Category Archives: Observations

Downsize Abbey

Dear Clever Readers,

May I enlist your help with a creative challenge? DH and I are in the process of moving into our newly built, smaller home and it needs a name — something amusing that seems “fancy” and looks nice on cocktail napkins.

The house name should sound grand (because it  isn’t) with an element of tongue-in-cheek whimsy, along the lines of “Fawlty Towers.” Currently, the front runner is “Tiddly Manor.” FYI, the building style is Arts & Crafts, it has a tiny yard, and it’s more urban than rural or suburban.

Any ideas? You’ll win my undying gratitude plus a small prize, and of course your cleverness will be duly recognized in these pages. Thanks, and love, Alisa home-sweet-home-3104968_640

Good News Monday: Fiction Isn’t Rotting Teen Brains After All

Researchers at University College London’s Institute of Education recently reported that teens who read novels rather than non-fiction are six months ahead of their peers in reading skills.

After analyzing data from 250,000 teens in 35 Western countries, they concluded that the 15-year-olds had significantly stronger reading skills than those who read non-fiction, magazines, comics, or newspapers for pleasure. The lead researcher pointed out that fiction requires a person to focus on long, continuous text, which improves not only reading skills but learning to avoid distractions.

This apparently holds true even when a novel is poorly written.

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Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

Turkey Day Tips

Happy Thanksgiving, dear American readers! Here are two random holiday tips:

When tempted to shop Black Friday or Cyber Monday, there are two categories one should avoid, as prices will be lower at other times.

  • Jewelry: Prices often increase around holidays and even discounts will be minimal; best times will be early January and then again after Valentine’s Day.
  • Coats: Prices will be lower at the end of the season.  Of course, if there’s something you need AND want, it may be sold out if you wait too long.

When faced with a huge holiday meal, don’t end up more stuffed than the turkey. (This applies to any large meal, especially when family’s involved!)

  • Your brain can only crave 3 or 4 foods at a time.  So before you load up your plate, circle the buffet or table and decide which are the items you most want to eat and only take your favorites.
  • Don’t gobble, gobble! Eat s-l-o-w-l-y and take a 5+ minute break after you’ve eaten. This will give your stomach time to tell your brain whether you’re still hungry.
  • If actually hungry, or you simply want to be polite, go back for round two but only take small tastes of any remaining foods you didn’t sample.
  • Love sweets? Plan ahead to leave room for dessert and don’t fill up on everything else.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday — I’m thankful to be connected to all of you!

The 4 C’s of Travel… And an F

We all know about the 4 C’s for diamonds, but what about your vacation– possibly a diamond in the rough; hopefully, not a lump of coal!

Some factors we should consider are Cost, Climate, Compatibility (not just you and your companion; also you and your itinerary) and Comfortable Shoes.

Add to these, the F factor: flexibility.

As I wrote last week, DH and I found ourselves in a bit of a bind. We’d committed (and pre-paid, thank-you-very-much) to 3 weeks in a small cottage in North Devon. Which might have been lovely, except:

  1.  Cottage was too remote, with no phone service or Internet
  2. Cottage was eternally damp, due to being in a microclimate
  3. Cottage was not near ANYthing, necessitating lengthy drives along perilously narrow roads with locals who knew where they were going careening towards us at breakneck speed. DH was not amused.

We came back to the cottage one day last week (when once again the TV was on the blink) and had a heart-to-heart. The upshot: “We’re miserable, let’s get the hell out of here.”

First idea, since we’re due in London on the 31st: Pick somewhere else, e.g., Somerset or Salisbury, and go there. But then, a brainstorm: Why limit ourselves, if we’re leaving early anyway?? Where haven’t we been that would be a short flight away? And voila (sorry; can’t find accent marks in my iPad!), a new plan: tomorrow we’ll head to Copenhagen for 3.5 days, somewhere neither of us has been before and it’s been on our bucket list.

So. We’ve booked the hotel, gotten opera tickets (a shared passion), and done next to no research. BUT! It can’t be worse than sitting in that dreary cottage!  Right?!?

Flexibilty! Never feel you have to stick with a hotel, destination etc. if there’s any way you can afford to make  a change.

We may still want to kill each other after a month of togetherness, but at least it will be in a new setting.

Have  lovely week! Xx, Alisa

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Admit It: I’m Addicted to My Devices

DH and I had a genius plan that hasn’t QUITE worked out as imagined: (Has this ever happened to you?, she asks…)  Rent a house in the English countryside for a month and use it as a home base from which to explore, so as not to eat out every meal and be able to live more like locals.

The fly in the ointment is that our cozy little cottage has no WiFi, no phone signal, and a currently non-working television.  In an emergency we could use a provided key to unlock a landline in one of the outbuildings…. Somehow, this does not inspire confidence.

As a result, we can check e-mail, bank accounts, etc. only sporadically. I like to imagine I can do without these updates, as I survived many decades before we all had cell phones and iPads, but the pathetic truth is that I’ve become used to immediate access when I need a recipe, map, random facts, or an Amazon Prime download. And I like it that way.

My parents and grandparents used to fret about the “good old days” but when I look back, I see only major improvements since my youth. For instance:

1) Flat irons. Back in the sixties, if you wanted straight hair a la Francoise Hardy or Jean Shrimpton, you literally ironed it. With an actual iron and ironing board! The alternative was to wrap your hair around a giant beer or coffee can until it dried.

2) Microwaves. What a brilliant way to reheat coffee, let alone cook a potato. I truly don’t care if radioactive waves are shortening my life as long as I can have a hot cup on demand.

3) Google. I don’t begrudge one cent of the money those gazillionaires have made. Not having to go to the library or plow through 400 volumes of the encyclopedia when I want to know something is priceless.

4) 500+ TV channels. I may only watch three of them but I have OPTIONS, dammit!

5) GPS. Maps are great, but having a cheery voice tell you when to turn left or “recalculate” is infinitely better than hearing the same information from an exasperated spouse.

What mod cons do YOU depend on?

Happy weekend, all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Ask If You Don’t Want Me To Tell You

We recently ate at a pleasant Italian restaurant; a day or so later, having been contacted by OpenTable to post a review, I wrote something short and positive.

At least I thought it was positive: 4/5 stars for food/ambiance/value and 5/5 for service, which was terrific. After all, this wasn’t an undiscovered Michelin gem, just a perfectly nice little restaurant with an undistinguished décor and limited menu. I’ve eaten out enough to know what “outstanding” means – from Tour D’Argent in Paris in its heyday to our local pub, which has consistently excellent grub. And, hey, I’ve got the extra pounds to prove it!

Almost immediately, I received a very defensive reply from the chef-owner, wanting to know why I’d given him a “bad” review. (My comments about the “lovely little restaurant with delicious house-made pasta” apparently hadn’t been sufficient praise.) So this led to a series of back-and-forth e-mails in which I explained that one reason for my rating was that the bread was disappointing. As regular readers will know, I take my carbs seriously: flabby, squishy white bread is not ok – though I expressed this as, “I prefer a firmer crust and texture”, attempting to be diplomatic.

The point is, I wasn’t trying to be mean or snarky – but if you ask for feedback, you should expect feedback, not a gold star for trying. (This being the problem of an entire generation getting trophies merely for showing up.)

Which led me to think about other situations in which it might be unwise to ask questions if you don’t want to hear the answers. A classic is, “Where is our relationship going?” Now, if a woman is asking a man, chances are that if he were about to propose, she would know it. If he’s asking her where they stand, well, sorry dude but she’s not that into you, as they say.

I don’t know if gay etiquette is any different, but humans being humans I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, in any relationship, if you don’t know where you stand you can assume it’s on shaky ground.

It’s the same at work. A good manager will praise what’s going well and offer constructive criticism to make you better. Be honest: If you were 100% perfect you’d probably be the CEO, or have retired by age 40 to your yacht in the South Pacific.

In other words, be careful what you ask for.

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