Friday, 17 February 2017

7 Quick Takes 50: Bare Firs, Bear-Face (Book)

Time for a random round up.

1. Post Christmas update: With the weather in Mississippi resembling a British summer, we haven't been burning nearly as much wood as we expected. Our $20 bargain Christmas tree is still going strong as a provider of firestarters.

2. Our eldest managed to kill her phone - but survived three weeks without replacing it. I didn't think that was actually possible for a young person. When I asked her secret, she told me she communicates with almost everyone via Messenger. And here was I feeling all modern because I regularly text her, when in fact she was just humouring her dinosaur of a mother.

3. The toddler apparently doesn't approve of our standards of housekeeping. The other morning, he stopped on his way across the hall, declared "Oh no," and pointed to a piece of fluff on the rug. Then he ordered "'Weep" and fetched a broom and dustpan. While we were cleaning the kitchen one evening, he toddled over  to get cleaner (non toxic before you panic) and a rag from under the sink. When I asked him what he was cleaning, he said "that" and pointed to a patch of cat vomit. If only we could bottle this enthusiasm for the teenage years. (And yes, I know I mentioned that topic last 7QT, but cat vomit and mouse guts loom large in our lives.)

4. A friend, and writer, whose opinion I trust mentioned that she thought my last Seven Quick Takes actually sounded like me. Now I'm obsessively analyzing it, because I feel like I've spent two years floundering around for a blog voice. I think it's because I'm an introvert and an English major: I don't want to share everything, and I want my posts to be structured. And did I mention my intense inner critic?

5. And following on from the internet paranoia in my last 7QT, I have a new saga. One of my domain names is up for renewal, and I thought I'd transfer it to Google. I couldn't get the transfer to begin on my original host (Webeden), so I went back to Google and tried from there. Google told me that Gandi, a French company, owned my domain - apparently it was sold without my knowledge. As if 1066 wasn't humiliating enough.
OK, so I went to their site - to find that I had to log in to make a transfer, using the password THEY HAD SENT ME WHEN I GOT MY DOMAIN. Hmm, missed that. Next step: email Webeden. That email bounced back three times until Gmail finally told me Webeden wouldn't accept it. Zut alors!

So, red coat on and drum at the ready, I am turning to my next plan: wait for the day it expires and try to swoop in and claim it. Update coming, hopefully of the Waterloo kind...

Just me and a few internet savvy friends... we're ready.

6. But wait, the internet trauma isn't over. I've also just about given up on my Facebook news feed. Some time around the election, Mary of Let Love Be Sincere, wrote very lucidly about why she refused to be forced off FB. And I admire that, but I'm not made of such stern stuff. I'm sick of politics, and it's impossible to avoid. Do you remember the Malcolm in the Middle episode where the teenage Malcolm tries to keep his snarky mouth shut, and ends up with a stomach ulcer? That's sort of how I feel when faced with - well, you know the types of posts and comments - but mixed with a stomach-churning fear of conflict. What I really want to reply is, "Why don't you check Snopes before you post/ Learn to construct an argument/ Exhibit a little common decency?" Instead, I'm only checking my groups, and my emotional life is much healthier.
And since I use black humour to cope with stress, do you know how much force it took to refrain from saying that I'm imposing a temporary FB ban while I negotiate stricter viewing rules with myself? Not enough, apparently.

7. And to bring down the tension with something short. Alcuin came up with his first real sentence: "Hit stuff." I think I have a boy.

For more quick takes, sneak on over to Kelly's at This Ain't the Lyceum. I don't think the French are after her domain.

P.S. In an effort to be less of a dinosaur, I've done a little updating around here. You can now comment without having any sort of account, subscribe via email, or link up via Friendster ;)

Monday, 6 February 2017

Book Review: The Literary Churchill by Jonathan Rose

I went to an all-girls secondary school, where ideas of a suitable education for young ladies were very traditional. This included the history syllabus. We diligently studied British and European history all the way up to 1914, and then skipped to the Treaty of Versailles. In the same way, the years 1939-45 somehow mysteriously disappeared. Which is to say, that although I have a good general knowledge of modern British history, and Winston Churchill, I have never delved into these two crucial periods of his life. Thus, The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor by Jonathan Rose made my Christmas list.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. Since my degrees are in English, I have a pretty good knowledge of British literature, so the references were good hooks for me to hang new information on, as well as a way to connect historical dots (to mix my metaphors). I particularly enjoyed the chapter that explores Churchill's relationship with the person and writings of T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), a new(ish) obsession of my own.

One thing this book is not is a straight biography of Churchill. The book is ostensibly linear, in that the beginning of each chapter forms a progression through Churchill's life, but since each is thematic, it then jumps backwards and forwards, following the threads of the topic, such as melodrama or empire.You need a reasonable knowledge of the era to follow events. For example, notorious episodes such as the Dreyfuss affair are mentioned without comment, not even explained in the end notes; important biographical events such as Churchill's marriage do not even merit one sentence.

Rose has a basic narrative arc that Churchill was a man of letters, and his politics was shaped by the literature he read and wrote. He bursts on the late Victorian political scene with a florid rhetoric that endures his success, becomes somewhat of a dinosaur in the first decades of the twentieth century, but comes into his own again when Britain desperately needs a charismatic leader to carry the country to victory in World War II. Always looking for the theatrical or historical moment, Churchill is sometimes devastatingly wrong, sometimes spectacularly right, sometimes chillingly prophetic, but never a conventional career politician.

I did think the book floundered a little between the idea of being an academic study and a commercial biography. I also think that the many references to current people and affairs, presumably included for the mass market, will make it date more quickly. And I have to admit I was disappointed with the final chapter, which became more about John F. Kennedy, a Churchill admirer, than Churchill himself. Granted, Churchill did not die until a few years after Kennedy's assassination, but I felt that it took the focus away from the subject of the book. And, sigh, I do wish that professional copy editors still existed. There were more errors than I should expect from Yale University Press.

All in all, I would call this a satisfying read, which is my definition of a good book. It was challenging, interesting, and has made me want to add more of Churchill's own writings to my reading list. I think I'll start easy with My Early Life :)

Friday, 3 February 2017

7 Quick Takes 49: How Frugal Are You?

1. How did January go for you? Were you one of the many who decided to tighten their belts, hide their credit cards in the cat litter, and spend as little as possible in January?

For starters, here's a few things from a list of 60 extreme money saving ideas that we're guilty of. By guilty, I mean that if it's straight giving up on something, that's me. If it involves buying something at a certain website through another website with a particular credit card to save 5%, get 3% cashback etc., that's Mr Money Ponytail in the household (and if you get that reference you have extra bad ass frugality points). But back to the list:

2. Taking hotel shampoos. While we don't raid the cleaner's cart when she isn't looking (like the respondent), why not take the extra home if you've opened it? It'll only be thrown away. But you know, now I'm sort of tempted to lurk in the corridor... at least I would be if we hadn't just bought hundreds of dollars in Airbnb gift cards (see #6).

3. Get rid of paid TV completely. I don't suppose this really applies to the UK yet, where it's not the norm, but how is it extreme to live without cable or satellite? We've done so for years, and our children aren't too warped. We saved $600 by switching to Netflix and then gave that up entirely because there's a lot of viewing out there for free (she says vaguely).

4. If it's brown, flush it down, if it's yellow let it mellow. Well, I did do this one, until I had a toddler in the house again. For obvious reasons.

5. Stop using paper towels. Another one I was good at until Alcuin arrived and I got a bit overwhelmed. That is, we've used cloth dinner napkins for decades, and have a store of rags and old towels, but I had got to the point where I was using old tea towels and napkins to dry rinsed fruit and veg, inspired by Zero Waste Home. That's where I've backslid. I have to say, though, that it takes more courage than I possess to clear up a combination of vomited cat biscuits and mouse guts and then rinse and reuse the rag.
Along the same lines, I don't buy cling film (plastic wrap) any longer. I use old bread bags or wax paper (which can then be burned or composted). And honestly, the only time we really miss it is when we stop in the middle of a painting job and want to wrap up the paint brush instead of washing it out.

6. To add my own confessions. Apart from the normal frugal habits like using coupons, buying three months' worth of cheese when it's on sale, and washing out ziplock bags (you do that, right?), we are in the habit of:
Heating the house with rubbish. On days it's just a little cold, we burn paper and cardboard in the wood stove, maybe supplemented with sticks, to avoid turning on the heat. Setting fire to student exams warms us inside and out :)
Buying gift cards for supermarket points. One that I swear I read on the original post but wasn't there when I rechecked was buying hundreds of dollars in gift cards  at the supermarket to get extra petrol (fuel) points. Guilty, guilty, guilty.

7. I was going to mention the blog Mindful 45, where the author is on a mission only to buy necessary items in 2017 - but when I click on the link now, the blog has been removed and is labelled as not available. The last, missing, post was labelled Trip Tips. What happened? Did she go one step too far? Did Amazon or Travelocity order an assassination? A great, frugal mystery (seriously, I hope she's OK).

And, though this is sort of off topic, I'm particularly obsessed with this because another acquaintance's blog was recently removed from Blogger. It was her story of how she beat cancer using vitamin B17, which of course doesn't make money for the pharmaceutical companies. Is this all an anti-frugal conspiracy engineered by Google?

What about you? How far have you gone to save money? Are you heating your house on chinchilla droppings? Using moss for toilet paper?

(The reference, by the way? That's Mr Money Mustache aka "early retirement through badassity". Too extreme even for us.)

Get that hamster wheel hooked up to the grid, and get on over to This Ain't the Lyceum where I'm happily not quite the only one who's frugal.