Sunday, December 19, 2010

Seasonal reading

The majority of books that I read through the year are newly published -- a hazard/benefit (depending on my amount of reading time available) of working in a library.  Some others are new to me but not to the world at large ... these tend to fall into two categories for me: classics and former bestsellers that I didn't read while they were hot because everyone else was dying to get them.  I also have the compulsion to reread books in a series when a new title is coming out either due to the eager anticipation for the next installment or because, sadly, it's been so long since the last book came out that I've kind of forgotten what's going on.  I have to admit that lately the latter has been more important after I picked up a new title and 100 pages in was trying to figure out who a character was ... he had been one of the three major characters through all of the first ten books ... oops!

However, there are some very special stories that I pick up at certain times of the year.  I like to head off with Bilbo and the dwarves in the fall.  Every summer, I choose a different Shakespeare play to reread in one greedy gulp during a hot afternoon.  For some reason, Anne of Green Gables and Betsy from Deep Valley tend to come calling in the grimness of March's dirty snow and ice.  I don't reread all of them every year, but it's often enough that I can definitely see a pattern.

So, if you have some extra time in the next few days, here are some of my favorites for this time of year.  Many of them are short stories, so it's easy to find a few minutes to fit one in.
    • The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis  This is my favorite time travel book ever.  It's set both in Oxford of the not-so-distant future and the countryside of England near Oxford in the year 1348 during the Christmas season.  I like all of the time travel books that Connie Willis has written, but this one tops list for me.  I will warn you, it's not necessarily a happy book.  However, daily life during the English middle ages is vivid as Kivrin deals with all the challenges that she did expect as a historian studying "in time" and many many more that she isn't prepared for.  At the same time, the parallel story in the future keeps adding tension to the situation.
    • "Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor" by John Cheever  A short story that never fails to entertain me. I love to picture Charlie telling Mrs. Gadshill that the elevator is going to do the loop-de-loop and drool over the descriptions of all of the varied Christmas dinners.
    • "Dulce Domum" from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame  As a single person, this bit resonates with me for those first hours after I come home from celebrating the holidays with my family.  The house is quiet and cold, there never seems to be something I want to eat in the frig, and I'm exhausted.  But there's also the familiarity of my own things (humble as they might seem to others), the joy of my cat greeting me with excited dashing about, and the knowledge that once I get a fire started in the woodstove my outlook will improve.
    • "Old Folks' Christmas" by Ring Lardner  This story fascinates me because it is so different from my own experience.  I hope that my parents would agree that our family does not mimic this one.
    • "A Hint for Next Christmas" by A. A. Milne  Though I've never been in this situation, the cheek of adding one's name to a card intrigues me and makes me wonder if the author once found himself in this situation.
    • "Our Crafty Little Christmas" by John Neary  It seems to go in cycles - the fad for excessive, lavish gifts giving way to the handmade price-limit exchange.  While I try not to indulge in either end of the extreme, I must admit that a crafty gift goes over better when you have some experience with the craft in question.
    • "Miracle" by Connie Willis  Quick!  What's your favorite Christmas movie?  This story might change your mind.  Or, at least, make you think about the next mysterious "Chris" that you meet.
    • "Mr. K*A*P*L*A*N and the Magi" by Leo Rosten  I don't think that many school classes still buy presents as a group for their teachers, but this story brings out all of the anguish of choice by committee on several levels.
    • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott  You can just read the first bit where the girls discuss what they want for Christmas, speculate on the boy next door, and send their breakfast to the Hummels.  However, once you start, it's easy to continue on as they become friends with Laurie, fall in love, and grow up.
    • "Crisp New Bills for Mr. Teagle" by Frank Sullivan  There are some days - rare and far between - when only good things seem to fall out of the sky.  Perhaps they aren't as overt as this story, but they are meant to be cherished.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

#15 - Random Acts of Kindness

For the last month, I have made an concerted effort to spread kindness into the world.  I don't know if anything I did was a success for anyone else, but it certainly made me think about all of the advantages that I enjoy in my own life.  After my week of not complaining, I decided that working on this goal would make a nice antidote for the struggle to keep my mouth shut about minor annoying things - sort of attacking the negativity problem from the other end. 

My self-imposed rules for this project were:
  • if a person asked for something, the action didn't count - I had to be moved to do whatever it was of my own accord
  • if I knew that a person needed/wanted/would like to have something but they didn't ask, the action did count
  • I had to do at least one action per day, multiple kind deeds could not be stored for the next day
  • things that I would have done anyhow, but were not asked for, counted

The hardest days were those that I had off from work simply because I tend to become a hermit during "staycation" moments - mostly as a way to let my introvert personality recharge after working with the public regularly.  However, I did find ways to make the world a little brighter every day.  The easiest days were those that I spent out running errands; this was not something I expected, but I guess sometimes it is easier (or less potentially embarrassing) to do something for a stranger.  I thought that my days working with the public would be the easiest; however, the first rule knocked down most of the nice things that I did as part of my work hours because someone asked me to do them.

Among the items I tried to do (and, yes, I kept a list) there are some stand-outs.
  • There were several days when I shoveled snow for a neighbor who has been having some health problems.  
  • A whole string of entries on the list included giving cookies to people - this is a big thing for me this time of the year, but I decided that it counted.  I not only give cookies to friends and work associates, I also make up plates that I hand out to random people who use the library who I know could use some cheering up for one reason or another.  Those plates go fast - I gave out 25 in two days this year.  
  • I tried paying ahead twice; by this I mean paying at least a portion (or all) of the bill for the next person in the checkout line - it's hard to know what the next total will be.  The worker at the drive-thru window at Arby's took it in stride with the comment of "that's really nice of you".  However, the grocery store clerk looked at me like I was insane when I tried to explain it to her.  The more I thought of the disparity in reactions, the sadder it seems ... everyone needs to buy groceries, so I could have really been helping someone out (given the date and time I was shopping that was actually extremely likely), yet my gut feeling is that most people who get drive-thru fast food can probably afford it.  
  • The most truly random thing on the list was leaving Operation Beautiful notes in different spots in town.  I have no idea who saw them.  Operation Beautiful is a movement to boost self esteem for women; check out their site here.  This was the cheapest, quickest, most anonymous thing I tried (on more than one day); I hope it made someone's day.  
  • This morning, as the last day of my month, I sent flowers to my parents with a note saying how much I appreciate them.  I'm sure this last act will brighten their day immensely ... a good way for me to end my goal.

I loved this goal; although some days I was wondering in the late afternoon what I was going to be able to add to the list, I always came up with something nice to do.  I spent time thinking about the "no complaints" week I had recently finished and concluded that it's easier for me to be positive by doing something kind for another person than by trying not to complain.  I often found that being nice to the next person who happened along was just as effective in relieving stress and frustration as venting.  And there were some "karma moments" along the way ... I had never seen another actual Operation Beautiful note, but, last night, I went to a play and there was one on the bathroom mirror.  One of my friends came over to walk with me and brought her shovel to use on my sidewalk - it would have been a wonderful treat after all the shoveling I had been doing, but, alas, I had already finished it - thank you for the thought Amanda!  And my friend Nina took over my two least favorite holiday baking associated tasks - unwrapping candies and helping with packaging the final products - she deserves the "queen of repetitive tasks" award and huzzahs and alleluias. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Apricot Divinity

Every year around this time, I spend huge amounts of time in my kitchen baking cookies to give away.  Not just a few cookies ... more like hundreds of dozens.  It's a silly obsession with me that I indulge once a year; runners talk about getting a high from exercise ... well, I get my kicks from turning butter, flour and sugar into yummy things to eat.  And, well, I think it's officially become a tradition now (as well as a good-natured joke) that I'm going to spend most of the time between Thanksgiving and St. Nicholas Day unavailable to anyone who isn't willing to help unwrap candy or taste test.

Some years, I've made other items to put on the trays that I give out - truffles, Christmas tree ornaments, etc.  This year - along with the mutant pepper jelly - I am going to be adding handmade candies to the mix.  I have all of these great candy recipes that I've been saving, but they always seem to get pushed aside in favor of another variety of cookies (yes, those recipes get switched and added to every year as well).  The true siren call of peppermint twists, homemade pecan caramels, and peppermint toffee is louder than ever this year, and I must succumb!  However, late (for me) in the process of choosing which recipes to make, I came across two new candy ideas.  The first - Drunken Sugarplums - I have to make simply because of the name.  I started the brandy marinade last night ...

The second was Apricot Divinity which I made last night.  It was fantastic!  It tastes great, and I reverted to my inner four-year-old while I was making it.  I don't remember the last time that I laughed so hard at myself.  By the time I was finished, not only were my hands covered in white candy with golden bits, but there was also traces on my face, glasses, shirt, pants, several items on the counter that hadn't been involved in the candy process, and kitchen floor.  I would have taken a photo, but the camera was in another (candy-free) room and I wasn't sure how to pick it up without coating it as well.  I decided on the spot that I will be making this recipe again in the company of little kids - parent participation optional!  And, though I usually do not give out my recipes, this one simply has to go out in the world to spread happiness and white sticky stuff over everything ...

If you want to give it a try, here's the recipe - taken from a Taste of Home Holidays & Celebrations Cookbook, originally supplied by Loraieyer of Bend, OR.

Sweet Apricot Candy
1 jar (7 ounces) marshmallow creme
1 Tbsp butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp grated orange peel
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

In a large bowl, combine the marshmallow creme, butter, vanilla, salt, and orange peel; beat until well blended.  Gradually add 2 cups confectioners' sugar; beat until combined (mixture will be stiff).  By hand, knead in apricots, pecans and enough remaining confectioners' sugar to make a very stiff mixture.  Press into a greased 8 in. square pan.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Cut into 1 in. squares.  Yield. 1 1/2 pounds.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

100 Days In and #69 - blogging

It hardly seems like I've been working on this project for 100 days!  I've been reflecting over the last few days on where I'm at on my list.  I feel like I'm right on target to getting all of the goals completed, and, wow, some of the things I've tried have made me feel really empowered!

First, blogging ... I passed the requirements of this goal (20 posts) within the past month but didn't write a post at that time about it, so I'm adding some brief thoughts on it here.  I expected this goal to feel like a chore after the initial charm of the project wore off ... it doesn't.  I think of many more posts than I actually write about, and the main reason I don't post more is time.  And I'm touched that people actually tell me that they read the posts -- thanks!

So, what's going well ... hmmm, everything I've finished. :)  Seriously, I like that my tasks are so varied that I have many items to choose to work on.  Currently, I'm putting in the most time on one of the month-long goals (it's a surprise which one), folding paper cranes (since I found a charity I can donate them to if I finish by April), and listening my way through my iTunes library.  I'm finding myself zipping through the live theater performances too -- gotta love that! -- and I wish I'd put a higher number into my goal.  I've put a couple of things on the back burner for a while - my will (have it written out but want to give myself a breathing space period and look at it with fresh eyes in January before I get it notarized) and the walking time goal (I've switched to riding my exercise bike in the morning since the walking has turned slippery).

Of the items that I haven't started yet, I think the most difficult will be convincing my parents to let me take them on a vacation.  I've sent out some feelers and gotten the response that they are afraid they'll "slow me down".  The other thing that I'm spending time trying to figure out is the goal about celebrating my 40th birthday; I want to do something special but just can't come up with any good ideas.  So, feel free to give me suggestions in the comments.  (And, sorry, but I have no desire to jump out of an airplane which seems to be what everyone has suggested to me so far).

I'm finding that I haven't leapt into the goals that involve learning as much as I expected in the beginning.  So, I'm going to start making those memorizing, learning, etc. topics a higher priority after the holidays ... the cold days of winter sound like a good time to focus on thinking and I can save some of the more active things for when it warms up.

The biggest surprise of this project so far has been that I haven't had a favorite accomplishment.  All of the things that I cross off are teaching me, empowering me, surprising me, and occasionally frustrating me during the process.  I truly had expected some of the goals to feel like a let-down after they were finished, but they've all brought some lesson with them - sometimes not the one that I expected.  And perhaps that's the best part of attempting a list like this.

Friday, November 12, 2010

#14 - Under the woodstove

One of the big selling points of this house when I was looking to buy a home was the glorious woodstove in the living room.  The previous owners had it professionally installed, but they planned to finish the tiling underneath themselves.  Like many other projects, it still wasn't completed when ownership transferred to me.  I added it to my house projects list; however, things like updating the electrical wiring took priority over cosmetics.  The good part was that the fireproof pad for tile was already in, so I could have a fire without the tile being in.
My starting point ...

I had planned on using ceramic tile and making some sort of mosaic out of odds and ends.  However, when I went to Color Tile earlier this week, the ceramic tile they had in stock was almost all beige.  Beige is not my thing ... after years of white and off-white in apartments, I want to use colors in my home.  I wandered through the corners though and found some great stone pieces to work with.  There were even a few triangle pieces already cut that would help in the odd corners of my mat.  The price was right too at $2 per 12" square since I was shopping through their remainders.
Deciding how to lay out the tiles

I didn't have a specific pattern as I worked, but just worked things in.  One of the pieces I bought was much larger than the rest.  I had originally planned to center it under the stove, so it wouldn't be so hard to reach under and lay in smaller pieces, but I liked it so much that I kept sliding it around to see it.  One of the styles that had smaller pieces was hard to take apart, so I ended up using many of the same size squares.
All finished
I'm very happy with the result.  It really dresses up an area of the living room that was blah.  And now I think I'm going to go curl up with a book by the fire ... :)
Already in use

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Differences in grocery stores

Yesterday, I made my annual pilgrimage to Sam's Club.  I only go once a year to get supplies for my Christmas baking obsession (which I'm sure will be the subject of at least one more post in the coming month), and it always amazes me how much stuff is there and how large it all is.  This year, I noticed something new ... many of the other shoppers didn't seem to be buying as a major pantry restock.  Instead, they seemed to just be doing their weekly grocery shopping.  I didn't see anyone else working off of a list, but many couples were discussing meals for later in the week or saying things like "I know I saw it here last week." despite the fact that you have to buy a big quantity of each item.

This was a huge contrast to visiting London grocery stores last month.  Wandering through "locals shop here" stores when I'm traveling is one of my guilty pleasures.  (In fact, I make a point of bringing home foreign candy bars for my family when I travel just to have the excuse to look at all of them and love to ponder local slang in signage in other parts of the U.S.)  Most London grocery stores are small ... about the size of a convenience store in America and have three staples:  prepackaged sandwiches, bakery bins, and veggies.  Fruit and meat sections are considerably downsized in proportion, and frozen, canned goods, and pantry items (all staples of the US stores) are minuscule in terms of both shelf space and the size of the packaging.  (Convenience stores, in comparison, have the square footage of mall kiosks and carry sweets, prepackaged sandwiches, and bottled drinks.)  I did visit larger grocery stores in the outer areas of London on my trip in 2006 - as I was on a quest for packaged crumpets to bring back - and found that the stores were still smaller than I expected based on what locals had told me.  The largest package of flour I saw was five pounds.  Do Londoners shop that often?  Do they live on prepacked sandwiches and restaurant meals? 

The one thing that I never saw in a London store was plastic containers to store leftovers.  Maybe that's the trick to decluttering your cupboards - never cook more than what you'll eat in one meal, never buy more than what you need to make that meal, and you'll be able to dedicate your shelf space to heirloom china that you use regularly rather than a mountain of cheap, ugly plastic boxes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

#77 - No complaints!

"Complain - to express grief or distress; to lament; to express dissatisfaction; to make a formal accusation" - from New Expanded Webster's Dictionary 1988 edition

It sounded really easy when I wrote it down - not to complain about anything verbally or in writing for a week - I found it was more challenging to actually do.  I started my "week" for this goal on four separate occasions, and, on the first three tries had to start again when my tongue moved faster than my brain's edit function!  However, I'm very glad that I had it on the list because I spent quite a bit of time pondering why it's so easy to be negative in daily life.  (And the fact that it was more difficult than I expected makes me prouder of being able to cross it off my list).

The only day that felt easy was the first one (Sunday) - probably because I was not working and only talked briefly on the phone to one person.  Then the challenge set in ... minor irritations at work, a funky schedule including a meeting on my day off, the tail end of my cold making me crabby, a plumbing project on Saturday that had a few glitches, etc.

I also realized on Monday that I needed to give myself a clearer definition of complaining.  There is a large grey area between the whining of "I'm tired.  I'm cold.  I don't want to be here." and legitimate critiquing that may be required to get through your day - for example, I often am asked at work my personal opinion of books and movies by patrons who are trying to decide what they might like to borrow.  I decided that specific criticism in the line of work that was kept impersonal was okay (ex. "there was a lot of violence that didn't seem to add to the plotline") while vague potshots were not (ex. "it was disgustingly bloody").

Then there was the dilemma of commiserating with someone else who was complaining.  If I agree, does that make me a complainer too?  I decided that smiling, nodding, and interjecting supportive comments was okay.  That may be sophistry, but it's what I went with.  And, I was glad to have made that decision on Monday afternoon because there were two occasions on Thursday where I was in that situation.

The biggest eye-opener of this whole experiment was how much everyone is unhappy in their daily lives.  I spent four of my five work days this week at a public service desk, and I think that somewhere between two thirds and three quarters of the people I talked to complained about something - mostly the weather (both too cold and too hot) or something related to the election on Tuesday.  Of the literally hundreds of complaints that I heard this week, only two were something that I could do something about directly (noise level and a favor for another city department head on a matter concerning both of our departments).  Wow!!!  Should we all just suck it up more and put on a happy face or does something really need to change in our society?

I had wondered, during the week, if I would feel the need for a major venting session with a friend today.  I don't.  I can remember some of the irritations of the week that I probably would have complained about at the time, but only one is still annoying me.  And, I'm sure that one will fade in a few days too.  As the week went by, it became easier to tell myself to stop the negative cycle and just go with whatever was happening.  I'm hoping that this week set the habit of personally complaining a bit less about things I can't change and accepting them as they are instead.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

#86 - Absinthe

Absinthe seems the most mysterious of alcoholic beverages.  It's made from wormwood.  There's a specific way of preparing it for consumption.  It was banned completely in the United States and many other countries for years, and the production and sale is still highly regulated.  It's said to cause hallucinations.

The use of it in films tends to reinforce these myths ... check out these two clips.  The first is from Moulin Rouge

The second from the 1992 version of Dracula

Wow, looks like this is some stuff!  I regret to say that my taste did not lead me to reciting poetry at the Moulin Rouge or reuniting with a sinister love from a past life.  Although just a few sips did make me tipsy ... not surprising as La Fee absinthe is 68% alcohol by volume - that's higher than almost any other drink, including whisky, brandy, vodka, tequila, and most varieties of rum. 

The first couple of sips I took were undiluted.  Here's what the liquor looks like
It tastes almost exactly like licorice pastilles.  And, although it didn't cause me to choke, the rush of heat that followed the swallow made me feel like I was going to spontaneously combust!  The traditionally diluted version of the drink was cloudier, tasted a bit gritty, and had an aftertaste of fennel that lingered until I brushed my teeth several hours later.

The ritual of preparing absinthe involves placing a special flat slotted spoon over the top of the glass, setting a sugar cube on the spoon, and dripping cold water over the sugar.  (The video clip from Dracula above shows steps of this preparation.)  Sometimes the sugar cube is set on fire before the water dilutes it.

Would I try it again?  Probably not.  I'm not a big fan of overpowering licorice taste; I even give away my black jelly beans at Easter time.

Friday, October 22, 2010

#6 - Exploring London Alone

I love to travel.  However, before this trip it has always involved either going somewhere with someone else, or going somewhere to visit someone, or work-related activities (which isn't really travel at all - just sitting in conference center rooms listening to speakers).  So, this trip was definitely a good stretching experience for me; rather than waiting for someone else to have the time and money to accompany me, I just went.
The St. Pancras train station was less than a block from my hotel which made moving about London very easy.
I found it interesting as I prepared that so many people said something along the lines of "how nice it will be for you to go alone and not have to compromise what you want to do or when you want to do things".  I guess that's not something that's been a problem for me in the past - I don't mind splitting up from a travel partner for an afternoon so that we can both see what we want - and, as a single person, it certainly isn't a novelty for me to do things alone when I'm at home.   I guess I should take those comments as a reminder to be mindful of the freedoms that I already experience.
I visited St. Paul's Cathedral on the morning of my first full day in London.
The trip itself was mostly packed with good experiences ... four West End shows, many major museums and art galleries, lots of walking through streets packed with architectural wonders, and time to think about all things I saw.  The last time I visited London, I was thinking about the Tudor and Regency periods, but this time I spent much of my time considering the Blitz and the Victorians.  I would recommend the story "Fire Watch" by Connie Willis to anyone visiting St. Paul's Cathedral; it makes climbing up to the outer galleries and thinking about December 29, 1940 incredibly powerful.
The Millennium Bridge is very popular around lunch time.

Some of this trip's "bests" include the following:
  • best visual effects in a West End show - tied between the animals brought to life by costumes and puppetry in The Lion King and the way Coney Island emerges from the shadows of the past in the first scene of Love Never Dies
  • best lunch - cream of carrot and potato soup with herb bread at Cafe in the Crypt, St. Martins in the Fields
  • best people watching moment - Asian tourists taking each other's photos in front of antiquities in the British Museum without actually looking at the display ... it was all about the photo shoot
  • best "it's a small world" moment - bumping into a high school classmate I hadn't seen in 20 years who was on my flight from Heathrow to Minneapolis
  • art that spoke to me the most- a medieval carved staircase with attached balconies in the V & A
  • best "touching history" moment - being able to actually hold 6 historical artifacts at the British Museum - a Stone Age hand axe, dolphin teeth necklace, 13th century Persian tile, pipe from Ghana, Greek lykthos (perfume jar) from around 400 BC, and a peg covered in cuneiform writing taken from the ziggurat at Ur around 2100 BC - I felt like Indiana Jones
  • The wonderful historian at the British Museum who was running the touch history station.
I really didn't have any truly bad moments in the trip.  A few frustrations included a shop (where I had hoped to buy some gifts for friends) that had moved,  a museum that I wanted to visit had closed (guess I should have gone when I was in London six years ago), and trying to get on and off the tube during rush hour as I hate pushing my way through crowds.  It was oddly peaceful being alone in a crowd of people.
The roses were still blooming in Hyde Park.

It's great to be back home, but I can't wait for my next trip...with or without a companion.
By Trafalgar Square ... this is the only photo of myself that I have from the trip; I exchanged cameras with a British couple there, and we took photos of each other with Nelson's Column in the background.

#63 - Wicked - or, What Makes a Good Witch?

Every year when I was growing up, The Wizard of Oz would play on television sometime during the winter.  And, each time, my best friend and I would spend the evening at her house watching Dorothy defeat the wicked witch, enving Glinda her fabulous bubble travel, singing along, and generally having a fabulous time.  I remember practicing the special step they used to travel down the yellow brick road until I could do it perfectly.

However, I never was interested in reading more than just the first book (either as a child or later in my life).  I did try them, but never was very enthused about what else happened in Oz.  Oz was about finding friends in unexpected places, good witches that appeared in bubbles, defeating wickedness with a bucket of water, and listening to Judy Garland sing about going over the rainbow.  But - despite the apathy towards what happened after Dorothy left - there was always the nagging question of "Why?".  Why did Glinda help Dorothy?  If the Wicked Witch of the West was so horrible, why hadn't someone already thrown a bucket of water at her?  Why was the bucket there if it was so toxic to her?  Was Oz really so wonderful when it seemed that so many characters there were unhappy?

When Wicked by Gregory Maguire first came out, I expected to find the answers to these questions.  But, again, I just couldn't get into the story ... in fact, I never made it to the part where Elphaba leaves for school and meets Galinda.  This time, my lack of interest in the story had to do with the writing style and the incredible amount of time that Maguire spends on Elphaba's infancy.  Then, Wicked was made into a musical, and I thought it was the perfect way to find out why Elphaba became a bad witch in under three hours.

I saw Wicked as part of my recent London trip (which will be the subject of my next post) at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.  It had some great comic moments, and, yes, those "whys" were answered.  The scene where Galinda gives Elphaba a makeover made me think about some of the friendships that I've had.  The origins of the Cowardly Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow were explained in a logical fashion.

However, the stunning costumes were my favorite part.  The ensemble scenes featured each cast member in a unique costume with interesting shapes - especially effective with some of the lighting design.  The accessories - hats, glasses, even cigarette holders - added to the overall glamour of the design and gave a slightly steampunk flavor to the production that reinforced the clockwork dragon and wizard's mechanical head contraption.  I hear that the US touring companies have equally compelling visual design, so if you like unusual fashion, you might want to see this production for the costuming alone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

#92 - Things I Do Well

This list came from a number of inspirations.  One was a list that I kept during a particularly dark period of my life where I wrote down each day something that I liked about myself - not necessarily things that I excel at, just good that I saw in myself.  Another was a revelation that a friend shared with me that she reached a point in her life where she realized that just because a particular task came easily to her did not mean that everyone shared that ability.  And, yet another is the continual surprise of working at a public service desk and realizing how different people are from one another.

So, here are 25 things that I think I do well:

  1. Establish healthy routines for myself – morning walks, journaling, cooking real meals, etc
  2. Stack books (to amazing heights)
  3. Pet sitting
  4. See both sides of a situation (this has its drawbacks)
  5. Fire starting with one match
  6. Organize stuff
  7. Grow tomatoes – why do I keep planting them?  I don’t even really like them and I always get tons
  8. Read – high speeds, good retention
  9. Take standardized tests – doesn’t effect my life as much as it used to
  10. Come up with analogies to help explain things
  11. Plan ahead and follow through
  12. Show up on time (or early) for meetings, etc.
  13. Find / make meaningful gifts for people I care about
  14. Can visualize the final result of a project (in 3D) that I am just starting
  15. Give awesome backrubs
  16. Fierce loyalty to the people that I claim as friends
  17. Can make perfectly swirled soft-serve ice cream cones
  18. Read body language
  19. Honor small home-grown traditions/celebrations of the little things in life – for example, first snow doughnuts
  20. Problem solving
  21. Match colors
  22. Remember my dreams which are fabulous, colorful, and could be used as plots for feature movies
  23. Give book recommendations that match the interests of the reader rather than just my own
  24. Pick up the ability to do crafts competently in a short time period
  25. Bake cookies

Saturday, September 25, 2010

#52 - Bucket List

When I was working on my challenges list, I had exactly one item in the back of my mind that would fit into a bucket list -- the goal of visiting all seven continents before I die.  There's a quote in L. M. Montgomery's book Anne of Windy Poplars that sort of sums up my desire to travel "I want to know ... not just believe ... that the earth is round."  I want to see all those places that I've read about ... and I read a lot ... or at least the ones that actually exist (or have in the past).

Now, obviously, I have more varieties of things on my bucket list than just travel.  I'm up to almost 20 items now; however, I've decided only to share on this blog those items that relate to going places, seeing and experiencing new cultures, etc.  Many of the other things on the list seem a bit too personal to share on a public blog.

So, before I die, I'd like to:
  • visit all seven continents
  • see the following historical places / wondrous things with my own eyes
    • the Pyramids in Egypt
    • the Coliseum in Rome
    • the Parthenon in Athens
    • Hadrian's Wall in Britain
    • Venice
    • the Liberty Bell
    • the redwood forests of the Pacific Northwest
    • Mount Rushmore
    • the site of Troy
  • Take an overnight train trip
  • Go to Mardi Gras in New Orleans
  • Stay at least overnight in a castle
  • Take a walking tour vacation

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I keep finding ideas

One of the aspects that I'm finding interesting about this challenge is how other people apply it to their own lives.  While my nephew can take credit for introducing the idea  to myself and both my sisters, I have inspired two people to start lists of their own as well.  It's like a Ponzi scheme -- only much more empowering.  The best part is when I get to see their lists too; I see items that I wish I'd thought of.  I keep telling myself that I should not add 102, 103, 104 ... because that's just a recipe for disaster - I'd never finish them all in 1001 days.

But, here are a few ideas from other people that might have made my list ...
  • go to a Renaissance Fair with both of my sisters (we used to do this every year, but then Diana & I both moved further away from the Twin Cities, and it became much more complex to schedule)
  • leave # of notes - I actually think I may work this own into something already on my list
  • send # number of thinking of you cards to friends
  • sleep in my hammock overnight
  • photograph a landscape from the same spot multiple times to capture all four seasons
  • hunt for morel mushrooms
My friend Melissa has her list up on her blog - check out the link here - but the others aren't public (or at least, not yet).

And a few more that I've thought of myself since I finished writing the list
  • make a braided rag rug like Grandma used to
  • be a mentor through Big Brothers/Big Sisters
  • find something worthy of placement in the porthole frame Dad made
  • take a week off in the summer even though the library is crazy busy then
  • drive the Lake Superior Circle tour
  • visit an amethyst mine (where you can dig yourself) in Canada and make myself a piece of jewelry with what I find
  • learn to build a computer from components - I think I'm pretty close to knowing how to do this already
  • attend a Society for Creative Anachronism event
  • try playing paintball
  • learn how to do archery
  • hike 5 new trails within 50 miles of my home
I think that if I'm still having as much fun with this project in May of 2013, I may have to do a 101 things, part II!

Addendum:  another list (with a twist) posted by Mary today

Sunday, September 19, 2010

#53 - Geocaching

What child has not dreamed about finding a treasure box, the thrill of knowing where something special is hidden, and the moment of discovery?  Those dreams are probably what's at the heart of geocaching.  If you've never heard of the term, picture using GPS coordinates to find hidden boxes in both rural and urban environments.  Want more information, as well as a short video clip, follow this link:  geocaching homesite.

I went out both yesterday and today trying to find caches.  Saturday was not so successful; I was using a borrowed GPS device (thanks for the loan Dad!) and wasn't very sure how it worked.  My friend Amanda was a good sport about what turned out to be a very long hike over rugged terrain with two little boys (9 months and not quite 4 years old) in tow.  But, it turned out that the GPS device was using a different type of coordinate coding that what I had printed out.  (Hmmm....maybe I need to do more research before I try something like this next time).  Consequently, we went right by where the cache was that we had hoped to find ... we probably were looking for a spot out in the middle of the lake we were hiking around because of the differences in the two systems.  Oh well, it was a nice day to be out, and I got to tell Silas (the older of the two) an abbreviated version of The Hobbit (centered on Smaug since he loves hearing about dragons) to take his mind off the fact that he was tired.  We were all tired; Amanda figured as we got back to the car that our 1.8 mile jaunt for the cache turned into over 7 miles of hiking over lots of steep hills, rocky terrain, and tree roots. Amanda deserves major hiker woman kudos as she was carrying her baby in a carrier backpack all the way.

Today, I met my nephew Jason in Duluth, and we searched for four caches in Enger Park.  Having learned the coordinate lesson the day before, I had copied down multiple conversions for the locations.  Knowing that Jason is more technology savvy than myself, I put him in charge of the GPS unit.  Off we went (with hiccups from the GPS - which seemed to change its mind regularly as to where we were).  However, after a bit of wandering back and forth ...
The first cache
I finally got to see what an actual cache looks like.  The little notebook is a log where you write your name and the date that you found the cache.  The other items are for trade ... you can take something to remind yourself of your find and leave a treasure for the next person who happens along. This box was smaller; the others were WWII ammo boxes.  Some caches can be as small as film canisters, but we didn't try for any that tiny.

The most challenging part for us was convincing the GPS to spit out information that was usable.  Jason spent lots of time saying things like "stop being difficult" and "but you just said that direction was east" to it.  Getting there was not just half but more like 95% of the battle since we needed to first establish where "there" was.
Jason tries to commune with the GPS

Of course, having a topo map would have helped too.  Some of the caches are in locations on a hill and it can be much easier to either start from the top or the bottom depending on the terrain.  The third site was an example; we would have been much better off coming down the hill where a trail was not too far away rather than straight up the hill from the road.
Looking down at the hill we had just climbed up to the third cache
We did find all four caches ... plus some golf balls from the nearby course ... so we came home with some treasures.
My cache treasures, found golf balls, and stick that stowed away in my daypack!

My overall feeling on geocaching ... fun, but I don't think I'll be rushing out to get a GPS since I'm fine with hiking just to enjoy the scenery.  I think that it would be great fun for families (and some of the caches showed evidence that families had been there) to do together.  I might try a few of the local caches just to see how the experience varies in a town environment.  And ... after two days of hiking, I'm really looking forward to a nice, mostly flat, typical morning walk tomorrow.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Pre 101 list goal accomplished

Our library runs a summer reading program for adults as well as teens and children.  It operates on a very simple premise:  set yourself a goal and if you meet it, you get a prize as our closing party in September.  Well, as I am the one in charge of this program, I feel compelled to also set a goal.  And then, I realize that I would suffer great embarrassment at the party if I can't say that I've met it.  So, each year I find myself reading some summer literature that I might not have otherwise picked up ... some years it's classics, others have a theme, this year it was recommendations.

I had planned on reading the first 5 books recommended to me after the program started.  However, I seem to collect recommendations the way that most people collect loose change ... I drew the line at 8 titles.  Only two were books that I might have read without the goal; the second (which I finished tonight) because it is on my Proulx list.  So here, in the order that I read them, are my summer reading goal titles and my thoughts on each ...

Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon
This was a title recommended by an acquaintance from my high school days.  I had no idea what to expect (as the recommendation came via Facebook) and when the book arrived from interlibrary loan, Mary handed it to me with the comment that "this has your name on it, is that right?".  Basically, it was a serial killer story -- not my thing at all -- and I figured out who the killer was about 10 pages after the character first was introduced.

Hyperion by Dan Simmons
This title is one that my friend Laura has been bugging me to read for years.  I do like science fiction, so that was a plus, and the Canterbury Tales format of the narration was interesting. It did inspire me to look up information on the Wandering Jew although I didn't gain any insight as to why he shows up in so many science fiction novels.  But it wasn't a knock-your-socks-off experience.

Dessert First by Hallie Durand
A kids title - huzzah and thanks Jessie! - about following your inner drummer.  This was a fun fast read and had a yummy recipe for Double D bars which will be served at the summer reading party next week.

Acacia by David Anthony Durham
This fantasy novel was handed to me by one of my library board members who actually knows my reading tastes fairly well.  Tom said that it was the best fantasy world-building that he had read in years, so I probably would have picked it up eventually.  I wasn't as blown away by it as he was (a little bloody for my taste), but I loved that there were strong characters of both genders and a range of temperaments.

Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark
My friend Sara (who also happens to be on the library board) picked this title for me.  The historical detail was great (set in Renaissance Venice), and the chef descriptions were a huge contrast to the book that had immediately preceded it on my reading pile (Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw).  The best part ... cooks working to save civilization.

For the Win by Cory Doctorow
I had not planned to read this Doctorow young adult book although I enjoyed Little Brother.  However, it came up in a conversation with my sister Diana (also a librarian), so I went back and picked it up.  The immediate analogy that came to mind was Moby Dick -- you think that you're going to get this great adventure story about hunting the whale and what you end up with is a lesson in whaling.  Only substitute online roleplaying games and economics.  He's a good writer, but the textbook sections were a huge turnoff ... will teens actually read those parts, skip them, or give up in disgust ...

Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins
The first thing I have to say about this book is that I didn't think I would EVER get it through interlibrary loan - I spent almost 3 months as the only person on the waiting list for it - yes, SNAFUs happen to us library workers too and serve as a good reminder of the frustration sometimes felt by patrons when things don't show up.  I had even asked my friend Lis for an alternate Robbins title just in case.  Lis recommended this book because of Robbins' use of language and way it evokes the counterculture movement.  I did enjoy those aspects; however, she didn't tell me that it was magical realism.  I think magical realism is the literary equivalent of lima beans -- you like it or you don't, and you will cite the same reasons no matter which side of the debate you choose --  almost no one falls into the neutral area in between.  I don't like it (sorry, Lis!), and, after months of waiting for the book to arrive, I had to force myself to read the end in 30 page sections with breaks for good concentration.  If I was on the other side of the lima bean/magical realism debate, I probably would have loved the book.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The final title on the list was recommended by Mary (my intrepid library worker) who started reading it on her lunch breaks and couldn't put it down.  I, too, found myself sucked into the story and its relevance to today's world despite being written 80 years ago.  Wow, how much things stay the same as they change!  If you want to read one classic this year, give this one a try.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

#83 - Kitchen Reorganization

I love the time that I spend in my kitchen cooking and especially baking.  To borrow a catchphrase - it's my happy place.

However, I've recently found myself having a stuff problem:  stuff on the table, cupboards so full that stuff falls out when you're reaching for something, and, most of all, stuff cluttering up the counters so badly that I only had a tiny bit of space to actually use.  It was shamefully bad at the start of the summer, but then I pulled out my canner and made about 70 jars of various sorts of preserves.  And, you guessed it, they became part of the stuff problem.

Don't misunderstand me ... I love having the memory of summer preserved in strawberry jam to smile at in the dead of winter.  And it's lovely to have all of the ingredients already on hand if you decide to make lasagna or just the right pan for the birthday treat that you're going to make.  However, one jar of jam will make me smile as easily as 30 do, it's frustrating if you find that you have multiple open boxes of lasagna noodles, and does anyone really NEED five sizes of springform pans accessible at all times? 

So, today I spent several hours going through my kitchen cupboards, counters, and other flat surfaces to try to get my problem under control.  I tackled the worst section first - that horrible place where I keep the leftover containers - I know many people who also lament over this storage nightmare.  Why don't Tupperware, RubberMaid, Glad, and all of those other container people make plastic boxes and bowls that actually store easily!  And why can you never find a lid that fits the plastic dish that you've just naively dumped tomorrow's lunch in?  I have even found that the same company makes the same size container in slightly different dimensions (rounded corners vs squared) so the lids don't fit despite the containers looking identical and stacking together perfectly!  This cabinet is also where my "microwave" dishes live; these are mostly items that were given to me ... or, at least I hope that I never thought I'd be making a bundt cake in the microwave.  I was ruthless in this section and chucked into recycling all containers/lids that I couldn't find a match for.  I also made a stack for Goodwill - perhaps someone out there really needs that afore mentioned microwave bundt cake pan.

The space I made was like pushing the first domino ... clear space in this cabinet and add the candy molds (yes, I have the plastic forms to make fancy chocolates and cream cheese mints - get over it, you wouldn't be laughing if I offered to make you fancy chocolates, now would you?).  Then use that space to move the basket of cookie sprinkles (I can probably come up with the appropriate sprinkles or at least festive colored sugar for any holiday you'd care to name) into the cupboard where my cookie cutters live.  Etc, etc, etc ....  I now have a huge load for recycling, a tote box of things that will be living upstairs in storage, a bag for the food shelf (already dropped off this evening), a pile of things for Goodwill or any niece/nephew who is short on bakeware, a few past-date things tossed into the trash, AND LOTS OF COUNTERSPACE!  The only category of stuff that I didn't condense or store in some way was my collection of teas.  I decided that the best way to whittle that problem down was to drink more tea.

So, I'm off to sit with my cat and read a book while I, you guessed it, sip at a mug of tea.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What is progress?

I was feeling a little down because I didn't get a chance to cross an item off my list during the past week.  But then I started thinking about how many of the challenges I'm actually working on.  Many, as you can see, take more than just an afternoon to do.  For example, I probably made about 50 origami cranes on Sunday.  Now when you're folding one crane it doesn't seem to take but a moment ... when you fold 50 more or less in a row, it takes longer.

Plus, there are a few items that I don't want to start yet.  I'd rather make costumes for myself after I lose some weight.  There are some job-related things (involving taking breaks, etc) that I feel I shouldn't do this fall since I've got so much time off between now and the end of the year.  And my upcoming (and much on my mind) trip to England in October is also a reason why I'm procrastinating on a few items as well.

I also realize that I did put some thought into my list of challenges.  They are things that I want to accomplish for their own sake, not just so I can go down the list and put checkmarks by items.  An example of this would be the first item on my list - writing a will.  I've been working on this one almost from the beginning of my project a month ago, but I still don't feel ready to get it notarized.  I keep thinking of more things that need to be added or checked on ... who's the current beneficiary on my life insurance policy, can my retirement account be part of my state since I'm not married and am childless, what are the "family heirlooms" that I own that should go to someone specific, and the list goes on.  Even though I've made some major progress on this one - asked someone to be executor, decided on how to divide the bulk of things, made up a list of accounts that might need a second name added for convenience later, etc - it's still not done.

And, of course, my life has other commitments than just working on things to challenge myself.  Last week included a couple of late nights at work, an all day visit to my parents, spending an afternoon helping a friend with a project, going to a party, and everyday living things like laundry that just don't do themselves.

So, do I have an item to cross off right now ... no.  Do I feel like I'm making progress ... yes.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

#62 - Mutant Pepper Jelly

When I put this goal on the list, I was thinking more along the lines of salsa; however ...

This was the year of peppers for my garden.  I'm not quite sure why I kept planting them, but I ended up with 10 different varieties - sweet bell, banana, jalapeno, chilies, etc.  Early in the summer, I had grand plans of making mango salsa with all the different varieties of bell peppers, but as the peppers grew ...

alarming things started to happen.  Look closely at the photos -- see it, the peppers crossbred -- basically, I ended up with multiple varieties growing from the same plant.  I still didn't think it would be so bad; they'd still taste like the variety they resembled, right?  WRONG!  After sampling one that looked like a bell pepper but had the heat of a jalapeno, I figured that trying any of them would be a gamble.  So, I started looking for ways to use them where not knowing the hotness would matter.

My brother (who has dealt with this same problem) suggested making pepper cornbread to feed to someone as a joke.  I did consider it, but my friend Lis had a better idea.  Yup, pepper jelly.

So, I spent my afternoon working with peppers and ended up with 28 beautiful jars of pepper jelly that ended up just hot enough to make your lips tingle but not run screaming in agony.  I decided to leave chopped bits of pepper in for interest ... this isn't the best photo, but trust me, it's gorgeous!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Proulx's list

Okay ... so a couple of people have asked about this list.  Here's a bit of backstory.  In high school, I had an English teacher (Bev Proulx) who truly was a teacher; there were varying opinions from students on whether they actually liked having her classes (my cynical side might note that those who disliked her as a teacher were not very fond of being challenged academically).  We did lots and lots of writing for her - that part certainly helped me whiz through short papers in college - to learn how to organize an argument on paper.  She was also an advocate for reading classics - old and contemporary.  Early in our senior year, she gave us two lists of titles one contemporary works and the other classics entitled "Reading List for a Well-Educated Adult".  These weren't meant to be "best" books in the way that so many similar lists claim to be; instead, they were works that are often referred to in literature, art, music, etc.  In other words, what you should read so you have all the backstory when you run across a reference.  The contemporary list is interesting as a snapshot of the late 1980s when I was in high school, but the classics definitely have stood the test of time.  And here's the classics list, in the original sections, for you to pursue and perhaps read yourself ...

Reading List for the Well-Educated Adult

Necessary Reading
Aechylus - The Oresteia (trilogy)
The Agamemnon
Anonymous - Everyman
Arabian Nights
Bronte, Emily - Wuthering Heights
Bulfinch, Thomas - Mythology
Cervantes, Saavedra, Miguel de - Don Quixote
Chaucer, Geoffrey - The Canterbury Tales
Clemens, Samuel (Mark Twain) - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Dante (Dante Alighieri) - The Divine Comedy
Darwin, Charles - Origin of the Species
Dickens, Charles - Great Expectations
   Bleak House
   A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoevsky, Fiodor - Crime and Punishment
   The Brothers Karamasov
The Federalist Papers
Franklin, Benjamin - Autobiography
Golding, William - The Lord of the Flies
Graves, Robert - The Greek Myths, Parts I & II
Homer - The Iliad
   The Odyssey
Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
Malory, Sir Thomas - Le Morte d'Arthur
Marlowe, Christopher - The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus
Miller, Arthur - The Crucible
   Death of a Salesman
Milton, John - Paradise Lost
   Paradise Regained
Orwell, George - Animal Farm
Ovid - Metamorphoses
Parkman, Francis - The Oregon Trail
Plutarch - Lives
Riesman, David - The Lonely Crowd
Shakespeare, William - Hamlet
   King Lear
   A Midsummer Night's Dream
   Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard - Pygmalion
Sophocles - Oedipus the King
   Oedipus at Colonus
Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
   East of Eden
   Of Mice and Men
Swift, Jonathan - Gulliver's Travels
Tennyson, Alfred (Lord) - Idylls of the King
Thoreau, Henry David - Walden
Wilder, Thornton - The Skin of Our Teeth
   Our Town
Williams, Tennessee - The Glass Menagerie
   A Streetcar Named Desire

Highly Recommended
Aeschylus - Prometheus Bound
Alcott, Louisa May - Little Women
Anonymous - Beowulf
Robin Hood Tales
The Song of Roland
El Cid
Aristophanes - The Frogs
Aristotle - Poetics
Augustine, Saint - Confessions
Austen, Jane - Pride and Prejudice
Bacon, Francis - Writings
Balzac, Honore de - Pere Goriot
   The Human Comedy
Beckett, Samuel - Waiting for Godot
Bolt, Robert - A Man for All Seasons
Brecht, Bertolt - The Caucasian Chalk Circle
   Mother Courage
Bronte, Charlotte - Jane Eyre
Bunyan, John - Pilgrim's Progress
Caesar, Julius - The Gallic Wars
Camus, Albert - The Stranger
   The Plague
   The Fall
Cather, Willa - A Lost Lady
   My Antonia
   Death Comes for the Archbishop
Cicero, Marcus Tullius - Orations and Letters
Clemens, Samuel (Mark Twain) - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
   Life on the Mississippi
Congreve, William - The Way of the World
Conrad, Joseph - Lord Jim
   The Heart of Darkness
   The Secret Sharer (novella)
Cooper, James Fenimore - The Leatherstocking Tales (5 books)
Crane, Stephen - The Red Badge of Courage
Defore, Daniel - Moll Flanders
   Robinson Crusoe
Dewey, John - Writings
Dickens, Charles - David Copperfield
   Oliver Twist
   A Christmas Carol
Dodgson, Charles (Lewis Carroll) - Alice in Wonderland
   Through the Looking Glass
Dos Passos, John - U.S.A.
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan - Casebook of Sherlock Holmes
Dreiser, Theodore - Sister Carrie
   An American Tragedy
Dumas, Alexander - The Three Musketeers
   The Count of Monte Cristo
Eliot, George (Mary Ann Evans) - Silas Marner
   Adam Bedi
Emerson, Ralph Waldo - Essays
   Representative Men
Euripedes - Medea
   Trojan Women
Faulkner, William - Light in August
   The Sound and the Fury
   Absalom, Absalom!
   As I Lay Dying
Fielding, Henry - Tom Jones
Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
   Tender is the Night
Flaubert Gustave - Madame Bovary
Forster, E.M. - Passage to India
Frank, Anne - The Diary of a Young Girl
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von - Faust
Hamilton, Edith - Mythology
Hawthorne, Nathaniel - The Scarlet Letter
   The House of Seven Gables
Hemingway, Ernest - The Sun Also Rises
   The Old Man and the Sea
   A Farewell to Arms
   For Whom the Bell Tolls
Heyerdahl, Thor - Kon-Tiki
Hilton, James - Lost Horizon
Hitler, Adolph - Mein Kampf
Hugo, Victor - Les Miserables
   The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Ibsen, Henrik - Ghosts
   A Doll's House
   An Enemy of the People
Joyce, James - The Dubliners
   Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Koestler, Arthur - Darkness at Noon
Leakey, Richard - Origins
Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair - Babbitt
   Main Street
London, Jack - Call of the Wild
MacLeish, Archibald - JB
Mao Tse-Tung - Quotations
Massie, Robert - Nicholas and Alexandra
Marx, Karl - Das Kapital
   The Communist Manifesto
McCullers, Carson - A Member of the Wedding
McLuhan, Marshall - The Medium is the Message
Melville, Herman - Typee
   Billy Budd
   Moby Dick
More, Thomas - Utopia
Nordhoff and Hall - Mutiny on the Bounty
O'Neill, Eugene - The Hairy Ape
   Long Day's Journey into Night
   Desire Under the Elms
Paton, Alan - Cry, the Beloved Country
Plato - The Republic
Plautus - The Menaechmi
Racine - Phaedra
Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
Richter, Conrad - The Sea of Grass
   Light in the Forest
Rostand, Edmund - Cyrano de Bergerac
Sagan, Carl - Cosmos
Salinger, J D - The Catcher in the Rye
   Franny and Zoey
Sandburg, Carl - Abraham Lincoln (6 vol.)
Scott, Sir Walter - Ivanhoe
Shakespeare, William - Richard II
   Henry V
   Richard III
   Julius Caesar
   The Taming of the Shrew
   Measure for Measure
   Twelfth Night
   All's Well that Ends Well
   The Tempest
   Merchant of Venice
   The Comedy of Errors
   As You Like It
   Much Ado about Nothing
   Two Gentlemen of Verona
   The Winter's Tale
Shaw, George Bernard - St. Joan
   Man and Superman
   Major Barbara
   Arms and the Man
Shelley, Mary - Frankenstein
Shute, Nevil - On the Beach
Sienkiowicz, Henry - Quo Vadis
Sinclair, Upton - The Jungle
Stoker, Bram - Dracula
Stowe, Harriet Beecher - Uncle Tom's Cabin
Thackeray, William Makepeace - Vanity Fair
Thucydides - The Peloponnesian Wars
Tolstoy, Leo - War and Peace
   Anna Karenina
Turgenov, Ivan - Fathers and Sons
Virgil - Aeneid
Whitman, Walt - Leaves of Grass

Anderson, Maxwell - Winterset
Anderson, Sherwood - Winesburg, Ohio
Boccaccio, Giovanni - Decameron
Boswell, James - The Life of Samuel Johnson
Buck, Pearl - The Good Earth
Butler, Samuel - The Way of All Flesh
Caldwell, Erskine - Tobacco Road
Chekhov, Anton - The Cherry Orchard
Dana, Richard Henry - Two Years before the Mast
Descartes - The Philosophy
Duerrenmatt, Friedrich - The Visit
Eliot, TS - Murder in the Cathedral
Farrell, James T - Studs Lonigan
Freud, Sigmund - Writings
Galsworthy, John - Men of Property
Gide, Andre - The Couterfeiters
Giridoux, Jean - The Madwoman of Chaillot
Gogol, Nikolai Vasilievich - Dead Souls
Goldsmith, Oliver - She Stoops to Conquer
Greene, Graham - The Power and the Glory
Hardy, Thomas - Tess of the d'Urbervilles
   The Return of the Native
Hellman, Lillian - The Little Foxes
   The Children's Hour
Hudson, William Henry - Green Mansions
Ionesco, Eugene - The Bald Soprano
   The Lesson
Irving, Washington - The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
James, Henry - The American
   The Turn of the Screw
Jonson, Ben - Bolpone
Kafka, Franz - The Meramorphosis
   The Trial
Kant, Immanuel - The Philosophy
Kingsley, Charles - Westward, Ho!
Kipling, Rudyard - Kim
   The Jungle Books
   Captains Courageous
LaRochefoucauld, Francois Duc de - Maxims
Lawrence, D H - Sons and Lovers
Lawrence and Lee - Inherit the Wind
Livy - Histories
Locke, John - The Philosophy
Lucretius - On the Nature of Things
Machiavelli, Niccolo - The Prince
Mann, Thomas - The Magic Mountain
   Doctor Faustus
Maugham, Somerset - Of Human Bondage
Maurois, Andre - Disraeli
Moliere - Tartuffe
   The Miser
Montaigne, Michel - Essays
Nietzsche, Friedrich - Essays
O'Casey, Sean - Juno and the Paycock
Odets, Clifford - Golden Boy
O'Hara, John - Appointment in Samarra
Pascal, Blaise - Thoughts
Pasternak, Boris - Doctor Zhivago
Polo, Marco - The Travels of Marco Polo
Proust, Marcel - Remembrance of Things Past
Pushkin, Alexander - The Captain's Daughter
Rawlings, Marjorie - The Yearling
Richardson, Samuel - Clarissa
Rolvaag, Ole - Giants in the Earth
Rousseau, Jean Jacques - Reveries of a Solitary
Saroyan, William - The Time of Your Life
   The Human Comedy
Sartre, Jean-Paul - The Age of Reason
   No Exit
Schiller, Friedrich - William Tell
Sheridan, Richard B - School for Scandal
Spenser, Edmund - The Faerie Queen
Sterne, Laurence - Tristam Shandy
Stevenson, Robert Louis - Treasure Island
Stringberg, August - Miss Julie
Synge, John M - Playboy of the Western World
Verne, Jules - 20,000 Leagues under the Sea
   Around the World in 80 Days
Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet) - Candide
   Philosophical Letters
Wallace, Irving - Ben-Hur
Waugh, Evelyn - The Loved One
Wells, H G - The Invisible Man
   The Time Machine
   The War of the Worlds
Wharton, Edith - Ethan Frome
Wiesel, Elie - Night
Wilde, Oscar - The Importance of Being Earnest
Wister, Owen - The Virginian
Wolfe, Thomas - Look Homeward, Angel
   You Can't Go Home Again
Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
   A Room of One's Own
Wright, Richard - Native Son
   Black Boy
Wyss, Johann - Swiss Family Robinson

What's in progress

I've been asked which of the goals I'm currently working on.  Well, it changes from day to day what I might actually put some time into, but the following are ones that have been started in some way:
The will #1 - I have a book at home that explains things to consider for Minnesota estates and have started to make a list of items that I want to go to specific people and chosen an executor.
The weight loss goal #3 - though I've only lost one pound thus far.  Gotta start somehow, right?
These reading goals #19, 29, 60,68 - I'll have the list for #19 up for my next post as more than one person has asked what titles are on it, I have 49 Dewey classifications to tackle, I read the first book from my pile of books I own but haven't read yet, and I'll easily have read 200 books by the end of the year.
My song list #27 - I'm going by artist and am still in the A section, so I expect this one to take some time.  I have almost 5,000 songs in my iTunes library.
Zoo Tycoon #28 - I've got the last intermediate level left and then I move on to advanced and ultimate levels.  (If only the dinosaurs weren't so hard to keep happy!)
Origami #39 - The paper cranes are starting to flock!
Charity #46 - The first month is done.
Bucket List #52 - Has 4 items on it and several more I'm considering how to add.
Savings goals #64 & 65 - I expect to meet the first goal by the end of the year unless something major goes out in the house.  The second will probably happen in February or so of next year.
Blogging #69 - Well, you're reading this, right?
Morning walk #74 - How hard I try on this one is varying from day to day.  Obviously, the day after I've spent hours working outside on my yard I don't move as fast.
Things I do well #92 - I've been adding items to this one on the days I've thought about the bucket list.

So, that's where I'm at today ... tomorrow will probably be different.  But that's okay by me.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

#11a - Wild Rice

Okay, so this wasn't on my list, but mostly because I didn't think of doing it.

Yesterday evening, I got a call from my friend Amanda asking if I wanted to go ricing.  Wild rice season opened last week in Minnesota, and she was curious to give it a try.  I said sure - as long as she recognized the fact that canoes are not always my friends.  She said that she would paddle (or pole if necessary) if I would do the actual harvesting.

The procedure is fairly simple - one person poles or paddles the boat through the rice, and the other uses sticks called knockers to get the rice to fall onto a tarp inside the boat.  Check out this video for a visual example:

We set off this morning to get to our chosen spot just at 9 am (when the ricing hours start).  Setting up the canoe was easy, and there was lots of rice on the river.  It took me a few minutes to get the hang of bending and knocking the rice stems.  I have no comparison for the motion, but I will say that Amanda could paddle faster than I could keep up with the knocking.  I mentally thanked Peter (who had given me some advice the night before) for suggesting long pants tucked into socks.  The rice has a very itchy beard and hosts a wide array of insects and spiders.  The rice seemed pretty green, so after trying a few different sections to test ripeness, we turned the ricing experiment into a simple paddle.

Will I go out again?  Probably, it would be fun to get a big haul and was a pleasant way to spend the morning.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

#11 - Solo kayaking

When I was in 6th grade, I fell through the ice ... obviously, I made it back out (without assistance as no one was nearby), but since then I've had a hard time feeling relaxed in water.  Boat trips are spent watching the closest shoreline.  Friends have tried to teach me to swim with only slight success.  I start to consider walking on ice when other people are happily driving their half ton pickups across it.  It's somewhat ironic considering that I'm currently living in an area with abundant water recreation opportunities.

However, I truly do want to enjoy myself on the lake somehow.  So, earlier this year, when one of my friends suggested kayaking, I said yes.  And I loved it - except for some twinges of "it's going to tip over and I'll die" whenever a power boat zipped by.  The quiet feeling of gliding along with gorgeous scenery ... what's not to like about that ... it must be what swans feel like.  But, I held close to the safety blanket of being out with someone else as if that made any difference when we were in separate kayaks.

So, this challenge was all about proving to myself that the water gods would not reach up and pull me under the moment that someone else was not just a few feet away.  So, off I went ...
First, there was getting the kayak in the water.  Note that I was not thinking ahead about getting in when I stuck the paddle on the seat ... sorry, but you don't get to see the awkward photos of how I dealt with that!  Then one last longing look at the shore.

And, off I went ... watching closely for other watercraft.

Meanwhile, my friends were entertaining a visitor on shore ...
Sascha is a young fox who has discovered a good thing in the form of my friend Nina (who has been known to rescue baby turtles that fall from the sky).  He is definitely still wild but will gladly stand still for a photo op in return for, say, a piece of cheap hot dog.
Or, maybe do more that just stand still ... those hot dogs are good!

I was still making my way back from the other side of Indian Island at that point.  Though my goal was only to go around one island, I went around three (one very small) and came back up the shoreline.

But Sascha stayed long enough for me to watch him from the water.

Back to shore ... safely ... big sigh of relief!
Many thanks to my friend Nina for introducing me to kayaking, taking these photos, and much, much more!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

#89 - The desk lamp

I am very excited to have one goal accomplished!

Several months ago, I started having troubles with the desk lamp that I use by my bedside for reading -- little flickers when I turned it on, having to work the switch a couple of times, etc.  One day, it just wouldn't turn on at all; I unplugged it and pondered the situation.  This is a lamp that I am very attached to because I knew my father had made it as a gift for his mother in the 1940s.  However, I know next to nothing about electrical wiring beyond unplug and check the circuit breaker.  I was determined to fix it though because of the family history.

Last week, I brought the lamp along to the farm when I visited my parents and asked Dad what could be done.  He showed me how to take various bits apart, and we decided that the problem was most likely in the socket.  In the process, I learned a bit more history relating to this lamp.  It's made out of honey locust wood and started it's life on the farm that my father's aunt and uncle owned in Indiana as a fencepost.  My dad brought it back on a visit in the 1940s and using a lathe turned out the shape and added a few brass bits from leftover farm machinery.  I think that I am now classifying it as one of my family heirlooms.

Dad suggested that I leave it with him, and he'd fix it for me before I visited next.  As kind as that offer was, I was working on my 101 list and thought "hmmm....never done anything electrical before -- perhaps that could be added to the list and I'd gain the start of a new life skill".  So, I put it back together and brought it home.  Tonight, I tackled the project, and it went pretty slick.  I'm even thinking about making a bottle lamp of my own since I saw wiring kits in the hardware store ...

Wanna see ...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Inspiration for making your own list

If, like me, you think that this sort of a list might be a change for the better in your life, here's some sites to check out ...

The first is the one my nephew originally posted a link to:
This guy is really ambitious by my standards; however, it gave me some great ideas for how to make concrete statements on what I actually want to accomplish.

The other is 
From what I can tell, this is where the initial meme came from.  Many, many people have their ideas up here, so you can browse around and see what looks interesting.  It also has an idea generator for those who might be looking to come up with just x number more goals.

It took me 5 days of thought time to get to 101 goals - the first 40 or so were easy - so give yourself plenty of time to think about changes before the clock starts ticking!

My challenges list

101 Things for 1001 Days

  1. Make a will and get it notarized
  2. Make a living will and get it notarized
  3. Lose xx pounds (you don't need to know the actual number)
  4. Practice my harp at least once a week for a year
  5. Finish the online Latin course that I started
  6. Solo trip to England
  7. Solo trip in the US
  8. Visit Canada (more than just past the border)
  9. Visit Mexico (more than just past the border)
  10. Visit a European country I haven't seen before
  11. Solo kayak - no one following, at least around one island from Nina & Peter's, no help getting in or out of the kayak - to help get over my fear of water (onshore cheering is allowed) - completed 8/19/10
  12. Visit all my grandparents' graves
  13. Redecorate the bathroom
  14. Put tile in under the woodstove
  15. Do something nice - without being asked - for someone each day for a month
  16. Revisit 23 things on a stick and finish the second round
  17. Make and mail care packages to each of my nephews and nieces
  18. Try out for a community theater part (on stage, not behind the scenes)
  19. Finish reading the "essential" section of Proulx's "Books for a Well Educated Adult" list
  20. Spend an afternoon writing "why you're fabulous" notes for 10 people that I'm close to and then give them out
  21. Actually celebrate my 40th birthday rather than pretending it doesn't exist
  22. Make a new recipe (not baked goods) each month for a year
  23. Finish my Christmas stocking that was supposed to be done several years ago
  24. Visit each of my siblings and invite them to visit me
  25. Learn to make fortune cookies and have a party where they are part of the menu
  26. Host a wine tasting party
  27. Listen to ALL of the songs I own at least once
  28. Beat all the levels on Zoo Tycoon
  29. Finish my Dewey classification reading goal
  30. Read 10 popular authors (new to me) that I normally wouldn't to keep up with trends
  31. Make myself three new costumes for fun 
  32. Cook an ethnic meal from each continent (excluding Antartica)
  33. Use each herb in my garden in a different dish over the course of a summer
  34. Learn to make 15 different cocktails from memory
  35. Go to a vineyard and taste - buy a bottle of my favorite
  36. Start writing poetry again - at least 20 new poems
  37. Memorize 10 more poems to add to my "library in my head"
  38. Read a daily newspaper every day for 3 months (can be online subscription)
  39. Make 1000 paper cranes and a wish
  40. Attempt to become better at drawing by completely filling the pages of a sketchbook with my own efforts
  41. Take a community education or college continuing education course
  42. Learn how to do video editing
  43. Write to 3 people who've changed my life to thank them
  44. Break out the jingles and belly dance at least once a week for 4 months
  45. Host a "make music" night for all my talented friends
  46. Donate to a different charity each month for a year
  47. Start a blueberry patch in the backyard
  48. Take Mom and Dad on a vacation
  49. Spend an entire weekend in my pajamas
  50. Try growing lettuce inside in the winter
  51. Take a First Aid/CPR refresher course
  52. Actually write down a life bucket list of at least 10 items
  53. Try geocaching
  54. Include a vegetable side dish at supper every night for 2 months - to get back in the habit of eating more veggies
  55. Donate blood
  56. Take one of the Duluth train trips
  57. Repaint the porch trim and garage
  58. Send at least 15 Operation Baking Gals boxes
  59. Go berry picking at least 5 times
  60. Read at least 15 of my "reserve" books to get the stack size down
  61. Invite friends over for 10 game nights
  62. Try canning a new type of preserves
  63. See Wicked
  64. Meet savings goal #1
  65. Meet savings goal #2
  66. Meet savings goal #3
  67. Complete perennial bed along east fence in back yard
  68. Read at least 200 books per calendar year (should be at or past #80 by ending date for 2013)
  69. Restart blogging as a way to document doing this list (this goal can be considered complete after 20 posts)
  70. Take 10 frame-worthy photos to display in my home
  71. Pack a work lunch every day for a month
  72. Visit 5 new places in Minnesota
  73. See 10 live theater productions
  74. Reduce my morning walk time to 35 minutes without losing distance
  75. Plant a boulevard tree in front of my house
  76. Find out my blood type
  77. Don't complain about anything for a week
  78. Send a secret to PostSecret
  79. Watch 10 movies from my "someday" list
  80. Ride in a taxi
  81. Learn how to make bagels
  82. Finally do the Australia photo party
  83. Find a spot in a different room to put some of the kitchen stuff I rarely use (canning equipment, roaster, etc), so I have more room to work
  84. Throw a murder mystery dinner party
  85. Throw a menu mystery dinner pary
  86. Try absinthe
  87. Get a slide to digital photo machine and use it on Mom & Dad's slides
  88. See an opera
  89. Rewire my reading lamp that Dad made - completed 8/17/10
  90. Learn to identify 5 new constellations
  91. Say no to 5 requests that I really don't want to do
  92. Make a list of 25 things that I do well
  93. Go to 10 different museums
  94. Memorize what all the icons on my digital camera stand for
  95. Make 5 new jewelry pieces
  96. Play my keyboard at least 30 times
  97. Participate in
  98. Send 3 people who aren't related to me a surprise ... just because
  99. Take a lunch break at work every day for two weeks straight
  100. Attend 5 local performing arts events that I'm tempted to skip because I'm tired - dessert theater in the light booth is allowed
  101. Donate $20 to charity for each item that I don't accomplish by the last day - May 13th, 2013