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Our down comforter keeps us warm on these winter nights.

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I heard a soundbyte go by the other day to the effect that late January, especially the last Saturday of the month, is the most depressing time of year. Still pretty dark, pretty cold, and the holiday sparkle has worn off.

In the interest of saving the world from deep depression, I hereby offer my choices for the best uplifting films. Watch one soon! I guarantee it will give you a smile.

1. Enchanted April. Fabulous cast including Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson, Jim Broadbent and Alfred Molina. Charming story of escape from rainy England to the lush Italian seaside.*

2. Back to the Future. Just great fun in a time travel romp. Michael J. Fox in his prime. Christopher Lloyd. Back to the Future II is equally wonderful. (BTF III not so much, for me. But if you like it, go for it.)

3. Victor Victoria. Paris in the 30s, with wonderful music and clothes. Julie Andrews in drag. Delightful performances from Alex Karras, Lesley Ann Warren, and James Garner. Also Graham Stark, one of my favorite bit part actors, and of course Robert Preston's crowning performance.

4. Chocolat. France again, this time with exotic mesoamerican sweets. Juliette Binoche, Johnny Depp, and more Alfred Molina. Be prepared for sugar cravings. Order a supply in advance from Kakawa Chocolate House in Santa Fe.*

5. Sirens. Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, Sam Niell. A minister and his wife visit a—er—highly romantic artist at his Australian estate. The scenery and the performers are lush and sensual. Watch this one with your sweetie, but not with your parents. And um, send the kids over to a friend's house.*

*good picks for Valentine's Day
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These cold winter days and nights, Mishka spends a lot of time by the fire. We have a great wood stove which we use for most of our winter heating. Here is Mishka in his most common fireside pose, draped off the piano bench which he has claimed as his winter seat.

I love fires and fireplaces. One of the things I always wanted in a home was a fireplace. Our previous residence didn't have one, so when we bought our house one of the important features for me was this wood stove.

I actually prefer fireplaces, but since we use the stove to heat its efficiency is important. The first fireplace I had growing up was a kiva-style (sometimes called beehive) fireplace. In those, you prop the wood against the back wall in a half-tipi shape. Building a fire in a rectangular box is a completely different operation. Either way, though, it's a geometrical art, one of shapes and spaces. A fire needs air and it needs a way to climb. "Ladder fuels" is a very apt term. When I first saw the stacked wood bonfires customary in Louisiana I thought them odd, but the other day when I was tweaking the fire in the stove, I realized they're a very efficient ladder for fire.

Needless to say, I don't care for artificial fires, gas logs and so on. I understand all the reasons for them, but give me the real thing, smoke, ashes, and all.

Here is a view showing the stove, so you can see why Mishka is dripping off the bench in that direction. I confess to a twinge of envy now and then as I go about my day and see him lying there. I've been moving a sofa closer to the stove lately, so I can get in a little basking time now and then, curled up by the fire with a book or a movie. I've been enjoying my annual viewing of The Lord of the Rings this week.

Mishka was kind enough to pose prettily in front of the fire recently, so I snapped off the photo below.

And now I believe it's time to go add a log to the fire.

May all of you out there have a cozy moment by some pleasant fireside soon. Stay warm.

(Previous Mishka posts: the first and the second)


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