Thursday, May 25, 2017

Low Country (Don't worry: this is NOT a post about my mood of late. ...That was an attempt at humor; it may have failed.)

Last year, instead of having a big "to-do" about our ::coughcough:: "not insignificant number that I am not disclosing here" ::coughcough:: college reunion, my college suite mates and I decided to go on a trip. We ended up heading down to South Carolina, where a family member has a home that we were able to use. We had a great time hanging out, watching the Olympics, going to the beach, and site seeing in Charleston and Georgetown (home of the Gullah museum - fascinating!).

Georgetown, SC

Georgetown, SC

In case you haven't noticed my Good Reads list on the blog (it's over there on the right), I am sort of "mad about" fiction set in the Low Country of South Carolina (as in "mad about the boy", not as in "angry at you for the Civil War") and between the works of Karen White, Pat Conroy, and Fannie Flagg (although she doesn't specifically write about the Low Country), I have developed a strong affection for the area. (Don't worry, London, this isn't a competition; you're still my favourite.)

Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC

Just give me some sweet tea, she-crab soup, and air conditioning, and I am good to go. (Not kidding about the air conditioning. We visited the first week of August, and it was hot. Really hot. Like the OCEAN felt like bathwater hot. I actually got badly dehydrated after a walking tour of Charleston - my fault entirely. But I still had a great time!) These are some of my favorite snaps of that visit.

Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC

I highly recommend visiting Charleston if you have a chance. Probably not in high summer, but if that is what works for you, it is still a really cool place to visit!

Monday, May 1, 2017

A National Treasure...Exposed

I was going to just tell you to google "Tracey Ullman as Dame Judi Dench", but let me make it easier for you by posting some of the links. These had me in stitches last week. (I wish BBC America was airing Tracey's show; the woman does impersonations like nobody else.)

Monday, April 24, 2017

"Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now."*

So, previously in my life (to steal blatantly from the marvelous Miranda Hart), well actually it was last week, something unusual happened involving the animal kingdom. My colleague E and I were taking our daily constitutional (which just means that we were doing our daily mile walk for our morning break). The square block where our office is located downtown is just shy of a mile, and we were coming into the home stretch in front of the courthouse when I noticed something odd. There were two men standing there looking closely at a bird.

Disclaimer: I am terrified of birds. It is an irrational fear, but it is my fear. Birds are going to peck your eyes out. If they don't go for your eyes, they'll go for your hair. I blame this on 1. Alfred Hitchcock and 2. Okane Hall at Holy Cross where you had to walk into the back of the ivy-coated building through a door in the inside corner of the basement. The birds used to sit in the ivy just waiting to attack making a fearsome racket. I used to enter the building at a run. And, normally, I only run when chased.

There was something strange about this bird. It wasn't running away from the men. In fact, it was hopping closer to them. That immediately got my attention. Potential bird on the attack. As we got closer, I got a better look at it and realized the bird was a parakeet.
Sunlight the parakeet, not dead

Then I made my mistake. I TOLD my colleague, "Hey look. It's a parakeet. How did that get there?" Well, my colleague is an animal lover and decided then and there that we needed to rescue the bird because the weather was still pretty cold. She tried to get it to come to her, but it was too fearful to land on her finger. I started to back up as all this happened because even though parakeets don't have sharp pointy beaks, they still have claws.

E couldn't get the bird to come to her (thank goodness) so she came back into the office where she got a box in which to hold it, saying she'd take it to the Humane Society at lunch. After conferring with another animal loving colleague, she got a good size packing box, and twenty minutes later, she was back in the office with the bird in the box. The second colleague, H, who keeps parakeets as pets, decided that she wanted to adopt the bird and brought her home with her at the end of the day. While a little gun shy at first and definitely hungry, the parakeet, now christened "Sunlight", is healthy and doing well.

* from "The Dead Parrot" sketch by Monty Python

"And there's another country, I've heard of long ago"*

So I went with my parents to Easter Mass at their church because I didn't have enough time to go to Mass at my church in Hartford, go home, make the hors d'oeuvres I was responsible for, AND get myself to my sister's house in the 40 minutes it takes to get there and be on time for dinner.

It was a very nice service. The children's choir was performing the music at this Mass, and they were doing a very fine job (despite singing everything in a high register that I haven't been able to reach since my middle 30s.) Something happened during Communion that "caught me for a loop", as my friend MMH would say.

As the congregation stood up to go to Communion, it was announced that the hymn would be "O God Beyond All Praising", which I didn't know. Or rather I THOUGHT I didn't know because all of a sudden the organist is playing "I Vow to Thee, My Country". At a Catholic Mass. In the United States. In a predominantly Polish-American church. My dad poked me in the back as I got in the communion line, and we shared a little pleased look.

This will surprise no one: as I sung the "proper" lyrics in my head, I teared up a bit.

* "I Vow to Thee, My Country" lyric by Sir Cecil Spring Rice/music by Gustav Holst

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Being an Auntie...of a Future Anglophile...

At the moment, I have four nephews. (I say at "the moment" because by the end of July I will have five. Bless!) Sister B has three boys: N1 (4.75 years), N3 (2.25 years), N4 (4 mos), while Sister K has one, N2 (2.5 years), and will have N5. They keep us on our toes, but they are a very lovable and a really funny group of kiddos.

Phone box at the Tate Gallery
Scots Guard at Clarence House
N1's new favorite film is the live action Paddington, based on the classic children's books by Michael Bond. He thinks it is hilarious and frequently quotes the film, talking about "Darkest Peru" and "marmalade sandwiches". He says "marmalade" in a British accent, that, combined with his little boy speak, sounds like he is actually saying "llamalade", which sounds far less tasty than marmalade.

The Underground
He didn't seem overly impressed when I told him that I had been to London, including Paddington station, on vacation, and London was one of my favorite places in the world. But I wasn't really sure if he was paying attention to me at the time. Hmmmm...

Cut to: It is April school vacation this week, and Sister B has been wrangling all three boys at home when something happened that she needed to share with me. Apparently, the two older boys had been playing a game when N1 said, "Let's stop! Let's play "Go Visit Aunt Melanie's House in London!!"

IF ONLY, N1; if only.

ETA: On Saturday, April 22, we went out to brunch and there were little packets of marmalade on the table. N1 doesn't like jelly (even strawberry) so he didn't try it; N3 did try it, but he didn't like it. Since I don't like marmalade either, I couldn't really blame them.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Review: "To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters"

Last night, I watched "To Walk Invisible: The Bronte Sisters" on Masterpiece. I wanted to love it, but ended up feeling pretty disappointed. The costumes and the sets/locations were wonderful, but the story itself was flawed and would have benefited from some reediting.

This show was supposed to be about the Bronte sisters, but the film told their story of their assent to publication success in the context of the decline of their alcoholic brother. There was too much Branwell Bronte in a film that was supposed to be about his sisters. (I wonder how the sisters would feel about their success being framed around the failure of their brother, who they protected.) One can't deny that his alcoholism and destructive behavior had a strong detrimental impact on the family, but in this kind of medium, there are things you show and things you tell, and, for me, we saw too much of Branwell. I honestly believe he could have had the same impact on the story without seeing as much of him and seeing more of his sisters. What was happening to him could have been told through voiceover in letters to the sisters' friend Ellen. Instead, we saw a scene where Branwell is told to stay away from the widow he had an affair with, a scene with him and his artist friend, a scene of his inner nightmares, and a scene on a chamber pot writing letters to procure gin. That is four scenes of just Branwell, and for me, it was four scenes too many.

I felt these scenes took up to much time in a two hour program at the expense of his sisters, namely Anne, of whom we only got to see in the context of her siblings and nothing of her inner mind and feelings. We got to know Charlotte from her constant writing or advocating for her writing (but did she always look so pinched?) Emily (reduced to being pissed off through much of the film) was strongly present through the reading of her poetry, but where was the woman who wrote the protofeminist The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Anne's "big scenes" were about how she let Branwell down when he was fired from his position for having an affair with his boss's wife. Really?? Nothing more? I always felt like Anne was the forgotten sister, and this program just reinforced it.

I also felt that the program assumed that the viewer knew a lot of about the Brontes to start with. That opening scene that was supposed to be set in their magical imaginary kingdom (James Norton cameo!) came out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly. (It was akin to the film Heavenly Creatures, just not executed as well.) The magical imaginary kingdom was a theme that wasn't used enough to have a significant impact, especially when revisited at Branwell's death.

Which brings me to another issue: film time jumps. We see Charlotte go off to post Jane Eyre to the publisher in the pouring rain (which made me wonder: did they send the only copy of the manuscript to the publishers? What if it got lost or damaged in the mail?) and in the very next scene, the book is very successful and about to have its second edition. If there was a subtitle explaining the time jump, I didn't see it.

The best part of the program for me was the Twitter conversation. There was one person who was posting a lot of interesting facts and tie ins as the film progressed and there were a couple of really funny comments. There were multiple tweets about sound quality and an inability to understand the accents used. (I had turned on the closed captioning when the Brontes as children were on, but found I needed them less for their adult counterparts.)

I was glad I watched the program, but it isn't one I need to see again. Sorry, Masterpiece/BBC.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

In which I talk plainly about a change I have made for the better...

So I was out to dinner last night with some friends that I hadn't seen in a while, and I was asked what I had been up to. My answer was working and cooking.

Confession: when left to my own devices, I am a terrible eater. I was often eating on the fly. I hate going to the supermarket so I'd end up eating a lot of pasta and very little fruits and veg. And it was totally reflected in my health: my energy levels were low, I had problems sleeping, and my stomach hated me. I knew that I had to make some changes if I want to live a long and healthy life. (And I am lucky to have a sister who had a frank discussion with me about it. Also, being known as the "sickliest friend" stopped being funny and started being scary.)

So about a month ago, I started a nutrition plan (from a book, yes, a DIET book) that is geared towards mending your metabolism. I started following the meal plans and recipes in the book, and something wonderful happened: I feel happier! and I have way more energy! and I am sleeping a lot better! and I am losing weight! All from improving my eating habits. Over the course of the 28 days on the plan, I observed a bunch of things that I wanted to share.

1. Eating healthy does not come cheap. This shouldn't have surprised me because you hear about this on the news when they report about studies about poverty and obesity, but I hadn't really understood it until it impacted my own wallet as I shelled out $45 for enough fresh produce for for 4 days. And that wasn't even organic! It was an adjustment at first, but the cost ends up balancing out with all the food that I was no longer buying (cheese, coffee, sugar, fast food, pizza). But I now have a practical understand of the folks for whom it just isn't cost effective. It adds up very quickly. 

2. Sugar was silently doing a number on me. When I stopped eating processed sugars cold turkey for this diet, I had a migraine-like headache for four days straight. I was miserable and cranky, and I almost quit the plan during the first week. Fortunately, I am 1. stubborn and 2. more stubborn. Once I got past that first week, I started feeling really energetic and upbeat, and, even though I was eating much healthier than I had been, I credit this feeling to eliminating the sugar. Was it easy? No. Do I miss eating cookies? Hellz yes. (Those Girl Scout cookies I had ordered months before going on the plan - I GAVE THEM AWAY!) But this past week, I tried a very sweet coffee creamer, and I felt so sluggish after drinking it that I feel the trade off is worth it for me.

3. I have to plan for eating healthy. When I have a plan, I make much better food choices than I did when I just came home from work and then thought "what am I going to have for dinner?" Or when I didn't bring lunch to work with me and then scarfed down something at 2:45pm that I quickly purchased from a fast food place down the street. The diet recommends that you plan out all of your meals for the week on a chart so that you eat all of the appropriate meals and snacks you need to and can do your shopping accordingly. If can I assemble my lunch and my snacks while I am making breakfast and then already know what I need to defrost or prep for dinner that night, I am golden. But it does take a lot of time. Instead of being a day for goofing off, Sundays became devoted to getting ready for the week ahead. I really did feel like I spent most of those 4 weeks either shopping for food or cooking food (although there was also the eating of the food so it isn't like that's a bad thing.)

I completed the plan this Monday, and, while I haven't slipped back to my old ways of candy, cheese, and no vegetables, I can feel that I am not ready to be let loose on my own yet. I am planning to resume the plan this coming Monday. I keep telling myself that I am building up good habits that will stick with me. And at some point in time, I will have a cookie again and some pizza, but in moderation and with a balanced diet. Until then, I'll just keep pinning recipes for cookies on Pintrest that I have no intention of making. But the pictures look pretty...


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