Friday, March 30, 2012

Gold Day 4

Trust me, I did do some stitching last night. What I did is to the left of the middle black blog. You can barely see it. 

In my mind's eye, what I'm trying to do with the choice of fabric and this pattern looks lovely. As I'm stitching it, with a light yellow that blends in almost perfectly with oatmeal colored fabric, I'm thinking, "What did you think you were doing?" I need to get this very light yellow done and then I can work on the very light blue you see in the middle panel of the skirt. Once that's done, this might actually look like something. 

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


The Last Time

Last night was a bit bittersweet. Tonight, I start a whole new life.

It's just a different road to travel now, than the one I thought I would walk. So I have this condition, Rheumatoid Arthritis, best described as my body not recognizing my joints as belonging to me. It thinks all my joints are invaders and sends out anti-bodies to fight those invaders. That's what causes the swelling and pain. Okay. Knowing is half the battle. Now we adapt and learn to live with it.

I start, tonight, to take a low dose of metholtrexate. When you read the information in this link, it's hard not to be scared by what this drug can do if not taken properly. This is what we're starting on. This is what we're using to get the RA under control. Once under control, things will go into the maintenance stage. That could be as early as the end of April. I see the doctor on April 12th and we'll go over everything that's happened. There will be more blood work and dosages will be changed.

So, tonight, my life course goes on a different path. I become like millions of other people who have a chronic illness. I will be taking something for the rest of my life. I don't feel singled out by life. I don't feel angry or sad or depressed about this. Why should I? It's just a different route. Things have changed is all. I look at my friend, April. She's living with "I don't know". It would be far, far worse, for me, to live with "I don't know" than it is to live with RA.

Last night, knowing that alcohol is verboten while on metholtrexate, I pulled the bottle of Perry's mead from the back of the fridge where it's been for a long time. I'm not a drinker. One or two a month might be the most that I drink. I drank half of the small bottle. I couldn't finish the whole thing. It was kind of bittersweet.

I love the taste of dark beer. I can't do that anymore. The Wheaton Ale Fest that I attended last year? Nope. Not again unless I'm off the drug for a month prior to going. "I'll have tea please," will be my beverage of choice at functions.

I was a bit sad as I finished off the second glass. There is the oft-quoted Ben Franklin lines, "Beer is proof that God wants us to be happy." There have been many, many good times with good friends and alcohol. But, it was not the alcohol that made the good times, it was the friends. And there is no decree, currently, that I'll be on this for the rest of my life. It's right now and it's necessary.

So, my toasts will be Dr Pepper from now on. I am happy to be the designated driver. I will eat grapes in their solid, not liquid, form and I will do all of this without pain. I believe life is, at certain times, a series of trade offs. I am happily trading the bubbly of alcohol for a pain free morning.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


How Many Years Has it Been?

I think the best car I have ever had has been this Jeep. It fits me. I am defined by it and it defines me. It's got rusting and rotted patches and a soft top that is in desperate need of replacement. If given the choice between $2,000 for a down payment on a new car or $2,000 to replace the rust and the top, I would make the repairs. If I won the lottery and could buy a brand, spankin' new Jeep, I'd want to replace as close to what I have as I could get. With all the trials and tribulations of the knees and the arthritis, I cannot imagine having to get down into a car and then have to get back up out of it. The height of the Jeep means I get to slide right over, no getting up or down. That has been invaluable through all of this.

When I first got it, I had a terrible time hanging onto the gas cap. People suggested getting a locking one but that would just compound the problem. There is no real logical place to sit the cap. In the first 3 years, I think I went through 10 caps and I'm not kidding. I would buy two of them when I went to replace a lost one because I just knew I'd lose it again.

Then, I hit on the idea of setting the cap on the taillight. It's just wide enough for the cap to rest there. Fill up. Put the cap back on and go. I hadn't lost a cap in years.

Until I drove to Ohio.

I didn't notice it missing because I didn't drive anywhere after I got to April and Perry's. It sat in the driveway from Saturday night to Tuesday morning. I got out to fill up the tank and oops.

It made me laugh. I had to have left it at Tiffin River, where I stopped just inside Ohio. I had gotten into a routine. Remove cap. Place on taillight. Fill. Replace cap. Go. Something distracted me between the fill and replace cap and I drove off with the cap on the taillight.

Oh well. $9.79 later, I have a new gas cap. I did not buy a second one. I'll be checking to make sure I have it on before driving away.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Visiting Ohio: Starting a New Project

As I was waiting for the dowel to be cut to finish off the banner, I took along my next cross-stitch Christmas gift project. There were a few hours of down time, where we all just sat and they checked their email and I cross-stitched.

Sunday's stitching.

Doesn't look like much. Monday's stitching.

Still doesn't look like much although this might be a skirt of some sort.

I worked a bit more on it last night.

While a bit blurry, the photo shows the two very light yellow patches on either side of the skirt. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is an all full cross-stitch pattern I'm doing. The yellow patches are at the widest this will be. It's going to go fast.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Visiting Ohio: A Comparison of Tea

This trip afforded me the great opportunity to compare the fast food tea I can get while out on the road. Here are the contenders.

Both come way too hot. I understand the need to have hot water but I want to drink the tea in the three minutes it takes to steep the bag, not have to blow on it, sip a half teaspoon, blow, sip, for the next 30 minutes until the water cools off enough to actually drink. I know people who will ask for ice cubes in their coffee so they can drink it right away. Maybe I should consider that. Both cups provided adequate insulation to keep the beverage hot. 

McDonalds tea:  The cup it comes in is much nicer and feels more sturdy than Dunkin's styrofoam cup. McD's tea is cheaper, thirty cents cheaper for the same size. Their top is much better, too. It's a small square that folds back into a niche in the top. It "latches" with a satisfying click. Dunkin has a thin strip that pushes onto a raised button. Push too hard and you dent the top and the strip won't hold. Don't push hard enough and the strip unfastens and hits you on the nose as you're drinking.

Dunkin's tea:  Flavor. Hands down it has better flavor. Both have a blend produced just for them. It's a black tea and those can be pretty bland when mass produced. With the McD's blend, even leaving the tea bag in the water for over half of the cup size did not produce a flavorful cup of tea. As the flavor is what I generally buy the tea for, the extra thirty cents to get a the same size mug seems worth it in the end. Plus, I don't know if it was my cup holders in the Jeep or the styrofoam cup but the Dunkin tea stayed warmer longer. That's a plus when you want something to last for awhile.

In the end, for my money, Dunkin is the way to go. If I'm on the Interstate and Dunkin isn't available, I can get tea flavored hot water at my closest McDonald's. It will be adequate and inexpensive.

I guess what I need to do is keep a stash of my tea bags in my purse. Then I'll have what I really like available.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Visiting Ohio: Souvenirs

In a past incarnation of myself, I had to have a souvenir of every trip. I used to collect bells; those small, dinner bell-type things that are in most any souvenir shop wherever you chance to go. Emblazoned with the location of your choice, they are generally small and a decent memento of crossing the threshold of Dollywood or standing at the brink of the Grand Canyon.

Years of collecting even small items gradually builds up a large collection. I quit collecting bells about 8 years ago. I have no place to put them. A few of the recent purchases and gifts are scattered about the house, but I don't remember when the last time was I actually bought a bell with a place name on it. I have a medium-sized box in the basement with my collection. I only think about it when I have to move the box.

In this digital age, photos are a better choice for mementos. Oh I'll pick up something that tickles my fancy and it may or may not have the location's name on it, but I lean, more and more, to the photo side of things. You can't bring back the color of the sky or the view from the Interstate as you head into that river valley unless you take a photo. And, when I look at a photo, I can remember what I was doing at that time. I look at a bell and think, souvenir stand. Not quite the same.

Sometimes, something just jumps out at you as an item you need to take home. April and I were walking through the Giant Eagle grocery store. I needed to get milk to take my prednisone. They don't have milk in their house. As we passed through one of the sections of the store on the way back to the check out, I saw my souvenirs.

They were 79 cents each. Plus, I have never seen this fragrance in my stores. I need shampoo and conditioner anyway. Score!

Beverage: Edinburgh's Finest tea


Visiting Ohio: What I Played

The Ohio friends are a group that has been getting together for eons, usually on a Monday night, to play games. The gaming location varies between houses but it's the same crew. When I came through for the very first time, back in November 2010, I made sure my trip included a stop-over on Monday night so I could participate in game night.

Games have always been a part of my life. Growing up, we had the usual; Scrabble, Sorry, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, etc. My house contains three dozen games of the card and board variety. When Carole was growing up, we got one or two new games a year.

I don't do well with strategy games. I term them "stradegy", because my strategy is usually a tragedy. I have never won Clue. The logic of trying to figure out who did it with what where eludes me. I'll play it but I have never, ever won.

April and Perry, Jim and Joe, Chad and Chris, Jim M and Greg are gamers in the purest sense of the word. They follow gamer podcasts and YouTube updates. They keep abreast of what games have been added to the pantheon available at a local store or online. I have nothing they haven't played to death, but there is a vast world of games that I have never experienced. Part of the trip was to assure myself a spot at the table, to be exposed to new games and at least one old one.

I know I'll forget something or put what we played in the wrong order, but here goes. Perry and I played Carcassonne. I really like that game. Every time I visit, I want to play it. It's sort of strategy but it is determined by the tiles you draw. Then, he taught me to play Dominion. I wasn't too sure about the game at first, but it grew on me. I don't think we played anything else, just the two of us, after Dominion because it was time to get ready for the party.

While we waited for people to arrive, we played a newer card game called The Resistance. In this game, spies infiltrate a group of resistance fighters. You draw a card at the beginning which tells you if you are a loyal member of the resistance or a spy. A leader, which rotates around the players, chooses a certain number of people to go on missions. You get to vote on whether you think these people will carry out the mission. Then, they get to vote on whether the mission succeeds. Loyalists have to vote yes. Spies can vote yes or no. It was great fun to try to figure out who was the spy.

After dinner, we played a game I knew about because Carole plays it; Cards Against Humanity. You can see one set up above. If you are easily offended, do not play this game. If you like Apples to Apples and have a quirky sense of humor, you will love this. It's exactly like Apples to Apples but the cards, well, interesting doesn't quite cover it. There was much, much laughter and poor April got the worst one to read. She wound up handing off the black card to someone else to read because she was laughing so hard.

This is a game called 7 Wonders. We ended the night with this but I know we played something else that I had to learn and have forgotten the name of already. It was green.

I was lousy at 7 Wonders. I had a lot of cards, but you also have to build wonders from each age and that part I didn't understand. Oh well. We had to maximize gaming and card games seem to be the best way to do that.

On Monday, Perry and I played quite a few games in the afternoon. We started with a game by one of my favorite card game creators, GameWright. We played Forbidden Island and There's a Moose in the House. I really liked both of those.

After those, we set up Settlers of Catan, but discovered you can't play that with two people. So, Perry pulled out Rivals of Catan, a card game with the same idea. This was great fun. It took me a bit to figure out what I was supposed to do, but it is easily learned. I won that game. I was quite surprised.

Chris arrived at this point and we played some Wii bowling. I had never done that. I'm rather impressed that Wii bowling even gets your hook. In spite of tossing the only gutter ball, I won with a 146.

We had supper and settled into another Cards Against Humanity. It was fun but the game definitely benefits from having more rather than fewer people. After that, we played Citadel. This was a very fun game, once I got the hang of  it.

From there, it was another round of Cards Against Humanity and we ended the night with Munchkin Impossible. Last year, I played Munchkin for the first time under the Munchkin Booty banner. Munchkin Impossible was just as silly and enjoyable.

I do miss gaming. I miss the long games of Trivial Pursuit we used to have. I have a large number of GameWright games, including a few they don't make anymore. Nothing like a rousing round of Rat-A-Tat Cat to end an evening.

In getting together, it's not just about the games, trying something new or something familiar. It's about the camaraderie. It's about friendship. It's about being with other people, sharing life and conversation and insults across the table. I got to see a lot of different games, games that, if I had a group I regularly played with, I'd get.

Most importantly, it's about laughter and togetherness. Solitaire is nice but sometimes, there's nothing better than playing a card on your neighbor that destroys his army.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Visiting Ohio: What I Ate

Of course I'm going to post photos of what I ate. There wasn't Hanson's Ice Cream this year. The temperatures plummeted, although I'll eat ice cream any time of year. Plus, we simply ran out of time. I need to plan, when I pass through again, that one evening will be dedicated to sitting on the back deck eating Hanson's ice cream.

While I won't post photos of everything, here are the memorable meals. I must start off with the cupcake. This was the whole purpose for going, celebration.

Of course, I forgot to write down the name of the place where they had the cupcakes custom made. April got a "zebra", which was a milkshake flavored cupcake with white buttercream icing covered with black stripes. She's allergic to chocolate so the black stripes were just white icing colored black. The buttercream icing on the chocolate cupcakes was intensely rich and the cake part was moist and dense.

April picked up a random selection for her and Perry when she got the chocolate ones for our celebration. There's red velvet, chocolate chip (which Perry said was kind of lack luster), butter rum and raspberry. Cupcakes are the rage now.

On Monday, we went to lunch. I had taken April to Applebee's for supper on Saturday after I arrived. I got an Applebee's gift card for Christmas and this was a great way to say, "Thanks for letting me sleep in your extra room". Sunday, Perry and I went to Perkins for breakfast and then we all went to Bob Evans for lunch. In the evening was the party.

So, in the midst of chain repasts, they suggested we go to one of their favorite local restaurants.

Yes, that is Mexican. The place is called Salsitas. This lunch, which was just the right size, was only $5.00. It consisted of Mexican rice, chicken enchilada and refried beans which were so good, I ate them all before realizing I needed to take a photo. I love the decor, which I didn't photograph. It was bright and cheerful, with jewel-toned colors and lots of art work. It's just this storefront in a strip mall. I'm probably glad it's nowhere near me. I'd be there, a lot. The food was excellent, too, by the way.

Monday evening is game night. As we'd gotten together for April's party on Sunday night, most of the gang opted not to come back on Monday. Chris came over and we decided pizza was too much. Another local place they have is The Sandwich Factory. We ordered supper from them.

That's an 8 inch turkey and cheese sub with an order of fries. I thought I'd be getting one of those large-size cup things with some fries in it. I never dreamed the fries ($2.40) would be that much. The whole meal cost me $7.00 and I couldn't eat all the fries. I reheated them in the oven when I got home on Tuesday and they were still pretty good. Try that with a fast food joint's fries. The sandwich was really good and I should know since I eat a lot of Subway.

Good food and good friends equal a great trip.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Visiting Ohio: What I Listened to

When I went to Iowa on the 11th, I decided that trip and this one to Ohio would be good ways to go through the CD holder, listen to music and change what I have in the holder. I tend to listen to the same stuff over and over because I don't want to go through the hassle of finding the jewel cases for what's in the holder and changing the music. But when I've got all this music surrounding me, it should be something I should do. I bought this music because I liked it. Then I should be listening to it.

The trip to Ohio allowed me to listen to 14 different CDs. Of course, my tastes being what they are, three genres were featured: jazz, Scottish and classical.

On the ride out, I started with A Treasury of Artie Shaw. He was a big band leader during World War II, played clarinet. My favorite song on this CD is "Begin the Beguine".
Next was The Tannahill Weavers Collection: Choice Cuts 1987-1996. This is a greatest hits collection. It's a good choice if you aren't familiar with them.
Then was Old Blind Dogs and Tall Tails. While this CD has some catchy tunes; Wife in Ev'ry Port, Pills of White Mercury and Barnyards of Delgaty; it's not my favorite OBD collection. I skip over at least a couple of the songs.
After that was the seminal Miles Davis recording, Sketches of Spain. If you are looking to include some Miles Davis, I strongly recommend this recording.
From there, I went to Gene Harris/Scott Hamilton Quartet and At Last. Gene Harris was a pianist and Scott Hamilton is a saxophonist. It's a nice addition to my jazz collection even if it's not something I might reach for when wanting to play music.
The black CD is The Best of the Rat Pack. This is a collection of music sung by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Junior. It's what could be termed a 'little ditty' of an album. There are better collections by each of these men, but this is a good way to have something from each. "Me and My Shadow" by Frank and Sammy, is one of my favorites. I play this and remind myself that I need to search out a Sammy Davis, Jr collection. He had a wonderful voice. 
Lastly, on the player as I pulled into the driveway was Legacy by Old Blind Dogs. I like everything on this album but my favorite is "The Snows They Melt the Soonest".

On the way out, I started with the radio but quickly lost the signal as I headed east. Since I don't know any jazz stations close to Youngstown, I simply stayed with CDs all the way home. If I do another road trip, I need to find a listing of radio stations that play jazz in the locations I find myself. Then, carefully copy down the call letters and number and leave that list on the kitchen table as I head out the door.

I started the trip back with Five by Old Blind Dogs. The opening numbers, "Trip to Pakistan" and "Battle of Harlow" are two of my favorites. "Parcel Full o'Rogues" is a lament on the union of Scotland and England. This is the second CD I've owned of this, so that tells you how much I enjoy it.
Next up was Best of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Preservation Hall is located in New Orleans, for those who don't know it. They play New Orleans-style Dixieland jazz. This collection has their anthem, "When the Saints Go Marching In". They tour a lot so if they come near you, go see them.
After that, I played Tchaikovsky. This CD holds his "Pathetique" and "1812 Overture" on it. It's hugely ironic that this should come up as I'm just taking the CDs as they are in the holder. We had talked briefly about Tchaikovsky on Sunday night. I did not know he committed suicide by drinking cholera-laced water. People passing me or being passed by me must have wondered as I was "singing" along with the ending of the Overture. "Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba bup ba bah...boom." This is the very familiar overture which, in some settings, can end with cannon fire. A Tympany plays that roll in normal settings.
From there, it was back to jazz and Lionel Hampton with Flying Home (1942-1945). If you have any knowledge of jazz, "Flying Home" is one of the most recognized tunes. This CD has several variations on that theme including the original. For those who don't know, Lionel Hampton was a vibraphonist. He played what you might call a xylophone only it was a lot more than just that. The CD has a queer little number, "Blow Top Blues" sung by Dinah Washington. It's just, well, weird.
Next was Preservation Hall Jazz Band Volume 2. Why only have one collection of hits when you can have two? I recommend the first one and get this one to supplement.
After that, I listened to one of a series, Benny Goodman, Best of the Yale Archives, 1936-1986. When he died in 1986, Benny Goodman left his music notes and tapes to the Yale University Archives. They compiled a series of CD's documenting Goodman's rise from a small trio to a band leader and then back to small group before concentrating on classical music in his later years. This particular CD contains quite a number of his more popular recordings. It does not have his signature song, "Sing, Sing, Sing". I honestly don't remember where I got this and I wouldn't recommend this if you want a collection of Benny Goodman. There are other greatest hits CD's out there or get your hands on the Carnegie Hall concert CD set.
I ended with Nina Simone and Little Girl Blue. Nina Simone had a husky, gravelly voice that may not appeal to some people. She could wrap that voice around a song and change how you perceived it. "I Put a Spell on You" is one of my favorites and I love what she did to "I Loves You Porgy".

Now to put these back in their jewel cases and select some different music for my travels about town.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


This is the Reason I Went


Some of us make them easier than others. Some are just naturally gregarious. Some of us are shy and reserved and don't reveal a lot about ourselves. Some of us have lives that are, essentially, reality shows. Nothing is off-limits. When you find that one friend, or group of friends, you just know you belong, the feeling is euphoric. Time and distance don't really matter.

I don't make close friends easily. A lot of me that people see is designed to be superficial. It's a defense mechanism so I'm not hurt. Remember middle school and high school when your 'best friend' turned out to be a name-only person? We changed 'best friends' like we changed socks. For some of us, that kind of trauma is hard to overcome and everyone gets looked at critically for 'friend potential'.

I'm not sure where I heard it, but I was told that best friends will have one really big fight that takes them down to the dumps, takes them to a place where they question if friendship is something they want to maintain or allow to evaporate. If you can be honest with that friend, honest in the face of hurt and anger, fix it up, patch it up and decide that your friendship is important to you, you will be friends for life.

Enter the Internet.

We make and leave friendships much faster now. Friends become a number on your Facebook page. It's doubly interesting with the prevalence of online games which can expand, in hugely exponential fashion, the number of people whom you can call 'friends'. I've mentioned before how I have friends from playing World of Warcraft. Are they 'friends', like Pam and Patt whom I have known for over 15 years and who know all my secrets? I like to think so.

Back in February, my Ohio friends, April and Perry, decided we needed to celebrate April. She suffered a series of mini-strokes at the end of February and the beginning of March last year. It's been determined this is related to the shingles she had at the end of December in 2010. To say we were scared for her was something of an understatement.

April is amazing. Look up "amazing" in the dictionary and her picture is there. Medical tests? She's had them all. Specialists? She rattles off names as if she's reading a phone book. And the hardest part is that doctors don't know. April is blazing a trail. They can't tell her if x is related to the shingles. They can't tell her if this drug or that drug will need to be taken for the next 6 days, 6 weeks or 6 months. They just don't know. She handles this with grace and determination. She's lost 90 pounds in order to make her body the best it can be. She is the personification of 'amazing'. Her doctor called her a 'zebra in a field of horses'. So, we decided to celebrate that.

Once a week, they get together with a bunch of friends and play games. The three of us picked a weekend which worked for a party and invited everyone. I'd met everyone except Jim M, before. Only Chris was informed I was coming. No one else was told.

It was a fantastic evening. They got lasagna and salad and cupcakes for everyone. April got a zebra cupcake and the rest of us got 'plain old chocolate'. We played games. Jim M gave the best toast to friendship and caring and the delight we need to remember to take in each others company. A year ago, we all lived with the underlying fear that this was something that couldn't be fixed, that April was facing a mortality none of us wished on anyone. On Sunday night, we celebrated a year of overcoming that mortality and of her incredibly positive outlook which is a true inspiration to all of us.

I'm proud that April considers me her friend. I hope I remain worthy of that appellation.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


A Tale of Two Trips

I don't go anywhere for months and then have the opportunity to take two trips in a month, roughly two weeks apart. I went west, to Iowa, on business, and then went east, to Ohio, for pleasure. I'm documenting these via gas prices.

Let's start with Sunday, March 11th. I filled up the car on the way out of town. Four dollars and nine cents was the prevailing price in my location. Gas had just hit four dollars a gallon that week.

When I got to Iowa, I could find gas for $3.62. That was quite the bargain. Iowa is a two tank trip. It's a tank out and a tank back. I did see gas for $3.55 but I had an appointment to keep so I couldn't stop and top off.

Upon returning to Chicagoland on March 12th, gas had jumped twenty cents. It was now $4.29 at the station where, the day before, I had paid $4.09 to fill the tank. I don't think I mind, horribly, when it goes up one or two cents a day, but a twenty cent jump in 24 hours makes you wonder just who is profiting.

Saturday, March 24th, I headed to Youngstown, Ohio. I had a half a tank of gas but I decided to fill the tank before leaving to get maximum mileage before needing to stop. I knew I was headed into cheaper gas territory. I wasn't sure exactly how much cheaper. Yes, that is $4.55 per gallon on that sign. In two weeks, the price had gone up over 20 more cents.

Ohio is a one and a half tank trip. I got as far as just inside the Ohio border before having to refill. I stopped at the Tiffin River rest stop for lunch and gas. You can see I pumped Plus for $4.10. That wasn't what I wanted to pump. I was going to pump regular, which was $3.99 at this pump. Oh well.

When I got to Youngstown, gas was $3.99 there. It seemed to be a relatively uniform cost all across Ohio, from what I could see advertised on the giant signs. Indiana gas is about ten to fifteen cents more expensive at the plazas. It took a little over half a tank to go across Ohio and get to Youngstown.

Tuesday morning, I filled the tank. Perry announced, on Monday evening, that gas had dropped twelve cents which was great news. Every little bit helps when the total price gets above $40 to even top off a tank.

This full tank got me to the first travel plaza into Indiana. I stopped for gas and lunch, just as I had on the way out. A side note, I did not have problems driving out or back this time. Back in May of last year, I was having knee problems which could translate into hip problems and make getting into and out of the car, a chore. Plus, there's the feeling that I could have leg or foot cramps from whatever was going on at the time. I had none of those. It's probably due to the prednisone I'm taking prior to the RA drug, but, when you drive a vehicle without cruise control, I'll take it. It was a joy to drive 8 hours and only feel that you needed to stop for food and fuel.

I filled up in Indiana and headed on to Chicagoland. I worry that I'll have to get off the Interstate in Northwest Indiana and get gas. It's such a tangle of highway in that area that I try, very hard, to avoid needing to get off. If you are going from the junction of Interstate 80/90 and 94 west, do yourself a favor and make sure you have at least a half a tank of gas to get past the separation of Interstate 80 from Interstate 294. It's roughly 10 miles, but it can feel like an eternity, particularly if there is traffic.

Gas is currently $4.39.

What does this unscientific sampling mean? Well, when the Ohio trip was planned, gas was $3.87 in Chicagoland. It's 445.6 miles, one way. I figured 2 fill-ups, to be on the safe side. That meant close to $100 in gas out and back. In actuality, I spent $49.93 and $54.48 on Saturday and $42.01 and $51.90 on Tuesday, so not quite the $200 I expected to spend. Well, not quite by less than two bucks.

The wild fluctuations we see mean that it's very, very hard to really plan for what you think you might spend on gas. Aside from hotel accommodations, if you need those, gas is going to be, maybe, your biggest expense if you choose to drive and you can't predict what it's going to be from day to day. I have to say that I don't blame the president or even the congress for gas prices. Speculation and turmoil and oil consumption outside of the US are what drive prices now. I remember a time when gas prices changed maybe once a month and people complained when it was twenty-five cents for that gallon of regular, with lead, too, I might add.

I want to go a couple of other places this summer, but it's going to be very hard to set aside the cash for gas. I guess, I take my best guess and hope prices don't exceed that.

Beverage:  Edinburgh's Finest tea


Friday, March 23, 2012

It's Paper. Duh.

I was out and about today, having taken the day off to get some things done. The driver's side seat belt was not locking. A squirt of WD-40 wasn't making it work more than off and on. Fixed. I needed a bone density scan prior to the start of the chemotherapy drug for my RA. Scheduled and done. I swung by JoAnn Fabrics and picked up the framed Christmas present dropped off earlier this month and got those two skeins of floss to start the next project this weekend. I also got a larger embroidery hoop because I don't want to have to move the hoop around much on this next project.

I brought the framed stitching home, opened it up for photography and, well, you know what happened next.

It's paper. It's on the table. Therefore, I must lie on it.

I love the finished framed product. I hope the recipient likes it too.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


The Next Project

I forced myself, and it was really hard, not to organize the next cross-stitch project until I had finished the banner. As I just have to finish the top of it once the dowel is cut, I spent time, last night organizing the thread and fabric for the next piece. It's going to be a bigger endeavor with a lot of stitching. It's mostly full stitches. Very few 1/2 or quarter stitches.

I selected a fabric color with sparkles which I think is going to make the design really pop to vision. I'm also changing a couple colors to go with the fabric. It's an oatmeal color with gold sparkles. And, as with the recent cat gift I made, I'm two colors short. It just boggles my mind that with hundreds of colors at my disposal, I can be two colors short.

So, I unroll the fabric from its tube and find another pattern.

I bet my grand nieces would love something like this for their rooms. That's a ways down the road. 

Beverage:  Gunpowder Green tea


Finishing the Banner

It's time to knuckle down and finish this banner.

Step 1:  Get the finished piece and the backing material approved by a cat.

Step 2:  Pin the front to the back. Cross-stitch fabric, with its grid, makes it easy to stay the same distance all the way around the piece.

Step 3:  Go get the sewing machine which you put away after finishing those Christmas gifts last year. Remove the cat from the piece, put the piece off to the side and set the sewing machine on the table. Marvel that the machine really is quite light and it's not a chore to lug it from room to room. Attempt to plug in the machine and finally remove glasses so you can see that you really are trying to plug the foot pedal into the power port. 

Step 4: Turn on machine and sew a 1 inch seam all the way around the sides and bottom of the piece. Stitch over the corners to reinforce. 

Step 5:  Put the sewing machine away. Then trim the sides and bottom to within 1/2 to 1/4 of an inch from the seam, whatever you're comfortable with. Don't trim the top. That will be done later.

Step 6: Trim the corners and turn the piece right side out. You may have to trim a bit more from the corner to get a decently square corner. Somewhere, I have this tool that helps make square corners but I have no idea in which box I'll find that.

Step 7:  Press the banner.

Step 8: Lay the dowel over the top of the banner and decide how much you need on which to hang it. You will want an adequate extension on both sides. I've chosen 2 inches on each side.

Step 9: Using a marking pen, mark where the dowel is to be cut.

At this point, I have to wait because Pam's husband is going to cut the dowel for me. I would have to resort to a saw and I won't get a finished edge. Don has the proper tools to make a nice smooth cut. Next week, I'll show how I finished this. For easy cat removal, I use Temptations.

Four placed in her box and she left me alone to finish this. I also had to give Mija some. Temptations. Bribery at its best.

Beverage:  Gunpowder green tea


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ready for the Year

I decided, with all this incredibly mild, warm even, weather, the geraniums I overwinter could be moved to the deck now, in spite of my misgivings that this is merely March and not the end of April when they would be more safe from the weather. I have three geraniums I overwinter, a pink, a salmon-colored ivy-leaf and a white one. At least, I think it's white. I can never remember until it blooms and then I say, "Oh yeah."

All I did was stick them where they could get sun and water them every other week, or less, depending upon when I remembered. They get a good clean out come spring, with removal of dead leaves and flowers. The pink one, which is the oldest and biggest, was the most in need of a cleaning. I also prune any dead branches. Right around mid-May, I will trim them back, cutting the height by a third to force them to branch out. I think the pink one is 5-6 years old now. My grandfather had a geranium that was 3' wide by 4' tall. It sat in his south living room window. He never moved it as the planter was too heavy. He simply pruned it back in the spring, removed dead leaves and flowers and watered it. It was the 'benign neglect' form of plant care. I forget how old he said it was.

I'm hoping I can find the cash to add to the geraniums this year. These three desperately need a repotting, but that's not going to happen until the hand problem eases. The twisting of the wrists as I do something like repotting is just too painful at the moment. I'd love to add a red and a deeper pink to the colors. I had this beautiful dark purple ivy-leaf branching geranium for a couple years, but those are quite delicate and 'benign neglect' doesn't work well with them. I'd like a few more flowers in pots this year, too, but so much will depend upon the state of finances as well as the state of hands.

I need to be out on the deck more this year, enjoying life outside and not be inside. The girls won't come out and leave the deck. In fact, they will come out for about 30 minutes and then go inside whether I do or not. Gotta love indoor cats.

I want to create a space again, as I used to, where being outside was being surrounded by color. That makes me happy. That gives me joy. I've started. Small steps to making this happen.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Happy Spring

The door decoration has been changed.

All around the house, spring has exploded, from

to daffodils

to the tulip tree next door. Spring is officially here.

My only concern is that with this riot of color so soon, the tree next door doesn't usually bloom until mid to late April, there won't be a long spring, as I know it. It will be condensed into a month. There is still time for Jack Frost to paint his magic on windows and nip these sensitive flowers. Still, as I'm looking at changing my perspective over this year, I enjoy it. The massive beauty and renewal that is spring is all around. It makes me wistful that I can't be out in the field experiencing it. That will come. That will come. It's only the end of March.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Saturday, March 17, 2012

An Argument Over the Window

The weather has been freakishly warm lately. While I'm not, technically, complaining, I am waiting for the reality check of an overnight plummet where we awaken to 28 degrees with a high temperature of 38 and wind, rain, sleet and snow. It's not spring completely yet. I remember snow over Memorial Day. Yet, I'll enjoy pleasure of serendipitous warmth.

I opened the bedroom window this morning and was nearly run over.

She doesn't come into the bedroom much, other than to 'yell' at me in the morning if the food dish is empty and I'm not moving fast enough to fill it. She plopped herself down in the sunshine and warm spring breeze coming through the window. Mija followed and got hissed at.

She stayed there for about an hour and then followed me into the office where I'm working. Ah the joys of opening the house up after the winter. Man, I need to wash windows.

Beverage:  Milk


How Did You Celebrate?

Wednesday was "Pi Day". I understand Baker's Square, which isn't around me, was giving away free slices of pie. I resorted to buying an apple pie.

Why Wednesday? Well, pi is 3.14 etc, and Wednesday was March 14th. You do the math and I'll expect you to celebrate next year. 

Beverage:  milk


Plain Would be Fine, too

It appears that I have early stage Rheumatoid Arthritis. I am waiting on a confirmation blood test but the doctor I saw on Thursday says it's 99% certain that's the problem. I realize this will elicit some, "Oh my god. I'm so sorry" responses. I, on the other hand, am happily relieved.

Happy? "How the (blank) can you be happy with a diagnosis of such a crippling disease?" I have a name now. I have a reason. I have something I can learn about, study and understand.

What this means is that there is a reason my hands, shoulders, knees and occasionally, my right hip hurt. There is a reason I've got such a loss of dexterity in my fingers in the morning. There is a reason I have only 40% of the strength in my arms. There is a reason I have a dry mouth and dry eyes and why my ankles swell in the evening. All of these are symptoms of RA. I didn't know this, but it's all tied together.

So where do I go from here? Up. Seriously. I had an array of blood work done to check all sorts of levels. I had a chest x-ray and have a bone density scan this coming Friday. I've been put on prednisone to start and will probably be taking a low dose of a chemotherapy drug which has been in use for over 50 years. My RA is in the early stages. Caught now, I can get most of my range of motion back, reduce the swelling, inflammation and pain in my joints and get on track to manage this. Life-changing diagnosis? Well, yes, but I welcome this. It's far and away better than hearing, "You're not 25 anymore and it takes time to heal." I can still do things that I love to do. Now, those things won't be painful.

I have to take the prednisone in the morning with breakfast. I don't skip breakfast anyway so this is not a change in routine. Gad it tastes awful. I would rather eat chalk. But a friend, Adrianna, suggested taking them with milk. I have to make sure I take a calcium and vitamin D supplement anyway because the chemo drug can reduce those levels. I can drink milk in the morning.

My friend, Amber, in Australia, can't get Pop Tarts at any sort of reasonable price so I bought a couple boxes to send her some. I was disappointed in the selection at the store. Not a plain tart in sight. Most of the selection was chocolate. What? Me not wanting chocolate? Actually, I don't like the chocolate Pop Tarts. They are artificial tasting and I think, "All this sugar". I had to settled for frosted tarts because they had no plain ones. I don't buy them often but they make a very easy breakfast in the morning when I'm rushed. The store manager was nearby and said he would look into keeping one plain variety on the shelf. The prednisone went down much easier today.

So, my road less traveled has taken a turn. I'm going to happily walk this path and see where it leads, Pop Tarts and ice cold milk in hand.

Beverage:  milk


Friday, March 16, 2012

Proof of Spring

From the table this morning as I ate my cereal...

Beverage:  tea


A Book Inhaled

It's been on the stack for a couple years now. Pam gave this to me as a Christmas present.

I'm not sure why I decided to pick up a book and read. The stack called out to me and I grabbed the top book which happened to be this one. I'm trying to come up with a way to describe it, for those of you who don't know Terry Pratchett and Discworld. Perhaps a good summation would be "The Golden Girls take on Opera".

You don't have to know a thing about opera to enjoy this book. You also probably don't need to know anything about Discworld to enjoy this book. Some of the books in the Discworld series are better if you've read a companion volume. This one can stand alone.

But, if you know anything about opera and about The Phantom of the Opera; the movies and the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical; this will be quite funny. There is Christine. There is the 'fat lady'. There is murder and embezzlement. There are witches. There is a ghost. There are underground caverns and secret stairwells and trapdoors and a cat. I really enjoyed trying to figure out 'who done it' and realizing, at the same time as the protagonist, that I was wrong.

I can devour Pratchett's Discworld books. They are so funny, pointed and satirical. This one is less of a topical examination as some are, and more of a humorous look sideways, at opera. I'd rank it with Moving Pictures, another Discworld book you should read. I started reading this on Monday and finished it last night. If you are looking for a smart, witty, funny, entertaining read, you can't go wrong.

Beverage: tea


A Centenary

I couldn't let the 100th birthday of Oreo cookies go by unblogged. I've expended some energy and a bit of mileage in an attempt to find a package of their birthday cake Oreos. No store around me seems to have carried them. They know "of" them, but they never got a shipment. That's too bad. I wanted to try them. So, I bought a package of these.

Meh. Shrug. They twist apart the same as the familiar black and white Oreos, but they are rather blah in taste. Even dunked in ice cold milk didn't make them stellar.

Oreos are black and white. Maybe I'll allow double stuffing, but that makes them hard to twist apart and peel the stuffing out in one strip. Oh come on. I know you do that too on occasion.

For kicks and giggles, here's the Oreo Personality Test. (Turn your sound down. The music here is very annoying.) I eat Oreos a variety of ways and it depends upon my mood. Last night, I dunked and ate. The night before, I twisted, ate the inside and then the cookie. The night before that, I twisted, ate the top cookie and then ate the bottom with the inside. I'm not sure what that says about my personality; perhaps that I'm 'twisted'.

Happy birthday, Oreos. I probably won't have another package in the house now for the rest of the year.

Beverage:  tea