Sunday, February 28, 2010

Visiting Target

I used the gift card up. It's gone. Au revoir! Auf Wiedersehen!

What did I get for my card?

Half-way through the month, I made a list of vital necessities.
  • Cat Food
  • Conditioner
  • Cough Drops
  • Cereal
  • Card for Carole
  • Oatmeal
  • Pasta
  • Dr. Pepper
  • Bread
  • Vegetable Oil
You all know my math skills are shaky at best, but I stood in the aisles doing long addition to make sure I didn't accidentally go over the card amount. At mid-month, that would not have been good. With coupons and the 10¢ per bag discount Target gives you when you bring your own bag (I had 2), I discovered I could get a Valentine's card for my mother, too, and use only $3 over half of the card. I didn't want to use the whole thing because there is always the end of the month and bills. I felt very good about myself, my prioritizing and my math.

I trotted off today to get a few more items.
  • Cereal x 2
  • Toothbrush
  • Cough drops x 2
  • Kitty Litter (By far the biggest expense)
  • Mr. Plummer
  • Toaster Strudel
  • Tuna
  • Cottonelle Wipes
I had milk and bread on the list too, but I didn't like the selection at Target. My local Target is undergoing major renovations to add the fresh vegetable and meat selections of a SuperTarget store. While prices for milk and bread are comparable to any other store, I just didn't feel good about the selection, as they are moving things around and shelves are picked over. I have a wee bit of cash so I will dash over to the grocery tomorrow and get milk and bread. Yes, I do have milk delivered, but I was gone during the delivery time this past week, so I took a vacation hold. It will be Thursday before my fresh half-gallon appears in the milk box. I have cereal to eat before then.

I got one item not on the list, a box of Stash's Chocolate Hazelnut tea. I know that sounds weird, but, when it's piping hot, it's really, really good. Stash made the tea my sister gave me for Christmas, which I like and which I'm nearly out of.

Added up, subtracting coupons and the bag discount, I had to chip in $12.69. No, I didn't NEED the Toaster Strudels. They are a quick breakfast when I get up late. Plus, they were on sale and I had a coupon. I didn't NEED the Mr. Plummer. I don't use it unless my plunging attempts don't get the drain running faster. I know it's not good on pipes, but I can't unclog drains and I certainly can't afford a plumber. And I didn't have to get the tea, but it was on sale and it's not always on the shelf anywhere.

I have the cash. I treated myself to delivery pizza when I got back from Iowa. That's going to be it now for delivery pizza unless I am the recipient of some largess. I could afford it and I felt I was worth it.

I have done well. I'm still reading at least 4 magazines a month. The stack is shorter, although there is a long way to go. I am half-way through the book you've seen on the side here since November. My goal is to finish that this week. I was able to pay almost all of my bills. I forgot about the gas bill and the phone bill comes at mid-month and I will be hard pressed to pay that. I haven't written a letter in a month. Shame on me, but I have nothing to do at the office so that's going to change. I have not had cash to buy fresh fruits and veggies and I'm down to about 3 inches of cranberry juice. I have one box of jello left and I did think about buying a few more boxes. I have not gone to bed consistently by 11 and I need to, nor have I picked up a craft project and finished it.

BUT, I am immensely proud of my ability to pay for anything I want or need in cash for a whole month. I used my cards only for gas to go to Iowa, nothing else. I have proven to myself, for the second month in a row, that my needs and wants do not have to involve a piece of plastic.

Every change involves baby steps. As March dawns, I'm getting there.

Beverage: Chocolate hazelnut tea


I really do need a hair cut.

Great-aunt Debbie holds a slightly unamused Wyatt. This is my niece's son. He's almost 8 months old now and would so like to walk. He doesn't really crawl so much as a semi-scoot, and he pulls himself up on everything. But he's got a wonderful even temperament and didn't mind sitting with me for a bit.

The hair is shoulder length now. I cut my own bangs, such as I can. The little tan streaks you see are what's left of a dye job from last year. I kind of like the length, but I'm also thinking of cutting it short, short. I'm not sure how that would look. It comes down to cost, however. A $40 haircut is not in the budget. As long as I can keep the bangs off my face, I can wait.

Beverage: Chocolate hazelnut tea


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Well, the checkbook didn't asplode...

but there isn't a lot left in it. I have one more month to get a couple of things settled down and then I might be able to see the middle of the tunnel. I'm not sure about an end. It's over there somewhere.

The run to the convention and home took 2 tanks of gas which was just $70 approximately. Thank you, Iowa, for subsidizing your ethanol production. I get better gas mileage on the mid-grade with ethanol and it's always cheaper, for those who have never experienced Iowa gasoline. The quarter tank I currently have should last until mid-week as I don't have any place to go other than Target.

I need more garbage stickers and I really should see the doctor about my shoulder. Getting my allergy meds would be nice or a hair cut. I've discovered there's a lot you'll tolerate when you just can't afford it and every penny has to be accounted for and used in the best way possible.

I've come so far yet it doesn't seem far enough.

Beverage: Cherry Coke


Uh oh. She's got that tone in her voice.

Now that 6 months have passed since the arrival of my fuzzy friends, I believe I can safely say we are all used to each other. Mija doesn't run when she's eating from the dishes in the hallway. I much step over her to pass. Pilchard clamors for my lap now, when I want to kill dragons or other mean baddies in World of Warcraft. "BBCOL" is a known acronym in my guild. Mija follows me every time I go into the kitchen, for any reason. She knows how to push the buttons to get kitty treats. I don't know what I'll do when I run out of these. We have, probably, a month left at the present rate of consumption. They both come and go from the basement. They sort of come when called, but these are cats so coming to me when I call, "I'm home!" is usually at their discretion.

Which leads to the big thing they have learned, tone of voice.

I love to pick them up and give them a cuddle when I get home from work. It feels as if all is right with the world to give a cat a hug, an ear scratch and he receive a purr in return. So I call out that I'm home and, if they come to the living room, will tell them I missed them and want a cuddle.

They know. They just know. "Oh good grief," their minds are thinking. "It's that high pitched voice. She wants to pick me up. RUN!"

Mija will take off into the back of the house. Pilchard goes

into the northeast corner of the house behind these two pedestals on which sit plants. She has learned I can't get her there. It is kind of funny. We do a light "chase" where I'll come after them a few steps. They run away but they will stop and turn around to look at me as if to say, "Um...come on mom."

I get my cuddles later via the "ambush and scoop" method.

Beverage: Huckleberry tea


If I could retire...

At the convention I attended, there were comments about who had retired over the last year. The follow-up question to "when" was always "where". Many had moved south, to warmer climes. A few had moved to be closer to children. A few had not gone anywhere. Given the brutal winter slowly passing, many expressed the idea "I think I'd go south to get away from the snow."

Not me.

I have always wanted to own some property in the hills over looking the Mississippi River. Ideally, it would be in Northeast Iowa, where I grew up, but I'd take Northwest Illinois as the bluffs there are similar.
  • Yes, there's snow; sometimes a lot of it.
  • Yes, there's cold; it was -30 when I stopped Wednesday morning for gas. That's cold.
  • Yes, there are summer bugs; that's what screens are for.
The draw for me is the scenery. Autumn cannot be beaten anywhere in the US. I like to say God did every other place and then he came to Northeast Iowa and got it right.

The river is a living, vibrant entity with a personality. It's no wonder Native Americans revered it. I've fishing on it as long as I can remember. I've driven next to and over it. I've watched it leave its banks. I've watched it shrink and leave sand bars where none were before. It figures into my family history.

I imagine a house on a hill, surrounded by trees, with a garden and a view. There would be 4 indelible seasons, each one with its own character. There would be hawks and eagle. I saw 3 bald eagles on this trip and at least 8 hawks. There's barge traffic through the channel and train traffic on the edges.
If I could live anywhere, this is where I'd choose.

Beverage: Huckleberry tea


Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm home.

I went to Iowa this week for the Iowa Limestone Producers Association's annual convention. It's always a fun time and I think we made some good contacts for my company and for business in Iowa.

I was worried about leaving because this is the first time in 6 months, that the ladies would be left alone. Plus, the furnace had been acting up very erratically since that one Monday when it cut out and didn't come back on until I turned it back on. Pam would feed the girls and I showed her how to reset the furnace and drove away Tuesday morning feeling more than a little worried.

It went wonderfully.

Mija would be in the hallway when Pam came to feed them. She would keep her distance, but she would show up to see what Pam was doing. Pilchard never came willingly until Pam stuck her head in the office, where Pilchard always seemed to be, and said, "Hi". Then she would come out and watch.

The furnace never seemed to act up. It's just weird. I think it will be fine now and I'll be able to save money to have it thoroughly cleaned and checked in May.

There were no surprises for me when I got home and I anticipated Pilchard might be mad and leave me something. Mija came running when I called out, "I'm home ladies! Mija? Pilchard? Mom's home!" Pilchard was sitting on the table in the office. Once I came in and scratched ears, she's followed me around. In fact, we have done several rounds of "hold me" and she's happily ensconced in the chair next to me, occasionally asking for an ear scratch. Mija has been chasing toys about the living room or sitting in the sunshine on the window sill or snoozing in the hallway. She comes in for an ear scratch on occasion, but both seem very happy I am home.

This bodes well for a longer stay at some point. I'm anxious to see if they will both come sleep with me tonight. I missed that most of all, the sound of a purring cat in the morning.

I had a great trip and I'm very happy to get home.

Beverage: Mr. Pibb


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I decided to sweep the floors over the weekend. They get so gritty in the winter from salt and general dirt. I had to wash a couple of the living room scatter rugs as Pilchard had hairball problems and left me some "evidence" on the rugs. I sweep once a week, but I only do a nooks and crannies sweep every 3 months or so. The dust bunnies in some of the corners appeared to be big enough for their own zip code so I decided it was time to clean.

That means picking everything up off the floor and piling it on top of something, moving furniture and banging the dust mop on the front porch hand rail to dislodge the dust. I moved the ottoman for my papasan chair and Pilchard decided this was the perfect place to go.

I know. She looks like she's been sentenced for imbibing in too much catnip or stealing treats or sleeping on top of the heating vent and absorbing all the heat.

Later, she jumped on top of the ottoman and just sat there, watching me. This is acceptable as we all know cats are very good at observing and appearing to be in charge. Of course, I could not move the ottoman back to the floor as I would dislodge the cat, so I left her.

Later, when she jumped down, she received an education in Newton's Third Law of Motion. This sent the ottoman backwards onto the floor. She fled into the office, where I was, and meowed as if to say, "I didn't do it."

Never a dull moment in my house.

Beverage: English Breakfast tea


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's only been a week.

Pam and I went to dinner last night at Panera's. She had a desire for soup and sandwich and she knows I'll go to Panera pretty much any time. 

Once comfortably ensconced at a table with our respective soups and sandwiches ("You Pick Two", for the win), she said another reason to take me to dinner was to mention my usual talkative self had been strangely silent for almost a week. She was a mite concerned I was in a deeper than usual funk or rut or rutted funk. 

No, I'm still here. I have a number of things I could post about but I've not felt the calling to write. It ebbs and flows like a stream. Some days the stream is swollen, filled with words rushing headlong downstream and it's all I can do to grab them. Other days, it's a casual meander, pooling in the quiet just waiting to be noticed. 

Lately, it's been a trickle. There are ideas in the shadows but they stay there. They aren't completely formed and wish to grow a bit before coming into the light of day. I can't say the stream is frozen because even a frozen stream has a life way at the bottom, ever moving. 

I'm collecting thoughts and photos and will be posting a great many things soon. My unstated goal has always been to have a post a day. It would be more than ironic that last month, with 31 days saw me way over and this month, with the shortest number of days, way under. 

But then, I've always been a fan of the ironic. 

Beverage:  Dr. Pepper


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Oh that's right!

funny pictures - cat marty graw
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

That's today. Happy Mardi Gras, everyone. We got free lunch today at work because Mike won lunch from Chipotle. He eats there, a lot. My complete lunch wasn't free as I had to pay for my soda.

Beverage: Coke


That's one way to get me out of bed.

Off the "Breaking News" wire...

Two stalled freight trains in separate western suburbs this morning blocked multiple rail crossings, causing big problems for Metra commuters trying to get to train stations, according to commuters and authorities. But both problems were cleared up by about 7:45 a.m.

A train stalled with mechanical problems in Western Springs on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Line was moving again as of 7:05 a.m. Multiple rail crossings in Western Springs had been blocked, but traffic now is moving freely in the area, said Police Sgt. Mark Battista.

The problem in Glen Ellyn cleared up about 40 minutes later. Metra said commuters were unable to board either inbound or outbound trains there. Trains were still running on schedule, however.

The freight train in Glen Ellyn was blocking automobile traffic for a two-mile stretch, according to a police dispatcher there. She said the train had broken down shortly after 5 a.m.

According to the TV news, the train's locomotive was across the Park Avenue crossing in Glen Ellyn and then stretched back west for 2 miles. That puts the end of the train across the College Avenue crossing which is 4 blocks from my house. So, what you do to provide good coverage is send your helicopter to fly over the line. You have it circle around and fly east to west and west to east. In flying west to east, it flies over my house. The air overpressure from the sound of a low flying helicopter rattles my house and scares my cats which makes Mija jump when she's lying next to me. As helicopters flying over one's house is not a usual occurrence, it forces me to get out of bed to see what's going on.

Oh well, I was at the office 10 minutes early today.

Beverage: Christmas Blend tea


Monday, February 15, 2010

Wow! Gee thanks mom!

I gave the girls catnip for Valentine's Day. They were very happy. They have warmed up to these scratching pads since getting them back in October. Both got their nails done and I gave them kitty treats for being so good. Then catnip. Mija has learned the sound of the catnip container being opened and comes running. They spent the evening sound asleep, Pilchard in the settee and Mija on my bed.

I'm nearly out of catnip. I'll have to rectify that situation.

Beverage: Scottish Blend tea


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valemtime's Day

Happy Valentine's Day to the best daughter on the planet and my future son-in-law (Boy does that sound weird.) and my grandkitty.



Beverage: Scottish Blend tea


Thursday, February 11, 2010

It's not that bad, for snow.

Tuesday, we received, at least at my house, a foot of snow. Of course, that's not nearly as bad as the east coast and, actually, I would have liked that kind of snowfall. Yesterday and today, it's been clear blue skies for part of the day. Reflected off the pristine snow, the outside has a charmed look to it. By week's end, the snow in places will be black or brown from road grime and the inevitable freezing and thawing of the push toward spring.

A couple of us were told to come in and sit in the office on Tuesday. At 11, the boss called and, because his was the only phone call we had taken all morning, the office was closed and we were sent home.

Driving home wasn't as bad as these photos may appear. The pavement was wet from street traffic as well as the wet snow.

You just have to drive slower than you would on dry pavement. People who have never driven in this panic. If they have an SUV, they drive too fast. If they don't have an SUV, they drive 10 mph. I just want to yell, "If you are that scared, go home and don't leave your house until April!"

I've turned off the main drag and am heading into the neighborhood I call home. This street had been plowed, which was nice.

I am now 3 blocks from the house. Notice how the clear street has given way to snow covered with tire tracks. In these budget crunching times, plowing the streets a bit less saves overtime and gas money. We may know how to clear it better than our friends in Baltimore, but that doesn't mean we have an unlimited amount of funds to spend on snow removal. Coming towards me is a pickup truck from the city to which a blade has been affixed. The regular city snowplows were off keeping the main roads clear.

I'm almost home here. My driveway is almost across from that red car. The people across the street always have people coming and going and they will often park across from my drive or in front of my house. This can make it more than a little difficult to pull into the drive as I am trying not to hit something.

This was only 4 of the foot of snow received. It was coming down steady at this point but the heaviest snow had not yet arrived. I did go out and shovel the deck, front steps and part of the walk. The cats are still scared when I come in after shoveling. They still haven't gotten used to the foot stamping outside and the clatter of dragging the shovel in and through the house. It will take them a good 5-10 minutes to come out from whatever place they have gone to hide.

And I am very glad they are indoor cats at times like these. I can leave the back door open while I shovel the deck and not have to worry about trying to tempt someone back inside who decided to check out the back yard even with a foot of snow.

Beverage: Earl Grey Tea


Thanks is not adequate enough.

I've often said that although there are many words in this great English language of ours, there are times when there just isn't a word to adequately convey what you want to say. This is one of those times.

I came home from work last night and shoveled off the deck and the front steps out to the mailbox. I wasn't going to shovel much beyond the mailbox but decided the milkman might appreciate a cleared walk to the milk box. So, I shoveled to the sidewalk. That was a good thing because it was warm enough, still at 4:15 to start melting the stuff on the deck and the front porch. I'll have a go at the driveway apron off and on over the weekend.

I brought in the mail and the above letter was in it. It's postmarked "Chicago" and had been mailed on Tuesday, during the snowstorm. There wasn't a return address but it was kind of fat. Curious, I opened it. Inside was the yellow piece of paper shown above, carefully folded around the Target gift certificate shown at the bottom right. The gift certificate is for a rather large sum.

I was speechless. I stood in my living room with tears running down my face. Whoever did this knows my name and address, knows my finances haven't been the best and knows I love to shop at Target and I can get pretty much anything I need at a Target, even fresh fruits and vegetables if I go to a SuperTarget.

There just are no words. I don't have any clue who might have done this and I know that's exactly how they want it. I will sit down with my list tonight and make a top 10 items I need and plan to visit the store on Saturday. I am so touched and so very grateful.

"Thank you" seems wholly inadequate.

Beverage: Earl Grey tea


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

No, I did not feel it.

I awoke to something mumbled about an earthquake. Honestly, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the reports. The earth is a vibrant entity. It moves. I had no idea.

4 a.m. this morning there was a rumble. I didn't feel it. Rodney says he felt it and it woke him. It doesn't seem to have shaken anything in my house, at least nothing looked awry when I got up. Perhaps the cats noticed things but they didn't become agitated and wake me up, although this could explain why Pilchard came meowing into the bedroom this morning wanting ear scratches. She just doesn't currently do that.

I walked into the office and the boss says, "Did you feel it?" "Feel what?" was my response, which garnered some rather incredulous looks from my co-workers. We got a foot of snow yesterday that blew around overnight. I'm more concerned with getting out of my driveway.

Yes, for those of you who have emailed me, four of the seismographs my company has in the western suburbs of Chicago picked up the quake. Above is the record from one of the machines.

On the left is a plot of the data graphed to the United States Bureau of Mines' (defunct and rolled into the Department of Interior) "Z" curve. This graph, based upon decades of gathering data from mining, says if quarry blasting stays below the lines shown, the chance of doing even cosmetic damage to a building is essentially nil. Everyone uses this and it has been proven again and again to be the platinum standard for judging intensity of blasting operations.

On the right is the actual waveform record of the quake. All vibrations have 3 components, a side-to-side motion, an up and down motion and the motion of the vibration waves as they pass by the sensor. The purple line above is sound and we aren't concerned with that here. The right side recording would be that machine everyone sees, the one that makes the up and down lines on paper when there is an earthquake, except all our data is stored electronically.

Our machines are located approximately 9 miles east of the quake's epicenter. We've been fortunate before. In the 10 years I've worked for this company, this would be the third earthquake we've captured. The first one I remember was in June of 2004. The second was in April of 2008. It's always interesting to see what our machines capture when this happens.

So how does what you see correspond to the widely used Richter Scale. The Richter Scale is a measure of damage. The bigger the number, the more likely there will be damage. Our machines are not a measure of damage. They measure the velocity of the vibration, the displacement of the ground as measured in inch per second. We deal with pieces of inches. Our machines showed the quake to measure 0.393 inch per second in displacement or velocity.

The other component of a vibration is its amplitude or frequency. We explain that by having you visualize a still pond. You toss a rock into this still pond. The resulting waves emanating from that rock can be thought of as vibration waves. The distance between waves is the frequency. The height is the intensity. All you see when a machine goes crazy and scribbles frantically across a piece of paper, is the intensity. That's all people really care about, even though you are less likely to notice a stronger vibration if it doesn't take its time to pass you by.

And that's the key to earthquakes, they take a long time to finish. Mother Nature releases a lot of energy over a long duration. This energy is released in waves that are spread out. You feel the shaking for a "long" time. One of the structural engineers in my company did an analysis of blasting vibrations versus earthquake vibrations and came to the conclusion that to produce even a 1 on the Richter scale would take millions and millions of pounds of explosives. Beyond a nuclear weapon, it's impossible.

Earthquakes are in the low frequency area of vibrations. You can see all the dots on the left graph clustered at the bottom and near the 10. This is the area where people are really going to feel things. The waves are not moving fast and most people's perception is in this range. If you can visualize this, the front part of a structure is moving up while the back part is down. You've seen this as an anchored boat goes up and down with a water wave. As the parts of a building are anchored, they have little flexibility to move. This up and down motion, called racking and sheering, twists the building components apart. That's what does the damage and, in earthquake prone areas, what buildings must be designed to either absorb or move with.

In the end, for the next few days, we are popular within the company, as offices become aware of the earthquake and call us asking if we recorded it. I kind of wish I would have been awakened by it. I've monitored enough quarry blasts that I'd like the comparison.

Beverage: Coke



This is a very, very small victory as victories go, but it is hugely, hugely important to me.

My checkbook balances!

For the first time in 4 months, everything balances out, everything. I don't have much but I do have enough that I can go get some lunch. I kept looking at the microwave soup I have in my desk drawer and that was doing nothing for me.

I have accounted for every check and every deposit and the total is the same.

Now, to keep it that way.

Beverage: Nothing. I need to go get lunch. I am going to have a Dr. Pepper.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Welcome to Monday morning, grumble.

The radio comes on at 6. I listen to snippets of New Orleans' victory over Indianapolis last night in some sporting event I didn't watch. I listen to the local news discuss politics and then announce a "Winter Storm Warning" for a foot of snow heading my way. I'm aware that Mija is curled up right next to me and she's purring happily. I extend my hand and begin 15 minutes of ear scratching while the motor revs into overdrive. Flannel sheets are warm. I'm cozy. I have a deliriously happy cat next to me.'s chilly in here.

I listen. For the next 15 minutes, the only sounds are the jazz on the radio, Mija's purr and the sound of the fridge kicking in. It is chilly in here. Where's the sound of the furnace blower coming on? I keep the house at 68 but it still should be coming on about every 3-4 minutes. It runs for about 3-4 minutes and turns off. It's not coming on.

I leave the cozy warmth of the bed, grab my robe and check the temperature. It registers 62. Um...this is not good. I crank the thermostat up to 80 and just listen. Nothing. Oh dear. Pilchard looks up from her curled ball in the settee. She'd be warmer if she came to sleep next to me but Mija's there and we haven't created a truce in that area yet.

Immediately I wonder if I paid my gas bill. As I struggle through this difficult financial time, I'm tempted to alternate months of paying and not paying. I've decided that is not good so if a company will let me, I make smaller payments until I can make a larger one. The gas company I have always paid in full. And yes, not only did I make the payment, but it was credited to my account. Hmmm. It can't be the gas and I have electricity, something must be wrong. The furnace is only 5 years old so I guess something could break. But how will I pay for it when I have $6.00 cash and $2.10 in the checking account?

I turn everything off, at least everything I know how to turn off. My CO2 detector has not gone off and it does not appear to be a fuse. I wait 10 minutes and turn everything back on. Still nothing. I sit down in the settee feeling as if my world is collapsing on me. Pilchard climbs into my lap and lies down, purring. This is nice but I'm still upset.

I call a friend and start confiding my fears and I hear the blower kick in. The house fills with warm air. I have already called the office and said I'm not coming in until I can get whatever the problem is fixed. So, I call back and say the blower is working but I'm going to hang out for an hour just to be certain. I make breakfast and read a magazine while I eat my muffins. All the while, I've got an ear tuned to listening for the blower to come on.

After my somewhat leisurely breakfast, the house is warm again and the blower seems to be working as required. I cranked the heat up to 72 and then turned it down to 68. Shower and get ready for work and things still seem okay. Feed cats, assemble lunch, make tea. I'm good. But, that is NOT how I want Monday to start. Monday is bad enough on its own without adding another layer of stress on top of it.

I can survive if, for some reason, the furnace had a problem. I can "heat" the kitchen with the oven and I have a small one-room heater that I can move from room to room to keep warm as I move through the house. Keep a steady stream of water going from the taps if the temperature in the basement were to drop below freezing. I anticipate my tax refund soon and that would pay for a repair. I'll change the furnace filter when I get home as it's time anyway. I grew up with power outages all year 'round so I know how to cope. It builds character, my dad always said.

So, we shall see when I get home, if things are still good. One of my friends had a problem with her stove, a brand new stove, not coming on over the weekend. She turned it off and on and off and on, much to the chagrin of her spouse. Suddenly, it just started working again and there wasn't anything overt that she did.

I don't know who is next for the appliance gremlin but he's out there roaming about.

Beverage: China Black tea


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Post Concert

This is the program. Yes, it's the same as the photo below. Artists tend to choose something and stick with it.

It was not a standing room only crowd. I think the weather may have played a role in that. It started snowing at 2 and didn't end until after I was home at 11:00. We wound up with 2-3 inches when we were supposed to get a dusting. Of course, that's nowhere near what east of us got. Had that kind of storm hit here, I'm sure there wouldn't have been a concert. We might be better able to handle snow than in the east, but that doesn't mean 2 feet is a walk in the park for us either.

Pam and I went to IHOP, not to be confused with iMac, iPod, iPhone or iPad (what a ridiculous name). The one in Wheaton has always been good for us. They were short staffed unfortunately. It's got to be hard to balance out your servers in this economy. They were busy on Friday night and didn't have enough staff to serve everyone and check people out in a timely fashion. But, I'm willing to bet, on a Tuesday night, you have servers standing around. Fortunately, we had time to spare so we could wait.

We had main floor, right side seats. There were tee shirts, baseball caps, pins, CDs and big programs for purchase. Members of both groups mingled with the incoming crowd before, during and at intermission. I really couldn't think of anything witty to say to any one of them and didn't have questions.

Both groups are superb. The Irish band is what could be termed a "traditional" military band, mostly brass. They had one saxophone, 3 clarinets, a marching bassoon, and one lone piccolo player who was female. She was the ONLY woman amongst the two bands. I did wonder if women were allowed to join the Scottish group or if they have held firm in tradition with this being men only. The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland is part of an active British military unit whose members have done tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Part of the CD sales was going to Afghan relief efforts as part of the regiment is due to return to Afghanistan in August.

This name seemed somewhat familiar to me although I have never heard a Scottish pipe band live. As I was reading through the program, it mentions that in 2002, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were merged into the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Ah yes. I remember the furor this caused in the Scottish magazines I read. The 91st Argyllshire Highlanders and the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders were distinct units until 1881, when they were merged. The 93rd gained world-wide distinction in the Crimea in 1854 with the battle of Balaklava. Although vastly outnumbered by Russians, the Regiment repulsed an attack above the town. A British correspondent described the men as a "Thin Red Streak Tipped with a Line of Steel". It's from his reporting that we derive the expression, "Thin Red Line".

The music was lively and very emotive. People say they hate bagpipe music, that you might as well be squeezing cats. What they are reacting to is the learning process that gets you to what we heard last night. In the hands of someone who is intimately familiar with the craft, a bagpipe is an amazing instrument. Good players can produce over and under tones of great diversity. It was mentioned that these men are trained and the music produced showed that training. They did an amazing drum line set where they tossed and exchanged drum sticks.

The Irish band played traditionally arranged military band music. Both groups marched around the smallish stage. One John Phillips Sousa march was included in the program as well as the marches of the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines. Veterans or active duty personnel from each branch were asked to stand during their respective march.

The Highland Fling was performed along with the sword dance. Young men did the dancing. This is the same material you will see if you attend a Highland dance competition. It requires precision and a knowledge of the correct moves. One of the young men doing the dance looked visibly nervous.

They ended the program with a solo piper playing Amazing Grace, then a group rendition of Auld Lang Syne and a faster version of Scotland, the Brave.

It was an exceptionally good concert. A few people wore tartan. I saw only one man in a kilt but I did see several people in trewes, tartan pants. And to answer the unasked, but I know you're thinking it, I have no idea. The way they marched and danced, it was designed not to show the audience anything. These guys are trained professionals. I dare you to don a kilt and try those high marching steps at home.

If this tour comes close to you in any way, I recommend you go. It's well worth the money to see them. All the men we chatted with were very personable and you can tell they love what they do. They enjoyed explaining to kids the nuances of their respective uniforms, what all the medals and stripes and various elements meant. It's an exceptional 2 hours of music. I knew quite a few of the Scottish tunes played and a couple of the Irish tunes. Plus, they play music everyone has heard in some form so you'll find something you recognize. I'm very, very glad Pam invited me. It was a lot of fun.

Beverage: Cranberry Grape Juice


Friday, February 5, 2010

I'm getting out of the house.

Pam and I are going to see this tonight. I'm excited. My kilt is in need of a cleaning and it's a mite nippy to be wearing a skirt so I probably won't wear that. But I'm thinking of a red sweater with my clan sash over it. I have to wear something tartan.

There will be a review later.

Beverage: Assam tea


February 5, 2010

Band of the Irish Guards and the Royal Regiment of Scotland come to Wheaton

The Artist Series at Wheaton College presents the Band of the Irish Guards and the Royal Regiment of Scotland in a performance Friday, February 5 at 8 p.m. Noted for their excellence and steeped in traditions of music and military service, the groups visit Wheaton on their debut tour of the United States.

The performance will take place in Edman Chapel, located on the northeast corner of Washington and Franklin Streets in Wheaton (campus map). Ticket prices range from $39–$53 for general audience with discounts for students and seniors over 60.

As a pre-concert event, Dr. Gene Green, Wheaton College Professor of New Testament and bagpiper with the Chicago Highlanders, will present a lecture titled “Twelve Clansmen and a Bagpipe Make a Rebellion: The History, Mechanics, and Music of the Great Highland Bagpipe.” This event is free and open to the public and begins at 6:45 p.m. in room 339 of Blanchard Hall, located at 501 College Avenue in Wheaton (campus map).

For more information, or to order concert tickets, call the Ticket and Information Office at 630.752.5010. Online orders may be placed through Wednesday February 3 at

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A change in philosophy

My dear friend, Patt, sent me this cartoon. We have decided this is our new life philosophy. As we are still young, we will be working to develop our eccentricities. We'll let you know when we're old.

Beverage: English Teatime


Remember blue?

Do you remember when foodstuffs were all going blue? It was the 'hip' color for everything from soda to jello.

I'm working through all the gelatin in the cupboard. It seems a shame to toss it out as the packages are sealed tightly. I got to blue yesterday.

There was some nostalgia when I pulled this box out. Blue was everywhere. I liked the blue raspberry Slurpees we used to get at the 7-11 down the street, when 7-11 was still there. You'll still see blue raspberry but it's not everywhere as it used to be and the definition of "blue raspberry" varies widely.

I made up the jello and let it sit overnight. It was part of my lunch today. Yup, that's blue alright. It didn't really taste like anything other than gelatin with maybe a hint of cherry. It wasn't a dynamic new flavor. It was just colored blue gelatin to which some sweetner had been added. I think that's why the craze died out.

Beyond the fact that this was just a craze and, as such, would die out on its own, there wasn't a new flavor associated with blue. We already have blueberries. Raspberries have their distinctive flavor. This was just coloring added to some mix of apple, pear and raspberry juices. It's blue, all right, but that's all it is.

I have 2 boxes of lemon and one of lime left. By mid-month, I'll be done and will have opened up more space in the cupboard.

Wasn't the tag line for Jello, "There's always room for Jello"? There probably is, but maybe not in my cupboard anymore.

Beverage: China Black tea



Upon completion of my taxes, I decided I deserved something as a reward. I have no ice cream in the house, having consumed the rest of the Haagen Das White Chocolate Raspberry a week ago. I've had this craving for cake lately but have had too many other things to do to actually bake one. And yes, I'd make it from scratch, thank you very much. I know how to do that and it's not hard.

Mead. April and Perry gave me three bottles of mead back in August. He said one bottle was drinkable then but the other two needed to sit until probably Christmas.

Well, honestly, the thought of orange mead didn't appeal to me. I had visions of
ORANGE and not some beverage that was complex or maybe orange flavored. I like orange but it can get way over-powering.

But, around New Year's Perry mentioned the orange mead was now ready and he was very pleased with how it came out. When I finished my taxes and got the receipt that they had been sent, I knew I needed to celebrate and my first thought was the mead. "Well, Perry says it's good now. I should try it."

I have a big bottle and a small bottle. I opened the small bottle and took a whiff. Very light, pleasing scent. I poured out a glass full and took a swig. Wow! Mead can be a love it hate it drink. This is incredibly smooth with just enough orange that you know there's orange but not enough that orange is all you taste. It is very drinkable and is just perfect.

Now part of me wants to consume all of it, it's that good. The other part of me wants to keep some set aside for very special occasions. But I don't know how home made mead keeps. I'm probably better off drinking the stuff than trying to extend some shelf life.

I can't wait to play World of Warcraft on Saturday. We have this ritual before we get started with the evening's events. "Hey Zel? What's the beverage for tonight?" Zel then lists what he's starting with and what else might be on the menu if the raid runs long. I can't wait to chime in, "I'm drinking 'Joe's Ancient Orange Mead'. Beat that!"

In case you're wondering, yes, I gave the ladies a sniff. They both looked at me as if I was insane. I swear there were wrinkled up noses under all that fur.

So here's to Perry and my new raiding drink!

Beverage: Scottish Blend tea (No, I can't drink mead at the office.)


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I did it!

I have successfully filed my own taxes for the 2nd year in a row. I am getting a refund from the federal government, a bigger one than last year. I owe the State of Illinois a whopping $8.00. I'll take that.

My financial company was most apologetic about my being unable to access the documents I needed to finish my return. They reset all the passwords and I was able to log in, view and print what I needed. It took me an hour and 15 minutes to finish what I had started on Sunday, print and save all my data, and e-file with both the IRS and the state.

Now I wait, but it's done and done much earlier than last year. I will be able to sit back in April and enjoy my time knowing I don't have to rush around trying to find all my documents.

I think this calls for a glass of Perry's mead.

Beverage: Joe's Ancient Orange Mead


Resolutions a month later.

Time to take stock of the resolutions.

Read a book a month.
Failed. Oh well, there's always this month to get started.

Read a magazine a week.
Big success. What's come of attempting this is a wonderful cat ritual in the evening. I come home from work and either get dishes or a load of wash started. Then, I grab the top magazine off the stack and sit down in the settee with a cup of tea. Pilchard jumps into my lap and settles down for chin and ear scratches. Mija comes into the living room and jumps onto the other chair. I read for about 10 minutes and then get the fishing pole cat toy and play with her for about 15 minutes. Last night, she was particularly active and very funny, pouncing on the string. Pilchard purrs up a storm. On occasion, she'll jump down and play, but, for the most part, she just wants my lap.

We sit for about 30-45 minutes and then I get up and continue with dishes or whatever else I need to get done. I've often come back to the settee, particularly if all I'm doing is dishes. There's something magically calming about having a cat in your lap. I have managed to finish 6 magazines doing this.

This has translated into Pilchard claiming my lap while I am gaming. Penney, Rascal and Betsy would do this, too, and I've wanted either Mija or Pilchard or both to sit in my lap. Mija's not that interested, yet. Pilchard actually hops up into the chair next to me and meows until I let her climb in. The problem is that the angle of my keyboard does not accommodate such a large cat. Oh well, I'll deal with it to have her happy.

Write a friend a real letter once a week.
Fail. I owe a number of people letters.

Add one more fruit or vegetable to my daily diet.
Successful. I'm out of fresh so I am drinking juice and going through the frozen veggies I have. Finances being what they are, when these run out, I may not have any cash to buy groceries so this resolution will be put on hold temporarily. Today's lunch is a cheeseburger and frozen peas and carrots with applesauce.

Pay off one credit card.
I'm slowly getting there. I didn't make one major payment this month and got everything caught up. I'm having major problems with my financial service that holds my IRA. I cannot get my tax information online and I want my taxes done and my refund back. I'm just angry enough at this company that if this is not resolved today or tomorrow, I will look at pulling my money and putting it somewhere else that has a web site that works.

But, I was able to, this month, make a dent in debt which is what I want to do. No, it doesn't help the refrigerator manufacturers or the local bookstores, but I have to get things under control. I still don't know what it is that I do wrong and it makes me feel really stupid when I can't figure out why things don't balance.

Pay for everything with cash.
Success. It helps not to have cash and to know that you have only $6 to use for the month. You cut your wants down to needs and then to absolute needs and then to life or death needs.

Don't get down on myself.
Sort of successful. I have always been my worst critic and even though I had years of therapy, I still find that voice is extremely hard to turn off.

So there have been successes and there have been non-successes. I'm not calling them failures because of the negative connotations associated with the word "fail". There's always this month to pick up where I left off and "Ease on down, ease on down the road".

Beverage: China Black tea


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

And the ground hog says...

6 more weeks of winter.

Really folks, there's 6 weeks of winter left, period, groundhog or no ground hog. If he sees his shadow, there's 6 more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, spring is 6 weeks away.


It's 6 weeks until the spring equinox.

It's snowing in Chicagoland right now. Spring is not on anyone's mind. I gotta go vote in the primary for governor and I dislike both candidates. That's what's on my mind.

And, I'll wade into the PETA comment about using a robot groundhog, are they friggin' nuts? The groundhogs that represent Punxsutawney Phil have a cushy life. They are cared for and are away from predators and natural selection. Once a year, there's a media circus and then the animals are left alone to be groundhogs. Go work with animal shelters, PETA, to make certain there are homes for the millions of unwanted pets and leave Phil alone. This from an animal lover.

Anyway, I need to figure out the windshield wiper problem, why they only seem to work when the car's warm. I kind of need wipers today.

Beverage: Scottish Blend tea.


Monday, February 1, 2010

It's been awhile.

I realized after posting the tree post that it's been at least a dozen days since there were cat photos in the blog. As they supervised the tree removal yesterday, they had to have their photos taken. They are getting good at recognizing the sound of the digital camera coming to life. And, being cats, it's up to them to decide if they deign to have their visages photographed.

Pilchard in pure supervisor mode.

Beverage: Oolong tea


Christmas is officially over.

I decided I had procrastinated enough and so, yesterday, I took down the Christmas tree and removed the wreath from the front door. It had not been lighted since Iowa beat Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, but taking down the tree means hauling all the boxes for the ornaments up from the basement and then bringing the big bin for the tree up and lugging the filled containers back downstairs. The tree isn't really in the way so I just left it up. Plus, it looked kind of nice since I hadn't put it up in a couple years.

But it's been bugging me so I finally hauled all the containers up over the course of the week and decided to take it down yesterday.

Of course, I have "proof". Duh.

Off came all the ornaments. Mija is checking out the smells on the lid of one of the ornament bins. As I was removing these and reorganizing the bins (I have 3 just for ornaments.), I realized I can remember where I got 99% of all the ornaments. I would say 3/4ths of the ones pictured were purchased by me but a few were gifts.

In the upper right corner, a cat ornament in front of the glass Scottish Saltaire, is a Maine Coon and was given to me by Carole because her cat, Faux, is a Maine Coon and Faux came to live with us when she lived at home.

If you can find Herkey, the Hawk in the lower right, look to his immediate upper left and you'll see a flat brown cat. My dear friend, Patt, gave me that this year. It's a piece of painted metal and it's really just a decoration. But it has this great gold swirl on the top of it that's purr-fect (sorry, couldn't resist) for hanging on the tree. When I opened the package, I knew it was going on the tree.

About middle left is a square rocking horse ornament. That was given to us by a college friend who made the counted cross-stitch panel when Carole was born. I've lost track of her but I think of her every year when I pull this out and put it on the tree. At some point, it and a few other ornaments with Carole's date of birth or her name, minus the "e", will go to her.

There, half-way down and then completely devoid of branches. I discovered that I had put some smaller branches in the middle, having misread the tag on the end that hooks into the trunk. I have this wild idea that since the actual framework of the branches is the same size, it's just the length of the branches that's different, why couldn't I stick the small ones at the base and the larger ones on top, or in the middle. I don't HAVE to build a traditionally shaped Christmas tree. I seem to remember, many years ago, Nieman-Marcus had an upside down tree you could buy for thousands of dollars. It came fully decorated, if I remember correctly. There's all my Christmas presents, which I hadn't put away, excepting the money from my mother, the tea from my sister, the M&M's from my brother and the page-a-day WOW calendar from my future son-in-law. (That's another upcoming post and trust me, that sounds really weird.)

Nope, I had no help. They just supervised.

I decided to open the tree bin in the basement and haul the branches, trunk and stand down there. It gets so heavy when everything is in the bin, plus it's a big container and tough to navigate up and down the stairs. I'll probably drag it up in November but this way was darn-site easier to put it away. It was one of those, "Why didn't I think of this before" moments.

The living room doesn't feel "empty" without the tree. It was time to take it down. The only problem is that Mija now has a window sill on which to sit and chew on the spider plant. I guess I need to look into getting some of those "kitty greens".

What does feel naked is the front door. I don't have anything to put up until late March when I have a wreath adorned with spring flowers. I guess I'll go back to the "Cats Welcome" sign.

Beverage: Scottish Blend tea