Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All Wrapped Up

I had another visit with Dr. Choi, the orthopedic doctor. As he was coming out of one room, I happened to by hobbling by. I didn't bring the cane with me because, once I get going, I can shuffle along. I liken myself to a semi truck. It takes a bit to get me going, but once I do, do not stop suddenly in front of me.

He noted I had gone downhill in mobility since the last visit in September. (Hallelujah! He did notice.) He had me bend my knees to the point they hurt. Right knee, not too bad. Left knee, ouch. He poked. I winced. He took a "standing" x-ray. I stood while they did an x-ray of my knees.

Yes, there is arthritis, but if you live long enough, it's going to get you. I just helped it along by falling. The right knee is a bit askew with the joint not aligning as it should. This is another sign of early arthritis. The left knee? Well, there's fluid in there that wasn't there back in June when the original x-rays were taken. Gradually, over the summer, this fluid has built up. That would account for why my left knee hurts so much more when I stand up than my right knee.

He drained the fluid. That is gross, just gross. He showed it to me, not that I wouldn't have believed him had he chose not to. It was a light mustard yellow and the syringe had about an inch in it. Then, I got cortisone shots in both knees. Finally, both knees were wrapped in giant ace bandages.

Am I better? You know, just removing the fluid made the knee feel better.I had been given these "lovely" and "stylish" shorts to wear. I should have taken a photo of those. They were pretty funny looking. After the procedure and the wrapping, Amy offered to help me get dressed, but I wanted to see if what I wasn't feeling was true. For the first time in months, I could bend my left knee to pull on my pants without sharp pain. Right now, it feels as if I'm wearing a pair of those pants that unzips at the knee because both knees are wrapped. But, I stood up about 15 minutes ago and didn't need the cane to get walking.

He's recommending I resume taking the glucosamine/chondroitin every day. He wants me to give it 3 months and see if that, combined with the cortisone shots help me turn the corner in healing. I really wish I had to funds to get into a water exercise class. He said that would be ideal for me, but I have to join a health club to get into something like that. Oddly enough, the next best thing is a stationary bike.

My knees are kind of achy right now, but I sort of expect that. He said they might hurt worse before they get better but that would only be for 24-36 hours. I don't have to ever go back unless or until I either don't show improvement or start going downhill again. I need to watch my use of stairs for the next month, too, kind of hard to do since there are stairs into and out of the house.

This is the most hopeful I have been in the last 4 months. My world went from wide open to very narrow simply because of my inability to get around. Okay, I have arthritis in my knees. I can handle this. There will always be pain and it may be harsh on rare occasions. I can handle this. Getting a handle on this now will help me make the lifestyle changes I need to make to recover my sense of a wide open world.

Beverage:  British Breakfast tea


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Dinner a Bit Late

I had plans for Thanksgiving dinner had they not been interrupted. On Sunday, I cooked what would have been my dinner.

This is baked teriyaki marinated chicken breast, chicken Rice-a-Roni and cherry jello. I just wanted simple. I made two chicken breasts so there was one for lunch yesterday. The rice and the jello have enough that they are lunch today. It was a nice, simple meal served in a now warm house. Elaborate dinners have their place, but sometimes, simple is best.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Well What Do You Know

Sunday evening, the power went out, three times. The last time was around 1 in the morning. Now, I have a lot of understanding friends, but I figured that calling them at 1 in the morning to say, "My power is out. Can you call me at 6 to make sure I'm up?" would not be appreciated.

The last time the power went out, the guys in the office asked why I didn't use the alarm clock application on my cell phone. That's easy for them to say. They are running around with "smart" phones; Droids or iPhones; that clearly have alarm clock features. My phone makes and receives calls. That's all it does. Supposedly, I have Internet access but it's in a text format. You try finding out the Iowa-Northwestern football score via that.

I called Com Ed and put in an "out of service" notice. I was informed that my outage had been registered and it would be around 3 a.m. before the power would be restored. I needed sleep. How would I get up in the morning without an alarm clock? Well, let's look at the phone.

By golly, I do have an alarm clock feature. The power wound up coming back on around 5. My phone went off at 6. I far prefer waking up to the melodious sounds of jazz but a ringing cell phone does get your attention.

It's good to know I have this capability on my phone. Now I have to remember to keep it charged.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Sorry St. Francis

There is a legend that says St. Francis of Assisi cut the arm off his robe rather than disrupt a sleeping cat. He did not have to contend with a 13-pound, black-haired diva.

I'm trying to get this next craft project cut out so it can be finished this weekend. It needs to be shipped next week. I just don't have time for someone to park herself on top of my fabric and glare at me when I deign to use what she's sitting on. I realize she was calling attention to the fact that we did not have lap time last night. I came home and immediately jumped into getting things accomplished. I did not sit down so she could occupy my lap for 30 minutes. I just didn't have the time. But, I also don't have the time for her to camp my crafting. So, I moved her.

Yeah, that didn't go real well. I would put her in the recliner and suggest she stay there. She would get out of the recliner and jump back up onto the fabric. She actually hissed at me when I tried to move her off a section I needed to cut. So, I backed off. I went into the office to download photos off my camera and she followed me in there to sit in the chair next to me. That allowed me to finish the cutting and to tidy up the table.

Tonight when I get home, I will take 30 minutes to sit down and let her have lap time. I guess it could be worse. She could really not care one way or the other so long as there is food in the dish and a clean litter box.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest Tea


Monday, November 28, 2011

A Bevy of Buttons

One crafting project is complete. The other was to be prepped yesterday but a 13-pound black impediment kept lying on the material which prevented cutting out the pattern. Plus, when I would sit down to get off my feet, she demanded my lap. We spent about an hour dozing in the recliner. It's lovely, but it means things I'd like to get done don't.

Part of both projects is selecting buttons for the front. When I bought the material, I also bought buttons. I wasn't completely happy with the selection at JoAnn Fabrics. I had specific buttons in mind, but I could not find them. Better get something that will work than to skip that part and wind up with no buttons. As project one came to the button stage, I decided to get out my big jar of buttons and have a look.

This is decades of button saving. Each one is a story unto itself. Only a few I actually remember. Many are single buttons with no mate. Many are buttons that have seen use on something else. When that something else got too worn to be useful, the buttons were removed. I remember reading this was a common practice among women in the 19th and early 20th century. Buttons were a luxury for the common folk. Clothing was held together with pins. If you were fortunate to have the means to buy something that had buttons, when that item was tossed, the buttons were saved because they generally didn't wear out. I know the dead were not buried with their buttons. The clothing worn was sewn shut and the buttons used for something else. We might find that a bit morbid but it's quite the example of "waste not, want not".

I also remember reading a complaint against button manufacturers and pattern designers. I need 4 buttons. I have to buy 6 to ensure they match. Even if I sew an extra button into a seam, I still have one left that I can't use. There was a hew and cry to make button cards in 4s and 5s. You can now find buttons on cards in amounts of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. There are cheap buttons of standard design on strips of 6. It just depends upon your taste and what you are looking for.

I remember, with great fondness, the stores that had not only buttons on cards, but buttons in small bins. Those were the expensive buttons, sometimes $2 to $3 per button. But they had character and design. If you were making a coat, for instance, that only needed a couple of buttons, you might splurge and buy ornate buttons. I can't remember the last time I was in a store with buttons loose like that. Unfortunately, in this day and age, shoplifting of loose buttons would be rampant.

I found the best buttons for both projects in the jar. I probably could toss a lot of these, especially the single buttons. But you just never know...

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Birthday Goodies

It's raining. Actually, it's pouring. It's not going to not rain the rest of the day and into the night. I long for snow on my birthday. It's close enough to cold weather that this could be snow or rain mixed with snow or even just flurries. No sleet or ice, thank you very much. Just snow. 

I could be forgiven for not wanting to go anywhere in the chilly late November rain. But a couple things got me out of the house. 

Stop #1 - Pharmacy. Tomorrow is the last day for which I have a pill for my knees. I could go get this on Monday but why? I have other errands so they will fill the script and have it waiting when I come back.

Stop #2 - Photo store. The gal who works in Wisconsin has been given a 27 home inspection project with reports. She needs photo holders. They know me by sight in this store so Harry helped me do that math to determine we only needed one package of photo holders even if 500 photos are taken. 

Stop #3 - Office. Drop photo holders on desk and put space heater on floor. I could have taken the space heater back on Monday. Yeah, right. With my memory, it will still be sitting on my living room floor come January. 

Stop #4 - Bank to deposit the check friends gave me to help with the furnace repair. 

Stop #5 - Caribou Coffee. I received a coupon for a free drink on my birthday. You must redeem it on your birthday and they are open on Thanksgiving for those years where my birthday and Thanksgiving coincide. Large white hot cocoa with a shot of hazelnut, whipped cream and crushed Snickers on top. FREE! God better have this in heaven or I'm not going. 

Stop #6 - Wendy's. I received a coupon good for a $1.00 off any combo meal. I just wanted a hamburger, fries and a drink. I didn't need the drink but I would have had to pay extra for a Frosty. "Would you like cheese on your burger?" "Oh sure. It's my birthday. Why not?" Thanks mom. Your birthday money bought me lunch. And Wendy's new and improved hamburgers are outstanding. My burger had to wait for me to get home and it was still really juicy and flavorful. I'm going to have to go back. 

Stop #7 - Back to the pharmacy and pick up my script. Notice that Dr. Pepper is "Buy 1 Get 1 Free". I don't know why they don't just drop the price to $1.00 each but whatever. Toss in a large candy bar for the chocolate quotient and I'm good to go. 

It can be hard to remember, when you feel beaten down, just how the little things can make you happy. Free cocoa. A dollar off lunch. A free bottle of soda. All good. It can rain all day. I'm happy.

Beverage:  White hot cocoa


Giddy Over A Gryphon

This is the post I was going to post on Thanksgiving Day. It seems appropriate that it wound up coming today.

I got home Wednesday evening after work and found a FedEx box on the front steps. I had ordered things earlier in the month but I thought everything I'd ordered was accounted for. I'm not expecting anything, never mind that it's close to my birthday.

I brought it inside and the girls gave it a sniff-over. There wasn't anything exciting about it, they decided. The return address was "Activision/Blizzard". I didn't order anything from them. I knew my daughter was up to something but I had no clue what that could be.

I opened the box and here's this black something or other in the bottom of the box. It's got yellow on it. Blizzard doesn't sell tee-shirts and, if it's from my daughter, she knows I have all the tees I really need or want. I have no clue what this is. Well, let's pull it out and see.

Oh wow. I know this doesn't mean much to anyone who doesn't play the game but this is so exciting. I opened the bag and there he is.

I have him sitting on the printer to the left of the computer. Isn't he adorable? I felt I was kind of beyond the age when a plush would evoke a giggling response from me but I found myself giggling and laughing. He's just so cute. If you know your mythology, a gryphon has the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. In World of Warcraft, if you are Alliance, we use these to fly from point to point. The other faction has a different looking mount. There are a bunch of different colors of gryphons but you're most likely to see the above color the first time your low level self needs to go to another city. Although my character has progressed to where I can fly anywhere, I still like "hopping on the bird" to go from place to place. I can go do a load of dishes or make more tea and let the gryphon take me where I want to go. 

The best part about this plush, it comes with an in-game pet. 
There are a lot of these kinds of pets you can get in the game. I did not have the little gryphon. When I'm on my personal flying mount, he flies along with me. 

Today is my birthday and, as of this typing, I am officially another year older. It's appropriate that this post came out today. Thank you, sweetie. I'm just giddy over my gryphon. 

Beverage:  Cranberry Blueberry Juice


An Evening Salvaged

My daughter knows me way to well. She knew, after talking with me on Thursday, trying to troubleshoot the problem with the furnace, that I would sit and stew and cry and stew some more and feel rotten about life and myself. So, she contacted Niles and asked if there was one more place at their Thanksgiving table. Of course there was and I received the invitation within 30 minutes of chatting with Carole.

I almost didn't accept it. I felt rotten. I felt beaten down. Why inflict myself on others? But a little person inside nudged my conscience enough that I knew I NEEDED to be around people. In hanging up the phone after saying, "Yes," I remembered the space heater in my office at work. That would keep one room warm enough for the girls that I wouldn't worry about them.

It was just what I needed. I needed to be around laughter and stories and people that I knew and who know me. There is always an abundance of food, always. And there are pecan and pumpkin pies to be taste tested. And there are snippets of conversations from the "kids" (only, at 23+, they aren't really kids anymore) in the kitchen that provoked gales of laughter because we certainly didn't know to what THAT comment referred.

And there was beer; Niles' special pumpkin brew. It was really, really good.

For 7 hours, the day was okay. When I returned home, it wasn't as cold in the house as I expected.

I am thankful for a house, even if it was cold. I am thankful for two cats who can adapt. I am thankful for friends who don't even think twice about seating me at their table. I am thankful for a daughter who knows me.

It's easy to get down. It's easy to feel bad about the hand you've been dealt even if you know others have it far worse than you. Perspective is a fickle thing. I'm very grateful to Niles and his family for helping me regain mine.

Beverage:  Cranberry Blueberry Juice


Friday, November 25, 2011

One Thermostat Later

It was chilly in the house this morning. Friends invited me for dinner last night. I debated. I didn't want to leave the girls but it wasn't cold in the house. With the little space heater and the oven going, the north end of the house was a nice 68. The south part of the house hovered around 62-64. You could tell the difference immediately when you walked down the hall. They were giving the heater wide berth so I knew there was no danger of them knocking it over and they would be comfortable. Plus, I would have sat here and stewed and cried and stewed. I accepted the invitation. I did turn off the oven before I left.

My friends loaned me another small space heater to keep the bedroom at 68. The living room was still 68 when I got home but the rest of the house hovered around 60. I bundled up, tossed another blanket on my bed and prepared for a night's sleep. The space heater had not been used in awhile so I blew out all the dust and set it up.

About 1 a.m., I was awakened by a pop and the smell of something burning. I have not moved that fast since April, before I fell. My friend's space heater had died. I guess I owe them another one. Fortunately, these aren't that expensive.

I didn't sleep very well. I tossed and turned and kept waking up, worrying and falling back asleep. I got up at 7:50 so right at 8 a.m., I could call a repair guy. The place that sold me the furnace, some 6 years ago, was nowhere in the yellow pages. I went downstairs and called the number on the sticker they attached to the furnace. Yes, they could come out but this was holiday time and the service fee BEFORE they told me what was wrong was $195. I told the guy I'd have to think about it. I called another company, Four Seasons. Their diagnostic fee was $85 and then they would give me options for fixing what was wrong. I didn't have to think twice.

The guy arrived right before the Iowa-Nebraska game kicked off. He determined my thermostat was shot. This kind of didn't surprise me. It was the original thermostat from when the original central air was purchased in the early 1970's. I have often wondered just how reliable it was. I was not offered a new thermostat when I bought my furnace. "We can use this one," I was told.

I have x amount of dollars to work with thanks to the surprise generosity of some friends. If I bought the cleaning package, they would, for me, waive the diagnostic fee, clean my furnace, install the thermostat and come back in the spring to service the air conditioning unit. This plan took most of my dollars but it seemed to be the best value for me. I have a humidifier attached to my furnace but I couldn't afford to have that cleaned so he detached it from the furnace. In the spring, when they come to clean the AC, I can have them reattach and clean the humidifier.

It took him 2.5 quarters to get everything done. I have since cranked the heat up to warm up the back end of the house. I think I will leave the temp high for the rest of the evening to make sure the house is up to temperature and then turn it down at bed time to where I want it. He said there was nothing else wrong with the furnace but I do need to replace the filter. Normally, you would replace it every 3 months, but with a long haired black cat living with me, I should think about replacing it every other month. I just replaced it in October, but I can understand fur.

So, that was a positive experience. I am set for the winter. If you ever need heating or AC service, consider them. There is no extra charge for diagnostic calls at any time; day, night or holiday. He said they don't have to charge extra because they have enough technicians, that they can always be working. He was friendly and personable and efficient. Pilchard even came out to say, "Hello". Mija disappeared completely.

I have heat again. I was doing okay with a space heater and the oven but having uniform heat in the house is wonderful. Now, if only Iowa had played like they were on fire. (sigh)

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

It Will Do

I don't think it's gas pressure. I have ample hot water and my water heater is gas. Therefore, I am looking at a repair. I realize I don't have $200 as I thought I did. My knee medication runs out on Sunday so I need to get that refilled. -$20. I am close to being out of gas in the car. I won't fill it but that's $30 I don't have for the furnace. Hence, we are down to $150 to fix whatever has broken. I can afford to have someone come and take a look and tell me what's wrong. I can't afford to have them fix it until next Thursday.

So, I made the decision to bring home the small space heater I have in my office. My office is always cold. It's usually 5-10 degrees colder than the rest of the office. This is a good little heater. I won't run it at night when I sleep but I will during the day when I'm home. We will have to see just how cold it gets with no heat over night and adjust things accordingly. It's hard for me to get up in the morning as it is, with the thought that the first action of the day, standing up, is painful. It's going to be doubly hard now when it's 50-odd degrees in my house in the morning.

I'll just adapt and figure this out so I can tough it out until I get paid.

Beverage:  none


Not A Happy Thanksgiving

Once again, I find myself struggling without an end in sight, without a way to surmount a problem. I get tired of constantly feeling beaten down, of having to fall back on "it is what it is", shrugging, and walking away to less than it was before.

It was chilly in the house this morning but that is often the case on cool mornings now. I checked the thermometer and it's reading 62. Well, that's not good. I can't get the furnace to come on. I have tried everything I know but nothing. We're up to 64 because I have the oven running at 200 and the oven door open.

Carole called to wish me a happy Thanksgiving and found herself trying to long-distance trouble shoot. I did, after 15 minutes of searching, find the model number of my furnace. I took the top door off the front to find the sticker and now, of course, can't get the door back on. It seems to me there is no 'pilot light', nothing that ignites the gas. And, no, there is no gas smell. That's always the first thing I check. I've pushed switches and toggled buttons but nothing. I felt badly for my daughter. She called to just chat and walked into a problem that has me in tears.

David wonders if all the gas use to cook turkeys today has the safety tripped. Once the cooking is over, perhaps the gas pressure will come back up and the furnace will kick in again. The other suspect is the pressure switch itself. It seems to be the most likely piece to break.

I'll just wrap up in extra blankets and clothes and hope, against hope because nothing really works out for me, that the furnace will kick in later. I have $200 to put towards a repair. That's it. It cleans me out completely. I would get paid in a week when I could afford more of a repair. That then gets into what does or does not get paid within the next month. The gas company can't shut off my gas in the winter so I have that going for me even if I can't pay the bill in full every month.

The weather is supposed to be in the upper 50's for the next few days with a chance of snow on Sunday. Next week, it's to be in the upper 30's and low 40's. The girls and I could handle this week. Next week might be tougher. Keeping the oven on helps with that part of the house but does nothing for the electric bill. I guess I can look at it that if I'm not using gas for the furnace, I don't have that expense.

I've been in my robe all morning. It's warm and comfy. I don't feel like a happy thanksgiving at all, but it is what it is. Time to make some tea.

Beverage:  none


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happiness Costs 49 Cents

Sunday I went to Target. Other than stopping for cold remedies, this was the first foray out since being attacked by this cold. The list contained things like a new ironing board cover, brown sugar, cough drops (which are over a $1.00 less at Target than at Dominicks) and Scotch tape. I decided also, to treat myself to a box of Pop Tarts, hardly a nutritional gold mine, but they were something I just craved.

The thing that is somewhat attractive about Target is that they have unadvertised specials throughout the store. The tape I bought was a 3 pack for $3.00. It's the "gift wrap" tape, the kind that supposedly becomes "invisible" on the package. The regular tape was $2.40 but when I compared the amount I got, I'm getting almost 1.5 times more in the 3 pack. That's a better value.

As I'm walking through the baking aisle to get to the brown sugar, I pass by the Jiffy muffin section. An unannounced sale has boxes of corn muffin mix for 49 cents. 49 cents. You add an egg and a third of a cup of milk and you have muffins or cornbread for less than a dollar. Yes, I have cornmeal at home but, at this price, the cost of cornmeal, sugar, melted butter, egg and milk is probably comparable to a box that whips up faster. I decided to add a package of dried blueberries which was quite a bit more than 49 cents.

I made the cornbread last night and it is wonderful. The blueberries add just the right sweetness. I didn't use the entire package so I will be adding blueberries to my usual Saturday oatmeal. It was a rainy night last night and the chill makes my knees hurt more. Sitting down to munch on warm blueberry cornbread made the night very pleasant. 49 cents. That's happiness.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

So That's Where They Were

I'm out of shampoo excepting the stuff I use once a week for my gray hair. Trust me. That purple shampoo is NOT what I want to wash my hair with daily. For one, it's expensive and for two, it will make my hair look purple. Not Barney or eggplant but add a purple dimension to my gray color. There are a lot of crazy colors I'd consider as a joke. Purple is not one of them.

But I remembered having a couple of those free bottles one gets from hotels tucked away in the top drawer of the bathroom sink, at least I think there are a couple of bottles which will do until I can get over to the store. I also need kitty litter so it's a good trip.

I opened the drawer and saw this.
This is the tube of toothpaste I stuck in the drawer when I received the free tube to review for that survey. Mice. Mice did this. I rooted around in the drawer for the shampoo bottles (there were, in fact, 2 small bottles) and found more "evidence" in the bottom of the drawer for this being a camping location for mice. I have the mice with the shiniest teeth and least cavities on the block.

Now, while you're being grossed out, you need to realize I grew up in a big ol' Iowa farmhouse. We had mice in the walls. I used to have a couple of mousetraps in my bedroom and nothing scares you more than that snap occurring at 2 a.m., waking you from a sound sleep.

The thing is, I don't hear mice in my walls. Two years ago, Pilchard was bringing mice up from the basement on the average of 2-3 a week for a couple months. She doesn't go into the basement every night as she used to. She caught one 10 days ago, which I managed to catch and toss outside, but the activity we used to have has dwindled. I have not seen "evidence" of rodents anywhere else in my house, nowhere. The toothpaste went into the drawer in September so this is recent activity. I checked the other drawer and the area under the sink. No mice "leavings". I think it's because there are bars of scented soap and bottles of scented lotion in the drawer and under the sink. There was only the toothpaste tube, the bottles of shampoo and plastic travel cases in the drawer they occupied. I have since tossed a bar of soap in that drawer.

I took the flashlight to the basement and checked the foundation trying to find a hole, any way they could be coming in. I found it. It's really hard to see from both the inside and the outside but it's where a cable went through the foundation to the old air conditioning unit. Research on the internet says that stuffing the hole with steel wool will prevent mice from entering AND leaving the house. One of the basement windows is warped just enough to not close properly although I can't see a mouse wriggling in through that small gap. Still, I can't get the window closed to latch it so duct tape to the rescue. I couldn't find any steel wool in my house so I'm going to grab a can of spray foam that we have in the office which we use to plug holes in some of our machine boxes. I figure that will work just as well.

Finally, I had a talk with the resident mousers and encouraged them to find any vermin in the house and bring them to me so we can remove them from the premises. I'll be thoroughly cleaning and disinfecting that drawer this weekend.

Beverage:  Gingerbread tea


Monday, November 21, 2011

A Little Bit of Lace

Christmas craft number one is 50% finished. Once I get going, it goes together quite quickly. It's that initial inertia to get started. I found that I do appreciate the background noise of the TV as I work so there was football on all afternoon yesterday.

I'm also trying to make the item a bit distinctive. In Aunt Adele's trim box, there was this bit of lace. I have no idea from what it came. It's just a small triangle. I'm sure it has to be "old" in a sense that perhaps it was lovingly cut from a dress or maybe an antimacassar that had seen better days. I have no story other than it once belonged to Aunt Adele.

When I was thinking about this piece, which is going to Carole, I knew the lace would be perfect to grace the pocket. I'm very happy with the effect. I won't put lace on David's piece, although that would be kind of funny.

This is the week to finish these up so they can be shipped next week. Then, I am officially done with shopping. Sometimes I regret wanting to be done so soon. There can be some really good deals later in the month as merchants try to woo you into the store. But, I rather like being able to sit back and relax during this time, to wander about because I want to, not because I have to get something for my brother because I got his name in the family drawing. Once these are done, I can look ahead to next year and what projects I might like to actually finish.

What a concept!

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Warmth From the Past

It's a quilt, but not just any quilt. My great-aunt Tillie made this. This quilt is 100% wool scraps and hand tied. She made this with her sisters, whom I never knew. It's easily 50+ years old. Carefully preserved in the bottom of a drawer, mom moved it several years ago to this blanket bag. Did any of us want it? Of course I took it.

It really needs to be used. The women who made this did not make it so it could be stuffed into a blanket bag and admired. They made this so it would be on someone's bed in the winter, keeping them warm. I do intend to use it on my bed. It's possible it will keep my feet warm enough that an electric blanket is not needed. We'll see.

Some quilts tell stories in the fabric used to create them. I've been looking for the bag of interfacing so I can work on my next two projects. I stumbled across a bag of fabric scraps. At one point, when Carole was in high school, I was going to make a quilt for her. We had saved bags of scraps. In one of those occasions when we got water in the basement, the bag got wet. By the time we found it, the mold on the fabric scraps made them unuseable. She was very sad for she recognized all the material from all the sewing I had done over the past 10 years. It was all ruined.

For awhile, I took my scraps to the church I belonged to. Ladies came on Thursday and sewed quilts for Lutheran World Relief. With donated fabric, they would create sometimes upwards of 25-30 quilts a year which made their way all around the world. Quilts are more than just something on the bed. They become the bed, a jacket for warmth and, strung over a line, they are a house in the desert. When the quilts were displayed in church, it was fun to look at them and say, "Oh here's this fabric. That was from a dress."

I have another stash. I still dream about making Carole a quilt. I found the interfacing and moved more fabric scraps into the bag. There's not enough for a quilt top, yet. I have hunks of fabric I've never turned into anything. Perhaps...

When I change the sheets on the bed next week when this cold fully leaves, I'll make room at the foot for this quilt. I know Mija will lie on it and I will need to be gentle with it. I never saw Aunt Till sewing although she had sewing machine in her house. Finding things like this give me a better picture of the lady I knew only as elderly and suffering from dementia, although we didn't call it that back then. A quilt handmade by a relative warms you in more than one way.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea



I got a letter from the County Assessor this past week. It's one of those things one views with mixed feelings. You purchase a chunk of land on which sits a dwelling. The "American Dream" has always been that you own a home and that home increases in value the longer you keep it. Yet, the greater the value, the more various government bodies ask you to pay in taxes. So you complain about your high taxes but don't want your investment to lose money. It's quite the conundrum.

I turned the letter over as I looked at it. Getting a letter means there is a change in valuation. I love it when a politician hollers "No New Taxes" but says nothing when existing taxes are raised another percentage point. "Well, that's not a new tax," is the answer. An increase is an increase is an increase. I go back to the old adage, "If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck and looks like a duck, it's a duck."

I opened the letter dreading to read what I guessed were the contents. To my surprise, my assessed valuation has gone down. It's gone down by a good 4%. Since my taxes are based on the assessed valuation of my home, perhaps next year will be a zero increase year. Whatever has gone up will be cancelled by the lowering of the assessment.

So what happened? My guess is the real estate market collapse has finally caught up with assessments. I have never been "under water" on my mortgage, owning more on my home than it is worth. When I refinanced several years ago, I made sure I refinanced only what was in the mortgage. I didn't wrap a whole bunch of other stuff in, like credit cards. My insistence that I only refinance the mortgage paid off in still maintaining equity when others lost. For once I did something right, even if, at the time, I didn't know it was the right thing to do.

Now, will I see a reduction in my mortgage payment if my taxes do go down? Ha! Let's just say the devil will buy ice skates before that happens.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


That Time Again

This next week marks the official time to put up the window insulator kits. I must have 5 different rolls of the double sided tape used to attach the plastic to the windows. Somewhere, I have some plastic I didn't use last year. When I did every single window last year, I noticed a huge difference in the warmth of the house. So that is the goal this year. Get every single window covered. We've been blessed that it's not been that cold at the end of this fall. Some late falls have been cold and damp and that kind of chill just goes right through you.

I'm trying to keep the thermostat at 68-69. There is a problem with the furnace in that it will, on rare occasions, not come on. I have to go downstairs and reset it, sometimes two or three times before it will come on. I know it could use a thorough cleaning and I always intend to save up for that, but things have a way of happening and the money set aside for furnace and AC cleaning goes towards routing out the sewer line, as a for instance. I wear an extra layer in the winter and the girls are good at keeping themselves warm. So, we're going another winter without the cleaning and, I hope I can get it done in the spring.

Given that I have cold feet, I've been keeping a heating pad at the foot of the bed. When I went to visit mom, she put their ancient electric blanket on my bed. It was wonderful. I don't need it for my torso but it kept my feet an even temperature all night. A heating pad migrates depending upon where you happen to kick it. I should get an electric blanket.

I have started looking. This is probably a really good time to be looking as an electric blanket could be a Christmas present. If I wanted to navigate Black Friday at the mall, I probably could find a really good deal then, but, with my knees, Black Friday is the day I make sure all the windows are covered on the inside and work on sending out Christmas cards, not the day I spend walking about a mall. I've also considered getting just a "throw" size electric blanket. Since it's mainly my feet I'm concerned about, a throw would make a good lap robe during those cold January nights when I'm at the computer and raiding with my guild. Decisions. Decisions.

I have to be mindful of an increase in the cost for electricity. It really doesn't do you any good to be comfortable when your electric bill jumps by $40. A pair of slippers and an extra pair of socks is cheaper.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


The Next Thing

This streak is a crack that has developed in the front windshield. Out of site, there is a spot at the base of that crack where the frame surrounding the window is crumbled and rusted. I'm sure that has something to do with the crack. Add the stress of it being warmer on the inside of the car than the outside and I'm not that surprised something like this has developed. I expect it to go all the way to the top of the window. It's not annoying, as you can see, it's a straight line, but it means yet another thing needs to be fixed on the Jeep. 

I need a new car but I am far, far from being able to afford one, even a used one. I have to make do as best I can. And, I really like driving my Jeep. It's been a huge amount of fun over the 10 years that I've had it. The thought of getting a car I have to get down into also doesn't sit with me, not now. I would probably be in tears some days at the prospect of having to stand up when I get out of the car. For all the problems with the Jeep that I have, I merely swing my legs out the door and slide to the left. When I do have to replace this car, I will miss it, a lot. 

For now, I will make due, patch and continue. 

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Early

My friend Patt sent me an early birthday present. She has raved about this kind of pillow. You put it between your knees as you sleep and it's supposed to help with proper body alignment. I had been looking for one of these but hadn't seen any in the drug stores where I'd been.

There was a doctor's appointment yesterday to discuss the knees. He is not happy with my progress or lack thereof. He believes something else is at work here. He wonders if fluid has collected under my knee caps, which is something which wouldn't have been apparent in the early June x-rays because it takes time to develop. An MRI is going to show the fluid.

I'm to make an appointment with the orthopedist for as soon as I get in. "I don't want you walking like a little old lady because you're younger than me. If you're an old lady, what does that make me?" he said. He patted my knee, observing that it was swollen and that I'm walking worse than when I came to see him back in June. "Don't worry. I feel this is treatable. We just need to get a handle on why. Once that's figured out, you'll be fine."

I will start using this pillow this weekend. A complete night's sleep is something I remember having back in May. Since coming home from Carole's wedding, I don't remember a full night's sleep. Every time I roll over, I wake up because my knees hurt. I've stuck a large pillow between my knees but that is incredibly unwieldy to rolling over. Happy Birthday to me! A full night's sleep. What a wonderful gift.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


Vintage Christmas

One of the boxes of stuff mom had us go through when I visited contained these boxes of ornaments and a garland. It was like my childhood Christmases flashed instantly before my eyes. My sister and niece did not want this stuff so I had to take it. Now, I need more ornaments like I need 2 more noses, but this is history, my history, our history.

We went to a tree farm the first or second week in December. I remember bitterly cold Saturdays where we'd pile onto the back of a wagon and get pulled through a foot of snow to the acreage where people would cut their own tree. Dad brought the saw and we would spend a good hour examining every single tree, even those out of our price range or too small or too large. Eventually, a consensus was reached. Dad would cut the tree down and we'd drag it to the wagon to be hauled back to the farm. Once paid for, Dad and Mom would wrap it in old blankets and tie it to the top of the van to haul home. It would sit on the porch for a day, getting used to being inside. On Sunday evening, with Ed Sullivan in the background, it would be moved to the living room and we would all decorate it. The ornaments and garland you see above spent many, many Christmases on our family tree.

What am I, realistically, going to do with these? On Wednesday, I received a small box in the mail. Upon opening it, I discovered my 2011 Campbell Soup commemorative ornament. I don't need this either but I have a complete set dating back to 1980. I figure I need a tree about 9 feet tall at this point, to handle everything.

Yet, that's not really the point. The ornaments are treasures to me. I don't really actively collect anything anymore other than the Campbell Soup ornaments. When I pull them out of the boxes and hang them on the tree, each one contains a memory of the year stamped on the front. Some years weren't as pleasant as others, but they are treasures nonetheless.

And the vintage ornaments, well, I remember sitting in the glow of the lighted tree. I remember coming home on Christmas Eve from church when it was -30, clear as a bell with feet of snow piled all around, looking up at star speckled sky and wondering if I could see Santa from this little spot of Iowa. We used to leave the Christmas lights on from Christmas Eve through New Year's Eve when Carole was little. Waking up at 2 am and seeing the reflected glow of the tree brought peace and comfort, even if the Christmas wasn't very happy.

There is no way I can bring the tree up from the basement this year. First of all, the container it's in is too heavy for me to lug, this year. Secondly, if I decide just to carry all the pieces up, that means I'm going up and down the stairs way more than I should, with my bad knees. What I'd really like is a small tree, oh maybe 3 feet tall, that I could plop on the table in the living room and decorate. Cat proof? HA! With a small tree, ornaments wouldn't have far to fall and the year I actually set up the tree, they left it alone. Pilchard thought it was way cool to hide behind the tree and then jump out at Mija. I honestly don't see them playing pool with my ornaments. I see them lying beneath it. A small fake tree of that size would be perfect for me, right now, but there's no way I can afford one.

I'm thinking I might get the garlands out and drape them over the curtain rods this year, just a little something extra for Christmas. Otherwise, these will go with the rest of my ornaments, in a Rubbermaid container, carefully labeled.There might be some good or decent money to be made in selling these. There is quite the market for vintage now. I couldn't do that, however. It would be like selling pieces of myself.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


The World Does Not Stop When You're Sick

My earliest recollection of being sick includes my mom. She had something, I don't remember what. She gave it to me. I think mine morphed into tonsillitis. I have dim memories of the two of us lying in bed and dad bringing us tuna fish sandwiches because that's all she felt like eating. Neither my dad nor my brother got whatever we had. I remember a vaporizer and lots of Vick's Vapor Rub.

This past week has been a week defined by a cold. Vick's Vapor Rub is still a mainstay in my medicine chest, its soothing vapors helping me sleep at night. The Zicam test failed. By Monday, I was about as sick as I would be through this episode. At least for me, Zicam doesn't work. I still have half a bottle of cherry-flavored lozenges so, if I feel another cold coming on, I'll use them up, but it's not something I'll go out of my way to buy again.

My house is a wreck. I'm not the cleanest of people nor the most organized. I live by the adage, "Clean enough to be healthy. Dirty enough to be happy." But my inability to even pick up after myself over the weekend now has me irritated. The kitchen managed to get cleaned on Sunday, in between naps. I managed to do a couple loads of wash mainly because I was out of pants. Otherwise, and if you've ever been sick, you know this feeling, my body told me to sleep.

I've spent a lot of time sleeping in the recliner. I can sleep there for about 2-3 hours and then I have to go to bed. When your head is completely stuffed up and you're not breathing through your nose, sleeping somewhat upright, which the recliner affords, does net you some good hours of non-coughing sleep. Perhaps I could sleep there longer but my knees start to complain and I have to go lie down flat.

I've not answered the phone. I've not answered the mail. I've not really done anything and this morning, getting ready for work, it bothered me. There is the pile of dirty clothes in the bathroom. There is the stack of dirty dishes on the counter. There is the pile of mail, brought in but not sorted, on the living room table. Pilchard is 'yelling' at me because the litter boxes aren't clean. Sunday's clean dishes still sit in the dish rack. I haven't put them away. I tell myself it doesn't really matter. What matters is getting better and my body told me by making me fall asleep, that I needed to care for it rather than the stuff that goes with living.

I am better today. My doctor believes I have turned the corner on this and will be whole by Thanksgiving. I look around the house and see all this stuff I want to/need to do. I also realize that jumping in with both feet will leave me exhausted and prone to catching something else. So, in my head, as I was drifting off to sleep last night, I have divided up the tasks. "Saturday morning, you'll do this first. When that is done, rest. Then do this. Rest." It does feel, however, a bit like Alice in Wonderland. "I give myself good advice, but I very seldom take it." Time to listen to that inner voice.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Higher the Pedestal, the Farther the Fall

So much sad news coming out of Penn State this week. So much inexcusable behavior by people in charge. So many gallons of ink printed about this, analysis and opinion. Joe Paterno's "fall" reminded me of how a number of coaches left the game. I'm sure you can think of someone. I'm going to muse on Iowa's former coach, Hayden Fry.

When Fry came to Iowa, we were little more than an asterisk to the Big 10. The conference, through the 1970's, was referred to as the Big 2 and the Little 8. The winner of the Big 10 title would be either Ohio State or Michigan and that title was determined on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. That was the ONLY televised Big 10 game the networks deemed worthy of coverage. There were good games played by other schools, but, because everyone played everyone else, invariably, your team had 2 losses every year, one to Ohio State and one to Michigan. This was the era of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembeckler.

Hadyen Fry took Iowa from an also ran to a powerhouse in the 1980's. We were, in 1985, ranked #1 in the nation. We crushed the opposition although we lost the Rose Bowl. Considering it had been 27 years since we'd won the Big 10 title outright, you can see how the Hawkeye faithful rallied around this coach. He was doing something we had not seen in a generation.

And that's where it gets dicey. There is no way a coach with a fanatical following can ever be "down-to-earth". It's impossible. Your every move is scrutinized from the gas you put in your car to the cereal you eat for breakfast to the socks you wear on game day. We, as fans, contribute to this because we want so much to encourage and support someone who seems to bring us a glory we may not have otherwise.

Gradually, it doesn't become a support of the team. We put one person, in Iowa's case, Hayden Fry, on a pedestal. He's the one who turned the program around. He's the one who recruited the players. He's the one who motivated them. He's the one who created the plays they executed. That pedestal gets taller and taller and taller. The coach can't go pump his own gas without people mobbing him at the pump, so he gets a driver and he gets security. His wife can't go grocery shopping because she's mobbed so she gets someone else to do it. The coach is in demand as a speaker. Everything he says is treated as a pearl of wisdom. Book the coach and you're assured of a sell-out for your fund-raiser. The pedestal grows ever higher.

Some guys start believing their press. Some guys start distancing themselves from those they feel are beneath them. The athletic departments, mindful that football brings in millions of dollars in revenue, take a hands-off to oversight of the football program. "Coach knows what's best", they say. The pedestal grows.

The thing about pedestals is that they aren't the sturdiest of things. It generally doesn't have a deep foundation. It's just a piece of, let's say, marble, sitting on a floor. They are easily tipped over because they have no anchor. In Hayden Fry's case, the 1990's chipped away at his foundation. A series of years where we were 5-6 in the conference but where we still went to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, caused the faithful to look at the man and not the icon. They knocked the pedestal down and realized here was a guy who was probably in need of retirement. The criticisms became pointed. The lost games scrutinized well beyond what someone else might receive. Fry retired in 1998, sort of on his own terms but most would agree he should have left about 3-5 years earlier.

So, I look at the departure of Joe Paterno with the same vision I look at how Hayden Fry left. Paterno's pedestal was insanely high. In essence, he could do no wrong. His crafted image fueled the building of the pedestal and that image also contributed to its fall. It is, truly, a horrible shame that he left under these circumstances. His career will be forever linked with something sordid. The thing is, the pedestal on which he had been placed, by fans, by the university, by the media and probably, by himself, was so high his fall was bound to be tremendous.

I think fans need to reassess just what they root for. When we build our support around one person, be it a player or the coach, we put them on a pedestal, a pedestal that cannot stand. The aphorism, "There is no 'i' in 'team" has been bandied about lately and, although it's quite trite, it's quite true. But we forget this. We want our teams to do well. We want that final score to be in our favor. We forget that these kinds of sports are not about one person, single-handedly winning the game. Football takes dozens of people from the 11 men on the field to their support and coaching staff. One guy's name is the head, but he can't do it without his staff and he's certainly not where he is if 22 kids don't run out onto a football field on any given Saturday in the fall and have faith that what he's telling them to do will overcome their opponent. That 'head coach' could be the guy who takes your money at the gas station without his team. I don't root for Kirk Ferenz. I root for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

It won't happen, but I would like to think the Penn State scandal will cause us to look critically at the power we give these men. How high is their pedestal? Is it so high that, should they fall, they take all sorts of people with them? Can we retrain ourselves to root, not for one person but for the collective whole? I have my doubts because the personality, the charisma of one person can be overwhelming, but it's food for thought.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Happy Birthday With Reality

The oldest of the great nieces and nephews turns 5 today. It doesn't seem possible. In my trip to the grocery on Thursday, I looked for a card, a simple, "Happy 5th Birthday" card. It didn't get in the mail on Friday because, when you're sick, the simple act of sending a card becomes a series of steps that becomes too much to contemplate.

  1. Write your name on the INSIDE of the card. (I once, in an addle-pated state, wrote it on the back cover.)
  2. Put said card into the envelope. (If you have more than one card to get out, you can spend 20 minutes trying to figure out why card A does not want to go into card B's envelope even though it's obvious to everyone except you that A is bigger than B.)
  3. Find your address book because you absolutely do not trust your memory. (This also means trying to remember where you put the address book.)
  4. Remember your niece is married so she's going to be in the book under her MARRIED name. 
  5. Find the correct address. 
  6. Find a pen. (Realize the pen you had has been knocked onto the floor by the cat sitting on the table looking innocently at you.)
  7. Address the card. 
  8. Find the stamps. (This, actually, was the easiest step. They were right where I remembered leaving them.)
  9. Affix stamps and stickers to the card. 

So, you see, it's not an easy thing to "drop a card in the mail". By the time I managed to get all of this done, it was well beyond the time I could have gotten the card in my mailbox for pick up. It will be mailed on Monday.

It all starts with the right card and I nearly gave up at that stage. I'm standing in the card aisle at the grocery. I don't expect there to be the selection I have at a Hallmark store, far from it. But I was very dismayed by what was there. I want just a simple birthday card, maybe something with stylized flowers, or a dog or a cat or a big cake or an oversize 5, just something simple. What do I get to choose from? Cards with these faces plastered all over them. The sentiments all revolved around "Happy birthday Princess".

Now, it can be argued that, at age 5, a child is a bit young to understand the connotations associated with the word 'princess'. But, sorry Hallmark, that is not the message I wish to send to my great-niece. Disney-fied princesses are not the kind of role models young girls should embrace. There's a whole 'damsel in distress' theme for most of these and they are only whole when 'rescued' by a prince. At this age, separating reality from fiction is hard. I don't want to contribute to any muddying of the waters.

Do I think she's a 'princess'? If, by 'princess' you mean a very special girl, yes, yes she is. If by 'princess', you mean a person entitled to special treatment who ultimately defines herself by the guy she lands, then no, absolutely not. She's allowed to dress up, to play in imagination. I strongly encourage it. Imaginative play encourages dreaming and having dreams gives rise to setting goals and, well, maybe that 5 year-old in the Snow White costume will discover a cure for cancer. But it really bothered me that the choices I had for a birthday card were all about being a 'princess'. Can't they be about being a kid?

Beverage:  Dr Pepper



Jessie's blog, to the right, introduced me to this concept. It goes along with NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The whole concept of NaNoWriMo is to get people writing. You have a set number of words you are to write during the month. You're not to go back and edit. You're just supposed to write. Carole participated in this several years ago. She said there were days it was really hard to crank out anywhere close to the needed words in order to make the final total. I've thought of participating but that's as far as it goes.

I saw this badge on Jessie's blog so I headed over to BlogHer to check it out. This is not a 'churn out 13,000 words a day' thing. This is just an attempt to get women bloggers to write every day. I think I registered my little blog. I found the registration form very confusing.

My goal, every month, is to have a post a day. Now that can take the form of, as it is today, a mass of posts that equal the day count, or it can be a post a day if I find I have something I think is interesting to relate. You look at months like June, with a great number of weddings to blog about, and August with a great number of things to talk about, I easily can get close to 2 blog posts per day.

It's the 12th today. I'm behind due to the cold. Stringing words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs is rather hard work when your brain is filled with cold fog. Heck, I'm having more of the "why did I come into this room?" moments because of the cold than normal. Write something coherent. I think I'll pass.

Still, this is a grand idea. I don't expect my space in cyberspace is going to attract any more visitors than it currently does, but the concept is nice. If you're new here, welcome. If you're an old friend, welcome back. "30 days hath November..." and there will be a post for each one.

Beverage:  Boston Harbor tea



I'm sick. I am completely and totally blaming this on my lifestyle and, as my sister called them, "2-legged walking germ factories".

None of the kids was openly sick. They don't have to be. Kids in day care are exposed to hundreds of viruses to which they build up immunities. They bring them home and their parents become immune to these as well. Enter Aunt Debbie.

Now Aunt Debbie hasn't gotten a flu shot in 3 years. Why? Aunt Debbie doesn't come in contact with many people. Aunt Debbie works with a very small group of people, all over the age of 25. When Aunt Debbie goes out, it's usually with people her age and to venues where day care assisted germs can't be found. Put Aunt Debbie in a room with little people and all the things they carry and Aunt Debbie is going to catch the first thing that can jump ship onto her. As healthy as I felt last weekend, it's nothing compared to 'little people germs'.

I was fine until Thursday. I knew I was coming down with something on Wednesday but thought liberal application of hot tea with honey and a 12-hour sleep would staunch it. HA! I lasted a half-day at work. I stuck it out until someone else came in to answer the phones. Then I went to Dominicks and stocked up on comfort food.

When your head is congested and smelling is something you only dream about, food becomes an item you know you should partake of but nothing is appealing. Therefore, it is in my best interests to have things I will eat, that are appealing, even if they taste like cardboard and have no smell. Soup, both tomato and chicken noodle; beans, to be combined with smoked sausage and heated along with the leftover pork loin from last weekend; chocolate frosted donuts (these didn't make it through 24 hours); and Dr Pepper. Other than the donuts, I've had a can of soup, some toast and a couple of Dr Pepper and lots and lots of tea.

I think it's "Feed a cold. Starve a fever", but I'm also quite sure that if you treat a cold, it will be gone in 7 days. If you don't treat it, it will linger for a week. I had nothing in the house to combat the cough, which was so bad on Wednesday night through Thursday, that I bruised my rib muscles coughing. I take a prescription pain medication and the last thing I need, on top of this cold, is to have a drug interaction between something over-the-counter and my pain med. The pharmacist said I was good with any over-the-counter meds and he recommended this stuff, too. "Zicam works," he said. "I feel it lessens the severity of symptoms. I suggest you add it to what you're going to buy. It's not something you're going to get addicted to."

So I am in day 2 1/2 of taking this roughly every 3 hours as directed. My cough has, for the most part, gone away, which is very good. The hacking cough of this cold was so painful yesterday with the bruised muscles. I have a lot of drainage down the back of my throat and, right now, my head is stuffy. But, this hasn't made any move to head to my lungs. This is a very good thing. I can't take good old penicillin for infections and the drug I do have to take is expensive. I'm tired, but that's expected with a cold. I don't know if this works or if this is the natural progression of this cold. The stuff was on sale for $10 and it doesn't taste awful.

The proof will be how I feel come Monday. In theory, I should "be over" this by Thursday of next week. If I'm feeling 80% or better come Monday, I'll consider this a moderate success. Check back next week to see. Now, off to make more tea.

Beverage:  Boston Harbor tea


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Iowa in the Fall

It's harvest time. Combines and tractors hauling grain to be loaded into trucks to be taken to the grain facility are everywhere this time of year. 

The smell of the harvest lingers in the air. If you have never smelled a corn field as it's being harvested, I can't really describe it. It's earth and plants and grain and summer's heat all rolled into one. I remember the bright orange of the corn as it was augured into the grainery in the fall in preparation for feeding the cows and pigs in the winter. We used to stand in the grainery and feel the pressure of the oats and corn as it tumbled around us. Mom would yell, "Don't come inside complaining to me you itch!" Corn and oat dust is really itchy and it quickly gets under your clothes and in the crevasses of the elbows and neck and knees. We would have to strip in the porch and scamper into the bath to wash it off. We were allowed to stand in the tumbling grain until it got up to our knees and then we had to get out. Corn and oat dust will suffocate you if you're in the confined space too long. Dad or grandpa or an uncle would climb in and smooth out the grain pile so more could be added. By spring, we'd be down to a corner's worth of grain and the stuff on the bottom was fermented and moldy. You never ever fed that to the animals. It would make them violently ill. 

I also remember dad paying us 10 cents an ear to walk the corn rows and pick up the ears of corn that the combine missed. Those ears would be used for fodder and the occasional squirrel. 

When I would pass the combines doing their work, I would slow down to get a nice whiff of the scent of fall in Iowa. I miss it. The fields around Dale's farm had been harvested. What was left to do was disc the leftover stalks into the ground as a natural mulch and fertilizer. On Sunday, the field near the house was being done by the guy who rents it. He was out there, working away at it, until at least 11 p.m. When I was growing up, tractors had front light but not the lights they have now, almost akin to UFO's. You plowed until you really couldn't see and many was the farmer discing by the light of the full moon in October and November. 

Most of you will never have the chance to follow this on a country road. 
It's easy to get 10 cars stacked up behind him as he moves his equipment from field to field. You don't go "fast" when you're pulling something like this or driving your combine from the field to the house for the evening. 

I couldn't be a farmer's wife. I've become too urban, but I am very grateful my upbringing included exposure to this way of life. I understand some of the trials and tribulations of the harvest. When you're in a hurry, it's easy to forget that these guys feed the cows that give you your hamburger or that provide the grains to make your veggie burger. 

Here's to another fall passing. I could smell the change of seasons in the air. I don't think it changes in the city quite like it changes in the country. 

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea



When you get your family together, particularly if there are children younger than 3, invariably the conversation turns to "Who does x look like?" Of course we did that this weekend. My thoughts, however, turned to the larger issue of genetics and how I am alike and different from my family.

Here's the four of us with mom.
I resemble my mother. In fact, a couple of people at the open house remarked that they didn't know Sandy had a sister. "I'm her oldest daughter. She's an only child." There is no way to not feel stupid after you make a remark like that regardless of how much I said I wasn't offended. People remarked it was obvious we were related because we do look alike and, right now, I have the same gait that she does. Mom's had knee problems too although her's are because of age. She didn't fall. She's not clumsy.

My niece, Christina, remarked that she hopes my sister, my mom and I never live together because we sound alike on the phone. "I would never be able to tell the three of you apart and I just know you'd figure out a way to confuse me more because of that." Who? Us?

In conversation, my mom, sister and I all have cold feet, particularly in the winter. My sister wears socks to bed almost year 'round. I'm not that bad but I do have a heating pad on the bed where my feet are in an effort to be comfortable. With three of us having cold feet, it's got to be genetic. So we wonder if other female cousins have cold feet. "Hey," Sharyn said. "Let's conduct a poll on Facebook and see." I'm actually thinking that might be an interesting thing to start a conversation with my cousins. I can't remember if my daughter has cold feet in the winter or not.

Genetics really comes into play when you have the little ones around. Witness my niece Christina and her family. These three kids couldn't look more alike if you'd custom mixed their DNA. They all have similar temperaments, too.

Think back to your primary school years. I'll bet you can remember the kids who had siblings that didn't bear any resemblance to them; the brown haired blue-eyed girls with the blond haired brown-eyed brother. I remember the twins who could pass for each other and sometimes did because teachers had difficulty telling them apart and the boy-girl twins who didn't look anything alike. When Christina's kids smile, they are the spitting image of each other. It is really neat to see.

The youngest of the next generation is kind of hard to place. Harlee Kay was born in June. Right now, she doesn't quite have features we can put with either mom or dad. What she does have are 'chipmunk cheeks'. She has the sweet disposition of Christina's kids and the bright blue eyes of the Thompson side of the family. My sister is rather irritated that no one has produced brown-eyed kids. "You better be getting on that, right now," she said. Yes, Christina and Amber rolled their eyes. Mom has the brown eyes. Dad had the blue eyes as did his father and his father before him. Gotta hand down something in the family.

Part of the weekend was devoted to going through boxes mom has stored, deciding what we wanted and what really needs to be given away. We stumbled upon a photo of Christina at age 6. She held it up, showed it to her daughter and said, "Who is this?" Makayla's eyes grew wide and she said, "That's me!" Honestly, it could have been. The resemblance was uncanny.

When Carole was 3, I found a photo of my sister at that age. They could have been sisters, the resemblance was so strong.

In an age where DNA can find a lot of things and the sci-fi stories of designing your own kids don't seem that far off, the natural progression of traits through a family is a beautiful thing to see.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"I didn't come all this way not to have some family bonding, dammit."

Saturday night, my brother, Daniel, called the house to get information on the where and whens of this event. He made some remark about not showing up for the event and my sister, Sharyn, made the above comment. That became the running joke.

We're not the closest of families. Each one of us lives our lives pretty much out of the orbit of the other siblings. There's nothing necessarily good, bad or indifferent about that, it's just the way we've evolved. The boys live closest to mom while Sharyn and I live farther away. Life took us to Michigan and Illinois, respectively. We've had our periods of silence when someone's life seemed to be heading in a not very positive direction. We don't really keep in touch, but I like to think, as we've grown older, the value in staying somewhat connected has dawned on us. We'll never be calling each other monthly, let alone daily as some siblings do, but we won't snap at each other quite so much as we have in the past.

So, it is a pretty big deal when we can all get together.
We know that it made both mom and Dale extremely happy to have all of us there. For my part, although mom said I could be excused due to the need to go up and down stairs around her house, there was never a doubt that I wouldn't be there.

Dan drove out to the farm early so we could all go together to the church hall, mainly because we weren't exactly sure where it was in town. I knew it was off the main drag and all we had to do was look for a lot of cars. The first thing he did when he walked into the house was grab me, hug me and say, "I'm here for my bonding!" Thanks to Sharyn and her "family bonding" comment, we would, occasionally, stop and say, "family bonding moment" and hug some unprepared sibling, niece or nephew. It's the kind of thing that can be perpetuated for a long, long time, every time we get together. "Ooooh! Family bonding moment!" Grab. Hug.

As Dan was preparing to head home, we had to capture the "bonding moment". And a new tradition is born.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


No Gifts Please and We Ignored That

Dale was adamant that he didn't want presents. It's totally understandable. When you have lived 80 full years, what is left to acquire that you don't already have in some fashion. Donations to charities are popular as are gift cards to those establishments you know someone like Dale frequents. It's also suggested you give the gift of time. Hand them a coupon book with coupons good for "Two free trips to the doctor's office." or "One full day of yard work" or "A weekend of dinners". I ignored all that and Dale's admonition that he didn't want anything.

One marvelous thing about Dale that you need to know is, he loves to point out the moon and the constellations to his grandkids and great-grandkids. Many nights when Makayla has stayed overnight, the two of them will be in the sunroom window with him pointing out the moon as it rises over the fields. His joy in showing her the heavens is palpable. It reminds me of my dad and how interested he was in stargazing.

So, I decided we would get Dale a star. What that means is, you contact one of the hand full of companies who have naming rights to stars. For a fee, they will select a star and attach the name of your choice to it. These don't really have recognized astronomical cache, but, if you are given sky coordinates, any good astronomer or observatory should be able to find "your star".

I went with one of the oldest companies doing this, the International Star Registry. There are a lot of companies that are cheaper but ISR let me pick the constellation where the star is located. I did not want to fork over hard earned cash only to get a star visible only from Australia.

Here Dale looks at the initial certificate.
I was expecting a nice little 8 x 10 inch certificate. We had debated whether to frame the certificate or just let Dale decide. I was amazed when the box came and this is 12 x 18 inches. So much for framing them. We'll let Dale decide if he wants to do that. 

I also decided to pick a constellation that never sets. That way, any time of the year, he could go out in the yard, look up and see the constellation where his star is located. I chose Ursamajor, the Big Dipper. There's probably not a constellation more familiar to North Americans than that one. They sent a large star chart with the location circled.
You can see how they outlined the "bear" in the constellation and where Dale's star is located relative to the familiar dipper and handle. It will probably take binoculars to find it. I wish I'd known about this when my dad was alive. This would have been perfect for him, too.

Dale's sister said, "Well, that's the closest you're going to get to heaven." And his kids were teasing him that it's appropriate that his star is located near the bear's butt. I like to think it was the perfect gift. Didn't need to be wrapped and he doesn't have to find a place in an overstuffed curio cabinet for it.

I am very pleased with this company. If you are looking for a unique gift, I can recommend this wholeheartedly. I think, in this case, breaking the "no gifts" request was worth it.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Scenes From A Party

Dale actually turned 80 on the 4th but a celebration was held on the 6th. This involved a catered dinner for all the family and then an open house with cake and punch. I didn't count how many of us there were at the dinner but we filled the middle tables and spilled over to the side tables. That's a lot of relatives.

We had prime rib, pork loin, smashed potatoes, 7-layer salad, broccoli cauliflower salad, rolls and green beans. Of course, there was a lot left over. I have a chunk of pork loin in my fridge waiting for supper tonight. I'm thinking french fries and corn for one meal and pork and beans with jello (gotta make jello tonight) for another meal. It was really good. Whomever this "Tony" is that everyone knows does an exceptional job of catering.

There was cake.
Oh my was there cake. I think they had 4 sheet cakes. Mom and Dale have a full sheet cake in the freezer. We will work on it at Thanksgiving and again at Christmas.

We cleaned up after our dinner and prepared for the public. My family sat in a group on one side of the room.
We don't know any people here other than Dale's family and we really don't "know" them to socialize. We played Apples to Apples until it got too loud in the hall to hear.

I'm going to hazard a guess and say the open house part of the event was the best part, for Dale. Yes, having all the kids and grandkids and great-grandkids together was special for him, but the hall was packed with people about 3:30 p.m.

For Walker, Iowa, it wasn't just a chance to drop in and wish Dale a happy birthday, it was a chance to see people. It was not a fundraiser. No one would come around with a can for change. It was a chance to have cake and coffee and talk to that person you may not have talked to in a few years. As Dale sat at the kitchen table later that evening opening his birthday cards, he kept remarking on who had shown up. "It was so good to see x. He's not been well and I haven't seen him in a couple of years."

I think that's what's different about small town life. You know everyone. Whether that's good or bad is debatable, but you know them and they know you. These kinds of events bring people out. It's a chance to reconnect that meeting at the bank does not. There is the built in sociability, the built in camaraderie of a shared celebration. People come to festivals or chili suppers, but it's not quite the same as this. And you certainly won't get this in the 'big city'. As much as we crave friendships, it's a lot of work to do it in person. At an event like this, it's easy to be sociable, even if you're not the most personable because you are sharing the celebration. "How do you know Dale?"

I didn't get up a whole lot. It was tough. But it was a great event to sit and people watch. Even in a small town, where everyone knows everyone, people live singular lives. It can be hard to get out of your comfort zone and reach out to others. An event like this forces people to do just that. The results were exciting.

In the end, it was a celebration of one person. Dale said later he was incredibly humbled by how many people took time out of their day and their football games, to come say hello, have cake and spend a few minutes talking to all these other people.

The event ended at 4:30 and we cleaned up. Dale's kids made him wear the hat and we all blew the noisemakers. We also all agreed that had we blown the noisemakers when all those people were in the church hall, we'd all be saying, "Eh? What? I can't hear you?"

It was a great event. I'm very glad I made the trek.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea