Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Going Unplugged

It's been a very unique few days in the office. We're going through one of the many spurts of busyness that often hits us. We wait on calls to confirm appointments. The client needs things NOW. If I do this and Tara does that and Gene can do this, that means Mike can go here and we'll send Pam over there. But if we get a call about 'x', well, all bets are off on getting things done.

When I first started, this thing called "e-mail", wasn't the preferred method of communication. Phone calls and faxes and the post office got plans, specs, requirements and notes back and forth. We got company email in summer of 2001, the first office in the company to be connected via this Internet thing to the main office. My then boss dismissed this as little more than smoke and mirrors and it would never replace the fax machine as a work horse of communication.

And you're giggling or guffawing, right now, because I can hear you. We still do some things via fax, but most communication is first via phone and then via email. Appointments are scheduled through email. Contracts have been sent via email for preliminary approval. Requests for proposals are always sent via email. I do a small trade newsletter and all the information I publish in the newsletter has been gleaned from online sites who send me information via email.

The office email died some time on Thursday. We could not access it on our desktops. Mike could get it on his iphone but I don't have my smart phone synch'd to receive email. (I'm thinking that might be something I should do now.) He was the only person, from Thursday afternoon through 2 p.m. today, to see any kind of office correspondence. Good luck looking at plans on an iphone. He would forward things on to his primary personal account so he could look at them at home at bigger than 4 inches.

The degree of angst this produced was amazing. You'd think we'd been bombed back into the stone age, resorting to communication via smoke signals. Clients were reasonably understanding that we were working on the problem but lags in communication caused some to be less than charitable with our later than they wanted replies. "It's absolutely crucial to business to have a working email," I heard on several occasions. "This is horrible, beyond horrible, that our email is not working."

I suppose, in this day and age, that is a true statement. As I have dealt with needing to make appointments and exchanging information, I have some observations. Having email means less planning goes into preparedness. The almost instantaneous nature of email means that you don't have to build into your need for information, the delay by sending something via post. There is a huge amount of assuming that because you need something now, the receiver is just sitting around waiting for your contact. "I'm sending you 35 pages of documents. I need your proposal by the end of the week." Um...see above for how busy we are. In the past, you'd never hear that. The documents would come 2 weeks before the proposal was needed. I really, really wish that, sometimes, I could say, "Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." Email excuses the planner whose desk is a nightmare from being organized.

The second observation is that we have become so dependent upon technology that when the office email goes down, when the power goes out, when our Internet fails, we do not have skills to do our work. There is a whole generation who does not know how to write letters by hand, how to make a typewriter work to print a label, how to pick up the phone and talk to a client because everything is done by technology. They cannot do their job without the LCD in front of them.

The last observation is that having all your email come to your phone means you are never without it. Think about the last time you drove some place and did NOT see someone driving while talking on their phone. What is so important that you have to yak it up while you are driving?

Going without company email has caused me to decide to do something I've thought about for a couple of years now. We always think we are a better driver than that guy in the next lane and this greatly comes into play when we are talking on our phone while driving. There are reasons laws exist to prohibit texting while driving and talking on cell phones while in school and construction zones. Ironically, in my Facebook Mythbusters feed, there was a test of the "myth" that you are a worse driver while talking on the phone than you are when you're drunk. You should watch this.

I have decided I will no longer talk or text while driving. It is so tempting to pick up the phone because you're driving down a straight highway at 65 mph. You'll be fine. Or to think, because you're going "only" 30 miles per hour, that you can handle the phone call and the stop and go traffic. I realize that my reflexes aren't what they used to be or maybe never were and if I have to listen to what you are telling me and pay attention to traffic, I simply can't do both. And, studies are increasingly showing that we humans aren't set up to multitask, period, let alone when we are at the wheels of a car.

So, I took the pledge. Sheila Simon, Illinois' current lieutenant governor signed this and I'm encouraging you to do so as well. If I'm in my car and you call my cell phone, you're going to get my voice mail. Leave me a message. I'll call you as soon as I can safely pull over or when I get to my destination. Whatever you have to tell me, even if it is a genuine emergency, I will listen to but when I listen to it, you will have my undivided attention.

Thanks to 2.5 days without email, I'm also thinking of having technology-free days, but that's a work in progress. Here's to reclamation of a small portion of my life and to being more fully aware of what's going on around me.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


I'm Using It

Meredith sent me this bag a while back.

Will you look at that? I'm actually using it. I've used it several times since I got it. It folds right up into a small pouch that fits in my hand and, more importantly, fits in the center well of the Jeep. I don't need to bring home either plastic or paper bags with every grocery trip. Now, I use paper bags for cleaning out the litter boxes so, when I get low on those, I will have to ask for paper when I shop, but I don't need to have 3 dozen sitting in the room and then ask for paper. I can take this bag.

Today's excursion got me thinking. I wonder if I would spend as much or more if my trips were only for those things I was out of and what could fit in this bag or one paper bag. I don't really have an "average" monthly expenditure. It varies, as I'm sure yours does, depending on what you might be out of. Some months, there's no laundry detergent on the list. Other months, it's laundry detergent plus fabric softener and stain remover.

What I'm going to have to do is add up and then average, the amounts I've paid over the year so far. AWK! Math! With that number in hand, I can see if it makes more sense for me to shop weekly or to shop once a month. Budgeting might be easier because I could say I have $150 a month for groceries. When that's gone, well, oatmeal is always a meal choice.

Thanks Meredith. This is an incredibly useful gift.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


I Call This Success

Today is pay day. On pay day, I allow myself breakfast out. I can afford, as long as I plan for it, to do this.

I get paid once a month, which, now that you know, has probably elicited gasps of "How do you manage?" I've been doing it now for 13.5 years. You learn and you take the consequences if you don't learn. There have been a lot of months in 13.5 years where I didn't plan well and it was "I guess I need to skip either lunch or dinner" or you accept that you will have to take a hit with a late fee because the bank account doesn't have $17 for the sewer bill because you forgot!

Anyway, I conducted an experiment this past month. I didn't publicize it. My twisted brain thought that if I said I'm going to do this in July, I would self-sabotage the attempt. So, now that July is ending, I'm going to toot my horn just a bit.

I'm going on a vacation in August. It's going to be a real, get away from work, vacation. But, in order to do this, to say, "What should I do today? Oh this museum sounds interesting", I have to plan; for gas, for food, for admission fees, for souvenirs. At the end of June, I thought about this and decided the only way I would have the money to do the things I wanted to do on vacation was to set myself a non-paying goal. I would not eat out on my dime for the entire month of July. No Dunkin in the morning when I was really tired and not wanting to get up to make cereal. No Subway when I was too tired to make lunch or to cook the night before so there would be left-overs. None of that. Those are my weaknesses, breakfast and lunch. It's easy to avoid ordering pizza at night, but it's also so very easy to, at 7:20 in the morning, open the fridge and say, "Bah, I don't want to eat leftovers. I'll just go to Subway for lunch." I was going to not do that; all month.

So how did I do? Well, I didn't achieve the goal of complete cold turkey. (Mmmmmm cold turkey and provolone sub from Subway.) On the 23rd, I had a doctor appointment and I just couldn't get out of bed in time to eat cereal and get out the door on time. I stopped at Dunkin. During the month, on the 16th and the 24th, I had to go to the grocery for items I needed. I got a salad off the salad bar.

This is today's salad. I am out of pasta and I want to make pasta for supper tonight. I tend to eat better when I eat off the salad bar at Dominicks. I love color in my salad and no iceberg lettuce so there's romaine and spinach and pea pods and cabbage and red and orange pepper rings and sunflower seeds and dried cherries and shredded cheddar and a tablespoon of poppy seed dressing. Oh and bean sprouts. Love me some bean sprouts. If I get really busy, this will also double as supper, although that means I need to plan for lunch the next day.

Other than this, I did not go anywhere near a fast food restaurant. Pam and I got together for supper on the 11th but we finally used up the Steak 'n Shake gift card I received from April and Perry for Christmas. I had to attend a company function on the 18th but dinner was included with the talk. I was out on a job on the 23rd and 25th and the company picked up lunch on both dates. Beyond that, I went out to eat zero times.

It's about convenience. The convenience of "I'm going to get lunch" removes the need to think about what I eat. I'll just hop over to Subway and get a foot long. Subway is better for me than McDonald's, to be sure, but what I gain in nutrition, I'm losing in funds.

The blood tests requested by Dr. Burandt came up with higher than one would like glucose and triglyceride numbers. I believe it's directly related to my "I'm too tired to cook" mentality. It is so ridiculously easy to just absolve yourself of menu planning and let the industry determine what you eat. I was motivated by the need to have a maximum amount of funding available for vacation. What I've wound up doing is making sure I have fresh fruits and vegetables in the fridge. Cut up broccoli or peppers with dressing available for dipping is a great snack all through the day. Sliced apples and pears are also wonderful to have for snacking, particularly when I'm bored during a work day. It's too easy to have cookies or candy in the desk drawer.

Tonight, I will sit down and pay bills and do the math for the vacation. I have allowed myself my monthly trip to DD. That's it until vacation. First of all, I proved to myself I could do it. Secondly, I made $8 last all month because I wasn't going out twice a week.

I call this success.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Friday, July 26, 2013

Because It Was on Sale

I bought a box. I had a coupon and they were on sale. A number of people told me these were fantastic, that I simply had to get a box.

As you might be guessing, I wasn't all that thrilled with these. Cost per piece is too high, even with a coupon and a sale. Honestly, I didn't find anything new and different in this. It was ice cream wrapped in caramel dipped in chocolate. Okay.

It is probably me and my tastes. If I'm going to have an ice cream bar or a sandwich or something on a stick, I want it to be a good value. I far prefer Klondike bars because, for the same price, I get double the contents of a package. I won't buy these again until the price is cut by 50%. Then they are a good value. Hmmm, I'm out of ice cream at home. I wonder if those Klondike Neopolitan bars are on sale.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


All You Need Is ...

a wooden spoon.

This past weekend was a blessing. While it did get hot enough in the afternoon that the AC kicked on, the mornings were so wonderful. I spent time deadheading the flowers and cleaned off the deck. I've mentioned before how robins are such dirty birds. The wildlife in suburbia comes to visit my deck on occasion and I find sticks and leaves and footprints and all sorts of things on the deck.

The birdbath needs to be cleaned this weekend. Blog post in that, for sure.

Anyway, when I clean litter boxes, about every 6 months, one of them gets completely emptied and swapped out for a different one. I put the emptied "used" box on the deck and let the rain and sunshine and fresh air clean it. There are no harsh chemicals and letting the sunshine beat on the box sterilizes it, after a fashion. I've had a box on the deck for 3 months now and it's time to rotate it back into use.

This box collected rain water and in that water, I found this.

He's about an inch in length. I should have pulled out a ruler to show relative size. He was "swimming" upside down, struggling to right himself. Eventually, he would have drowned. I got a wooden spoon, scooped him out and turned him over.

I have no idea what kind of beetle this is other than, well, he's tan. It's bigger than a June bug and those are a darker brown, tinged with red. I couldn't find any information on what kind of beetle this might be but, I admit to not searching for hours. The Internet is a marvelous place in that information is at your fingertips, but the sheer volume of information available can make a search more like a slog through molasses, uphill, in January.

Once he got thoroughly dried and warmed by the sun, he was off. Maybe I gave new life to something that should have been squashed. I don't know. But, it's an interesting insect, nonetheless.

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Will You Look at That!

I finally got around to watching "Despicable Me" over the weekend. I've been tired when I get home from work lately. Collapsing into the recliner, having the BBC attach herself to my lap and then popping a movie into the DvD player is a perfect recipe for a sound nap that will interrupt the sleep schedule later in the evening. I decided this was a weekend afternoon event. Sunday afternoon it was.

The movie is hilarious and I watched it twice and saw something new the second time. I found the DvD player's remote so I can finally watch the "extras" that come with these. I didn't read the movie box so it wasn't until I was watching the "extras" that I realized Steve Carrell had done the main character voice. "It's something between Dracula and a butchered Eastern European accent," he said. I certainly didn't recognize his voice and kept wondering which character he was. Now that I've see the first one, I need to see the second one which several people have said is better than the first one. When do I have the time to see it in the theatres? I don't know. I still haven't seen "Much Ado About Nothing". I wish I had more friends in the area who were available and interested in the occasional movie.

One thing I noticed when I opened up the "Despicable Me" DvD box is a large recycling symbol.

See that to the left? I had never seen that before. I pulled out the recent movies I've purchased and none of them have that symbol. This is fantastic! It means the whole container is recyclable. The movie poster is printed on paper and placed into a sleeve on the front and back. The top and bottom of the sleeve are sealed. If I would want to get rid of this, I can take a knife and slice the sleeve to remove and recycle the paper poster. Then, the sleeve could be removed leaving only the plastic container which is, ta da, completely recyclable. This could have been several laundry detergent bottles in a previous life.

I'm behind in my knowledge of recycling but I'm wondering when this became available. "Brave" and "Wreck-It Ralph" are in hard plastic containers without the recycling symbol on the inside. While this container is of a softer, more malleable plastic than the other two movies, it protects the DvD just fine.

The only thing that is a problem is the actual DvD itself. There just aren't recycling programs for these. I have a huge stack of old games and programs that I'd love to get rid of. The cardboard or hard plastic containers are recyclable (Remember the old jewel cases? Many of those had the recycling symbol on them.) but the CD or DvD currently is not. One can only make so many Christmas wreaths.

But, this is a step in the right direction. As more people experiment with the waste we generate, someone is bound to come up with something that reuses our refuse. This symbol made a great movie even better.

Beverage:  Water


One Does Not Move the Cat

As this month has progressed, Mija has taken to sleeping on the bed, in my spot.

I have often repeated the story of how St. Francis cut the arm off his robe rather than move a sleeping cat. I am not St. Francis and I really enjoy it when she cuddles up next to me and purrs. However, when I'm really tired and work is upcoming, having to negotiate sleeping arrangements is not what I want to do. Fortunately, if I start to crawl into bed from the other side, she leaves.

This house is maintained entirely for the comfort of the cats.

Beverage:  Water


Thursday, July 18, 2013


I got another box of awesome from Meredith this past weekend.

I don't remember, anymore, how I came to call her my "minion". It's been a running joke for a long time.

There is an animated movie out now, "Despicable Me 2", the sequel to the original "Despicable Me". After sending Meredith the bowl and the Skittles, she kept apologizing for not sending me something in return. She never has to do that. Friends don't keep a tally of who sent who what and when, but she loves to send me stuff.

Now, I hadn't seen the original movie, so in this box is a DVD of that movie. I will watch it this weekend. Then I'm told I have to go see the second one in the theater, that it's better than the first one. Minion Dave was something she saw in the store and decided I needed to have. I think he'd look really cute here on my office desk which means taking him out of the package. I have to get over myself that these things will be worth any money in the future, considering a million billion of them get produced as a movie tie-in.

Another reason I have to see the movie is this clip Meredith posted to my Facebook account.

I just giggle every time I watch it. "Barbara Ann" by the Beach Boys will never be the same for me. The best line is the minion singing "potato" at the top of his lungs.

As usual with a box of awesome, there is chocolate. This box contains a bag of dark chocolate peanut M&Ms. I was really good about not eating the whole bag in a sitting. I divided it in half and then limited myself to half of one color. It helps that I like to dissolve the chocolate off the peanut and then eat the peanut. Taking time to eat an M&M that way means I eat less of them which makes the bag last longer.

She also sent these.

I have never seen these in my area. They are M&M's milk chocolate in a thin candy bar with bits of M&M's embedded in the bar. It's bits alright. The small amount of M&M bits almost seems like an afterthought. "Oh yeah, we make another candy. Let's see what pieces we have lying around that we can toss into the bar."

These are very good. I've found that their richness causes me to eat just one a day and I only recently started on them since I had the bag of M&M's to consume first. I might buy these if they are on sale, but I think a Snickers or Milky Way would leave me feeling like I got more of my money's worth.

I do think, however, that my weekend's entertainment will be a movie and a candy bar. Yes. That's a good way to spend a couple hours. Thanks Minion!

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea



I decided the peppers looked banana-ish enough to be harvested. There were four peppers on the plant. They turn this golden yellow color when they are ripe.

The plant is still loaded with blossoms and with the green globes of new peppers. If they all mature, I'll have more than I can eat. The lilac pepper hasn't set blooms yet. It must take longer to mature.

I do have to keep these watered. With the heat and humidity that has descended upon the Chicagoland area, the plants quickly dry out in the summer sun. They get sun from around 11 to around 3, which includes the hottest part of the day. While peppers love hot weather, in pots they dry out and start to droop. That's not good. I've come home this week to find rather sad looking flowers on the deck. They perk right up once given a good long drink.

So here's my first pepper harvest.

Cool, right?

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Not Quite Topless

With summer weather and the clear blue skies and hot temperatures that brings, I have considered going topless. This is the best I have done so far.

There is one primary reason for this. The visor I had that I wore when going topless, doesn't fit right anymore.

Prior to the replacement of the top, the visor would find itself on the floor in the back where water would come in due to the tears in the old top. Then, I'd smash the visor by covering it with equipment or groceries or whatever else. It's rather misshapen at the moment. I attempted to wear it, but it digs into the right side of my face. I had a nice red welt when I last wore the thing. It shouldn't be that difficult to replace.

Riiiight. I spent 3 hours on Sunday wandering about the mall looking for visors. Now, I admit that I am being somewhat picky. I don't want just a visor. That won't stay on my face as I start zipping down the road at 70 miles per hour. What I would like, ideally, is a visor that looks like it used to be a baseball cap and they cut out the cap part, leaving a one inch strip around the cap and the bill. The back is adjustable so you can make it fit your head size.

I don't have prescription sunglasses which would sort of remove the need for a visor to shield my eyes from the sun. I tried a baseball cap, but I would have to do a "Harrison Ford" and staple the hat to my head to keep it from flying off. So, lacking the visor, I'm just tooling around in a windowless Jeep.

I did remember one of the other reasons taking the top off isn't so great when the temperatures soar into the 90's and beyond. If I park in the office lot with the Jeep facing west, I have to remember to bring a towel to sit on. Even pants don't ease the heat coming off the front seat after a day spent in the sun.

Beverage:  Water


Ghostly Books

After a flurry of books about battlefield ghosts, I'm back to the stack of magazines. I'm so close to having that stack gone, finished, recycled, that one of my goals to read books has sort of fallen by the wayside. There might be a dozen magazines in the stack now. I didn't count last night when I finished yet another one and tossed it into the recycling bin.

But I thought I'd do a book review of the three books by Mark Nesbitt on battlefield ghosts that I read around the July 4th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. The first review is of this one to the left. I ordered it from Just the Bookstore in Glen Ellyn and picked it up Friday after the Jeep was fixed so it would pass emissions testing. On Monday, I finished it. 

It's okay. It's a fairly quick read with chapters that are 3-4 pages in length. The battles he covers are arranged chronologically from 1861-1865. The problem with the book is that about three-quarters of the way through, it feels as if the author felt he had bitten off more than he really wanted to write about.

When the book starts, there is an excellent synopsis of the major battles of the Civil War. Detailed descriptions of these battles are for other books. He's concerned with where the armies were, where they moved during the particular battle and where the deadliest fighting occurred. I found his synopsis, at the beginning, to be very well done.

The problem, if you haven't guessed by now, is that Nesbitt seems to lose steam or desire for the concise descriptions of the battles that he starts with. In setting the stage for the ghost stories he's going to relate, it just seems as if he decided he was being too wordy before and he needed to pare down the descriptions. While I didn't read the book for a description of the battles, they way he presents the battles early in the war help put the ghost stories in context. 

Plus, he leaves out the Petersburg campaign entirely. I cannot believe he has no stories from the siege that produced "The Crater" and which saw a black regiment severely decimated by Southern troops. They took out their anger about the war on those soldiers, killing any black soldier they could find even those who attempted to surrender. You would think the trench warfare of this campaign would produce all sorts of stories. Sherman's March to the Sea is also curiously absent. The emotions, which still run raw, about this march and what Sherman did to the south would certainly have produced ghost stories. If there are any, Nesbitt doesn't include them.

There are stories from Chattenooga and Kentucky. We tend to forget that the Civil War was fought from Gettysburg to Mobile, from Charleston to Texas. Iowans were in Arkansas. Every battle produced casualties and while a detailed battlefield book is not what this purports to be, I was quite surprised that he left out two major events. 

The ghost stories related are of the usual kind. They weren't particularly scary. If you want to be scared, you need to read his Ghosts of Gettysburg series. I had high hopes for the Ghost Trails books because of the other series. Nesbitt was a ranger at Gettysburg National Battlefield and knows that area extremely well. It shows in the attention to detail of the stories he collects. Some of the stories in the Gettysburg book made me shiver. 

There's the bed and breakfast across the street from the house where General Lee had his headquarters. One chilly fall evening, the owner went to the wood pile to get an armload of wood. He picked up the wood and heard sounds that could only be described as cannon fire. They were coming from the far end of the open field behind the inn. As he looked across the field, he saw shadows form and start moving towards him. They took on the shape of men. This would be Union soldiers who were routed from their positions and fled back into and through Gettysburg. He attempted to step aside as he saw a soldier running towards him but the shade ran right through him. At this point, he dropped the wood and fled back inside. When he told his wife what had happened, she said she had been in the back office doing paperwork when she saw what looked like men running past the inn. She couldn't see any detail on them. They were all shadowed but it was quite clear they were running through the side yard. 

With the ghost stories in the ghost trail book, there isn't this attention to detail. More space is given over to Nesbitt's attempt to communicate with reported ghosts than with the actual reports from people of what they have experienced. He uses a digital tape recorder set on voice activation. He goes to a battleground and asks general questions to the air and hopes that he gets something in return. I don't find these kinds of stories as chilling as the stories of people having encounters they cannot explain. I can't believe there aren't stories out there.

The only story from the ghost trails book that gave me chills was the story of the Carter House in Franklin, Tennessee. Tod Carter fought for the Confederate Army and was in sight of his boyhood home when he was shot 9 times. His men carried him from the field of battle into his home where he died. The Carter farm is now a museum detailing the battle and life on the farm. 

One day, right before closing, a thin man in wool pants, scuffed shoes and a cotton shirt showed up at the museum and asked for a tour. The museum director took him around. She became increasingly irritated when this man would politely correct her on numerous aspects of the battle fought around the farm and on the lives of the family who lived there. They headed to the cellar where she was to give a presentation on how the family stayed in the cellar during the battle. The young man became agitated and said they weren't allowed in the cellar. She assured him that it was okay. She turned on the light to go down the stairs and he vanished in front of her. A week later, as she was going through family photos for an exhibit, she found a photo of the man she had given the tour to. It had been Tod. No wonder he knew about life on the farm. 

Nesbitt has changed the focus of the Ghosts of Gettysburg books just a bit. He looks at these stories with a somewhat skeptical eye. There is no doubt, to him, that something is going on in places where life was violently removed from so many. For himself, as much as for anyone else, he wants some sort of tangible proof in this, that what someone experiences is real. I remain skeptical of the tape recorded sounds. Poltergeist activity; the moving of items, slamming of doors, touching, shoving, etc; can be more solid proof, as is auditory sounds of battle when there is nothing visible. People report the smell of rotten eggs, a remnant of the sulfur that was used in ammunition, or the smell of smoke. Nesbitt reports people who visit The Wilderness battlefield often smell smoke. The woods caught on fire several times during the battle which lead to many deaths as men who were wounded and couldn't move were burned alive. 

He mentions that only 10% of paranormal encounters are with full specters as the guide had at the Carter house. A full 60% are of the poltergeist nature and the rest are auditory or olfactory. He's not very fond of the ghost "hunters" on television. He believes you don't hunt for ghosts. You just happen to be in the same space as them. They determine whether they will reveal themselves to you. And these "hunters" are looking for a full spectral manifestation, ignoring how most incidents occur. 

He's even less happy with people who show up in packs with their meters and infrared cameras. Controlled, almost scientific, investigations are what he's doing now, what he's reporting on now and he feels these packs of would-be investigators erode the credibility of those who are trying to solve the mystery of what people experience in these locations. He was polite but not charitable to the TV program he found himself involved with because they did not show all the prep work he and those he works with do prior to an investigation. The TV program was disappointed when they didn't get a ghost on film and only got noises even though that's the way most ghosts manifest. 

If you are interested in purported real-life ghost stories, pick up the Ghosts of Gettysburg series. You can get them as e-books now, if you read on one of those devices. The Ghost Trails book can be summed up thus, "Battlefields can have ghosts. If you visit one of the Civil War battlefields or a house or building that was associated with the Civil War, you have the potential to have an experience you can't logically explain." Beyond that, it's really not worth the money to buy. 

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold tea


Sunday Breakfast

Summer weather has finally arrived. The air conditioning is on and kicks in about 4:30 to keep the house a reasonably decent 80 degrees. These summer mornings are perfect for deck sitting. It's a comfortable 70 degrees at 8:30 and the deck is shaded until around 11 so I sit out there with my breakfast and read or stitch. This past Sunday, it was read.

Hot tea and fresh cut cantaloupe. The melon was so sweet and juicy. I wound up eating two thirds of it over the span of 3 hours spent reading. I pulled open the screen across the back door and that allowed a visitor onto the deck.

This was the chair I was sitting in. She stayed, very happily, behind me where I could reach up and give scratches. She went to the deck steps only once. I looked up from my book as she started down the steps. "Pilchard! No!" She backed up, jumped up into the chair next to me and didn't make any attempt to leave the deck. She spent the rest of her time outside with me lazing on the railing. She even stayed put when I'd go into the house to cut up another slice of cantaloupe.

These are the days that recharge my soul. There can be so much stress in life that we can forget to stop and breathe. For me, having the ability to stop and sit and read on a bright summer's day resets my equilibrium. Having four-footed company also helps.

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold tea


Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Return of the Deck Smiles

I have my first sunflower.

The leaves have gray patches on them. I've seen this on zinnias. I think it's from all the rain we had followed, immediately by sultry weather. The plant doesn't get the chance to fully dry off. Generally speaking, it doesn't hurt the plant, just makes it look a bit unsightly. This flower is a good 3 weeks earlier than last year and it's also about 2 feet shorter than last year. I don't care. When I see this as I come home, I smile.

There will be a pepper harvest this weekend.

Beverage: Blackberry tea


And Now For Maintenance

With the RA stabilized, it's time to handle all the other things that fit into this. I've had almost as many tests as I remember having during finals week in college. These are the kind I can't study for. I checked in with my general practitioner and everything was ordered.

Blood tests. One of the side effects of RA is an increased risk of heart disease. The best I'm given to understand, doctors don't know why RA sufferers have this increased risk but my cholesterol has to be monitored yearly, every 6 months if there is a concern.

Now, I have genetically low cholesterol. Heart disease does not run in my family. For that, I am eternally grateful. But the results showed a high triglyceride level. Sustained high triglycerides can be precursors of heart disease.

The other, perhaps more bothersome, result was high glucose levels. Sustained high glucose number are one of the markers for diabetes. Again, this does not run in my family, but diabetes doesn't seem to be a genetic thing unless your mother had gestational diabetes.

Still, I'm worried, to be honest. I think this is a diet thing. I have to admit that my diet is crap, not to put too fine a point on it. When I come home from work, I have an agenda, tasks I want to accomplish. Many times, those tasks don't include cooking something for myself. Hence, I'll grab the quickest, easiest thing to eat or, believe it or not, skip supper altogether. I always, always eat breakfast. I cannot imagine a day starting without some form of breakfast. Cereal. Waffles. Pancakes. Fruit and yogurt. Peanut butter toast and milk. Oatmeal with raisins and walnuts. I don't eat those all in one sitting, but those are my preferred items for breakfast. The day always goes well when I have breakfast.

After that, it's a crap shoot. I've been known to skip lunch or skip dinner. Then I get really hungry about 9 p.m. and I'll grab a bowl of cereal or crackers or half a bag of M&Ms. This greatly influences what shows up in the grocery cart. I look around the kitchen and have nothing to grab and eat. So, while shopping, I add 3 boxes of granola bars to the cartand then eat half a box at 8:30 p.m. some night because I was too tired to cook at 6.

I love fresh fruit and vegetables. But buying them and then preparing them to be eaten during the week are two different things. What looks so inviting in the grocery on a Saturday morning looks quite a bit different after I've dragged it home and shoved it in the fridge.

Moving on to other health items. I have nodules on my thyroid. These were seen last year in a CT Scan. I had an ultrasound of the thyroid and they are still there. One of them is large enough to have the potential for a biopsy. Now, so as to not frighten me more than I already am about this, I was told that if you pull 10 people off the street and ultrasound their thyroid, 8 of them will have nodules. It's part of the aging process. I'm told that I shouldn't worry.

Unfortunately, these nodules have to be checked and I have the name and number of an ear, nose and throat specialist to call. I just don't like the idea of having to take off work time to do things. I feel as if I'm inconveniencing the office when I can't get an appointment except at 1:30 p.m. I'm awaiting the results of the mammogram which should be normal and not require any further follow-up.

The next steps are to call the ENT and check into an appointment. Wait for word on the mammogram.  I have a follow-up appointment with my regular doctor to discuss the high glucose and triglyceride levels. The more I read into these, the more I realize that my diet is probably wholly responsible for the skewed numbers. I've done a lot of things just because I've had to, but this diet thing...I just don't know. Convenience and familiarity seem to win out, more often than not, over what I should be eating. If I were cooking for more than just me, I can guarantee that my numbers wouldn't be as askew as they are.

This doesn't feel like a set back. I have felt so much better than in the last two years. There are bad days, to be sure. I kind of overdid it over the holiday weekend and am paying the price in stiffness and soreness for that overindulgence. I'm looking at all of these things as shoring up my ship which has become leaky over the last few years. We fix these leaks and I'll be as close to good as new as I can be. At the very worst, I'll get to know some people at the hospital by name.

Beverage:  Blackberry tea


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Another Reason to Like Them

When I need hardware supplies, I go here.

It's on the way to and from the office. They were very helpful in getting my deck and front porch stained and painted last year. I buy garbage stickers here. When the office needs hand tools or the like, we come here. Sometimes the small size of the store works to its disadvantage. On this particular shopping trip, they did not have a replacement sponge for my mop. In fact, they didn't even carry the brand I bought there last year which now needed a new mop head. I wound up going to a different Ace Hardware to get it.

On this trip, I was checking out and my clerk said to the other clerk, "Have you see Ace around today?" She replied, "He was down here earlier this morning, but I think he went back upstairs." My clerk looked at me and chuckled, "That cat."

I looked at her. "This store has a cat?"

"Oh yes," she replied. "We've had him for, oh, 3 months now. He's very friendly, when he wants to be, of course."

"A rescue?"

"Absolutely. One of the guys spotted him trying to get into one of the dumpsters behind the store. He was scrawny, looked like he hadn't had a good meal in months, but he was friendly. So, the owner let us bring him inside, got him all his shots and had him fixed. He is happy as a clam and has no desire to go back outside. He's probably about 3 years old. Usually, he sleeps on the paint counter, but he has the run of the store. We named him 'Ace', of course."

How awesome is that? Seriously? They took in a stray and he's now the store cat. A cat will adapt better to a store environment than a dog because you don't have to take a dog out for a walk. She said someone is always here and on the handful of days the store isn't open, they have all the days covered for someone to come over and check on him.

I already liked this store. Now, I like it even better.

Beverage:  Water


Deep Clean

This year, we've had problems with the cleaning service in the office. We try not to be messy people and we do clean up after ourselves, but the equipment we use is out standing in its field, usually for months sometimes over a year, at a time. When you bring it back to the office, there can be mud, dust, dirt and grass on the equipment boxes. We clean as best we can and we don't clean mud off in the office. That's done outside in the grass around the building.

But, in the first part of the year, we had problems with what appeared to be no cleaning. We all noticed that the office carpet wasn't getting vacuumed as it should. A week, 10 days, two weeks would go by before we'd notice a change. In April, we decided we'd had enough and I called building management. The office was spotless the next day, except, they didn't vacuum across the hall in the offices over there. Another phone call to management.

Things were fine for 2 weeks and then nothing. Ten days went by without a carpet vacuum so I called management again. This time, the head of the cleaning service called me. She came to the office and saw the carpet which had not been vacuumed in, by this time, 12 days. Plus, they were not checking out all the garbage cans and one of them was, to put it mildly, rancid. We don't expect them to dust everywhere or wash the windows every night when they clean. We do expect that the carpet will be vacuumed and the garbage cans emptied. They keep the building bathrooms clean although, for some reason, the men's bathroom light is constantly going out. There is probably a short somewhere but maintenance hasn't found it. They just replace the bulb.

We've been moderately satisfied with what the service has done since the talk and the pointing out of the carpet. They still don't seem to empty all the wastebaskets in a timely fashion but it does get done at least once a week.

So, I was quite surprised to come into my office on a Thursday morning and find this.

I have a corner office. It has a window ledge and on that ledge I have photos and other small items. I generally don't give the ledge any thought. Obviously, the service did. Everything had been removed and the ledge dusted.

You might be thinking, "Why didn't they put it all back?" At first that was my reaction, too. It would have taken longer but you move something, dust, put it back. I guess they felt that rather than mess up my organization, they'd just leave it for me to put things back on the ledge. I just shrugged and started putting my photos where I wanted them.

That's when I noticed how unclean some of the photos were.

Ewwww. Dust. Cobwebs. Pill bug corpses. Spider balls. All my photos had something like this under or behind them. It took me a good 30 minutes to clean this off. Is it the cleaning service's responsibility to do this? I don't know. I guess it might depend upon how much you're paying them. I know, when I get coupons in the mail for cleaning services, there are tiers of clean. The most expensive tier would include moving photos to dust under and around them. We really just need them to vacuum and empty the garbage cans daily. Dusting can be done quarterly and they don't have to do the bookshelves or the equipment storage shelves. Around the copier and printer and the tops of computers and window ledges, sure, but nothing else.

I couldn't remember how I had the pictures arranged. I don't change the arrangement except when the ledge gets dusted.

I start with the big photo of Carole and I which is on the right and then put everything else around it. It works, for now. We'll check in about October, the next time the ledge gets dusted, and see if I change the arrangement.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast tea


Monday, July 8, 2013

The Spice of Summer

Milkweeds are blooming now.

I'm not sure if it's because I don't pull them when I find them, but they seem to be all over the yard this year. And tall. Goodness, they are at least 3 1/2 feet tall with thick, sturdy stems which wouldn't yield even if I wanted to yank them out of the ground, which I don't.

I saw one monarch butterfly in the yard over the weekend. I'm hopeful that means there will be more. Given the huge die-off in Mexico over the winter, I want to do my part in my small plot, to ensure this spectacular insect survives while it's up north. While milkweeds are not their only food source, it's the one I can provide the easiest. Having a large birdbath is also helpful as they do require a source of water. If the robins would cease splashing the water all over the deck...

This year, in particular, I noticed the scent of the milkweed. I probably noticed it before but because there are so many plants in the yard and quite a few up next to the house, the scent is particularly apparent this year. Spicy is the only way to describe it. I had to actually stop and think, "What is that smell?" when it wafted in the bedroom windows last week. There is a sweetness to the scent, but it is quite spicy.

I wonder if that's how the butterfly knows where the plant is? Or perhaps, its ultraviolet color spectrum, something our eyes cannot process, causes the insect to see the plant, to know this is a milkweed and that it will have the nectar the butterfly requires. Soon, I will see these bright red bugs amongst the flower heads. I don't know what those are. I only see them on the milkweeds and only amongst the flowers.

I've never seen the butterfly cocoon anywhere in the yard. I have such an abundance of milkweed but never the cocoons or caterpillars. That's the part I really would like to see. Years ago, on one of the microphone stands for a piece of office equipment, a cocoon was left. I kept it in the backyard, watching every day for signs that it would hatch. Of course, it hatched while I was gone for a few days on vacation.

I always think the flower ball of a milkweed plant looks like plastic. I'm hopeful the sheer amount of food in my yard will entice some butterflies to linger. That would certainly be the benefit to the benign neglect of some sections of my yard.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea



When you give a gift, you do like knowing that it is appreciated. One of the things that really irks me is the deterioration of the "thank you". Particularly when I've taken the time to create something. Perhaps you think "What the...?", there are words you can use to say, "Thank you so much for creating this lovely cross-stitch for me. I certainly appreciate all the time and effort you put into something for me." Meanwhile, you can think, "Okay, this goes in the garage sale we're having next June. She'll never know." I just want to know that you recognize I tried to make you something I thought you'd like, even if I failed to come close to your tastes.

But when something clicks, it can make your day, your week, your month.

You might remember the cross-stitch to the left in this photo. This was the piece I had started and stopped because I'd screwed it up. Then, I picked it up again and completed it. It was my friend, Daniel's Christmas gift last year.

First of all, his thank you came with, "I was so surprised. I saw your posts and I couldn't think of how to say, 'I want that'." This piece was always destined to go to him, so that made me feel good that I had managed to make something that connected with the recipient. Then, the friends who see it have said to him, "Wow. Someone really does know you, don't they?" That's kind of a 'fist pump' moment. I have captured, in stitches, a real part of who Daniel is. (He could be a sommelier, is all I'll say.) Lastly, this photo made me laugh out loud. There, in the front of his bottles, is the Scottish whiskey Aberlour, the one I blogged about at the end of June.

When I remarked about the bottle, Daniel's reply was, "Great Scots drink alike." I'll drink to that only it will have to be tea.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea



Cats are such creatures of habit. If you disrupt one little thing about their lives, they can react in unpredictable and not positive ways. This weekend was a prime example.

In addition to repainting the top of the front steps and hanging the screen over the back door, I finally got around to scrubbing the kitchen floor. This is a monumental undertaking, involving the moving of the table and chairs in the kitchen. It also involves moving the food and water dishes.

Oh man was she not happy.

I tossed out the food in the dishes and got out fresh dishes for them. I have two sets of food and water dishes. Once a week, I wash the dishes. For an hour or so, they go without water and food in the kitchen. There is fresh water in the bathroom for them. You'd have thought I was denying her food for the rest of her days, with the looks and the meowing I got.

Then, the moving of the garbage can and the kitchen table and chairs caused both of them to scurry to the back of the house. It took me a good half an hour to thoroughly scrub the kitchen floor. I hadn't done it in several months and it took me a drive to another Ace Hardware than my usual one, to find a replacement mop head for my sponge mop.

I let the floor dry completely and then waited an additional 2 hours before putting the dishes back. They still gave the kitchen wide bearth. They would go to the kitchen doorway, look into it, then back at me, sitting in the recliner, and meow. I finally had to pick Pilchard up and carry her into the kitchen to prove it was okay to go in there.

From my point of view, it feels good to walk into a clean kitchen. You know that feeling. You work really hard to clean a room and then, when you walk into it, it just feels clean. I don't know if they notice beyond life is back to where it was before.

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea



There have been a number of articles printed as well as interviews on radio about the 100 degree turn in the weather. This time last year, we were baking under no rain and 90s. This year, farmers are saying we've had adequate moisture and perfect temperatures. Crops could be a week later for harvest than usual but, for the most part, this has been an ideal growing season, so far. The flowers on the deck bear witness to this.

With the long weekend upon me, one of the tasks on the list was to rearrange the pots on the deck. Some of the low growing flowers were being completely screened by the taller ones. I'm looking at you, marigolds. Two feet tall and still growing? Seriously? I don't remember reading that on the little plastic stake in your pot when I bought you.

Plus, all manner of weed had sprouted in the containers, thanks to the nice, fresh, new potting soil I used this year. Those had to be pulled. And I spent time deadheading some of the flowers so there will be fresh flowers in a week or so.

Here is the deck looking north.

I moved the white container which has a sweet potato vine to the corner of the deck rail. The vine can hang down that corner of the deck and not be in any other plant's way. Plus, the short  marigolds in it were being screened from sunlight by the now gigantic pink geranium. Man, repot that in fresh soil and it's gone bonkers; all lush and green and tall.

I thought I had killed the salmon colored ivy-leaved geranium. It's at the bottom middle of the above photo, in the green pot. I found it sitting in water and had to tip it over to allow some of the water in the pot to run out. It looked so sad. But, it has rebounded and had one salmon flowerette on it. Most geraniums are difficult to kill, which is one reason I like them, but it looked so sad in June.

Here is the deck looking west.

The hanging boxes can often be problematic in keeping nice. They dry out so quickly. The nicotania and sweet potato vines seem to be exceptionally happy.

The other thing I did was repot my ancient spider plant. Usually, this is inside but it looked so bad, so very bad, that I moved it outside to try to rejuvenate the plant and then to repot it, after I bought a bag of potting soil since I'd used up what I had on hand in planting this year's flower crop.

I realize I didn't take any before photos but, trust me, you would have revoked my plant growing credintials and taken all my other plants into foster care if you had seen how bad this one looked before repotting. Spider plants like to be pot-bound. I don't know how long I've had this particular plant; years. The roots were all over the bottom of this pot. You see how the leaves on the bigger plant are torn? That's the fault of the cats. They will jump up on the table in the living room and chew on the leaves. If I catch them, they are told to get down, but I don't always catch them in the act. Spider plants are not good for cats to chew on, either.

So, now that this is repotted, I'm going to leave it outside for a week for it to get used to being in new soil. Then I will bring it back inside where it stays. I expect some adjustment but soon it will look happy and healthy again.

My deck green space is quite inviting. I rather enjoyed sitting there after rearranging it; enjoyed it so much, I fell asleep. That also could have been due to the warmth of the sunshine on a summer's day.

Beverage:  Darjeeling Tea


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Found Them

One of the "joys" of home ownership is dealing with wildlife on a regular basis. You never know where things will live if given the chance.

Lately, I'd noticed wasps around the recycling container. I thought, initially, I had spilled the dregs from a 2 liter of Dr Pepper onto the side or top and they were collecting the sugary residue. But, after emptying the paper bin into the can, I noticed that they seemed to be going under the lip of the container. That could only mean one thing. Tipping the can over, there they were.

That's quite the active nest they are building there. The one on the right is dry and desiccated so I think it was started late last year and abandoned. This will never do. I bring home the recycling from the office so my recycling can gets quite the work out. Yellow jackets and wasps do not like their home being disturbed so if I left this, I run the risk of getting swarmed and stung.

Yes, I pulled out the wasp killer and soaked it. I left it for two days to make sure any wasps that used to call the place home would leave if they had been away when the soaking happened. Then I knocked both out and sprayed the underside again.

It kind of tears at me to do this. I wouldn't mind if they built a nest in the back trees. They are part of the ecosystem and I hate disrupting this small portion because they aren't in a good spot. Let's adapt. But this isn't a place where I can adapt to them. Hence, forcible eviction it is. It was kind of interesting to watch them working over the nest before I sprayed.

Beverage:  Seltzer Water


Paint Paint

It's been a year since I painted the front steps.

Yeah. The top, particularly near the house, had flaked off. All of the steps show some signs of wear but the top stoop is the worst. As it was to be a dry weekend, now was the time to repaint. 

I just repainted the tops of everything. Perry expressed some concern that, after a year out in the elements, a new coat would not match the rest of the steps. It actually matches perfectly. I think I told myself last year that I should put another coat on before the fall rains came and I didn't do that. I will tell myself that again. There should be a second coat on this before November. Will it get done? Probably not, but it's a nice goal to have. 

I still have a quarter of a gallon of paint left. 

Beverage:  Seltzer Water


I Should Have Done This Sooner

So, a long holiday weekend can be spent lazing around, traveling, eating too much or doing those things you should have done but haven't. I'm filing this under the last one.

While doing some cleaning in the basement, I stumbled upon an unopened package stuck on the shelf. I couldn't remember what I would have ordered that I never opened, particularly as the package was dusty. Well, let's take a look, shall we?

Doesn't look like much but I know exactly what this is. It's a mesh screen that goes over a door to keep out flies or other flying insects. I don't remember when I bought this, obviously, but here it was. How hard could this be to install?

Not hard at all. It's all velcro.

Here's the back door before installation.

I don't have a storm door on the back. I used to and, sometimes, I think about how it might be nice to have another, but then the reality of finding a door and getting it installed sinks in. Plus, I finally painted the back door last year and that will go a long way toward keeping it nice. I like my back door. Why cover it up? But, as you can see, if I leave it open so we get a cross-breeze, I get bugs, lots of bugs.

The mesh screen comes with three pieces of velcro to attach the screen to the top of the door frame. There are 4 small square pieces to attach the screen at the sides and at the bottom. The bottom is weighted with what sound like ball bearings. The whole thing is bigger than the door opening. The directions implied that you would put the screen on the inside of the door, but then, if I want to close the door, I have to remove the screen. I opted to put it on the outside.

On the left side, you can see a small black "spot". That's a tab that you grab to pull the screen open. I have two small velcro squares on the sides but opted not to attach the bottom.

The view outside is not diminished that much.

Yes, there is a gap at the bottom and some enterprising fly is going to figure that out. I have the left side attached to the frame but not the right side. I simply lift up the side and enter or exit. Even with an armful of recycling for the can, I get out very easily.

This holiday weekend has been warm with a breeze from the southwest. Being able to open the back door and let that breeze into the house has been wonderful. I washed the kitchen floor today and that breeze helped dry it in no time.

So why didn't I install this before? I think because I had cats that came and went on their own time. I was outside weeding the pots on the deck and Mija came to the screen to look out. I had to take the screen off half of the door so she could come out onto the deck. These two don't like being outside unless I'm there. I will have to make some kind of tie-back for those days I'm on the deck so they can come and go at will.

I have no idea if you can still get these. Tonight, I will pull it down and set it aside for the week. There are rumors of rain and I don't know how this will do in the rain. Down the road, I can see the only expense will be for new velcro, but I'm fairly certain that won't be every year.

I am really happy with this. Perhaps I should have done this sooner, but now was the right time.

Beverage:  Seltzer Water



I have to say, since the middle of June, it seems like all I've done is battle ants. Every room except the cat's room had them, every single room. The kitchen was the last hold-out but I found them right after the summer solstice. Scrub, scrub scrub. Clean, clean, clean and it didn't seem to make a difference. They would be all over the counter in the morning or when I came home from work.

There are two Terro ant traps in the office, two in the bathroom, one in the bedroom and one in the kitchen. I don't remember the last time I had an infestation this bad. Usually, I get a mess of ants in the kitchen from under the sink in early May. It's the little black ones, about an eighth of an inch long. I think we might have referred to them as "sugar" ants when I was growing up. You leave the bowl from breakfast in the sink and by the time you get home from work, they have swarmed that bowl to get at the milk residue. I'm kind of used to them showing up in May and take that as a sign the earth is warming for spring, even if it is gross to have to deal with ants in the sink.

But this, this was so much worse. I was in the office getting ready for a raid with my World of Warcraft guild one Saturday night. Part of that includes the reminder that people get a drink and their snacks and "visit the loo", as I put it, so they can sit down for an hour and raid. I took that advice myself and went into the bathroom. There, covering the inside of the frosted glass window, were ants, hundreds and hundreds of ants. Fortunately, I had a Terro bait so I quickly opened it and set it on the sill of the window. When we took our mid-raid break, I checked on it. The swarm had attacked the bait. It was a sea of black bodies around the entrance to the bait. Three days later, there was a line of ants coming out of a small hole in the side of the window (since taped shut until I can find the caulking gun), down the wall, across the back of the tub, down the junction of the tub and the wall and across the bathroom floor to the cat's water dish. Out came another Terro. Once placed, they never went beyond the bait. We've had all this rain. Why would they be coming in and going to the water dish?

The problem is that I can't find, around the outside of the house, a large nest. If you disturb an ant's nest, they will move. I've never found cornmeal to be effective. "It swells up inside of them and explodes," is the popular comment. Borax is very effective, but it is highly toxic to people and animals so, although I used to use it a long time ago because it's great as a laundry additive to get whites white, I don't want to worry about the girls. I read, years ago, where if you can find two different nests outside, take a shovel of dirt  from each and dump that dirt onto the other nest. Both nests will feel they are being attacked and will move. But that's just it. I can't find nests around the house.

Then, in preparation for repainting the top of the front steps, I moved the begonias.

There they were, living under the pots. This would be close enough to the bathroom to get into it.

I moved the pots to the ground, sprayed the bottom of the pots with flying insect killer as that was all I had, swept off any lingering ants and left the pots overnight on the sidewalk while the paint cured on the front steps. When I put the pots back, there were no ants to be seen.

This first week of July hasn't seen any of the small ants in any of the places they were before. I have had some big, half-inch long, ants on the kitchen counter, which bothers me, but the little ones that were a complete infestation seem to be gone. I don't know if this was just because it was a soggy spring and early summer or if there is something else going on here.

Did anyone else have problems?

Beverage:  Seltzer water