Sunday, December 27, 2015

Maintaining traditions

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We planned for a trip out to the champagne brunch at the Greenbriar Inn, a lovely restaurant set in the snowy foothills just north of Boulder.  Like trips to the Tetons years ago, it’s become a special tradition among us at this time of year. They set out a lavish Christmas buffet with oysters and cheeses, carvery and pastries, a real contrast to the smaller portions and delicate presentations traditional in Europe.  This is solid regional cooking in abundance, and few restaurants do it better.

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My parents and I had a pretty perfect day for doing a leisurely brunch and conversation together.  The skies and snow were classic Colorado blue and white, the buffet seasonally varied and well-laid.  The ambience wasn’t that much different from when the kids and I visited with my parents at this time last year.

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Someone remarked to me that we don’t mend the gaps that people leave in our lives, but instead populate them with our memories.  We all remembered the good times together with William, the occasional complicated challenge, and speculated about who he might have become.  As with all of our children, he is much loved, and he is missed.

And as the courses and topics pass into early afternoon, this luncheon remains, then as now, a welcome and close time with family, valued lots.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Redmond Christmas Market

DSC08312 (663x1024)While living distantly aroud greater London, I’ve made annual visits to the Southbank Christmas Market along the Thames. It started as a faint echo of the established collections of gift stalls, food, and music across Northern Europe.  It would be better, I thought, if they just embraced their own Victorian Christmas celebrations, widely mimicked in the US.

However, Southbank Winter Festival has matured into something special, while the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is grown comfortable with its own sprawling kitsch.  I take each for what it is, a reflection of how people think about Christmas as well as how they celebrate it.

DSC08321 (1024x658)Redmond, WA, is not Maastricht nor London.  But its town market has the same mix of inward-looking tradition and backward-looking aspiration.   There is a grand carousel, covered with lights.  An ice rink filled with children, learning.  Yule tree, Sinterklaas-hut (minus the bishop’s hat and mitre), an orchestral choir (belonging to my next-door neighbour) singing classical European carols.

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DSC08274 (645x1024)The styles of celebration do mingle.  To see how much, I passed through The British Pantry, a grocer and restaurant catering to homesick British expats. It’s always an intriguing store, like someone walked through a Tesco scooping random bits of ordinary off the shelves.  Mustards and sauces, biscuits and pickles, chocolates and teas, all at everyday double-prices.  It’s a delight.  I treated myself to a pudding and a mince pie.

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DSC08282 (780x1024)And I spotted the best cross-cultural merge, lights blinking on his Bridget Jones Christmas Sweater.  A nice fellow, more than willing to stand in as the spirit of this foot-in-every-country season that I am traversing.

And to all, as happy a Christmas as he is enjoying!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Doing the holiday baking

DSC08393We always do a cookie exchange among the family at Christmas  time.  My grandmother’s typewritten cookie instructions and crowd the table with book recipes for rugelach, traditional bourbon balls alongside shortbreads introduced a year ago.  I have to lay in lots of ingredients that make nutritionists blanch: butter, whole milk, eggs, sugars (although food advice warning against these staples,  is changing).

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With jet lag and prep for diagnostic tests preventing any sleep, I’ve been up early each morning to mix, knead, refrigerate and roll.  A year of watching Masterchef and pushing myself into new styles and yielded a better sense of how to combine ingredients (and when to stop combining).  I got abundant high-quality goods this year.  Especially nice were some experiments with miniature loaves of ginger-, cranberry-, and pumpkin bread.

With the icing, it all comes together.

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I’m still not making the gtraditional UK Christmas Cake. ‘far better to leave that to my w.wezen, who knows.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Mood lighting

lincoln lightingThe sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial, Daniel Chester French, was not happy.  His bust of the 16th president looked startled, afraid, wholly different from what was intended.  The effect was caused by the lighting.  When lit from above, the brows lowered, the expression hardened, the figure looked resolute.  French decreed that the bust should never again be lit from beneath.

The contrasting photographs, and the story of how light creates mood, are iconic.  I took a lamp up to my daughter’s room to experiment with how just the play of light on her rocking horse can change the entire character of a picture.

Moving right or left, top or bottom, front or back, changes the visible detail, the 3-D relief of the object, the drama of the scene.

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Which is the best representation, the most compelling photograph?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Solving a few problems

DSC08257We were two hours into the flight when something shot beneath my seat.  I glimpsed a slim white body, a long tail with a puff-ball of fur at the tip.  A cat?

A short spectacled woman rushed past, trailed by a grim stewardess grumbling about keeping track of comfort animals.  There was a yelp across the aisle as the cat doubled back to hide beneath the center row.  The Canadian seated next to me fretted about her allergies to pet hair.

A crowd gathered, helpful suggestions multiplied.  The pet’s owner tried to lure it from beneath the seats into the cage with a cat treat. Already vulnerable, this wasn’t making her tripp any easier.  Someone tried to take photos, the flight attendants tried to get him to delete the pictures.  The cat ran, and everyone lost track of where it went.

It took the better part of an hour to catch it, cornered by an organized pincer of people crawling between the forward rows.  On landing, the airline escorted owner and pet off for a conversation.

‘lively start to the Christmas holiday.

OLWI spent part of the flight catching up with essays for the blog: the connection between Windows Live Writer and Blogger stopped working about a week ago.  Google has been changing their login security, and Microssoft wasn’t keepig up.  Again (first time was last May)

The good news is that Microsoft has divested the Live Writer project to the Open Source community, rebranded as Open Live Writer.  Within a couple of days, a fix was implemented and the new utility was working.

I’m excited aobut the transition, it likely means that the editor gains new features, reliability, and platforms.  ‘Still the best publishing utiklity avaiklable: highly recommended in it’s new, evolving form.

OOneI wasn’t so lucky with my favorite long-distance telecom uutility, OperatorOne.  Their Connect International service gave me a one-to-one local UK phone number connected to a US phone number.  It was cheap, direct-dial per-use calling.

Two weeks ago, the service stopped connecting.  The account had funds, the numbers were right.  It turns out that the business has failed, as happens with young tech companies.  I haven’t been able to find a replacement yet, so have fallen back to using Skype from my desktop PC (when, infrequntly, I’m at my desk).

DSC0825910 hours in the air: too early to sleep, so I watched Inside Out, Foodies, and Mr. Robot.  Finally on the ground, there was one last hurdle to go.

I presented my passport, goods inventory, and screening printout to the Customs Officer. 

How long have you been away?  I’m resident overseas.

Doing what?  Starting a new business, medical devices.

How long are yous taying? ‘just for the holiday.

You know, you can stay as long as you like?    ‘so I’m told…