, working my breathing, and counting--counting--rest phrases, something I hadn't had to do at my old choir. I remembered John Wesley's covenant prayer...

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

...and remembered sometimes we have to be put aside. Not our will, but God's. I thought about how instead of bitching about the choir, I could be a good example, showing up on time and practising good choir behavior. I like the people in the choir. They are truly the heart of the church, more enthusiastic and energetic than any other congregation I've been a part of. I want to sing! But also want to help the choir channel their enthusiasm into focused rehearsals. It would make everything run so much smoother. That's a tall order, I've only been a handful of times, but the more I go, the more I enjoy it.

If anyone is going to be around, we'll be singing Saturday and Sunday evening...

Saturday, November 05, 2011

It's curtains, sheee?

I am ashamed, loyal readers, to admit that until about, oh, three hours ago, we had no curtains in our bedroom. This wasn't a problem, since the house next to ours is set further back, so they were unable to see in our windows--a perk of living in the country. But now the house beyond that one has been renovated from a summer cottage into a year-round residence, and that one, loyal readers, is evenly set back from the river with ours. Giving those neighbors an unintentional front-row seat to our bedroom, and making curtains a priority.

Oh, sure, we covered up our windows, we're not heathens, after all...

Not shown: the English flag Nicki used during the 2006 World Cup, used for covering up the right window

...but somehow using a British flag seemed so...collegial.

(For educational purposes, must just point out that this flag is actually known as the King's Colours...we use this flag when we're reenacting. This flag was created just after the union of Scotland and England...St. David's cross, a red "X" was added later when the monarchy realised that they had Wales as well.)

So, curtains. I have been halfheartedly looking for something--anything--but the availability of curtains in my price range is depressingly limited. It's hard to pay $30 for some cheap polyester thing that I could make myself for half the price. I can sew, after all! But there again--I get distracted so easily. If I can't do a project in two hours, forget it. I think that's one of the reasons I'm not "crafty." I build things out of sheer desperate necessity, usually weeks after a deadline and only then if I can't buy it somewhere.

Today, after watching the neighbors enjoying their dock (the rockfish are running!), I finally decided to make some damme curtains already. I started by surfing around the internet...and quickly ran across this site. Using drop-cloths as curtains seemed right up my alley. However, I had a different set of criteria: first of all I wanted to spend no money. With the amount of fabric and notions we have floating around this house, there was no reason to go out and buy fabric. That included, secondly, a new curtain rod. There are several of the boring "cover up with anything that has a channel" variety of curtain rods out in the garage, and I was determined to use one to save money (see previous statement). Curtain clippies are nice, but they do require a curtain rod that is not ashamed to be seen. Thirdly, I had no drop cloths. And I have an inherent dislike of sewing projects that involve no actual my humblest, most polite of opinions, if you're gonna be crafty, you're gonna have to put in a hem every now and then.

So, to start with. I had no drop cloths, but I have sheets. Lots and lots of random sheets. I pulled out a plain white one with a bit of satin edging at the fall and thought "great." Except this sheet didn't belong to me, and, while I was totally willing to slice it in half and hem it, I wasn't sure that Jeff's mom would appreciate it. Also, a curtain that opened to the side would mean revealing an ugly curtain rod. Roman shades perhaps? But, urgg, that would require measuring and sewing rings and being fiddly and perfect and that just a lot of work.

In the end, what I ended up doing was this. I folded the top of the sheet down enough so that the fall of body reached the top of the window almost to the floor. Then I ran a straight seam using a basting stitch along the seamline that held the satin detail in quick seam that can be ripped out easily. This created a channel that was 17 and 3/8" deep...hiding the ugly curtain rod.

Now what I had looked like this:

Not shown: piles of clean laundry that haven't been put away for three days.

Usually I get annoyed when chirpy crafty people go "I used some buttons I just HAPPENED TO HAVE LYING AROUND for this next step!" but in this case, that's exactly what happened. I used some buttons that I just happened to have lying around, tacking them on to the sheet at the level of the seam. Then I cut a length of jute twine, knotted it to make a loop, and whipped it to the back of the sheet, again at the level of the seam. I used jute twine to try to achieve a "shabby chic" look with the white fabric and the bronze buttons. When the loop is pulled under the curtain and buttoned on to the button, it polonnaises the curtain like an eighteenth century dress. And it has the unexpected effect of looking like a sail.

Not shown: Nicki doing the happy dance when she realises she has an awesome curtain that LOOKS LIKE A SAIL.

So what do you think? I'm pretty pleased. Not only does it fulfill all my requirements: cheap, using materials I have, hiding ugly curtain rods, bonus sail-like qualities, but it's easy to get up and down and it's clean looking. I'm hoping to get permission to cut a sheet in half soon so I can do the same thing to a dormer window facing the front of the house...but judging by how long it took me to get around to making these curtains, don't hold your breath.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Michelle Obama Wants My Money

I got a letter in the mail today from Michelle Obama--actually from the Obama For America campaign--asking me to send money to her husband's campaign. I am skeptical. Not only because I feel that more than a year out it is way, waaaay to early to encourage these yahoos to start campaigning, but also because I don't know if this time around I can support President Obama.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I still think Obama is a better person to have at the helm than most politicians currently involved in the fray. We align on several issues, even though he out of necessity does more politicking than I do. I am still upset about the fact that the final version of the healthcare reform bill did not include universal, government-sponsored healthcare. Or access to buy into the Medicaid program for everyone. Especially since during those heady days Obama's party controlled both houses of Congress.

I don't want to be a one-issue voter. I hate the idea of blaming the government for things they do or do not do. I have health insurance now...but I can't help but think how many more options myself and so many of my friends would have if we weren't tied to jobs "just for the benefits."

It's just a niggling issue for me personally. I intend to become more well-informed before the next election. Maybe this time around Barack Obama won't be my candidate of choice. So for now I'm hanging on to my money.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mom Says Post

Beautiful Fort Ticonderoga

I received an email from Mom today with the subject line "Goodbye Irene" which I think is a subtle hint that she's ready to see some different content on this page. So! Where to begin? As with all recent posts, it's not the lack of things to talk about, but the abundance.

About a week after the hurricane, Jeff and I took off with our reenacting group (the Queen's Own Loyal Virginia Regiment; look us up on Facebook!) to New York, to participate in an event at Fort Ticonderoga. If you're thinking "Nicki, you live in Tidewater Virginia, and Fort Ticonderoga is in upstate New York, located on a peninsula that sticks out into Lake George, near the Canadian border, that's an insane amount of driving!" you would be right. We left Thursday afternoon, picked up a few more unit members in Maryland, and arrived Friday morning at 5:30 am. We immediately put the cars in park and took a nap for about an hour, until the local diner opened up and we could have some eggs and bacon for breakfast. (For the record: driving overnight is the only way to do I-95)

The town of Ticonderoga is, in a word, beautiful. It is tucked into a little valley in the Adironack mountains, with pine trees and winding roads rising on either side of it. The road to Ticonderoga winds through several little towns, all with locally owned restaurants, shops and hotels--definitely a place I want to revisit when I'm not busy playing history. Since we arrived a day before the event started, the unit had plenty of time to build a camp and generally unwind and relax after a long drive. The Queen's Own is trying to be a very historically accurate group, and one of the things that is most accurate is the fact that there are no tents when you're a militia unit. So the lads took to the woods, chopping down saplings and gathering brushwood until they had fashioned a lean-to. After scattering a couple bales of straw underneath, we had our shelter for the weekend. Voila.

Camp with a couple of gatecrashers on Friday night. The Queen's Own didn't mix it up too long Friday night, prompting a few comments "wow, those guys are really hardcore..." "No, they just drove through the night, didn't you know that?" Yes, and we can hear you from under our blankets.

I should note that ultimately we want to be able to cary everything into camp on our backs...we were only thwarted in this attempt this time by the addition of a fourteen pound salted Virginia ham. All the food we had was non-perishable, and it was either eaten (ham) or burned (bones). It's amazing how little refuse you leave behind.

The lads receive their orders Saturday morning...we try to run things in a military fashion, apart from the floggings. And even then you can be sentenced to fetch wood and water if you're not prompt.

Overlooking the Fort's guns. There are not any super-awesome pictures of me from this event, this is probably the best one. Also the best because, well, cannons.

Saturday we had visitors (and by visitors I mean "non-costumed civilians") so I was busy cooking for t'lads and answering questions. We were sharing our camp with a group that ate vegan, so it was almost like dueling kettles for awhile. One of our boys volunteered to be tried as a deserter...and he was duly dragged into the "court" by his fellow militiamen, tried and found guilty of desertion. Then the lads went off to the battle (we won), and after supper we went up to the Fort to share some libations with the American rebels.

A deserter in our midst! Get 'em, boys!

The lads advance during the battle...

Fort Ticonderoga was built in the 1750s by the French...the British took it away from them, then the Americans took it away from the British, and then the British got it back until the end of the Revolution. It was manned again during the war of 1812, and even during WWII it served as a radio base. Today it is a living history museum, with costumed interpreters, an EXCELLENT museum, a nifty giftshop and cafe. During the 19th century it was restored by a wealthy family who also built a small hotel down by the waters of Lake George, near the King's Garden. This is near where we were camping...the Americans got to sleep in the Fort. But really, after seeing the hardpacked earth and stone floors of the fort versus our comfy grass and straw beds, I think we Loyalists got the better end of the deal. Fort Ticonderoga was also recently featured in an episode of "Ghost Hunters"...and yes, Nicki is glad she only learned about the ghosts after we went there.

The Fort at night

Discussing the day's tactics with the serjeant.

Sunday I watched the battle, repeated for that day's guests. It was fun to mix in with the civilians, shouting encouragement to "our brave boys in red" and getting the stink-eye for it. Many guests thought I was a history teacher, but I had to correct them and say "no, this is just wicked interesting, that is all." It's hard to describe what a re-enactment battle is like. Most battles try to recreate an actual event, but there are some sites that will just make up battles to demonstrate what eighteenth century tactics looked like. This event was one such. Basically the scenario involved the Americans attempting to hold the fort, and the British rolling them back like blankets. During the Revolution, there was a garrison of Americans here, but they were so few in number that when the British showed up, it was not worth the lives for a pitched battle. The Americans had already removed the cannons, so the garrison surrendered. Both Saturday and Sunday the British forces began near the base of the hill on which Fort Ti is located, then advanced upward. The militia (including the Queen's Own) acted as light infantry, pushing through bracken, muddy water and trees to get the advantage and cover the regular infantry. Also there were cannons and horses. It was a pretty intense battle, lasting from early skirmishing to a final bayonet charge and surrender, all told around three hours of "fighting." Even though no one was actually hurt by a weapon, one of the guys in our unit did sprain his ankle on Saturday. And I've been to other events where there have been powder burns and even a broken collarbone. Reenacting is intense, and it does leave you drained. (Unfortunately, it's hard to take good photos and even videos of reenactments...trying to catch the excitement from afar is difficult, and if you have cameras in your midst you're liable to irritate reenactors.)

So by Sunday evening we were pretty wiped....we had permission to leave around 4pm, and we did so. Packing up involved rolling up blankets, tearing down our brush arbor and putting out the fire, and then we were on our way. Jeff and I arrived back in Virginia at around 4:30 in the morning on Monday. It was probably the best reenactment I had been to...but I was really glad I had taken Monday off.

This is what Jeff looks like...he is going to be mad that I put this on here, but it's my favourite picture of him so far ever.

It's hard to believe that was five weeks ago now! It's been a lot of fun putting up pictures and reliving that trip. I had a great time, even with all the driving, and I definitely want to go back again.

**All photos of Fort Ticonderoga were taken by Kelsey Freeman...she is a professional photographer with our unit who brought her camera along.

After working Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of that week, I took off again, this time for Green Bay. As I mentioned previously, Dad took a fall down the stairs at home. Now he was coming home from the hospital, and I went to try to help Mom get him settled. And by support I mean reinforcing some of the new rules, "Dad, when mom says 'eat' she means it!" Dad was pretty weak from being in the hospital for two weeks, but he perked up (and started eating), as soon as he got home...and from what I hear now, a month later, it's only been uphill. Also, bonus, I got to meet my new niece:

I was thrilled. Nora, less so.

And since returning home three weeks ago, it's been work, work, work. As usual. I signed on to work part time at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in their costume shop. As you can imagine, it's quite a bit different from CW's shop. Also, bonus, I get into the park for free and have discounts on food and souvenirs, which came in handy last weekend when Jeff and I had a couple friends come down for Howl O Scream. Then there was also Prelude to Victory, the rebel answer to Under the Redcoats...I had to go around all day pretending to be a patriot supporter of Mr. Washington, but secretly I was a British spy, gathering information. ("Infantry: 62. Cannon: 1") Then just yesterday Jeff and I were back at an old favourite spot of ours, Smith's Fort Plantation, which is a local history museum. They are having their Christmas Craft Show this weekend, so Jeff and I went in our historical costume and talked a bit about the house. Nothing like being able to drive home after an event in thirty minutes or less!

And that's the update...I hope this will not be the last one for another six weeks!

Monday, September 05, 2011

Good-bye, Irene

We survived!!! I was woken up last Saturday by the sound of wind whistling around the house. It gradually increased until it was an unrelenting howl until around noon which lasted until about six PM. The wind didn't go down completely until after one AM. I spent most of the day on the sofa. In the morning I was surfing the internet, waiting for the power to go out--and let me tell you, THAT'S a weird feeling, knowing that the power is going to go out and just waiting for your big exit from civilization. I managed to get a hot meal around 12:30 and then *blink* *blink* power gone. For six days. After the power went out, the biggest problem was leakage. The wind was beating so hard against the door upstairs that it was actually forcing water through the door knob, through the frame, and then down into the ductwork below. Downstairs I had a bucket brigade going. There wasn't a lot of rain (as compared to, say, Vermont), but the wind was unreal. After awhile, I sort of got used to it, and spent the afternoon sewing, listening to a book on my computer.

Some videos I took during the storm:

Jeff came home about six, during the lull of what had been the eye--and about thirty minutes before VDOT closed the James River Bridge due to high winds. We had some cold bean soup for supper (wind was too high to even attempt a fire outside) and some other non-perishable rations, like cookies, and then I finally dragged Kizzy outside for the first time all day. Jeff and I watched our neighbor's dock get torn up. The James was at high tide around this time, and the waves were approximately five feet above high tide. They completely lifted away the decking on the dock next door to us, and slammed some of the planks into the dock on our property. (Our dock is really just steps down to the beach, with nothing sticking out into the water) We stood on our dock, watching waves pound the cliff and feeling the shuddering motion as planks and rafts of decking slammed into our piers, and then I decided it was time to retreat back to the safe cave of our living room.

However, as far as damage went, we did pretty well. Mostly it was tree limbs and pine cones (and by "pine cones" I mean every pine come in a three-county radius is lying in our yard) but we did have a few major branches come down. One was neatly resting on a power line. The willow tree out front is completely shattered. Apparently this is the survival mechanism for willow trees, for Jeff assures me that the same thing happened during Isabel, and the tree came back. Cleaning up later that week, we found willow leaves wrapped around the bushes by the mailbox. Further down the road the power lines were completely broken, like guitar strings. Right at the end of our street, a tree had completely fallen across the road, taken out a power line pole, broken all the lines, and sent a transistor scattering into a corn field. Honestly, the biggest shock was that the power came back on as soon as it did!

Sunday we spent cleaning up and practising our outdoor cooking, a skill with which we happily have a lot of experience. Monday I got a surprise when I went into work and found that Williamsburg had no power. I got to spend time with the military guys on Monday, and Tuesday I just came home and cleaned up. We have a brush pile in our front yard that's taller than me now, and after working one afternoon with his uncle, Jeff wants a chainsaw. Luckily the weather has been a dream. High 70s, 60s at night, so leaving the house open to the elements has not been a problem, nor has sleeping. The biggest challenge was finding ice for our perishables--and even that was solved on Monday when I stopped at Harris Teeter. They were giving ice away! I will definitely shop there in future!

In a way, it was nice, the way power outages always are. We were prepared, mentally, the weather cooperated, the food didn't spoil and we ate up most of the stuff in our freezer without a problem. (Strawberries picked in 2010 that moved with me in July last year didn't make it, however) Jeff and I spent our evenings cooking, walking the dog, and going to bed early, since it's hard to read by paraffin-lamp light. We talked a lot, just hung out with each other. When I finally went back to work on Wednesday I missed him like the dickens, and swore that we were going to turn off TV and internet after eight o'clock in future. Even the mosquitos disappeared for a few days.

But now, the power's back on, work is back in full swing, and we're getting ready for a big reenactment this weekend. So, without further ado, a few post-storm pics:

The other neighbor's dock. His deck was about two feet higher than the one that was washed away, but, as you can see, ended up being covered in driftwood and decking material.

My tomato plants. They were nearly blown over, and after receiving a healthy dose of salty James River spray, I think they may be done for the season. But you never know. They are hearty plants all right.

The tree what came down on our power line. Previously, I'd called the power company about having a line resting on this branch, but they refused to do anything about it because the tree was on "private property." Guess what? They cut the branch down (and more!) on Thursday.

Our stove. The bricks are eighteenth-century bricks, leftovers from houses washed into the James by Isabel. We pick out a half-dozen or so whenever we go down to the waterside. Jeff build a little oven and we cooked chicken Sunday night after the storm. Better eating than anything we'd had in awhile!

After the storm...all I could think about was the line from Secret Garden: "Strangely quiet, but now the storm simply rests to strike again...."


One more thing...

I also want to let my loyal readers know that Dad took a fall last Friday. He fell down the stairs at home, due to a lack of coordination because of recent health concerns. He is okay, but spent a few days in ICU and is now in a regular hospital room. I know when he finds out I'm writing about him on here he'll be as embarrassed as the dickens, but this is my space, and that's what's happening in my life. And maybe he'll start listening to his doctors and take his pills now. Email me if you'd like more information--mom is asking for no visitors yet--and keep us all in your prayers.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Storm's a Brewin'....

I'm sure my loyal readers have heard about Hurricane Irene barreling towards the east coast, so I thought I would update to let everyone know that, yes, it's going to hit us, and yes, we are ready. It's hard to believe that by this time tomorrow I will be in the midst of a swirling, howling tempest. The good news: Jeff has spent the past three days storm-proofing the house. The bad news: he has to work this weekend, so I will be riding out the hurricane by myself.

Well, me and Kismet.

We have water, we have food, we have first-aid kits, we have moved all the outside furniture in, we have tools laid by in case of emergency, and Nicki splurged on a new Patrick O'Brian book. Our house faces the James River, but we are up on a thirty-foot bluff, so there is little chance of flooding. The lawn may be overwhelmed by rain, but the drainspouts have been extended to drains in the lawn (thank you, Jeff!) so hopefully the water from the roof will run right into the James. The other big concern is trees falling. I've parked my car away from the trees, but there is one or two that might reach the house, so I'll be camping out in the living room Saturday night.

I'm ready. I am positive the power is going to go at some point, so I'm prepared for some urban camping. Part of my reason for updating this blog is to let everyone know if you don't hear from me (not that I've been good about updating lately, I'll admit), it's probably because the power is gone and with it, the internet. My biggest concern, really, superfically, is boredom. I don't really want to be sitting around listening to the wind howling, so I've laid in a good supply of (hand) sewing projects and books. And my journals, so I can capture the storm's fury in prose.

I'll post some pictures here after the storm has gone by...I'm half excited, half nervous. Like we've been saying, prepare for the worst, pray for the best! In the meantime--stay dry!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

We Now Return You to Your Regularly Scheduled Nicki

Everything is fine.



I'm not hysterical anymore.

Just kind of embarrassed.

Here's a picture of Kismet:

Monday, August 08, 2011

London on Fire

Today is not a good day. First of all, there is rioting in London, ostensibly about a police shooting of an unarmed man, but really more about the unappreciated lower classes finally rising up and screaming out their frustration in an unstoppable orgy of rage and looting.

I know how they feel.

The rioting started near Wood Green, where I lived for six months, and included several stores that I used to shop at. Today it spread down to Lewisham, which is the shopping center I did most of my grocery shopping at while I was going to school at Goldsmiths. I don't avow looting--it is a senseless waste of proletarian small businesses--but I am in favor of setting cars on fire, which is also occurring. Fancy cars, ones that have insurance, burning in the middle of the street away from private property. A beacon to the powers that be that this crap has got to stop.

I should probably mention that I have been listening to a lot of NPR lately. My attitude is probably due a lot to the focus of the programming lately. That, and a desperate creeping feeling of not having enough money to live on (probably due in part to the fact that the program I was managing was cancelled for lack of attendance), of being nearly thirty and not living up to my potential--or any reasonable facscimile of potential--of not having any sodding end in sight of this endless work, work, work, work, the fact that my hands have started to hurt full time with no respite in the evenings or on the weekends (even odds whether it's arthritis or carpal tunnel), the 401k I dumped all my savings into instead of a bank account has tanked substantially in the past week, weighing two hundred and fifty pounds, worrying constantly about the health of my family, having to choose between finding two hours for writing or doing the dishes (AGAIN), walking the dog...I can't do any more! I can't work any harder! And yet there is no respite! AND THIS CRAP HAS GOT TO STOP!!!

It's enough to make me want to set cars on fire. Fancy, well-loved cars with an insurance policy sitting in the front window, preferrably in a tony neighborhood of Washington DC. What else is there? Rage, rage, rage....I will bring the police screaming to my bonfire, screaming up with their sirens blaring, I'll be sitting right there in the middle of the street, waiting for someone else to make a move and take the decision out of my hands. I'll come quietly officer, if you'll just stick me in a cell and let me sleep for about six years.

Part two:

I'm also trying to go back to school. AGAIN. More applications. More tests, more student loans...and a request for a transcript from Goldsmiths College. My printer sucked up two pages, thinking it was a size A9 page, instead of our standard 8x11s, so now I have to tape the two pages together and mail it off. The sight of those pages morphed into the familiar-yet-foreign longish form was enough to make me tear up. I'm so sick of all this working and hurrying. I want to go back to that senseless lull where all that was important was making the next deadline, writing something that other people would think was clever. And going to art galleries on weekends. Spotting Nelson like he was a hidden Mickey. I marvel now at the amount of sleep I got in London. It felt like such a waste at the time, but now, how I wish I could have stored that up in a bottle.

And maybe I'd go out on a night like tonight and bask in the glow of a burning car.

Last Sunday I forgot that Benn's UMC was starting at 10 instead of 11, so I ended up going to Trinity UMC instead. The sermon was about Jesus walking on the water. How Simon Peter only fell in the water when he took his eyes off of Jesus. The parallel was clear: Keep your eye on Jesus, and not on the storm. That's great advice. That's exactly the advice I need right now. When I went up for communion, all I could pray was "Stay with me this week, Lord, stay right here by my side."

I'm not going to set anything on fire. (Got that, Homeland Security?) I'm going to meekly go about filling out my paperwork, go to work, register for tests, cook dinner, go to work, walk the dog...remember that we don't get to live in places like grad-school London.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mount Vernon Part 2

A handed down story at CW quotes a derisive guest as saying "You visit Colonial Williamsburg like you visit Disneyworld...once you're dragged by your parents, then you drag your kids, and then when you get older you can afford to stay in the hotels and eat at the nice restaurants." That sounds about right.

I have been to Mount Vernon before. When I was about ten, I think...this was in conjunction with a family visit to Washington DC, and Bush I was in office, so that would date it to about 1991. My clearest memories include standing in the HUGEOUS dining room, marvelling at the blue-green paint job, hearing about how Washington employed sheep to keep his lawn mowed, and standing in front of the Presidential tomb going "wait, he's in THERE?"

Well, I found out recently from an ex-employee that Washington never actually used sheep to mow the lawn--they used scythes and rollers to flatten the grass. But I wanted to see if other memories of Mount Vernon added up in my memory, so Jeff and I took a day trip up there yesterday. I fully expected the Mansion to be smaller that I remembered, which it was, but I was not prepared for the Ford Orientatio Center and the shiny new Donald W Reynolds Educational Center and Museum. Oh sure, I'd heard that such places had opened in 2006, and squeee'd expectantly up the drive, looking forward to seeing the waxworks of G-Dubs and original artefacts, but the actual centers were loud and shiny and a little, well, jarring.

Not lawn mowers.

We bought our tickets ($15), and headed into the Ford Orientation Center. Bronze statues of George, Martha and their kids greeted us. There was a 1/22nd replica of the Mansion, complete with lights, that opened and closed within a Plexiglass case, letting you peek in rooms. Then we were shuffled into a theater to view a movie about Washington's early career...but not before getting a five minute overview of the amenities available by none other than Pat Sajak. The Mansion! The Pioneer Farm! The Walking Trail! The Shops! The Boat Tour! The Hotel! The Civil War Tour! Children's Activities! The following movie was acted pretty well, but it didn't tell a coherent story. Washington was a hero when he was younger. Boom! He's retired to Mount Vernon. Whaa? Nothing about him being President? Oh, well, okay...I didn't need much background on our First President (did you know he started the French and Indian War? True!), but I kinda felt for the people around me.

Doors opposite the ones we had entered going back to see the statues some more...and we were walking up a brick path towards the mansion. Yup. Smaller than I remembered. But I didn't remember all the outbuildings. We made our way up to the Mansion via the South Lane, where the Greenhouse and slave quarters were, poking our heads in the door. As did everyone else who was there. That was when I noticed the hordes of people. For real noticed them. Especially the kids, who were running from exhibit to exhibit...while I was trying to read "stationary interpretative signage" they would dart in front of me, frown because the sign was not a stop on their "History Hunt" maps, and then dart off again, bawling that they needed to "find number 4." I am all for taking kids to historic sites--probably would not be going to them now if I hadn't been taken when I was younger--but these families seemed to be there because it was a line on their Washington DC tourbooks, not because they had any true history geek or squee factor. Personally, I don't know how I would prepare an eight year old for the seriousness and gravity of visiting the Home of the Father of Our Country, so hats off to this family, who not only clearly absorbed Mt. Vernon and the outlying farms, but documented it in a series of photos--MUCH better photos that I could have taken yesterday.

Another reason we had gone to Mount Vernon was so I could do some research for a play I'm writing about Washington's slave, Billy Lee. I wanted to walk around the grounds and get a spatial feel for the place, to see how far it was from the house to the slave quarters, etc, what kind of life house slaves would lead. I was prepared for not a lot of information about Washington's slaves--it is after all, Washington's house, and the Mount Vernon folks are in the business of continuing the deification process--but I was disappointed with how little info there was. The displays in the slave quarters were static, and there was no mention at all in the house tour.

Our house tour started at 2:45..well, that's the time we could get in line. Stood in line for about ten minutes before we were directed into the servant's house. Then we went into the main house, into the dining room...just as green as I remembered. Gorgeous color. The man in there talked for five minutes at random about the paintings, the original marble fireplace, one historical moment (when Washington found out he was president "right HERE!"), and then shoehorned us out the opposite door. As we were being herded out, I asked the guide if the paintings had been in the house when the Ladies Association had bought it. "No," he shouted, going back to the door we had come in and letting in the new group "they were hunted down and repurchased later." We stood on the back porch, looking out at the Potomac. "The Ladies Association also bought the land across the river," I told Jeff, something I remembered from the last time I was here, "so the view is the same as when Washington lived here. Except for the motor boats, obviously." We admired the view and then shuffled forward into the foyer. Four rooms led off of this hallway. Jeff and I admired the faux painting in the hallway, the key to the Bastille in it's glass case, I asked another question, glanced in the four rooms, and then went upstairs...where the next guide was already finishing her spiel about the bedrooms. More faux painting (Unlike other Virginians, Washington believed in paying for what he owned, so there is a LOT of faux finishing in this house, instead of actual marble, wood, etc.), and another quick glance at the bedrooms, then we were in the hallway leading into the room where Washington died. I made the mistake of asking the guide stationed there where Billy Lee would have slept. ("Frank Lee?" "No, that was his brother. Billy--" "Oh, right. I don't know.") Looking briefly into Washington's room, we made our way downstairs and into his study. I remembered this room, with all the natural specimens and the fan chair. At this point, I had given up on questioning the docents, and settled for admiring the inset wall cabinets. Then we were outside. That was it. Twenty minutes, five guides, and I had three questions sort of answered and felt like I had been on a conveyor belt.

So, okay. The visitor count that day had to have been in the thousands. Good on Mount Vernon drumming up the numbers. I'm sure that others who went through were perfectly content with their tour...the average person can only stand listening to someone prattle on about antiques for so long, after all. But I have a higher tolerance for prattling, and a better grasp of the historicity of Mount Vernon, and I would have liked to have spent a little more time speaking more with people who have their boots on the ground so to speak.

We wandered through the kitchen in a desultory way, then down past the stables and further down the path to Washington's tomb. More kids. The tomb itself, like the house, was smaller than I remembered. I stood there, thinking about visiting this same grave twenty years ago, when a little girl marched up to the gate in front of me, announced to seemingly no one "That is a very small room!" and then turned on her heel and marched off. I prevented myself from saying "Honey, that's all the space any of us will need in the end." We walked up to the slave memorial. It was much quieter and more sacred there. More trees, birds...Billy Lee is buried there somewhere. I wished I would have brought flowers. It's the least I could do since I'm quietly dramatizing and dismantling his life. But we just looked and walked on.

Down a brick path to where the boat launch was. Friends, if I'd have known there was a boat tour, we would have been on it. That was new. As it was, we got there too late to make the last tour. By this point, after the heat of the day and the oppression of hundreds of our fellow humans, we were not really in any shape to make the haul back up to the Mansion. We opted instead for a bus shuttle back to the Museum.

Not actually Washington, but an extremely lifelike waxwork! Who sees what you're doing there!

I was ready for the Museum. Part Smithsonian, part multi-visual, mega remix experience, I was looking forward to seeing WASHINGTON! THE MAN! THE HERO! Reinterpreted by the best that museum designers had to offer. There were waxworks ("death's head buttons? on a working man's coat? really?), cartoons about his young life ("the cherry tree is a LIE!"), and reproductions of artifacts that we were invited to touch (yay!). And there were kids. Hordes of kids. Running around, shouting, touching things, setting off alarms. One girl was taking so many pictures I feared the flash would trigger a seizure. I finally said "hon, you're not supposed to take pictures in here." "Oh. How come?" "Because it will fade everything." This seemed to stop her until she figured out how to turn off the flash feature. Whatever. Another little girl had a meltdown at the Presidential Swearing In Exhibit, slapping the Bible and screaming "this is STUPID! STUPID!" and totally getting in my way of examining the Presidential Swearing In Suit. There was a shrine to Washington's dentures, as well as a video of how there were made. (one word: ow. Also: ew.) There was an excellent exhibit and retrospective video about the enslaved population at Mount Vernon, which I watched in full. But, by that point, the day was over. We were tired and huuungry. After a cursory turn through the giftshop (where I bought the Mansion guidebook, hoping to pick up on some details that weren't covered on our tour), we took off.

We had dinner at a local pub, picked up Kiz from daycare and headed back home. Being able to spend all day with Jeff was lovely, as was getting away from the house. And I did accomplish goal one--that of studying the layout of Mount Vernon, of visiting where it happened and starting to see the elephant from the enslaved people's point of view. But I didn't get much out of the house tour. I should have thought before we went--July is high season after all. I'd go back--I'd definitely recommend others to go--but go in the off season. That's what off-seasons are for, after all. And, if you really want to get up close and personal with some of Washington's dentures, check out the Royal Hospital in London...just watch for opening doors.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lighting the Way

Last March I was calmly eating dinner with a fellow employee before starting my evening job. We had both heated up Lean Cuisines and were munching in silence, when suddenly she slapped her hand down on the table and started choking. I stood up, watched as her face started panicking, then went around behind her and gave her the Heimlich manoevre. I was freaking out as well, since she was wearing stays, and I couldn't exactly feel where her navel was...bits of CPR class were flashing through my mind: "Feel for the navel...don't be afraid to be upward may break a rib..." I threw out a little prayer and heaved. She made a sound like a garbage disposal backfiring, and spit up a piece of potato. Gross, but we were both so relieved that we didn't care. She was crying, I was crying, we were both trying to remember how to breathe. After about fifteen minutes, we went back to eating dinner...and a few minutes after that our manager showed up. "What's up, guys?" he asked, sensing the tension, seeing red, tear sodden eyes. "Oh, nothing," my coworker said, "Only Nicki just saved my life."

It impacted me pretty majorly, but after a month or so, I had sort of forgotten about the event. Until last week, when a committee showed up at work unannounced. At first I thought it was a tour of Operations, but when I saw my evening program supervisor, I unscrewed my ear buds and paid attention. "We are here today," one of the ladies announced "to honor an employeed with a Lighting the Way Award--" geez, I thought, who deserves that?-- "an employee who acted quickly in the face of life or death situation--Nicole Lemery!" I was shocked. Really shocked. And touched, that my act was recognised not only by the woman who I helped, but by the company I work for. The Lighting the Way Award is given to an employee who goes above and beyond the Foundation expectation. Although I try to argue that anyone would step in and try to help if someone was choking, I'm grateful that my company got to see that I'm capable under fire.

The award itself is a small brass candlestick (above) and a little patch you can stick on your nametag so everyone will know you've won this award. (the flowers in the picture above, I should mention, are from Jeff--he surprised me after work today with them) I'm still pretty pleased about the whole thing. I just wanted to let everyone know and brag a little hasn't been easy lately, but sometimes karma is a beautiful thing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Vacation in Pictures

Hello everyone...hard to believe a month has passed since I posted last! I honestly wanted to post a few more times while I was home, but, doggone it, I was enjoying sitting around doing nothing so much, I just kept on doing it. So here are a few snaps from that week:

One of my projects before I left: a little sundress for Lily. I was worried that it would be too small for her...turns out she will probably get another summer's use out of it! The fabric was bought at a second-hand sale, and the buttons were $3 at Hancock Fabrics, so it was quite inexpensive. I have yards left over, so I may have to make a skirt for myself.

Ostensibly the reason I went home in the first place: family reunion. Here's a photo of the brothers and sisters, along with their significant others. I'm not sure if I can name everyone, but Mom's in the front row, wearing her fabulous purple shirt!

And here is a picture of all the cousins--that is, first cousins. There are only five of us missing. I didn't realise it, but at 29 and seven-twelfths, I am the youngest granddaughter. Peter is the youngest grandson. For the longest time, I thought my second cousins were my first cousins, especially since most of them are also older than me!

Lily loves taking self-portraits...and I love posting them.

After four days in Green Bay I went down to Fort Atkinson to visit Laura. Somehow we ended up at UW Madison's Terrace, drinking Spotted Cow and discussing politics at the top of our lungs.

I went over the Peter and Brenda's house for some Fourth of July fireworks. Lily was adamant that I wear the red, white and blue headband doodly-boppers, and outline her foot with sidewalk chalk.

Me with Peter, Brenda and Lily.

Another project I had to finish before I left for Green Bay--a teddy bear dressed as a Fife & Drum Corps member. Couldn't resist bragging a bit.

I missed Nora Lynn's big entrance by about fourteen hours...I hope no one minds me posting this, but I think a new baby is a great way to end a photoblog!

Going to have an early night tonight, but I will try to write more soon.

Monday, June 27, 2011


It's Monday, June 27th...I've been home in Green Bay for three days now. I should say--I've been based out of GB for three days now, since I spent Saturday and Sunday roadtripping to Cashton, WI to go to a Ruetten family reunion. I haven't seen most of that side of the family since Grandma Ruetten passed away seven years ago. Seems like everyone my age has got babies running around...yet it was nice to catch up with the cousins. Since we last met, I've "grown up," no longer treated like the little kid. Although there was a conversation about "after you graduate, get a job, marry, have kids...what else is there to update people about? Still living, still working, raising a family." What people do: live, grow, love. I also got a chance to learn a little about Grandpa Ruetten's ancestors, the ones who came over from Germany in 1881. Since living in Virginia, where everyone is a hobbit when it comes to geneology, I've gotten interested in tracing my family roots back. It's startling to see people with familar names, faintly traced in a few quick sentences and a picture. Leaving we descendents to fill in the blanks.

Another quest when I came home was to clean out the closet in my old bedroom. It's become a hole for memorabilia from high school, college, early trips abroad. And there's not really anyone but me who can decide what to save and what to throw. I've been working at it today with a descendent's mentality: both of my grandmothers left closets full of pictures and souveniers that mean little or nothing to their children and grandchildren, and I don't want to do that. I'm being ruthless. Haven't gone quite so far as to throw out the baby album, but I know there will come a day when I pare it down to a half-dozen pictures. For now I've been editing my high school experiences, tossing three yearbooks and only saving my senior edition, and making sure I don't have TOO many copies of the London Tube map. After all, it will be completely different when I go back.

Still, there are a lot of things I'd like to hold on to. Silly things, like scarves, that will come in handy next fall, and potential housewarmers, like a silk embroidered shawl. Then there are the absolute treasures, like the tape of an interview I made with Grandma Lemery. And the pictures...oh the pictures. I am hoping that in a hundred years there will be more than one photo of me left, but I'm trying to get rid of the ones that include people whose names I can't remember.

I may be the only organizer to have four piles: donate, save, trash/recycle and burn. There is something so cleansing about burning old things. I don't want strangers in recycling plants fingering my photos, I don't want people who were once very near and dear to me to think that I don't value that time in our lives together...but too many photos and a desire to move forward sends them into the flames. Tomorrow we'll take a load to Goodwill and then start on the other half of the closet. In the meantime, I'm left to reflect on what is and isn't important to me.

Monday, June 20, 2011

pictures = 1,000 words

I wanted to write a post about how much fun I had at the Shakespeare this weekend, and at the gorgeous B&B in Fredericksburg, how much I enjoyed antiquing wif mah honey and the new project involving repurposed WWII linen mail sacks, and I wanted to illustrate all this with photos from our indoor picnic...

...except Nicki forgot her stays, and all she can look at is her midsection.

Jesus H. Gay, how did I get this fat again?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Managing Fine

It's quarter after eleven on a Friday night. I should be showering and going to bed, but I am enjoying staying up late, knowing I'll be sleeping in tomorrow. I have been baking and cooking all night. Tomorrow Jeff and I are going to a Shakespeare performance at Kenmore Plantation in Fredericksburg, VA. The company is encouraging folks to come dressed up in eighteenth century clothes, so that's what well be doing, along with about ten of our friends. Sounds like quite a party.

Last Wednesday was my first night as a Program Manager for a little show CW is offering to guests as a free bonus when they stay in a CW hotel. It's called "An Evening at the Playbooth" and it's basically three excerpts from three shows we have going on...the idea being that if the hotel guests like what they see they'll buy tickets for the full monty. As of six-thirty last week we had fifteen tickets in the system as being given away...and six people showed up. I told the attendant, who was watching the gate, "if anyone wants to come in, let them." We ended up having about forty people by the end (something about African drums just seems to multiply people...) Prior to that I had told him to go get a music stand out of a nearby house when it turned out that the music stand that should have been in the Playbooth's storage shed was AWOL.

It turns out those were bad decisions. My background as a theater person told me that the more people who wanted to see this show, the merrier! and if we're missing a prop--go get the prop! But that is not the way CW runs things. I have been kicking myself since then...independent decisions be damned, I want to fly under the radar, lockstep, and fall more in line with the way CW does run things.

See, I applied for this position? And got an interview? And then, after a three week silence, an email saying "Thank you for your interest, but..."? And, frankly, if CW doesn't think I am qualified for this position which was basically written for someone with my background...then it's pretty obvious CW doesn't see me as supervisor material.

But I don't want my show to fail. It might be a patchwork of evening programs, it might be designed to sell tickets and pacify hotel marketers, it might be annoying for performers to get dressed up to only "work" for fifteen minutes...but it's still my sodding foot in the door and if it fails, it's not going to be my fault.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sarah Palin, Historian

Recently, Sarah Palin has been on a bus tour, to...well, no one is exactly sure what she's doing, but she has a bus and a film crew, and hey, who wouldn't stop at some American historical sites if they had that? Here's a video of what she was doing in Boston

I'm sure most of my loyal readers have seen this video...basically Mrs. Palin tells how Paul Revere "warned the British" by "ringing bells" because they were coming to "take our arms." In her defence, the British WERE coming to steal weapons and powder at Concorde, but Revere was warning the American rebels. My beef is not with Sarah Palin's idiocy. My beef is with her appropriating American history in the cause of...whatever it is she's up to. (Running for president? Running for a seat in the Senate? Trying to get her job back at Fox? Keeping her name in the news?) As a patriotic American, I sorta resent Sarah Palin for co-opting 'merican history, and trying to use it in the name of Freedom, Values and the American Way.

Notice how in the previous paragraph I referred to the American patriots as American rebels. That's because, in 1775, they were rebels. They were freakin' terrorists. But gradually, as history has been written by the winners, they were transformed into Patriots, who, apparently, are direct descendants to the...Tea Party. I am much more comfortable with the murkier idea of rebels turning themselves into the brain is comfortable with the idea of governments permuting over gives me hope that it can change again in future. The Founding of America was not a foregone conclusion. The Founding Fathers were men, same as us, who disagreed, a lot. And the country they spawned contains Tea Partiers and protestors, patriots and patriots.

Further proof of this co-opting and whitewashing of early American history can be found in a recent (ish) story about a woman dancing at the Jefferson Memorial. In 2008 a group of friends gathered at the Jefferson Monument to celebrate his 265 birthday by dancing, wearing headphones and listening to iPods. Sort of like a flash mob. But one of the women was arrested, and after she sued, the DC court ruled that dancing at monuments was illegal. National monuments are a place for contemplation and reflection...not dancing. Naturally, some people felt this was an infringement of their rights ("our monuments, our respect?"), so they protested, and more people were arrested. Article and video here. The idea of dancing at a monument (especially a monument to an anti-big government, freedom lovin' founding father!) has not lost momentum: most recently a group of people danced again in May 2011. This time, police showed up but arrested no one. (I especially like the part of this article where the former Marine pulls out the Constitution and says "I got yer permission right here!")

No one is suggesting we Macarena at the Vietnam Wall, or Charleston at the USS Arizona. But a little perspective on how we honor our history would be appreciated. Some people view our Founding Fathers as, personally? I get a little tickled when I think about how TJ had time to write the Declaration of Independence, be ambassador to France, get elected President and then start the University of VA...all while being a bad-ass violin player. Huzzay!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day

One thing I learned when I moved to Virginia is that I know nothing about the Civil War. Everything I learned about it at school was either completely Union-centric or wholly inadequate. Luckily, I live in Virginia, so I am learning heaps. And not only that, I live on a battlefield--well, near to one, anyway. There may have been skirmishes where our house is, definitely gunboats heading up the James to batter Fort Boykin, which is about a mile and a half away from here, part of Magruder's line of defences across the Peninsula. You can't take two steps in this state without tripping across a historical monument.

Memorial Day was started by Confederate ladies decorating the graves of their dead. Gradually, of course, it spread to encompass all servicemen and -women who gave their lives for this country. It is a day to reflect and remember those who gave all so that we can enjoy the freedoms we do. Yesterday I was walking into the grocery store when I saw a woman standing by the door wearing a pair of red, white and blue pinwheels sticking up from a headband, red white and blue beads--and I felt momentarily embarrassed, like I do whenever I see someone paint themselves up in patriotic colours and dance around screaming "USA! USA! HELL YEAH!" Yes, the USA is pretty awesome--but I prefer a more dignified approach, remembering that other people feel their countries are pretty awesome as well, and that may cause friction. Anyway, I soon realised this woman was collecting money for the American Legion, and I dropped a dollar into the coffee can she had decorated with patriotic fabric. She gave me a poppy, and I put it on my purse. Poppies come from World War's amazing how history can roll along, symbols and days all melding together until we do things without exactly remembering why or where the initial movement came from. Yesterday at church we honored our veterans by having them stand while three little girls sang a song called "Thank you, Soldiers." But it's memorial day...

There was also a letter to the editor yesterday from a man who wanted the US government to honor fallen Confederate soldiers by placing Confederate flags on their graves. After all, that is the cause they died for. It is an interesting plea. Graveyards containing Confederates that are private or in the hands of local townships are usually honored in this way. But graveyards that are on Federal lands--i.e. graveyards where Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers were buried side by side and were then taken over as federal land by the US government--receive no such treatment. Everyone gets a Stars and Stripes. I can understand how awkward it would be honoring people who were, after all, rebelling against their government by putting a traitorous flag in a United States graveyard...but then again, Confederates soldiers might prefer to just have flags left off all together if the only option is a US flag.

What's in a flag anyway? Should we honor our 1812 soldier by having a US flag that accurately reflects the number of states at that time? Or is the point not the politics but the remembering--taking time out to say thank you and we remember? In Williamsburg there is a small cemetery containing French soldiers who died in 1781...part of Williamsburg's memorial day service includes laying a wreath at their graves, but no flags. A French flag would be appropriate, and less likely to rankle than a Confederate flag--but wait, these soldiers fought for the French king, and so a Bourbon flag would be used. Yet the Republican French government that sprang up shortly after our Revolution would have looked upon that as traitorous, and so it goes.

(by the way--one of the things I've learned is that the flag we think of as the "Confederate" flag was not as prevalent as we modern folk think. Yes, it existed, yes, it was carried into battle, and yes the South did use it as a symbol of oppression, but that was largely in the 20th century...the the Confederates fought under the three National the most appropriate flag would be the third National)

I don't even know if I have a point today, except I've been thinking about Memorial Day. Personally, I believe that an appropriate flag to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers might be their battalion flag--after all, many vets have said that what they were fighting for was the person next to them. It's not always easy to tell what battalion a fallen soldier has come from, however. And maybe, in the end, that's why it's just simpler to stick to one flag--our flag, the modern Stars and Stripes: "We remember. We may have changed as a country, but we remember your sacrifice. Thank you."

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wake up, wake up darling Corey...

So I like bluegrass music. Yeah, I know, I know--there was a time when dad would put his Merle Haggard CD on and I would roll over and howl in protest but now...I like bluegrass music. Jeff and I even took a trip in January to West Virginia specifically so I could listen to some live bluegrass in the place where it was born. And I spent a pile of money on CDs featuring original bluegrass. My iPod has died (proper, dig a hole in the ground died), so I've been listening to these CDs lately, and even learning a few of the songs. Without a doubt, one of my favourites has turned out to be "Darlin' Corey" which is about a moonshine makin', gun totin', banjo pickin' West Virginny woman. Who dies. Why or how or when is never fully explored, but there are highway robbers running around, and yet people take time out to bury her, so I have no clue what's going on. I just like the intervals.

The folks who settled the Blue Ridge mountains mostly came from Ireland and Scotland in the 1700s...remember the whole "hey, stop settling in our territory, whitey, or we'll start a war" thing with the Indians? Yeah--it was the Irish and Scots who were pushing west past the Alleghenies. Mostly because the English settled along the coast didn't want that riff-raff in their neighborhood. And if you listen to bluegrass, you can definitely hear the echoes of eighteenth century songs. Especially the part where people get jealous and kill one another and then are on the scaffold prayin' for to go to heaven.

I tried to find a good video for Darlin' Corey, but YouTube only has tutorial videos or crappy live recordings of bands that are probably much better in person. Just YouTube "Doc Watson" or "Earl Scruggs" and spend an hour or two.

And while you're there, check out the other reason I'm not doing dishes tonight: A BBC production called "Horrible Histories." Slightly irreverant historical vignettes for kids that don't talk down to them...although I'm sure you can appreciate Roman toilets more when you're a ten year old. Still--Charles II alone is worth the price of admission:

All together now "ALL HAIL. THE KING. OF BLING."

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gettin' Stuff Done Before Work

Just dangle an opportunity in front of me to earn an extra fifty bucks, and I'm there. Especially if it involves shooting the guns at CW...ESPECIALLY then.

But I have twenty minutes to kill before it's time to suit up. I was screwing around reading other people's internet pages, and I thought "Wait a minute, didn't I once contribute to the internet?" Yes. Yes I did. Well then, maybe it's time to see if anyone's still reading.

This morning I got up and went over to the farmer's market...I didn't put in a garden this year because a) I don't really have the time, working as much as I do and b) I am lazy. Taking care of a house and a huge yard is quite enough work, especially when you factor in how crazy things grow here in Virginia. Seriously. Most of my loyal readers are somewhere in early spring, here spring has come and gone and we are now in the early throes of summer. Prime growing time. You stick something in the ground and ZOOM. Keeping up with weeding is a full-time chore.

Happily, we have a farmer's market on Saturdays. I bought two pounds of potatoes, a tomato, some spring onions and some lettuce, plus two tomato plants for ten dollars today. Then I had to plant the tomato plants. Then I figured, while I was doing that, I might as well stick the rosemary bush that a colleague at work gave me into the ground, plus some other odd plants that have been floating forlornly around in little black plastic pots. Including mint. The same colleague who gave me the rosemary gave me the mint, with the warning "Don't plant this in the ground. IT SPREADS." I, however, have fond memories of waging biological warfare on my mother's snow-on-the-mountain with equally spready Chinese lanterns, so I stuck the mint in the ground behind the garage. There are prickers and weeds back there that could stop a cavalry charge, but I'm hoping this mint will be the scouts for a whole regiment to come...can't have mint juleps without fresh mint, y'all. And if it gets out in the yard...we'll just mow it.

It felt good to be outside, moving around, getting my hands dirty. I would really *really* like some pretty flowers to put on the porch, but plants are suddenly incredibly expensive. I mean, I can remember going to Stein's with mom and just chucking random plants into the wagon ("Gardenias?" Sure!) and we never seemed to have enough! But now, looking at some decent pots, plus soil, plus plants, plus cute animal-shaped LED solar powered lights...gardening is expensive. For now I am sticking with edible greenery (and our fig tree has two whole figs on it this year!) but if I see any sad, depressing petunias in a hanging basket on clearance at the grocery store, I'm definitely snapping it up.

The other project I have been contemplating is crab hunting. We live on the James River, and as such, have rights of access to fishing and crabbing on the river. Jeff has two crab pots, and another one washed up on the beach in the last storm, so now we have three. Crabbing is simple: purchase chicken necks, leave them in the sun for awhile until they're good and rotten, stick them in the crab pots (actually a chicken-wire basket with holes for entry that are difficult to get out of), stick the crab pots in the river attached to a line or float and check back the next day. I know the crabs are awake and enjoying spring because Kismet rolled on a dead one when we walked on the beach yesterday.

I am hesitant to crab however, because the cooking method involves steaming the crab to death in a pot of boiling water. I dearly love crabs and crab cakes, but I may be a bit of a hypocrite if I can't bring myself to commit crabicide. The only good thing, according to a coworker, is "they don't scream like lobsters do." THANKS FOR THAT.

However! Tomorrow I am going to the grocery store, possibly to buy some chicken necks, and if I can bear to subject some of God's creatures to a cruel, slow death, then I'll let you know how it went and try to post some pictures.

And now I'm off to work--we are hosting Drummer's Call this weekend and they need people to man fireworks barricades. And shoot guns. Did I mention that part?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Doin' it for the Books

Oh look, fan art.

I never know what to tell people when, after hearing I work at the CDC, they gush: "Oh my gosh, I am sooo jealous! You guys do such great wooork!" Usually it's a pathetic half-smile and a "yeah..." Working at the CDC WAS great. But it's been the 1770s every day for the past three years--the same patterns, the same instructions, the same petty dramas, pathetic inside jokes...

So what keeps me going? Well, the paycheck, the awesome benefits, and the fact that I can listen to my iPod all day long. I have a subscription to, and I've been downloading the Aubrey/Maturin books one per month. It takes about two and a half days to listen to each book, and I usually listen to them several times (eighteenth century dialogue + wicked awesome literary talents make them a joy to listen to) before it's time to listen to the next one. Also, I check out audio books from the library. So, although I lament the lack of time I have to crack an actual paper book, I'm getting my literary fix quite nicely.

Books, once again, come to my rescue.

Oh, remember the bear that I dressed for the Salvation Army Christmas bear drive? One of the women who is on the Army's board called me up last night and wants me to make one for her son...who's graduating from the Fife and Drum Corps this July. Huzzay!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Bumper Stickers

Have you ever seen those bumper stickers that just say "26.2"? Sure you have. They indicate that the person inside the car has run 26.2 miles, which equals a marathon. Yesterday I saw a car that had--no joke--five of these bumper stickers, plus a couple "13.1" stickers. Conceivably, the person (or persons) inside were putting stickers on their car for each marathon they had run. I wonder what they will do when the run out of tailgate...possibly cover up the other stickers that indicate their children are football players, cheerleaders, swimmers and that they "heart" their dog.

I also saw a bumper sticker a few months ago that made me want to get out of the car, stick my head through the window of the car in front of me, and start an argument. This one said "RESTORE THE FOUNDERS VISION." Instead of hauling the driver out of the car and lecturing him on Constitutional politics right there, I had to settle for banging my head against the wheel. The Founder's Vision, eh? Would that include slavery and the subjugation of women? Jefferson's agricultural ideal or Washington's strong federal vision? The Founders had no united vision...they started a conversation, one we are continuing today. Oh, am I holding up traffic? My bad!

Generally speaking, I'm pretty anti-bumper sticker. Except for the Packer stickie that's managed to hang onto my window ever since I got Chi-Chi. I am a fan of car-magnets however, and plan to purchase something funny and dog-related when I see one that I like. But bumper stickers are so...permanent. Even the bumper sticker indicating support for Obama was merely placed in my back window, not attached permanently to my bumper. And then, about six months after the election, it blew out the window. That pretty much sums up how I feel about the President: I have withdrawn my unconditional support, but continue to support the office of the president and hope he'll go for some of his larger goals in future.

Anyway. Segueway time! What the hell is going on in Wisconsin? I have been following the bill/fleeing of the Senators/three week protest/last night's skullduggery/today's storming of the Capitol with decided interest, since this is democracy in action in all it's most naked form. I am horrified by how far the conservatives* of the Wisconsin body have gone beyond the "ideals" our Founders laid down. Majority rules...but since they have to rule the minority you should at least listen to them. I am incensed at Governor Walker's insistence that "our constituents told us what they wanted in November, and we're just following through." No--the conservative voters (some of them members of the unions you disenfranchised!) put you in office to sort through money woes, not take away their rights. Let me hit the caps on that: TAKE AWAY THEIR RIGHTS.

Voters are also fickle beings. I should know, I am one! And we change our minds all the time! This is why I don't stick political stickers directly to my bumper but change them according to mood! If the sight of thousands of constituents camping out in the Capitol aren't enough to at least convince Walker to listen, to be open to the idea that maybe he's gone too far, then I seriously have to question his dedication to the democratic process. We are willing to sacrifice. (raise your hand if you haven't gotten a raise in the past two years) We are willing to make shared tough decisions, do more with less, make it over or do without, but we are not willing to have our rights un-recognized by an elected political body. Because we're not talking about the right to buy car insurance here, we're talking about the right to be heard.

But guess what? We can still be heard. We can still scream and shout and go on strike and demand to be heard. We can bring this country to a standstill and force those in charge to acknowledge that we are not voiceless and we will not sit meekly by while politicians--wait, "politicians"--decide that they know what's best for us.

Forget bumper stickers. It's time to start laying down in traffic and starting cars on fire.

*I use the word "conservatives" here, noting that four Republicans in the Assembly voted against the bill.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Energy Drain

Do you ever have those days where you just don't have enough energy to do the things you need to do to get through the day?

Like laundry. Even with a washer and dryer en suite, I can't seem to get the clothes rumbled through the cycle. Getting them rounded up is impossible, remembering to put in the fabric softener on time has caused more than one repeat rinse cycle, and as for putting them away? Why? When the three-season room makes such a convenient walk-in closet (as long as the curtains are drawn)?

And breakfast. Lately I've been eating in the car on the way to the ferry, so I can get another ten minutes of sleep. And then, when I do get to the ferry, I put my seat back and sleep again.

The problem is, I'm tired. But the tiredness is not the problem, it's a symptom. Lately, I can't stand my job. Everything about it just drains the life out of me. Thinking about going is enough to send me into the blue devils. I know the solution is to find a new job, but I'm worried that anything I would apply for will have far, far more qualified applicants--even the receptionist or assistant jobs I've worked at before. Then again, I could go back and retrain for another career entirely, like being a medical transcriptionist. (It is truly depressing the amount of CW people who struggle on their minimum wages for two or three years and then go back to school for an associate's degree to pay the bills...fellow employees with history degrees and a deep love of interpretation) At this point, I would settle for a job where my supervisor actually spoke to me.

There's no point in whining if I'm not actually looking for a new job, but I just don't have the energy. All I see everywhere are brick walls. At least I have a paycheck right long as I show up physically, if not mentally.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


Jeff and I are indulging in a lazy Sunday afternoon--together, for once, usually he works part of Sunday, but today he's making a new leather cover for his hatchet because the old one was "farby"--but to tell you the truth, loyal readers, we are a bit shaken around here.

Last night, after enjoying a delish fish dinner at a local dive called Captain Chuckamuck's with Jeff's folks, we returned home to two lazy beagles. I took them out for a walk while Jeff and his dad put together their new telescope, and then sat downstairs watching telly with the two dogs lazed out around me. Kizzy in the back bedroom, Lucy next to me on the sofa. When Jeff's parents came down to say good night, his dad bent over to pet Lucy, and she reared up and attacked his face.

Yeah, it happened just that fast. I don't even know exactly what went down, since I was turned toward the TV at the time, but she broke his glasses which scratched the bridge of his nose. Jeff collared her and put her in the bedroom. We tended to the cuts and apologized, but there is definitely a different feeling in the house. Lucy was adjusting well, fitting in with Kismet and our crazy schedules, she was interested and perky when we were walking, played like a small horse with Kismet, turning the house into a racetrack. And now this.

Jeff and I are suddenly on uncertain ground here. Uncertain because we cannot--cannot--have a dog that will attack people seemingly at random. Yet we adopted her knowing that her current personality was a product of an unknown past, and that we would have to work with her and her needs to help her fit in. I thought we were doing a good job, but all of a sudden we are faced with having a dog we don't trust in the house. I hate thinking about all the people who gave up on her before, but I also have to put my family first.

So for now we are starting over. I put in a call to the shelter where she was adopted from, and they were most helpful, offering practical advice ("get her off the sofa!") and numbers for dog behaviorists and trainers. We are trying to be more understanding and also more strict, showing her that we are in charge around here, and that whoever WE want in the house will be permitted. I don't know how this is going to end, but it makes me heartsick that my puppy doesn't yet feel safe enough in our family to be quiet, content and loving.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011


I know a lot of loyal readers out there (and you would have to be pretty loyal if you're reading this, almost two months after I apparently abandoned my blog) will be taken aback when I write a paen to spring. Spring is definitely here, according to the daffodils, some flowering trees, and the amount of fur coming out of my dogs. (Yes, dogs-plural, I know it's been awhile, hasn't it?) After enduring a rough winter, I am so grateful for warmth and spring, for going out in the morning and the sun is coming up. For not having to bundle into a wool blanket while I'm on the ferry. It's a deep, wellsprung gratitude, like a prayer everytime I step outside with my coat unbuttoned.

There honestly hasn't been a lot going on the past two months. I started this blog before I left for London, when every day brought new and magical experiences, and I was a lot more out of contact with people. Now, I have settled down into a completely mundane middle-class life, with varying levels of stress and drama. My days consist of working, eating dinner and walking the dogs. Do I really have anything to offer any more? Is anyone out there?

Jeff and I adopted another beagle a couple of weeks ago...her name is Lucy, and she is 40 pounds to Kismet's 26. They get along very well...usually roughhousing all over the living room while Jeff and I look on and smile fondly. At night we tuck them into the spare bedroom, which is overflowing with fleece blankets and dog the morning I am greeted by wagging tails and beagle stretches and we go out for our morning walk, sniffing the breeze and occasionally scaring deer.

Mah beagle babies

Lucy Hanover. The shelter gave her the name Lucy, I added "Hanover" because she needed an awesome last name.

That's mostly the news for dog, it's spring. The re-enacting season is going to start in a couple weeks, and I hope to have some new clothes by then. I'll post pictures. I hope my loyal readers still find my life interesting enough to read about. :)