Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Things That I Saw - Part the Sixth

Let's just say two words, "Wide Load". Both of these photos are blurry.

This is heading east on Interstate 70 towards Dayton, Ohio. I wonder how much it would cost to transport a fully constructed ranch-style house and set it up on your lot. This is not something that would probably pay in the suburban/urban setting. I'm thinking that house would take up, easily, three-quarters of my street and then require probably magic to get it situated on my lot. But, if you are rural, I'll bet this is quite cost effective.

This was a storage tank, the middle one of three heading south on Interstate 79 north of Pittsburgh. They were miles apart. It would have made for quite the photo to see them traveling in a convoy.

I saw lots of earthmoving equipment moved by truck. The whole premise of the Eisenhower Expressway system was that overpasses were high enough to move military equipment, some of which was large and tall. If the goods are large and need to be moved great distances, you can't go wrong with the Interstate.

It also makes for interesting speculation on the final destination or, in the case of the tanks, just what are those going to be used for. Ooooh. Maybe they contain cocoons of the species of moth known as...

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast Tea


The Things I Saw - Part the Fifth

This will be the garden post.

It started with wildflowers in the median on Interstate 64 heading east into the mountains.

There were cosmos but I'm not sure what the others were. The pinks contrasted very nicely with the oranges. It's a wonder more states don't opt to put wildflowers in the medians. You remove the need to mow and it looks good. I did think, that with the drop in butterfly populations in Illinois this year, the deaths of a lot more butterflies could come as a result of planting attractive flowers in the medians. I'd like to know why this isn't done more. It makes the drive nicer, too.

At around 6:30 p.m. on the 15th, I made it out of West Virginia and into Virginia. I stopped at the first welcome center in Virginia to call Carole with an eta. It was still a good 3 hour drive before I'd be in Richmond. I was struck by the floral display outside the welcome center.

It was a riot of colors and plants. These tall plants effectively provide a bit of a screen to the picnic tables nestled between the parking lot and the back hill. They provide a bit of peace.

What I really liked were the zinnias.

I love zinnias. They come in a wide array of colors and types, from low growing edge plants to these nearly 3 foot tall border plants. The colors were amazing and are not done justice by my camera. The orange of the evening sun makes them more orange than they were. There were dark reds, dark fuschias, and dark oranges mixed together. The effect was very striking. I'd love to have a bed of these or have these lining the walk up to the house.

On Sunday, August 18th, we went into Washington DC. My one claim to being in DC was having to change planes at Dulles on the way back from England in 1996. I really can't say I've been in DC. You can't say you've been in Chicago if your only visit was to change planes at O'Hare. That's not Chicago. Neither is Dulles DC. It's a 2 hour drive from Richmond to the Metro station and then, it's a half-hour train trip into the heart of the city. What I saw is for another post, but what I want to note here is another plant I would love to have in my yard. This one, however, is not hardy in the Chicagoland environs.

Not sure what this is? It's a holly genus. This one doesn't have the real spiky leaves we associate with Christmas holly, but the sign in front of it said, "holly". I love the look of a holly bush, particularly in the fall and winter. The red berries contrast with the green leaves and the whole thing looks so festive. But holly won't survive our northern winters, even with global warming. The prospect of bitter temperatures and wind chills will kill this plant.

It will also kill this magnificent tree.

This is a Southern magnolia. Up north here, we have these trees flowering in the spring.

These are "tulip trees" or sometimes called "Japanese magnolias". The thing is, a Southern magnolia would not survive up here. It's decidedly a southern tree. They will lose their leaves in the fall, but they don't burst into a riot of pink in the spring. Rather, they have large white blossoms, sometimes the size of a dinner plate, intermittently throughout the spring, summer and fall. Way far south, they can bloom all year if weather conditions are right. The scent of a Southern magnolia is intoxicating. I'm not sure if the Japanese magnolia has a scent. I always enjoy the look on a Southerners face when someone from the north points to the blossoming pink tree and says, "See how the magnolia is in bloom this year." They aren't technically incorrect. It's just a different species.

We went to the US Botanical Gardens, which were past the magnolia up above. I'll leave that for a separate post.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast Tea


Things I Saw - Part the Fourth

Commerce requires the movement of goods and services. The item you order from Amazon has to come from their warehouse to your door and that item had to come from a manufacturer to their warehouse. Bulk commodities are best shipped by rail or by barge. Fast shipments require air. Most shipments are via truck. You can see the life of America on her arteries, the Interstates.

This is a blurry photo, I admit. As I closed in on the truck, I really couldn't tell what those were. From this distance, those are round items, like balls, but what kind of balls are shipped in red-orange string bags and in sufficient quantity to merit a whole truckload? It wasn't until I was passing him that I realized what these were. Onions, a whole truckload of onions in 50 pound bags. Onions don't benefit from being shipped in a refrigerated trailer, in fact, that kind of cold will rot them from the inside out. There was a tarp over the top but they had been merely piled on top of each other and strapped down.

I passed this guy twice before losing him in the hills of eastern West Virginia. It's kind of hard to see his cargo. If you click on the photo, you might get a better view of it.

Transformers for electrical poles, a whole flatbed full of transformers. The way they are placed on the rig and the design of the transformer made them look, to me, like the heads of people. There are fat, curled wires coming out of the top that remind me of hair. There are two dark spots on either side of a metal extension that look like eyes and a nose. Under this extension is the number "10", which looks like a mouth.

I had the thought that if you painted them yellow and used the previous onions as goggles, they would look very close to these.

Can you imagine a truckload of minions? There are no adequate words for that kind of awesome.

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold Tea


Friday, August 30, 2013

The Things I Saw - Part the Third

The thing about long distance travel by car, particularly on the Interstate system, is that you can wind up seeing the same vehicles again and again. This is expressly true with trucks.

You pass some truck hauling something and leave him behind. He's driving 65 but you can drive 70. You math whizzes can figure out just how long it will be before you're a good 10 miles ahead of him, assuming a steady state of driving.

Then, you pass a rest stop sign and realize the two bottles of water you consumed are sloshing about in your bladder so you pull over. In the time it takes you to zip up the windows, lock the Jeep, walk to the rest room, use the rest room, dry your hands without wiping them on your pants (See below.), walk back to the Jeep, unzip all the windows, start the Jeep and drive out of the rest area, the truck you passed many minutes before, has passed you. If he's going the same direction you are, this dance can play out several times in the several hours you travel the same road. Gas and food also allow the truck to get ahead of you.

And then you have the trucks that drive 70-75 on the Interstate or you find yourself behind the 1975 panel van which, you swear, has an engine comprised of 6 raccoons on treadmills because they ... just ... aren't ... going ... real ... fast.

I caught up and passed this guy then stopped for lunch. I caught up and passed him again and then found myself in the middle of a stream of cars behind a motor home. He roared past me and I never saw him again.

The first time I passed him, I wasn't sure what this was that he was hauling. The second time, he was stuck in a line of cars, only going 60, so I had the chance to look at the cargo. Ah, I know what this is. When he roared past me the third time, I was ready.

I'm not going to tell you. My mother might know but the only clue I'll give is that some assembly will be required once this reaches the final destination. They also come in green and those are made by John Deere.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


The Things I Saw - Part the Second

Near Renssaler, Indiana as I headed south on Interstate 65 towards Indianapolis.

There were a lot of them in this area. I see something like this and it strikes my fancy and I think, "This would be a cool place to stop and take photos." Whimsical stopping, when you're heading some place, is not on the itinerary. I had to be content with what I could quickly shoot out the windows as I drove past acres and acres of windmills. This part of Indiana is flat so it's extremely conducive for wind power generation.

I'm sure there's a reason for the way they are placed on a parcel of land. What I thought was neat was, as I drove past the stands, they looked like sentinels in the field.

The streaks at the top of the photo are from sunlight reflecting off my plastic side windows. It was chilly so I had the windows zipped up at this point.

As I am of a certain age, there is a song that popped into my head as I drove through this area.


Like a circle in a spiral

Like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning
On an ever spinning reel
Like a snowball down a mountain
Or a carnival balloon
Like a carousel that's turning
Running rings around the moon
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping

Past the minutes of it's face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind !

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


The Things I Saw - Part the First

When I'm out and about, I always have my camera with me. It's one of the reasons I like a small, palm-size camera. It fits in my purse and I can whip it out to take a photo of something I know I'm going to want to blog about, assuming I remember why I took the photo when I download it.

Vacations provide a lot of inspiration for blog posts. Over the next few posts, I'm going to put up photos of things I saw where I said, "Oh man, that's a blog post." Let's get started.

It seems there is a never-ending quest to find the perfect way to dry masses of hands at rest stops across the US. I remember the stacks of used paper towels or dispensed towels from a machine, overflowing onto the floor of the rest stop. You didn't dare put your hand into the garbage can to push the stack down. There could be rotten fruit or a dirty diaper waiting for you. Plus, towels represent paper waste which, at that time, wasn't made from recycled materials. Even though most paper towels in rest stops are made from recycled materials, they represent the end of the recycling stream. It's not feasible to recycle used paper towels.

Enter the blow dryer. The best, absolute best, comment I ever read about hand blow dryers was scrawled on one in a rest stop somewhere in my travels. There was a sign on the dryer for how to use it, as well as drawings. If you did a thorough job of washing your hands, as is recommended, there was more water on your hands than the offerings of the dryer could effectively remove.

Step 1:  Push button to start dryer. 
Step 2:  Place wet hands under dryer vent.
Step 3:  Move hands around to allow warm air to dry hands. 
Dryer turns off automatically. 

Below this, someone had scrawled, "Step 4:  Wipe hands on pants." I'm fairly certain anyone using the dryer got a laugh out of that because it's so true. I hadn't met a warm air hand dryer that really did any kind of reasonable job until this trip.

The version shown up above has more power and force than a hand dryer really ought to have. Motion activated, there is a whoosh of air that forces your hands down and blows them dry and I mean dry dry, in about 6 seconds. I didn't even have to wipe them on my pants. They were completely dry. In the winter, you could warm up your feet if you stood close enough.

The biggest drawback is that the force of the air coming out is too strong for children to adequately keep their hands in the right position. I saw several girls, under the age of 10, I would guess, whose hands were blown away from the air stream because it's so powerful. They had to stand at the periphery of the circulating air and then wound up wiping their hands on their clothing to complete the drying. I couldn't help think of Tim Taylor from "Home Improvement". "More Power!" It's not necessarily a good thing.

And I often wonder if these are any more environmentally friendly than towels. Well, it's only a little electricity, compared to harvesting wood, transporting it, chemicals to break it down into component fibers, reassembling those fibers into towels, warehousing the towels and transportation to the end use, not to mention the cost of landfilling the used towels. There is a cost to electricity we don't remember. What makes that juice? If it's coal, there are mining costs and transportation of the coal to the power plant. There is the disposal of the residue from burning said coal to power the turbines that give you the electricity to run the dryer that will blow your 8 year-old niece backwards 8 feet.

Still, in the overall grand scheme of things, these dryers were faster than anything other than wiping your hands on your pants as you walked back to the car. It takes three times as long to dry your hands with paper towels and other dryers just didn't produce enough warm air to be effective unless you were willing to stand there through two or three cycles of air. Six seconds means a lot when you know you have another 5 hours on the road to your final destination. More power indeed.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


The Approach of Fall

Life has been crazy busy for me lately. While my goal has been to have a post a day, which means 365 musings, this year, it's not working out that way. I'm finding that herding my thoughts together has been a lot like herding feathers in an updraft. It's just not happening. I'm also finding peace with not being able to have a blog post a day is elusive and that adds self-imposed stress, stress that you know and I know is not needed and silly to have, but it's there.

In addition, my fall allergies are ramping into high gear making me feel worn out. It's been hot and dry here, which adds dust to the air, in addition to the fall pollen. I'd rather have the windows open but the air coming in is like a sirocco, and fans don't keep it cool enough. Pilchard has taken to sleeping on top of the furnace in the basement because it's cooler down there. I dropped the thermostat one degree today, from 80 to 79, because the house seems so stuffy. I do like hot days. That's what summer is about, but give me about 3 or 4 in a row and then have it cool off.

My favorite season in the year is approaching. I'm going to change the wreath on the door from the one I put up in late April to the fall one Carole and I made 10 years ago. Mum plants are everywhere and Halloween stores are opening this weekend. Hallmark has been pushing Halloween decorations since the beginning of August. Football starts on Saturday.

But, the biggest harbinger of fall is what the squirrels are up to. I came home from Virginia to find dirt all over the deck from the pepper plants.

You can't really see this, but there is a hole dug into the dirt in the pot where the peppers are. As fall approaches, I see more and more of this as squirrels look to bury the nuts they find to keep them safe for a food resource in winter. If it wasn't the peppers, it would be interesting.

I'm also not quite sure what to make of this.

A couple years ago, a squirrel got under the lid and shoved a walnut into the joint in the lid. Were they trying to do that again? Before wheeling the recycling bin to the curb, I put the walnut on the deck railing. It was gone in the morning.

I kind of miss the annual walnut gathering expeditions we used to have when I was a kid. We'd bring the nuts home and spread them in the basement to dry. Then you'd wear gloves to remove the outer layer. (Walnut outer layers stain. It was used as a dye by Native Americans.) After that, we'd dry the nuts again. When you could hear a rattle when shaking one, dad would put some in the drive way and run over them with the car. That was great fun. Otherwise, you'd sit on the back stoop with a hammer and crack the tough shells that way. One person would crack, the other would pick out the meats. Mom would remind us to have more meats in the dish than in our stomachs.

I'm not sure where they get the walnuts. I'm not aware of a tree in the neighborhood but if it's in someone's back yard, I wouldn't know about it. I almost took it as a peace offering. Sorry we dug in your peppers. Please accept this walnut to express our apologies. I fixed the dirt in the pepper pots so we'll see. They can dig in the marigolds or even the geraniums, just leave the peppers alone.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Monday, August 26, 2013

Saving For the Next

Looks a bit sparse, doesn't it? Part of getting ready for vacation was hauling this container to the bank to have the saved change counted. It always looks like more than it is even as I tell myself, "It's only $37.82 worth" so as not to get my hopes up that I'll be independently wealthy based solely on my pocket change.

It weighed 5 pounds; five POUNDS. That's a lot of weight in coinage even when coins of today have less mass than coins from my youth. Don't believe me? Go find a penny from 2001 and hold it with one from 2011. There is a very noticeable difference. So too with nickles. Jefferson's visage grinning at me does not compensate for the innards of a nickle being substantially reduced. I've heard new coins cause problems with vending machines which rely on mass to trip levers which record amounts and allow you to have that candy bar, soda or bag of chips.

Off I went. I heard the clank clink of the coins in the machine and the whirr of gears as things were separated and sorted. When all was accounted for, I had $75 worth. Not bad. Not bad, considering I almost never use paper money anymore which means the contributions to both the lucky cat and the change box have slowed to a trickle. I should conduct an experiment to see if I'd spend less, more or the same amount if I had to pay with dollars and change versus hauling out the debit card and having it pulled from my account. It would take planning, that's for sure, since I use my debit card for everything.

The $75 I started the week of 8-11 with wound up being $45 by the time I actually left on vacation. This and that and something else gnawed at the bills. But, this was 'gravy money' to me. I had not planned for this cash in my total needed for the trip. It helped tremendously, with lunches and a metro card and other little things that I needed during the week. I returned with $13 and change, change which has gone into the lucky cat and the container.

The next thing I want is a printer for the new computer. I'd get more letters written, more pictures printed, more things done at home if I had a home printer. That will be substantially more than 7 quarters but the savings has begun again. I found a loose penny in my purse at lunch today. Score!

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Price of Petrol

I think it's a great documentation of one's trip to pick something available from your point of origin to your destination and then back and take photos of it. It is quite an eye opening revelation, particularly when you're traveling for a distance, of the differences in the US. I like to use gas prices and I've been doing this for years, decades, even. When I travel, I take a photo of the price of gas when I need to fill up. It's quite interesting.

The Virginia trip would provide a great reflection of various areas of the country. I had my route all planned thanks to maps. It was, according to them, 860 miles one way. When I started saving for the trip, gas was $3.89 a gallon in Chicagoland and we had, if not the highest prices, close to them. I knew I was heading into an area where gas would be cheaper but I figured if I could save enough to fill my tank at Chicago prices, I would be very safe. I would need close to $350 to make it out and back. Okay. I'm ready. Let's go.

I left on Thursday, August 15th with a half a tank of gas. I almost filled up but I felt I would be heading into an area of the country where gas would be cheaper so I decided to wait. I was in luck. I stopped at a TA Travel Center outside Whitestown, Indiana. Gas was $3.49 per gallon.

Now, one of the problems of this experiment is that I really should be documenting how many miles I put on the Jeep between fillings. Well, I didn't do that. I know I have a 16 gallon tank. The receipt tells me how many gallons I purchased. Instead of writing down the starting mileage, I just set the odometer to zero and took off, figuring I'd write down the mileage when I got to Carole's. I wrote down the mileage when I left Carole's and then didn't document it when I got home, instead taking a photo of the odometer reading. So, to ask me what kind of gas mileage I get per gallon is kind of a waste of your time unless you're really good with math. I am not. I just know what I spent over the course of the trip.

Here is our first fill up. I headed south on I-65 towards Indianapolis, Indiana.

Gas was $3.77 when I left Chicago. I'll take an almost 30 cent per gallon difference. If you're keeping track, I spent $44.00 to fill the tank here.

I traveled past Indianapolis and out of Indiana on I-70 towards Dayton, Ohio. It was as I approached Indianapolis that I realized I didn't have the road atlas with me. I had bing's printed directions but, as I've came to find out, they aren't the most up-to-date. While a road atlas can also be out of date, particularly if you are using one from 2006, if you intend to follow Interstate, that hasn't really changed beyond what may be under construction. I have one from 2012. It would have helped ease some of my fears that I had missed an exit.

The next fill-up was in Gallipolis, Ohio. This was all the way across the state of Ohio, along the Ohio River border with West Virginia.

It was hard to find the gas stations in Gallipolis. You have to get way off the Interstate and, if you are heading south on Highway 35, as the directions told me to go, you have to drive a mile toward the town center to get back on the highway. I got lost here because I missed a sign and drove north for a couple miles into the hills of southeast Ohio before turning around and finding the sign for east 35. I filled the tank for $45.60 here.

So now I'm in the hills of West Virginia, heading east towards Virginia. There are these rocky outcroppings called the Appalachian Mountains standing between me and Richmond. I picked up Interstate 64 and then the West Virginia Turnpike and headed southeast and then back east toward Virginia. As dusk was settling across western Virginia, I stopped for gas and supper in Greenville.

Be still my heart. That's a whopping fifty cent per gallon difference from home. That, right there, told me I had budgeted properly. $42.60 for a full tank of gas and I made it to Carole's with plenty to spare.

I drove around Richmond, getting lost, as I said in a previous post, three times. I tend to write things down wrong, it seems, or I'm looking but miss my turn. But, when I left her house at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, August 22nd, I had a bit over a half-tank of gas. I opted to go a different way home because some sections of the drive to Richmond were not to my liking. I knew that changing the route would add more miles and, probably, another gas stop, but I felt I could afford it.

I headed back west on I-64. Instead of following it west into West Virginia, at Staunton, I turned right on I-81 and headed north. Outside of Staunton, I filled up for the first time.

That's a whole penny difference in the tank of gas from south of Staunton to north Staunton. Thirteen cents is thirteen cents when every cent counts. This tank cost me $43.51. Back onto the road I went.

This section of highway Carole and I traversed back in 2001 when we did our Civil War Battlefields tour. I recognized the signs for Antietam and Harper's Ferry. I took I-81 north until it met I-68 and then headed west. I had driven this section of highway back in 2011 when my mom and I came east for Carole's "Blessing of the Vows" ceremony with David Buckwalter. I did all the driving on that trip but the hills and road seemed different. We traveled in the afternoon so perhaps it was the sunlight. I got as far as Morgantown, West Virginia and stopped for lunch and gas.

This price was a bit jarring. A full thirty cent difference between fill-ups. Mom and I had stopped in Morgantown on our journey back to Wheaton in 2011. I couldn't remember what gas was at that time. I didn't need as much gas here. It was more that I was hungry and felt filling the tank was a good idea, too. I spent $40.23 here.

Interstate 68 disappeared and I hopped on Interstate 79 to go north. The next change of road numbers would be in northwestern Pennsylvania when I turned left and headed west on Interstate 80, a road I could probably drive in my sleep. In the meantime, I had to contend with road destruction.

It's summer. In Chicagoland, that is cause to rip up the roads, sometimes with little warning. Signs said move left but didn't explain that the right lane exits the Interstate completely and you can't get back on because they are replacing this bridge. I wound up touring a 30 mile section of west center Pennsylvania for 45 minutes before the detour got me back on I-79 just 3 miles short of the intersection with I-80. I had to suppress some panic that, somehow, I had missed a turn for I-80 and was now heading straight for Erie. Once the sign for I-80 showed up, the panic disappeared. It was a straight shot home. I stopped at the Clyde, Ohio service center for gas.

This was the most I spent because I drove to within 2 gallons of empty. I did have the thought that it would be like me to not have a car problem during the trip but to run out of gas in the middle of the Ohio Turnpike, 10 miles from the nearest exit. There is a distinct lack of signage on the turnpike to tell you just how far you are from something. But Ohio Turnpike travel plazas are very nice and the gas seems competitively priced. This fill-up cost me $45.75.

Ohio is a fat state. It just seems to go on forever. "Are we there yet?" I could hear the child in me saying. I passed into Indiana as storm clouds loomed ahead. The rain was spotty. I had to stop and put up the windows because with the heavy rain came chilling winds. Traffic also picked up and I found myself, more than once, stuck behind a truck doing 55. Trucks still actually drive that!?

When the distance signs started including Chicago on them, I knew I was close. It was still a 4 hour journey, but at least I could figure it out. I would be hitting the Interstates and toll roads around Chicago after rush hour but I had a slight nagging feeling I would be on fumes to actually get home. I best stop and top off the tank.

As yes, $3.63 per gallon. I'm close to Chicago, that's for sure. I added $30 to the tank at Rolling Prairie on the Indiana Turnpike and headed home.

Yes, there is a distinct preference in my gas stations. I know BP. I know their gas. There's one close to me. I do not have one of their reward cards. I don't think, after reading over the fine print, that it's worth it because I have quite a few options around my area. Yet, on the road, it's what I look for, them or a Shell or a Marathon. I may be deluded here, but I think gas from one main supplier is a more uniform quality than gas purchased by an independent. It probably doesn't make a difference.

So, if you've been adding up the gas cost, I spent $291.69, total, on gas, far less than the $350 I budgeted. I needed that extra $30 at the end, but I have a half tank to start the week with. I'll take that.

And gas was still $3.77 when I drove by the BP near the house.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Appreciating Black Cats

While I was on vacation, Black Cat Appreciation Day passed. I couldn't post on that date although I have a couple new photos of a particular black cat.

On Wednesday, August 14th, I managed to pack 90% of my stuff into the car in preparation for the trip to Virginia. Thursday morning, at 5:45 a.m., I got up and finished the packing in the effort to get out the door at 6:15. I left the back door open to facilitate getting into the house. These two won't leave the deck, well, usually won't. HRH left the deck on Friday when I left the back door open but had the screen up. All I had to do was spot her sitting under the trees on the north side of the house and yell at her. She dashed back inside.

Anyway, as I finishing the loading of the car, here was Ms. Pilchard checking out the smells on an early Thursday morning. The dew was heavy on the grass so I left damp footprints on the deck and tracked water into the house. Pilchard dashed back inside as I climbed onto the deck to go inside. She then stood in the doorway and just watched.

Yup. There we have black cat laser eyes. I felt kind of sad to be leaving for a week. I would miss my girls, but Pam took care of them so I knew they would be in good hands.

I think I mentioned this last year but it bears repeating. Black cats are 75% less likely to be adopted from a shelter. There is no reason why other than their color. There's no difference in temperament between a black cat and any other cat. It's simply that our ancestors equated black cats with witches and it's one fallacy that is hard to shake. While I call Pilchard my "diva", she's no different than Mija. Each one has quirks that define their personality. I actually rather enjoy being "yelled" at by Pilchard. I'd rather she voice an opinion than pee in my shoes.

So, here's to appreciating black cats. If you or anyone you know is thinking of adopting a cat, hie thee to your local animal shelter and look for a black cat. They match any color of furniture and you'll have a friend for life.

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold Tea


And They're Off!

There's been a lot of discussion in my news feeds about the value of work and the value of employees. I'm fairly sure I can say that, at one time or another, all of my readers have felt unvalued by your employer. It could have been for an hour, a day, a week or longer, but there are times where you come home, flop down onto the couch and say, "Why am I still giving them these hours of my life when they don't care?"

We've been extraordinarily busy lately. It means that I am out in the field, sometimes with 10 minutes notice, simply because there is no one else to cover the work. When that happens, one could be forgiven for trudging home and thinking, "Tell me again why I work here." Morale can plummet when the day consists of yet another fire to fight, another problem to solve and another place to drive to while the desk top is covered with post-its of what you need to get done that isn't getting done. And the phone calls! "Can I please rip the phone out of the wall now?"

Having done what I do for 13.5 years now, what I've come to see as valuable to getting through these times is the office event. When we do things together, non work related, your co-workers become people with laundry and mortgages and weird relatives and food likes and dislikes. They aren't just bodies in the next office or down the hall.

We do two things a year. We go out to eat some place other than Chipotle at Christmas, with silly gifts sometimes exchanged, and we do something in the summer. We have gone to major and minor league baseball games and a minor league hockey game. We were going to try to get Chicago Cubs tickets this year but early March turned into late May turned into July 7th and we were still not sure what we were going to do.

Baseball was kind of out. Mike has two kids under the age of 3. Getting a sitter for a whole afternoon was problematic. Where could we go that the oldest could be contained, yet have room to roam about and not be bored? Ever spent a couple hours with a bored 2 year-old? It is not pretty.

Gene came up with the idea to go to Arlington Park Race Track. I have lived in the Chicagoland Area for over 30 years now. I have driven by this place countless times. I have never gone here.

This is horse racing. The above photo is the view of the grandstand from the parking lot. It was free to park and cost $8.00 to get in. The company picked up food and beverages, but Mike decided it would be more fun to get a picnic table in the picnic area. There would be room for his son to run around. He'd be contained and we'd be able to see the races fairly close.

Here's the view of the picnic area. While it looks like a mad house, all of these people are clustered around tables. You can bring in coolers (There is a charge.) with food and non-alcoholic beverages. That's a big ol' John Deere farm tractor, the kind I see in Iowa, pulling a discing device to groom the dirt track. There are two tracks here, dirt and grass. The grass one is shorter and is between the dirt where the tractor is and the scoreboards you can see in the background.

I was, of course, the first one to arrive from our group. The gal in charge of the picnic area, crossed us off her list, but looked at me rather quizzically. "You're sure your group isn't here already? The tables are all gone." We headed into the picnic area and looked at all the markers. I didn't see anyone from the office there.

We came up to a table where a family had a huge food spread across the table. They were not on this gal's list. They claimed they made their reservation online and had 8 pages of confirmation information to "prove" this. Managers and security were summoned and the matriarch of the group started screaming at officials that she would sue because she had proof of her reservation. The table in question was down near the rail by the track. I retreated to the entry gate to let them sort things out and await the rest of the group.

Finally, someone from Arlington decided it wasn't worth the commotion. We were compensated the cost of the table and moved to a different location, a better location. We were moved almost opposite the big TV in the infield.

The area had a fence. Tables were for rent in this spot but, at $20 each, they weren't going quickly. We had a grand view of the infield TV where we could watch the race. We had a small TV above us that also showed the race. We had a great view of the betting board.

There was room for a 2 year-old to run around and not go anywhere. We were under the overhang so, at the end of the day, when it started raining, we were dry. There was no dirt for the 2  year-old to roll in so he stayed reasonably clean. It was pretty nice.

If you've never been to a horse racing facility, this is what it's like. There is a spot where you could preview the horses prior to the race. You could see the jockeys and many of the owners also showed up to stand with their horses. That was a walk down quite a few steps and I was a bit sore so I didn't go there. But the jockeys come out and run the horses up and down the track by the railing so they can wave at people and get a feel for the track.

It appeared that some jockeys here have a following as they were waving at groups of people who were calling them by name. Once the horses have made a canter up and down the front part of the track, they are lead into the starting gate. This is from the final race which was on grass, but this machine was also used on the dirt track.

Betting stops 1 minute before the race and it was interesting to see people dashing for a machine after finally making a decision as the horses are ridden in front of the stands. There is the familiar bugle call, automated now and not giving by a bugler. I believe that came about 5 minutes before the horses were lined up for the start. Once they are all in the gate, there is a bell and they are off.

The design of Arlington is such that you can't see the horses when they are on the opposite side of the track. You're forced to watch the TV screen to see the race.

It's very clear who is in front. Red, then green, then yellow and then blue. In this particular race, there was a horse named "Big Bad Mike". As that is the boss's name, we all had to bet on him.

Because my vacation was upcoming, this was my one and only bet and $2 was the most I felt I could stand to lose. I had the vacation budgeted to a dime.

Our location was just a bit ahead of the ending point of the race. Mike was in third in the final turn and was closing in on second. While I bet him to win, others bet him to either place, which is 2nd, or show, which is 3rd. There was palpable excitement.

The crowd really doesn't get into the race until they come streaming down this stretch of the track. As the horses neared the finish line, people rise to their feet and start yelling. We had a great vantage point to see where the horse we bet on was. It was all over in about 3 minutes. Where did Big Bad Mike finish? Dead last. It was as if he saw the finish line up ahead and said, "Okay, I just have to cross that. I don't have to work anymore." Of course, we all had a hearty laugh about that.

Mike and Gene spent a lot of time looking at jockeys, looking at the horses and comparing the odds. For the final race, we had a small surfeit of cash to bet on one or more horses. We decided, instead of checking odds, we'd pick the two horses with the wackiest sounding names and the longest odds at winning. I don't remember, at this time, what we picked, but I think one of them had "chocolate chip" in the name. I've often wondered how people pick the name for their horse. We lost as our horses came in 4th and 5th. Gene was a winner in one of the races we watched, betting on a 22-1 horse to win, which it did.

It was a nice time. I wouldn't pay for myself to go back. The race is interesting to watch but it's 5 minutes of excitement followed by 20 minutes of sitting around. No wonder there are beer vendors every 20 feet. There's nothing else to do. People complain of the boredom at a baseball game. I guess it's what I've been brought up with. It's more fascinating, to me, to watch a baseball game than to watch a horse race. Plus, I'm not a gambler. I bet food on football games and that's the extent of things. I don't have $40 to lose. I look at that $40 as a tank of gas and I'd rather put that in my Jeep than give it to a racetrack, but that's me.

It kind of reminds me of the opera. Carole likes opera. I can't really stand it. Her senior year in college, she got me to pay for season tickets to Chicago's Lyric Opera. "Mom, you've lived 20 years in Chicago and you've never seen this world renown opera. That has to change." It was fun and I very much enjoyed the time I spent with her at the opera. I'll not pay to go by myself. If someone wants to go to Arlington Park and wants me to go along, well, sure, why not, but it's not a place I'm going to spend a lovely Sunday afternoon.

The best part of the day was going back to Mike's house and having great food and great conversation while sitting on his back patio. I don't have a "bucket list" but if I did, I can now cross "spend an afternoon at the horse races" off that list.

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold Tea



August has been very sparse in the posting department. I admit it. I've been a bit busy.

After a couple of years, I took a real vacation this month. I got back on Thursday.

My Jeep and I went to Virginia to see the daughter and the grand kitty. My time from the first of August through the 14th was spent, mainly, making sure I was prepared to go. Sometimes, it seems as if the preparations take longer than the actual vacation. Add to that events and a heavy work schedule and I was pretty convinced August 15th would dawn and I'd need to do a load of wash and dishes and sweep and clean litter boxes before I even set foot out of the house.

That wasn't the case, but blogging, well, sorry. That wasn't even on the beginning August preparation list. I'm lucky I got a dozen posts done before I left.

I'm back now. Yes, that's the mileage on the Jeep on Friday morning. When I left Virginia on the 22nd, I had driven 896.4 miles. That included the travel while visiting Carole; the three times I got lost and the two times I didn't. In all, I put over 1700 miles on the Jeep.

To the right, on my Mac's desktop, are folders of photos, 10 of them, to be precise. There are a lot of blog posts to come. I need to back up a bit and mention an event that happened before I left and then we'll get into the over 400 photos I took of my trip. No, not all of them will be posted here. While I love looking at vacation photos, I'm very aware that not everyone shares my like. "It's the mountains...again."

So, here we go with observations and events and excitement.

Beverage:  Yorkshire Gold tea


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I Am Not Prepared

Seen at the grocery on Saturday.

While fall is my absolute favorite season, I am not prepared this year. I am not ready to let go of summer. We have had an unusually cool summer. I believe my air conditioning ran all of 10 days sprinkled throughout the season. I turned the heat on one night just to take the chill out of the air.

Football is on the horizon. Soon, there will be pumpkins and Christmas decorations. In some places of the country, school has been in session for a week. I'm not ready.

Are you?

Beverage:  water


Monday, August 12, 2013

Walk A Mile

 I have a life of good intentions. This represents another one of those. 

Once my knees were sufficiently strengthened, I was going to get back into walking for exercise. It was going to be a few blocks building up to a few miles. I even bought new walking shoes. 

That was in May. Here it is August and I hadn't taken the shoes out of their original box. The highly considered walking program became another grand idea consigned to the 'maybe' pile. After looking at the box on the table in the living room I finally decided that these shoes were meant to be worn and although the idea was to use them only for walking and not errands or work, if I didn't actually wear them, they would sit on the table indefinitely. 

There was a reason I bought these. It's not just my hands and knees that have problems with RA. My feet do, as well. About 8 years ago, I started having cramps in my toes, particularly of my left foot. I had custom shoe inserts made which helped for a couple of years. But they were designed specifically for one shoe and I wear multiple kinds of shoes during a week, giving a pair a 'rest' between wearings. Now that I have RA, my toes can cramp unexpectedly and I find that when I have to be on my feet for extended periods of time, I need support in the ball of the foot. My toes need cushioning a lot more than the rest of the foot does. I must have tried on 15 different kinds of shoes before coming back to these. They were also on sale. 

A well-fitting pair of shoes energizes you. I came home after a day of wearing these around the office thinking I could, perhaps, get a walking program going after work. But then I got involved in another project and it got to be too late in the evening. Oh well. At least I'll look good in spite of not following through with my best of intentions. 

Beverage:  water



A while back, Dragon Stitches and Stuff, a blog you can find to the right or by following the link, had a contest to give away the instructions to make these two pillows. My name was drawn and they arrived at the end of last week.

Now, applique and I have never really gotten along. I find her to be quite finicky and sometimes, outright demanding. So why do what was required for a contest with the idea that I could, actually, win? Well, the left pillow doesn't really interest me. The right pillow, however shows great potential. Oh yes, I can have great fun with that design.

Now, now, don't cluck at me about how I have 3 boxes of patterns and magazines and incomplete projects. Also please to remove your nose from the office closet where my boxes of fabric are located. I know. I know. I need another pattern filled with good intentions like I need a zit on the top of my nose. Since I've had the zit, your argument is invalid. ;)

I intend to put my feet up during this vacation that is rapidly approaching, watch movies and get back into crochet. I also set aside the cross-stitch I started in early April because I was working on it when the car died at the end of April. You know how things take on the association with events? Well, I haven't touched it since getting home from that misadventure. I've decided to pull it out and work on it again. One afternoon with the thread laid out across the back of a cat who wants my lap and I'll feel that I can pick it up again and finish it. The whole goal of selecting the project in the first place was that I've had it for years and I'm trying to remove projects. (I hear you clucking at me. Shhhh.)

This pillow isn't something I'll drop everything to work on. It's going in the box with the other grand ideas. When I get around to it, you'll be the first to know.

Beverage:  water


Best Spent Dollar

Saturday was the day of errands. I was out of kitty litter and the cat food was getting low. Gotta buy both when they are on sale.

We're getting close to the Muscular Dystrophy Labor Day Telethon. Tie ins asking you to buy something to support MDA are starting to appear in stores. I've crossed paths with them several times already. At Dominicks, they were offering up root beer floats for a buck "donation". These kinds of things strike me as just a bit on the shady side. I'm fairly certain the store employee serving up the float would not give you one if you didn't play a dollar. But, if you are buying the float, they have to charge sales tax which diminishes the return to MDA, which, in reality, isn't as much as this feel good gesture would have you think it is. So, they call it a "donation" even though you have to pay it to get the float. It was a root beer float in an 8 ounce Solo cup.

There was a woman behind me which led to the anemic version of a float that I got. Root beer foams when it comes in contact with ice cream. If you do this right, you wait for the foam to die down a bit and then add more root beer so you get, effectively, 5-6 ounces of soda with 2-3 ounces of ice cream. But because the woman behind me started quizzing the guy about how he intended to prepare her float so as not to pass germs from dirty money, he didn't give my float the care she got. She made him take her money and change his latex gloves to scoop the ice cream and, as I was walking away, she demanded he change his gloves again to hold the 2 liter of root beer to pour it into the cup.

Nevertheless, the root beer had been chilled and the cold goodness, even only 4 ounces worth, was delightful on an August Saturday.

Beverage:  Water


Friday, August 9, 2013

Favorites Back-to-Back

Yesterday was International Cat Day. I tried to take some photos when I got home figuring I haven't take their pictures in at least a week, but they were in no mood to pose. I was able to corral them for a hug, a tight, scrunchy, "I love you this much" hug, followed by a kiss on the nose, followed by a leap off the lap indicating they couldn't wait to get away from me.

I've gone through the cat folder in my Flickr account and I have selected two of my favorite photos of them to reshare.

I love this one of Mija.

This is trust. This is love. Yes, this totally interrupts whatever it is I want to do since she's lying on my right arm and I'm right handed, but I don't care. This exemplifies our relationship. 

I love this one of Pilchard. 

 She never met a box she didn't try to get into. Of course this was too small, way too small for a 12 pound cat. Did that stop her? She's my diva. She rules the roost. She causes the problems but she's also my lap cat and my alarm clock if only because the food dishes are empty.

Sometimes, especially when I have the potential to be suddenly deployed to a job that may require an overnight stay, I think how much less complicated life would be if I didn't have to call Pam and ask, "Can you feed the girls because I have to go to Iowa for work?" Yes, my livingroom rivals a packing store and I never have completely white clothing. It always has black hair on it. And yet, when I come home and there are faces waiting for me, faces that sleep with me and sit in my lap, I cannot imagine life without cats.

Today is National Book Lover's Day. I am a happy lover of books.

I'm not reading a book at the moment. I finished 2 magazines last night from the stack and seeing how few are left on the stack makes me inspired to work on magazines over my upcoming vacation. Either a book or magazine is good for sitting on the deck in the morning with a mug of tea and a bowl of fresh cut fruit. I might pull a book out of this stash and start it. We'll see.

So, two things that define me have back-to-back days. I'll never remember this so I do something interesting next  year, although the Book Lover's Day will fall on a weekend. A visit to a bookstore, perchance? Just what I need, more books. I really need to make a list of all my Discworld books so I don't run the risk of accidentally buying one I have. And  I don't remember what the next one is in the Thursday Next series I'm reading. I should buy Erik Larson's most recent book, In the Garden of Beasts. It's out in paperback now, although I haven't read Thunderstruck which is in the stacks above.

If I combine both loves, I really should read Cat Daddy, the book I won from the blog, Cat Wisdom 101.

I was so excited to receive this and, well, it's still in the stack, unread.

But, I agree, 100%, with the late Edward Gorey who designed this tee shirt.

As long as I have a book and a cat, life will always, always be good. Happy National Book Lover's Day to my book loving readers and a belated happy World Cat Day to those who live with cats. If you live with both, double salute.

Beverage:  tea


The Return of the Dart

While shopping for a new purse, I chanced across this shirt.

If you know me, you know I'm attracted to bright and color and patterns. On sale makes this even more attractive. I don't have anything with a cream colored background so this fills a niche in my wardrobe.

I brought it home and, first thing, removed the shoulder pads. Have we not gotten over the whole "Dynasty" period of clothing? Women don't want to look like NFL linebackers. Shoulder pads are a necessity in tailored suits but in gauzy shirts? Absolutely not. Even when they were popular, I used to cut them out of clothing. For awhile, I had about 2 dozen in a box with my sewing stuff, thinking I'd find a way to reuse them. Nah. I stuffed them in the bottom of a give away bag, same thing I did with these.

But there's one thing about this shirt that makes it unique. There are darts in the front. If you sew and are close enough to my age, you know what a dart on the front of a woman's blouse is and why it's there. For decades, darts were nowhere to be found. When I learned to sew, you couldn't find a shirt, blouse or dress that did not have front darts, sometimes 2 of them. They make the front of the shirt conform to a woman's body shape. Without darts in the front, we tend to get "gap-osis", that annoying separation in the middle of the front of a button up blouse. Because you just couldn't find a shirt or blouse with darts, we have to resort to other means to make our clothing lie flat. It's not pretty.

This is exciting. It doesn't make me want to drop huge sums of money to redo my wardrobe. But, as I replace items, I'm going to be looking for the return of the dart. Not everything will have these. Some designers still consider them a reflection of ancient times and "haven't we grown beyond these"? I think some design elements in women's clothing are worth bringing back, however. They make all of us look good.

Beverage:  tea