Monday, December 31, 2012

Movies to Stitch By

Meredith sent me movies for Christmas.

On Saturday, I thought it was the perfect day to sit down and watch them. Pilchard has been complaining that she doesn't have my lap anymore. Movie watching is conducive to having cats in my lap. Plus, I can do cross-stitch and watch at the same time, sort of.

Now, I can't find the remote that works the DvD player. I have the TV and the digital converter box remotes, but the other remote that I have doesn't seem to work with the DvD player. I could probably watch these on my computer, but that's not the point. I put up my feet, grab my stitching and Pilchard settles down for an hour in my lap. Fortunately, there are enough things before the movie actually begins that I can push play on the machine and go sit down before the movie actually starts. At one point, I bought one of those "universal" remotes but could never get it to work properly with everything. So, there are some additions to the DvDs that I can't seem to access, like "making of", etc, because I can't figure out how to make the machine move the cursor sideways. I've got "play" and that's it. Oh well. At least I can play the movies.

Watching Brave was great because this was the movie I was watching with Pam in the theatre when the hurricane force winds came through the Chicagoland area back on July 1st. The movie stopped and started and stopped and started thanks to power outages. One part had no sound. Fortunately, it was a part that wasn't crucial to the movie's story. If you haven't seen it, I still recommend it.

To the right is what I got done while watching the movies. I hadn't seen Shrek the Third so I did actually spend more time watching that movie than I did with Brave. I enjoyed it but I don't think it's as funny as the first two. I guess I need to watch Shrek Forever After and Puss in Boots. I heard some good things about the Puss in Boots movie but can't place Shrek Forever After.

Having gotten that far with the stitching on Saturday, I spent yesterday finishing off the letter. Football is great for that. I really don't have to pay attention to the TV screen and it's just enough background noise to keep me going.
One more letter left and then I can finish assembly and move onto the next project. I'm thinking a Shrek or a Pixar marathon this coming weekend would be a good cross-stitch companion.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


Suggestions Requested

I've been cleaning and I've got quite a collection of this stuff. These are cables and cords from all sorts of electronic equipment. I know my modem, my router, my computer, my PS2, my old cell phone, my car radio, any electronic equipment I've purchased in the last 5 years has come with cords.

What the heck do I do with this stuff? Should I toss it in the 'give away' bags I often have up? Is there some place that will take it? Do YOU want it because you're a techie and you always want this kind of stuff? If you want it, I'll happily box it up and send it to you. I'm sure, as I clean some more, there will be more of this in various places. It seems wrong to throw it into the garbage where it's going to the landfill.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea



Long-time readers know that, every Christmas, I buy the yearly ornament offered by the Campbell Soup company. I've been doing this since the first one was offered back in 1980. I have all of them still. I think one is in a fragile state, but the others are fine. If I could haul the whole tree up from the basement, I think it would be neat to put them all up on the tree one year. The girls really don't bother the tree so I wouldn't have to worry about coming home and finding it on the floor with 20 years of glass shattered.

I ordered the ornament back in November. It took them longer than usual to process my order and to get it shipped out. They always use the postal service and I've never had a problem with the ornament coming broken. Usually, by ordering by mid-November, the ornament arrives in time for decorating the tree around the first of December. This year, it didn't come and didn't come and didn't come.

I'm thinking, "What recourse do I have?" One of the things that really sticks in my craw are companies that seem to force a "tracking charge" onto your final total. It's highlighted in bold and marked as "recommended". I am making it a policy to not do business with companies that do this. If you are shoving a "tracking charge" onto my order, which, in a couple cases, exceeded the total of my order, it says to me you are not confident of your own service. I understand shipping charges because my office ships equipment. That cost should be passed on or, as with some companies, waived if I buy enough goods. Handling I can also understand as it represents a fee to pay the people who pick the item off the shelf and box it up for shipping. But "tracking charge"?

So, the days dragged on and there was no sign of my ornament. My credit card had been charged and I'd received an email that said the ornament had shipped. Finally, on the 19th, here was the box.
See what it says there, on the bottom? It was sent to Allen Park, Michigan, the Detroit area's processing center. That's kind of a ways from Chicagoland. The exterior box was bent and dented. I looked at it and my heart just sank. What if the ornament is broken? Will Campbell's replace it or will I have to buy a new one.

But, as you can see, the ornament appears to be okay. I gingerly opened the interior plastic container where the ornament was and it was fine. 2012 came through whatever the automated processing machine could deliver in flying colors. Here it is on the tree looking no worse for wear.
Maybe next year, I can put all my Campbell's Soup ornaments out.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


Makes Me Easy to Buy For

The Christmas gifts this year were heavy on food. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Once the food is gone, there's nothing to have to dust or find a spot for or thank the giver profusely for while thinking, "OMG, this is the most hideous shirt I have ever seen. What was she thinking?"

My friends know me quite well. Meredith sent the hot cocoa 9 pack and the two boxes of tea. Patt sent the chocolate chip cookies from a company called Geoff and Drew's. I've never heard of them before. I have yet to eat one of the cookies. That's on tap for tomorrow.

Terry sent the adorable snowman ornament complete with two pieces of chocolate. The scone mix, the chocolate cats and the Crater Lake hot cocoa mix are courtesy of my daughter.

I've been working on the hot cocoa mix. She sent me Ghirardelli hot cocoa for my birthday. That's definitely a sipping kind of cocoa, rich and chocolatey. The Crater Lake hot cocoa is from her trip west in September and it has a tinge of huckleberry in it. That might sound a bit weird but it's really good. My problem is that I make the hot cocoa and then get side tracked so, by the time I come back to drink it, it's tepid cocoa. Still, there is a lovely berry flavor, not at all overpowering to the cocoa. I'll probably drink the whole bottle and then start on Meredith's cocoa flavors. Might last me through January.

I kind of like being somewhat predictable in this fashion. You know that if you send me chocolate or tea, it's the right size, always fits and is always appreciated. Plus, I toss some of the chocolate into my work lunches and I think of you when I eat it.

Try doing that with a sweater.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


Friday, December 28, 2012

Family Christmas

Christmas is, perhaps, the one time when families try their darndest to get along. "Because it's Christmas" is a familiar phrase. If you're a parent, there are two families, sometimes more, who seem to "require" your presence and can and do cause problems if you can't be there because you're here on the holiday. We tried to balance that with one year there; one year here; one year with everyone here and one year with no one here. It didn't always work out that way, owing to the unpredictable winter weather of the Upper Midwest, but we made every effort to try.

I don't know the date, off the top of my head, for this photo. My family had come to my house for Christmas. There were the obligatory family photos and my youngest brother and my sister decided silliness needed to be included. I love the look on Dad's face. He's sort of resigned to our shenanigans. I'm guessing, from my haircut and glasses, this is mid-1980's.

In these later years, with a child now on her own, Christmas can sometimes feel like just another day, albeit a day I don't have to work. We always opened the bulk of our gifts on Christmas Eve, leaving a clear spot for whatever Santa brought. So, I open the bulk of my gifts on Christmas Eve. Even now, I send carefully wrapped packages to Carole marked "To Carole, From Santa". It's the spirit of things and it's nice having that one or two packages still under the tree, not to be touched until Christmas morning.

This year, my brother moved into a new house and he insisted Christmas would be at his house. We are now grandparents with two significant others, two kids with significant others, 2 kids not married and 4 of the next generation under the age of 6 roaming the halls. Dad may be gone, but mom has remarried and her husband is a part of the shenanigans that are a hallmark of our family. Dan was insistent that we have "family" Christmas. We even moved the date around to make sure everyone could be there.

Alas, it was not to be. While I made it, thanks to Dan for gas money, the pre-Christmas Blizzard of 2012 knocked out power to my sister's house. She wouldn't leave until it was restored and she knew it was secure. She left for Iowa the day I left Iowa for home. We weren't even in the same state at the same time. Oh well. Such is life sometimes.

We went ahead and had Christmas without her and she will be celebrating again with everyone tomorrow. It was still a bit hectic as people had to come from some distance and people had to leave to head to another location for another family Christmas.

"Do we want to open gifts before the dinner is ready?" Dan asked.

That was the best thing to do. While adults can be patient watching the Packers destroy their opponent, little kids have no idea why people are interested in the TV. They will, however, push the buttons on the remote because it's funny to see how adults react when their football disappears.

So, we jumped into full-scale Christmas mayhem. "We need a garbage bag for wrapping paper!" Mary hollered. There were huge gifts that would have yielded sections of wrapping paper which could be reused next year. I remember, in another time and place, saving the paper, flattened, in a box for reuse. You cut off the edges with tape and the paper was available in ever decreasing sizes for several years on end, if it had wrapped a large toy.

I don't do that anymore. I do recycle all my wrapping paper now that one can do that. I remember when it was burned in the furnace or in the burn barrel. That it can be recycled shows how far we've come in our efforts to be more green and less throw away.

My family has been doing something for a few years now that I didn't know about until gifts were exchanged. They try to mislead someone with the wrapping or wrap a small gift in increasingly larger packages. Carole and I did that with several of her friends from high school. We put one of Niles' gift cards in a duct taped plastic bag and then froze the bag in a block of ice. Rob's gift was buried in our back yard and he was given GPS coordinates spelled out in words on a piece of notebook paper that we got wet. Carole was given a gift card carefully inserted into the side of an empty case of Diet Coke. Think about how thin the cardboard is on a case of soda. It took her 30 minutes and repeated urgings to "look again" before she found it.

Dan gave Mary a birthstone ring. In the above photo, she's down to wrapping number 3. The ring itself was then wrapped and covered with two layers of tape. It took her a good 20 minutes to get through all the packaging. Later, Dan had to figure out how to open a duct taped package. He "cheated" by inserting a knife right along the edges and slicing the top open.

Had I known this was how packages are given, I'd have been more creative in wrapping mine. As it was, I put the same label on two different items which caused a number of "Getting old, Deb?" comments.

The day ended with a huge dinner, some of which was bagged up and sent home with me. There was madness. There was chaos. There were kids crying because whatever he has, she wanted. "No no. This is yours." There were lost tags and "ooh's" and "aahs". There was family. The 6 of us are up to 18 which makes any location a squeeze and a shower of wrappings. But, we were mostly all together, just as silly as we were 20 years ago.

"That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Salted or Unsalted

It is an unpleasant side effect of winter that in order to keep traffic moving, those maintaining roadways must resort to some sort of salting practice. A bit of chemistry is in order here. When salt is mixed with snow and ice, i.e. water, it lowers the freezing point of that water. Therefore, it takes a colder surface and air temperature mix to refreeze this water making removal of the snow and ice from the roadway much easier. Regular table salt will deice a walkway but if the ground or air temperatures get to 15F, you can expect to see the ice refreeze.

People charged with getting roads clear and keeping roads clear use mixes of sodium chloride, what we call table salt, and magnesium chloride in order to lower the freezing point of water to where it evaporates on its own or can be cleared, in the case of slush or snow, from roadways.

We all know what this translates into on these days right after a snow, salt spray. Driving from Wheaton to Cedar Rapids, the effects of following trucks going 55+ is evident on my Jeep.

The spray pooled on the fender by the hood latch, streaked across the hood and splashed against the grill. I ran out of washer fluid on the way home. That's one of those things where you pull into a gas station to fill up and think, "Should I get another bottle?" You do, fill the reservoir and then discover you have 3 half-full bottles at home. I didn't get a new bottle when I stopped for gas. I have to find the half-filled bottle I have in the basement.

This much salt residue on my car yields more than just the unsavory bit it does to the paint and the metal. Try as I might to get into the car without bumping up against it, I fail and I have a streak down the pant leg of my black twill pants that is white with salt residue. I really need to wash off the car but if I do that, I run the risk of freezing the doors shut. Plus, my new top has salt spray on it.

I followed a county truck on I-380 through Cedar Rapids that was laying down the liquid mix instead of the pellets. Some places have gone to a sugar beet mixture for removing ice and snow. It's less harmful on the environment than rock salt and it does the same thing that salt does, lowers the freezing temperature of snow and ice which makes it easier to remove from roadways and to melt and evaporate. It does cost more than rock salt, unfortunately, which means the cost gets passed on to residents. And it still kicks up the spray although anecdotal stories say it's not as damaging to cars.

So, here I am with a dilemma. I was thinking of just tossing a half bucket of warm water on part of the car to get some of the salt off. I'd do half of the car on Saturday and the other half on Sunday. I could move the car so it would be in the sunshine to take advantage of melting and evaporation so the doors wouldn't freeze shut. I have errands to run this weekend which also helps in keeping the doors frost free. On the other hand, I could just wait until we get more snow and smush it around on the body to take off the top layer of salt. Don't tell me you haven't done that because I know you have. You've even used snow to wash off your front window when you're almost home and out of washer fluid.

In a way, it's kind of interesting, to see the patterns of salt on the Jeep and to see the complete color change to the body. But, I really should do something. Could I get a half inch of rain over here, please? Now that my top is secure, it won't rain.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

White Christmas-Not

The blizzard of 2012 dumped quite a bit of snow on the area of Iowa where I was going to visit.

I think, when people think "white Christmas", this is what they think of. There's about a foot of snow on the ground. It was wet enough to make snowmen and it came early enough before Christmas that most of the roads could be opened up and those waiting until December 24th could do their shopping. It was plastered to the north and northwest sides of trees and outlined them in white.

Yes, I think that's what people think of when they think white Christmas. Not too much. Just enough that it's pretty.

They don't think of this. This is all I have in my backyard. The lawn is still green in places. As difficult as it might have been to shovel a foot of snow, I think that's what I would have preferred for Christmas.

Oh well.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Christmas Stitching

When you go to visit family, there is usually a lot of down time. It's really not permissible to ask to watch your TV shows or be on their computer and no one else in my family plays World of Warcraft, which is, maybe, a good thing. I debated what to take along for the times I would be sitting. The current cross-stitch project made it into my bags.

My oldest great-niece was captivated by what I was doing. I remember, in the back recesses of my mind, that there used to be some "easy stitch" projects kids could do. I'll have to look this weekend when I go to the store to get the yarn for the crochet project I want to attempt. All yarn is on sale so now is the time to get it.

Over two days, I accomplished a great deal on this piece.

It's coming along nicely.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


I'll Quit Making That Joke Now

Caution tape on the back up light. I'm keeping it there for a week kind of as a badge of honor, kind of as a medal for surviving and kind of as a reminder that "that" joke is no longer funny.

I left my brother cleaning up the shop after we put the new top on the Jeep, got gas (a fill -up for $35.00! Be still my heart!) and headed to my mom's. Mom lives out in the country on gravel roads. Her location got part of that blizzard that hit the 19th-21st through the Midwest. I had my worries about the gravel roads.

Just because I grew up with this doesn't mean I'm comfortable driving on it. But, if I go slow and use the 4 wheel drive on the Jeep, I'll be just fine.

The highways to Iowa were, for the most part clear. There were sections where drifting had occurred and the road was wet or slushy or had hard packed snow on it. I followed a semi hauling grain for a long time because I figured out when he slowed down, there was stuff on the road. He could see better than I could and 55-60 was a good speed to average on Highway 30 between Clinton and Cedar Rapids.

I headed north. There is a cross-country route to get from Cedar Rapids to mom's but I would stick with the roads I knew. I turned left to go to Center Point and started up the hill. The back side of the hill was slushy and had spots of packed snow. I slowed down and applied the brakes. At the bottom of the hill is a railroad track. The east side of the track was clear. The west side was ice with two trails where wheels go. It was packed snow.

I hit the snow and the back wheels went right and then left and then right again as I tried to steer out of the skid. Always turn your wheel with the skid, so I need to turn to the left. I could hear the calm voice in my head. But actually doing that in the franticness of a skid isn't always possible. I went right into the ditch and then the car turned. Whump. Stopped.

The engine was still running. The lights and my holiday music were still working. I probably won't be able to listen to Nat King Cole sing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful" again without remembering being in the ditch.

Breathe. I'm okay, just startled. I put the car in 4 wheel drive and tried to rock it back and forth. Nope. I was stuck. I tried to call my mother but her line was busy. That's when the panic started to creep up. Was my phone not working out here? I tried 3 times before calling my brother. "Yeah?" Okay. He answered. It's not the phone.

Dan organized his daughter and her husband and my mom. Mom came and got me and took me to the farm so I could be warm. Once the crew arrived, we headed back to the Jeep. At this point, I realized I had put the Jeep into the ditch completely perpendicular to the highway. It was completely square, at a perfect 90 degree angle. I couldn't have done that had I tried. I also noticed that it was a completely clear Iowa December night. There was snow all around and not a cloud in the sky. There wasn't a breeze either. You could see the black velvet of the sky and millions of twinkling stars. If I hadn't put the Jeep into the ditch, I would have marveled at this. I remember hundreds of nights like that where I'd stand in the driveway with my dad, my feet and fingers getting numb with cold while dad would look up and pick out constellations. I saw Orion but that was all I looked for.

Dan had to shovel some snow away from the Jeep. Then he hooked a tow strap to the back frame and Blake hooked a strap to the Suburban he and Christina have. On the count of 3, Blake pulled and Dan gunned the Jeep. There was some wobbling but it popped out of the ditch. I was so happy I started to cry. Dan said, with all the stress of putting it in the ditch, he'd drive me to mom's. This was the first time, since buying the Jeep in 2002, where I have ridden in the passenger seat.

The caution tape? Well, between the time mom came and got me to the time we got back, the county sheriff had been down the road and had tagged the car. There had been a green sticker on the back window. I should have pulled that off because we lost it somewhere between the ditch and mom's. Why save it? Well, I wanted to see if the guys at the office would notice. Usually the sticker has a time frame for when they want you to get the car out of the ditch. This did not. Blake joked that they looked at how it was in the ditch and thought, "Good luck getting that out."

The stress of this mini-adventure caused my RA to flare up. I guess that's to be expected. I felt so badly that people had to drop whatever they were doing on a Saturday night to come help me, even though everyone said it was okay. "Families do things for each other," my brother reminded me. This is true but I'm usually better about things like this. I did notice, as I sat in the car waiting for mom, that people coming from the east were moving over into the middle of the road. I probably should have done that, but I didn't realize it was as bad as it was.

And, there was a wobble in the car as we drove to mom's. Dan surmised that the snow had packed in around the wheels. Before I left to come back home, I chipped out what I could see. There was still a wobble when I hit 60 but when I stopped for gas, all the snow had melted and the wobble was gone. 

So, I shall cease making the following joke. "If you don't like my driving, get out of the ditch." Give me a couple of months and this whole incident will be funny. Right now, I still get the shakes thinking about how I could have rolled my brand new top. It did keep me warm while I waited for mom.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


I Can See Clearly Now

To say the Jeep top was in sad shape was a bit of an understatement.

The driver's side window's zipper broke in 2011. I couldn't get it to close so, over the last year, I've resorted to duct taping it shut. As a result, I couldn't use drive throughs of any sort because I couldn't get the window open. The only time I used those was when I took the window off.

The passenger side window sort of worked, although only one of the two zippers each window has worked properly.

You see the tear above the window. It's like that on both sides. Last year, only the driver's side was noticeable and I made do by using a plastic bag stuffed in the tear. This year, that wasn't going to work.

Both back windows had come apart along the top seam. On the driver's side, I could make the window stay in place by hooking it in front and pressing along the velcro. That velcro is tough stuff. It's hard to get the windows off because it really does lock in place. On the passenger side, however, it wasn't working. As I drove to Iowa for Christmas, the side window's stitching finally gave out and the window flapped behind me as I moved. That must have been quite a sight, to come up to me from behind and see this window flapping in the wind. I finally had to just shove it into the Jeep and I drove to my brother's with one window open. It was actually warmer inside the Jeep with the window open than when I tried to tape it to the frame.

When I got a bonus in November, the first thing I did was save part of it and then I ordered a new top. My brother, Dan, had moved into a new house at the beginning of November so he was going to have Thanksgiving at his house. "You come and we'll put the new top on for you." Well, I couldn't drive that far. I was having knee problems and the drive would have been excruciatingly painful. Plans were made for Christmas.

Dan does welding for a guy who builds and rebuilds stock cars. There is a large racing circuit in Iowa so they have a lot of business. His boss offered the use of the shop to change the top. We were going to do this in Dan's garage but the shop had much more room and could be heated much quicker than the garage. This was a great idea and I'm grateful to Craig for the offer.

Dan's girlfriend's son, Chase, came along for the fun. He was quite the help. It took us an hour and a half from start to finish to put the top on. The only time we had to look at the instructions was to find where the top was anchored to the front bar. Here's the Jeep completely topless.

That bar to the far left is where the top anchors into the bar. You have to fold the top all the way over the bar, upside down, if you will, and then screw it into the bar.

I got the top we were replacing back in September of 2005. It took 90 minutes then to replace the old with the new.

I think the hardest part was getting the front windows onto the frames. Dan got the windows started and Chase got one window off but had problems with the other one.

This is my favorite photo from replacing the top.

Chase got framed.

We wound up having to heat the canvas to stretch it just enough to get it over the frame. Ideally, you do this in the summer when you can lay the top out and let the sun warm it up. Then, when you go to put the top on, it stretches just enough that you're not tugging on things. Dan had to use the shop's concentrated hand-held decal remover to stretch the canvas. When the top was replaced in 2005, we did it in the office parking lot and used the hand dryer in the restroom to stretch the canvas.

We did it. The effect, to me, is startling because I can now see clearly out the windows again.

I'm back to being able to listen to the radio or CD's again. I'm back to having to turn down the heat because it's getting too warm. I'm back to knowing rain and snow won't find their way inside. I'm back to being able to back into the driveway and not meander all over the lawn because I can't see clearly out the rear window. I'm thrilled with this top. If it lasts as long as the other one did, I will have gotten my money's worth, even half as long is worth the money.

Here's the view of the Mississippi River as I crossed it at Clinton.

Shot through the window. Clear as glass. Hallelujah. Now, come summer, I can go topless again and know the top won't tear when folded down and back up.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Friday, December 21, 2012

It's New Again

Prior to the computer dying, I was having some issues with it. It was running slow and it seemed to me some maintenance that I hadn't done since Labor Day was in order. Well, I needed to find the CD's containing my operating system. You can imagine the CDs I have, owing to my "packratitis". I have a spinning CD rack that's full and the two rack tower that's full. And there are two stacks, about 2 feet tall, of music CDs.

I also have a rack that has old games on it. In that rack, I found some of the OS CD's but the rest were at the bottom of one of the stacks of music. I also found system software for Macintosh circa 9.1. I'm pretty sure, since the OS is over 10.7 that I can toss those out.

Searching through the rack and the stacks yielded music I hadn't played in years. Looking at each CD, turning it over to read the back, produced so many memories. I probably had the music stored in the iTunes library on the dead hard drive but here's the original CD. Some were favorites from a long time ago. It's all jazz, although there's the Beach Boys Greatest Hits I remember I have.

One of my tasks, over this holiday weekend, will be to toss the CD's I don't want. I'm not going to add them to a give away bag. They'll just get tossed by the people on the receiving end. I wish there was a CD recycling program. I found a couple of unmarked CDs that look like I dragged them behind the Jeep on a drive home. I'm not sure what CD's could be recycled into other than art installations, but perhaps someone has come up with something.

Once I've sorted through the ones I don't think I need anymore, I'm organizing the music. My favorite Christmas CD, Manhattan Transfer's The Christmas Album, is somewhere on the rack and I can't find it because I didn't organize when I filled it. Well, I knew I wasn't organizing. At the time, it was about simply putting CD's some place where they'd be out of the way. I think the rack that held game CD's is now going to be for music.

This will be a great time to revisit CD's I love like the one on this post. Listening to this music will be like listening to it for the first time. I scrounged up some of my Christmas CD's, too. Yes, these will be very good this weekend.

Beverage:  Water


12-21-12 in the Morning

The morning was clear and reasonably cold for the winter solstice. The "great blizzard of 2012" started off at 4-6, then 1-3 inches of snow. By last night, the weather people were saying .6 of an inch. With clear blue skies predicted for the next few days and temperatures over freezing, even this dusting won't last maybe even beyond today.

I will admit to being somewhat interested in the whole "End of the World" stuff that was hyped. Given the recent turn of events, having the end of the world come and then having our atoms scattered and reformed might mean we'd do a better job of getting along and helping those who need help on our next world. And it can be a good party game to ask, "How do you think the world will end?" "The Cubs will win the World Series and 3 days later the Four Horsemen will ride down Michigan Avenue stopping traffic."

In reality, when we exhaust this planet's resources or make it so hot that life is unsustainable, I envision people leaving for some place else. It will be tough to trace genealogy at that point. "Oh her? She's buried back on Earth and it's too hot to go back there." Sometimes I wonder what my ancestors would think were they to walk about the earth now. Nothing would be as they knew it. Maybe they know that.

So, the world didn't end. In fact, it continues along it's bumpy course. Apocalyptic commentary really hasn't forced us to look within on what we would do to make the life of everyone on the planet better, but it has spawned some really good jokes on Facebook today.

Happy Solstice and here's to another year!

Beverage:  water


Upside Downside

It's left me pondering, it has.

The computer has been back a whole week. Of course I admit to spending some of my evening hours sitting in front of it playing World of Warcraft, but I also do enjoy being connected to people via a desktop that doesn't need to be turned off or back on when you're trying to access your email. (Looks at her phone.) As the frustration level with that grew, I found myself turning the durned thang off and just being without, just as I was some 20-odd years ago before the Internets were filled with cats.

One of the delightful things to come from a week without a computer was the big black cat's desire to actually commandeer the lap. I would come home, do a chore or two, make myself some supper and then retire to the recliner for an evening of stitching. She would jump up into my lap and settle down, sometimes for 90 minutes, falling asleep. Then, she'd go lie opposite me and fall asleep. This cat snores, too. I've mentioned before how a cat in your lap is a great way to lower your blood pressure and let the stress of worrying about things you can't change melt away with every ear scratch. Although I spent quite a bit of time reminding myself about gratitude, there is no doubt having Pilchard in my lap helped make the week easier to handle.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Mija would, on occasion, jump up and settle down, too. On several occasions, I'd have Mija opposite me while Pilchard was asleep in my lap. They might pick on each other at times, but they do get along, usually.

So this past week of getting the computer back has produced an unexpected result. Pilchard is angry. How do I know? I've been around cats as long as I can remember. I've had a cat in my direct life for almost 27 years. That's a long time. You get to know the tone of a meow, the body language, the subtle messages being sent by how your cat reacts to things. I brought the computer back, set it up and realized it would be a couple of days before I'd be playing World of Warcraft again due to the amount of downloading time required. She was happy last Friday and Saturday. Come Sunday, when I sat down and actually played, she was not.

She came into the office and meowed at me, repeatedly. She would stay just out of reach so I could not reach over and give her a reassuring ear scratch. Her meow was loud and had an edge to it. I would get up to get tea and she'd be sitting under the table in the living room, meowing at me. She would run away if I approached to offer a scratch. I would take my tea back into the office and she'd be behind the recliners, waiting. As I walked past, she'd meow and follow me into the office to sit by the door "commenting" on life or at least complaining that my lap was now elsewhere. She tried to lie down in my lap while I was at the computer but she doesn't like the angle nor the fact that she's sharing my lap with part of the desk. She prefers it when I have my feet up, reclining.

It's been quite the revelation for me. When they both came here, the pattern of the household was that usually, I played WOW in the evenings. My lap was available and I have places to my left and right where they can sit and be within ear scratch distance. It's quite interesting that it took less than a week for Pilchard to become accustomed to me sitting in the living room and having my lap available for use. She's not at all happy it's gone. Mija is more adaptable to this probably because she commandeers the bed and gets to sleep next to me. I didn't think cats were that adaptable. They are such creatures of habit and a change in routine can lead to behavioral problems, like elimination outside of the litter box. I tried to give her extra loves but this past week, she's wanted nothing to do with those.

So, this coming holiday is fraught with disruptions in schedules and patterns. There will be people they don't know coming and going and I expect some deliveries on the doorstep complete with doorbell ringing. Pam came over last night and even though they both know Pam, they scattered and didn't come out of their respective hiding places until she'd been gone for 30 minutes. All I can do is talk in soft tones and hope they get, by my demeanor, that life isn't falling apart. I'm thinking I really do need to set aside one day a week for use of the lap. It seems to mean a great deal.

Who knew?

Beverage:  water


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's Just Perfect

I think the top of the tree worked out quite well this year. The lights at the bottom are from the string I used, the one that's wrapped around the base of the tree three times. I never did go to the Dollar Store as was suggested by a friend.

I don't have a cat sleeping on the tree skirt thanks to a gigantic hairball left there over the weekend. The whole skirt will have to be washed now. Neither one is interested in lying anywhere on the skirt.

At this time of the month, we used to leave the lights on 24-7 until the day after Christmas. It was always so festive, if you awakened in the night, to see the lights of the tree. Sometimes, I'd go into the living room just to look at it.

As easy as this was to set up and as nice as it made my house feel, I think I'll do this again next year.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Weekend Stitching

It's been so dreary outside, not conducive to being productive inside at all. I'd rather take a nap. With the computer back and downloading World of Warcraft, I couldn't do much else with it. So, I stitched.

This is going very quickly and I really like the delicate look of it. In doing this, I've come up with an idea to use up all this non-DMC floss and I want to finish this so I can explore that idea. The only thing I don't like about this kit is the needle size. I feel it's too big for the fabric. That's a small quibble. I'm finding this very relaxing and, given my stress level lately, relaxing is just what I need to do.

Beverage:  Dunkin Donuts tea


Holiday Muffins

Egg nog is back.

I love egg nog regardless of the calories. I don't like rum in it and homemade egg nog can be a real hit or miss affair. Give me the store bought stuff. I have lovely memories of sipping egg nog while watching the snow fall around Christmas or going caroling and coming back to egg nog and hot cocoa and cookies.

I have these two great recipes for egg nog muffins. They are so good. One of the recipes calls for rum. I just substitute an equal amount of egg nog. The other is just flour, sugar, eggs, egg nog and spices.

I made one batch over the weekend. The hardest part is greasing the muffin tray for the batter.

Don't those look good? You're supposed to let them cool, but I have to tell you, warmed with a small pat of butter...heaven.

They didn't last the weekend. Now I have to make the other recipe.

Beverage:  Dunkin Donuts tea


I Can Be Forgiven


I desperately needed gas last week. I had to do some juggling of finances in order to put a small amount in the Jeep. I set the gas cap on the rear tail light. 90% of the time, I hang up the pump and then replace the cap.

I've had a lot on my mind lately with the plumbing and the computer and wanting to go to Iowa for family Christmas and realizing that wasn't going to happen. Even with gas dropping some 40 cents since Thanksgiving, my reserves are gone, absorbed by these two repairs. I'm grateful I had the reserves in the first place, however. It would have been worse had I not set aside a chunk back in November.

When I first got the Jeep, I was constantly losing the cap, so I would buy two and keep one in the car. Eventually, I got myself trained so this is an anomaly rather than the norm. So, I can be forgiven for forgetting to replace the gas cap. There's an auto store near the office. Tonight I'll get a new cap.

Beverage:  Dunkin Donuts tea


The Return

The computer is back. It works but the screen is slowly dying. I keep thinking I will be able to use part of my tax return for a new computer come February. And then friends say, "If we get a tax return" which starts the worry clock.

I watched more TV in 8 days than I did in the past 3 years, I think. There are some really, really awful Christmas movies out there. Just sticking "Christmas" in a movie's title does not guarantee it will be any good. Far from it. A movie still requires some semblance of a plot which some of these holiday movies didn't seem to have from the start.

I discovered the PBS "Create" channel. Heavily filled with cooking shows, it started off as something fun but I can only tolerate watching people cooking for so long before it's just boring. Another percentage is travel shows and those can be interesting. But again, I can only watch them for so long before it's just another place and you can interchange the country name with a different one.

"Miss Marple Investigates" was wonderful. I've read all of Agatha Christie's books so I enjoy seeing how it gets translated to the screen. There's usually one or two actors whose faces I recognize. In the one Miss Marple I watched, it was Joan Collins playing a socialite from New York. Hmmmm. Casting against type I see.

I watched "American Experience" and WGN TV's Bozo specials. I watched the news and the weather. I usually get both from the Internet. I watched football, all the football someone with free TV can watch. I watched "Bob Newhart" and "Mary Tyler Moore". I watched bits and pieces here and there until it got boring to watch more.

I managed to keep the worry monster away by concentrating on gratitude. At least someone was looking at the computer with an idea to try to get it working for me. Bill Moyers had a great program on Friday night discussing the "fiscal cliff" we've heard so much about. I actually watched a program discussing financial matters. After listening to the two people he had on his show, I am not worried much about the impending "fiscal whatever". That worry has been sent packing. It is what it is and I'll make do as I have before.

So, Friday night, I picked up the computer and set about getting the space ready again. A couple years ago, I realized that my chair made me spend too much time looking down at the computer screen. Ideally, you should look straight across. I looked around the house for something on which to set the computer to raise it up the required 3 inches. I've had this book "Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare" for at least 20 years. It's an invaluable help when I want to muse on Shakespeare's writings. It's also the perfect height to raise the computer up to eye level. So, I dusted around the book, moved a bunch of cables and set the computer back where it had been.

Then came the dreaded downloading. I have a new hard drive. Everything I had on my other hard drive has to be reinstalled. The operating system was an upgrade from the one I had been using. It has a few new quirks that are taking me some time to get used to.

Getting back online and getting my email services back up and functional didn't take that much time. Downloading World of Warcraft has been a trial. I think my Internet service throttles the amount of data I can download at once. I have 20 gigabites of data for this game and I'm downloading it in kilobite fragments. It's so slow. And when my computer goes to sleep, it doesn't download anymore so I have to supervise the downloading. When it's time for bed, however, I let it go and it just quits whenever the computer goes to sleep. There is a program I can download that will prevent the computer going to sleep, but I was able to log into the game on Sunday. I'll just keep going with the time I have. Eventually, the whole game will be downloaded.

I didn't really go through withdrawal without the computer. There were times, especially the first weekend, when I'd think, "I wonder...I'll just go look it up online...oh wait...", but, by Tuesday evening, I would come home, do chores, make supper and then sit in the recliner. Before computers, this is what I did. Had the computer been beyond repair, I would have been okay with that.

So, my eyes forward are toward a new computer. I don't know how much longer this one will limp along so I need to figure out how to pay for a new one. Computers are so much a part of life now and so much of how I entertain myself is tied up with the computer. Let's see if life lets me plan for a new one.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Friday, December 14, 2012

It's Time

If you were here at the beginning of the year, you might remember this guy.

He sits on the desk in my bedroom just smiling at me all year. It's close to time when he would make an appearance but I noticed he was squinting when brought out to the livingroom.

Possibly it's an astigmatism or a myopia, but he's all better now. He still makes the cats give me weird looks when I get him to sing.

Beverage:  Rooibos tea



It's the time of year when boxes start materializing on your front porch. I have shipped all but the one I'm waiting to hear is framed and ready for pick up. I'm not really expecting any more boxes to come to my address so boxes behind the milk container are always viewed with a, "What the...?"

I bring this one in and it's got "Live Plant" all over it. I have learned, over the many, many years I have given and received packages that what is on the outside of a box is, often, not what is on the inside of the box. It can be exceptionally humorous when a sturdy box labeled "yogurt" is reused for newspaper clippings. Yet, why toss a perfectly good box, particularly at this time of year? You never know when that box is just the right size. Hence, it says, "Live Plant", but is that really what's in it? Let's see.

I don't know who would be sending me something either. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know it's Christmas and the potential for gifts exists all month. All into that my birthday at the end of last month, and boxes arrive from the middle of November through the days just before Christmas. I set this down on the floor to have it "cat scanned" and they ignored it. I think they are on box overload. I can almost see the thought bubbles. "Another box? Wake me when it's treats time."

Inside the box was this styrofoam "plug", if you will, It was tight inside the top and you can see that I had a devil of a time getting it out of the box. It kept disintegrating when I would try to pull and grab it. I had no idea what was under this so I hesitated to grab a knife and cut it apart. Finally, it popped out.

Oh look. It's another box. But, in looking at this box, I noticed there was potting soil on the inside of this one. There were an awful lot of packing peanuts, too. Whatever it was wasn't going anywhere.

On the side of this box is the word, "Snowflake". I'm still not sure what that means, nor can I find any card or anything that tells me who sent this. I pull all the packing materials out of the main box. Still nothing.

I open the inner box and find this.

It's an amaryllis. But who is is from? It's driving me bananas. Then, if I'd really learn to read, I notice a plastic bag taped to the side of the exterior box. "Merry Christmas, Deb. Your pal, Bill."

I'm so touched by this. If you go back in time to the summer, you will remember the New York Giants mug I did the insert for. Bill was the recipient of that mug. It arrived last week and he dutifully opened the box and the wrapped gift therein, in spite of the enclosed note that said, "Doesn't need to be opened until Christmas." He says he's very happy with the mug because it's something I made for him and he won't have something that everyone else has. We laughed about how I had blogged extensively about the mug as I was making it but I knew he doesn't read the blog so he'd never see it. "You got that right," he laughed.

I don't give gifts to have people give me gifts in return. I give them because I want to. Some years are flush and I can send out a lot of gifts. Some years are lean and I have to cut back. I send gifts because I want to and, at the time, I have the means to do so. To get something like this in return really touches me.

Now, amaryllis bulbs are poisonous. I've had the bulb sitting on the table and it's been sniffed several times. That makes me rather nervous. You just can't tell if they get enough information via the sniff or if they think they have to "taste" the bulb to be certain it's not food. I know exactly where I'm going to put this but I need to move a few things to make room. The ceramic box is filled with packing peanuts that I want to remove and replace with those clear marble things. I think I have some in the basement. If not, I don't think they are too expensive that I can't get a package at JoAnn's when I go to pick up the framed piece. Then, this will get a thorough soaking and we'll begin the great amaryllis watch. I don't know, for sure, if the amaryllis that blooms will be the one shown on the card. I don't care. This is so wonderful.

"Friends do things because they are friends." Yes. Yes, they do.

Beverage:  Rooibos tea


Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Case of the Missing Snow

Yesterday, Chicago had the 283rd day without measurable snow, which is defined at 0.1 inch. We are to reach 50 today and tomorrow...50! In December. The exclamations for this winter are numerous. We thought last winter was an anomaly, coming as it did on the heels of the 3rd worst blizzard in recorded history. Yesterday, we had 100% of the available sunshine get to us. In December, which is historically, the snowiest month, that's quite an achievement. It usually happens in January, those crystal clear days and equally clear and frigidly cold nights, when you can see all the way to Andromeda it seems. There is rain in the forecast and we need, desperately, the ground moisture, but it's not snow although nighttime temperatures are slated to fall below 40, but not far enough that the rain turns to anything, not even sleet.

It wasn't always this way.

Our first winter in the house. We moved in in December, the very first weekend. That winter was a snowy one, giving us a taste of the shoveling to come. That snowsuit was mine. I don't remember if the hat was mine or one someone bought.

I have vague memories of that first winter in the house. We had storm windows that we put on but which were eventually abandoned as they deteriorated. (I still have some of them and would love to have one turned into a cold frame.) This looks like the light fluffy powdered sugar-type of snow that doesn't roll into snowballs. Obviously, we did have a snowfall that was snowball worthy as represented by the snowman on the left. I do remember Carole wouldn't keep her mittens on and kept taking them off to touch the snow. Eventually, we had to go inside because her fingers were red with cold. I'm pretty sure that snowsuit is downstairs in the trunk. Maybe the hat and mittens are too.

I look out across the still green grass of my front lawn and snow, even the blizzard of 2010, seem a distant memory. I remember the Christmas Eve nights when we'd pile into the car and drive to church for the children's Christmas service. The snow was shoved up so high along the curbs in town and the gravel roads were icy. I remember the blackness of the sky and wondering what it had looked like on the night Jesus was born. I remember being so cold just walking from the car to the church. I don't ever remember a December or a Christmas in Iowa without snow until the 1980's. Perhaps there were, but I don't remember them.

I remember a bitterly cold December in Chicago when we drove into the city on Christmas Eve and walked Michigan Avenue. The shoppers were gone. There were a few people out, wanderers like us, admiring the windows, the lights and the stillness of one of Chicago's busiest locations. I remember the temperature was below zero and the wind made it feel like -24. I don't know why I remember that number but I do. Snow was 3 feet deep in the back yard. We giggled and ooh'ed and ahhh'ed at the windows. The horse rides were around Water Tower Place and I remember the steam from the breath of the horses and their drivers huddled in a circle drinking hot drinks and chatting.

I remember the McDonald's at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Superior Street. It was open when almost nothing else was. It was bright and cheery inside. When we went in, there were a couple of Chicago cops and we were greeted by a very warm, "Merry Christmas!" from the people behind the counter. We got hot cocoa and sat by the window watching the cold descend upon the city. I remember driving home and not seeing a soul on State Street. We could drive by the then Marshall Field's flagship store and look at their windows without leaving the car. There was no one behind us to honk so we could drive and stop.

I do remember a Christmas of 65 degrees. I had a cold but I remember us standing on the deck in the afternoon's thin sunshine marveling that it was the end of December and it was 65 degrees. "Wow, we'll never see this again!" Um...yeah.

Technically, Chicagoland has a 50-50 chance of a white Christmas even if the weather was normal. I think it was in the late 1960's and 1970's when there was talk of an early ice age. Perhaps we should have paid attention to the abnormalities of harsher winters. I don't think any climate model could have predicted this kind of warmth and drought.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas. Just like the ones I used to know." Well, sort of. I'll take 3-5 inches, just enough to line the trees and fence posts, but not too much to make shoveling a chore. Then, I could handle rain instead of snow. It's easier to drive in, for sure.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea