Thursday, December 26, 2013


I saw this on Monday leaving work.

So close to tic tac toe in the sky.

Beverage:  Hot cocoa


Neither Rain Nor Sleet, Although Ice is a Problem

UPS and Fed Ex are taking some heat for not getting packages to where they needed to be in time for Christmas. As someone who spent the week of December 9-13 in the post office every day mailing something, I know a bit about the hazards of shipping in North America in December. When I shipped the last few boxes on the 13th, I was told that, due to the weather, deliveries were taking a day or two longer than usual. Add to that a higher than average late shipping season because people waited longer than they should have to ship things and then expected them to arrive on time, and delays are inevitable. This year, however, I've seen the post office live up to their motto, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds". (We think of it as the official motto but it's merely an inscription on the central post office in New York City. The motto is a translation of a Greek phrase found in the works of Herodotus.)

On Sunday, December 15th, I was eating my breakfast when this postal car pulled up across the street. I watched with interest as the driver rummaged in the back and pulled out a box. I was even more interested when said driver started walking up the front walk to my house to deliver that box. (Contents will be blogged about later.)

Since then, I've been the recipient of two more "off hours" deliveries. Both of those were at 7:30 in the morning during the week. I had just finished my shower and heard footfalls on the front steps. Mija charged down the hallway out of the living room, stopping by the open bathroom door (If you have cats, the bathroom door is never closed.) to look at me and then at the living room where came the sound of the storm door opening and closing. Once I got dressed, I checked and here were packages being delivered. In spite of their deficit, the post office certainly lived up to their delivery motto.

The package from Patt had this sticker affixed to it.

If you've shipped anything, this is what you get asked every time you ship. I save time by, when I ship, telling the employee, "There's nothing fragile, liquid, perishable or potentially hazardous", unless there is, in which I say, "It's fragile. I'd like it stickered as such." They know me at the post office so they kind of chuckle when I answer the question before they have a chance to ask it. But, I've never seen them put this sticker on my packages unless it was in the back where I wouldn't see.

Another item from the post office which I want to tout is their tracking capability. On Priority Mail packages, it's included in the price. On Parcel Post and First Class, it's an extra 90 cents. It is worth that 90 cents unless you don't really care about the contents of your package. I have a story from this year's shipping to illustrate the value of this 90 cents.

Before Thanksgiving, I shipped two packages to Carole in Virginia. She was on vacation at Disney World at the time, but I wanted her to have them when she returned. The packages contained her birthday and Christmas gifts. There was no difference in cost between First Class and Priority (it's based on weight), so I shipped them Priority Mail. The tracking bar code was applied and the number was printed on my receipt. They were to be in Virginia on the 21st.

Fast forward to November 27th. Carole calls me to ask when I shipped the packages because she doesn't have them. My heart sank. Filing claims with the post office is an exercise in how much paperwork can you endure. Plus, they require photos of the items in the missing boxes and how do I claim hand made scarves? The value of those would lie in the cost of the yarn, I guess, not the time it took to make the scarf. (Yes, I have had to do this once. It wasn't fun. The box turned up within a week of filing the claim.) If I could find the receipt with the tracking number, Carole said we could see when or if the boxes had been delivered. I had recently cleaned off the desk and tossed a whole bunch of paper into the recycling bin. Thankfully, I had not emptied the house bin into the bin outside. I found the receipt.

If you search for USPS tracking, up comes a page where you input the 10 number on your receipt. The page shows you the status of that package from the time it was entered into the system through its delivery at its destination. We discovered the packages had been delivered November 22nd. I gave her the tracking number and she called the local post office. The postmaster there verified what we were seeing, that the parcels had been delivered. Unfortunately, that delivery person was off on the 27th so Carole would have to stop by or call on the 29th. At that point, they would ask her where she put the boxes.

On the 29th, Carole went to her car, sitting in the driveway to run errands. There, on the front passenger seat, were the boxes. She'd left the car unlocked through her vacation and someone put the boxes there. We don't think it was the delivery woman. We think it was the person who received the boxes in error, although it wasn't either of the neighbors because they said they hadn't seen boxes for her. I had printed the address correctly on them, always a concern, so we are confused, but Carole got her gifts, even if the birthday gifts were a day late.

My point is that tracking is worth the extra money I spent on all my parcels this Christmas. I actually had fun typing in the long strings of numbers and seeing where parcels were en route. It's fascinating to see where a box goes when you ship it from Glen Ellyn, Illinois to San Antonio, Texas, all the stops, all the sorting. And that's something else I want to remind you of when you vilify the carrier to whom you gave your knick knacks for shipment this Christmas. To get from me to Carole involved 7 separate stops; Glen Ellyn to Addison to Chicago to Washington D.C. to Alexandria, VA to Warrenton to her. That the post office told me, on Tuesday, November 19th that they could get two boxes from Glen Ellyn to Warrenton by that Thursday is no small feat. If you draw a line from Dallas, Texas to Bangor, Maine, all along that line, in December, there was crappy weather. I think we should cut the shipping companies a bit of slack for being able to do what they do in spite of the bad weather. At least the post office was upfront about letting people know of delays, particularly if they were shipping to a storm affected area of the country.

The post office can get a, sometimes deservedly, bad rap for a lot of things. My experiences during this monster shipping season were uniformly positive. If you have something to ship, I strongly endorse utilixing the tracking ability. If there is a claim, it's a good indication of where the packages were on any given day. The Sunday and early morning deliveries will probably cease now. That's okay, too. Hearing footsteps on the front steps as you're stepping out of the shower is a wee bit disconcerting.

Beverage:  Dunkin' Donuts tea


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

I Wish...

I bought myself a birthday present in early December. I enjoyed Despicable Me and really wanted to see DM2 in the theatre, but never got there. All the good words I read and heard from others who saw this as well as the thoroughly silly promos done for the movie told me I would enjoy this as much as I like the original.

Truthfully, I have laughed and chortled and giggled and guffawed through this movie. I watched it again last night and turned on the director's comments. I have to watch it again because they pointed out the action going on in the background of some scenes. They gave a great deal of thought to what one could see behind the main action and, after pointing that out, there is quite a bit of hilarity behind Gru and Lucy or the girls. Computer animation being what it is now, the depth of vision in animated movies is huge. So much can be added from textures to creatures that it's going to take me awhile to see everything. I didn't know the rocket ships at the end have city names painted on them and one of those names is Hoboken, New Jersey because director Chris Renaud lived there for awhile. Now, I have to pause the movie at that point and read the rocket ship names.

When I got the movie in the mail, I had to watch everything, all the trailers for upcoming films (a Barbie film? Seriously? It's awful.) and then there was this flashed on the screen.

Whoa. Sadly, it's to advertise their iPhone, iPad and Android phone free games. I wouldn't use my phone to play games. The screen is too small. Maybe if I had an iPhone but this is not a reason to get one.

Then, there came an advertisement for the "ultimate" in minion experience. Universal Studios has teamed up with the creators of Despicable Me to create a 3D ride opening, according to the DvD, in spring of 2014. But, if you go to the ride at Universal Studios Florida, it sort of seems as if it's open now.

Oh dear me. I've never been to Universal Studios in Florida. I've been to Walt Disney World several times, but there was never enough time to take in both. Looking at the map of Universal, it's probably a 3 day adventure for me as I wouldn't be able to handle all the walking and standing in a couple days. Some things, as with Disney World, I'm not that interested in, but Minion Mayhem? Wow.

This is a long-term goal. The first year we went to Disney World, we made a chart, one of those thermometer-type charts, that showed how we were saving for the experience. I could do the same thing. A visual graphic makes the event seem much more real when the saving has to be done over a long period of time. I'd get an all-inclusive package with airfare. I have a friend in Orlando, but I would never presuppose to have her put me up. That's way too cheeky, so I'd look into hotels too.

I did a very good job of figuring out costs to go to Virginia last year. I could do this. It's at least a year out because there are other things that have to be fixed before I can look at dedicating funds toward a trip like're going soon. Can I go in your luggage?

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


Into the 21st Century

I admit it. Technological updates can have me baffled. "But it worked so well. Why do we have to change?" is something I know I've said to myself on occasion. Such is the case with lighting.

Did you know that 40 and 60 watt incandescent lightbulbs will no longer be made come January 1st? In fact, there haven't been any made since September and stores will be selling their remaining inventories without restocking them. 100 and 75-watt bulbs were phased out last year.

I knew this was coming but the last time I looked, compact fluorescent bulbs were $12.00 each. When you are on a tight budget, you'll go get a package of 4 60-watt bulbs for $3.50 before you'll pay that for one bulb. Never mind that the fluorescent will last 9 years, that's a lot of upfront money.

And then the light in the bathroom went out.

Knowing that the incandescent bulbs were to be phased out, I went to Ace Hardware to see about finally, finally taking the plunge into CFLs (compact fluorescent light). I set aside $20 for light bulbs, relying on a very long ago memory of buying one bulb for the light in the hallway. This light gets used, a lot, and we were replacing it sometimes twice a year. A standard lightbulb just wasn't doing the job so we invested in a compact fluorescent back when the idea was first proposed, that they could save a homeowner money because they lasted for years. Honestly, I don't remember when this bulb was replaced, it's been that long. The design of CFLs has improved substantially over this. They are much more compact. This bulb has been going strong for a very, very long time. The $12-15 we spent on it has been recouped a couple times over.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered a 5 pack of CFLs was $1.99, on sale to promote changing to these from incandescent. I read everything on the package. This will replace the 60-watt bulbs which were in the bathroom fixture. The quality of light won't change, just the amount of electricity used. I was concerned about heat generated since the bathroom lights are horizontal and not vertical as in the hall light. The salesman said they generate the same amount of heat as an incandescent bulb. Yes, the older ones were warmer, but technology has improved and these are much cooler. Plus, these are guaranteed for 9 years, 9 years, with average use. I would say my usage is average. That means I don't have to replace these light bulbs in the bathroom until 2022. Given the difficulty of removing the fixture to access the bulbs, I'll take that.

So, I have entered the 21st century. I looked about the basement when I was down there today to do laundry. Every socket has an incandescent in it. As they burn out, you can bet I will be replacing them with CFLs. Let there be light!

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


A Target

Yes, I was one of those people who shopped at Target from November 29th through December 15th. Yes, I used my debit card to pay for my purchases. Fortunately, it does not appear that my account has been compromised. All those charges are mine. And, unlike others, Chase's decision to trim ATM withdrawals and point of sale purchases to $100 and $300, respectively (since changed), didn't affect me. I rarely use an ATM for monetary withdrawals and any purchase over $200 has been thoroughly researched by me before I hand over my plastic.

This event has me thinking about how we use these plastic cards to which we assign our wealth. For a long time, I didn't have a working amount of credit or a debit card. I did everything with cash or checks. Now, if I have a couple of dollars in my wallet, I wonder what I forgot to pay. So thoroughly have I integrated the idea of handing over my debit card to buy something that if a merchant doesn't take debit cards, I take my business elsewhere. That's a far cry from just a few years ago.

There's been a huge hew and cry, rightfully, about the security in place to prevent hackers from obtaining our credit information. As I write this, there's a debate about whether the hackers obtained PIN numbers for cards stolen. Target says, "No", while others are saying, "Yes". I know I'm slated to get a new debit card from Chase to replace the one which I just replaced, you'll remember, in early fall, due to a random hacking. Again, I don't appear to have lost any money nor had any fraudulent charges on my card. I used my debit card late in the affected time period so perhaps they just didn't get to my number. Forty million is a lot to sift through. I was told, when I was hacked before, that once you are hacked, your new number is flagged for an unspecified period figuring, they had my number once, they could try again. (That's an unsettling thought, that, by virtue of the luck of an autodialer, I could be targeted more specifically.)

I've read several articles about European credit and debit cards, how they differ from ours. Their information is coded on a digital chip, while we have a magnetic strip. To use what's called the "chip and PIN" card, you must input your PIN number when you swipe your card, always, for every purchase. It's much more time consuming to create a chip instead of a strip and, over here, banks issuing cards want the merchants to pay for the chips while the merchants think the banks issuing the cards should pay for the chip. How many times have you tried to use a card with a strip only to have it not work? I was told at the grocery to just wipe the strip on my pants and then try to swipe it again. That pants swipe usually does the trick. That doesn't seem like a very good security system, when I can get my card to work by wiping it on my jeans.

I realize the change from strips to chips would also involve point of sale changes, but, in Europe, they can usually handle not only a chip but also our antiquated strip system on the same machine, although many places are refusing to process our strip cards. We're arguing about who should pay for increased security while our data becomes increasingly vulnerable. We're targets here primarily because it's so easy to swipe our data off a magnetic strip.

Part of the blame for this is us. I realized just how much I rely on that rectangle of plastic. It goes everywhere with me. I use it for everything from Dunkin in the morning to Dominos at night. Gas, groceries, hair cuts, Jeep repairs, parking, clothing, cat food, you name it. It's all been put on the card. It is predicted that, within the next 5 years, paper checks will go the way of the dodo bird. Everything will be on a card that gets swiped. Heck Google has an application called Google Wallet which they hope will revolutionize how you tote around your money and how you pay for things.

I don't want to come off as a Luddite here, but I think we really need to look at how we utilize technology to spend. Speaking only for myself, if I look at my spending habits, what I usually spend money on; whip out the card for; I could estimate how much in a given month I spend on Dunkin' and keep that amount of cash on hand. It's harder when you head into the grocery, but my cell phone has a calculator feature and I could be tapping prices into the phone as I shop. "Okay, I've reached my limit of $70 today. Time to go home." Paying by check is a time consuming process at the point of sale, but I never had a check stolen in the decades of using my checkbook.

We are such creatures of habit. Convenience sometimes seems to take precedent over other things. With the new year just a week away, I'm considering reverting to cash for goods and services, leaving the debit card in my wallet and using it only for gas and emergencies or payment with vendors I trust implicitly. It gets problematic when buying on the Internet but there are ways to be more secure when doing that or just not shopping there. As I get my paycheck directly deposited, reverting to cash for goods means a trip to the bank to cash a check for physical money. I currently can go months without setting foot in the bank. Maybe that's something I need to change. Maybe I need to be as well known in my bank branch as I am at Dunkin and Panera.

I think it's something to consider. I also think we, as consumers, need to agitate for the kinds of credit and debit cards the Europeans have. It's not enough to have sophisticated fraud detection services in place when the easiest way to get my information resides in my wallet on the back of a 5 cent piece of plastic.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Lights

I didn't put up lights or anything other than the door wreath this year. I just didn't feel any sort of holiday spirit. I think I know the reason, but I decided, rather than feel a sense of obligation, I would just roll with it. Christmas is about happiness and I knew I couldn't be happy if I felt an obligation to hauling a tree or even a part of a tree, up from the basement and decorating it when I really didn't want to. It's not the first year I've not decorated for Christmas. The first Christmas I was alone I didn't put up anything and just piled the gifts on the floor. You know, I'm okay with that. The season isn't about how tall the pile is, but the meaning expressed in this song from "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street".

When Christmas time is over and presents put away, 
Don't be sad. 
There'll be so much to treasure about this Christmas Day
And the fun we've had. 
So many happy feelings to celebrate with you. 
And, oh, the good times hurry by so fast. 
But even when it's over
There's something you can do to make Christmas last. 

Keep Christmas with you 
All through the year. 
When Christmas is over,
You can keep it near. 
Think of this Christmas Day
When Christmas is far away.

Keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.

Christmas means the spirit of giving
Peace and joy to you. 

The goodness of loving,
The gladness of living, 
These are Christmas, too. 

So, keep Christmas with you
All through the year,
When Christmas is over,
Save some Christmas cheer.
These precious moments,
Hold them very dear
And keep Christmas with you
All through the year.

You can watch a short video of the song here.  

Beverage:  Water


Stickers and Friends

I have to admit to feeling very low after the whole "sticker-gate" of the early month. It bothered me, but perhaps these people had a point. Maybe most folks didn't want a sticker festooned envelope in their mailbox. Maybe most folks were embarrassed by that or by the thought that their mail person considered the sender more than a little weird. So, I just stopped. I set all the stickers aside and unless someone said they wanted stickers, I didn't put any on anything, no envelopes, no packages, no boxes. It felt weird taking all of this unadorned mail to the post office, but, as much as I felt sad, I knew I would get over it. Then the comments started coming.

I am exceedingly grateful for the positive comments on the post. Positioning stickers on envelopes and parcels has become part of who I am and I'm grateful that many of you recognized it. I'm nothing if not adaptable but I'm feeling much better about this with all the kind words about not having to adapt.

My friend, Meredith drove this point home by sending me a late birthday present. Arriving within 3 days of the column, was a small padded envelope covered in stickers.

It made me laugh. I had just opened Amber's "create a garden gnome" gift so I instantly thought, "Oh boy! She sent Smurf seeds!" I opened the package and here are the contents.

Stickers. Lots and lots of glorious stickers! Oh and a Dunkin' Donuts gift certificate which I have used 3 times already. Their holiday star donut is really good. It's gooey and vanilla creme filled and covered with star sprinkles on green icing. The red velvet donut is just 'meh'. It seems like red velvet is the Christmas equivalent of October's pumpkin flavor. I'll pass on the red velvet candies. It's almost time for the chocolate cherry M&Ms that are out for Valentine's Day. Must stock up on those.

Anyway, I digress. So Meredith is tangibly encouraging me to set aside the comments of a few detractors and cover my cards and letters with stickers, just as I have always done. I looked through the sheets of stickers I've accumulated and it felt so wrong to just chuck them into the recycling bin. A comment from Nancy reminded me that I have earned the right to have some eccentricities in life and if the stickers gummed up the postal sorting machine, I'd have heard about it a long time ago. My friend Pam, reminded me that those telling me it was unbecoming really don't know me very well. So many of you felt a sadness when the Christmas card or box arrived and there was nary a sticker in sight. "I didn't know it was from you until I opened it."

So, the stickers will be back with the Christmas 'thank yous'. I giggled. I laughed. I had great, great fun looking through all the pages of all these books of stickers Meredith sent. It sounds extremely egotistical to say, "This is what I enjoy. It doesn't affect your life. Deal with it. You can always just chuck my envelope into the trash." That sounds kind of harsh.

For the record, one of the detractors was freed of ever having contact with me again. The other two, well, I just don't know. I'm thinking, gradually, our exchanges will become few and far between and the friendships will have run their course. It happens. I'm going to resume this little thing that gives me so much joy. Isn't that what life is about, really? Finding joy in small things, like stickers on envelopes.

Beverage:  Water


Thursday, December 19, 2013

It Came From a Land Down Under

I got a box a week ago, a big box.

It sat on the floor without me examining the contents beyond looking to see if anything was broken, for about a week while I worked on getting things wrapped and shipped. I finally opened it over the weekend. The girls had inspected the exterior thoroughly, but when Mija fell into the box trying to get one of the closed flaps open, they left it alone.

I wish I could have gotten a photo of a cat with packing peanuts attached to her fur. Oh the indignity.

The box came from Australia where my friend, Amber, lives. It was packed with all sorts of goodies. First of all, we have these.

When we talk about food, she often mentions Tim Tams. My remark is an erudite, "Huh?" She wondered if they would melt since they are two wafer cookies with a chocolate moussey center covered in chocolate. Oh dear me. It's a good thing we don't have these here. Seriously. Very seriously. I preferred the one on the right, the all chocolate version. The mint in the one on the left was a bit strong for me. I took them to work and my co-workers liked them. They said they wouldn't eat them all the time, but they fit the spirit of Christmas. I would snarf, inhale, the ones on the right without a second thought, they were so good.

After that came a birthday present.

I have not opened this, yet. Here's the back of the box.

I have never seen anything like this anywhere and I like to think I'm up on the off-beat, weird, more than a little askew gifts. This makes me giddy with excitement. Creating my own garden gnome? How awesome can this be? After Christmas, when things are  more quiet, this gets my full attention. Arise my gnome army! Time to take over the world!

There was also a Christmas present down in the bottom of the box.

For sure that string wrap got played with. I have other gifts piled on top of this box now so Mija, in particular, can't attack the bauble any more than she's done.

Thanks to the Internet and World of Warcraft, I have a dear friend in Australia. The world might be more homogenized than we'd like to admit, but there are very easy ways to send a piece of you and a piece of where you come from to someone half-way around this globe. I hold these gifts and I think of Amber standing in a store in Australia. Australia! Now, here they are in my living room in North America. I tell myself that some day we will meet. I hope that's true. For now, I am very content to hold these gifts and know that she picked them out for me. To me, it feels like a part of her was in that box along with packing peanuts that stuck to Mija.

Beverage:  Darjeeling Tea


Tuesday, December 17, 2013


I've been remiss in blogging, but my Flickr photo feed is full of photos. And that's your tongue twister for this month. I've been focused simply on getting all those boxes and bags and parcels and packages out the door and into the hands of the recipients that nothing else really mattered. The last package went out yesterday so I can now look at the photos and do a little blogging. Where to start?

Last Saturday was the office Christmas dinner. We pick a place and have a nice sit-down dinner. We bring our spouses and kids and we discuss all sorts of things. Yes, work creeps into the conversations. How can it not, since that's why we know each other? But we talk likes and dislikes and plans for the new year and memories and it's a great time.

This year we went to a place called Fogo de Chao. It's a Brazilian steak house.

The interesting thing, for me, is that it's located in the building adjacent to the Big 10 Conference headquarters. If you look at the far right, that is an Iowa Hawkeye logo there.

Never been to a Brazilian steak house and have no idea what it is? Here is what they specialize in.

Essentially, it's meat on skewers. They have pork, chicken, lots of different cuts of steak and sausage all on skewers. At the bottom of the above photo, there is a small spot of green. It's a disc, green on one side, red on the other. When you want meat, you turn your disc green. Guys roam the dining room with this meat and come by the table asking if you want some. They also have a salad bar, but the main focus of a place like this is the meat.

I'm not a big steak eater. They did have a chicken breast wrapped in bacon, sausages and a parmesan crusted pork medallion that were very good. This isn't the best photo of the pork but take my word for it, it was very good.

Every meat piece was spiced and cooked just right. The guys just loaded up on the meat, forget the salad bar, while we ladies investigated that. It was a "salad" bar. Individual ingredients were few. The bar contained a large variety of salads but no fruit. The last time we went to a Brazilian steak house, back in 2007, I could have spent my time eating off the salad bar. Anything and everything was on it from soup to fruit to nuts. This bar, while medium-sized, was not stocked as I would have liked. They do have a option to eat your meal off the salad bar and not take any meat.

Since I no longer drink alcohol, I'm left with tea, water and soda for beverages. The server recommended this.

It's a Brazilian soda. It's kind of a cherry ginger ale, but not as fizzy or as sweet. It was served ice cold and it was really good. I'd buy this if I saw it in the store. It's got the tan color of ginger ale, which doesn't show up in the photo. I was quite pleased.

The best part of the meal was dessert. Half of the group got the turtle cheesecake.

A small layer of chocolate under a tall layer of very creamy vanilla cream cheese, topped with caramel and chopped walnuts. Tara asked for a strawberry on hers. It was tempting but I opted for the chocolate mousse cake.

Oh heavens was this good. Chocolate cake is sandwiches between milk and white chocolate mousse. The whole cake is topped with a semisweet chocolate ganache and drizzled with white chocolate. What we thought was a nice touch are the hearts on both our plates. I had a strawberry on the left side of my cake. It was a bit mushy and really is unnecessary to the presentation or the dessert. This was outstanding.

We had a great time. My biggest criticisms of the place are its location and the lack of fruit on the salad bar. Finding your way to this place is an exercise in frustration, particularly at night, in a light snowfall. It's nestled at the back corner of a very busy retail area which has frustrating signage on where to go to park. Fortunately, parking was free when my ticket was validated, but I think the design of the whole area is not friendly to finding your way around. It's close to O'Hare airport and there are lots and lots of hotels around so there is a ready market for something like this.

If you have a big appetite and like meat, this is a place to go. The other Brazilian steak house was much darker inside than this was and the noise level here was not as loud. That was rather nice. It had filled up as we were leaving and you could still talk at normal levels without having to yell and you didn't hear the conversations at adjacent tables. I wonder if it's open at lunch and, if so, what its offerings would be then.  It's not a place I would frequent, but it was fun to go there.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Is That a Bit of Green?

For some reason, Mija was all over the organ in the living room on Sunday afternoon. Something had attracted her attention. After nudging stuff and my having to catch some breakables, I finally had to physically remove her and say, harshly, "NO!" Then she left the top of the organ alone and hasn't gone back. I still don't see what was so attractive because I haven't changed anything up there.

This is very evident by the layer of dust that lies on the organ top. Oh dear. You could write your name in it. I need to clean that off but I can't find the dust rag. This is not a problem. I simply go into the basement and grab a new piece of something from the rag box.

So, I'm dusting and I'm thinking I should put the amaryllis I got for Christmas last year from Bill, in the basement. I don't know if the thing needs to be in a chilly environment to reflower, but it's been sitting, in the gorgeous box that came with it, in the same place since February. The stalk has long shriveled and I pinched everything back, but I never got around to moving it to the basement. I'd water it but that's about all. I really like the ceramic box it's in. In my mind's eye, it's the perfect box for a candle or other Christmas decoration. I just haven't gotten that far.

I pick up the container and decide it really should be moved to the basement and I see this.

Is that a bit of green? Is that the beginnings of a leaf? I quickly soaked the bulb in water. I don't know if I should feed it. I can't imagine the bulb is going to flower again. The sad reality of these is that they are designed to be one year flowers; bloom and then add to the compost pile. I never got that far.

I guess we'll see what happens. I put it back in the container and put the container back on the top of the organ. I loved the colors of this amaryllis and would be thrilled if it bloomed again.

I'll also be happy with green leaves. They will be welcome in winter.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


A Visit From A Friend, Sort Of

I was cleaning up the kitchen on Sunday and found this little guy.

This is the Chinese lady bug. They were imported some years ago to supplement the American lady bugs we have because we didn't have enough to eat aphids and other nasty pests on our crops. Lacking natural predators in the US, the Chinese lady bug populations have exploded, while American lady bugs have remained fairly stable. I couldn't find any articles online detailing whether the influx of Chinese lady bugs has helped with the aphid problem.

These little guys have more black spots and a more orange back. They are also better acclimatized to colder weather so you'll see them active long after American lady bugs have gone into crevasses to overwinter. This version also bites. That gives lady bugs, in general, a bad name. The red ones, the American lady bug, does not bite. It's kind of fun to have one crawling across your hand in the summer.

Because of the benefits of having lady bugs in your garden, they are believed to be lucky and to kill one is akin to breaking a mirror. If you hold one and make a wish, whichever direction it flies indicates which direction your wish will come from. Finding a lady bug inside during the winter, when the bugs are supposed to be hibernating, was considered a 'good omen'. Nowadays, we know that just means the inside of your house is toasty warm and the insect thinks it's spring. Still, a 'good omen' is something we can all use.

Rather than kill the bug, I deposited it on the geranium in the front window. There probably aren't aphids on the plant, but perhaps it will overwinter. I figure it can't hurt. 

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea



A year ago, at this time, we were wondering if Old Man Winter had neglected us. While we have not seen the large amounts of snow in other locations, we have had measurable snows which require shoveling. It began on Friday night and continued into Saturday.

The deck's not so bad. I can, more or less, shove the snow through the slats to the ground. It's not been a good snowball snow. It's much more light and fluffy. That makes it much easier for me to move around.

I shoveled off the deck and then shoveled a path to the Jeep. This way, I don't have to always wear boots to and from the car. When this was done, it was time to tackle the front.

I heard a neighbor rev up his snow blower and had the thought that it would be really nice if he would blow out the front walk for me. If I have to shovel, I probably wouldn't get it all done on Saturday. To my surprise, he had. So that meant the only shoveling for me was the walk from the house to the front and the front steps. That I can do.

It's hard to judge how I did this year. I know I didn't shovel as much snow since my RA diagnosis as I did on Saturday. I have shoveled, to be sure, but it's been about a couple of inches. This was more like 4-5. It was not painful but I did rest for an hour after finishing. I didn't see any residual aches or pains from doing this. This makes me really happy for the rest of the winter. As long as we don't get a huge dumping of heavy, wet snow, I can shovel and not worry that I will suffer the next day. It's also probably good exercise as long as I remember to bend my knees and work slowly.

I do think it's probably time to put this pot away.

I don't see any flowers anymore.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Dear Com Ed,

I really don't need to know why the power went out on a Saturday night that was clear as a bell with temperatures dropping into the negative number. I don't really want to pay for a "smart grid" that does nothing for me other than tell you there is a power outage in my neighborhood. I can do that by calling your hot line. As much as you try to sell this, it's not working.


Because "smart grid" doesn't keep the power on. It's solely designed for you to spot power outages. What I need, what we all need, is an upgrade to our electrical infrastructure so the power doesn't go out on Saturday, December 7th at 8:30 p.m. Since covering all the windows, I've discovered that 69 is the new 72 and the three of us are happy and warm, but that warmth evaporates when it's not replaced. It was 66 when the power came on an hour later. I probably need to look at my attic insulation and add more.

Still, on a night with no wind and a half moon emulating the lines from "A Visit From St. Nick", there shouldn't have been a power outage at all. Spare me the reasons. Spare me the rhetoric about a new technology that will find outages faster. Fix the delivery system so it doesn't break in the first place.

On the bright side, making glitter covered stars by flash and candle light is rather fun.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


I Like This

I think I made mention of this last year in a blog post about wrapping gifts. In the early 1990's, some organizational guru printed a list of tips for making the holidays less stressful. One of the tips he had, which I have adopted, is using one roll of wrapping paper to wrap all your gifts. Since adopting this, I can't imagine having a box of different wrappings spread out all over the livingroom with me in the middle trying to decide if my sister would like reindeer or snowflakes. Of course, that means the wrapping paper industry, if such exists, is not making any money off me.

This idea works on a number of different levels.
  • #1 - Declutter. I don't have 6 or more rolls taking up space. If flat wrap was as economical as tube wrap, I'd only buy flat wrap because I have the perfect size box to store it and the perfect size space to store the box. 
  • #2 - Recycling has come a long way from the days of stuffing paper in garbage bags and hauling it out to the curb the next collection day after Christmas. We used to save our paper anyway, particularly off the larger gifts. You just cut off the tape residue and reused the piece. When I was growing up, we burned all the wrapping paper in the burn barrel. That's not an option for someone in a condo, so it's very good that it can all be recycled. The only stuff I don't recycle is the stuff that gets food or beverages on it. In the crush of unwrapping, that's more common than you might expect. 
  • #3 - In the stack of packages under the tree, everyone knows the packages with the ornament wrapping paper are from me.
I buy paper about once every 3-4 years, yes, years. When I buy it, I look for designs I won't be against using for years, yes, years, to wrap gifts. If you get something from me this year, unless I'm at the end of a roll, you'll get the same paper next year.

I used to buy paper from the grade school kids who would sell it door-to-door in the middle of October. They don't seem to do that anymore, which is sad, because that was good, sturdy paper. In its stead, I have found Current, Inc. has the best value in wrapping paper. The rolls are large and the paper is sturdy. That comes in handy when you unroll a hunk and a cat wants to "help", plopping themselves down in the middle of your large swath. Some of the cheap papers are cheap and claws easily poke holes in cheap paper. It also tears around the edges of books or boxes of Munchkin card games or packages of chocolate covered cherries. Plus, I like bright and interesting and colorful paper. Cheap paper just looks cheap and there's less of it on a roll so you need more rolls. That's not cost effective.

I could tell, as I wrapped and wrapped and wrapped these scarves I made, that I would need more paper. There was no time to order a couple of rolls so I dashed over to my close Hallmark store. I needed cards for the office anyway so it wasn't a trip solely for wrapping paper. The selection wasn't as exciting as I remember in years past but I found a roll and discovered if I bought one roll, I got the second for a dollar. That is cost effective. I do like Hallmark rolled wrapping paper. On the back is printed a 1 inch by 1 inch grid which makes cutting the paper for wrapping so easy. You don't find yourself with a diagonal line because the help decided to lie down in the line of the scissors.

My selection made, I deposited my purchases on the counter. One gal rang them up while the other created this nifty wrapping paper holder.

It's a bit mangled because I pulled it open and then thought, "Oooh! Blog post!" It's a strip of heavy paper with a band of adhesive on the end. It wraps around the paper and the adhesive is affixed to the backside at just the right spot to hold the tubes steady. The handle is then popped up for easy carrying. No more juggling long paper tubes in a bag and, inevitably ripping the bag. It was easy to bring the tubes into the house, too. Since it's made of heavy paper, into the recycling bin it went.

Now that the shiny ornament paper is used up, I have gone to the plaid. Most people got ornaments this year. It's the tail end of the gifts who are getting plaid. I'm thinking I may order a couple more tubes from Current after Christmas. While I have enough for 2014, I rather like the idea of not needing wrapping paper for a couple or 3 years unless I need to wrap that car I buy for my daughter when I win the lottery.

Like that's going to happen. Hand me the scissors please, and do we have enough tape?

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


The Shipping Monster

This was the scene in the livingroom on Saturday.

Boxes and packing materials and the scarves and the other assorted items all stacked in the recliner in preparation for shipping.

I start collecting boxes about November. We get a number of pieces of equipment in various sizes of boxes all year long, but I start rooting through the stack right before Thanksgiving. I sort of have a good idea of what I need, but invariably don't have exactly the right size on hand or I lack enough packaging materials. It's never about the wrapping paper, however. That I always have.

The wrapping and packing started on Saturday. There are Christmas letters to write to go in cards inserted in a box. I just started at the top of the pile and worked down. That meant I'd wrap something for one member of a family but the rest for that family was buried, so their box with all the parcels would be set aside until the next items were liberated from the pile. I have not had as much "help" as in years past, a fact I am rather grateful for. They sort of look at me askance and get out of the way. I thought I had more name tags. I should have just enough. That will be something to look at getting on the days after Christmas.

By Sunday evening, I had filled two shopping bags with parcels.

I wasn't done and, as I type this, I'm still not done. But what is left will be finished tonight. I discovered the scarves easily fit into a manilla envelope which made them easy and cheap to mail. "Anything fragile, liquid, perishable or hazardous to the delivery man?" Is it wrong that I've mailed so much stuff, I immediately tell the clerk there isn't anything in the packages of that nature before she even gets the start of the sentence out of her mouth?

It's a labor intensive process to wrap the scarves, address the envelope and the card, stuff the parcel into a envelope or, if it's to a family or more than one present is headed to the same address, find the right size box. Fortunately, I've received a few items in appropriate sized boxes so those are getting refilled and sent back out. It just seems to be taking far longer this year than it has in the past. Maybe next year, you all get coal.

There are no Christmas decorations up in the house as I have been solely focused on getting this stuff out the door. On the bright side, a couple of the clerks at the post office know me by sight now.

So, next year, when I get this urge to make a mass of people something, please remind me that I have to wrap and ship it.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea



'Tis the season of lights. We string them up, around and about. We ooh and ahh over a well designed display. We drive miles out of our way to look at a collection and they frame this holiday. NBC Nightly News has asked the people on the space station to see if they can spot and photograph from space the home in Australia with the Guinness Book of World Records most Christmas lights.

Lately, in my neighborhood, we've had lights of a different sort.

These are not the lights you want to see in your neighborhood and certainly not at 1 a.m., when the photo was taken. It was a rainy, foggy Friday night and I had just fallen asleep when I was jarred awake by the 'whoop whoop' of the emergency siren. I don't know what was the problem. The neighbors in that direction are unknown to me. I was drawn by the reflection of the lights off the homes and the wet pavement and how the building fog diffused the red flashers.

I like observing lights on a foggy night. There's something intriguing about how light is bent and blurred by the water droplets of fog. I know it's all very scientific, how that works, but what I like is the visual. Flashing lights, a misty night and the enveloping fog made for a mesmerizing scene. 

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Might Be Enough

Saturday was errand day. Just when I tell myself, "I am done" with this holiday, things rare up and I'm not done, not close to done, not even. In my travels, I saw this item.

That is a one pound Snickers bar. It was on sale for $10. I could make that last a long time.

Slice? Sure. Share? I think not.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Thursday, December 5, 2013


I don't know when it started, my putting stickers on envelopes. I remember a friend who has a teenage daughter telling me that her daughter, when she was much younger, loved to find letters from me in their mail box. She would spend hours carefully peeling the stickers off the envelope or cutting around them and gluing them into a sticker album. Over the years, friends have said they always knew when I wrote or sent a card just by looking at the envelope.

But, today, I had three people, people who do not know each other, tell me affixing stickers to envelopes is "childish", "dumb" and "stupid". One went so far as to say I shouldn't send them anything anymore if I was going to put stickers on it, because they were embarrassed by what their mailman thought when he stuck the envelope in their mailbox.

It was just something fun to do, something to let someone know it was a card or a letter from me. So much of what arrives in the mail is junk or worse. I thought, perhaps, in a very small way, I was providing a bit of cheer. It seems I grossly over estimated cheer or what passes as cheer. I never intended to embarrass someone under any circumstances.

So, I'll be discontinuing this practice immediately. Some of you have festooned envelopes with Christmas cards winging their way to you as we speak. I dumped a bunch in the mailbox after work. I'm sorry if you've never liked this and just didn't know how to tell me to knock it off and a Christmas card arrives in a couple days with hearts and flowers or Smurfs or glitter bugs on it. I can assure you, it won't happen again.

Why should I care what people think about their cards? Hasn't it given me a lot of happiness over the years to slap stars or holiday stickers on envelopes? I have enjoyed it. If I hadn't, I wouldn't have continued it all these many years. But three people, independent of each other; people who don't know each other and who are united only by being my friend have said they find sticker festooned envelopes stupid and childish and it makes me look bad. One admonished, "For a woman your age, to be covering an envelope with stickers is extremely tacky. You're better than this." I assume that for the three who spoke up, there are more who never felt they could. You don't have to now. I will not send more cards with stickers on them.

My friend, Meredith, has been a huge source of stickers over the past 2 years that I've had the wonderful pleasure of counting her a friend. These didn't cost me anything. If there is the thought that this cost me a lot of money, it hasn't. I also never bought stickers when they weren't on sale. That has always been a rule.

Again I apologize if you were embarrassed by or for me. The practice has ended and won't be resumed. Thank you for being honest.

Beverage:  Berry flavored seltzer


We Have a Crisis

I am all out of instant cocoa.

Carole gave me this for my birthday probably a couple years ago. You mix it into milk, as opposed to water. This yields a richer hot cocoa but it can be so easy to scald the milk which gives a slightly burnt taste to the cocoa. I finally, after more than a few errors, figured out that 2 minutes in my microwave produced a milk of sufficient warmth that it brought out the chocolate flavor just perfectly. I seem to be on the low end of the recommended Vitamin D charts anyway so why not make hot cocoa to get my D levels up? Like I need a reason to drink hot cocoa.

I finished the container off last week. It was a sad day to toss it into the recycling bin. I looked at Mariano's on Saturday, but their selection of instant hot cocoa is very, very sad. I know I can make it the long way; warm milk and melted cocoa with a smidgeon of sugar, but that takes too long when you want cocoa NOW.

I'll keep my eyes open in my travels. There is something out there I haven't discovered yet.

Beverage:  Not hot cocoa



Done. They are all done. All but 2 are shown here. I'm thrilled with how these turned out. I'm particularly drawn to the variegated yarn scarves, but the stripes are quite distinctive.

I crocheted 26 different scarves over the course of the year. Two scarves have been sent to their recipients. Now I need to wrap, box and ship the rest. Thankfully, these are rather light in weight.

What to do for next year? It's not too early to plan, you know.

Beverage:  Water


So You Really Don't Have To

We've had a couple of "Ewww, gross!" moments in the household this past weekend. As always with these things, this is my opinion of the product. Your mileage may vary. Any rebroadcast, reproduction, or other use of the pictures and accounts of this game without the express written consent of Major League Baseball is prohibited. Do not use in the shower. Void where prohibited. Some assembly required. Use AA batteries only. You know, all the disclaimer stuff. I'm the gal who loved Mandarin Chocolate Surprise, an orange flavored dark chocolate ice cream that Baskin Robbins had back in the early 1980's. I remember going to get a double scoop of it and having the clerk say, "Does this flavor really make you glow in the dark?" My tastes border on slightly weird.

Anyway, our first "ewwww" is that wanna be Dr Pepper. Mr. Pibb is probably the ONLY soda of this ilk that comes close to my beloved Dr Pepper. I've had Dr. Thunder, WalMarts horrible attempt. Dr. Storm is beyond bad, beyond terrible, beyond horribad. I really don't have any words for how bad this is. At 88 cents for a 2 liter, compared to $1.89 for a 2 liter of Dr Pepper, it's hugely tempting to shave a lot off your grocery bill and buy this. Don't. Just don't. I think I consumed about an eighth of a cup and I just couldn't drink any more. I wound up pouring this down the drain. Now, I'm craving Dr Pepper. I shouldn't have bought the Dr. Storm in the first place but I wanted soda. I should have told the "I want" in my head that seltzer was just fine. Seltzer is just fine, but I'm down to my last 2 cans of that.

These made the "ewww" list. Now, the girls love Temptations cat treats. These were in a box of stuff I won. (Memo to self: the box this came in needs to be recycled. It's in the way.) I got a drinking fountain, a bag of cat food, 6 cans of cat food and these treats. I thought, for a holiday treat, I'd open this up and see how the girls liked them.

They were very excited when I ripped open the top of the package. They know treat bags by sight. I gave each of them 5 pieces. Mija sniffed hers and then looked at me as if to say, "This is all you got? No. No. I know the treats come in this bag. You're fooling me." She refused to eat them.

Pilchard sniffed them and actually tried them, but she didn't eat all that I gave her. In fact, she ate half of the 6 I gave her and then sat down with the rest at her feet. She just looked at me. It was "the look", the "I am disgusted" look.

I know you're supposed to mix old with new when you're changing over to new food. But, with treats, it shouldn't really matter. Treats are treats. They get a couple before I head to work and a couple when I get home from work. Beyond that, they don't get any more. They have to like them out of the bag immediately, or it's not worth it. I tried again later in the day but got even less of a response to them. I sprinkled them about the deck where the raccoons could have them overnight. As they were gone in the morning, I'm assuming there were a hit with the wildlife.

So, we've had a couple of big no's in the house. I need to find some "Yes's".

Beverage:  Water


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It Works!

Thanksgiving weekend was the perfect time to finally set up the printer I bought back in October. To say my name could be synonymous with "procrastination" could be something of an understatement.

There was the big Iowa Nebraska football game on TV on Friday. I decided that was the perfect day to haul the printer out and get it set up. Step one was making room for it on the computer desk. When that was done and all the bits of tape which held doors, etc, closed, I installed the ink.

It's fairly compact in size and prints in color. It's also a fax, which I won't ever use, and a scanner, which I anticipate using quite a bit, or, I have ideas that I'll use it a lot. It will also photocopy things which is good because prior to this, I had to remember to take items to the office to do that.

It was very simple to set up the physical part of the printer. When it came to getting it to actually print, well, that was something else. I had to call on a guild member, Chris, to explain what some of the commands I was seeing were. With his help, I am hooked up wirelessly to the printer and it actually works. I am thrilled.

So now, I have this box in the living room.

When I brought the box home, Pilchard jumped up on it as it was quite tall and cats like to be up above things, particularly the floor. Now that it's empty, I'm thinking, come January, I'll make several pads to go on the inside. I have a lot of fabric which would lend itself to being turned into sleeping pads. If I use quilt batting, I can toss the whole thing in the wash. Put blanket edging around it and it will be soft and comfortable.

She really like this, mainly because it's her size, not too big and not too small. To further protect the inside, I could cover the "floor" with contact paper so when the inevitable hairball arrives, clean up will be a breeze and the box's integrity won't be compromised. I also think I'll look through the toys and hang some from the "ceiling". Best of all, I can replace several of the current boxes with this one big box.

I'm happy with a printer that works. The girls are happy with a giant box. Total win-win. And the Hawkeyes won, too.

Beverage:  Lady Gray tea


Another Year Older

It was my birthday a week ago. The semi raucous celebrations of my youth have given way to days of quiet, more or less, contemplation of the addition of another number to my personal total. It was a work day and I was alone in the office as we are so busy installing equipment. The work keeps on coming and we are waiting for word to install more in this month.

I didn't take myself to breakfast as I was going to. I got up a bit too late to do that. But Carole provided lunch.

I am predictable in my tastes which makes it easy to, if one so desired, give me something to mark the occasion of my birth. I have the gals who make the sandwiches at Subway all trained now.

It's a turkey and cheese sandwich with lettuce, green peppers, spinach and a line of mustard. I usually get chips and a Dr Pepper. Since it was my birthday, I added cookies.

I must have seemed quite happy or happier than usual because the owner of the shop asked how I was doing, if I minded the cold weather. I replied that not a lot was bothering me that day. "Oh? Why is that?" she asked. "Well, it's my birthday today." And with that she burst into a horribly off-key rendition of "Happy Birthday". I was alternately embarrassed and quite touched. As I was paying with my gift card, she wished me "Happy Birthday" again and said, "Okay, everyone, my good customer is having a birthday. Let's all sing." The look on the faces of the 5 other people in the store was quite priceless. You could hear their thought processes. "I'm supposed to sing 'Happy Birthday' to someone I don't know? I can't carry a tune in a bucket." I have to admit to giggling all the way back to the office.

My friend, Patt, sent a Starbucks gift card.

She makes a lot of her cards and I love getting those. I'm not a Starbucks patron except at Christmas when they have wonderful hot cocoa drinks. I still have the card she sent last year which has, I think, a whopping 80 cents left on it. Going to use that up this year.

I think this is the most surreal birthday wish. I logged into my bank account last weekend to pay bills and this is the first thing I saw.

I didn't realize I had a team at Chase. I know they have my personal  information on file, it's kind of necessary to attach you to your money. This was just a bit jarring to see. It didn't make the act of paying bills any better.

So, here I am, another year on this earth. I don't really have any wishes for myself. Things are comfortable. Each month brings new strides forward. If I can have a year just like this last one, I'll be very happy.

Beverage:  Lady Gray tea