Friday, August 26, 2011

"It's a tornado, it's a tornado going through the small town..."*

Email from my dad earlier today reads as follows:
Subject: Hurricane

Message: Do you have flashlights? Please forgive me..... Do you have a torch?
(The answer is, yes, I have several actually, as well as candles, and I stocked up at the grocery store earlier this week. I am also charging all devices tonight in readiness.)

Battening down the hatches (which in my case means bringing inside all of my window box plants) before the storm. Irene is supposed to hit at Sunday night/early Monday morning; I wonder if I will sleep through it. With any luck, by the time it gets to Massachusetts, it will be a tropical storm.

*line from Happy, Texas

Friday, August 19, 2011

All the cool kids are doing it...

So a couple of weeks ago, after reading about it on my Twitter feed, I signed up to get a Spotify account, and I can confidently say that I am LOVING it. I never got into Pandora Radio or Last FM because I wasn't interested in listening to referred music (even if it was based on music you indicated that you liked through some magical algorithm I can't begin to understand.) As I have said in other blog posts, my tastes in music are quite varied, and I have an extensive music collection to show for it. I can start the day listening to Muse, switch over an hour later to Dead Can Dance, play the soundtrack to Out of Africa during lunch, tune in to some late afternoon Katherine Jenkins, and crank the Smiths on the drive home.

The difference between Spotify and those other internet music services is that YOU pick the music you want to listen to from their extensive collection. The other day I listened to almost the entire New Order discography and looked up a bunch of old songs I loved in college. This is great for me because I tend to get random songs stuck in my head. Now, I can look them up, play the whole song, and be done with them. Or listen to them on repeat for an hour. The best part is that I don't have to commit to owning them to listen to the whole song (unlike with iTunes).

There are some great features on the player. You can tag favorite tracks to revisit, and you can create (or import) and save play lists that you can share with other Spotify members. This is great for me, because I LOVE LOVE LOVE making play lists (they are the mix tapes of the 21st century after all).

With a free account, there are ads, which isn't as annoying now that I am used to them, but at first their incongruousness made me nuts. You can also get a paid account, which has enhanced features, including the ability to listen on your mobile device or when you are offline. (Oh, the possibilities!)

If you have a Spotify account already, you can check out my top BritPop Anthems of the 1990s playlist that I created based on the list published in this week's Boston Phoenix and played on WFNX last night. And if you don't have Spotify, you might want to think about signing up. It makes me so happy to be able to find all these tunes in one place - for free!

(Okay, I just reread this entry before posting, and this totally reads like an infomercial. Sorry about that. I swear Spotify hasn't paid me for this endorsement; they earned it by have a killer product.)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

"Let's All Go to the Lobby... To Get Ourselves a Treat."*

Out of all of the appliances and gadgets in my kitchen, I think that the most beloved (and one of the most used) is my hot air popcorn popper. This Presto Air Popper has got to be at least 25 years old. (I think we got it shortly after Sister B was born, and it was to replace one that our family brought to our old vacation house.) Our family loves popcorn, and this popper got used all the time when we were growing up.

When microwave popcorn first came out, our mother was an early adopter, but we kids weren't all that impressed. I have tried to make the switch over to microwave, especially since there is more portion control, but I keep coming back to the air popper. (Bonus: the kernels are less expensive than microwave packets, and the spray butters have fewer calories and fat and still taste better than the stuff you get at most movie theaters.)

Brother B made the best popcorn - mostly because he wasn't in a rush to get it done and start eating it. He cared about the process. He would get out the popper and the stock pot we used to catch the popcorn. Then he would melt a whole stick of butter in the microwave. Halfway through the popping, he would distribute some of the butter on the popped corn and shake on salt. When the corn was done popping, he would add the rest of the butter and more salt. Then he would put the top on the stock pot and give it a really good shake to make sure that the butter and salt had gotten on ALL of the popcorn. Nobody could make it as well as he did, and, as we got older, we would bribe him to do it. (This includes my mother, who can never resist popcorn.)

When I make popcorn for movie nights at my house, I make it the same way, and it always makes me think of Brother B and smile. My friend MEM gave me a special pink popcorn bowl, which is what I use when I am making it just for myself. Which I did last night... and Monday night... and might just do tonight as well!

*"Delicious things to eat; The popcorn can't be beat."

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Sky rockets in flight..."*

I had a wonderful time this weekend visiting with Je Glide on Nantucket. After dinner on Saturday night, she, her new Beau, and I went for a walk down to Straight Wharf with the hopes of being able to catch a glimpse of the fireworks on Jetties Beach scheduled for that evening.


Our perch not only provided us with a great vantage point for watching the light show, but we also got to see some A-MAZING yachts under the full moon.

Moonlight on the Dock

After the fireworks were over, we applauded and started to walk back to the car. To my delight, the folks on the yachts added their "kudos" by honking their ships horns. To borrow a quote from Singing In the Rain: "It was good and loud."

*I apologize if you have "Afternoon Delight" stuck in your head after reading this. I had that problem the other day, and it wasn't pretty.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"I'm not hungry anymore; isn't it glorious?"*

When I was a kid, my mom would recommend that my siblings and I watch certain films (usually old films), and we wouldn't watch them because we were stubborn and contrary. (And KIDS!) But invariably one of us would be sick and end up a captive audience to mom's film suggestions, and that one sibling would LOVE the movie. Then we'd all end up watching it and would ALSO love it so much that we'd watch it ALL THE TIME. (I don't know how my mom stopped herself from saying "I told you so" but she did...for the most part.)

One of those films that mom thought we would all benefit from watching is Charade. Now if you've never seen the film Charade, what is wrong with you!?! I would suggest that you go to Netflix and put it at the very top of your queue because it is WONDERFULLY GOOD. These are some of the reasons it is so good: Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, mystery, stolen money, murder, imposters, romance, and suspense, set in Paris, with a score by Henry Mancini. (Those are all very good things as far as I am concerned.)

If you have seen the film, you know that stamps play a part in the story. When our family went on vacation to Paris back in 2000, one of the things that delighted us as we were walking around the city was spying a storefront with the front window filled with stamps at the Place de la Madeleine. The shop was closed so we couldn't go in, but instead we three sisters had our photo taken in front of it with these huge grins on our faces. A Frenchman passed by us and, shaking his head, muttered, "Americans". After he was out of earshot, we all started to laugh. We really didn't care because of our love for Charade and because we knew it was really silly anyhow.

And, if you can't do silly things while you are on vacation, you need to take better vacations!

*Old Audrey Hepburn films make life better, don't you think? They always put me in a good mood.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Peace of mind is:

• Having outstanding questions answered, even if the answer wasn't the one you were hoping for

• All the dinner pots and dishes cleaned up and put away before going to bed

• Listening to the pattering of rain on the air conditioner as you are falling asleep

"Out in the street there was violence..."*

Truly saddened by the ongoing violence occurring in Britain over the last few days. My heart and prayers go out to the people of my spiritual homeland. I hope that there will be a swift end to the riots and that no one else will be hurt.

Palace of Westminster

*lyric from Electric Avenue by Eddie Grant (about the 1981 Brixton riot)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Time to start using the little gray cells...ala M. Poirot

There must be something in that fog and mist across the pond because England is chock full of fantastic mystery writers. From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to Dame Agatha Christie to Colin Dexter to P.D. James, these novelists keep us readers on our toes as we try to figure out "who done it". Then, of course, there is the tradition of the great English detectives, both within the police force and private detectives. To name just a few: Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Adam Dalgliesh, Inspector Pitt, Lord Peter Wimsey, Cordelia Gray, Inspector Morse, and Thursday Next. Even non-English writers like Elizabeth George have added characters (Inspector Lynley) to the English detective fiction genre.

I love a good murder mystery novel, provided it isn't too bloody and I can't figure out who the killer is in the first five chapters. If you a fan of a good murder mysteries (of the Agatha Christie variety), then I have three sets of murder mysteries that may be right up your alley!

The first set I am recommending are the three mysteries in the Her Majesty Investigates series by C.C. Benison. Now these books do involve a little bit of suspension of disbelief because our detective in these books is none other than Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, assisted by Jane Bee, a twenty-something maid in the royal household (and the daughter of a police officer from Prince Edward Island.) The three installments are: Death at Buckingham Palace, Death at Sandringham House, and Death at Windsor Castle. These books are fun reads, especially if you are interested in knowing about the royal family and/or the royal palaces. The Queen is written as likeable, but not overly chummy, and I find Jane Bee to be clever and relatable. These books also give you a bit of the goings on behind the scenes at these royal residences, as if "Downton Abbey" met "Murder She Wrote". Each mystery includes a nice balance of mystery, humor (usually involving Jane and a cadre of corgies), and a little bit of a history lesson. (I really learned a lot in about Windsor Castle and the Order of the Garter, which has added greatly to my royal watching, not to mention enhanced my own visit to Windsor.)

Not only am I a fan of detective novels, but I am also a fan of historical fiction. The next set I am recommending combines both of these loves. They are the Robin Paige Victorian-Edwardian mysteries, written by husband and wife team Bill and Susan Albert. These twelve mystery novels, set at the turn of the 20th century, feature amateur sleuths Kate Ardleigh Sheridan, an Irish-American "lady novelist", and her husband, Sir Charles Sheridan, an amateur pioneer in forensic science. The stories are set all over England, so you get a feel for the landscape of the country, and feature a great number of historical figures as characters. I feel that they do a great job tying together people, locations, and mystery to make the stories believable. You can tell that the Alberts have done their research (they always include a little of the real history at the end of the book along with a bibilography). Some of the people the Sheridens "meet" as they move among society include: Beatrix Potter, Jennie and Winston Churchill, Lilly Langtry, Guglielmo Marconi, and Bertie, the Prince of Wales. These books are really fun and fast reads, perfect to bring with you on your next vacation.

The final series that I wanted to recommend is by no means the least and is another set of historical fiction mysteries. Stephanie Barron has been requested to "transcribe and edit" a "recently uncovered" treasure trove of Jane Austen's "lost diaries". These diaries help fill in some of the missing pieces in our general knowledge of Jane Austen. From them we learn that not only was the good Miss Austen a skilled writer, but she also solved a great number of murders and helped save her country from the nefarious intentions of foreign (French) spies! Who knew!?! With her quick wit and clever mind, as well as the assistance of the dashing Lord Harold Trowbridge (the Gentleman Rogue) and members of her own family, "Jane Austen" solves crimes and saves innocent lives from the hangman's noose while bringing the real villains to (the king's) justice. (I defy any lady not to fall prey to the charm of the Gentleman Rogue!) Barron weaves the Jane Austen mysteries by drawing from documented incidents (and locales) from Austen's life as well as tying in elements from her published novels and letters. She accurately retraces Austen's steps and then envisions an adventure in among the established events. I anxiously await the publication of the eleventh (and sadly, the final) installment of this series!!

So these are my summer fun reading recommendations in the Anglophilia murder mystery vein. If you have read/end up reading these books, I'd love to hear what you think of them.


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