2-8-17 Broken Needles Day!

Happy Broken Needles Day!  White Shirt Day! Toothache Day! Lincoln’s Birthday! Desperation

ha-ri-ku-yoBroken Needles Day is a holiday in Japan during which women bring the needles and pins that have broken during the course of their year and stick them in a block of Tofu (which represents nourishment and cushioning).  This is supposed to show gratitude for your tools. I think that’s a brilliant idea- although I do wonder what the shrines do with the pins afterwards. Also, the image looks like some people use symbolic not-broken pins, rather saving the broken and bent ones all year.

No big surprise, but we’ve had a lot of snow this week. dsc02743

I’ll mention up front that I’m finishing this letter on Saturday, uh, Sunday, OK Monday.
I keep getting up, going to the computer, checking the news and getting caught up reading articles. Sorry.

Short version: I was sick last week, and as I’m coming out of it, I’m busy playing catch-up. It’s tempting to include what I’ve done since, but I think it would be better to keep the letters in the neat 7 days of news blocks, and intend to only cover the week from the beginning of the month until my birthday. So ever since Wednesday, I sit down and work on it occasionally, get up, potter around, and well, don’t finish.

I’m afraid that I haven’t done much this week. (I’ll describe my birthday next week.)
Last Wednesday Willow showed the first signs of the “Birka cold” (at least the timing is right for that as the source), and to my annoyance, by Friday, so did I. It has lasted ALL week! Generally, I figure six days for a flu, three days for a cold. I guess I am just overly optimistic. Also I feel that I should know how to fix my health problems. I am a lousy patient, an “impatient”. I am very sorry for my family when I’m sick. The problem with the theory about my being able to treat myself is that when “my head is full of phlegm” I can’t think even of doing the most simple thing, like tapping, or taking vitamin C. Or even cough drops. When Willow suggested cough drops that seemed to me like an excuse to indulge in hard candy, but really, the Ricola herbal cough drops have helped a lot. I discovered, for example, that I fall asleep in just about the amount of time it takes for one of them to melt away which allows me to sleep. The coughing is intense. My abdominal muscles- over the diaphragm- are REALLY sore!
Mostly I just slept in, and read, and watched movies, and tried to avoid looking the politics on Facebook. It is well established that depression and anxiety lower your immune response. Frankly I think that may have contributed. I heard someone calling this the “Trump Flu”, probably because it spread during his first weeks in office. Sigh. SOMEONE out there must think what he’s doing is ok. The Republicans are actually approving the insane cabinet picks he’s putting forward. I think I have called my senators more in the last month than in my whole life up until now!

Due to the snow days and late openings, poor dear, Willow has worked just about every day, she’s tired, but at the same time, she says she can spend the day resting on the couch. This is a little less believable since she always corrects anyone who calls her a nanny, as she says, she makes them do their homework and teaches deportment, so she’s a Governess.  She even picked up a couple of workbooks so that if they “forget’ their homework, she can still make them do it, and she’s suggested drilling them during the summer as well.
Sunday we had our “anti-superbowl party”. Just because you don’t watch football, there’s no reason not to enjoy the traditional snacks! Shrimp cocktail for Kat, baked brie for Willow, Bacon puffs for the rest of us (spreading Crescent roll dough with cream cheese with bacon and onion mixed in, and sprinkling parmesan over the top) are WAY better than anything made with a prepared dough should be! Meanwhile, Julia and Ekke went for a midwinter camping/hike in full Roman gear! If Ælfwine was still around, would we be too old now, or would we be doing that sort of stuff with them? I don’t know.
Thursday, Mark came over and read to me. He’d shared some on-line fictional stories from a universe in which there were superheroes- just not the Marvel and DC universes, although some of the stories have cross-overs from there. I just never got around to reading them, as I tend to read in bed, not at the computer. So he has come over a few times and reads while I cook, clean (or, I blush to admit- turn the last Christmas tree into fire starter). I enjoy listening, and he’s willing to drive all the way here to share. I totally understand the urge to share something you enjoy. I remember that up at Clearwater, books were passed around and people would put their names in them so people would know who’d read them so far. This allowed one to know who you could talk about the book to, as well as save money on the paperbacks. Brilliant idea! I’m glad Mark is willing to work so hard at sharing this with me. His other version is loaning or buying me a book. He sent me a copy of the first Rabbi detective series, and now I’m about to start the fifth book because I do like them.

In the evening there was a quick “internet chat” meeting of the CTCW planners. Maryalyce was in final negotiations with the hotel- (they confirmed it this week). It’s down in the Hudson Valley- out of New England, and Jane and I had hoped to create a New England conference, but what the heck, the important thing is that it’s still going and Jane and I aren’t running it anymore! This allows me to do support and inspiration. I am afraid it’s really hard for me to let go of some of it. There’s another lady who is doing what I understand is a massive site overhaul, which is good, but at the same time, as Maryalyce had more than a dozen inquiries from vendors, and the clever idea that if we offer big discounts for immediate registration that we’d have the money in the account to pay the down payment, I spent a day updating the registration page…. And once I was there, going through and updating anything else that was leftover from last year. I hope I haven’t wasted my time. I have such a hard time with “this needs to be done, so I should do it myself, now”. (Being sick does tend to counter that urge pretty effectively.)

My experiment worked! Since Willow found a replacement for our old (broken and taped together) sugar dispenser, once we’d put sugar in that one, I put cream of wheat in the other one. As I’d guessed, the gentle, wide, gradual distribution works beautifully to introduce the ground grain to the boiling water. Cream of wheat with no lumps! If you can find one of these sprinkling sugar jars- (they are from the fifties and you have to find them on eBay I think) they are wonderful!

We are beset by annoying, niggling little problems. Every so often the water stops heating. The plumber says talk to the heating people who installed, and recently fixed the furnace, they say talk to the plumber. It usually comes back in a few hours, but I do feel that it’s indicative of something being wrong with the system. Sometimes mail doesn’t go out, and then the next day it’s gone out. Maybe I’m just not sufficiently patient. Despite having not seen the cats sucking on anything recently, we still keep finding holes in things.
Since I’m weaker and less coordinated while sick, and yet love wearing my Uggs (and thanks to my sisters and daughter have several colors to choose from each morning) to keep my toes toasty, I’ve taken to tossing the boots down the stairs in the morning, because in the boots it’s hard to get the ball of my foot on the tread of the stair, which is a proper frugal New England 8”. (Good for going up, not so much for on the way down.) Also, I am generally carrying something else too, and want a hand free for the bannister.  Because I am courteous, I aways announce to the house in general that there is about to be a loud bump. Recently, while my cat generally saunters off when I make my announcement, the young cats will even dash down- waiting until the boots are airborne, then racing them to the bottom step. I have NO idea what is going through their heads!
The holes in pieces of clothing appear less frequently, but they are still appearing. We are not sure whether to blame, Ambian the sucker, or Pyewacket the biter, but we’re pretty sure it’s one of them. We haven’t caught either of them actually biting or chewing. They have now learned to make holes only when we aren’t looking! But the other day we left the laundry out on the dining room table overnight and found a stocking with five holes in it. dsc02748
They also have taken to going to the door to be let out, only to start forward, stop, and refuse to go out when they see that the snow is still there. So maybe not quite so dumb.

Speaking of dumb, I have no idea what is going on with the confirmation hearings. How could Betsy DeVos  be confirmed? Not only is she inarticulate and ignorant, (I watched part of her hearing), she also wants to dismantle the system she’s supposed to administer.  There is so much partisan Bull going on. The President seems not to understand how the US government works. Clearly he doesn’t get the three part system of checks and balances that’s explained to every fourth grader. If he can’t  or won’t read, perhaps someone should sit him down in front of School House Rock so he can absorb the basics. I expect his handlers think they have a lovely meat puppet to do whatever they want him to- but I doubt their ability to control him, and besides that, THEY should know better. It seems that the concept is “if we can make it happen, it’s legal!” It’s really depressing. The hearings continue (to fulfill the requirements of due process) then the senators vote along party lines! Record numbers of people are calling and writing in, and they are beginning to see that despite assurances of lobbyists and each other, that the people are not happy with the new cabinet picks. But everyone must maintain “party unity”. They’re requiring members of their own party who may not be climate deniers or who believe in women’s rights to “never disagree with the President” or get out. How long can this go on?
I don’t believe for a minute that most politicians are power grubbing. They MAY want control, but who doesn’t? I think most are just focused on the issues they have seen and care about and don’t know about the other side. When they decide to try to enforce “orthodoxy” instead of give and take, they’ve lost all contact with anyone but their sponsors. I think probably MOST politicians are chafing under this leadership. Sadly, the leaders seem to be good with putting in health secretary with ties to big tobacco, a education secretary who wants to dismantle the department, an entire raft of people who are incapable of doing their jobs. “I know smart people” Trump said. Oh really?!

As I said, Friday, we picked up my car, and I started coughing. So I have done little but read, and knit. I made Willow a pink pussy hat with some really soft baby yarn she found in the attic. It was so fine it took much longer than others I’ve done- and I added a row of leaves above the ribbing, because, being fine, it looked much flatter. Having done nearly nothing, most of this letter is about what I read and watched.
Oh, and Willow’s new laptop arrived. I think it took nearly a day for backing up and transferring the material from her old one, but now she doesn’t have to deal with not having a C key (THAT must have been really frustrating!).
We’ve had a lot of soup this week- chicken soup, tortellini soup, potato soup. It’s good in this weather. And easy to swallow. Also tea, lots of tea.

I finished Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother and other Botanical Atrocities, which wasn’t quite as disgusting as Wicked Bugs, and might well have had more surprising information if I wasn’t interested in herbalism already. There was nothing as bizarrely scary as 9” caterpillars hanging from the roofs of caves to catch and eat bats as they flew by (in the Bugs book). Yes, they talked about poisonous plants, but I’d have been more interested in plants that had weird pharmacological affects. The stories about invasive plant species are pretty disturbing- without their causing direct harm. These two books were Yule gifts from Kat. The author also didn’t cover fungi, and the really cool way that plants communicate with each other chemically, and through their root systems. Oh, and if you’re curious, the weed that killed Lincoln’s mother was white snakeroot. She died of “Milk Sickness”, a disease of vomiting, aches, tremors, and other symptoms that afflicted cattle that ate the plant, and people who ate the milk and cheese from the cattle.  There’s a third in the series, The Drunken Botanist, which I’ll take out of the library. It hasn’t the same appeal as the others, as I’m only marginally interested in the plants that go into alcoholic drinks.
As I said, I finished Monday the Rabbi took off, which was about his sabbatical in Israel. It takes place a few years after the 6 Day War, and reading it reminded me of the little I remember of that period. I was in high school and didn’t pay too much attention to world politics. As with the other books in the series, I find his description of how Judaism works very appealing, and his description of how people in groups (specifically, the Temple committee) work is spot on. Even when they are trying to be reasonable and fair, they are still biased and, not to put too fine a point on it, unfair. Each is pursuing his own agenda, and judging other people by how his own mind works. This leads to a LOT of bad situations. I was also made nervous by the interaction of the various agencies working on security in Israel. They seemed to combine a fanatic desire to see everything and everyone as a risk with a need to keep all evidence and information under their own control, even when they were supposed to be helping each other. I can so see this working today. (I can see it in my doing work on CTCW that I should perhaps leave to other people- if I just knew with whom to check!) One thing it does is make me very pleased that pagan groups have tended to remain “disorganized religion”. The risks of giving people a chance to feel important and throw their weight around is too great a temptation. I’ve felt for most of my life that there is more sin in putting a temptation in front of someone who can’t resist it, than to giving in to the temptation.
Also in fiction, I read the dystopian novel the Year of the Flood. The first thing I’ll say about it is that it’s hard to follow. The story not only switches back and forth between points of view of different characters, but also back and forward in time. In that way it’s worse than the time traveler’s wife, at least that had a consistent point of view. The plot is around survivors of a disease (like Captain Tripps in The Stand) that wipes out more than 99% of the world’s population, with predictable results. The characters we follow are mostly in a group of religious cultists, God’s Gardeners,  who had expected that this depopulation (“flood”) was going to come, and lived in a state of readiness, learning to live without technology, memorizing rather than reading, learning sustainable gardening, foraging, and creating stores of goods to live on (called Arrarats) when whatever-disaster-is-coming hits, and whose saints are people like Euel Gibbons, Diane Fosse, Rachel Carson.  I was initially hesitant to read it, because Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which I read when it came out back in the 80s, was so chilling. (I could hardly believe it when they made it into a movie. I have a very low tolerance for depressing movies.) I’m not sure this book is any less depressing although most of the principles survive.  Frankly, I liked most of the way the Gardeners think, a wonderful blend of science and Christian mythology, yet at the same time, framing it in religious terms is creepy. Much of their world resembles ours, with poor people getting by, and rich people blithely ignoring the signs that the world they are exploiting is being used up. There is some pretty darned ridiculous gene splicing going on. They talk about making sheep with human hair (in bright colors); sorry, I don’t think human hair is more soft than fleece! They put human genes into pigs in order to grow cloned organs, but then toward the end when it looked like one bunch of the pigs appears to have had a funeral for one that was shot, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to them that these pigs may have taken one more step up the ladder to Hnau (thinking, self-aware, ensouled being- or maybe embodied soul). It’s a complex book, and one provocative of thinking about things taken for granted, but not an easy one. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. But if you’ve read it and would like to talk about it, I’d love to have someone with whom to discuss it!

I watched a LOT of movies this week. Having listened to Carnival last week, I sent for Lili. It’s based on the same story, although I think it lacks much of the charm of the musical. The musical plunges straight into the question (posed by Paul, the puppeteer who can no longer dance) of what makes a life worth living, and is echoed by Lili’s intent to kill herself at one point. Both deal with the difference between being good and being nice (Paul, who is cranky because he doesn’t like his life is basically good, while you can’t really say that about the people who are only willing to employ Lili for the work they can get out of her.) I also miss the wonderful, bizarre relationship of Marco and Rose, which is just barely mentioned in the movie, but developed into a secondary romantic plot line in the show.
Among the many things for which I am grateful to my parents is giving me a love for musical theatre! The house was filled with the music, and every year they dressed us up, and took us to a show in Lakewood to be transported to the magical world of Show Boat, Can-can,  Flower Drum Song, the King and I, and so many others. When I think of the happiest moments of my life, they are often in the darkened theatre (even if in the cheap seats at the back), waiting for the curtain to go up. The anticipated bliss was greater than Christmas! In theory, I should have taken that as a sign and made a career in some way connected to the theatre. I suppose that’s why I started my first year in college in Theatre Design (that and not being sure that I could audition my way into the program, but being supremely confident of my portfolio).
This week I watched Broadway’s Lost Treasures III /the Best of the Tony Awards. (I’m not sure when I requested that, sometimes I get books and movies months later, since I seem to want ones that are not very popular or available.) Lovely stuff, most of it. Sadly, the song that’s going through my mind since watching is not Julie Andrews, Ethel Merman, or Zero Mostel, but Johnathan Price singing the American Dream from Miss Saigon! That was one of the few shows we’ve seen that I didn’t feel a need to learn the score! Within a show, songs must move the plot along, but they should also have intrinsic musical merit. I enjoy the big dance numbers, but they are not what I go to a show for. On the other hand, I may need to go back and investigate Kiss of the Spiderwoman (somehow missed that one).
Mel Ferrer played Paul in Lili, and while looking for that I must have tripped over (and sent for) Scaramouche, in which he played a master swordsman against Steward Granger (one of my childhood favorites). Apparently Granger was a trained stage actor who could, therefore, fence, whereas Ferrer was a dancer, and learned the fights the way he’d learn choreography. The shiny white wigs were rather off-putting. As I understand it, hair and wigs were powdered (with flour), and would have had a matte finish, not the silky looks. I did recognize the leading lady as the lead in the Vikings and Psycho. (So I watched that again.) I read once that Charton Heston had been offered the role in the Vikings, and had other commitments, I think Douglas and Heston would have made great brother-antagonists. Who knows, technology is coming along, they may be able to feed in all of Heston’s old movies and create a virtual actor and plug him in over (in this case Tony Curtis) the other. What were they thinking casting Curtis as a viking? (Even if he would wear a beard when Douglas wouldn’t. I’d photoshop in a beard too.) The plot was fairly similar too. Both plots had half-brothers, separated at birth and unknown to each other, and in the final dual one was unable to kill the other because he recognized the secret bond. (The movies were `52 and `58, it must have been a fifties thing.)
I’m pretty sure a lot of these were clustered in the previews of some other movie I watched recently. There was Love and Mercy, a movie about the Beach Boys, and specifically Brian Wilson who wrote a lot of their music. That too, jumped back and forth between Wilson in the 60s, and in the 80s. Apparently he was a genius, and mentally ill, with the result that his talent, at least in some ways, seemed to be more appreciated and protected than he was as a person. It made the Beach Boy’s possible, and to a certain extent showed the pattern of exploitation we know from Michael Jackson and other child stars. The film focused on the family coming to terms with it in his youth, and also on the rather domineering relationship he had with a therapist in middle age. It did a pretty good job of showing the come and go aspects of being mentally ill, and was a bit reminiscent of Amadeus. They were good enough to include most of the songs in fairly complete forms- otherwise it would have been frustrating. I listened to Beach Boys music for the next few days.
Some Kind of Beautiful was the story of a man who wanted to be a better father than his had been. He was English and had moved to the US to be with his wife, then she dumped him, and he stayed to be near his son, but then got deported for DWI after he mixed painkillers and social drinking. He learned to forgive his father’s mistakes, and fell in love again; it was, in short, a fairly average romance. But I loved Pierce Brosnan’s character’s rant against the Puritans who tainted the whole American culture!
This seemed to reflect the theme of Babette’s Feast. Although it won many awards, there wasn’t much plot. It’s the story of a woman who comes to live in a poor Norwegian fishing village, and is taken in by a pair of spinsters who are the heirs to their father’s Christian group. A bit of back story is told about the women when they were younger- they were admired for their beauty and musical talent, but gave it all up to help their father do his God’s work. It was the great opera singer who had “discovered” one of the girls, and been refused who’d sent Babette to them when she was fleeing persecution in France. He sent her a lottery ticket every year, as a remembrance. One year she won 10K francs, and spent it all on making them a superb French dinner. The dour community, fearing being seduced by the pleasures of the flesh agreed not to verbally appreciate the food, but as they ate, the pleasure of eating and drinking the food allowed them to unwind and stop being so petty and nasty to each other. I suppose the hope at the end of the movie was that they would take those positive affects with them, but I have a low opinion of people who think the world is not to be enjoyed, and religions that encourage that attitude. All in all, I found it a depressing film- however well made.

I will jump ahead to report that Willow and I are recovering, although Kat is now in the worst part (we hope) of the cold. I was able to go out and shovel a bit today, and that didn’t set anything off. I have, however, lost strength again, and am put out by that. Thank goodness for John!