Thursday, February 25, 2010

Keeping Warm + New Favorite Read

Back in December we had an energy audit. Massachusetts has a free program where someone comes out to evaluate your house's energy use and needs. Our appliances, windows and doors were pretty good, but our attic had very little insulation and some of our walls had none. It took 2 months of high gas bills for our insulating and sealing cracks appointment to get here. But that is not a bad thing, because next year we'll be able to do a good comparison of our Dec-Feb bills before and after the work. While the work was not cheap, almost half was paid by a $2000 grant from the state. The calculations of the audit estimate that we should make back our money within 5 to 7 years while putting less CO2 and other pollutants into the air. Here are some pictures of the work.

Outdoors, the workers carefully slid over the shingles, pumped in cellulose treated to resist fire and bugs, and replaced the shingles as if they had not been disturbed.

They climbed ladders in many dangerous looking places to reach high walls around the house.

They brought this tube up through the window in my son's room to reach a small attic above the dining room addition which is reached through a trapdoor in his wall. (My husband found a 1989 Paulina swimsuit calendar in there from the last teenage boy to occupy the room.) They also snaked it up into the attic above all the bedrooms.

It now feels like the house is less drafty and cozier. But time and the gas bills will tell. I'll report next year, or even next month if the savings is dramatic and the warming temperatures of spring are not. To give you an idea of our situation before this work, our September gas bill was less than $50, October was less than $100. The ones for December and January exceeded $450/month. We have gas heat, stove and hot water.

To keep busy, warm and out of the way during the 3 days of sealing and insulting work, I hid in my bedroom reading.

First this book

It was interesting. I am an older sister by 14 months. My sister who lives in Florida and I talk rarely and do not get along very well. It was most interesting to read one part, a metaphor about younger sisters always watching ahead at an older sister as if the older sister were riding in the front of the car with the younger one in back. The younger sister's view is of the older daughter's head blocking the road. The older sister's view is only of the road, she rarely looks back. I found this so illuminating. It seemed a plausible representation of our formative years. There have been many episodes as adults that have led us to the place we are. However, it made me feel a bit guilty that when I was in my later years of high school (2 years ahead of her), I was so focused on school activities, my friends, boyfriend, getting into college, and getting away from what I saw as an unhappy home (my parents had recently divorced). I don't really remember having much interaction with her at the time.

Then this one
Wonderful, a quick and satifying read. Charming characters , discussions of book love, blossoming romantic love, courage, sadness, and cleverness.

At one point one character picks up a paperweight etched with the words Carpe Diem.The following exchange takes place:

" 'Seize the Day', she said. 'That's an inspiring thought, isn't it, Isola? ''I suppose so,' I said, 'if you like being goaded by a bit of rock.' "

Here's another passage of the character Juliet considering marriage:

"I kept trying to explain and he kept shouting until I began to cry from frustration.Then he felt remorseful, which was so unlike him and endearing that I almost changed my mind and said yes. But then I imagined a lifetime of having to cry to get him to be kind and went back to no again."

And a description of why she did not marry another suitor. I have amended this to give a flavor without it being too long. I hope it is charming enough without giving away too much.

"On the afternoon before our wedding, Rob was moving in the last of his clothes and belongings... I tore home to find Rob sitting on a low stool in front of my bookcase, surrounded by cartons... There were eight boxes--eight boxes of my booksbound up and ready for the basement...
"I was too appalled to speak. Every single shelf--where my books had stood--was filled with athletic trophies: silver cups, gold cups, blue rosettes, red ribbons. There were awards for every game that could possibly be played with a wooden object: cricket bats, squash racquets, tennis racquets, oars, golf clubs, Ping-Pong paddles, bows and arrows, snooker cues, lacrosse sticks, hockey sticks, and polo mallets. There were statues for everything a man could jump over, either by himself or on a horse. Next came the framed certificates--for shooting the most birds on such and such a date, for First Place in footraces, for Last Man Standing in some filthy tug-of-war against Scotland."...
...(argument excluded)
"He huffed and puffed and snorted--and left. And I unpacked my books."

This is a wonderful read. Check it out.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Finding a Bell Choir and More

I loved playing with a bell choir when we lived in New Jersey, but I did not feel a connection with the church and would leave after our musical prelude. In searching for a bell choir to join here, however, I may have found a community and a church. This is unexpected because I have never felt comfortable in any church or temple before.

The local First Parish in Wayland is a Unitarian Universalist church. I had never heard of this liberal religious tradition. The program identifies the purpose of the congregation to "provide a place where freedom of religious thought can flourish, where we can to devote ourselves to explore together ideas about values, ethics and morality, and to act for the good of the local and larger community...." When I just reread this description, it didn't sound too different from most churches, but the feeling of tolerance and charitable spirit is definitely a world apart from anything I have experience before. The two meetings I have attended have been incredibly welcoming, inclusive and thought provoking.

The first talked about forgiveness. It challenged the story of original sin. The minister discussed the story of Adam and Eve not as a story of sin and punishment, but rather as one of God sharing knowledge with man. Once Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden, unlike animals, they could have a more full life, feeling many sorrows but also many joys and love, and the complexity of choice and fulfillment. It was eye opening.

At yesterday's service the minister discussed how even though the problems of the world are great, we can make a difference. So many people at the church seem to be doing just that. They house the homeless, feed the hungry, and rebuild New Orleans during annual trips. Then a doctor from the congregation spoke about his recent 14 day trip to Haiti where for up to 16 hours per day he operated on patients.

The minister quoted a Salon article by Laura Wagner, an American who had lived and worked in Haiti long before the quake. She was injured, eventually rescued and is recovering back home in America.

"Social scientists who study catastrophes say there are no natural disasters. In every calamity, it is inevitably the poor who suffer more, die more, and will continue to suffer and die after the cameras turn their gaze elsewhere. Do not be deceived by claims that everyone was affected equally -- fault lines are social as well as geological. After all, I am here, with my white skin and my U.S. citizenship, listening to birds outside the window in the gray-brown of a North Carolina winter, while the people who welcomed me into their lives are still in Port-au-Prince, within the wreckage, several of them still not accounted for."


My son and I will be playing with the bell choir in the church next week. I'm happy to get back to music making and plan to stay for the rest of the service too.

Here's a video of our New Jersey bell choir from our last concert.

And it is Monday, time for my lovely thing of the week:
I suppose it would be finding a bell choir, and perhaps finding a church(?)!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Snow Cows

There has been so much snow across the country. I have seen way too many pictures on Facebook of friends from the mid-Atlantic and Southern states showing the depth of snow on their porch railing and bushes.

Surprisingly, little has fallen near Boston. But I took a nice walk yesterday in the first snow in a long time. And I have snow pictures few others have. I never thought before about the tracks cow hooves make in the snow. These photos are from the farm near our home.

Happy wandering.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lovely Things Monday: Felties

Another Monday, another Lovely Things post.

Here are some lovely things made in lovely moments.

My kids are old enough now that often they want to hang out in their rooms with their own music and books. But a Valentine gift brought us together for some great crafting. (They are also old enough to follow directions and complete projects without much help.) The Valentine gift was this book, Felties by Nelly Pailloux, along with a large pack of colorful felt.

We were busy crafters for many hours.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Happy Valentine

Something I love a lot is that my Mom has passed down to my daughter many things that were hers and mine when we were little. Here is my daughter in glasses that her grandmother wore as a child. Precious.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Paper Art

I look at a long list of artistic blogs. One that inspires me a lot is Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord's Making Books Blog. She was discussing a trip she took to a museum in NYC to see Jung's Red Book. She gave a beautiful description and linked to websites showing the book which Jung worked on intensely filling pages and pages with intricate calligraphy and drawings of his most secret dreams and visions. Follow the links especially to the Rubin Museum where you can see detailed pictures of this art journal extraordinaire.

I wanted to take an artistic adventure too, and a sidebar on Susan's blog pointed me toward an exhibit of paper art where some of her books were displayed. It was only 45 minutes away at the Wenham Museum. Her spirit books were displayed in an exhibit called Paper Capers. Here are some of the other works:

A up-close of quilling. I love how the medium fits the work with the rolled papers mimicking the feathers.

Here's an amazing paper collage where shadow and changing depth deepen the monochrome image.
A cut and torn paper collage:

Along with these contemporary works were examples from the museum's collection of old valentines, paper dolls, and more including this remarkable cut heart.

Wishing you all a Happy Valentine's Day. This weekend is also my 17th anniversary.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lovely Lilting Bubbly Melody

Perhaps I'll make Monday my Lovely Thing of the Week day. My lovely moment is happening right now. Around 5 pm after her Brownie meeting, I got my tired daughter right into the bathtub and helped wash her hair. Although she is 9, I still help her shampoo once in a while to really get out all the soap. She doesn't like getting into the bath, but once there she tends to stay a lonnnngggg time. I came down to clean the kitchen before I mess it up again making dinner.

The lovely thing is hearing her playful voice. I'm listening to her sing songs from The Sound of Music humming with bubbles through the water. What a wonderful sound. She is nine and still like a little child at times. There are already moments of eye-rolling and teenhood slipping into her behavior. I'm trying to savor these lovely innocent playful childlike moments while I can.

I know they will be gone soon enough. My 13-year-old rarely has childlike moments. But occasionally he has mature ones that make me very proud. I'm going to try to catch one of those lovely moments to write about soon.

Later this evening addition: Already a mature moment for a proud mom to write about.

My son was doing some homework on my computer. I erased it accidently because I was not patient. He was annoyed but kept his cool and redid the work without getting angry at me.

Later he brought me something to review and sign for his school. It was a portfolio of his science work so far this year. It included a thoughtful homework lab about the phases of the moon, a geology test, and a lab with labeled drawings of fossils. I am very impressed by his hard work. I let him be responsible for his homework and studying and don't see much of the finished work. Sometimes I am hard on him when I hear that he gets an assignment in late or if his writing is hard to read. But I am very pleased that he showed me these assignments. I am very proud of him for working hard, being responsible and adjusting so well to the expectations and challenges of being a new 8th grader in a new school.

OK now I'm done bragging about my kids, but they are the most lovely things in my life.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Pursuing Lovely Things

Here's my first post relating to A Year of Lovely Things. The idea is to "make a list of simple, fun activities for each week of the year. There’s no pressure if they don’t happen, but how nice if they do!"

I joined this group hoping that it will prod me to find things that make me happy and actually DO them. I am surprised at how much I feel out of my element since we have moved. I thought I would have adjusted better. Instead, I have spent far too much time puttering at home and too little exploring the new places around me, especially since it's been very cold. In fact, when I do explore I often get lost. Last week for instance I took a walk in the woods, I lost track of the trails. Eventually I found a road then called my husband so he could googlemap my way back home. I'd better bring my GPS even when I go walking from now on.

Anyway, today I took a beautiful bowl I made a few years ago out of hiding and filled it with citrus fruits. I have been eating lots of clementines and blood oranges. These are the fruits to savor this time of year, and I am trying to do so.

I'm also heading out to lunch today with a possible new friend. She's a mom from my daughter's Brownie troop. I picked up our Girl Scout cookies at her house the other day and got up the courage to ask her to lunch. (I'm not sure why I need courage to do such things, but making new friends--not just aquaintances--in a new place is hard.) She seems smart, funny and down to earth. I get that feeling that we could be good friends.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Silly Super(?)market Stuff

I have always been simultaneously fascinated and horrified by the supermarket. What makes the produce at Wholefoods so appealing? What makes a deli manager think we will be more attracted to the meats and cheeses in the glass case if they are surrounded by plastic vegetables and greens? Who comes up with some of the odd products and does anyone buy them?

I took my camera to a local Stop and Shop yesterday and found products that exemplified the overpackaged and/or nutritionally deficient fare I generally avoid.

Check out the amount of space dedicated to powdered drink mixes.

I was primarily intrigued by these containers of Crystal Light, artificially flavored Peach and Natural Pink Lemonade flavor with Other Natural Flavor (?). These plastic containers each contained 8 separate plastic envelopes that are added to water. So much packaging so little nutrition.

I'm a great fan of oatmeal. I can buy the organic variety from the bulk bins in Whole Foods for about $1.25/lb. This morning I cooked it in about 20 minutes with raisins, apples and cinnamon, then added pecans and a little maple syrup. Delicious. Here's a shortcut from the supermarket shelves. For $12.63/lb you get lots of plastic, lots of sodium (320mg in this serving), and a long list of ingredients. Easier? At what cost to your health and the environment?

Check out this cereal:
Just look at the cover art. Would anyone want to eat a green circle with red dots? The characters on the box look so creepy. Kellogg's has now added FIBER, and claims it has the SAME GREAT TASTE! Perhaps that's because it has 12g of sugar per serving. Who buys this?

Here's a traditional product with new packaging. McCormick spices packaged in premeasured plastic pouches. At $1.99, the common spices in these packets (pepper, chili powder, thyme, paprika, etc.) sell for up to $122.46/lb. Yes, buying these spices in larger packages would initially cost more, but over time this kind of monetary and packaging waste would really add up.

Finally, a virtual early anniversary gift for my hubby. Here's a product with a brand tie-in you would appreciate. I would have gotten it for you if it had any nutritional value at all. But these fruit flavored snacks made with Real Fruit have corn syrup, sugar and apple puree concentrate as their top 3 ingredients along with a plethora of odd food colorings. Perhaps, you'll appreciate just knowing they are out there.

Are there any products you can't stomach?

Monday, February 1, 2010

February at Last

Another snowfall:

And snow continues to coat the ground... since mid-December. The temperature may only be about 5 and 10 degrees cooler here than in NJ, but that has made the difference in preventing snow melt and making any precipitation snow instead of rain. But relief is on the horizon.

February is here, and February makes me hopeful. After the excitement between Thanksgiving and New Year's, January always seems endless, dark and severe. But the short month of February zips by with my upcoming 17th anniversary, Valentine's and my birthday on the 28th. March is on the horizon with its longer days, occasional warmth and the promise of spring.