Weekend Sky: Late Winter Sunset

This is my first time participating in Hammad Rais’s Weekend Sky challenge!

It’s been a bit difficult to capture the sunset where we live – our house faces north and a row of houses blocks the western sky. But before Daylight Savings started, I would take walks in the late afternoon and sometimes be lucky to capture a beautiful sunset. These were taken on March 5, when the ponds were still partially frozen and remnants of February snows still remained.

Loving S Words

Catch-up time for Paula’s February Month of Love challenge!

And what do you know?? All my loves for this post start with the letter S, which is the subject of /Lens-Artists Photo Challenge!

Feb. 23: I love…sunsets (and sunrises, although I’m hardly ever awake for those! 🙂 ).

Somewhere at sea
The wires are unfortunately visible, but I like this sunset against Chicago’s skyscrapers.
I took this on a walk a few days ago – it’s not quite sunset, but the sun is low in the sky, casting shadows from the tree.
Sunset from an airplane
Sunset in Tanzania

Feb. 24: I love…spring! I already included summer as one of my loves, but the spring is special too, because it is the season of hope and anticipation. The cycle of life begins, emerging from winter snow and cold, producing new life in flora and fauna. Last spring, I took photos of my daffodils on the side of my house in March, from shoots to blooms.

Fruit trees bloom.
And my garden was newly planted.

Feb. 25: I love…singing. I never had good manual dexterity to play an instrument but I’ve always loved to sing. When I was a young adult and needed a spiritual outlet, I turned to singing by joining a community choir. After moving to Des Plaines, I joined the choir at First Congregational Church and still participate in that! It’s rather hard during the pandemic to do group singing, but we use Zoom and a music software called Upbeat to practice and then record the pieces we sing. So I’d like to end with a song about singing (with a virtual choir that may also use Upbeat software!):

February Month of “Lurve” – #16-20

Whoa! I have five days to catch up on this challenge, Paula’s February Love Me!

Feb. 16: I love…my house. We moved here in August 2019, a compact, pristine little house (it’s actually a duplex) waiting for us. Everything is new & modern, nothing is malfunctioning (and if it does, we call maintenance who comes to fix it right away and we don’t have to pay for it), there are no stairs, we have a tiny screened porch and a patio with an elevated plot next to it where we can plant whatever we want, and adequate storage space. I think this house is the most satisfying thing about living in this senior community. I was so sick of our old house – nearly 100 years old, it had old plumbing, poor water pressure in the shower, and three levels. The washer & dryer were in the basement, and our bedroom was on the second floor. Now when I want to wash clothes, I just go from my bedroom to the washer & dryer unit off my kitchen. There was always something going wrong at our old house and we had to replace the roof twice. We don’t need to worry about any of that here!

Of course, we had to get rid of a lot of stuff, but I didn’t mind that. It was good to downsize!! The only drawback is having only a one-car garage, so one of us has to park in the driveway.

We live in the house on the left – the red Subaru is Dale’s.
View from the window of our second bedroom, which we use as our entertainment center – TV and computers are here.

Feb. 17: I love…my family. I grew up with three sisters and one brother, and both parents. We were not a dysfunctional family, we got along for the most part. My brother was really mean to me when we were children, and my oldest sister was kind of bossy too, but still we were a remarkably cohesive family. Now my parents are deceased, one of my sisters is also deceased, but we all have kids, and most have grandkids. I love and cherish my large extended family!

Our daughter gave us this photo in a frame. These are the members of my family who were there. But there are many more.
This photo was taken in 2007 (also in a frame) when we gathered to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. She is in the middle of the first row, wearing a black & teal outfit.

Feb. 18: I love…my knickknacks. I have a lot of small figurines and other knickknacks that I have accumulated during my travels, or sometimes they were gifts. I have a lot more than pictured below!

Still life of five random things I have collected over the years! In back is a little round box that opens into a traditional neighborhood scene, from Cuba; at left is a black clay turtle, which also has a whistle; and a Mexican alebrije – a seal made from copal wood and then brightly painted with beautiful designs! On the right is a circle of Peruvian figures made from clay and painted in traditional dress; and a snake I bought at a craft fair, because I just liked it.
Maybe you have seen a meme on social media of a cutout photo of Bernie Sanders at Biden’s Inauguration, placed in other photos. He was sitting near the back and was hugging himself in the cold. A friend crocheted this figure of Bernie for me. She also makes mittens (full size, that you can wear!). Bernie Sanders himself has capitalized on his meme by having it printed on T-shirts for sale; all the proceeds go to Meals on Wheels of Vermont.
This is Josephine (Josefina), a javelina made out of metal by an artist in Tucson, Arizona. I am doing a series of photos with Josephine in various random locations. Here she is on my piano keyboard! (A javelina is a type of wild pig native to Southwestern USA.)

Feb. 19: I love…coloring. A few years ago, there started to be coloring books for adults on the market. They were promoted as being relaxing. You can find coloring books of anything from scenes from Outlander to Cats with Hats to Amazing Mandalas and geometric designs. It is really calming, so I tend to do it while watching the news! I bought several sets of gel pens, which are my favorite medium for coloring, but I also use colored pencils a lot – which are good for doing shading in the pictures – and markers. I like experimenting with different color combinations and it also helps me to color small details without going outside the lines – a good practice for when I need a steady hand for doing water colors or drawings. Here is a sampling:

Feb. 20: I love…walking. Walking is my favorite type of exercise. I like walking outside especially, because I can appreciate the nature around me, and it’s possible to find small things to admire, something I can’t do if I’m riding a bike, for example. I walk in any season as long as the weather isn’t too cold – it’s really the wind that keeps me inside!

On the walking path of our campus, a few days ago.
On our campus – I liked the shape of this autumn foliage!
At Cuba Marsh in spring
Duck on a pond with water lilies, at Chicago Botanic Gardens last July

TT: Seasonal Favorites

PC Guy IV poses the following question for his weekly Truthful Tuesday challenge:

Whether it’s soups, stews, or chili, are there certain foods that you consider “winter fare”, only suitable when the temperature dips low enough to turn the furnace on, or do you just eat whatever whenever?

I think it’s natural to prefer certain foods in winter, as opposed to summer, especially living in a climate with cold winters. It’s nice to hunker down with hot chocolate or apple cider to drink, and to choose soups for winter lunches. But I don’t like to give up on summer fare just because it’s winter. Dale went to Costco a couple of weeks ago and looked for Sangria – their brand is our favorite. Finding that they weren’t just out of it, but had actually taken it off the shelves, Dale asked an employee why and was told that “sangria is considered a summer drink.” OK, I can understand that – it conjures up lazy nights at outdoor bars or cafes in Spain following hot summer days – but we like to drink it all year! Apparently we weren’t the only ones to complain because within two weeks it was back in their wine selections!

Ice cream is another one – I do love ice cream in the summer and am more likely to have it in the summer, but if it’s on the menu as the dessert of the day, I will choose it no matter what the season!

I’m a member of a wine club that allows me two bottles of wine per month, and in the winter I sometimes get what is called “Winter White” or “Winter Red.” Of course these wines can be drunk chilled or at room temperature, but I like to heat them up and add a few cloves or cinnamon sticks!

In contrast, I hardly ever eat soup in the summer, but I have it almost every day for lunch in the winter – it’s easy and good. I love salads year round, and don’t mind fruits and vegetables imported from South America. Chili is great in winter too, although it’s rarely offered here; I’m not sure why.

But in the winter, what I most look forward to is movie night in front of our TV, with a winter snack of microwave popcorn accompanied by Mexican hot chocolate!* This hot chocolate is prepared with milk over the stove, stirring in a piece of a bar of chocolate usually flavored with cinnamon. I use a whisk when stirring to make it frothy! While normally I am content to have No Sugar Added Swiss Miss or hot tea in the evening, I’ve got chocolate bars made in Mexico on hand for those special movie nights!

I find it harder to lose weight in the winter than the summer. I don’t exercise as much (especially with limited access to fitness centers during the pandemic) in the winter. Perhaps it’s a sort of instinctual need to hibernate like bears. Put on a layer of fat and sleep the cold away!!

Hibernation Bear HD Stock Images | Shutterstock

*You can find fancy recipes for Mexican hot chocolate online, but I make it very simply, the way I learned in Mexico:

2 tablespoons or approximate Mexican bar chocolate (easy to find in Mexican stores or ethnic aisles in supermarkets) Ibarra brand. (But any brand will do.) This bar chocolate has a grainy texture and is already flavored with cinnamon. (See photo below.)

2 cups of milk (I use skim – use whatever you prefer)

Using a small saucepan on the stove top, add the milk and the chocolate chunks over medium heat. Do not allow it to boil by constantly stirring with a spoon, until the chocolate is melted. Then use a whisk to froth the mixture.

Pour it into ceramic cups and enjoy!

Using one wedge of one of these bars per cup of milk is ideal.

Countdown 2 Xmas: Mail Toys Snow Night

I’m back at Tourmaline’s Countdown to Christmas. Let’s see, where was I?

Day 19: Mail
I almost always send holiday cards through the mail. Usually they are late, but this year I’ve mailed them all before Christmas! I order my cards from Shutterfly and couldn’t imagine what to send in this coronavirus year! The one I chose was amusing & appropriate, I thought – it just said “Well, That was CRAZY! Happy 2021 (finally)”. It included four photos, one a selfie of me and Dale in masks, one of Hazel, our cat, and two scenic. (I am unable to copy and paste it here and I used up all the cards!) I had Shutterfly print our return address on the back of the envelope, so sending them was easy! I only had to add my half-page letter, address, stamp, seal, and mail!

Day 20: Toys

Day 21: Snow
We haven’t had any (yet)! But here are some photos from last winter.

Day 22: Night
Last night, for the first time in 800 years, Saturn and Jupiter were to line up in the night sky, and we would see them as one brightish light near the horizon. We were going to go to a park after dark to look at this phenomenon, but alas! It was cloudy!

What I like about night at Christmas time is all the holiday lights that brighten up the darkness when the days are short and the sun sets before 4:30 p.m.!

Countdown 2 Xmas

I’m struggling to keep up with Tourmaline’s Countdown to Christmas! I got as far as Day 3, so today I’ll have to get four more days done!

Day 4: Movie
There are lots of holiday movies but only two of them have ever been an annual tradition. When I was a kid, every year we’d watch Menotti’s operetta Amahl and the Night Visitors. My siblings and I knew it so well that even today we can quote (singing, of course!) from it.

Several years ago, I acquired the DVD of Love Actually, which is sort of a holiday movie. I really enjoy this movie and we watch it almost every year. There were a few things that made it special:
1. Colin Firth
2. Colin Firth attempting to speak Portuguese
3. the soundtrack
4. Sam, the 12-year-old character
5. the scene where the prime minister (played by Hugh Grant) “tells off” the American president
6. the fact that my mother loved it until she thought about it and decided it was “soft porn.”
7. Colin Firth proposing to the love of his life in Portuguese at a restaurant in Portugal

Day 5: Music

I love carols and Christmas songs, but my favorites are the classical pieces associated with Christmas: Handel’s Messiah, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and others. That said, I love a few Christmas songs that I can’t get enough of.

Oddly, although I don’t believe that it is a fact that Jesus was actually the product of a virgin Mary and God, nor that Jesus literally walked on water, etc., my favorite three Christmas songs that give me goosebumps are:
Mary Did You Know


The Cherry Tree Carol

The Prayer (not specifically for Christmas, but it’s on Celine Dion’s Christmas album)

Day 6: Plants
A poinsettia, what else?? The poinsettia is native to Mexico where some of its leaves turn red (or white) around Christmas time. This happens because of the shorter days of December. I was told that if I wanted my poinsettia to rebloom, I should put it in a dark place, to coax the leaves to turn red again. Instead, I killed the poinsettia because I forgot about it and it was totally neglected! Here’s a photo I took in January of a poinsettia with red & white leaves (obviously it didn’t live in my house!)

Day 7: Fireplace
My son and I never lived in a place with a fireplace when he was young enough to believe in Santa Claus! I would hang his stocking on a nail! By the time we moved into our house with a fireplace, he was 10 and no longer believed in Santa. So then I just hung decorative stockings over the fireplace! Alas, I have not a single photo!


SYW: Winter & Holiday Traditions

Every week I look forward to Melanie’s Share Your World!

Yuletide SYW

QUESTIONS:

Do you enjoy skiing or ice skating or if it’s warm where you are, hiking or enjoying outdoor sports? I have never been good at sports of any kind, really. However, as a kid I did go with my siblings or friends to local skating ponds. We all had ice skates. I would get cold pretty quickly, sooner than the others. The best part was going home and warming up our frozen feet in front of the fireplace, while drinking homemade hot chocolate!

One of my sisters and my brother used to downhill ski, and my sister got pretty good at it. I was always confined to the “bunny hill.” I wasn’t very good at stopping which of course was a problem since I sometimes stopped by running into someone or something! Good thing I wasn’t going very fast. However, every time I went, I did experience momentary exhilaration during my descent down the hill. More fun for me was sledding – that was a popular pastime among my friends in the neighborhood. Also making snowmen or snow forts. For a short time, I enjoyed cross country skiing, but I didn’t pursue it enough to get very good. But at least stopping was a lot easier! Again, I always looked forward to warming up back inside afterward with hot chocolate.

That said, I really have never been a fan of winter. I don’t tolerate the cold well. As an adult, it’s nothing but inconvenience and drudgery – cleaning off the car to go to work or before going home. And then shoveling. My husband would get on his snow blower, but my job was to clear the porches and steps. Sometimes we had to use the shovels to chop a layer of ice under the snow.

Admittedly, there are many opportunities for beautiful photography in winter. I have a great collection of photos of icicles and scenes of freshly fallen snow.

Do you give to charities or homeless that you might encounter, during this time of year, more than you do otherwise?
I get more solicitations at this time of year but I have to pick & choose. I have a few charities that I give to consistently. As for homeless people, I don’t usually give homeless people money on city streets, but here in the suburbs, there are certain intersections where individuals go between the cars waiting at a red light to try to get money from motorists. Sometimes I give, sometimes I don’t. More recently, I did. How generous I am depends on how secure I feel in terms of money. Right now I have some to spare.

In normal times, I get volunteers from my church to either provide food or work at a homeless shelter site. Different churches take turns every week manning these sites and serving food that is donated. But of course, right now these shelters are closed, so I feel sorry for those people who depended on them.

What is the most enjoyable activity you engage in during December?  Is it a tradition for you and your family?
I used to love decorating the Christmas tree. I have a lot of ornaments that I have acquired over the years, souvenirs of different places and different times. After I persuade Dale to put on the lights, I play Christmas music while decorating the tree.

We haven’t had a tree the last couple of years – last year we had just moved and we needed a smaller tree which we didn’t get; and the year before that we were overseas at Christmas. So this year I really want to find a tree – real or fake – that’s about 4-5 ft. tall for a good price so I can enjoy those ornaments again.

Our Christmas tree in years past

I also love getting together with family for dinner, gift exchanges, Christmas cookies, and carol singing! Here’s a collage from Christmas 2016:

What changes will C-19 bring to your festive celebrations this year?  
Thanksgiving was a preview of holidays to come – the two of us sat at our little table alone and ate the Thanksgiving dinner we ordered for dinner here at our senior community. Afterward, we connected with several family households on Zoom, to chat and play games. I think Hanukkah and Christmas will be the same. The weird thing is that this year I’ve bought more “real” gifts than I have in the past – usually I give gift cards because I have no imagination, lol! So now I have to mail those gifts to people I would normally see. For our kids, we will probably go to their houses and leave gifts on their porches, and they will most likely exchange gifts with us then. (Besides, we usually give them cash.) But we probably will get together with my sister and brother-in-law, who live in this community too, at least on New Year’s Eve, which is our traditional wine and game night. We usually play Scrabble. If we do Zoom, we’ll have to do a game like Categories that doesn’t require any shared equipment.

GRATITUDE SECTION (Optional of course):

Please share a good will wish for the world!

There is good news on the horizon: vaccines for Covid-19, and for Americans, a new administration with actual leadership will be taking office in January. In light of that, my message is:

There is light at the end of the tunnel.
May it arrive in 2021!
Until then, stay safe, stay healthy, listen to scientists, and count your blessings during these dark times.