Southeast Asia, Here I Come!

It’s been an interesting winter here at Farmhouse by the Falls.  Cold, snowy, with little progress on some of the home improvement projects that were on the docket. And, obviously, blogging has been as much on the back burner as my tea kettle. 

So what has Ms. D been up to?  Planning a three-week jaunt to Southeast Asia!

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Once the Christmas holidays were over and trips back and forth to New Jersey were behind me, I settled in to do the research necessary to plan the trip.  It is really quite astonishing how much information there is available online, and how all-consuming it can become to read reviews, watch YouTube videos, find new bloggers and work out an itinerary that has the right mix of adventure and comfort, luxe and budget, urban and rural, culture and beach chill, on the go and off the grid. 

I’ve wanted to make this trip for a decade.  My brother Aubrey lives and works in Hong Kong and the Philippines and has been patiently waiting for one of my travel promises to become reality.  Money was always tight, my ex never expressed any interest in the trip, and my teaching schedule meant arriving during the monsoon season.  Now that I am retired and with Mr. D (not my “I’d rather sit in the local bar” ex), travel is a priority.  What a difference it makes to have a partner who craves new experiences as much as I do!

I bought our tickets to Hong Kong last September, but the rest of the itinerary was left open.  We assumed that we would spend time in Palawan with Aubrey, but the typhoon trashed the island airport, and he suggested that we find other options.  That opened up so many possibilities that it was hard to choose, but we settled on Thailand and Cambodia.  I spent several weeks learning everything I could about what to do in Thailand, down to choosing places to stay, but I wasn’t quite ready to click “Reserve”. Troubling reports about political unrest became more frequent, and by late January we decided to go to Vietnam instead. 

 This shift in plans created a few interesting wrinkles.  First, Thailand is HOT.  So is Cambodia, which we still planned to visit. Northern Vietnam, at least in March, is not.  Given that we had already decided to travel with only carryon backpacks restricted to roughly 15 pounds, this meant a slightly different mix of clothes.  Which led to the obsessive search for just the right things to take, perusing the advice of savvy backpackers and travellers around the Interwebs.  Second, this meant a whole new search for accommodations, transportation options, tours, etc.

Over the next few days before we leave, I’ll share with you all of the wisdom I’ve accumulated, and, with some luck, I will blog our trip (or at least Instagram it) as we go, sharing not just our adventures, but the fabulous blogs and Vlogs I’ve discovered. I already feel like I have a whole new set of best friends as I follow these intrepid travelers in their wanderings!

A bit of before and after in the backyard. While we had a lot of beautiful orange and red this year, sometimes I think the more subtle shifts seen in these photos are more beautiful, kind of like the difference between a well tailored basic black and a bold floral print. Maybe its just my mood today, craving a bit of serenity after a hectic few weeks.

Painted Floor Dreaming, Again

Painted Floor Dreaming, Again

I’ve been wanting to rip up the ghastly (and dirty) carpeting in my upstairs rooms since forever. It’s finally happening, at least in the hallway, and I hope, the master bedroom, which is just about the same dreamy color as this lovely picture. I can’t remember where I got it from, but its been stored in my fantasy file for some time.

The carpet overlays linoleum (!) over heart pine that was never varnished or polyurethaned. I’ve had the linoleum tested and it doesn’t contain any asbestos, remarkably, so I should be able to remove it. At the edges, it looks like it will come up in rather large sheets, with the paper underneath and the glue rather degraded.

Its going to be a messy job, but I can’t wait to get started. I go back and forth about trying to refinish the floor or just paint it, but given the tack strip and the probability of stains I’m pretty sure that paint it will be. I love the clean look of this white. What do you think?

In My House, Redskins are Potatoes

About three seasons ago I went cold turkey and gave up football.  It wasn’t easy.  I’d been watching my whole life as far back as I could remember.  I grew up in a Giants household back in the days when fans wore paper bags over their heads in shame.  (Maybe that will make a comeback after this season). My first boss had Jets tickets and sometimes I, a lowly researcher, was given one.  I owned my first home in Patriot territory, but I never got to a game in person.  I’ve lived in “Redskin Nation” for almost thirty years. My children grew up fans of the “skinnies” as we called them, always being a little too politically correct to go with a Native American moniker. My ex was a rabid Green Bay fan.

What made me do it?  First, it was the expansion of the NFL into every nook and cranny of the TV schedule.  What used to be a terrific Sunday pastime, with must watch Monday Night TV in addition, turned into Sunday, Monday, Thursday, sometimes Saturday and a zillion cable channel nightmare. And then there was fantasy football and the chat about that all week long. I figured if I didn’t call it quits I might actually end up unable to lift my butt off the couch.

And then there was the concussion issue.  I’d seen some horrible injuries over the years, including one west coast player whose name I can’t remember becoming a quadriplegic right on camera during a Monday night game. But the increased number of brain disorders diagnosed as tests became more sensitive and helmets and padding became more not less lethal seemed to mark a turning point.  An article in Talking Points Memo yesterday posited that perhaps all pro football players suffer damage not because of concussions per se but because of repeated knocks on the head.  You can read it here.

And then there is the controversy over the Redskins name and Dan Snyder’s adamant refusal to change it.  And the mystery of what the heck happened between Incognito and Martin in Miami.  Is the culture of football just a bit toxic? I know that football is America’s game, made all engrossing by high definition TV, the yellow line, cheerleaders, halftime shows, the Super Bowl, yadda yadda yadda.

I just concluded that while I am not a hater, I wanted to reclaim that time for other things. I’ve paid a bit of a price, since I can’t always knowledgeably participate in the convo at the gym or get invited to the nachos and beer parties that I used to go to.  But overall, I’m happy that I’ve retired my jersey,  a couch potato no more.

Fruits and Vegetables of the Season

I got an e mail from my local organic grocer with information about the four kinds of turkeys I can pre-order and the gluten-free pies that will be available. That means that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. But before I start thinking of stuffing, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes with gravy, its time for other kinds of fall favorites. I needed a reminder about the difference between a fruit and a vegetable. From the Mayo Clinic:

According to botanists (those who study plants) a fruit is the part of the plant that develops from a flower. It’s also the section of the plant that contains the seeds. The other parts of plants are considered vegetables. These include the stems, leaves and roots — and even the flower bud.

The following are technically fruits: avocado, beans, peapods, corn kernels, cucumbers, grains, nuts, olives peppers, pumpkin, squash, sunflower seeds and tomatoes. Vegetables include celery (stem), lettuce (leaves), cauliflower and broccoli (buds), and beets, carrots and potatoes (roots).

So, this beautiful cauliflower from my CSA is a vegetable, and my pumpkin is a fruit.

Mr D. made a delicious stir fry with fresh leeks, the cauliflower, some vegetable broth and curry spices (before the New York Times article warning that lots of spices from Asia were contaminated with all kinds of yuck.  We clearly have survived regardless).

Here’s to hearty fall eating, as beautiful as it is yummy.

“Deaccessioning”

I’m moving in a new direction, and you can tell by my newly reorganized and not yet overflowing bookcase.

These books will go to a former colleague.

These books will go to a former colleague.

These books will go to the neighborhood kids.

These books will go to the neighborhood kids.

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These are women’s history books from graduate school!

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Ditto!

These books will go to Goodwill.

These books will go to Goodwill.

It took an afternoon, but more than that it took almost thirty years to get to the place of being able to let go of books that were so much a part of my scholarly and leisure time life. I made the decision that only the classics and books I hadn’t yet read would stay. I have books in almost every room of my house, and several more bookcases to cull, but this was a big one. It was bittersweet, because handling the books reminded me of times gone by, passions now dimmed, colleagues long since out of my address book.

But it is liberating as well. I am reading voraciously now, but not in the same vein. I am writing more than I have in many years, but not in the same genre. This purge cleared the way for this new phase of my intellectual life.

Election Day

I voted early this afternoon in the cafeteria of the local elementary school. In my district I am in a minority.  I am a liberal Democrat, I live in an old farmhouse not a McMansion, I drive a twelve-year-old stick shift car not a humongous SUV.  A s I walk the gauntlet between my parked car and the entrance to my polling place, I am politely but fervently besieged by poll workers from eight to eighty offering sample ballots, mostly Republican salmon rather than Democratic blue. I don’t really need a sample ballot, or the information about the school bonds, but I take the blue paper and the bond flyer to be polite.  I always have an uneasy feeling as I do this, because the color of my sample ballot gives away my preferences.  My ballot is in some sense no longer secret. Each time the district results come in I consider moving.  As the northern part of my state has become more and more blue (and the state as a whole is classified as “purple”) I am still surrounded by huge lawn signs that in effect say “you are an outlier here.”

My own family is split, politically speaking. My sister and brother-in-law just drove home 14 1/2 hours straight in their giant RV in order to be sure to cast a vote for their Republican governor’s re-election. She and I have agreed that if we ever end up sitting on the porch together in our rockers, Mr. D and her husband six feet under, we will retire to separate rooms to consume our news. I don’t think she has ever listened to NPR, which to me is kind of like bragging that you’ve never met anyone who liked brussel sprouts. And I would have to be hog tied and gagged if I had to listen to Wayne LaPierre extol the virtues of semi-automatic weapons on Fox News.

When I stood in line today, showed my voter ID card, filled in the bubbles with my number two pencil, inserted the ballot into the scanner and received my “I Voted” sticker, I saw three people I knew at the polling place, and all three of them were carrying salmon sample ballots. I had no previous knowledge of their political leanings. I felt judged by them as they furtively eyed my blue ballot, folded neatly in half inside the nonpartisan school bond info sheet. And I suppose I judged them as well. Or, maybe I just felt that we lived in separate worlds as far as our imaginations are concerned.

You see, I think of myself as embracing the next phase of American History, one that I didn’t teach for thirty years and one which will come to full flower when I am truly a senior citizen and not just a retired but late middle aged baby boomer in skinny jeans. I’ve never understood teaching colleagues who were not progressives, because our craft so depends upon releasing the creative energy of a constantly changing mixture of young people trying to figure out who they are and where they belong. If I didn’t believe in the power of reason, experience and time I couldn’t have graded those thousands of essays or nurtured hundreds of students. I had to have faith in progress, of the future that they would create, not one that I would control. I’m OK with that.  Change is good.  Change is a constant.

After yoga tonight Mr. D and I will either drink champagne or cry in our beer. When I talk to my sister tomorrow we will chat about our father’s doctor visit, my elderly dog Sydney’s readjustment after his tripto my dad’s in New Jersey, her puppy’s latest teething disaster. We will not talk politics. 

I was born in New York City and I’m proud that my passport says New York, NY, the greatest city in the world. I have lived in Northern Virginia for nearly thirty years, and have deep roots here, but I often still feel like an outsider. Let’s hope that this and future elections change that.

What Does It Mean to Be a Writer?

I’m taking an online course exclusively for alumnae of my college, taught by an eminent professor of literature who is also a well known writer. The two works for this assignment were Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Marguerite Duras’ The Lover.  In each novel, a central theme concerns the source of a writer’s inspiration and the motivation for becoming a writer.  Not to trivialize these great works by comparing them to my own paltry efforts, tonight’s webinar made me think about the NaBloPoMo challenge that I have taken up for November. Apparently, and I am paraphrasing here, Samuel Beckett posited that writers need to fail, fail again, and then fail better.  My esteemed professor elaborated on that notion suggesting that all writers feel like failures because the vision one has in one’s mind is never perfectly translated into words.  Where does the desire to write come from? Is it merely a narcissistic act of self-discovery or self-promotion? Is it an ode to some platonic ideal of the perfect form? She suggested that talent is inborn, but the discipline to fail, fail again and then fail better is an attribute to be cultivated through practice, practice, practice.  So,  perhaps the point of NaBloPoMo is just to begin to fail, to fail again, and then to fail better.

Stanton NJ Station

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The train station in Stanton (the tiny part of Lebanon where my dad lives) has a colorful if unnerving history.  You can read about the nine hour ordeal of a Mr. Cannon in 1896 here. The station has been closed for many years, but while visiting this weekend I’ve heard the train whistle tens of times as it roared through.  It’s a comforting sound —  not close enough to be disturbing, but loud enough to evoke adventure and the movement of people and goods across the vastness that is this country. You can see a freight train roll through this bend and hear the whistle here. Here’s a piece of its history courtesy of the Hunterdon County Department of Parks and Recreation:

The Stanton Station Section is named after the passenger and freight train station that was once located a short distance away. Passenger service at the station was discontinued in the late 1930s and the station was abandoned. The building was purchased in 1943 by Robert and Hermia Lechner for $75 and transported to Echo Hill for use as a dining hall for their summer camp. The 1880 bridge near the parking area is one of the earliest metal truss bridges in Hunterdon County. It is unique because of its trussed floor beams that mirror the configuration above. The County acquired most of this land in 1975 as part of the South Branch Reservation. Today, the reservation totals over 1000 acres. Besides providing recreational opportunities, the reservation helps preserve the watershed along the South Branch of the Raritan River.

It’s been a trip down memory lane!!

Old School Foods of My Childhood

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I’m visiting my elderly father in Lebanon, New Jersey and this morning he asked me to cook up some scrapple for him.  Having foresworn mammal meat, let alone the kind of animal parts that make up this Pennsylvania Dutch staple — scraps — as in yucky pork stuff that isn’t good for anything else, I was happy to oblige him but not to share in eating it.  His weekday homemaker doesn’t know how to cook it (and maybe thought it was gross!).  I remembered that it needed to be floured and then pan-fried in butter until browned, but I looked on Google anyway to see what was recommended.  Indeed, my memory was correct, except often this pork product was pan-fried in lard or bacon fat — what a cholesterol bomb!  Some people serve it with maple syrup, but we always ate it with ketchup.  Dad was happy with his scrapple, one egg fried over easy, cider and homemade banana bread.  I was happy with coffee and the leftover apple cranberry pie we had for dessert last night.  I think I’ll leave scrapple on the scrap heap of memory.  If you are interested, here is a link that tells you just how gross scrapple is:  http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/dirty-jobs/videos/scrapple-maker.htm