Saturday, June 29, 2013

Embracing the Siesta

The high temperature in Phoenix and most of the surrounding communities was 119 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday.  Once in the 30 years my sister has lived here the temperature passed 120; that day Sky Harbor airport closed because the lift charts many aircraft use don't go any farther, so it's not safe for them to fly.  The next two days are supposed to be as hot if not hotter, so we may be seeing grounded planes again this weekend.

My official work day at the church ends at noon, but on extremely hot afternoons I'm tempted to stay there and bask in the office air conditioning.  Because I'm on a time-sensitive rate plan with the electric utility, my house is pretty toasty between noon (when the rates and my thermostat go up) and 7pm (when they both come back down).  On days like today, even if I wanted the house to be cooler in the afternoons, my heat pump wouldn't be able to deliver; it worked hard all day trying (and failing) to keep the place at 82.  I have nothing but respect for those who lived in this area in the days before air conditioning.

OK, I could hang out at the mall (also much chillier than my home), but doing that without spending more than I should is pretty difficult.  My preferred alternative is a short nap under the ceiling fan.  Of course, if it turns into a long nap, I'm courting insomnia at night.

Maybe the real answer is to temporarily become nocturnal.  I could sleep from noon until 7pm and then stay up all night long, at least until the weather breaks.

Just call me "WOL."

"...Owl, wise though he was in many ways, able to read and write and spell his own name WOL..." ~A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Behind the Orchid

Here's another exercise from the photography workshop I just took. In this exercise, I was to stare at something for a minimum of 15 minutes and then take JUST ONE picture of it. (The "Zen" theory of photography.) Here's the photo I took:

After 15 minutes of staring at the silk orchid, I actually took a picture of the interesting negative space formed by the arching upper branch and the spiky flower sticking up from the bottom of the frame.

“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”  ~Diane Arbus

Friday, June 21, 2013

Blogging with a Scorpion

This is my 400th blog post.  I never expected to get this far, and I'm not sure how much longer I can keep going, but thanks to my readers for sticking with me.

One of the advantages of my new part-time job is that I have much more flexibility in my schedule.  I still have work to do for my maintenance clients and for my online classes, but those things don't have to be done at a set time; if I want to take a nap or go to a movie or run errands in the afternoon, I can do them at night.

Last Friday and today I used some of that flexibility to attend a photography workshop by Arizona landscape photographer James Cowlin.  (To see his online gallery, go to  For the first session we were supposed to bring in our cameras and their manuals, and we learned where all the settings are and had an overview of photography basics like "the exposure triangle" (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) and composition.  My camera originally came without a manual, but it was enough like my old film camera that I've been limping along without it.  For the class, though, I went online, found the manual, and printed it off.  Now I know what to do with some of the mystery controls that I'd been trying to ignore.  Amazing.

This week we viewed and discussed our homework.  Jim gave us a list of 10 exercises that were supposed to help us see things differently than we normally would; each participant was supposed to do at least 2 or 3 of the exercises.  The pictures below are some of the ones I took for this exercise:  "Focus on one subject and move the camera position... around the subject to shoot it from many locations and with the light from different angles."  We were supposed to bring in the pictures without cropping or editing them in any way.  The metal scorpion I used as my subject is one of the Social Invertebrates by Tom Otterness outside the Phoenix Convention Center.

Jim says he's thinking of putting on a more advanced workshop down the road for people who have taken this one.  I hope he does;  I'd like a few more lessons in seeing from him.

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others." ~Jonathan Swift

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The No-Broccoli Zone

Since my parents moved into the assisted living facility last fall, they've been generally impressed with the food - with one exception.  It's sometimes (in their words) "too healthy."  My father in particular, not a big fan of vegetables, feels that broccoli and brussels sprouts appear on the menu far too often.  (If he knew that I sometimes eat nothing but a large bowl of steamed broccoli for dinner, he would probably disown me.)  To celebrate Fathers Day, then, my sister and I fed them one of their favorite unhealthy meals - bratwurst and buns, greasy fried potato chips, homemade baked beans, and made-from-scratch chocolate cupcakes.  The cupcakes were from this recipe by Giadi de Laurentiis; the baked beans were mine (below), adapted from the version my mother used to make.

No broccoli was served.

Beth's Baked Beans

1 16oz package dried Great Northern beans
1 cup chopped ham or bacon
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
3/4 cup ketchup
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbl molasses
2 Tbl prepared yellow mustard
1/2 tsp salt

Rinse the beans and discard any small pebbles.  Cover with water in a large bowl and leave to soak overnight.

The next day, drain and rinse the beans and mix them with the other ingredients.  Place in a stoneware beanpot or medium casserole and add water to cover.  Bake at 350 degrees, adding more water if necessary, until the beans are soft but not mushy or soupy. (How long this will take depends largely on how old the beans are, which you have no way of knowing, but it will probably be several hours.)

To speed up the process, cook for 1 hour in a pressure cooker before transferring to the beanpot.  The beans will only take about another hour in the pot.

“He could do this. He'd survived boot camp. He'd survived combat and the harsh weather of Afghanistan. He could survive broccoli. Probably.” ~ Shannon Stacey, Yours to Keep

Friday, June 14, 2013

Support Your Local Bookstore, Too

Early on in this blog I wrote a rather cranky post about my reluctance to abandon paper books for the electronic versions.  It was entitled "Support Your Local Library."  After an article I read yesterday, I believe we need to support our bookstores, too.

The article, by Annie Murphy Paul and entitled "How Reading Can Be Like Falling In Love," was published on PBS's NextAvenue blog, and it discussed how reading primarily online material may dumb down our children.

It turns out that reading online doesn't train or use the brain in the same way that reading a hard copy does, and only "deep reading" (the kind you do with a real book) enables humans to engage in deep thinking.  This makes sense to me.  All the website-building classes I ever took urged us to present online material in the visual version of sound bites - that is, in short, instantly understandable chunks that fit easily on even a small screen.  The readers of this deliberately abridged information aren't absorbing enough detail to think deeply about whatever subject is being presented, even if they aren't also being distracted by embedded hyperlinks and flashing ads for "weird old" remedies for their wrinkles or stomach fat.

E-readers are probably less likely to have this effect because they are more often used to read entire books and less apt to be cluttered with distracting sidebars, but as e-readers morph into multi-purpose tablets this advantage may diminish or disappear.

Support your local (or online) bookstore today.  Buy a child a REAL book.

"Observing young people’s attachment to digital devices, some progressive educators and permissive parents talk about needing to 'meet kids where they are,' molding instruction around their onscreen habits. This is mistaken. We need, rather, to show them someplace they've never been, a place only deep reading can take them." ~ Annie Murphy Paul

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Shooting People for a Living

When I first retired from insurance, I briefly considered becoming a professional photographer, but after pricing the lighting gear and other equipment I would need in order to function as a competent stock photographer, I decided that web design would be a much cheaper and more convenient second career.  My long-time blog followers, however, know that I still take my camera (or at least my camera-enabled cell phone) with me pretty much wherever I go, and when I recently saw a poster featuring an antique camera and the words "I Shoot People for a Living" at a craft show, I had to buy it, even though it wasn't strictly accurate.

Until now.

As you probably know, I've been working since last November for a realtor friend of mine, getting her organized and rebranding all her print and online marketing materials following her move from one real estate franchise to another.  However, for the last few months I've had health issues that made working full time very difficult, and I've done everything my friend specifically needed ME for.  At this point, she still needs someone to handle her ongoing clerical and marketing functions, but that person doesn't have to be me.

Which is why, when my church asked if I'd be interested in handling all their PR work instead of just their website, I said yes.

It's a part-time contract job that frees up my afternoons and Fridays.  If I'm not feeling well, I can take an afternoon nap.  If I am feeling well, I can go to the gym.  The job pays almost as much as I was making before, for half the work week.  It's a win/win, at least for me.

My realtor friend was reluctant to let me go, but we found someone I think will in time be even more compatible with her than I was.

And that shooting thing?  Part of my new job is attending church functions with my camera at the ready, the better to show the world what a great place it is and how wonderful its people are.  I guess I'll be shooting people for a living after all, for the foreseeable future anyway.

To see some of the work I've already done for them (including photos), visit:
Their website -
Their Facebook page -
Their blog -

“A good snapshot keeps a moment from running away.” ~ Eudora Welty

Monday, June 10, 2013

Shopping for Beefcake, Part II

OK, I said my next post would be a book review. I lied. Sue me.

After a couple of false starts, I cancelled my subscription to Our Time.  My heart just wasn't in it.  I didn't really believe that I was going to find anyone as compatible as my husband Tom had been, and after Barry, I was more sure than ever that I would rather be alone than with the wrong person.

At that point, several of my friends got into the act, separately deciding that I was the perfect match for someone else they knew.  I received several "introduction" offers; one friend even wanted to fix me up with her brother.  This was all very flattering, but somewhat unsettling.  After all, if things went really wrong with any of the potential dates (particularly the brother!), it could mean the end of the original friendship, too. 

I don't want to go into the details, but I more or less accidentally met one of the guys last weekend, and our mutual friend phoned him with my phone number.  He called tonight and we have a dinner date scheduled for Friday.

If my matchmaking friend is right, this guy is almost too good to be true - kind, flexible, smart, and a year younger than I am.  I know from meeting him that he's funny, modest, and has a terrific tenor singing voice.

And he IS beefcake!!

Of course, now I'm panicked.  Have I gained too much weight over the last year?  Am I too out of shape to interest a long-distance bike rider?  Can I get by on my so-called wit and semi-obsessive personality?  Will I manage to flip part of dinner into my lap (remind me to wear something in a dark color)??

My parents met due to the machinations of matchmaking friends.  Who knows?  Maybe history will repeat itself.  Or maybe I'll have to move on to the next friend, and her single brother.

“To get the full value of a joy you must have somebody to divide it with.” ~ Mark Twain

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Wining and Dining at Postino's

I see that I have forgotten to report on the May meeting of our book club.  The book, which I'll review in the next post, was Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris, the author of Chocolat, so staying with the theme we met at the Postino Winecafe on Central.

This Postino location is yet another converted dwelling with a very small parking lot and neighbors hostile to restaurant customers spilling over into their space, but they have done their best to cope by providing free valet parking.  The interior of the restaurant is chic but welcoming and patio seating is available, although it was a little too warm for us the night we met.  The hostess seated us inside on what looked like a u-shaped sectional sofa with a table in the middle and two hassock-like seats on the fourth side.

Of course, since it's a wine cafe, Postino has a great selection of wine, much of which is $5 per glass before 5pm.  Postino's food menu is heavy on appetizers and salads, although they also offer several types of panini.  The real reason to eat there, though, is the bruschetta.   They have 11 regular varieties and a seasonal special; for $14 you get four different flavors (your choice) served on a wooden cutting board.  The pieces are generous, the flavor combinations are ingenious, and the colors and textures are gorgeous.

I ordered the Roasted Peppers with Goat Cheese, the Smoked Salmon with Pesto, the Warm Artichoke Spread, and the Prosciutto with Figs & Mascarpone.  They were all delicious, but I think my favorite was the Prosciutto with Figs & Mascarpone.  The slightly salty prosciutto, slightly sweet fruit, creamy cheese and fresh bread contrasted wonderfully with each other and tasted just a little different with each bite.  Everyone else raved about their choices as well; my sister was especially happy with the Brie & Apples with Fig Spread bruschetta.

Our waitress was very attentive although somewhat politically incorrect (I've never had a waitperson that young call me "Hon" before).  The hostess also checked on us a couple of times during the evening.

The down side of Postino as a meeting place for the club was the noise level, which made the book discussion a little challenging.  We were also surprised to see that the clientele appeared to be about 75% female, perhaps because (despite the size of the portions) the menu looks like it's "nibble food."  Not, in short, the place to meet Mr. Right - he's probably somewhere else ordering a steak.

"...unique, approachable wines; simple, delicious food prepared with local ingredients; and a warm, edgy culture that brings everyone together." ~from Postino's website

Friday, June 7, 2013

The End of the Line

And here's where I'm putting all the odds and ends that didn't fit elsewhere.

The ship we were on was Holland America's Noordam, the same ship Barry and I cruised on with our friends Rich and Pat when it was brand new.  I was a little worried that it would have been run down after several years of hard use, but it still looked spotless.  Everywhere we went, crew members were cleaning, painting, or revarnishing something.

Because we took so many shore excursions and didn't know when they would finish, we opted for open seating at dinner.  That worked well; we met many more people than we would have otherwise, and weren't stuck for the entire trip with those we were glad to eat with only once.

This time we sprang for an indulgence I hadn't considered before - the spa package that gave us pretty much unlimited access to the no-kids-allowed indoor hydropool, the heated thermal beds, and the lime and eucalyptus steam rooms.  (Fortunately for Sue, who doesn't own a swimsuit, I had packed two.)  We spent a lot of time clambering over rough terrain on the shore excursions, and it was fabulous to come back to the spa.  The thermal beds, in particular, felt great on our lower backs and knotted calf muscles, and when Sue developed a bad sinus infection near the end of the trip, the eucalyptus room probably kept her alive.

As always on a Holland America cruise, we had a wonderful cabin steward who left a new towel animal in our cabin every day.  Holland America now sells a book on how to fold them yourself, but I didn't buy it - I prefer not to dispel the mystery.  We also think that potential employees must have to pass a memory test in order to be hired;  we stopped at one of the lower level lounges for a gin and tonic after one grueling shore excursion, and the next time we came back, over a week later, the bartender remembered our names and what we had been drinking (and no, it wasn't because we were memorably obnoxious the first time).  Pretty amazing.

After we returned to Rome we spent the night at an airport hotel after having a wonderful seafood dinner with Rich and Pat's daughter Wendy, who was working in Rome for the World Food Organization at the time (she's since been reposted).

Sue had never been on a large cruise ship prior to last year - just a couple of very small river cruise boats - and wasn't thrilled with some of the aspects of large ship life, but I notice the vacation she's proposing for this year is aboard a Holland America ship, and also involves the spa package.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Messina on Foot

Our last port before returning to Rome was Messina, Sicily.  We were there only a few hours and most of the day trips available just went to Mt. Etna, so we passed on another bus ride and spent our time wandering around the seaport.  As in Athens, we were there at midday when the light was almost blinding and our cameras couldn't capture much detail.  With all the pastel buildings, wrought iron balconies, palm trees and fountains, it felt almost like a Caribbean island.

After leaving Sicily we passed the volcanic island of Stromboli.  That white "cloud" is an emission from the live volcano and the white dots at the lower right side of the picture are the homes of the people who live there - yikes!!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Melting (Down) on the Acropolis

Our next-to-the-last port of call on the cruise was Athens.  Again we sprang for an all-day excursion so that we could see as much as possible in the time available; the transportation was via a bus with aqua-tinted windows.  This was one of the most challenging days for photos on the entire trip.  Everything I shot from the bus came out too blue; the Acropolis Museum has entire floors where no photography - even without flash - is allowed; and by the time we got to the Acropolis itself, the sun was so directly overhead and so fierce that nothing I did in the way of camera adjustments could keep it from washing out the details in the things I snapped.

At any rate, we had lunch - mostly mixed appetizers plus fabulous lamb - at a small local restaurant, walked through a charming older part of town, watched a video on how lasers are used to clean stained ancient statuary, and witnessed an Ugly Australian tourist berate an Acropolis guard for not allowing her to take her baby's stroller to the top of the hill.  We were amused half an hour later to see that he'd finally allowed the shrieking mother to take her stroller in, only to find (as the guard had tried to tell her) that the uneven, slippery rocks paving the area prevented her from using it anyway.  We were pleased that for once the most obnoxious tourist to be seen (and heard) wasn't an American.

This was one day we were extremely grateful for our hats, and for the bottles of water and wet washrags the crew had waiting for us when we returned to the ship.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Ephesus etal

Our next stop on the cruise was Kusadasi in Turkey - my first chance to see anything in Asia. We took a grueling all-day bus excursion that started with a trip Ephesus to see the House of the Virgin Mary and the remains of the city itself.  That part of the expedition was clouded by the plight of the fellow tourist who collapsed in the heat and by the Turkish Delight vendor who circled my sister like a giant wasp, but we enjoyed the ancient library and the plethora of feral cats inhabiting the ruins.  (Apparently it used to be dogs, but when the authorities rounded those up the cats moved in to fill the void.)  We also saw a museum and the Church of St. John, had a fabulous multi-course lunch on the veranda of a luxury hotel where we were entertained by a troupe of traditional local dancers (dressed, despite the heat, in what looked like wool felt, poor dears), and ended at a rug shop in Kusudasi.  Actually, to call the place a rug "shop" is a bit of a misnomer.  The family-owned business occupies a building several stories high and also sells jewelry and other luxury items.  They served us refreshments, let us watch demonstrations by a carpet weaver and one of the last people alive who spins silk thread by hand, and showed us an incredible number of beautiful carpets.  Sue and I both weakened and each of us bought a rug - but, hey, the Turkish government (supporting the local handicrafts) paid the sales tax and duty and shipped them for free, so how could we resist?

House of the Virgin Mary
Church of St. John
Turkish dancer
Spinning silk