Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Unless your means of transportation runs on oats and hay, you know gas prices have been plummeting. It's not really akin to dropping a stone from two stories up. It's more like a meander down the twistiest street in the US. I've watched prices slide here in Chicagoland. Sometimes, they have dropped as much as a nickle in one day. You do know what a nickle is, right? They will recover a few pennies and slide further.

When Carole was budgeting for the trip west, she knew gas was higher here than in Virginia. She budgeted $3.00 a gallon. HA! By the time they got here, gas was $2.27. We knew Iowa would be cheaper but we weren't quite prepared for ...

Needless to say, the monetary cost budgeted for gas was slightly off. Before we left the state on our way back to Wheaton on Thursday, we were able to top off the tank with $1.99 gas.

Since then, gas is rumored to be below $2 in the Chicagoland area. I'll believe it when the stations along the route to work are below $2. Right now, it's been $2.27 for awhile.

We were talking about that today at work. It's been several years since we saw these kinds of prices. For us, who spend a lot of time in our cars, driving to various job sites, this is very good news. More money in my pocket, means I'm closer to a goal of paying off one more credit card this year.

I do think being more frugal with gas consumption helps keep the prices low. Even with these low prices, I'm not inclined to drive any more than I currently am. It does mean that when I travel, I have more pocket change to spend at businesses along and at my final destination. Who knows, if this lower price for fuel translates into lower airfares, I might be able to fly somewhere. Now that's crazy talk.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Local Food

If you are a planning a trip, one of the things which can be worrisome is what to eat. This is particularly true if you are going to a different area of the country. Your local hamburger joint, who knows exactly how to make your burger, will be nowhere in sight and "medium" to you might be "medium rare" to them.

This gave rise to the national chain. You know, when you walk into a TGI Fridays, exactly what the food will be like. If you order your burger "medium", it will be the same "medium" in Fort Lauderdale as it is in Naperville or Denver or San Diego. There is comfort in that, but there is also less of a willingness to get out and try things, to walk into a diner where they don't know you. Foodies and travel gurus recommend going out of your comfort zone and going into the local restaurant scene. You never know what gem you will find.

It helps to have someone who is familiar with the area to guide you. I have to admit that going to visit Carole and Larry means a trip to Carousel.

That's black cherry and chocolate fudge soft serve.

So, we had to drag Larry around to some of the local restaurants which are staples of life here. We had lunch, the first day, at Alfie's. Alfie's has been around for over 40 years. They started as strictly a burgers, fries and ribs joint but have expanded their menu to provide soups and salads and other sandwiches. But, burgers reign supreme and they are scrumptious.

After lunch, we drove Larry around to see Wheaton and stopped at the grocery. I waited to buy groceries for the kids until they were along so we could get breakfast things, beverages and other items they wanted. We came away with offerings from the bakery.

That's turtle cheesecake and red velvet cheesecake. Both were good but a bit stale. Cheesecake is best within 24 hours of making it. Most recipes I have tell you to chill 6 hours or overnight. Since these have to sit for some time before being completely consumed, they can dry out. I make a much better turtle cheesecake. I think the red velvet one would be better without the cake layer.

Saturday evening, after going to see Christmas lights, we went to a Chicagoland institution, Portillo's. At this point, I had the bright idea to document Larry visiting these places.

Good old Portillo's. Of course I had an Italian sausage, mustard only, and a piece of chocolate cake.

On Sunday, the kids went into the city to see the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium. Once back at the house, they decided we needed to go to Baker's Square.

There used to be one near Wheaton North High School, but it closed many years ago, I think at the beginning of the recession. It was the 'go to' place after band practice or football games. I think the band almost single-handedly kept that Baker's Square afloat. Technically, like Portillo's, they are a chain, but they have contracted and there aren't nearly as many around as there used to be. The menu is not all that distinctive from any other restaurant and they seem to be chronically short servers. Still, we could get good food and pie and a place offering pie is usually not a terrible place to eat.

When Monday arrived, the kids decided they were too tired to go into the city for another swing through museums so we had brunch at our favorite breakfast place in Wheaton, Egg'lectic Cafe. It's been a Wheaton destination for over 15 years and, on warm weekends, the wait can be 90 minutes to get in.

The wait is worth it because the food is fantastic with a huge variety. They can make things almost to order, with some exceptions. They also serve lunch and the restaurant can be crowded at lunch, too.

Larry was thrilled because they had biscuits and gravy and grits on the menu. Phil got pancakes and when asked if he wanted whipped cream, he declined. I piped up, "I'll take his whipped cream."

Banana split pancakes with whipped cream. I had to take half of these home for breakfast on Friday.

Tuesday, we headed to Iowa for Christmas. Another place we wanted to take Larry because they have not worked their way completely east is Culver's.

I've written about them before. Clean with cheerful people, they are a decidedly upper Midwestern chain sort of fast food restaurant. Larry's not real fond of ice cream but he had some of Carole's salted caramel "Concrete Mixer", Culver's answer to a Dairy Queen Blizzard. He said it was really good. I had an egg nog shake made with their frozen custard. Now, I really like the Steak 'n Shake egg nog shakes but Culver's was, hands down, better.

He also experienced Chicago-style pizza at Giordano's on Friday with Carole's friends. We had pizza on Monday night from a Wheaton staple, Nancy's. It was one of the few places which would deliver to Niles' so was the place from which to get pizza on Dungeons and Dragons nights at Niles'. We had Chinese food on Christmas Day from a little place, China Star, a couple miles west of me. I know the store front. It's not much to look at but man the food was good.

While a visit someplace new is all about the experience of seeing, food can often make or break the trip. There are good places to eat in Warrenton and its proximity to Washington DC means there are a lot of speciality and ethnic restaurants in that area of the country. We exposed Larry to the basic fare we know and love and, in Carole's case, miss. These were the stars of the trip. We've already started a short list of places to eat at the next time they come.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


City Lights

There are places in the area where you live, that you can take for granted. They are always there, supported by the town or a wide group of people; existing. They provide a nice service, one that you may or may not take advantage of over the course of your living in that area. One such place in Wheaton, where I live, is Cosley Zoo.

It's not a "zoo" in the traditional sense. They used to be more zoo-ish when Carole was little, with a wide variety of animals. As they aged, they moved away from the collection aspect to providing a place for kids of all ages to learn about farm animals. They have several aviaries and do wildlife management, but the deer and foxes and the wide variety of pheasants, yes pheasants, are gone. In their place are cows and sheep and a donkey and a couple of llamas. In the warm weather, there are ducks and chickens. And, probably most importantly, there are programs about the kinds of animals you're likely to see in your yard and how we need to take care of the land and the animals because it takes care of us in return.

At Christmas, however, the place becomes magical.

They put lights all over the zoo area. I've never seen them do it either and I've driven by the zoo many times (It's on the way to my rheumatologist.) It's like someone waves a wand and the lights magically appear.

The place isn't very big, by zoo standards, but it's a comfortable walk. We decided Larry needed to see this and, as Carole and I discussed, the last time the two of us were here, it was 55 degrees and a bit foggy. We grabbed Carole's friend, Phil, and wandered around. It was about 32 degrees and they were doing a brisk business in hot beverages.

This is a former train station which was moved to the property and renovated as offices, gift shop and small snack stand. There is a caboose on the opposite side of this. It used to be covered in lights but was not this year.

I have to confess that, while I noticed the lights as I passed by Cosley, I really didn't pay much attention to them. This dino would bend down and "eat" the top of the tree.

The peacock's feathers would light up one by one, flash all together once, and repeat.

It's all free and, even in the chill, was a delightful way to kick off the evening of the first day Carole and Larry were in Wheaton.

It made me realize that I should get out and just do things, even these little things. We spent an hour just walking around, looking at the lights. There are so many places like this near where I live. A 10 minute drive for an hour of free fun is worth it. I tend to isolate myself because I don't want to go out when it gets dark. It's a mindset issue. "Going out" does not have to involve a lot of money. What could I find if I went out at least once a month? It's something to consider.

(Yes, that is a Chewbacca Bandolier coat that Carole is wearing.)

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


Monday, December 29, 2014

What Not To Wear

The office Christmas party at the beginning of the month is always an exercise in "Oh lordy. What do I wear?" I live in jeans, but that's hardly the proper attire for a sit down meal at a nice restaurant. At night, as I lay thinking about this, in the week prior to the party, I remembered a skirt and top that should be in the closet. I can wear those, assuming they fit.

On a partly cloudy Saturday in early December, I stood before the closet and started pulling things out. It's one of those tasks I have ignored. I bought into the whole body issue thing, that 'some day' I would be back to the size I was when most of this stuff was purchased. Then, I'd have a ready-made wardrobe. I wouldn't need to find $200 to buy clothes that fit.

Eventually, I abandoned that idea, although it wasn't very far from my mind as I went through the closet. I latched onto the reality that the stuff I wore in the 1980's is not stuff I will wear in 2014 and beyond. I do not wear above the knee skirts of the "pencil" silhouette, but I've kept those skirts in the closet under some sort of misguided idea that losing weight would allow me to wear them once again. Would it make me happy? Not likely.

I started at one end of the closet and worked to the other. There were tops and jackets and dresses to go through, in addition to the skirts. I examined each item. Oh dear. I still have this? I remember wearing it just once. The pile grew.

Eventually, it consumed the chair, falling to the ground. I held things up. "Seriously?" I said on more than one occasion. "You bought this? You wore it about 5 times. What were you thinking?"

I know what I was thinking. Self-esteem issues can make you buy things with unrealistic expectations for them. Take the yellow skirt above. I bought it because we were actively doing things with some people we knew who were Iowa Hawkeye fans. Iowa's colors are black and yellow. We were going to be invited to a Christmas party, an invitation that never came, so I needed to be ready. I wore the skirt for a couple of other things and put it in the closet. It was a thing to make me feel good.

I saw, in a lot of these pieces of clothing, a need to fill an empty part of me with stuff. I found a skirt and a dress I bought that I never wore. I remember buying the skirt, not the dress, and preparing to wear it to a party. I wore something else instead. Into the closet the skirt went, never to be worn.

In the end, I had 2 grocery bags of clothes to get rid of, and just a few bits I couldn't bear to part with. The brown skirt above, as well as the flowers on black print went back in the closet. They are, technically, too small for me, but I wore them, a lot, and I would wear them again if I lost the weight I carry. The red pencil skirt and the red flowered skirt went into the bag as did the black pencil skirt below them.

I had a thought that this stuff may have value to people who thrift. Most of the clothing is from the late 1980's and 1990's. I stopped caring about "fashion" and began to care about comfort in 2000 and beyond, mainly because my job doesn't include wearing heels and a skirt to work. Not sure what I would do if my job meant I had to wear a skirt. To purloin a phrase, "I'm so over that".

The next step is to sort the give away stuff for that which I truly want to give away. Then, I should find a consignment shop. The stuff is in exceptionally good condition and would be worth a few dollars, I should think. A few dollars in my pocket is better than just giving it away for a nebulous tax write-off in 12 months.

I found the skirt and top and they fit, very nicely, too. I wore them to the party and discovered I came over dressed. Oh well. A side benefit of this is the extra closet space I suddenly have. I didn't go into the sweater section of the closet. I do need to do that, but I'm not to the point where I'm ready to take a mental machete to that section. In good time. In good time.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Finished In Time

In the post below, I worried that I wouldn't get the Darth Vader item made in time. The first day of sewing saw two pockets and the shoulder seams get done.

The pattern called for just one pocket but I decided two would be better and make it more distinctive. If I'd thought about it, I could have lined the pocket piece on the fabric better so that they really disappeared into the fabric. It's tough to see them, but the design breaks on each side just enough.

On the next sewing day, I realized I hadn't cut the collar facing. How many years have I been doing this?

The collar was attached and ready for the next day, which was a Saturday, and would be a full day of sewing.

And, on that Saturday, I realized I had forgotten to cut out the front shirt facing. Yes Deb, it does get interfacing but it also needs a facing. See? Read the pattern. Thankfully, I had bought more material than I wound up needing so there was ample for the facing. Come Saturday evening, it was actually a shirt.

The only thing it needed on Sunday was hems on the sleeves and the bottom and the buttons and button holes. I even put one of my "Created by" tags in the back. I need to find more of those. Although I don't sew like I used to, I have ideas and I like the personalized touch the tags give.

On Sunday, I  finished the hems and did the button holes. Those have always made me nervous. Even with better machine technology, I still don't always get them the right size and then worry about them unraveling or that I won't get the button placed in the right spot relative to the hole. I popped Despicable Me 2 into the BluRay and sewed on the buttons. The shirt seemed to look right, hanging there. Proof would be when the recipient actually put it on.

That happened on Saturday, December 20th.

The kids drove all night on Friday the 19th, arriving at the house at 5:30 a.m. After a bit of sleep, we wandered around for a late lunch and then opened presents. We were headed to Iowa for Christmas so taking our gifts with us only to bring them back was dumb. I worried, as the shirt hung off my light, that it wasn't the right size. Even though I had sewn the size Carole told me, there was this worry until Larry put it on.

Perfect fit.

Remember my saying that the fabric was supposed to glow in the dark? We checked. It does. It's beyond awesome.

The other sewing I was going to do for Christmas didn't get done. There is, however, Valentine's Day upcoming.

I can't wait to hear the comments when he wears this shirt to work.

Beverage: Dr Pepper


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Maybe It Will Be Done

One of the casualties of this lack of energy has been my crafting. I had all these plans, back in September, upon finishing the curtains for Carole and Larry's house. I bought bits and bobs and finishing items. I was going to sew. And then the fatigue set in.

All my ideas are in bags in the office. Last night, however, I sat down with a hunk of fabric.

Darth Vader and crossed light sabers. I've had this fabric for some time. I can't really divulge what the project is, just yet. In my mind's eye, when I bought this, it was to have been finished by October. Well, that didn't happen. I took the fabric out of the bag and draped it over the recliners, to taunt me, of course. That didn't work either because here it is, December 11th, and last night I just cut this out. Pinning and cutting is my absolute most hated job when making anything. Oh lord. If I could hire someone to do that chore, I would. I couldn't find my cardboard cutting board either. Although the table works fine because it's big, it has slats and that can make for difficulties in cutting when the scissors go into the slats.

But, this project is cut out.

When I bought the fabric, I didn't have the pattern with me so I estimated, or "guess-timated". Of course, I wind up with about 18 inches more than I needed but that's to be preferred. Now that it's cut out, I will find it much easier to finish. There are more projects upcoming, easy projects that I can get done before Christmas, if I just have the energy to finish them.

Another side effect of this is searching out Camelot Fabrics, the maker of this. Oh my. I'm going to have to bookmark this site.They have a sewing blog where I can dream about having all this time to sew. I found a link to order the fabric I bought for Carole and Larry's kitchen curtains. If I ever get around to finishing the quilt I have, I should probably start here for complimentary fabrics.

So, I'm full of plans. Will the energy hold?

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Customer Service

My Dunkin' obsession will need to subside come January. It's not healthy for either my waistline or my pocket book to be going there as often as I do. But, because I'm going into the office early to work on reports, it's a quick and easy way to get some kind of breakfast.

Last week, Dunkin' gave me an example of great, exemplary, customer service.

I get a large hot tea and two donuts. I've been coming to the Wheaton Dunkin' near me so long and frequently that 3 people know the meal. Only Daniel remembers that one of my donuts is a double chocolate and the other rotates, but I'm happy they remember tea and donuts.

So I ordered from Sandra and she made my tea. Daniel was off talking to a friend. He came over to the register and looked at the large hot tea sitting in front of it. "Wait a minute," he said. "Who made your tea?" Sandra said, "Well, I did. I know what she likes." He looks at the hot tea he had made while talking with his friend. Then he set it down in front of me. "Have another, on us. Be a two fisted drinker."

I was surprised, totally surprised. They don't have a tip jar and I don't usually have cash even for those places with tip jars, but I would have tipped them the price of the tea. I realize the price I pay is about 1,000 times more than what it costs for bulk tea bags and hot water, so they aren't out a lot of money by giving me an extra tea.

But what they will get is 1) a blog post about how fantastic they are (located at the SW corner of President St. and Roosevelt Rd in Wheaton) and 2) my undying loyalty as a customer. When I think about cutting back on the breakfasts eaten out, it's Panera that will be cut, not Dunkin'. $1.89 worth of tea and I'm going to go there once a week next year, for sure. (I like the Christmas ornament that's a box of donuts. After Christmas, I should get one.)

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea (Not Dunkin's today)


More Tartan

Look what Target had!

It's going to be a few years until I get to this as I still have a lot left in the top roll, but I was so thrilled. Maybe I should have purchased more than one?

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Change of Meds

There was a doctor visit in November. At that time, Dr. Francis and I discussed the state of my RA. I don't necessarily feel worse. I have little aches, but, come on, we all have those from day to day. It wasn't pain. It was an ache in a joint; a thumb, a wrist, a toe, a shoulder. On a few days, at the end of the day, I'd take an aspirin or, if I knew I would be on my feet for awhile, I'd take an aspirin at the beginning of the day. I can't take more than two aspirin in a 24 hour period and, if the need for an aspirin continues over more than 3 days, I need to call Dr. Francis. I felt I was doing well, all things considered. That Vectra test changed the perception of what I'm dealing with.

One simple number, 42, changed everything. Joking aside that it's the "universal answer to life, the universe and everything', it says I have moved into severe levels with RA. Left untreated, joint damage will occur. I'll get the bent fingers I remember a number of my great aunts having. It was time, Dr. Francis said, to add one of the newer biologic drugs to my arsenal.

At first, we tried to get Xeljanz. You might have seen their elegant black and white commercials on TV. It's attractive because it's a pill taken twice a day. It's relatively new to the biologic market. But, my insurer would not approve it. I was going to need to take one of the older established biologics and see if I have an intolerance issue with them before Xeljanz can be considered. They said I needed to start with Enbrel.

You might recognize this name if you watch sports or a lot of TV. Golfer Phil Mickelson is the celebrity spokesperson for this. He has Psoriatic Arthritis and Enbrel was developed to treat that. But it's also useful for RA and for Plaque Psoriasis. Dr. Francis has a number of patients on Enbrel and she likes it. She has fewer on Xeljanz, but they are doing well. It is newer to her than Enbrel is, so she has less experience with it. Still she went to bat for me to get what I thought would be much easier for me to take.

This comes as a pen-type injector which I need to do myself. This scared me to no end. I know of people who have to give themselves shots and I admire their fortitude. But, if I'm going to progress on, I needed to get over my fear and learn to do this. Just telling me "it's easy" is not helpful or mind settling.

For drugs like these, the data sheet rivals a small novel.

I spent last night on the phone with nurses from the pharmacy that sends me the Enbrel and with my insurance company going over the side effects. Unfortunately, there is no magic "by" date to tell me if I tolerate this without side effects. I can say that I haven't grown a third eye or have been covered in hives. One side effect to consider with the holidays approaching is that my immune system is suppressed and I will be less able to fight off colds. That means there probably aren't going to be a lot of "Aunt Debbie" hugs at Christmas, particularly if someone has the sniffles. I got the flu shot this year but am slightly worried about my health since reports are that the flu shot may not help one's immune system fight the flu. I've been informed that what is usually a 7 day battle with a cold, could be a 2 week battle for me. That's a long time to be sick. It means hand washing is huge for me and, although I like you, you might have to stand over there to talk to me. Nothing personal. Just know I don't want to be near you if you're sick.

An interesting thing about this medication is that it comes chilled.

It needs to be kept refrigerated. I had it sent to the office where we have a mini-fridge and I could keep it cold. Technically, deliveries in the winter shouldn't be affected, but the last thing I wanted was for someone to swipe the box off the front porch, too. Since the delivery is next day, I can call for a delivery on a day when I know I will be in the office to sign for it and put it in the fridge.

My first box came with all this stuff.

There are small circular band-aids, alcohol pads for cleaning the injection area and a sharps container. I'm not a bleeder and often, after having blood drawn at my RA appointments, I will forego a band-aid. But I've noticed that there is just a pin prick spot at the injection site and a band-aid is helpful for a couple hours. I don't know, yet, when I will send the sharps container back, but I like that it's small enough to sit on the shelf in the bathroom yet it appears it will hold a couple months worth of pens.

The drug itself arrives in a styrofoam cooler.

It was a perfect fit for the box and getting it out at the office involved removing the top, grabbing both sides and shaking the box so it would drop off. It fits nicely in the office fridge.

It's not very big.

A 6-pack of soda is probably all that would fit in here. The box of pens, 4 to a package, was under and on top of gel packs; 2 on top and 2 on the bottom. Since this is a month's worth of drugs and I have to do this now forever, or until something changes, the thought of all these coolers and gel packs in my house makes me weak. I was informed that, once I've been on this for 3 months and if I'm tolerating it well, I will get my 4th shipment as 3 month's worth. Well, that's still a cooler and gel packs. I don't know if I can recycle those, although the styrofoam cooler I can. The last thing I need are stacks of gel packs in my freezer, although they last a long time and keep frozen dinners frozen.

I went to the doctor's office and learned how to give myself the shot. It went okay under my doctor's nurses' watchful eye. The next week, it stung a bit when I did it on a Saturday in the bathroom. Last week, however, it didn't hurt beyond the initial pin prick. I have to take the meds out of the fridge and let them come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes. This past week, I waited 40 minutes. When I use the alcohol pads to wipe off the injection site, I need to make sure all the alcohol has evaporated or that will sting. Once I see the indicator on the pen go to solid purple, I count to 5 before removing the pen from my leg. This way I make sure all the medication has been delivered.

Do I have an immediate feeling for change? No. Yeah, I was hopeful there would be some dramatic feeling better, that this almost crushing fatigue I fight would be lifted. But, with a drug like this, my body has to get used to it being in my system and that takes time. It could take as long as 3 months. I need to be better by March so I can go back to Virginia and not be completely wiped out by the travel.

And, speaking of Virginia, they provided me with a travel pouch.

It has gel inserts. The whole thing goes into the fridge before I travel and then a month's worth of pens can be put inside the case. The pouch will keep them chilled for up to 14 hours. When I go to Virginia, I'll have this and a cooler for travel. Things you have to plan for that you didn't before.

One of the questions the nurses ask when going over the drug is if you are depressed. I've been thinking a lot about that question on my own. Am I fatigued because of something else? It comes back to no and I expressed that to the nurses. I'm tired. Both the reading I've done and Dr. Francis agree that my fatigue is due to the RA. She doesn't guarantee I will feel better, 66% of patients report an easing of symptoms, but Dr. Francis feels this is the best route to go. Once there is enough drug assisting my body in fighting this disease, then I won't feel so tired anymore.

Here I go, walking down a different road. Right now, if feels as if the road is going up and up and it's hard to climb. It's not filled with pot holes or boulders, it's just steep and I'm struggling to progress. I'm hopeful this will do the trick and give me back my energy. I miss feeling refreshed all day.

Beverage:  Water


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Under and Then On Top of, the Deck

The other thing that occupied my time toward the end of November was the arrival of 4 feet. I saw "her" (I think it's a her. I haven't been able to reliably check, but it's just easier if we call it "her".) when I came home one weekend afternoon. She was just sitting on the deck. It wasn't overly cold, yet. She ran when I came close to the deck, jumped off, but didn't go very far. She just sat a good 6 feet away from the deck, watching me.

I had a cereal box I was going to recycle so I took it apart and poured a half cup of food on it. I set it near the back door, backed away and just watched.

It was like she hadn't eaten in a few days. She ate every last piece of food. So, I opened up the door and added another scoop, which is a quarter cup, to the box. She snarfed that down too. I watched as she left and she went under my deck. How long she'd been there is anyone's guess, but I felt, immediately, a need to care for her.

The next day, I pulled out the Kentucky Fried Chicken containers they have for sides and put food in one and water in the other. It was getting cold. We were about to get the first close to zero days of winter, along with snow. I worried. I fretted. I hit up YouTube and posted this photo to my Facebook feed. Friends sent links on how to made a cat house. I watched and read everything, but couldn't get to Target for another week. Still, I put out food every morning when leaving for work and although the water was frozen when I got home, the food was gone.

Finally, I made it to Target to get a plastic bin.

The one I really wanted didn't have a lid. I asked if they had extra lids in back and the gal went to look, but never returned. When plastic bins aren't "en vogue", like in January, it's really hard to find reasonably priced totes that have lids. But, if I remember my science, darker colors absorb heat so perhaps this is better than the lighter colored one that was a bit bigger.

Step 1 is to measure up from the bottom of the tote, 5 inches and then cut a 5 1/2 inch square. I have a simple hand saw that I've had for years.

I wound up bending the blade as I cut through the plastic. In the end, I got out my Cutco kitchen scissors and used them to cut the hole. They cut through just about anything and don't dull.

There was a quick check of the opening size and it was good to go.

Some instructions didn't cover the opening edges. They just left them raw. While not sharp sharp, they would be uncomfortable if the cat were to brush up against them. So I took some duct tape sent to me by my friend, Meredith, and covered the raw edges.

Yes, that is bacon decorated. Now for the inside.

All the videos and written descriptions called for straw to be used as an insulation material in conjunction with styrofoam. Well, at work, we get this 2 inch thick foam packing material.

This stuff is really good for insulating our equipment and for shipping things. We tend to get it in abundance and will, twice a year, send back to our shop, a couple boxes of it. Over the years, I've grabbed some excess when I've wanted to ship things so I have a grocery bag full. I put two pieces in the bottom, although one was a bit shorter than the other. I took two large rectangles and had to cut off about 3 inches to make them fit in the box.

I wound up doing a bit more cutting to get enough pieces to line the inside of the container except for that small spot in the corner. But this is big enough that a couple of cats her size would fit comfortably. This is where you would add straw on either side of the foam to act as insulation. I felt that width of the foam would help keep the cat warm. The next step is to cover the bottom with straw.

Target didn't have straw and I couldn't think, off the top of my head, where I could get straw. I have, however, dozens of small fabric squares which I've saved to use as rags. Those of  you who toss clothing that's worn out do not know the value in rags. They are so very useful for a variety of things. I took an old sheet, cut it into hunks and put a large hunk in the bottom, covering the hole. After the container was finished, friends said I should have gone to JoAnn Fabrics because straw would be available for Christmas displays. I never thought of that.

I used pine bedding which is for hamsters and gerbils.

I put about a quarter of a pound in the back of the container on top of the sheet. The bedding will absorb water from wet fur and, being on top of the sheet, I can easily pick the whole thing up and change it out. Here is the finished container.

Pleased with myself, I stuck this on the deck and waited for any evidence it was being used. I also got a dish with compartments for food and water.

We entered a very cold and snowy period right before Thanksgiving. I didn't see the cat, although I did see footprints in the snow and the food was being eaten. Then, the week before Thanksgiving, I opened the door to put the food out and she shot out of the container to dash under the deck. I was so thrilled. I set down the food and closed the door. When I opened it again, she was there eating, but took off under the deck. I started the car and she had come back up onto the deck to finish off her breakfast.

Over the next week, we got into kind of a rhythm. I would feed her on my way to work and pick up the dish when I got home. She seemed to get used to my patterns. Cats are notorious for preferring a sameness to a schedule.

There she is, waiting for me to bring out her food and water. On a couple of occasions, she came up to the back door and looked in, meowing at me. "Yeah yeah yeah. I'm coming."

When we got the first snow of the year, I swept off the deck to make eating better and less cold on paws. If the weather says we're to have precipitation, I take one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken containers and stick it just inside the doorway. I don't know if she goes inside then to eat or if she eats with her head inside but the rest outside.

The girls have noticed her. Mija saw her first and there was some growling. My back door is a full window so they can look out onto the deck. Mija left the back door and, although she's gone back to the door, hasn't seen her. Pilchard, on the other hand... Last Thursday, she came up to the door and Pilchard, whom, you have to admit, blends in perfectly with the night at 2:30 a.m., was sitting there, watching. I was awakened by the usual growling, hissing, spitting of a very angry cat. My initial reaction was that the girls were having an argument, but the noise was in the kitchen. I dashed to the back and saw the cat sitting on the top step of the deck. She saw me and, as I tried to calm Pilchard down, slunk down the stairs. She did not eat on Friday. I saw her on Saturday. She came and ate and then left the deck to go toward my neighbor's back yard. I have not seen her since, but the food is gone when I come home from work.

I called Tree House Animal Clinic in Chicago. They are an absolutely wonderful no-kill shelter in Chicago who advocate for "community" or feral cats, in addition to being a full service veterinary clinic. It's possible the presence of an angry cat on the other side of the door scared her from using the shelter. It's also possible that because we have had milder weather, the cat has other options. My keeping food out every day and the fact that the food is gone means the cat is still coming by to eat. She may, eventually come back to the shelter. Some cats just won't use them. The gal to whom I talked said she has 3 boxes in her back yard and none of them are used by any of the feral cats she cares for. HRH sits by the back door and watches now. I would hope this is not a deterrence to using the shelter. I would feel horrible if the cat is living under someone's deck because of Pilchard.

The other question I had was how to keep the entrance clear of snow. We had the 3rd snowiest winter on record at the beginning of this year and some of those snows would cover the entry. She said some people have a table they put over the entry to keep it snow free. I could use the plastic table I have for the deck. If I got a hunk of wood, I could put that between the table and the tote and the west wall of the deck. That would further keep the snow from accumulating or blowing into the house. Plus, it would give me some time to get the area clear of snow since I always shovel off the deck and to the Jeep first anyway.

My goal is to get her to trust me somewhat so I can take her to a vet for a check up. The gal at Tree House said they have traps to rent and they have experience handling strays. Her ear is not tipped which is what community cats who have been spayed and neutered and returned to the wild have. It's important that she be up-to-date on shots and that she be spayed. I suspect, because she didn't run from me, but went under my deck, that she used to be someone's cat who was shoved outside. I want to make sure she's not microchipped and just lost.

So, that's what I've been doing with my time. I thought about shoeing her away, but I realized it would bother me, greatly. I can't not do something. Cats are highly resilient creatures, but providing the best I can means she'll have a better life. I need to add more bedding this weekend to plump things up.

I don't know that even if I could win her trust that she could come inside with me. I think the problems I have with the girls getting mad at one another would be magnified, but I'm doing the best I can. I'm going to call her "Rosalind", after my favorite female Shakespearean character, at least until I know a different gender.

Beverage:  English Teatime Tea


Friday, December 5, 2014

With 25% More Energy...

...I can wrap 90% of my Christmas presents.

I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. Getting a full night's sleep without waking up once means there's more energy for things like wrapping gifts when I get home from work. I have one more box of stuff to go. There is a package missing, a flat that came on Tuesday. I need to find that. I remember bringing it in the house but where did I lay it down?

I love this wrapping paper. It's from Hallmark and it's one of their giant rolls. Hallmark wrapping paper is printed on the back with a grid for easy straight cutting, but I love this paper because I can use the design to not waste paper. I have a lot of small "wallet-size" gifts this year so I've had some strips left, but most of the time, I am spot on in paper usage thanks to the plaid. If I could find more like this, I'd be all over it. I use a paper until it's gone and then start on another roll.

The local grade school used to have a wrapping paper sale in September. The kids, and my daughter was one of them, would go door-to-door with books of paper samples. I always, always bought a couple of rolls, realizing that what the school took in from sales was maybe half of what I was paying. But the paper was good and heavy and they had some really cool designs. I think I got this roll about 3-4 years ago and it was, as I said, the big roll. I don't have a lot of huge gifts to wrap so paper lasts me a long time.

I'm waiting on a few more deliveries, but I'm done with my shopping. Yes, I did a lot of it via the Internet. For someone like me with endurance issues, Internet shopping is a godsend. Some things, like the books I'm giving, come from my local independent book store. Some things I've never seen anywhere. I might, if I had a shopping buddy, head into the nooks and crannies of local downtowns to see what I could find. Since I'm on my own, I shop online. I will wrap everything this weekend and package it for shipping. Monday you'll find me on line at the post office. Twenty-five percent more energy means I can last 50% longer.

I'll take it.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Scuffling Along

Some years ago, I bought a pair of slippers known as "scuffs" or "slides". You slide your feet into them and they have a covered front and a bottom and that's it. Easy on and easy off.  They have a nice warm upper and a sturdy sole. Those slippers have served me in very good stead, but are getting a little long in the tooth. So, I've been looking, for awhile, for a new pair. I'm picky. I found what I thought was the perfect pair, but they had a cardboard sole which wouldn't keep my feet warm if you heated it. I suppose I should not have expected much for their $5 price tag.

I put slippers on my birthday/Christmas list for a couple of years until I realized that, should someone actually buy me slippers, their idea of what I would like versus my idea of what I actually wanted were two vastly different things. It was then that I decided I should just search myself for what I wanted and not leave it up to chance.

The need to make a birthday/Christmas list meant I had to look for things. In searching a web site called fansedge.com for Iowa Hawkeyes stuff, I stumbled across these.

Using Retailmenot.com (and you are using this site or something like it when you order online, right? Right?), I got them for $11. That is worth it for slippers.

They were a bit uncomfortable on the first couple of wearings, until they conformed to my feet. Technically, there is no left or right to these, but, with repeated wear, the top molds to your feet so you wind up with a left and right pair. I know when I put them on the wrong feet.

Hello gorgeous. These have a hard plastic, non-skid sole that is covered by the black fleece. the top is light weight black fleece and the tiger hawk is embroidered directly onto the top. It's not an applique. Now that I have them broken in, they are warm, so very, very warm. Add fuzzy socks, like I did in the photo and my feet are wonderfully comfortable.

I keep the other scuffs around because their harder sole means I can wear them outside. The new ones are washable but I don't want to get them dirty or wet in going to the recycling bin or the mailbox.

Unfortunately, they didn't bring the Hawkeyes good luck as we won only 1 of the last 4 games since I got the scuffs. I would listen to non-televised games on my computer and watched the last 2 on TV. They may have been bad games, but I had warm feet.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper