Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It Makes Me Jump

The temperatures have been rising all day. It was 17 when I got up this morning and, as I prepare for bed, it's 34. It is to be in the 40's tomorrow and the 50's on New Year's Eve before returning to winter next week. There is a lot of melting and it's noisy.

Monday, this was the state of icicles on the back of the house. I really need to clean out the gutters come spring. That would alleviate some of this.

With the melting and the light rain we have now, a chunk of ice will come loose and fall off the gutter, hitting the window sill or just falling straight to the deck. The rumble thunk is random and every time tonight, I've jumped when it happens. I can hear the dripping as the snow on the roof melts but I'm just mentally unprepared for the sound of a chunk of ice falling.

There is a rumor of heavy fog in the morning. Once again, I am bound into the city. The drive has been lovely with little traffic. A lot of people have this week off. But fog overnight and lingering into morning is going to ice the roads and make travel longer.

And yet, it could make for a very nice atmospheric photographic opportunity. We shall...(there goes another chunk) see.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


What About Geese?

I was doing an inspection today and I came upon this in the basement of the building.

I'm sure there is a perfectly logical reason for this message. I can't, for the life of me, figure out what it would be. 

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


An Idea For 2011

Here we are, at the end of another year. It's not a calendar year for the blog as I started in May of 2009. But the ending of a year and the start of another causes one to pause and consider where one is headed in the year approaching. At some point, I need to assess my resolutions from this year and see which, if any, get carried into next year.

And although I tend not to have a shortage of things to talk about in the blog, I thought it would be cool to do a theme. It just sort of came to me one day when I was already thinking about a variety of things to post. "Oh hey! That would be a neat idea."

I mentioned this to a couple of friends and they both want me to do a photo a day theme. "You find the most interesting things to photograph."

I'm flattered. I admit the idea has merit and I am tempted but I had already wrapped my head around the first idea and I'm going to stick with that.

So, you are hereby warned that there will be a theme to blog posts beginning on January 1, 2011. It should be fairly apparent what that theme is and it won't be for a whole year. It's just something a little different.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Is It Schadenfreude To Be Happy About This?

I received this in the mail today.

IF I paid overdraft fees? I realize the operative word here is "could" receive a payment but this is excellent news.

According to the postcard, Fifth Third "re-sequenced" transactions in order to maximize overdraft fees. I'm not exactly sure what that means and the card doesn't spell it out. I'm guessing it means they delayed transactions to make sure there would be fees assessed. I've long suspected that's part of what happened to me in October 2009. In addition to the unexplained delay in posting a deposit, they made sure I got socked with fee upon fee upon fee. Of course, Fifth Third denies all claims.

Yes, I will be filling this out and sending it in. The account period is from October 21, 2004 through July 1, 2010.

Even a little cash is better than none. "Payments to Settlement Class Members will be up to three times the Overdraft Fees they paid during a continuous 45 day period." That will cover October 2009. I still have all my paperwork, too.

Realistically, by the time the lawyers fees get taken out of something like this, the pool of eligible people has to be kind of small to realize anything more than a few bucks. But, for me, it's about a victory of sorts. I was right. They were doing something not kosher. They may argue they did nothing wrong, but there must be a lot of us out there for something like this to be settled.

This is a good way to end the year, the prospect of being vindicated in how they treated me.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


What I Hated About Christmas This Year

It was not the snow, the wonderful, powdery snow of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. It was the kind of snow that Hollywood created at the end of the movie "White Christmas". It was the kind of snow Irving Berlin wrote the song "(I'm Dreaming of a) White Christmas" about.

It was not my friends. One of them blessed me a hundred times over with a gift that has left me humbled beyond words.

It was not the neighbor who came over and blew out the driveway apron even after he'd put his snowblower away on Sunday. I would have shoveled the apron. I would have gone slowly and it would have been cleared. But it took 10 minutes instead of 45, which meant my whole morning wasn't spent shoveling snow.

It was not the two members of my World of Warcraft guild, Amber and Bill, who spent real money to get me in-game items that have no real value other than they are cool. Likewise, I do not hate the son-in-law who spent real money to get me in-game items that I am going to have incredible fun with.

I do not hate the daughter who called late on Christmas Eve and talked to me into Christmas morning (technically) because "calling mom on Christmas is important". Yes, I was still up anyway.

I do not hate being alone on Christmas. There is a time and a place for the hectic life of holiday rushing. I have reached the age where being alone is just as good as being with my family although I really would have liked to have seen Brett and Blake's face when my mother handed them a gift they were not expecting. While it may sound weird, there is great comfort in the quiet and being with the cats, reading the newspapers I didn't get to and having a big, black cat complaining that not enough ear scratching was going on.

What I hate about Christmas was BOTH living room lights burning out in the evening, one after the other. They are 3-way lights and of course I don't have extra of those bulbs. So, at lunch, I head over to the grocery to get new bulbs. I am presented with a dizzying array of choices in light bulbs. None of the compact fluorescent or the "long-life" seems to work in a 3-way lamp. I am forced to buy conventional bulbs. At least they were inexpensive.

I came home and replaced the bulbs. We now have lights in the living room.

When you live with a black cat, no lights in the living room is NOT a good thing.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Monday, December 27, 2010


Jon and I had to be in the city today to conduct exterior documentation for the "Revive Wacker Drive" project. We worked from Randolph to Monroe, east side, before lunch, and Monroe to Randolph, west side, after lunch. He did digital video and I took still digital photos. This involves sidewalks in front of buildings although I think the sidewalks in most places are going to be removed and replaced.

Doing this means I spend time looking at the ground. I found the above on the sidewalks while walking about. The nickel was actually in the street in the crosswalk.

Jon was teasing me because I stopped to pick up this change. "Who cares about a penny?" he asked, rather rhetorically. I do. I remember being on a job next to an elevated train station. The station was 5 years new and built with the idea that a new city college of Chicago was going to expand into the vacation lot to the south of the station. You would have been amazed at the amount of change I found on the ground under this station where I had to be.

Maybe it's just a penny or a nickel. To the person who lost it, it may not mean much. For the last 30 years, I have had my eyes peeled for this kind of change on the ground. Over time, it does add up. Eight cents every time I go into the city for this project will add up to over $20 by the end of February. That's a pizza and pop, delivered, or my complete water and sewer bills for a month.

So I always pick up the change I find lying on the ground. Perhaps someone doesn't care about the few cents that didn't make it into their pocket. I do and this eight cents went into my lucky cat bank. This is a good way to end a year.

Beverage:  Scottish Blend tea


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Non-Traditional Holiday Eating

Holidays are inextricably linked with food. And some holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas, seem to require certain foods be served. When you grow up and move away from your family, you take those food requirements with you.

Turkey and ham, dressing or stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean salad, tossed salad, red jello with diced fruit, brown and serve rolls, pumpkin and apple pies, chocolate chip cookies, vanilla ice cream and Cool Whip. That's what Thanksgiving and/or Christmas dinner should be.

For me, at this stage of my life, that's an excess beyond excess. I love turkey, I really do, but I have no use for a 14-pound bird. I've cooked and stuffed many a turkey. I've glazed many a ham. I've stomped many a potato and diced many a fruit for the jello salad. I've combed the stores on Christmas Eve looking for brown and serve rolls because they were left off the list. I've done all that. If called upon, I could do it again. I certainly enjoy cooking.

But nothing says Christmas like cooking what you want to eat and in the quantity you want to eat it. Today, I made myself cream of chicken and wild rice soup, a new recipe I discovered. I need to rinse the wild rice after I cook it, however. When I added it to the cream base, it turned the whole soup mauve in color. I think it would also, for my tastes, benefit from garlic. I cooked the chicken and the rice yesterday. That helped a lot toward assembly today. Grate a carrot and make the roux and it was done in a half hour. The rolls were Rhodes and rose in the fridge overnight. The applesauce I made back in early October. The tea was Huckleberry flavored.

I sat at my table, occasionally telling the girls that cats don't eat soup or rolls or applesauce. Life passed by the window. It's quiet. It's peaceful. I made egg nog muffins today, too, and that's such an easy recipe, I need to make more of them so I have bags full for breakfasts when cereal isn't what I want. I was going to make tapioca pudding for dessert, but I was too full after this meal to want to tend to pudding. So that will sit for another day. Dishes were finished and a load of wash hung up. The only bad thing about today was having both lights in the living room burn out. I guess I have to run to Target tomorrow and get 2 3-way bulbs.

We should never be a slave to our food. I have no use for bags upon bags of turkey leftovers. I don't care for dark meat to begin with. My "tradition" for Christmas dinner has become, if you will, to be untraditional. What sounds good? One year, it was salmon.

The recipe says this soup freezes. I intend to test that theory. If it does well, I will make it again. Maybe I could try a different rice and see what color it turns then.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Night and Day

It snowed all day yesterday. I wouldn't characterize it as a "pounding" as had been predicted. It was a beautiful, gentle snow, a Christmas snow.

I went out about 10 p.m. to see what I could capture with the camera. Most of the photos are blurry. This is the best. The city plow was going by on the left. Our neighborhood put up luminarias on Christmas Eve. We've been doing this for, gee, I don't know how long. The couple who have organized this have their house for sale now so this may be the last year unless someone wants to take it over. A non-profit sells luminarias every Christmas. It's their big fund-raiser. You just have to supply the sand or other item that goes in the bottom to hold the candle and anchor the bag. When we did it, I would use kitty litter.

It was a lovely, still, quiet evening. Someone was piping Christmas music into the street which  kind of seemed surreal, but I just stood for awhile and listened to the sound of falling snow.

Today, it's been quiet too, with little street traffic. You could hear the sounds of snowblowers occasionally. It's warm that had I decided to shovel, the walk might have cleared. But I decided to just let the snow be.

It's warm enough that it's melting. It's always so dramatic with the black lines of the trees and the white of the snow and the sky. There will be time enough tomorrow to resume life. It's enough today to just be.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Friday, December 24, 2010

It's Christmas.

It's been quite the year.

Merry Christmas to my wonderful daughter and equally wonderful son-in-law. I think I sent 2 things, at least, to her maiden name this Christmas. I'll get it. I promise. It may be next year, but I'll send you stuff correctly named. 

Amazingly, the girls are in the holiday spirit. There has been no hissing at each other. Just romping through the house has they play "chase". And last night, I saw this.

Maybe this is how they always sleep when no one's around, but it's a first in my house. 

So, to everyone who reads this blog

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Sometimes, There Are Reasons

I went to the grocery store today to buy the missing fixings for tomorrow's repast. It's snowing here. It's a wonderful snow, soft, gentle, peaceful. The temperatures are warm, hovering around 30 so you just need to dress comfortably to be able to be in it.

I chose not to go to Iowa for Christmas again this year, based solely on the weather. The Midwest was to get snow and lots of it. On Monday, before the heavy, wet stuff wandered through, the "technical" term bandied about was "pounded" beginning on Thursday. I made the decision that driving in "pounded" was not something even I, in my 4-wheel drive Jeep, wanted to deal with. Yet, as I'm loading my car at the grocery and unloading it at the house, I think, "This is nothing. I could have driven home in this times two." And I feel rather silly for deciding not to travel. 

But when I sit down at the computer and pull up the news feeds, as the chicken cooks for tomorrow, I read this headline.

9 inches in Des Moines? Wha? I pull up the radar. Honestly, that doesn't look that bad. Illinois looks worse. So, I call my mother. She just laughs. They have a foot and it's still snowing. Granted, it's a nice snow, not heavy or wet, perfect "Christmas snow", if you will. It's just that there's an abundance of it. 

So, my hesitation at heading west and my ultimate decision not to go were correct. I probably could have gotten to Cedar Rapids, but continuing on to my mom's would not have been a good idea. Even with 4-wheel drive, county gravel roads can be risky, at best, in the winter. 

Now why would a storm hover over Iowa? Everything stops in Iowa because it's a great place to stay. 

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Thursday, December 23, 2010

It's Hard to be Pleasant

For three people, mom, Carole and my brother, Dan, your boxes came today.

We often malign the post. The post office cries that they are bleeding money so rates need to be raised. You go to ship a box to your daughter and not all the windows are open. Then, with the line out the door and into the other room, one of the clerks says just loudly enough so people can hear it, "Time for my break" and closes. You have to wonder where their sense of customer service is. I know they have rules about how long you can work before you are entitled to a break and the rules were put in place so former abuses can never come back. Still, even the most ardent support can't be blamed for become annoyed when it appears that customers, the ones paying the salary, are left behind because it's break time.

I thought about market share and perception as I watched the postman look for the package or packages that needed delivery at this end of the block. I had an inkling there would be something for me in his truck because my mother had said my brother had posted his gift on Monday. I just watched.

I began to actually feel somewhat sorry for this guy, who is not the regular mailman on my route. He gets Thursdays off. I could see he had many boxes lining the walls of this truck. He moved things. He stacked things. He looked at a piece of paper and then at the boxes in the truck. He climbed in. He climbed out. Finally, he emerged with 3 small parcels and came up to my door.

Now, I don't have the whole walk shoveled. I know I should and I might get to it tomorrow, but I have half of it shoveled. As he came to the door, I opened it, took the boxes, thanked him and wished him a "Merry Christmas". I heard him distinctly say, "Bah" as he headed back to the truck.

I'm willing to cut the guy some slack. This is not an easy job even if there isn't a holiday. How much more frustrating is it when there is a holiday that requires a lot of hauling of boxed and bagged items? We depend, as much as we are reliant upon email and other delivery services, on the US Postal Service. I don't want to pay 50 cents to mail a first class letter. I think that's ridiculous. But I'm also aware that it's not cheap to run a box from rural Iowa to suburban Chicago.

So, while there was a "Bah", I still wish him a Merry Christmas. His is one of those jobs we never think too much about until it doesn't happen.

Beverage:  China Black tea


As Close As They Can Stand

Every time I think I can toss these two boxes...

They seem to know.

I had them nested with the one on the right sitting inside the one on the left. Mija, in an attempt to get into the one on the left because there was about a 6 x 8 inch gap and we all know cats have to see what's inside a box, knocked them onto the floor.

I'm tempted to just leave it this way, although I'll have to move it to another spot in the living room.

I'm thinking the caption is, "Mija and Pilchard investigate apartment living in a move to cut living expenses."

Beverage:  China Black tea


It's the Little Things.

Last Sunday, I headed out to Kohl's to use the Kohl's money sent to me by someone. I had 3 gifts left to get and a reasonable idea of what I wanted. I had also been told it was okay to spend some of the money on myself, something, in the blinding drive to give to friends because I want to, I forget, beyond basic necessities. As I was lounging around the house today; we have Thursday and Friday off as the holiday falls on the weekend; it occurred to me the sender probably wants to know that I did follow his or her instructions.

Viola. I got the three gifts I wanted to get and then, because the prices were quite beyond reasonable, I was able to get a package containing two pair of this wonderfully fuzzy, very comfortable and toasty warm socks. I neglected to photograph the other pair, but it's the same color of brown with pink snowflakes.

Just socks and three gifts didn't use up the whole amount. I did buy 2 packages of underwear. Santa doesn't have to leave that in my stocking this year. I can replace the stuff where the elastic is just barely hanging on.

And no. I am not photographing that.

Beverage:  China Black tea


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

I Love These Kinds of Nights.

After an overnight of 4 inches of snow, changing to freezing rain and drizzle and temperatures that went up during the day, fog developed as I was heading home for the evening. I love these kinds of evenings in winter. The heavy overcast had blotted out what would be weak sunshine anyway and it surrounds any lights, blurring the edges. Sound is reflected back down as well as partially muffled. And the air has a unique, crisp, smell to it as snow melts and goes from a frozen to a gaseous state with almost no time spent as a liquid.

I should go out later tonight, before bed, and take photos of neighbor's Christmas lights. I'm sure flights are hugely delayed at the airports and the street lights look surrounded by gray batting. It's the kind of night that Santa would need Rudolph's services, for sure.

Beverage:  7Up



I have sent everything that's probably going to get sent before the holiday. I have four cards and 3 gifts that just won't make it. That is head and shoulders above last year.

I would have stood in line at the postal facility this afternoon to ship one gift but for an email received late last night. One thing I do before going to bed is a quick swing through the email box to see if something needs answering. There was an email from "Judy", not her real name, although she has said she doesn't read my blog and finds blogs "tedious".

Judy and I have what I call a "fringe" friendship. If I think of my friendships as a dart board, some people are in the center, the heart. I would do anything for them and they would and have, done extraordinary things for me. Judy occupies that perimeter area, the "fringe", if you will. Every so often, she's capable of great kindness and insight. Most of the time, she's good for a laugh or a bright note, nothing deep, nothing remarkable. She's just, well "Judy", and I'm sure you can think of a "Judy" in your life. There are times when I wonder why I continue to consider her a friend, but I realize friends of all kinds make your life more rounded and full. She has been known to be insensitive and completely clueless to how her words and actions reflect upon her or how they hurt others.

Her gift was on the table. I was going to ship it today until I got the email last night. She sent a Christmas card this year, as she does every year. I haven't actually opened it. I've been under the weather so I've let the mail pile up. I know there will be a letter inside that talks about her medical problems (She has Inflammatory Bowel Disease. You really don't want to hear what she's been through.) and how much everything costs. She lives beyond what I could call frugal and into what I would call miserly. She once stiffed a pizza delivery guy for showing up 5 minutes before they told her the pizza would be ready. I'm not quite ready to read about the latest attempt to part her from her money.

She remarked in the email, which was forwarded to about 2 dozen friends, how blessed she was to have friends because her family just doesn't "get her". Her sister sent a card with a gift certificate for two oil changes for her car. Judy lives in a city where mass transit is available so her car usually sits. But she can put a good 100 miles on it when she does her major errands and has doctor visits. As I ponder how to wring an oil change out of my budget, I would love a gift like that.

Judy's brother came in for the most scathing commentary. He and his wife picked out a pair of vases. Judy had remarked this past summer, that she loves cut flowers and she will splurge on those but she didn't have any really nice vases for these flowers. Now she does. Plus, they sent along a Kohl's department store gift certificate. Judy had complained in October that her sweaters were getting bare in the elbows and would need to be patched. Well, thanks to that AND the after-Christmas sales, Judy could get a new sweater or two.

Now, if this were me, I would be ecstatic. Not Judy. She has a guy at church do her oil changes. How was he going to feel if she didn't have him do them? Plus, you know those oil change shops will tell you something is broken when it's not. She doesn't want to deal with that.

And her brother? What on earth was he smoking when he decided on gifts? Judy said she specifically told her siblings she wanted cash or gift certificates to the local grocery. "I cannot eat a vase. I do not want clothing. What a ridiculous waste of money!" She went on to say that she sends her siblings and family cash, "based on a sliding scale where the older a child gets, the less money they receive."

I just sighed. For a moment, let's assume Judy did make her Christmas wishes known. Knowing Judy, it wasn't in the form of, "Gee, what I'd really like is..." It was more in the form of, "I will only accept X for Christmas." I suppose we can make the case for Judy's wishes being ignored. But, what gets to me is that a gift is a gift and for all the protestations that her siblings don't "get" her, Judy doesn't "get" it.

Throughout my life, I have been the recipient of some real whoppers. I've given a few and seen a few received. I've seen the keen look of disappointment on someone's face when the beautifully wrapped present turns out to be a sweatshirt a size too small with a design on the front that really should have been discarded in the 1970's. It's hard to fake happiness when you're given a potato peeler, a package of dish towels and a set of wood spoons.

But, it seems to me, that's what being a gracious recipient is all about. The person giving you 10 pounds of cat food as a gift has gone to some sort of length to select something they think you'd like. If they haven't, then you know it by other ways they interact with you. I have had this gift for her for several years and only had the means to ship it this year. Now, I think it will go back into the gift bin and I'll consider someone else. I know these kinds of people have issues way beyond the simple, "I didn't get what I asked for". I have a feeling, even if I got something to her exact specifications, with her standing next to me, telling me what to get, it would come out sub-standard.

You won't hear me complain about a gift. Do I need a tube top and a gift certificate to Hot Topic? Well, no. I will find a way to use is because it is just that, a gift. Maybe you picked a gift card off the end cap at Dominicks at 5:00 p.m. on December 24th, but you picked it and, for that, I am grateful.

Judy will always remain a fringe friend. Some day, perhaps, when it's asked, I will tell her the reason people don't send her gifts is because she's ungrateful for whatever she does get. I don't hold my breath.

Beverage:  Water


Friday, December 17, 2010

Image Puzzle for Today

Find where the cat ends and the blanket begins or where the blanket ends and the cat begins.

Mija had been lying on this for awhile. I have been waiting for Pilchard to start lying on it just so I could take a photo. If Pilchard could put a hand on a hip and roll her eyes like a teenager, she would. I carry my camera with me since it fits nicely in my purse. But also because I'm concerned they might hide it on me so I stop taking photos of them.

Beverage:  tea


For the Comfort of the Cat

I got home later than usual last night. I was waiting for someone from corporate to call back. He said, "I'll call you right back" and then didn't. In talking with others, I'm given to understand this is normal for him. It nets me an hour of overtime but I'd rather be home. Then, I had to stop for gas, which delayed me further. The house was dark when I backed into the drive.

After getting the mail, welcome home ear scratches and obligatory evening treats, I start dinner with a couple of shadows. Once they see that I'm not making tuna anything, they wander off. Pilchard goes to the settee in the living room. Mija hangs out near the kitchen table in the kitchen lest something edible show up. It didn't. I made mac and cheese for supper because I was tired and this was all I could muster.

I eat my supper and head to the home office to work on my finances. While cruising through the living room, I start to shut off lights. I'm not going to be out here, why have them on. I get to this light next to the settee and turn it off. Instantly, there is a rather large meow of displeasure from the occupant of the settee. I stood there for a moment. She meowed again and again. It was not a happy meow. If you live with cats, you come to recognize tone in the meows. I turned the light back on and she curled up to go to sleep.

Of course, I had to document this and she meowed at me when I took her photo. I maintain my home for the comfort of the cats. Forget about me. I'm just there to fluff the blanket and provide the treats.

I wonder what the light provides. It's too far away to be heat. Shakespeare used to lie on the back of the sofa, under the light in the winter but you could feel the heat from an incandescent bulb. Night light? She doesn't complain when I turn everything off for bed. Diva? Well, yeah that could be part of it. Who knows.

It was just rather funny to get 'yelled' at by a cat.

Beverage:  tea. I used up a couple of bags


Thursday, December 16, 2010

He's Not Pink, He's Blue Today

There's just come word that Blake Edwards has passed away. What a sad day this is.

I didn't realize he directed Days of Wine and Roses. If you haven't seen that drama, you owe it to yourself to rent it. Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick give incredible performances.

He also directed Breakfast at Tiffany's, which was probably the defining role for Audrey Hepburn. Later, he would do the same for  Bo Derek in 10. And he reignited his wife, Julie Andrews' career when she played the lead roll in the movie Victor/Victoria.

I know him for his Pink Panther movies. Steve Martin is NOT the Pink Panther and some movies shouldn't be redone.

If you've never seen the original ones, here is the order:

The Pink Panther
A Shot in the Dark
The Return of the Pink Panther
Pink Panther Strikes Again
Revenge of the Pink Panther

Peter Sellers, the original Inspector Clouseau, died in 1980 and there is one more movie to utilize his leftover footage, Trail of the Pink Panther. It's hard to sit through it. A lot of critics didn't like Edwards' humor and some of his later movies can be perplexingly bad.

The cartoon started in the movies and became its own series. That was worth sitting through the credits to see just what the cat would do to the Inspector. And this was before it became customary for studios to put footage at the end. 

I think the Pink Panther series is what I'll best remember him for. He got the best cast to give wonderfully over the top pinpoint performances.

Rest in peace.

Beverage:  water


So You Don't Have To

With all the equipment we're going to need for this large project Mike, Jon and I looked at yesterday, our shop is working overtime to get everything built and shipped to us. 10 boxes came yesterday and we anticipate several more deliveries of that size.

While it's their job to satisfy the equipment needs of the company, we want them not to hate us for the work load. Plus, if I need a favor for an emergency, I want them to look upon doing that favorably. Hence, I am not above bribery. Five POUNDS of "rations" are going UPS to them today.

And, if I'm going to buy candy for the shop, I might as well get some for the office. And what do you know. M&M's are on sale at Walgreens. Oooh! Cherry Cordial! Let's try those.

This morning, while looking for something else in my desk drawer, I saw the bag of Hershey's Cherry Cordial Kisses. These are a limited edition. I think they are available through Valentine's Day but, after that, you don't see them until November for Christmas. Because I'm the wonderful person that I am, I thought I would give you a comparison of them so you don't have to go to the expense of buying a bag of each and spending the night eating them in front of the TV.

Buy the Hershey's kisses if you want a gooey center and intense cherry cordial flavor. When you bite into a kiss, the soft cherry center oozes over your tongue. Hershey's milk chocolate is a different flavor than M&M's. It's been characterized as more "bitter". It's just in the formula. The combination of chocolate and cherry is exquisite.

Buy the M&M's if you want something you can carry around and eat on the go. M&M's have more of an artificial cherry flavor and are sweeter. There is no oozing of cherry flavor, no intense burst. Rather, the chocolate and the cherry are mixed in perfect harmony. I wish they would have opted to make this a regular flavor, rather than pretzel. I'd also like to see this paired with their dark chocolate M&M's. I'll bet eating one of these and one of the dark chocolate M&M's is an experiment I should undertake.

Actually, you can't go wrong with either. I'd buy M&M's for portability and the Hershey's for those evenings spent watching Christmas movies. And if you don't eat the whole bag, I'll be happy to take the rest off your hands because, well, what are friends for?

Beverage:  Water


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Thanks Doesn't Seem Like Enough

It was a long day today, most of which was spent on my feet, walking up down and around. I lurched home and forced myself to drag the recycling and the garbage to the street and to hang up a load of wash. I'm not going to mention what supper was as I'm too tired to cook.

I got the mail between hauling the garbage to the curb and going back to get the recycling. I figured I could toss the stuff I don't want into the bin right away. There was a plain white envelope I sort of recognized.

Quickly, I tore into it. Inside was a piece of yellow legal paper on which was written, "I got this after doing my shopping and I won't use it. I think you probably can. Please accept and go get yourself something nice for Christmas. It's used like cash."

I stood in the driveway in the fading evening sunlight. I didn't recognize the handwriting. I do need to get 3 small gifts yet. There is $40 on this.

This came on the heels of the receipt of a Christmas bonus from my company. We broke even last year. We made just enough money company-wide to pay the bills and have money for initial operating expenses at the first of this fiscal year. At the November managers meeting, we were informed there would be no cost-of-living increase as that's tied to some government index that actually went down. There would be no merit increases. And there would be no bonuses. With offices having to lay people off and the company just making it through the first quarter, I understood. A bonus is, to me, exactly that, something I wasn't expecting.

So, when Mike handed me documentation of a bonus to come to me, flabbergasted doesn't quite cover it. Then I get home and here is this. I was so overcome, I dropped the envelope and the note in the snow and then ran over it with the recycling container. It didn't photograph well at all.

As this Kohl's cash expires on Sunday, I think I shall wander over on Saturday. Get something for myself. Well, I was looking at some of the socks I have. A few are really worn in the heels and darning them isn't an option anymore. I'll bet Kohl's would have some brightly colored long-sleeved knit shirts. I could use some red, gold or stoplight green ones. I changed the sheets tonight and I realized I have two top flannel sheets. The bottom fitted sheets wore through in the center while the tops are still perfect. Maybe I could get a white flannel fitted bottom and I could use these. Decisions, decisions.

To the person who sent this, thank you for giving me the opportunity to have to make this decision. I am so very grateful to you for thinking of me.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


A Little Too Good

My job takes me into some unique and interesting buildings. We joke that if we get to go up in the elevator, we're doing something wrong.
Today, Mike, Jon and I walked a very large project. The purpose of the walk about was to determine where we are going to place equipment for this job. The building we were in was old. It is a warren of rooms in the basement and many have original brick walls. We entered this room and determined it would suit our equipment needs perfectly. I'm documenting the locations for reference. 

I took the photo and looked at it in the view finder. What the...? I looked at the room. I didn't see any white speckles in the air. Snap another photo and the same thing happened. So I turned off the flash and got a good photo without the speckles. 

I was quite confused. I looked at my lens and determined there wasn't dust on it. If you believe in ghosts, there is a body of work that suggests the random orbs one will sometimes see on photos are spirits. If this was the case, holy cow. We have a small city crammed into this room under the sidewalk in front of this building. 

Seeing my puzzlement at my photo, one of our escorts asked what was wrong. I showed him the photo. "Oh yeah," he said. "I meant to tell you to turn off your flash if possible. When you took the photo, the air lit up with dust particles from us walking in there."

Dust. Yes, dust. It happened in a couple of other locations later, too. You couldn't see the dust in the air until the flash went off. I'm rather impressed at this little camera's capabilities. That's some mighty fine looking dust there. 

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


We Know For Sure

One of the reasons I don't go out into the field much anymore is because we've come to see that having someone in the office 95% of the time means better customer service. I do scheduling. I do bidding. I know 90% of the jobs currently ongoing and whose responsibility they are. It's been a running joke that I know "where all the bodies are buried".

Well, today, Mike, Jon and I were walking a gigantic project and we happened past this item in the basement of one of the buildings we were examining. I had my camera along so we could document locations for equipment placement so I HAD to photograph this.

Yes, I really do know where the body is buried.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


This Was a Surprise.

One of the news feeds I get relates news on health. A story today was about the top 10 healthiest grocery stores. Number one didn't surprise me in the least. Number two, however, caused me to read the paragraph about it twice because I couldn't quite grasp it the first time.
#1: Whole Foods
279 stores in 38 states and Washington, D.C.
We figured this natural-foods chain would make the list, but who knew it would hands-down top it? “It’s the Rolls Royce of healthy eating,” says Kate Geagan, a nutritionist in Park City, Utah, and one of our judges. Whole Foods has the whole package—from an extraordinary selection of fresh conventional and organic fruit and vegetables to delicious prepared foods with healthy ingredients and clear labeling. (Most other stores offer mystery meals that may very well be loaded with butter.) And Whole Foods puts a premium on products that are grown or produced locally (read: superfresh).
There’s also hard-to-find grass-fed meats, ready-to-cook organic and free-range chicken, and a well-stocked selection of just-caught seafood. The desserts are pretty good for you: Every item in the bakery is free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and trans fats. Our judges also raved about Whole Foods’s snacks, singling out the store’s own dark chocolate, fresh-cut veggies, and nut and seed mixes. Alan Greene, MD, a Palo Alto, California–based pediatrician and one of our panelists sums it up best: “The store celebrates great, healthy food from start to finish.”

#2: Safeway
1,700-plus stores nationwide
Safeway is the traditional grocer you’re familiar with, but look closer and you’ll see a huge transformation going on. “They now have their own organic brands and a section of locally grown produce,” says judge Lisa Pawloski, PhD, chair of the department of global and community health at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Besides those organic brands—O Organics for packaged goods (the biggest organic brand in the country) and Eating Right for prepared foods—many of the chain’s redesigned stores have a greatly expanded produce section.
Safeway’s specialty items like organic spices and packaged nuts make it a regular stop for judge Dr. Greene. Bonus: Its online Food Flex program analyzes shoppers’ purchases based on metrics like recommended sodium consumption, and then suggests healthier choices. “They’re a major pioneer in this area,” says panelist Christine Palumbo, a Chicago-based nutritionist. “It’s like having your own registered dietitian.”
Safeway bought our local Dominicks chain several years ago. I like shopping there because the aisles are wide. Tthe produce and bakery are pleasantly displayed. They have improved their product selection. The prices are very competitive and cheap. There are always people around asking if you need help when you do actually need help. I was looking for Campbells brand pork and beans. A store manager happened to walk by and when I expressed disappointment that the store didn't carry that brand, he offered to order some for me. I thanked him but declined. The next month, Campbell's Pork and Beans were sitting on the shelf next to Van de Camps. 

Trader Joe's and SuperTarget also made the list. If you're interested, here's the article. I had been feeling somewhat guilty about not being able to afford Whole Foods. But, after reading this, I don't feel guilty at all. I will probably still buy meat at Whole Foods, but Dominicks can have all the rest of my business and I'll know I'm getting what I consider to be good for me food.

Beverage:  Water


Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I ran out of Christmas cards. The grand plan to make cards didn't get completely off the ground. The pieces are still there and I'll take tentative steps to work on the cards over the next year. Maybe, by October of next year, I'll have cards for 2011 nearly finished.

So, after work, I had to dash some place and get another box. Well, I got  Target gift cards from my daughter and son-in-law for my birthday as well as from a couple of co-workers for Christmas. I put the last roll of toilet paper on the spool on Monday morning so I best replenish that. Off to Target I went.

At first, I couldn't find the cards. They were tucked off by themselves. They still had a great selection. Best of all were the 18 cards for $5.00. I didn't hold out hope there would be something with a cat on the front but, to my surprise, the gal who asked if I needed any help found this box. In fact, they had 2 others. There were a lot of cards with a dog on them. The cat cards were down to 3 boxes. I only needed one but if I have come spare cash, I am thinking I should go back and purchase the boxes left. It's a great price for cards and I just have to send a card with a cat on it.

I remarked to the gal on the disparity of cats versus dogs cards and she said, "Well, cats and Christmas antics just seem to go together. On the way home, it occurred to me, they do. Take this video from the web site, Simon's cat. While my gals weren't interested in the tree beyond something to sit under, Carole's cat, Faux adored the tree as something to be climbed and played in. I came home once to find the tree on the floor and Betsy and Rascal looking innocent while Faux was nowhere to be found until Carole got home that night. What would a dog do? A dog would drink the water out of a real tree stand and pee on the tree, marking his territory.

And we think about the terminology of the season. You can do so much with "Meow-y Christmas", or "Merry Cat-mas". "Dog"? "Hound"? "Canine"? Nothing there to make even a bad pun of.

Maybe cat lovers are more inclined to send cards with cat puns, too. If I could get the girls to pose together, nicely, you can bet I'd figure out a way to make them the stars of a Christmas card. They are napping within 2 feet of each other which is much better than when they first moved in with me and they couldn't stand to be in the same room with each other. I haven't decided yet, if I'll assemble the tree and the longer I vacillate, the sillier it is to put it up for what amounts to a week. But the idea of a photo of Pilchard under the tree...

So, I need to get stamps and then, all my cards will be sent by the weekend. This is a huge victory over last year when I didn't send many cards because I didn't have the money for stamps.

"Meow-y Cat-mas" and may your stocking be filled with tuna and toys.

Beverage:  Water


$4.06 Left

Normally, I wouldn't think of going to Starbucks as it's heavy on coffee beverages and I don't drink coffee. But the gift card Patt gave me for my birthday has sent me there quite frequently. I mentioned the good hot cocoa I had the first time I used it. Well, I've found something better than hot cocoa. I know you're shocked.

They currently have a Carmel Apple Spice drink. It is hot apple cider topped with whipped cream, drizzled with caramel. The Starbucks at the Target near me shook cinnamon over that. When I jokingly said, "Wow what else can you put on this, chocolate sprinkles?", they would have if they hadn't been out of them.

Oh my. It is wonderful. So, after a morning spent in and out of the cold, on the way back from the city yesterday, I stopped, ON PURPOSE, at the Starbucks near the office just to get one of these. They had chocolate chunk cookies available so I had to get one of those as I had not had my daily chocolate allotment yet.

Totaled up and subtracted, I have $4.06 left on the card. My plan is to get one more, what is it, "venti", is that the biggest size, which will be covered by the card. Then I'll have change left. I can afford a small one after that and pay cash. That means I will have squeezed 5 and a fraction drinks, one slice of cake and one cookie out of this gift card. Now that's value.

Sad part is this drink is only available during the holidays. Once January hits, it's gone. That's okay. It will be a fond memory that I can look forward to next December.

Beverage:  Water



I had to go into the city on Monday to conduct an inspection. There is another large demolition, remodeling and construction project on the University of Chicago and we have a small part of the work on that. I had to go document the state of one building as they are ramping up demolition.

Well, the wind made the temperature feel like -25 I think is what I heard. So I decided, since I had to put gas in the car and walk three blocks to the job site, I best dress for weather.

Now, I grew up in this stuff. At some point, I'll post some of the photos I have taken in the 1970's which show snow the likes of which we haven't seen since the mid 1980's. I have friends who live in places where that kind of snow is routine. We'd dress for snow and cold and go out in it. I remember when girls weren't allowed to wear pants to school except under their dresses from December through February. We had to take our pants off once we got to school. Yes, this was a public school. When I was in 7th grade, the school board decided girls could wear pants during the day, too.

So, yesterday morning, I put on heavy socks to wear with my snow boots and a heavy pair of jeans. I don't have long-johns anymore. It wouldn't be a good investment if I did buy them as I'm not out in the cold that much. I did put on a pair of knit shorts under the jeans. Then, I wore a t-shirt and this sweater. I guess this would be termed a "ski" sweater. It's pretty heavy duty knitted. I don't remember where I got it, I've had it so long.

After that, it was time for the rest of the outfit. I wore earmuffs, gloves and my Iowa Hawkeyes Starter jacket. This jacket is probably close to 15 years old. We got this coat, on sale, for Carole. Supposedly, it was a $100 jacket and we got it for $40. She wore it for 2 or 3 years and then moved on to a different coat. I took it when she didn't want it. It's down-filled and has a hood. When you put this on, you feel overstuffed, regardless of what you have on beneath it. It is only waste length so you need to be prepared for your tush to be a bit chilled.

But the whole idea is to keep your core, your internal organs, warm. I was so hot by the time the inspection ended, I was sweating. I stood in the foyer of the building, flapping my coat to cool off before going back into the chill. When I got to the car, I took off the coat and tossed it on the front seat, driving back to the office in just street clothes. I did put the coat on to go from the car to the office, simply because I didn't have an extra arm to carry it and I knew I'd need it when I left for the night.

This has been one of the best coats ever and certainly worth the $40 we paid for it.

Beverage: Irish Breakfast tea


Frosted Windowpanes

No, it's not the start of the "Christmas Waltz". It's a reference to what my front window looked like yesterday. The outside temperature, when I got up was -8. Mercifully, the wind had died down and was only 10-15 mph with the occasional gust up to 20.

On Sunday, I decided to cover the north window in the living room. I got the plastic all taped to the window frame and, almost instantly, the room seemed a whopping 10 degrees warmer. All the windows covered with plastic are clear. The big picture window and the small window in the NE corner of the living room, both of which aren't covered in plastic, had this frost on them. The kitchen windows did too, but I can't cover them with plastic. I just don't spend time in the kitchen when it's cold.

I didn't realize how leaky that north window actually is. My whole house just feels warmer having covered it. I'm debating about covering the big picture window. I don't feel a draft around that window, but that doesn't mean there isn't one. Plus, covering the window would ensure I can see through it on these frosty mornings. I remember, on the farm, we used to scratch our names in the frost on our windows. You'd shrug when there was a draft. The heavy plastic was nailed to the side of the house on the outside of the windows and hay bales were stacked against the foundation, all in the name of warmth.

I'm glad we've progressed to lightweight plastic that does the same thing the heavy, almost opaque material did. It was unsightly but most every farmhouse had it on the first floor windows. Some farmers put it on all their windows. I have enough film that I could cover that window, but I am on the fence. The resulting frost was quite photogenic and the living room is nice and warm now. Plus, I don't spend time in there at night when it would be the coldest. Yet, every bit of warmth kept inside is less gas used.

In the end, once I'm done with the packages and parcels on the front window, I'll probably cover it. If the winter is going to be anything like the end of fall here, and remember, this blizzard has happened at the end of meteorological fall, I will be glad I did.

Oh and, in case you're curious, here are the words to "The Christmas Waltz". Harry Connick Jr, Frank Sinatra and Johnny Mathis do very nice versions of it.
Frosted windowpanes
Candles gleaming inside
Painted candy canes on the tree
Santa's on his way
He's filled his sleigh with things
Things for you and me

It's that time of year
When the world falls in love
Ev'ry song you hear seems to say
Merry Christmas
May your New Year dreams come true
And this song of mine
In three-quarter time
Wishes you and yours
The same thing too
Beverage: Irish Breakfast tea


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Remember When?

I have addressed the Christmas cards for all the cards I currently have. I need to go to the store and get another box. I thought I had it counted out correctly but I'm short. My October dream of making my own cards didn't get done. I'll get to it but I'm using up some old cards I've had for a few years.

Also being used up in this are old stamps. We used to save some, when Carole was little, because my ex had a friend who collected stamps. He had a rather large collection, all identified and mounted. A stamp collection, as collections goes, doesn't take up that much room. My grandfather collected stamps and coins. I remember going to visit him and he'd have his collections out because he'd just found a stamp or a coin he'd been searching for. We were allowed to look but not touch.

Now that Carole's on her own, I asked about the stamp collection. She's not interested in it so I've been using the stamps to mail what correspondence I do as well as the bills I don't pay online. Most of our collection is from when stamps were between 30 and 36 cents. That means I have to get a sheet or two of 1, 2 and 10 cent stamps.

The stamps on the left required licking. You remember that, right? Stick out your tongue and apply moisture using that appendage. You mouth would dry out in December between licking stamps and licking the back of the card envelope. I realized that all stamps today are peel and stick. You can't find current denominations of the lick and stick variety. I'm not going to decry this. It's an advancement that is most welcome. I remember when the first peel and stick stamps were introduced and how some people said that was a travesty. Now, I don't think we'd have it any other way.

Beverage:  Gingerbread tea


That's Alive!

The office Christmas party was last night. We go out for dinner at an upscale restaurant. We've been doing this for as long as I have worked for the company. This year's venue was Mortons. This is the kind of place, if you're like me, you drive by and wonder what it's like to eat at. There's nothing on the menu you could ever hope to purchase.

I started with a chocolate martini. It was very good. We had appetizers of crab cake, shrimp cocktail and Tuna Tartare. I'm not fond of crab cake so I didn't try that. The shrimp was outstanding as was the tuna.

They brought over the cart to explain dinner. Of course Mortons is synonymous with "steak" and they had an abundance of steaks on their cart. They also had fish and one chicken dish. What was very interesting was the lobster sitting on the cart. In the foreground you can see what they called a "petite" steak. My boss is pointing the lobster. It was just sitting there. The waiter talked about steak and lobster or just lobster. For effect, he picked the thing up. We all, I think, thought it was a very realistic looking plastic model. Imagine our surprise when it MOVED! It was very much alive. There was this lobster waving his various arms at us.

So that brings up the "How can I eat this?" feeling. I felt so badly for the lobster. Plucked from the seabed to be paraded about on a platter, picked up and displayed and then tossed in a pot of boiling water. Of course, this discounts the inherent dangers of living in the ocean where he could be some fish's lunch.

I've seen them in tanks when you walk into a restaurant, never up close like this. No one ordered lobster. I got salmon. It was good; prepared simply and served in a beurre blanc sauce. We ordered vegetables and split them. I had the steamed broccoli, which was very good.

Jon ordered a steak. "After all, you don't go to Mortons and order fish," he said, although that's what his fiance and I had.

Although it looks charred, it wasn't this dark and he said, echoed by others at the table who ordered steak, that it just melted in your mouth and you almost didn't need a knife to cook it.

The evening was topped off with dessert. Oh my, and what a dessert it was. They have 3 "hot" desserts. One was an apple pie and I don't remember the third. They also have a chocolate cake. You have to order these when you order dinner so I got one. It's chocolate, duh.

Presentation was very nice. You can see it's a simple chocolate cake, dusted with powdered sugar and topped with a mint leaf and raspberries. It smelled heavenly. The vanilla ice cream must be specially made because it was very vanilla and very smooth.

Okay, this is nice, but what makes it so special? I took my spoon and cut into the cake. Out flowed this intensely dark and rich chocolate HOT chocolate sauce. Oh wow. It was incredibly good. Mike ordered cheesecake and his wife ordered one of these. Mike would take some of the chocolate sauce onto his cheesecake. He said the combo was luscious and told our waiter they should think about offering the cheesecake with a berry or this chocolate sauce.

So that was this year's dinner. We talk work since that's the link we all have with each other. Jon had just come back from helping our Texas office so he was telling great stories about food and life in eastern Texas, northeast of Houston. We talk about our families. We talk about our plans for next year. We get a "state of the office" speech and we exchange small gifts. It's a very relaxed atmosphere, a chance to dress up a bit and to eat incredible food in a restaurant we probably wouldn't get to experience otherwise. It's also a morale booster. When you've had a rough week, coming to a restaurant and breaking bread makes the reason you thought so and so was a jerk on Thursday seem quite small. Therefore, even when we were very slow, we go out to eat at Christmas. Some traditions are worth keeping.

Oh and, for the last 5 years, we've had snow on the day we have the party. We pick the date in October and, invariably, we get snow. That's one tradition we'd just as soon not keep.

Beverage:  Gingerbread tea


Friday, December 10, 2010

Another Gone.

James Moody died today at the age of 85. He had pancreatic cancer. the name may not mean anything to anyone who doesn't listen to classic jazz. I have one of his albums in the stack.

I had the good fortune to hear him in concert twice. The first time was at Ravinia in the early 1990's. We went with a group from church. We were supposed to hear Mel Torme in concert but he was ailing. Instead we got a trio whom I don't remember, James Moody and Cleo Lane. I had never heard of Cleo Lane but some of the people in the group knew her from her World War II USO trips. She was moderately okay. The only thing I remember about the trio was this flute player who was phenomenal and I don't remember his name.

The second time I heard him was in concert at Orchestra Hall. He was on the bill with Benny Carter, I believe. I had the funds then to afford really good seats. I think I was something like 6 rows from the front.

Moody played more than just an alto sax. At both concerts, he played flute and piano. He wasn't a very big man but when he played his horn, it was just him, us and the music. Nothing else was in the room. I remember closing my eyes at the Orchestra Hall concert and having the feeling of the music washing over me. I like that feeling.

There aren't many of these lions of jazz left. Dave Brubeck just celebrated his 90th birthday. He kind of reminds me of George Burns who was booked to do a show when he was 100. People like Moody paved the way for today's jazz musician to play the music they love with less of the hardships endured. Moody isn't well known but the imprint he left on jazz won't be erased.

May he rest in peace.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Soul Food

When one uses the term "Soul Food", one generally thinks of what I would term "Southern" cooking; collard greens, grits, ham and red eye gravy, black-eyed peas, etc. When I think of "Soul Food", I think of food that speaks to my soul. Earlier in the year, I wrote about sausage and cottage fries and peas. Over the weekend, I bought the ingredients to make Chex Mix. Last night, I made a batch.

Chex Mix has a long history with my family. We didn't make it that often. Cereal was best eaten at breakfast. But when we got together with the Eides, my parents' best friends, at New Year's we always had at least one batch. They had 4 kids and I have 3 siblings. We were all close in age. We kids used to write a play that we would perform at 11 p.m. The adults would let us stay up to welcome in the new year but then we had to go to bed. Truthfully, we were pretty exhausted by midnight anyway.

One of the best things about getting together was Chex Mix. It was kind of a luxury at my house and we didn't have it a lot. I remember two or three batches being made at New Year's, but very rarely other times of the year. I think we might have made it for the Thompson Family Picnic that was held in the park on July 4th, maybe some other events but the clear memory is of Chex Mix and New Year's.

It's so easy to make. I don't care for mixed nuts so I used only peanuts, although a peanut cashew mix would be good. It makes a lot and I have quite a bit of ingredients left that I was thinking another batch would be a good thing. I ate it while gaming. I was thinking I need Dr Pepper and this would be an ideal raid snack.  Making it made my house smell very good last night. I did it the non-microwave way, where you use your oven and it takes an hour. I don't like how the microwave version comes out and don't get me started on those pre-made bags of Chex Mix.You want spicy mix? Add cayenne pepper to the butter and Worcestershire mix. Sweet? Instead of Worcestershire sauce, add a cinnamon sugar mix.

This is what I consider soul food; food that elicits warm memories of a time passed.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Travesty!

I wanted to sit down with a movie, tea, Pilchard in my lap and my current cross-stitch project. So, I got the cross-stitch and the tea ready, turned on the TV and went to look for "Nightmare Before Christmas". Great movie.

I don't own it on DvD.

I searched everywhere. I don't own it. I have a videotape, but since my player went belly-up several years ago, a videotape is quite useless to me. I don't own this. My DvD collection goes from Muppet Treasure Island to Ocean's Eleven without a stop in the "N's".

I was crushed. I read instead, setting the cross-stitch aside but still having the cat in the lap and the tea.

I'm not going to rush out and buy it. I'll wait until after Christmas. The $20 or so for this is really needed elsewhere right now. I'll live. I need to watch "A Charlie Brown Christmas" anyway.

Beverage:  Lady Gray tea


This is Interesting.

So I'm messing around in the blog controls yesterday. Blogger put in a bunch of new doodads and widgets (highly technical terms, I know) and controls for making your blog more personal.  I have composition of the blog down to a science so I don't look for changes to what I know. I'm a bit resistant to change, frankly. What I had learned worked so why do I want to mess around in controls I don't know and, quite possibly, break the formula I have. Much to my surprise, the new posting controls are nice and will allow me to do some things the old controls didn't.

One of the things they did was add a "Stats" tab. I have no idea how long it's been on the tool bar. A comment was that people were using outside programs to keep tabs on stats about their blog so Blogger decided to add this to the controls.

I find the stats quite interesting. As I expect, because I live in the US, most of my hits are in the US. I have a number of guild mates from Canada so I was not surprised to see Canada second on the list of hits. What surprised me, at first, was Russia coming in 3rd.

But then I got to thinking. It's because of my connection to and blogging about World of Warcraft. In the game, you need money to purchase goods and services. By design, there is a thriving economy. You purchase items that make the gaming experience more successful, more useful to you and more fun. Yes, it's pixel transactions of fake merchandise with fake money. But I don't think the game would be as successful as it is without having some form of currency to buy goods and services. There is an incentive to continue to do quests because the gold reward will go toward the purchase of something. It cost me 16,000 fake gold to get my fake Traveler's Tundra Mammoth. But when we are raiding, that mammoth comes in handy because it carries a repair guy and a vendor who has food, drink and items needed for people to cast spells. It was well worth the 4 months it took me to make the money to buy it.

And that leads to abuse of the established system. They are called "Gold Sellers" and in the capital cities of this world, they come into the main square and yell their sales pitch. "Worried about having enough gold? Go to [insert web site] and be certain your transaction is safe. 10,000 gold for only $19.95." Yes, you read that correctly. People will pay REAL money, REAL coins and dollars for fake gold so they don't have go into the game and earn it. It's against the user agreement you click "Accept" when you install the game but people do it a lot.

And here is where Russia comes in. That real money gets funneled out of the US to places like Russia. Blizzard knows there are Chinese people spending hours at computers hacking their way into game accounts, clearing out all the goods on characters, selling them and then stockpiling this fake gold to be sold to people who don't want to earn it. This occurs in Russia too. Maybe I have a Russian reader or two, but I'm really willing to bet it's not a reader who came to my blog. It's a spam bot or other search engine that just happened to see I tagged WOW in the labels.

I looked at this yesterday and there was a hit from Singapore and Brazil. Today, those locations are absent. I also know that these probably aren't real "readers", that these are just hits from a search engine who happened to find one of my labels for someone doing a search. But I like to think that, thanks to this grand thing we call the "Internet", someone in the Netherlands today read the piece about the first snow of the winter.

I hope they enjoyed it.

Beverage:  Lady Gray tea (Lunch time and I finished the English Breakfast)


Christmas Beverages

While wandering about Whole Foods on Saturday looking for the raisins, I stumbled across a display that included these two teas. Whole Foods remodeled their Wheaton store. The gal I talked to when I couldn't find frozen veggies said they were able to add 8 feet to the ends of their aisles which means more organic products. They moved bulk food over by produce into an area that was brighter and with more space. So things like these teas could be provided in an end cap display where people like me could stumble upon them, sniff the boxes and say, "Oooh!"

There are five holiday flavors but I felt I could only buy 2, plus one of the flavors is peppermint and I don't care for that. These two were the most appealing. The others are Candy Cane Lane, Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride and Nutcracker Sweet.

After a weekend and half a week of having these in the house I can say the Gingerbread Spice is extraordinary. I need to get another box of this. It is so good, smells heavenly and the bag makes at least 4 cups of strong tea. If you don't like your tea strong, be careful how long you steep this flavor. 

The Sugar Plum Spice smells really nice in the box. The taste, however, was a bit too spicy for me. I guess I was expecting something more fruity and this is more spicy. It's good but I have to watch how long I steep the bag or it gets kind of bitter to my taste. 

So I recommend that you try to find one of these since they are special issue for the holiday. If you get a box of the others, let me know how you liked them. 

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea (I'm using up a bag.)


Almost Done.

The stack is not very big this year. I've gone for smaller parcels easier to ship. I have 3 small items to get and have 2 to finish and I'm done. I used to try to be done by Thanksgiving, back when Carole was small, because I felt the running around of the holiday season was frantic enough without trying to find that one perfect gift for someone.

But, with Carole long gone and it just being me, I can wander the malls and shopping centers looking for something so long as I get it out of my house by the 20th. A box heads to Carole and David today and I'll be shipping the rest next week, although there is one gift that won't be ready until after the 18th.

I put the wreath on the door yesterday but I'm on the fence about setting up the tree. It's such a labor, to drag the bin upstairs, assemble the tree, disassemble the tree, drag the stuff back downstairs. So, I just don't know. I was telling Pam that perhaps I should look into a small, table-top tree. It would be easier to store and easier to set up. But, I have years and years of ornaments and I do like putting them on the tree.

Decisions. Decisions. At least I don't have to decide what wrapping paper to use. I have a lot left of the candy cane so that's what they are getting.

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Getting My Geek On

If you need me, I'll be in the office on the computer, not that that's anything new.

The online game I play has "expanded" once again. There's that dragon what toasted Bill and I last week. You could officially play the new content yesterday. I had to go to Hallmark and get more Christmas cards for the office and Game Stop is just a few doors down so I nipped in and picked up my copy, which I pre-ordered back in early October.

The past 2 times the game has added content, installing and then logging onto the game the first day it goes "live" has been something of a joke. Their very first expansion, called "Burning Crusades", was fraught with problems. Servers hosting the game kept crashing. I didn't buy it when it first came out because my character was at a low level and it would be months before I could play it. So, I waited until I was close in level before purchasing and attempting the installation. It took me a whole evening. I'd have to look, but I think it came on 3 discs, maybe only 2, but it was huge and problematic.

The next time the game expanded, they were smarter and had people download some material before the game went live. It still came on a couple of CD's but it was much less of a problem to install and get operational. I think it took 2 hours instead of a whole evening and I was able to play the same day it went live.

For this game, we have been background downloading data for over a month, a couple months, I think, actually. It's released in small chunks that download behind your game as you play. If you don't play very often, you'll have more to download. As I play pretty much every day, the chunks were very manageable. I was kind of dreading the game installation. It was one CD which I started and then went to do a load of wash. When I came upstairs after loading the machine, it was done and I could play right away. From the initial installation, which also took an evening, to a 20 minute installation now, well, it's been 6 years so you hope they have learned something in those 6 years.

It's fun and I had a good time roaming a little around the new areas. The problematic phone sits to the left and a couple of calls came in last night. I took one but couldn't get the phone to work for the second. I forgot to get a new battery at Target over the weekend to see if that fixes the problem. If you don't get me, it simply could be that phone. I'm trying but I can't get it to work.

It also could be that I'm in the middle of a fight for survival and can't answer the phone. Would it be weird if I change the voice message to say something like, "Can't talk now. Raiding and the boss has the group down to 20% health. Leave a message and, if he doesn't kill me, I'll call you back."

Beverage: English Breakfast tea


Of Purple Shampoo and Punkin Pie

Remember the haircut at the end of October? The stylist told me I needed to get purple shampoo, that it would cut the yellow that builds up on gray hair. Well, part of the errands to be run on the first weekend in December was to find the brilliant purple shampoo she showed me. Do I actually notice the yellowing of my hair? No, not really, but she recommended it and she seemed to know what she was talking about. The purple shampoo she used when she cut my hair really made the gray shine. It looked very pretty.

Pam took me out for my birthday on Monday, November 29th. As a treat, we drove out of our way to go to Baker's Square specifically to have pie. The Baker's Square where we always went closed over a year ago so getting pie hasn't been part of our going out. Steak 'n Shake and IHOP are great places for us to go, but sometimes, you gotta have pie.

After a delightful meal, I was going to order pumpkin pie for dessert. I didn't have any pumpkin in the house so I couldn't make myself one over Thanksgiving. Pam said she made a pumpkin pie for her family gathering but she and her husband aren't that fond of it so it would just sit. I was welcome to have most of her leftover pie. Oh absolutely! I'll take leftover pumpkin pie. So, I got chocolate cream for dessert.

Pam also mentioned she had purple shampoo at home. Pam has the most gorgeous gray hair I think I have seen. She's got a wonderful stylist, too, who recommended some purple shampoo to her too. Well, it only came in the super, jumbo, extra-large, economy size. What you need to know is that you shouldn't wash your hair daily with the purple stuff. You know the jokes about blue-haired old ladies? Well, Pam's stylist said, "Where do you think they got the ammo for those jokes?"

Because you should only wash your hair every two weeks with the purple stuff, it lasts and long, long, long time. So after dinner, we went to Pam's and I got 3 slices of pumpkin pie and a half her bottle of purple shampoo. As you can see, it's purple, very purple, iridescent purple. I'm not a fan of the color purple, it's not a favorite, but I would wear this gleaming color of purple, it's that distinctive.

I used the shampoo for the first time last Saturday. Now, I had gone over a month between shampoos. Honestly, I didn't notice any yellowing of my gray but after one shampoo, oh yeah. There was a big difference. Part of me is tempted to wash my hair every day with the purple stuff just to see what color I get. That's me, of course, oddball that I am.

I took the pie to work from Tuesday through Thursday last week. It was so nice to eat leftovers with punkin pie.

So, when someone asks me what I got for my birthday, I say, "Pam gave me 3 pieces of pumpkin pie and purple shampoo," and I'm very grateful for that.

Beverage: English Breakfast tea


Just ewww.

This is a weird photo. I admit that. I have one of those plastic containers on the bathroom shelf that contains Q-Tips. I got down to my last dozen so I got out the box that was under the sink. What you see to the left is what I found.

If you notice, some of the Q-Tips are missing ends. I was quite startled and started tossing them out. As I dug deeper into the box and realized over half of the Q-Tips were missing ends, I noticed those black flecks in the bottom of the box. Close examination shows those to be insect shells. Some kind of insect had infested my extra box of Q-Tips and had eaten off the cotton swab ends of most of them. You can see a few that are okay but who is to say there isn't larva in those swabs. I pitched the whole box and it will go out to the curb tonight with the garbage.

I have never seen this before. I have no idea what those bugs could be. I thought of cotton weevils but how did they get into my Q-Tips? That's the part that really bothers me. Is this larva that's naturally occurring in cotton and I put this in my ear? [deep breath] No, no. I'm going to operate on the assumption it's something that got into the house. I have to replenish my Q-Tips because I use them for a lot of things. I guess what I need to do is not buy the gigantic economy size if I can't get them into the plastic bin I have.

Has anyone else had this problem? Any guesses what the bugs are? It's creepy. Someone should make a low grade horror movie out of this.

Beverage: English Breakfast tea


Tuesday, December 7, 2010


The weekend included trips to the grocery. I headed out of work early on Friday because of the impending snowstorm. When I left the office at 3, the weather people were predicting 4-8 inches of snow. As I was down to chocolate chips, All-bran and beef broth, I knew it was going to be a chunk of change to restock the shelves.

I had posted before about being out of eggs and unsure how to get my promised free ones. I went to this web site I supposedly signed up for. A little poking around and, well what do you know, there are my free eggs. It's actually, now that I've spent a couple hours in the site, quite easy to use. I click on an offer and it gets "loaded" onto my Dominicks card. You all have these things. I have one not on this fob. I have to register it online and I keep forgetting to do that.

So, I load up my "Fresh Values" card and head over to the grocery on Friday. I spent over $100 but I got my free eggs and replenished the pantry.

I'm always skeptical of the receipt claims that I saved x number of dollars because I used my card. It's quite dramatic when the register rings up a final bill of $150 and then they apply your card discounts and it drops like a stone. It's an emotional pat on the back that you maybe did shop well. Still, I did get some things for very inexpensive prices and they were things, like pasta, which I use. And yes, the eggs were free.

I contrast that with the Whole Foods run on Saturday, in the snow. I got fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, flour, cereal, bulk raisins and cranberries and frozen peas and carrots. None of that stuff is discounted or free with $10 purchase. It's all organic so I feel that although the price is probably 10-15% higher than buying at Dominicks, it's better for me. Maybe I'm kidding myself but some illusions I want to keep.

I wound up spending more than I had budgeted for, but what I also did was buy for a full month. I shouldn't need groceries beyond incidentals until January. To me, that's a good plan.

Beverage: English Breakfast Tea