Tuesday, December 14, 2010

'Tis the season

'tis the season for fighting with Christmas lights, wrapping paper, getting writer's cramp from all those "short" updates on cards, and praying you haven't forgotten anything important, like thawing the turkey. And you know what, I wouldn't trade a minute of it. Oh, sure, I complain like crazy about how tired and stressed I am, but it isn't completely true. I am a Christmas addict, plain and simple. I might order gifts online, but they are chosen with the giftee in mind. I might curse the tangled lights, but there is now way I wouldn't put them up. I may get annoyed with Brillo and Bailey who insist on offering their kitty expertise for gift wrapping, but it is all part of the fun.

The Christmas addiction of mine is one thing I can blame entirely on my mother and father. It really is true -- it's my parents fault. Some of my fondest memories of the holiday season are setting up the Christmas scene with my mother every year. She had a collection of miniature felt and wax figurines that we would arrange on the fireplace hearth every year. There was the nativity scene, with little white sheep and golden angels. It was always separated from the snowmen and Santas by flocked wire evergreens. The church always held center stage on the mirror that masqueraded as the frozen pond. Skaters endlessly skated in the same spot around the "ice."

Mom and I would carefully unwrap each treasured figure while Dad put the tree together. For years it was one of those aluminum trees which I outwardly declared my disdain for, in inwardly cherished. I could sit for hours in the darkened living room watching the multicolored play of lights on the reflective "needles."

Christmas has changed so much over the years. I still have the Christmas scene figurines but no longer put them out. They may have survived years of sun and hot and cold, but I doubt they would survive the attack of the cats. The aluminum tree has long since been replaced by faux Frasier firs. New traditions have taken their place -- a collection of stuffed mooses have replaced the Christmas scene. Bate and I open gifts on Christmas morning instead of Christmas Eve. We pass on a Christmas tree as the kitties already have enough toys.

The one thing that hasn't changed is the rush of preparation, the running around to get everything done, the haste to hang the Christmas lights before fingers freeze off.

And I still wouldn't trade a minute of it.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Riding along on a carousel

This wasn't on my 2010 Happiness Bucket List, but maybe it should have been -- ride on a carousel. It was always my favorite ride at amusement parks as a child, and as an adult, the artistry of carousel horses fascinated me. I got the chance to see some carousel horses up close and personal and relive my childhood's fond memories at Back Home on the Farm in Harrisonburg.

Bonnie and I went out last Wednesday evening to see the annual butterfly exhibit. Trying to capture these fragile, beautiful creatures in a photograph is a great test of our photographic ability. Despite the heat, we spent nearly an hour in the greenhouse, stalking and photographing butterflies. We were on our way out when Mr. Hess asked if we wanted to see the carousel.

Back Home on the Farm is a kid's -- no matter what their age -- delight. There are flowers, a John Deere "tractor" race track, a cow train, in the fall a corn maze and pumpkin patch. And the carousel. It has been carefully restored, Mr. Hess explained, with the larger horses painted to represent famous Virgiians and others from American history and the smaller horses representing Virginia's wide array of agricultural products. When he asked if we wanted to take a ride before he shut the carousel down for the night, I couldn't refuse. For several glorious minutes, around and around I went on the Thomas Jefferson horse (chosen because it was low enough for me to mount while wearing a dress and still keep my dignity). I was lost in the sensations of jhe air rushing past and the familiar sound of the carousel musics. For those few minutes, I wasn't a married, working woman with all of the joys and stresses that come with that adult life. No, for those few minutes, I was a young girl, racing across endless fields, just her and her steadfast horse entangled in some new and daring adventure.

Who needs therapy when you can ride a carousel?

(Photos of butterfly and carousel horse by Pamela Hamilton, copyright 2010; photo of Pamela on carousel by Bonnie Burt, copyright 2010)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

2010 HBL Item #22 --DONE!

Today was my watercolor class, held at Shenandoah National Park. 2010 Happiness Bucket List Item #22 is now completed.

I will never be an artist -- one look at the watercolors I did today will tell you that -- but I had so much fun. For three hours, all I thought about was blending, mixing, and painting. Learning something new is intense, and I can understand why people are advised to learn new hobbies throughout their lifetimes, especially as they get older. I can't remember the last time my brain got such a workout!

Painting is not like writing at all for me, even though both are creative arts. Writing comes naturally to me. Once I get started, the words just seem to flow from my brain to the paper, or more accurately in this day and age, the keyboard. Painting today was entirely different. I couldn't get the initial sketch the way I wanted it. I couldn't seem to blend the paint the right way; it was either too dark or too light. I could see the painting I wanted clearly in my mind. What came out of my fingertips was something else entirely.

I tried not to dwell on how frustrated I was by that. I tried to banish those thoughts when they first started to emerge. I was pretty successful, until the end when I was so-oo tired. (Creating is tiring; learning something new is exhausting.) My success was as much a part of the instructor's encouragement as it was my determination. Trilbie Knapp, president of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Art Association, never said one critical thing about my work, or any of the other students' artwork either. Even when I made a disparaging comment on the color of the petal or the shape of a leaf, she ignored it and pointed out something that I had done well.

I'm not racing out to Michael's to by watercolors and paper, but that's not to say I won't pick up the brush again. Who knows, Ms. Knapp may see me in another workshop one of these days.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

51 weeks of wedded bliss

It's hard to belive, but Bate and I celebrated our 51-week anniversary last night. Well, celebrate is a bit of a stretch. I taught and he was at bridge, so our "celebration" was watching the American Idol semi-finals. (I didn't think it would happen, but yes, my husband of almost one year is now addicted to American Idol.)

I can't really believe that in just six short days, we will have been married for a whole year. May 26, 2009 seems like just yesterday and an eon ago, all at the same time. Where did those days go? Did we cherish each one, or let them slip by? I have to say, in my case at least, it is the latter.

And that bothers and saddens me. I know only too well how short days together can be. I lost my first husband to a sudden and unexpected heart attack, leaving me with the memory of all the things we didn't do...all our plans unfinished, all our dreams unlived. And I don't just mean the big pie in the sky dreams, like starting our own Christmas tree and herb farm. I mean the little things: the new restaurant we never got to try, taking the grandkids to Disney World, going to Alaska together. I not only lost my husband in those early morning hours of September 30, 2003, but I also lost my future as I had envisioned it.

That is why, nearly one year ago, as I was reciting the traditional wedding vows after the minister, I was silently vowing to live every moment with Bate as if we weren't going to have any more. I didn't do so well in this first year, which is why I have on my Happiness Bucket List "Plan a date with Bate every month." So far, I haven't been doing too bad -- I have planned a couple over the past few months, but most seem to happen on there own -- an unexpected breakfast out, a "I'm too tired to cook" dinner at our favorite Mexican restaurant.It might not be living every second of 365 days to the fullest, but I know that every month I will have at least one night when we do.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

More snow photos

I have given up trying to figure out how my uploaded photos get arranged on the page, so here, in no particular order are: patio light, front garden from dining room window, evergreens buckle under the weight of the snow.

I will eventually get the hang of this :) :) :)

Snow photos

Bailey checks out the snowstorm. (bottom)

Icicle on one of the pine trees in the front garden (top)

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Snow snow go away

It is now official. I am way over winter. Way over snow boots. Way over shoveling FEET of snow. I generally protest violence against animals, but if anyone in the Northeast wants to clock Phil the groundhog upside the head, I'm right there with you.

Now that my whining is out of the way, I must comment on the truisms of life that snowstorms, in fact all natural and manmade disasters big and small, confirm.

The snowstorms this winter have reiterated to me that God does answer my prayers, although sometimes I really have to look for the answers. I've come to the conclusion He's just not that fond of the lightening bolt thing any more. My husband of all of eight months, Bate, has a heart condition, and my heart stops every time he lifts a snow shovel. And that's been a lot this year! This storm's 18 inches of snow is more than we generally get in a season, and this is the second time it's happened since December. While I was napping after our first foray outside to shovel, my prayer "Please God, keep him safe" was answered in the form of two strapping young neighborhood boys who, trying to earn some spending money, came by and offered their services. It wasn't exactly what I was asking for, which in essence was,"please, don't let me have to call 911." But in truth, that is what I got: I didn't have to call 911 because Bate overdid it, and my driveway is now shoveled. I can get to work on Monday. Yippee! I think.

Snowstorms bring us together, too, even if it is just to whine about how sick we are of snow. My new neighbor, Carolyn, and I got to know each other a little better this past Wednesday while we were shoveling out from the second snowstorm of the week. We've yelled hello across the street or waved as we drove off to work or errands. But we've never really chatted before. I can't help but wonder if winters like this aren't God's way of saying "stop and smell the roses."

And all of the snow this winter has made me realize all over again how beautiful this planet of ours is. Sure, it's a pain in many anatomical locations to be shoveling every weekend, but whenever I took a breather to lean on my shovel, I saw this incredibly beautiful landscape. I pray that we won't destroy it -- and that God is answering that prayer but I just haven't seen it yet.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

2010 HBL update

I may not be ready to open my own bakery, but I can now check off another HBL item -- learn to bake bread. A couple of weekends back, I drew a deep breath and dumped the flour into my trusty stand mixer. And voila, the next day for dinner, Bate and I had homemade bread.

OK... it wasn't quite that simple or smooth. I am baking bread from the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg, MD, and Zoe Francois. After mixing the dough and refrigerating it overnight, I faced the first challenge. Was the chunk of bread I was holding in my hands the size of a graperfruit? It was hard to tell since the dough looked more like...well, like paste.

Next up, challenge #2, the step Hertzberg and Francois call gluten cloaking. I reread and reread that passage. It seemed pretty easy and straightforward, until I held that chunk of dough in my hands. Stretch under, quarter turn, repeat, repeat. HUH? Should be done in 30 to 60 seconds? AAGGHH!! I know it took me longer than that. Now I worried my bread would be a bust.

Then came challenge #3. The dough had to sit out for 40 to 90 minutes to rise a little more. That wasn't the hard part. The challenge was keeping Brillo from getting her nose stuck in it and Bailey from knocking it off the counter just for the fun of it.

After 60 minutes, it didn't look like my dough had risen much, if at all. I felt as deflated as that dough look. My little but loudmouthed internal editor started in. "Every other woman in the world can bake bread. What's wrong with you?"

For the first time in my life, I answered back. "It's only January. I have 11 more months to master this!" And I shoved the pasty, flat hunk of dough into the oven.

I was supposed to wait 30 minutes, but patience has never been one of my strong points. At the 15 minute mark, I flicked on the oven light, expecting to see disaster. Instead, I saw a loaf of bread taking shape. When I took the pizza stone out of the oven, nestled in the center was a round, normal looking peasant loaf.

It smelled like bread. It looked like bread. Best of all, it tasted like bread. Like I said, I may not be ready to open a bakery yet, but I am ready to tackle the next recipes in the book. Cinnamon rolls, here I come!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Please pray for my computer

My work computer spent yesterday morning in a coma, and in the early afternoon was whisked away to the ICU. The prognosis is not good.

This is not a good thing to happen, ever, but certainly not two days before the Spring semester begins. As I watched it being wheeled away, I panicked -- now what was i going to do for the rest of the day? My entire work life revolves around my computer, whether it's answering email, checking student records, or tweeking class presentations. For most of that, I canuse another computer. But what about all of my files? I became a finely tuned sprotscar, only instead of 0 to 60 in under 2 seconds, I went from panicked to crazed.

Sure, most of my files were backed up, but during the chaos of the end of the Fall semester, I know I worked on a lot of things and I did not back them up. What were they? What had I worked on before the Christmas break? Was it anything really important? My brain refused to dig deep into its core to pull out those answers for me.

A cup of tea later, I was feeling calmer. This could be a good thing, sort of like that box of files the movers lost three moves back. When my memory acts its age, I now have a built-in excuse. "I'm sorry. That information was lost when my computer crashed."

Technology really can be a good thing. Even when it is not being good.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year, New Goals

Like everyone else in the Universe, a new year means new beginnings for me. I have trashed New Year's resolutions, however, in favor of what I am calling My 2010 Happiness Bucket List, or as I have fondly nicknamed it, HBL. Instead of having a list of vague and meaningless resolutions that I give up on about halfway through January, I have identified 28 things I want to accomplish over the next 12 months. Some are simple --- like try Ethiopian cuisine and take a photography class -- to more involved things like finishing my children's book and giving up shopping for a month. Also on the list: updating my blog weekly at the very least! That should be easy; I can update my HBL progress.

The idea for my HBL came from two sources. Heather Bowser, a reporter with the Daily News Record here in Harrisonburg is doing a bucket list in anticipation of her birthday. Reading about her ideas got me to thinking about putting together my own bucket list. Then I started reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. I decided to focus my bucket list on things that make me happy -- learning new skills, getting outside, spending time with Bate.

I've put my HBL into a year-long chart and printed it out. I'm pretty excited about this new approach. Hopefully next year at this time, I will see a whole lot of checkmarks on my HBL. I've already completed one -- Try Indian cuisine. It was good, but I don't think I'll be rushing back!