Monday, February 20, 2012

A Very Carson Christmas

I have found the absolutely funniest video I've seen yet from the characters in Downton Abbey.  I watched the final episode of Season 2 - the Christmas episode - this morning (I forgot last night).  Afterwards I always have a slight Downton Abbey/Highclere Castle withdrawal, so I looked up the actual actresses, especially Lady Mary, online.  Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary.  In any case, I came across a British sort of "Tonight Show" called The Jonathan Ross Show, on which all three beautiful actresses appeared just before Christmas 2011.  My gosh, they are breathtakingly beautiful girls, and there is such a delicate, feminine air about them as if they've absorbed some of the ladylike behavior from being in Downton Abbey.

Here is the video - it is priceless:

Did you like that?  I laughed out loud - he is SO good at playing Carson.  

In my usual fashion, I've done some investigation into the REAL Downton Abbey.  As many people know, the home/estate/castle that appears as Downton Abbey is, in reality, Highclere Castle.  It was built or totally revamped in 1842 by the, I think 3rd Earl of Carnarvon.  The story of Downton Abbey is really not the story of the real 5th Earl of Carnarvon and his wife, Almina Wombwell.  Downton Abbey is a compilation of various stories of many English aristocratic families of that time - true stories, but not of the Carnarvons.  For instance, the story of a visiting guest found dead in his bed by his valet in the morning - true.  According to the writer of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes, this episode comes from something a friend of his discovered while reading his great-aunt's diary from the approximate Edwardian time period.  Julian Fellowes wrote it into Downton Abbey.  Matthew is also a character drawn from reality.  Mr. Fellowes knew or heard of someone in the past who was living a completely different life, who found that he had inherited a title and property as a distant heir.

The web site I linked to for Highclere Castle is not the home page, but I think it is the most interesting because there are actually houses to let on the estate.  There is picture of one, now rented, and it's inside rooms.  Sigh.  Just imagine.  Living in a house on Highclere Castle estate.  That would be heaven on earth for someone like me who loves the outdoors and the countryside - and history.

I think what I love most about the series is the way in which people speak to one another.  People manage to get across their meaning very well indeed without cursing or yelling or behaving in a crass manner.  I've said all this before, so I won't repeat.

The real story of the Carnarvon's is actually more exciting in some ways.  Lord Carnarvon, the 5th Earl of Carnarvon, was the man who, with Howard Carter, discovered the tomb of King Tutankhamun in 1922.  Before WWI, it was common for English aristocrats with money to finance their own private digs in Egypt or in other places.  Almina Wombwell, the 5th Earl's wife, was actually the illegitimate daughter of Albert Rothschild and Marie Wombwell.  She was charming, spoiled and was showered with wealth from her father, who called himself her "Godfather".  Her mother, Marie had been married to a good for nothing from good family and she took up with Rothschild and was his mistress for 40 years until he died.  The Carnarvons had money, but when the 5th Earl inherited, he spent like crazy and went through his inheritance in 3 years.  Marrying Almina saved his Highclere Castle as well as all his other properties, and saved his way of life.  She was the woman who turned Highclere Castle into a hospital complete with X Ray machines and operating theaters during World War I.  She threw a great deal of money into nursing injured soldiers and she was quite a remarkable woman.

I've moved on to reading "The Buccaneers", by Edith Wharton, which is a story about a few of the American monied debutantes who went to England and married into the titled, but financially strapped families there.  I'm not crazy about the characters - I like characters with integrity and there isn't much to be found.  Edith Wharton covered the all too human foibles very well, however - and her portrayal of the English aristocracy is unflattering.  Mr. Fellowes mentions "The Buccaneers" in one of his interviews about Downton Abbey, so I decided to read it.

Anyway - that's the latest from this neck of the woods.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Downton Abbey

Having a bad back (and achy legs and feet as well as sore neck) made me couch ridden for 2 days trying to seek relief along with a Chiropractor's treatments.  This isn't about what I did to hurt my back - it's too much hard work done by someone out of shape and not getting any younger.  That aside, being couch bound allowed me to watch every past chapter of Downton Abbey.  Yes - from episode 1 of year 1 to episode 8 that aired last Sunday night on 2/12, I have seen the whole thing in 2 days.  

It is an epic story of the changing of the old world of the 19th century for the new one of the violent and chaotic 20th.  I suppose if the story were to go on long enough, we could drag each of the players into World War II and see their lives, especially the older ones, effectively drawn and quartered with total finality from what they knew in, say, 1910.  At the same time, you witness the rigidity of the classes of pre-WWI England and, realize that the chances of having been born a servant versus having been high born and wealthy weigh much more heavily on the side of being born the servant.  Which would not have been fun.  They worked from sunup to sundown for the sole purpose of making the lives of the wealthy effortless and smooth.  Knowing what it is like to have an education and the ability to make my own decisions (however I may have screwed some of them up) about my life, it is stifling to imagine being stuck in a "class" and having to live out the role expected of me solely based on the accident of my birth.  And to treat those who are wealthy with respect, often when it is not earned or due to exemplary behavior - that goes against my American grain.  I'm somewhat of a defier of authority anyway, so I wouldn't have done well.  I'd probably have ended up like Ethel, the poor little housemaid who slept with the soldier who was not held accountable for anything because he had money and position - and because he was a man and able to get away with it.  For all that, I loved the security and safety of the old ways where everything was clearly defined.  Those who worked for their living were humble and grateful and proud of their labor for the most part, and happy, too - not even imagining a different life.  One of the main things I noticed and remember from the teaching of my youth is the great truth of self sacrifice.  Today it is all about being happy and doing what makes one happy - but living for others, however unpopular that idea is now, is far more fulfilling in reality.  How about those WWI soldiers who didn't question, but did their duty?  In our human thinking, there was no purpose to the war, but in God's plan all events have a purpose, as does every life however short.  Those men and women were operating on that principle - that what we do, we do for a reason that we may not understand, but it is God's will;  and that others are more important than ourselves.    The other thing I noticed was the crassness of Richard Carlisle and all his money solving every problem.  Granted, I like a comfortable house and the idea of modernizing things is alright to a point.  But it was his attitude that struck me as representative of the new age that came after the War to End All Wars (yeah, right....).  His attitude was that money is the most important thing, not family, not tradition, not rules, not honor or integrity.  Money.  It can solve all ills according to men like Richard Carlisle, whose philosophy comprises today's thinking.   To hear men and women referring to honor and dignity and protecting women is beautiful, while at the same time acknowledging that the human race is flawed and while some women were protected, others were left without recourse because they were women.

Our society doesn't make men and women with integrity or values anymore - Christian values.  The parts of the series that most moved me?  The scene where Anna and Bates go into a Church to pray and the wedding scene with it's old fashioned Biblical language between man and woman under the headship of God.  And most of all?  The funeral scene of Lavinia where the priest intones "earth to earth, dust to dust, ashes to ashes", which sounds horribly dreary until he continues with the beautiful words.... 

"The sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ who shall change our vile body that it may be like unto his glorious body according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things to Himself."

To hear the words "Lord Jesus Christ" in a respectful way on television these days is amazing and refreshing.  Thinking about my own father who is in a home and unable to take care of himself or remember much - these words are water to the thirsty, life to the dead.   I look at pictures of dad, young and handsome and with his whole life ahead of him, and clutch the words above to my heart with their comfort and promise that we shall be like Jesus in eternity, young and vibrant again.  I noted that Ethel's little boy, born in 1919 would be my father's age today - 93.  How odd to see that little baby and realize that today he, if he survived all that came between, would be today quite old and doddering.

Because I saturated myself in this story for 8 straight hours each day, it became more real than my own life for a short time.  It made me pause and reflect on my own youth, the lovely summer days in upstate New York as well as the cozy falls and winters I remember.  They, too, seemed safe and secure in comparison to the knowledge I have today of the world.  I look back and remember that some of the accoutrements of everyday living that were in use in the early 20th century were still around here and there in the late 50's and early 60's when I was growing up.   I don't think of them until I notice something, perhaps in an antique shop or in a movie and I realize that I remember when those things were used in everyday life - and had forgotten them.  How can we forget what people used to look like and how they dressed, or what buildings were like and cars?  When I look back I deliberately try, sometimes, to remember not just the interactions with people, but what our surroundings looked like.  I recently looked up my hometown, Middletown, NY, on Google Earth and what I saw so depressed me.  We were a post-industrial society in my youth, but the towns and villages in the Eastern US had not totally disintegrated yet and "Urban Renewal", that blight of good architecture" had not yet occurred.  There were still jobs and locally owned stores and the malls weren't invented until the late 60's and early 70's in my area of upstate NY. I remember my mother taking me to buy Buster Brown shoes at a locally owned store and there was a lavish display of the Buster Brown character and his dog and I wanted to climb right into it and play, it was so clever.  I also remember Tompkins, a locally owned upper crust department store on Main Street in Middletown.  There was no air conditioning and all the displays were tables and drawers underneath.  There were ladies and even men to wait on customers in far greater numbers than today, and they were all grown men and women with families who earned their living this way and didn't live in poverty.  In other words, when i was young a man could be a shoe store salesman or a woman could work at a counter - just one counter selling one type of thing - in a department store, and make a survivable living, one that would support them.  For men, this living could even support a home and family with a wife that did not work.  To work in a shoe store today, one must have 2 or 3 other jobs to make ends meet and there aren't enough hours in a day for the money needed to be made, let alone to support a family in a house.  We have all shopped in places these days where it is impossible to find anyone to help you if you need it, and when you do find someone, they are usually teenagers and don't know a thing about what you ask and couldn't care less.  In any case, Middletown was a mass of crumbling old buildings, ratty looking homes and empty, garbage filled lots where buildings once were.  The look of degradation, defeat and old age is awful.  I remembered when my father was a teacher at the high school in Middletown - for some 30 years, and how things looked and people acted back then.  When I look over the local paper I recognize no names and the crime log?  It is growing by leaps and bounds. 

Take a look at one of these days and look at some of the pictures of towns in America like Detroit and Cleveland and Newburgh, NY in the early 1900's.  How clean and new looking all the buildings are, how busy the streets with well dressed, hatted women and men in business attire.  Yes, there are workers and more poorly dressed, but the majority is middle class.  The streets are quite busy and the shops are numerous, whereas city pictures today are almost solely parked cars and if there is activity on the sidewalk, it is people dressed practically in their underwear or pajamas at best. 

We are moving toward the wrap-up of history, I do believe.  

In any case, Downton Abby is a wonderful series and I will now be keeping up with the weekly showing on Sunday nights like everyone else.

Since I am a Dispensationalist and believe in the End Times and the Rapture, it has always seemed to me that history has a recognizable crescendo and upcoming end - at least this Dispensation will end and another one begin.  The Church Age will end and the Tribulation will begin.  I can so see the progression of how this will occur in the 20th century.  That century started with the sureness and arrogance of the 19th, that all would go on as before, only better. And then hell broke loose and toppled the form and shape of Western society and governments. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Cleaning Out My iPhone Pictures

In the process of writing the blog post before this - the one with all the pictures from Joanne's Fabrics and Home Goods, I downloaded/cleaned out the photos from my iPhone from the last 6 months.  The iPhone has a very good, handy camera, which is what I used for all the pictures while shopping.

 Below are the pictures I "found" while downloading the shopping ones.....

Poor Beasley, my rescue Cockatoo, who has always been a feather plucker.  I've had him now for about 14 years and I have NO idea how old he is.  He could outlive me easily, which I would prefer he does not.  He's been handed around enough in life - from his first owner to Flamingo Gardens as a display bird to a small cage in a back room by himself, where my daughter begged me to bring him home.  He was free and so I did.  Poor baby.  If only I lived in Australia - or could take him for an extended stay there.  I dream of getting him acclimated to the wild life there, where he is indigenous, and then setting him free to be a Cockatoo in all his glory.  Sigh.
AS USUAL, CLICK TO MAKE LARGER (I'm beginning to despise the word, "embiggen", but I shouldn't since it is so appropos.)

My husband's cat, Buster - the one who is biting me in the previous post.  He is beautiful and very spoiled.

You see Squee on my lap in my favorite chair above.  I'm reclining and he's purring.  Below, he is asleep leaning on my leg.  He is my furry, loving, squeezable Maine Coone baby.  He is the most mellow cat I've ever seen, and he is glued to my side whenever I'm home. 

Above Squee and BFF Junior Beans.  Junior Beans, the quite round and fat white and orange cat, was an orphan in our back yard a few years ago.  It was a cold, rainy day and we saw him out there, a small kitten, trying to eat a peanut we had put out for the squirrels.  That was that - even my husband, who often vows that we have 2 too many cats, was ready to bring him in and shelter and love him.  And so we did.   Below - one more of Squee doing what he does best - relaxing and looking cute.

Above is Neko, my daughter's ex-cat.  Actually Squee was hers to begin with too.  I think she got him from a shelter in Jacksonville, FL when she was in college there.  When she moved home I got way too attached to Squee, so when she moved away - he stayed.

Neko, the black and white, (Neko means "cat" in Japanese - my daughter named him - all things Japanese being the craze at the time) is a manic cat.  He is jealous of the other cats, he skulks and pouts and meows pitifully about everything.  We call him many things, among which are Goth Kitty, Insane-o Cat and the O My God Cat because his eyes get big as moons when we cook steak.  My husband says that at night Neko smokes incessantly, pacing back and forth nervously, while planning his revenge against the other three cats who have usurped his King Cat status.  He loves belly rubs as in the picture above.  He is on my bathroom rug in the picture above - it seems whenever one of us uses the bathroom, the cats all want to come in and be petted/drink water out of the sink faucet/meow in horror while we shower.  Neko cannot be picked up easily - he is very light and agile and another nickname for him is "Killer" because he is lightning fast with his paws and they are big paws for such a lanky cat.  When I sit in my chair in front of my computer and put my feet up on my desk, Neko jumps into my lap and settles down for a good rub and a purr.  Otherwise, there is no cuddling with Neko. 

Ok - I mentioned I had cleaned the photos out of my for some pics of an insanely decorated house from Christmas 2011.  There were literally crowds of people to see the lights on 12/23, when we visited.  It was a zoo, but it was pretty, as you will see.   I tried to be "artistic" with the light bulbs in some of these, but you get the idea.

Can you imagine how much work this is to set up???  How much money it costs?  Yikes - I'm just glad someone wants to do it, since I get to enjoy the beauty.  Yes, it is not tasteful, but it is glorious in a huge, jumbly, colorful way.

Now for some pictures from our Myrtle Beach vacation in November.  My husband had to attend a conference, so his work paid for the airfare, car rental and hotel (which was lovely).  I just had to pay for my own airfare and some of my food, as his food allowance sometimes covered both of our appetites.   You might be saying, as you look below, "so where's the beach?"  It was November and not too sunny while we were there, so we didn't spend much time at the beach.  I don't like the commercialization of places like Myrtle Beach, anyway.  I much prefer the little towns inland, like Conway, which is only about a half hour northwest of Myrtle Beach.  It is an historic and beautiful little town and it was already decorated for Christmas when we visited.

The first picture below is of the moon shining on the ocean, taken from our hotel room at about 3AM one morning.

Remember - these are mere iPhone pictures - my husband had the "serious" camera and he took many pictures of Conway and Marion, another town we visited.  I only took a few photos here and there, so you don't see anything of the GOOD stuff.  Below is a cotton field we passed on the way to Marion.  Marion is south west of Conway and farther inland.  On the route to Marion is Sparky's, a "South of the Border" kind of very tacky, 50's type tourist shop.  We loved it.  They had the usual postcards, but they also had fudge, pecans in every conceivable form.  The sugared pecans were delicious.  The place is a bit run down, although the paint is bright.  If you've never heard of "Sparky's" - don't worry, we hadn't either.  Until we were driving from Conway to Marion, where every mile was another silly sign about how we couldn't miss Sparky's, that Sparky's had it all.  So how could we turn that down?  So you guessed it.  No lovely pictures of historic Conway or Marion in my photo collection, but there ARE pictures of Sparky's.

Conway is on the Waccamaw River, and there is a River Walk along the Marina there that is just beautiful.  I picked these little pink flowering weeds out of the grass and took a closeup of them.  I don't know how people can disdain what we call "weeds".  They are wild flowers, really, and if you look at them closely, they are lovely.  These had a delicate scent.

Just as I promised - pictures of Sparky's.  My husband is pointing at the dogs painted on the window behind him.  That is evidently what Sparky looks like.  You can see the tackiness below.  Oh yes - and we can't have a tourist attraction without fireworks.  I don't understand that, but that's just me.

A potential black mail photo below.  My husband with a Davie Crockett raccoon hat on, which I forced him to wear and pose in.   Actually, he doesn't look bad - I bet that would keep you warm on a cold day - at least the original real raccoon hats - if you shoved it down over your ears....

Oops one more picture I forgot of Squeebles, my cat.  He is peeking out of a box.  Whenever we buy something that comes in a large enough box, our cats LOVE to jump in and play hide and seek with each other.

Below - I was driving home one day and at one of the intersections was a man with a beach umbrella over his head to protect from the sun, a dummy doll tied to the front of him (Naturally, I couldn't get a picture of THAT) and hanging down, while he carried this large sign.  I got the sign.   And yes - you read that right - he had a dummy hanging from around his neck.....

Here's a picture of the beach at Naples, FL from last May's vacation.  That was another conference my husband had to attend which I enjoyed while he worked.  The hotel was paid for and some of the food, as I mentioned before.  We drove to Naples as it is right across the state of Florida from us - a mere 2 hours at the most.  It was hot but absolutely gorgeous.  I sat under the wooden stairs that went down to the sand.  It was shady so I didn't burn too badly, except I did spend some time snorkeling in the clear water and my back got pretty burnt.  Just to lay on that beach in the shade and was wonderful.  We are so blessed by God to be able to take vacations for so little money and enjoy the fancy hotels we would have to save up for a long time to afford on our budget.

Busy Busy Busy.......Mmmmmph

That "mmmmmph" is me running into walls as I ricochet from work and work related tasks (sigh) to home with it's home-related tasks.  

Last week I began what most women do all the time, but I swore off when I got divorced in 1993 - cooking every day.  

If we want to be healthy and not what we are now - fat and sedentary and unhealthy - we have to eat differently.  It will also save us lots of money.  So - this past week I got up at around 6am every day (I do this anyway as I have to be at work at 7am) and made my husband and myself steel cut oatmeal with cinnamon, dried fruit and a little milk added in.  

I also made my husband's lunch every day - something I have NEVER done, even during my first marriage.  My husband will take the lazy way out (just like me) and eat at his job's cafeteria, which is bad food at an expensive price - if I don't provide something better.  I made egg salad sandwiches 2 days this past week and packed a salad as the main course the other days.  I also included small containers of mixed nuts, peanut butter, extra mayo (he LOVES mayo), fruit and carrot and celery slices with cherry tomatoes thrown in for snacking.  This keeps him from eating bad things, so even though it is still not really dietetic, it's much better for him.  I also try to eat better.  At my job there is a culinary school and the students cook, so I get diet meals (they offer both diet and regular lunches) every day if I like what they are serving for $4.50 total.  If I bring my seltzer water from home, then all I need is the $4.50 lunch.  They are much better than diet frozen meals or anything I could make at home, as the students are learning gourmet cooking and the employees and students get to eat the results at cut rate prices.

Each day, after making and wolfing down oatmeal, making my husband's lunch, and then getting ready for work - I rush out and get to work in about 10 minutes because the traffic is quite low at 6:50am and all the lights stay green on the main route all the way from my house to where I turn for work.  I don't work very far away, which is ever so nice and convenient, unlike my husband, who has to battle major highway traffic at rush hour both going and coming every day.  

The result of all my "Suzie Homemaker" efforts?  My husband is much happier, we eat better, we spend less on food - and hopefully, after a few weeks, we'll even be a little thinner.  The only drawback is that I am so tired when I quit all my work at about 6:30pm and retire to my computer/craft/work/study room, that by 7:30 my eyes are closing by themselves and my head is threatening to hit my keyboard.  I did no knitting and precious little of anything else this past week in the few free hours I could glean.  Perhaps after I do this long enough, I'll get used to it.

Now that it's the weekend, I'm taking it easy.  Luckily, both my husband and I worked as a team this past week and kept the house neat and relatively clean, except for the floors, which need to be vacuumed.  With 4 cats using the cat litter and then trailing it around the house - either sweeping or vacuuming is a necessity way too often.  My husband and I have joked that we're going to put large brushes all around the edge of the entrance to the cat litter box, so when the cats walk out, they rub up against the brushes and the cat litter comes off inside the box instead of on the floor all over the house.  The only problem remains their feet, so we could put a rug with stick-em on it for them to walk on after they leave the litter box.  Just silly ideas, although the brush one isn't bad, actually.  They would have to be big brushes all the way around the cat litter box opening and they would have to limit the opening to such a degree that the cats couldn't help but get brushed on all sides as they leave the litter box.

Today, my husband and I went to breakfast and then to a craft store to buy material for a photography backdrop for his "studio", a.k.a., den/repurposed garage/man cave.  He has a nice lighting kit and all he needed was the backdrops of blue and green and beige so he can take portraits.  He is beginning with the cats.  I tried to help this afternoon by giving Buster a little catnip up on the table which the backdrop is behind, but he went a little too crazy on us and only one photo came out good - and it's of him biting me in a catnip induced haze.  It's actually pretty cute.

When we were at the craft store, I experienced my usual color induced lust and wanted to buy everything, but I decided to take pictures of all the items that made my eyes happy instead.  First is Joanne's Fabrics and their fake flowers display.  I'm never tempted to buy plastic or cloth flowers, but I am tempted by dried real ones.  In any case, the color draws me....

These quilts look wonderful, except I love the geometric shapes of quilts, but the color on the front of this magazine pulled me over.

I have no idea what this is - I think a chair pillow, but it's pretty.  As a pillow?  Not so much - but just it's color?  Mmmmmmmmm

A sassy, sexy dress the likes of which I can never wear again, but how pretty!!

Then, there is the dreaded color ordered Wall O' Fabric.  Ahhhhhhhhh.

Close-ups of some of the fabrics....

Who could be tempted by sewing thread?  Me.  I want the displays below just to look at.

Some pretty spring storage boxes in designs and colors that drew my eye

Pretty napkins at Joanne's Fabrics......

Last weekend I discovered the joys of making my own sugar scrubs.  I made one from brown sugar and lavender and oil - it smells heavenly.   First I thoroughly wash with soap as usual in the shower, then, just before I get out, I rub some sugar scrub in small amounts on the areas with dry skin - my legs, my arms, my neck and feet.  My hands are dry, too, but they get the benefit just from being the applicator.  Oh - I smell SO good and my skin feels so soft when I get out.  I used Sweet Almond Oil as the oil in the scrub, although you can use just about any oil.  Sweet Almond Oil is good for your skin.

The only drawback?  The tub is slippery.  That is NOT good for anyone, so I went to Home Goods after Joanne's Fabrics to pick up an inexpensive rubber tub mat that could be put in at shower time, then rinsed and hung in between.  This will protect us from breaking our necks even though we smell SO good.  Now for some pictures from Home Goods.....

Oh my - the bath and hand soap isle.  I love wrapping washcloths this way, and the choices and scents of soap - AND the colors?  Heavenly.  I did buy one for $3.99.  I was remarkably sensible in both Joanne's and Home Goods because, really?  I already have lots of goodies at home.  I need to hide them and then re-discover them like shopping at home.  Have you ever had that happen?  You forgot you had something and you find it and it's something you love - what a nice treat!

Below are baskets for sale against a backdrop of a painted town scene a la Van Gogh - very pretty display. 

I have NO idea what this is supposed to be.  It's so whimsical and the little bottle caps are so precious that I had to fight with myself not to buy one.  What in heaven's name would I do with it????  But I DO love it.

Below are boxes of scented drawer paper.  Just the look of the different shades of boxes made me look twice.

Thie is a plate - isn't it beautiful?  Midnight blue with shells......

I don't like Asian decorating - figurines of gods and goddesses and Buddhas, etc. (although looking more closely, that looks like a bust of Queen Victoria),  but look at the bright yellow with the blue - sublime.   The pieces are too busy.  I'd love a bright yellow, plain pitcher, but not one decorated as below.

I love the stained glass/mosaic look of the candle holder.