A Year of Firsts

view from the porch

(I have two posts up today. Scroll down if you’re interested in downloading the latest Christmas Critter patterns.)

It’s July 31st. My mom’s birthday. And so we come up against another first in what will be a year of firsts. She would have been 87 today.

What can I say? I miss her terribly, of course. I wish I could talk to her. I still think of things I want to tell her – that happens to everyone who loses a loved one – but the fact remains that I was unable to talk to her except for brief moments during the last year she was in the nursing home. I’d reconciled myself to that loss long before she died.

By the time we moved to the cottage, my parents were no longer traveling. They saw our home in San Diego. They never saw the rental cottage we lived in when we first moved to New York. My mom never really wanted to fly again after September 11th and Dad wouldn’t come without her. But I would have loved it so much if they could have come here. I would have loved to share our little cottage with them, flaws and all. Mom knew I loved to garden, though I wasn’t at all interested in that during my youth. I think she would have liked this view. She would have liked sitting on our porch. (I come from a porch-sitting family.)

view from the porch funky patio

She would have liked sitting on the funky patio.

I think she might have been impressed by my gardens. And I can guarantee you she would have said something like, “Who is this girl?” Because it was a skill I didn’t have when I was still living in Michigan. I had lots of indoor plants, but gardening? Digging in the dirt? No.

That came later.

I think she would have liked the cottage. When she used to visit us in San Diego, she loved to do crossword puzzles and read books in our downtime. Don was amazed at how many books she got through during a visit.

The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, does it?

She would have showered Scoutie and Riley with attention.

It makes me sad that she never spent any time here, in this place we have made into a home.

big garden bed in July

However, I’ve certainly felt her presence here, as you know. So I guess she has visited the cottage.

In her own way.

Happy Birthday, Mom. You are loved and adored.

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New Felt Critters for August

Just a quick post to show you the next patterns for the Christmas Critter Felt Along. Dawn and I have been sharing 2 patterns each month with you since January, That makes 14 little felt animals so far. This month?

raccooon and cow

The raccoon and the cow.

(I should have added black spots on my cow like Dawn did.) But that’s the fun of this. Everyone will interpret a pattern in their own unique way.

Confession: Sometimes I glue my pieces of felt together, which is a perfectly reasonable way to make these. If I don’t have the time to embroider, I use fabric glue. I figure I can always go back and add the embroidery later.

To Download the Barnyard Cow Felt Pattern click here.

To download the raccoon, visit Dawn’s post, here.

Have fun and enjoy!

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When is a pencil not just a pencil?

I am particular about my writing implements.

Oh, I can grab any old pen to write a quick note or a list. We, like most everyone, have lots of pens and pencils scattered around the cottage. Some pens are missing their caps, lots of pencils need sharpening, some end up having no ink left in the barrel – the usual hodgepodge.

But when it comes to serious stuff, like writing a letter or a thank you note, or taking notes when I’m coaching, I like a certain pen. If I can’t use that pen, everything seems a little off. (FYI: it’s the Uniball Signo.)

As for pencils, we have a love/hate relationship. I tend to have a light touch when I use a pencil and I’ve never found a pencil that writes the way I want it to. Most of the time, even with a No. 2 pencil, the stroke on the page is too light. When I do my analysis work on a text, especially Shakespeare, I write lots and lots of notes on the page – in pencil. And I’m always frustrated by the end result. I also end up doing the NY Times Crossword puzzle in pen because I don’t like using a pencil. But heaven knows, it would be a lot easier using a pencil!

About a week or so ago, I was reading one of my favorite blogs – Head Butler - and that particular post was about an amazing pencil, the Palamino Blackwing Pencil. (Here’s the link to the post.) The Blackwing, first made by Eberhard Faber in 1930, has a “graphite core, fortified with a little wax” and is, to some, the finest pencil ever made. Composers use it for scoring: Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Aaron Copland. Artists use it. John Steinbeck wrote with it, as did Truman Capote. They were expensive to make but they had a devoted, almost fanatical following. They still do. You don’t have to push to write with it. (Something I always seem to have to do with a pencil.)

So, the day before yesterday, we were in our local used bookstore. I was looking for books by Robertson Davies, which you know all about if you read Just Let Me Finish This Page, and I found one. On my way to the checkout, I saw a display of writing implements. Among them: the Blackwing. I called Don over, told him all about them, and we ended up buying two.

palamino blackwing

They were $2.50 each, which sounds expensive for a pencil, but I have to tell you, they are worth every penny. Suddenly, I love writing with a pencil. I love this pencil. I’m looking forward to making all the notations I need to make in a script. These pencils even have replacement erasers, as well as a pencil sharpener (that I have yet to buy) the sharpens the pencil in two stages: one hole sharpens the wood, the other sharpens the the graphite. Since I have never been happy with any pencil sharpener I have ever owned, I think I’m going to be adding the sharpener to my arsenal of writing tools.

Blackwing palamino pencils close

Oh gosh, I’m all about saving money and I am on a strict budget, but the amount of pencils I go through when I’m working on a show is ridiculous and, quite frankly, a waste of money. So why not get something that really works? I know you can find them on Amazon and you can visit Palamino’s website, if you’re interested in learning more about them. (I’m simply passing along some information on a great pencil. I’m not getting compensated.)

Is it silly to get this excited about a pencil? Not to this girl who has to use a pencil quite frequently and who also loves doing crossword puzzles. I say, ‘Yippee!’

I think everyone has their favorite pen and/or pencil – it’s a very personal thing. And I know people jealously guard their favorite pens. I remember the days when I was working in an office and I would mark my pens so no one would ‘steal’ them. If I see Don commandeering one of my pens, I swoop in there and grab it.

Do you have a favorite pen or pencil? I’m fascinated by this kind of thing, so do share.

By the way, a new post is up at Just Let Me Finish This Page.

Happy Wednesday.

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Chatty on a Tuesday

scootie on her quilt

It’s a beautiful morning; a bit cooler, less humidity, sun shining, Scootie (one of my many nicknames for my girl) is tucked in under my legs. She’s waiting for Don to get up. She spends the first part of her morning with me and then when Don heads down the stairs, she moves into her second position of the morning. She splits her time between her parents. Like all dogs, she is happiest when she’s with her pack, preferably both of us.

Going up and down the steps is a little tricker for her these days, her joints ache, she often needs an assist from one of us and she sleeps more during the day. She seems to hit her stride in the late afternoon and evening. Her hours have changed. But goodness, when she is feisty and doing little pounces and that twinkle is in her eye – she’s right back to her younger self.

the garden

Lots of color in this end of the garden at the moment: rudbeckia, bee balm, phlox in white and purple. (It has reseeded and some of the newer growth is purple. Love that.)

monday - liatris & coneflowers

I’m taking pictures of the liatris while I can…it doesn’t last all that long and it’s so pretty.

liatris - bee1

Hello bumblebee.

Thanks for your input on the whole K-Cup thing the other day. We’ve now learned that many of the cups are biodegradable (good news) and that those of you who use them like the convenience of one cup at a time, all the different flavors available, and some of you think it’s the best coffee you’ve ever tasted. That’s why I love the dialogue that goes on in the comments section  - we learn from each other. Everyone has their own way of making coffee – it’s a very personal thing, don’t you think? And of course, since this is my personal blog, I’m always going to lead with my thoughts and opinion about a particular subject.

Some of us use a drip coffee maker, some use a French Press, some use individual cone filters, some use K-Cups, some use a percolator. I’ve sampled them all. Some of us make coffee at home, others buy it from Starbucks or some other establishment. We’re happy with our particular ritual of using freshly ground Peet’s. I brew my batch when I get up. Don brews his when he gets up. If we both happen to get up at the same time, we brew a bigger batch. And everyone is happy.

Remember the days when coffee was made in a percolator and if you happened to order coffee while dining out, it was just basic coffee? No flavors, no grandees, no coffee to go, no lattes…just a cup of Joe? A coffee culture has a boomed in the last fifteen or twenty years.

Even so, I rarely order coffee outside my home. I have my ritual. No coffee after 12 noon or it impacts my sleep that night. I make it as soon as I get up because I am not a morning person and I need a cup or two to get me going. I like the ritual of sipping it in my blogging chair, catching up on emails, reading the increasingly depressing headlines, starting to craft a blog post. I like strong, dark roasts – especially French Roast – but the roasts at Starbucks are too strong for me. My first thought when I’m on the road is: Is there a coffee maker? That used to be a real problem. Did the hotel room have a coffeemaker? Or did I have to pull on some clothes and go out to the nearest coffee shop? Did I have to order pricey room service in order to get some coffee? Now, most hotel rooms have a small coffee maker. And actor/artist housing always has a coffee maker. I’ve been known to measure out exactly how much coffee I will need for, say, three days on the road, and pack it in a tupperware-like container, along with some filters and a measuring spoon. Coffee, toothpaste and toothbrush. The essentials for travel.

If you drink coffee or tea, what is your daily ritual?

liatris - bee2

This bee knows what he prefers, doesn’t he? I wonder if bees have their individual preferences as to pollen? Hmmm.

Happy Tuesday.

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I’ll Take a Sense of Humor, Please.

Have you ever watched Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee? Each episode is framed around a specific car (often vintage) that Seinfeld is driving while spending time with a fellow comedian. They go out to eat and get coffee along the way. It’s a simple and wonderful premise. The episodes are short-ish – usually around 15 – 20 minutes.

They make me laugh out loud. I saw a link to the latest episode with Sarah Jessica Parker (who is very funny) and that led me to another and another. Then I got Don involved and he was watching episodes on his laptop. Picture both of us in front of our laptops wearing our earbuds, laughing out loud.

monday - purple phlox

In the list of qualities I feel are absolutely essential in a boyfriend, a husband, a colleague or a friend, a sense of humor is at the very top. If Don hadn’t had a sense of the absurd, a streak of funny coursing through his veins, that first meeting I told you about would have been the beginning and the end of our relationship.

It’s that important to me. In all modesty, I’m a really funny person. I can make people laugh. It’s always been that way. And Don, oh my goodness, is he funny! He can make me laugh so hard and long that I end up gasping and begging for mercy, usually ending with “Stop! Stop! I’m going to pee in my pants!!”

And I make him laugh. There’s nothing better than making someone who has a fabulous sense of humor laugh out loud.

monday - white phlox

My sister and I have been known to laugh so hard that we literally – and I do mean literally – fall to the ground. One such situation comes to mind. I was living in Boston and Meredith was visiting with her boyfriend, who I was meeting for the very first time. We were in Fanueil Hall looking at a rack of cards and I said something that struck us both as funny. We started laughing and we couldn’t stop. This went on for several minutes with both of us eventually falling to the floor. John, the boyfriend who ended up being my future brother-in-law, took it in stride and quietly walked away from us while we were causing quite the scene.

Little did John know that was the first of many laugh fests. In fact, one of the first conversations John and I had was about Seinfeld episodes that we loved. We couldn’t stop laughing.

(It might be time to share the Henna from Hell story with you – yet another adventure with my sister. Maybe this week…we’ll see.)

I think you have to be able to filter life through a lens that sees the humor in things, that captures that sense of the absurd, the silly, the farcical, the satiric. Lord knows, it’s saved my sanity more times than I can count.

Is there anything better than laughing so hard you have tears rolling down your face? It’s cathartic. It cleanses. It releases.

I’m going to go watch some more episodes of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. There’s a few I haven’t seen yet.

New post today on Just Let Me Finish This Page. It’s a book review of Cop Town by Karin Slaughter. (Loved the book.)

Happy Monday.

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Flowers, Old Movies, Coffee & Books

You know I love my deer. They share this property with us and I do everything I can to protect them. But just like beloved children, sometimes their behavior makes me a bit unhappy.

Like when they chomp on my plants.

Part of that is my fault. I was away in Chautauqua and totally forgot about spraying the flowers with a natural deer repellent that I use. By the time I got home and realized that, it was too late. So, they dined on some day lilies and ate 99% of the leaves from the hostas that are planted in front of the shed.

But my hostas are sturdy little things and they had something up their sleeve.

take that

Take that, deer! They aren’t going to let a little de-leafing get them down. Not when they can deliver flowers like these.

We’ve been watching some old black and white films (my favorite.) Friday night was Random Harvest, starring Greer Garson and Ronald Colman - a great love story that takes place right after WWI. Colman’s character has amnesia, Greer helps him and the story goes on from there. Simply beautiful and, at times, heartbreaking. Then Don watched another movie, one of our favorites, Waterloo Bridge. (I’d seen it recently and it was late, so I went to bed.) But just as we did the first time we saw it, Don and I ended up talking about it for an hour the next day. It stars Robert Taylor and Vivien Leigh. Another love story with a WWI backdrop and a heartbreaking one, where you find yourself saying “If only she had said something,” or “If only she hadn’t let her pride get in the way.” It haunted me for days after I saw it for the first time. It’s a beautiful movie – I recommend it highly.

Then last night: the great 1927 classic, Metropolis. Simply stunning. A visual triumph with a powerful story. If you haven’t seen it, you should.

There’s nothing like a great old movie. We’ve hit the jackpot lately.

pink zinnia

I also just finished Cop Town by Karin Slaughter, which I’m going to review on Just Let Me Finish This Page tomorrow. Now I’m reading Deadly Assets by Wendy Tyson. I’ve reviewed some of Tyson’s books on this blog, so I’m looking forward to this one. It will be also be reviewed on the book blog

Today is rainy, which is just fine. The gardens need a little rain. Scoutie is in the tunnel, I’m sipping my Peet’s French Roast (no little K-Cups for me, thank you very much, I brew a pot of coffee.)

By the way, what is with the K-Cup craze? I know a lot of people use them, but they seem expensive to me and rather like a fad. Suddenly everyone is using K-Cups and buying a special coffee maker just so they can use them. If you limit yourself to one cup of coffee a day….maybe. Or if you and your mate have different tastes in coffee? But if I were going to go with one cup of coffee, I’d go with a filter cone. Much better result. We have one here and my roommate in Chautauqua had a collapsible filter cone made out of silicone that she used for traveling and she won me over. She spooned some of my coffee in the filter, boiled some water, poured it into the filter and oh my goodness! Was that coffee great! Much cheaper than K-Cups, obviously, and much, much better. I’m going to buy one for Don and one for me. We both have out-of-town gigs coming up.

Don’s late father, Lee, loved his K-Cups. He proudly showed them off to me when I visited him in San Diego. I think he liked having a variety of flavors on hand and would treat himself to a different one every day. That’s when I can understand the K-Cup thing. That’s when it makes sense. Anyway, just my opinion – I’m very serious about my coffee, as you know. If you love K-Cups, tell me why - I’d love to know.

There. I’ve gone off on a tangent. Don would tell you that kind of thing is rather routine around here.

The phlox have started blooming.

phlox

Oh, that scent is heavenly!

Happy Sunday.

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A Little Surprise

This is the little uphill path that opens into the dog corral:

saturday - path to corral

There’s Dame Scout, of course, walking around her domain.

saturday - a bit closer

But if you look in the foreground, you’ll see one of my favorite things - this lone coneflower. It first appeared last year. I was delighted to see that it had reseeded right along the edge of the chicken wire fence.

Just one flower.

And it came back this year, bringing a big old smile to my face.

saturday - little coneflower

Isn’t it the sweetest little surprise?

As far as the Chicken Wire Fence Garden, it’s slowly coming along. Some of the zinnias are starting to bloom. Some of them are still small, having been planted later in the season. The morning glories are starting to climb and attach themselves to the chicken wire. I sometimes think it should be further along at this point, but then I remember that it didn’t really take off until mid-August last year.

saturday - chicken wire fence garden

saturday - zinnia 2

This zinnia just opened. Gorgeous.

But the most gorgeous of all is this girl:

saturday - my girl

Happy Saturday.

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When A Movie is So Bad that it’s Good

It’s actually coolish this morning.

I turned off the air conditioner. I may have to turn it back on again later, but it’s so nice to have quiet and birdsong, instead of the constant whir of the A/C.

I ran some errands yesterday. I know, big deal. But it was the first day I felt good enough to venture out for longer than a few minutes here and there. (More about the trip on Just Let Me Finish This Page.) The trip tired me out but I revived enough to do some weed whacking later on in the afternoon, while Don did a little mowing. Baby steps.

friday - lantana&birdbath

There was nothing worth watching on television last night, so we watched TCM On Demand. Don’s choice? A movie called Tentacles, made in the seventies and so dreadfully bad that it was good. You know what I mean. Sometimes there is a movie that is so bad that it makes for the perfect viewing experience. (As long as you’re not spending any money.) Clearly trying to build on the success of Jaws, the plot revolved around a giant octopus who was attacking and killing people in a coastal beach town. The producers were Italian and parts of the film were obviously dubbed. I don’t know how they got them, but the cast included Shelley Winters, John Huston, and Henry Fonda. Henry had sort of a cameo role, most of his scenes took place on a terrace and were, I’m sure, filmed in one day. He was part of a subplot that involved the work his company was doing on an underwater tunnel and the frequent use of high frequencies of sound that presumably created this monster octopus. Shelley played John Huston’s sister. Huston was a reporter and Shelley, a bit long in the tooth at this point in her career, as was Huston, was the mother of a little boy of about 10 or 12. What?? The whole thing was cheaply done, with bad special effects and closeups of a regular old octopus that were supposed to be terrifying. The plot got more absurd as the film went on, eventually involving some Shamu-type killer whales from a place not unlike Sea World that had been trained by the guy (played by Bo Hopkins) who was hunting the octopus (and who, by the way, had lost his wife, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, and friend to the killer octopus, simply because they went out on a boat and used their radio to contact the Coast Guard – those sound frequencies again.) Bless them, those killer whales took on the octopus and killed him in a long scene that was so cheesy and blurry that I was unsure what I was seeing.

All this with a cheap sounding musical score created on a synthesizer.

I can’t make these things up.

friday - spirea

It’s Friday. We have no plans for the weekend but Don does have a gig on Sunday. I have to catch up on my reading. I have books to read and review and I didn’t much feel like reading when I was sick.

Happy Friday.

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Life at the Cottage: Birds, Bees, Critters & Flowers

The neighborhood pool was open for business yesterday. It was so dang hot and humid! I managed to catch this particular fellow in the midst of a refreshing dip.

wednesday neighborhood pool 2

wednesday neighborhood pool 5

He was in and out of the water several times. I was a wee bit envious.

rudbeckia

The rudbeckia have opened.

liatris2

The liatris are filling out. I love these flowers which are tall and spiky and exotic looking.

liatris

Amazing.

I’ll try to get some shots of the garden in the next few days – we’re approaching that time when the tall David’s Phlox will be in bloom, along with all the coneflowers and the rudbeckia. It looks awfully pretty. It’s what I call the July Peak.

I just caught a glimpse of one of our bunnies through the den window. I wonder if it’s one of this summer’s babies? The other day I saw our groundhog chomping on some grass. Groundhogs are shy, timid, gentle creatures, and vegetarians to boot. They run and hide under the shed when they’re scared, which is quite often!

Oh, and I saw a hummingbird yesterday! I walked out onto the porch and there, staring at me, was a hummingbird  who was hovering over the coneflowers. Turns out the coneflowers weren’t what she was looking for, but she hovered and darted and looked absolutely beautiful.

Did I have my camera? No.

dramatic coneflower

This might be one of my favorite photos ever. I was using the macro setting, trying to capture that tiny little bee who is on the edge of the cone. I love the highlights and shadows and the texture of the cone.

Sometimes you get lucky.

Happy Thursday.

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It’s Personal

I’d like an order of hot and humid, please.

Oh, wait, what was I thinking? Please cancel that order!

It’s too late?

Drat.

Yep. We’re in the middle of a hot and humid stretch that is causing this girl who hates humidity to stay inside. The activity level in the birdbath was at an all time high yesterday, which necessitated several trips to replenish the water supply.

The birds are feeling it, too.

rudbeckia beginning

The rudbeckia is just about to open.

coneflower beginning

And so are more coneflowers.

I edited a few of my comments on yesterday’s post. I did it simply because I feel protective about my father’s issues and don’t want to discuss too much in this very public place. He’s confused and scared and, yes, extremely difficult to deal with lately, but I want to make sure I draw the line at how much I reveal. I’ve said before that maybe someday I’ll speak in more depth about those issues in terms of how they have impacted me, but I won’t do it until he’s gone.

He’s my dad and I love him, and he’s troubled and complicated and insecure and lots of other things that make dealing with him very hard indeed. But he’s also a good man who is devoted to his family and kind to others. He has a big heart.

So, there you have it. Writing a personal blog involves constant decisions as to just what I choose to reveal and what I choose to keep private. I know you understand.

maroon & yellow daylilies

Did you notice those four words in the sentence I just wrote? “Writing a personal blog…?”

There are times when I have to tick a box as to what kind of blog I write. Often those choices include Decorating and DIY or Lifestyle or Food – that kind of thing. I’ve never felt comfortable choosing “Lifestyle” which is often the only option that might fit. Here’s why: I don’t prescribe any sort of Lifestyle for my readers. I’m not Martha Stewart. I don’t write about how you should do things or what you should do. There’s an occasional tutorial, though come to think of it, I can’t remember the last time I wrote a tutorial.

So the other day I was reading about something, somewhere, and saw the term Personal Blog.

And I smacked myself upside the head.

I know this might very well seem like a “Duh!” moment to you, but I, on the other hand, said “Of course! I have a Personal Blog.” I write about my life and my adventures and my cottage and…my lifestyle. But not your lifestyle or what I think you might want your lifestyle to be.

I know. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wrestled with how to describe this blog when pursuing advertising opportunities or filling out surveys.

I have a personal blog. And a book blog, which has new post up today, by the way. It’s all about one of my favorite authors. Stop by.

Happy Wednesday.

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