Saturday, March 22, 2014

When? When? When?

They are taunting me.

Panera has their Easter cookies out but I have not seen their hot cross buns. Oh goodness. I shouldn't be spending money by going there, but I just want a 6 pack of their hot cross buns. One 6-pack. That's all I'm asking for. I've had these rolls from other bakeries, but I don't care for them as much as I like Panera's. So far, no luck.

There's always next week. /sigh

Beverage:  Darjeeling tea


Do You Or Don't You?

You're running late for work and don't have time for lunch. You're running late for work and that carefully prepared lunch is forgotten. You're sent thither and yon and so bringing lunch wouldn't be possible. You're running errands and they take overly long so it doesn't make sense to run home, eat, and run back out. Whatever the reason, you find yourself walking into a fast food establishment for lunch or dinner. I got into the habit of walking into the restaurant when the window zippers on the previous top broke and I couldn't get the driver's side window to zip completely down. Now, I park and get out because I need to be walking, not sitting.

You place your order and they hand you the cup for your soda or your pop or your coke or whatever you call the carbonated beverage in your neck of the woods.

I happened to spend quite a few lunches at Arby's this week. Walk over to the beverage dispenser and hit the ice tab. First time is probably not enough ice, so you tap it again. Out comes the crystalized goodness which will water down your drink and keep it chilled.

So, I ask you, as an informal poll, is the second tap of the ice dispensing tab just enough ice for your tastes or too much or not enough? I find that, at least at Arby's, and I would have to conduct this experiment at other places, the first tap isn't enough. The second tap is usually too much. I shake out ice and sometimes discover I have shaken out too much and so I have to try, very hard, to tap the dispenser ever so lightly in the hopes that just enough cubes will fall. What's just enough? Well, for me, about an inch and a half of ice in the bottom of the cup.

And it's funny how wedded I am to that amount. More than that and I'm dumping out ice. Less than that and I have to add more. It must drive the help crazy to see people like me trying ever so mightily to get the perfect amount, by their personal standards. I take what I'm given when I go through the drive through, but I'll spend 3 minutes at the soda machine working on the perfect amount of ice.

Do you?

Beverage:  Darjeeling Tea


I Wonder

I've spent the last week doing inspections in Kewaskum, Wisconsin. It's a small town north of Milwaukee, a two and a half hour drive one way. I've been fortunate that I can arrange the inspections to start at 10 and end around 2:30 so I can drive up and back each day. Yes, it's been hard on my body but I would rather sleep in my own bed. I think 3 hours one way would be the limit for me, although I have driven to Iowa and back simply because of the work load. It makes for a long day, but being with my girls is worth it.

One of the buildings I had to inspect is Holy Trinity Catholic Church. It's a beautiful building.

It was built in 1905. The addition to the left was added in the 1990's. It includes the handicapped entrance. The congregation has done a fantastic job of maintenance. You can tell they love the building.

As I approached it, something struck me. This architectural design is extremely familiar to me. If you go into any upper Midwest town of 1000 or more, you'll find a church that looks like this. It doesn't matter if it's Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian or whatever, there is a church that looks like this. The priest said that was an interesting observation because the United Church of Christ and the Lutheran church in town do look like this. They don't have the bell tower, to the right, but they do have a spire and a high, vaulted ceiling. Interestingly, they were built between 1905 and 1908.

East of town is a small white, clapboard Catholic church that, I swear, is the spitting image of the Lutheran church I went to until we outgrew it and built the new church. You see that design around, too.

So I got to thinking, was there an architectural firm around between 1880 and 1920 that specialized in church design? In my hometown, we had a Methodist and Catholic church with similar designs. If you took off the bell tower and shrank the church by 20%, and built it in dark brick, you'd have those two churches. Did you page through a book of prints or floor plans, adapting designs or did you just choose something you liked? They didn't have photography to send you a book of 8 x 10 glossies for your congregation's perusal. And then, is this a typically Upper Midwest design? I'm so familiar with this style. It's all over Wisconsin, Minnesota, northern Illinois and Iowa. Perhaps this goes east, too, but I'm less familiar with churches outside this area.

I love the majesty of the building. I love how it soars. I wonder if someone has written a book about this style of architecture, investigated it. It would have limited appeal, but the questions fascinate me.

Beverage:  hot cocoa


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Smile. It's Spring


I've been in my car all week. I'm not sleeping the best either because my brain in processing the next day's road trip. It's a huge job and it fell onto my shoulders and that keeps my brain going and going when I really want it to just be quiet and rest.

So, on the drive this morning, I finally found a radio station I could tolerate. It plays oldies from the 1960's through the 1980's. If they get to late 1980's, I'm not real certain of the song or the artist, but I've enjoyed the mix, although I heard "Crocodile Rock" by Elton John twice yesterday; once on the way up and once on the way back. (That's a post for this weekend. More on radio music upcoming.)

I find myself drifting. You know the feeling. You're concentrating on the drive and then, suddenly, you realize a section of pavement has passed by and your brain was off somewhere. My best friend was killed in a head on collision 13 years ago when she fell asleep while driving home from work. When I find myself nodding or not paying attention, I drink lots of water and turn the radio up, forcing myself to sing along to songs I really hated when they were popular. (I'm looking at you "Night Moves".)

There was a dusting of snow on the ground, the deck and the Jeep this morning. Grumble. The air was filled with snow. Grumble. There was slick pavement and people pretending it didn't matter if they drove 70. Grumble. I don't want to be here yet I'm forced to be. Grumble. And the tea wasn't strong enough. Grumble.

Then, the sun came out as I worked my way north and, the radio station started a song that shoved all those "I'm too tireds" out of my head. Maybe you know this.

This is John Fogerty's homage to baseball, "Centerfield". You can't listen to this and not be happy. Right after this, the announcer said opening day is 2 weeks away.

Now, I'm not that much of a baseball fan anymore. I was a die hard Cubs fan, but when they started paying people millions of dollars, I lost interest. The steroid scandal and the fact that it would cost me upwards of $70 to attend a game at Wrigley Field just reinforce my feeling that it's not something fun anymore. Professional sports isn't. Still, I hear this song, and the memories of summer evenings spent watching baseball on TV or watching the high school baseball and softball teams play make me smile.

Then, I get to where I'm going and the sun is shining.

Opening day is 2 weeks away. "Put me in coach. I'm ready to play, today." It's spring.

Beverage:  water


Wednesday, March 19, 2014


I like flavored seltzer water. There's no sugar in the stuff, just flavor and carbonated water. I'll even drink tonic water or plain seltzer, but give me the fruit flavor to replace soda. I've cut way down on my consumption of my beloved Dr Pepper thanks to this although flavored seltzer is, even on sale, 2-3 times what soda is. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

So, the last grocery trip, I bought another 12 pack. I was emptying the car and I picked up the carton by that silly indentation they have on the top of the pack. There was a malfunction.

We'd received a quarter inch of snow and we'd had some melting at the end of February. They all landed in icy cold muddy water in the drive. Yes, for a moment, I entertained leaving them there. After all, it was cold out. But it was to get below freezing and then I'd have exploding cans on my hands. I brought them inside and washed off the cans, sticking them in the nearly empty box of the previous 12 pack.

Guess I need to check the structural integrity of the cartons now.

Beverage:  hot cocoa


Tracking the Dirt

In the post below this, I mentioned I washed the living room rugs. Pilchard made a "deposit" of a hairball on each. There was also winter grit and dirt and this stuff called black hair all over the rugs. I'm kind of interested to see how long they stay reasonably clean. With the thaw occurring, I'm starting to track in some mud. It will be much worse in the next couple of weeks. But, let's conduct an experiment and see, shall we.

This is the rug that sits in front of the recliner. It's a floral design on cream.

This rug used to be cream color but I put it in the wash with a blue bath rug. Yeah, you'd think I'd know better. Pilchard loves this rug. I put it down on the floor and, 3 hours later, heard this commotion in the living room. When I came into the living room, she had it all balled up from attacking it and looked happy as a clam. I know I have asked this before what it is about this rug that cats in my household love to attack it.

The rugs were down on the floor on Saturday and they still look as clean as they did on Saturday. I have taken my shoes off in the kitchen if I suspect they are muddy. So far, they haven't been. Four days and counting.

Beverage:  Hot Cocoa


Harbinger of Spring

It was nice enough over the past weekend to wash the living room rugs. It's probably a harbinger of spring to see my rugs draped over the deck rails to dry.

I kind of had to wash the rugs as Pilchard deposited a couple of rather large hairballs on both rugs. So, after a load of pants, I tossed these in the machine and draped them over the railing. It was great to be outside. You can see the snow retreating from the backyard. This was the backyard after the first snow, which was a goo 8 inches on January 2nd.

Spring is tomorrow and you can smell it in the air. There's a lovely smell when snow melts with spring's edging. While I love the shadows on fresh snow, I'm ever so happy to see this vanishing.

I let Pilchard out the last real snow fall on March 1st. I had gone to the grocery and she came out when I was emptying the car.

She wasn't amused. But even with this quarter inch, we could smell spring in the air. She wandered about and then dashed back inside. 

With any luck, this will be the last snow of the relentless series of snows this winter, although the cold is to be here next week. 

I saw a robin on Tuesday morning. I have heard them warbling in the yard. I think we are all ready for this winter to be officially over. It's coming. It's coming. Look. Hyacinths. 

Beverage:  Hot cocoa


Thursday, March 13, 2014

If It Wasn't March

It was nearly 55 degrees last week. I insisted the girls come outside and smell the fresh air.

There was a lot of melting and it sure seemed like spring was near.

Bah humbug. I awoke yesterday to three inches.

This is the heavy, wet, moisture laden snow that is perfect for snowballs and snowmen, almost too wet, really, unlike the light stuff we've had all winter.

You can tell the direction the storm came by what side of everything is covered with snow. Framed against a backdrop of blue sky, it was gorgeous in it's own way.

I like the ring around the birdbath.

But, it's really hard to be excited by another blast of snow. Originally, there was talk of 14 inches. As this storm came closer, it was clear we would only get a glancing blow. I just shoveled out to the Jeep last night so I wouldn't have to wear boots in today. The rain from Tuesday that changed to ice and then snow created a weight on the wipers and fried the wiper motor. I scraped off the wipers and the windshield but when I started the wipers, they ran really fast and then there was a buzz. Now they don't work.

NPR had a small article about how this winter, with wave after wave of relentless snow storms is making people surly. I can see that. I'm tired of shoveling. I'm tired of scraping. I'm tired of needing 4 wheel drive to get into my driveway. I'm tired of hurting because of all the shoveling. I'm tired of wearing my winter coat, my hat, my boots.

This was one of those beautiful snows that outlines everything. If it hadn't been March, I'd have been outside taking lots of photos because it's the kind of Christmas card snow we want in December. It's supposed to be over freezing for the next week. A lot of this will melt. I like winter, but I am so ready for it to be over.

Beverage:  Water


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

It's Called Something

I live in words. It's where I'm most comfortable. Lately, however, I've been worried about these words. Sometimes, it feels as if they abandon me.

I was mentioning this to Pam and she gripped my arm. "You too? Sometimes, you think you're the only one."

There isn't a problem when I read the printed word. The problem comes when I write or when I speak. You'll often hear people say, "The word escapes me" when they can't think of that one word which defines what they want to say. For me, it's as if words haven't escaped so much as wandered away. They were here for a long time. I knew them, knew them well. Now, they are nowhere in my lexicon to be found, as if I left the door open and they've gone on a somewhat permanent vacation to who knows where.

Of course, this bothers me. I remember a story about our late president, Ronald Reagan. He'd been living with Alzheimer's for some time now, perhaps 3 years. An old friend, who happened to be a columnist, paid him a visit. They talked. Reagan didn't seem to be less sharp than in the past although he tripped over his memories, but that happens to all of us. As the friend turned to go he asked Reagan how he was getting on. Reagan said he spent his time outside, talking with Nancy and then, gesturing toward a bookshelf overloaded with books, "I spend time with these...these...these..." He paused. The simple word "books" eluded him. His friend said there was a momentary flash of anger as one half of the brain knew that the other half knew the word but wasn't giving it up. Reagan, said, finally, "...trees".

Last week, in my health news feed, there was a story about how Alzheimer's deaths are probably woefully under reported. The estimate is that over 504,000 deaths each year are from Alzheimer's, yet only 80,000 are listed on death certificates as such. The author of the study said we need better reporting of deaths, first of all, and secondly, we need a better understanding of how Alzheimer's causes death.

I take memory tests when I can find reliable ones. I do things, such as play memory games, designed to keep my cognitive skills sharp. There isn't a history of Alzheimer's in my family although a great-great aunt had what we now recognize as dementia. It's not a disease that has a trail through my family. Yet, I'll be chatting with someone and the word or words I need are nowhere to be found. I know exactly what that thing, over there, that one, not the one next to it, but that one, is called, but, for the life of me, I cannot give you its name. I'll type up a blog post, upload it to my blog and then read it. The misspelled words, the awkward sentence construction, the syntax and the grammar in some sentences can be horrid. I think, "How could I have written this? I know better."

Some years ago, I mentioned to my doctor my concerns about memory loss. He asked about my life and gave me a series of tests. I passed with flying colors. "You don't have Alzheimer's," he said. "Your problem is that you're trying to remember too much at once. Slowing down and concentrating on one task at a time is all you need to do. You've lived a long time and you have a lot of memories. Those, too, can override the part of the brain charged with pulling up what you need to remember." That made me feel better for awhile, but lately, I worry. How often is struggling to catch the word I want just a factor of the amount I have stored in my head versus a sign of further problems, a slow trip down to the absence of memory? I can't find an answer to that question. Perhaps it's not something that can be definitively stated. When it happens to me, a get tense. I worry. In a way, I obsess. Then this passes and I'm okay with, "Um..." because I'm with Pam and we finish each others sentences anyway, even if we reach a point where the word doesn't come and the other picks up the thought as if it was the most normal thing in the world to do.

For now, I ask your indulgence if I sweep my hand past the bookshelf and call them trees or stand there with a sour expression on my face because I know the word. I just can't think of it. Trees wasn't completely wrong, either. Books are made from paper which comes from trees. That's in the neighborhood of the right word and just being in the right neighborhood can make all the difference in the world.

Beverage:  Water


Almost Sculpture

My company uses a lot of batteries to power our equipment. Every battery, even rechargeable batteries, lose their ability to store a charge after a long period of use. Gradually, over the course of several years, we started to develop a "battery graveyard", we were calling it.

Years ago, you would have put this stuff out for the trash. But, in these enlightened times, some places have banned batteries from garbage and it's not environmentally sound policy to chuck as many as we have into the trash. So, we searched for a recycling company that would come get the pile, and what a pile it was.

Yeah, this is everything. When we buy new, we write on the battery or affix a bit of tape to it with the month it was purchased. Some places will guarantee a battery will hold a charge within a certain number of months. If it doesn't, you can bring it back for a new one. We hit a spate, several years ago, where the dozen batteries we needed had 4 that were bad from the start. It's frustrating to have to take them back and ask for a replacement, particularly as the battery store was a good 30 minute drive away.

We piled everything up and it looked almost like a modern art installation. I think we'll call "Ode to Recycability". The company hired took everything shown here. Now that room is a whole lot cleaner, too, and we'll be getting a check for our efforts. Total win.

Beverage:  Water


This Vexes Me #20

In keeping with the post below, I bought Pillsbury pizza dough over the weekend to try a new recipe for breakfast pizzas. Pillsbury is a sponsor of Box Tops for Education, the long-running program that gets schools a huge variety of items by having kids turn in box tops found on hundreds of items. I usually know someone who has a child collecting them so I save them when I find one on a product I've purchased, like pizza dough.

This is vexing, though. I don't know if you've noticed, but Pillsbury canned dough products don't open as cleanly as they used to. It used to be you'd pull the "Open here" tab and most of the label came off as a unit. You could lie the label flat on the counter while you read about making sure your sweet roll edges touch each other or the oven temperature needed to make crescent rolls or, in this case, make a pizza using their dough. I don't know when they changed this but now, when I buy a tube and pull the open here tab, a mere strip comes off around the tube. The redesign probably has something to do with keeping instructions on the container instead of having them accidentally tear into pieces. Seems to me, though, you could print the label to ameliorate that problem.

And then, I can't get the label off the container to get at the box top. After several minutes of picking, including a knife which I decided wasn't a good idea, I simply cut around the box top. Frankly, that doesn't seem very sanitary. I'm including the whole tube with this item. Once I got the box top cut away, I tried again and still couldn't get just the label to peel off.

So, this is vexing. There has to be a reason they have gone this route, although I don't know what it is. This will be the last year to send my box tops to a certain boy who sent me Flat Stanley last year. Come fall, I'll need to find someone else to benefit from my saving streak. I won't not buy Pillsbury canned baked goods but I won't be cutting bits off the tubes to mail. That's just gross.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


It Merits a Second Try

Not sure where I was cruising on the Internet highway when I stumbled upon a recipe for breakfast pizzas created by The Minimalist Baker. (Amazing food in this blog. You'll spend hours there. Trust me.) These are Apple Streuel Breakfast Pizzas and the recipe is dairy free. I wasn't going to buy the vegan butter and milk called for in the recipe so I just substituted regular butter and the 2% milk I have on hand. While the recipe is good, it's time intensive and I would make some changes to it for my tastes. Let's dive in.

First you need to peel, core and dice two apples. Then, you put the apples, cinnamon, brown sugar and butter on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake to cook the apples.

What a wonderful fragrance this provides. Plus, you are only using the amount of butter called for in the recipe, not "well, I don't know if that's enough" that might happen if you sauteed the apples in a skillet.

Next comes the pizza dough. I used the smallest size of Pillsbury I could find and I chose whole wheat instead of white.

When I unrolled the dough, I had this rather large rectangle on my hands. The recipe calls for rolling it thin which would have increased the size. I merely patted it into a greased jelly roll pan. Their pizza dough recipe must make a smaller amount than the store bought. I'm on the fence about making the dough, but it's something I probably should try.

Once in the pan, you put your apple mixture on the dough. Here's where I'm going to have to make changes if I want to use store bought dough.

Nowhere nearly enough apples. This gets covered with a sugar, flour and butter streusel mixture.

Covered was a bit of a misnomer. It was more like smothered, given the amount of streusel mixture I made. I'm inclined to think that even with their dough recipe, there are still too few apples for the dough and streusel mixture. I want ingredients in my pizza, which is why I usually get double cheese. For me, I think doubling the apples will yield better coverage of the dough and less piles of streusel.

Another thing I will add the next time I make this, chopped walnuts. To me, streusel is not streusel unless it has nuts in it. But if you're allergic to nuts or serving this to people who are allergic to nuts, this is a great recipe.

Into the oven it goes for 12-15 minutes. I think making it on this dark cookie sheet overcooked the pizza a bit as the oven has been on for the last 30 minutes while I finished preparing the pizza for baking. It didn't need to heat up.

The end result. It tastes great and reheats very nicely. The recipe calls for a powdered sugar glaze to be drizzled over the pizza. I could have sworn I had powdered sugar, but, when I needed it, I couldn't find it. I'm not sure the pizza needs that, to be honest.

I think, with these tweaks, this will be something I can make when I have company. The labor intensive phase is peeling, coring and dicing the apples. The topping could be made ahead and kept in the fridge for assembly the next day. I loved the smell in the kitchen as this was baking. I cut it into 8 pieces. I'm not sure how it would freeze. What? Don't look at me like that. It's a great snack for evenings.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Friday, March 7, 2014

2014 Book 3

You know what makes a good book? When you know, know, you should go to bed because you're getting over a heavy cold but you can't put the blasted thing down. THAT'S a good book.

I finally read this book by one of my favorite contemporary authors. I mean, I picked this book up on Monday evening, after finishing Thud and I finished this book last night. It's 400 pages with footnotes. I read every page.

I first"met" the writing of Erik Larson back in 1999 when he released a book entitled Isaac's Storm. It's about the Galveston, Texas hurricane, how it wasn't adequately predicted by the National Weather Service, how that service was highly politicized and how things changed as a result of the death and destruction of this hurricane. It's never been officially named, but the Isaac referred to in the title was in charge of the weather bureau in Galveston and was blamed for the huge destruction and loss of life when it really wasn't his "fault".

In that book, the hurricane "hit" Galveston as my reading approached 2 a.m. I simply couldn't put the book down. I needed to know what happened.

Larson's next book is Devil in the White City. This is a fantastic book for someone living in Chicagoland. It's about H. H. Holmes and the hotel he kept at the fringe of the World Columbian Exposition. The "white city" is a reference to the buildings of the fair which were plywood and painted white. This book didn't have the reach out and grab me point but the whole thing was tinged with an "I know that place" feeling. The hotel is long gone but the remnant of the World Columbian Exposition are still part of Chicago and one of the most beautiful parks in the city.

In between Devil and In the Garden of Beasts, is a book entitled Thunderstruck. I haven't read that. While Issac's Storm, Devil in the White City and In the Garden of Beasts received rave reviews, Thunderstruck was less well-received. Thunderstruck is in my "To Be Read" pile and I will get to it, but the topic of In the Garden appealed to me very much.

This book covers the years when William Dodd was the Ambassador to Germany in the 1930's and the lead up to World War II. It is told from the family's perspective, more from Dodd and his daughter, Martha's, perspective than from his wife and son's viewpoint. It's probably because, unlike Dodd and Martha, they didn't leave volumes of papers to be poured over after they died. Larson does meticulous research and read all these papers and anything else he could find about the Dodds and the time period in German history. With recent events in the world theatre causing the "just like Hitler" tag to be brandished about, looking back at what Hitler actually did should be required by anyone seeking to sling that moniker around.

I like history. I like reading about it. I'm selective in what I read, what I examine. I believe in the aphorism, "Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it". This was something Dodd believed in, too. I know a fair amount about the causes of WW II, but in this book, I was shocked by what happened in Germany that I didn't know. It's never been mentioned to me before. To say, "Hitler was a madman" does not adequately cover the events of the 1930's. If you are a student of that era or simply would like to read more about it, this book should be in your pile.

Larson tries to take an neutral view of Dodd. He was a history professor at the University of Chicago. He was not the first, second or even third choice for the vacant ambassador seat. Roosevelt appointed him personally and there was no confirmation hearing at that time. Now days, Dodd wouldn't have been selected even if no one, not one person in the current administration's staff or donor list had wanted the job. He had health issues. He had grown children who were, at best, still emotional children and their antics, as reported in the book, would have caused Dodd to be relieved of his post within a couple months of his appointment.

His daughter slept with anyone she felt like sleeping with. She fell deeply in love with an avowed Communist and became sympathetic to that cause, at a time when this was an anathema to the administration. She and the man she ultimately married (not the Communist), had to flee the US and settle in Prague because of their personal Communist leanings. She used her feminine wiles to get into the inner circle of Hitler's advisers. She was privately reviled by other members of Dodd's staff.

His son makes small appearances and, it seems, that's what his whole life played out to be. He took advantage of the opportunity to study at Dresden University, but he was well-known at Dresden bars and it's intimated that Dodd had to shell out some cash to get young Bill Jr out of trouble. At some point, he gave up his studies but it's never explained why.

Mrs. Dodd followed her husband wherever his career took him. She preferred urban life, while Dodd purchased a farm in western Virginia and spent some of the happiest times tilling the soil, raising livestock and growing fruit trees. She seems to have not liked moving to Berlin but she made the most of it. In the book, she seems more like the flowers placed about the house they rented when they were there, decoration and something that is little considered. Without substantive papers, I'm sure it was a problem to give Bill Jr and Mrs. Dodd any kind of fleshing out as characters.

The events of the 1930's play out as they affect the Dodd household. There is a gradual suppression of rights. We all know Jews were oppressed to the point that most lost their jobs, their homes and their lives. People who has "suspicious" last names were branded Jewish and were harassed. What I didn't know was that when Dodd arrived in Berlin in 1933, Americans with Jewish names were being pulled from their homes, taken into "protective custody" and then beaten. Several had turned up at the US Consulate showing incredible injuries. Dodd was thrown into having to demand apologies for this mistreatment of Americans and then listen to the half-hearted promises of them ceasing.

He came to the post thinking perhaps the Hitler Regime was on the right track in attempting to pull the country up from the world wide depression in which every country found itself. US creditors, who had been guaranteed war reparations from Germany for the first World War, were clamoring for Dodd to exert pressure on the German government to make good on these payments. I knew that this debt made Germany resentful. What I didn't know is that US banks and creditors charged exorbitant interest which kept Germany bankrupt. Imagine this. They viewed Germany as a cash cow. Germany could have paid back every penny demanded in the Treaty of Versailles and they would have made a lot of money. With interest, Dodd recognized that these US creditors were making out like bandits. He developed some sympathy for Germany's struggle because of this.

I didn't know Germany passed a law that every citizen had to stop what they were doing and give the Heil Hitler when a parade of Storm Troopers passed by. The original law was worded vaguely so when foreigners were caught not giving the salute, they were arrested. Protesting the arrest to a policeman usually got you a laugh. Dodd protested and a directive, largely ignored, was sent out saying foreigners were not to be arrested or detained for not giving the salute.

In what became known as The Night of the Long Knives, Hilter, in a rage, swept through his government and killed hundreds of people. The official tally is not known. The Dodd's knew many of the high ranking officials who were murdered. It was at this point, that, privately, any feeling of the rightness of Hitler's cause flew from the Dodd's point of view. Dodd still had to tread the official path. He could not condemn what Hitler had done but he refused to attend any kind of Hitler-staged event after this. He started to, in missives sent back to the State Department and President Roosevelt, express the view that the US needed to denounce Hitler or war was inevitable. Dodd, repeatedly, met with stonewalling or silence or the condescending tone of superior officers who had, all along, thought him unfit for the position.

Dodd was relieved of his position in November 1937 and, by New Year 1938, had been replaced. That ambassador, Hugh Wilson, spent his time pressuring Germany for repayment of debts owed the US from World War II. Germany only laughed at him. We all know what happened in the fall of 1939. Dodd had been right.

I got to the point, last night, where Dodd was ill again in 1936 and was taking of leave of absence to come back to the States and rest. Events in Germany were steamrolling ahead. More and more people disappeared. More and more of Berlin and the countryside was closed to foreigners. The Dodds saw the increasing persecution of the Jews in Berlin as another event leading up to war. Larson touches, ever so briefly, on the German mind set. Why would the average German allow someone like Hitler to increasingly restrict freedom? People were encouraged to rat on their neighbor. Paranoia took a form and people didn't meet in groups. If you hosted diplomats or intellectuals at parties, you were suspect, even if it was your duty. It was all part of breaking the spirit of the people to make them blindly follow, without asking, what Hitler wanted to do.

So much of the German side of this story was not known to me. Larson reports the laws, the events, the parties, the conversations matter-of-factly. The Night of the Long Knives, left me horrified. I knew about Kristallnacht, but this other event I didn't know about. The cold-bloodedness of the event, the rage attributed to Hitler to make him order murders, the extreme dislike of Hitler's associates for one another, all of this is mentioned in this book. The Third Reich was mad and this collective madness caught so many innocents. I had to keep reading to find out what happened to Dodd and his family. I finished the book at 12:45 this morning.

I feel sort of drained having read this. I'm so much more informed about this era of history than I was before. I feel a sense of sorrow for Dodd. He wasn't a diplomat. He was thrust into the world stage when all he wanted to do was write a history book. He was vilified when he was right because people chose, at that point in time, to not see. If you have any interest in this period of German and US history or of history in general, you owe it to yourself to read this.

Beverage:  Water


Summer Task

It feels and smells like spring out there today. What a welcome respite because it's supposed to rain, sleet and snow overnight tonight. Then, it's supposed to pop up to nearly 50 on Monday. Oh be still my heart. Yeah, well, that's not going to last. Maybe I can get my winter coat washed this weekend. It needs to be hung in the bathroom to dry so it's a multi-day event.

We had a 3 inch snow fall on Wednesday during the day. When I got home, I debated about shoveling. I knew we were to get warm weather yesterday and today, which would make short work of that 3 inches. But I also wanted to make sure it melted and opened up the areas where I usually walk. So, I grabbed the shovel and off we went.

The paint on the front steps has worn off quite a bit this winter. I am going to need to repaint the front steps and the deck this summer. At least I know it's coming.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

2014 Book 2

I suppose having a heavy cold is good for one thing. I finished another book on the way to reading twelve this year.

This is another in Pratchett's hugely popular Discworld series. Unlike previous books, you do not need to know the back story of any of the characters to enjoy this novel. This is science fantasy, at least that's where you'll find it. But it's very much a satire and you need to understand that Pratchett skewers everything in his Discworld novels. His British humor (humour?) is very much in evidence but it's not as pronounced as I've seen in other books. I should have counted how many of the series I've read, but I didn't. (When I think of getting rid of some of the books in this house, Discworld books are not even considered.) Come with no preconceived notions of what the book will skewer and enjoy the ride.

So what is this book about. The cheeky answer is, "It's about 300 pages". That's not quite double the size of usual Discworld novels. They tend to hover between 160-180 pages, which is, in paperback size, about a half inch thick. This is a good inch and a quarter thick and even if I lop off the advertising at the end, it's still close to an inch and a quarter.

It's also not as "ha ha" funny as other novels. Oh it's got some priceless moments, but this is a more sober novel, more a twists and turns novel, more a "what's going to happen next" novel. It's a murder mystery, a who-done-it where the "obvious" murderer is obviously not who did it. I can see that. The head of the police (called "The Watch" in the book) can see that. The head of the city where this takes place can see that. But the deceased was the leader of the dwarves and the seeming murderer was a member of their arch enemy, the trolls. Throw in that the murder takes place before the anniversary of the epic battle between trolls and dwarves, one which happened thousands of years ago but is still celebrated. And that battle has, for hundreds of years been a subject of debate about who attacked whom first and, more importantly, who won. The chief of police needs to solve this one, stat, and keep the two sides who really, really, really, don't like each other, from reenacting the battle in the capital city.

There are side plots galore. Discworld books are, to me, like hearty stews. Every person introduced, and some don't show up until you're 2/3rd of the way through the book, every plot twist (Wait a minute. She's a what?) are like additions to the stew. This guy simply dies of fright, of the possibility that he could be taken by the Summoning Dark. The chief of police reads "Where's My Cow?" to his young son every night at 6 without fail and it was hugely amusing to see how much a made up first book which included animal sounds could influence the ending of the novel. (Terry Pratchett actually followed up this book with "Where's My Cow". Looks like I have to get that to have my Discworld collection complete.)

What struck me about the book, however, was how Pratchett used it to comment on the nature of perception, especially when it comes to historical events. There is the aphorism, "History is written by the winners", but what if there weren't winners? What if we took an epic battle, one we know "everything" there is to know about it and discovered it wasn't exactly like we've come to understand all these years? What if the "history" that we know is colored by which side we happen to be on?

I have a lot of bookmarks. They are all in a pile on the desk in the bedroom. I change bookmarks with every book. I just reach into the pile and whichever one feels good, that's the one I use. The bookmark I used for Thud is a Civil War commemorative. One hundred and fifty years later, we are still wrestling with the issues of that war, a war that is greatly colored by which side you happen to fall on, which view you happen to hold.  Pratchett's own English history is filled with great moments of he said he said versus Wales and Scotland and Ireland.

Look across the ocean to Europe and the Mediterranean. Wars have been fought for far less than states rights. In some cases, no one knows the exact reason Joe hates Fred, but they only know they are supposed to because the dwarves and the trolls had an epic battle in this very spot some 4,000 years ago and you dwarves started it. No we didn't. We just came here for the restorative waters and a band of trolls jumped us. Well, I won't give away what the police chief found but it wasn't what "everyone" suspected.

I find the nature of the satirical novel, and Pratchett slathers this on with a trowel so if you don't like satire, don't read Discworld, to be the closest to holding up a mirror to ourselves. I think the huge popularity of Pratchett's novels and he's written far more than just those in the Discworld series, including children's books that are not satirical, hinges on his ability to take what we see every day, and make us think about what it is. He's skewered politics (well, that usually happens when the book is set in the main city), the post office, the movie industry, religion, academia, science fiction, the nature of fame, expectations, you name it, it's probably been poked at. Sometimes, satirists want to change the world. They want you to take down your preconceived notions you've always been told. Most of the time, they just want you to look at things with different eyes or from a different view.

We can't not see something from our point of view as a dwarf, troll, vampire, werewolf, human, ogre, etc. (You tell me what Nobby is.), but we can, for a moment look at our own history with a "what if". What if the Gathering Dark is not allowed to gather, but is rather told to get out of town, could we turn an event where we'd normally recreate a battle into celebrating a commonality between us? Would we then find ourselves reading more "Where's My Cow" to 6 month olds than bashing in peoples heads with clubs?

Beverage:  Cranberry Raspberry seltzer


It's Just Rotten

Perhaps you have seen this image taken from the space station.

It's been in the news a lot in the last couple of weeks. To the left is Lake Superior to the right is Lake Ontario. In the middle, almost completely obscured are Lakes Michigan, Huron and Erie. Around here, a big deal has been made of Lake Michigan being 90% covered in ice. The Coast Guard has had one of their biggest ice breakers in the far southern tip of the lake, breaking the ice so essential goods can travel by barge out of Chicago and Gary, Indiana harbors. Three weeks ago, a TV news crew went with them and the crew said it's one of the worst winters they have seen for lake ice. They think they get a channel cut and two days later, it's frozen again.

Here we are in March and, true to the aphorism, "In like a lion, out like a lamb", we got a heavy snowstorm on March 1st.

Yeah yeah. It's pretty, but Ive grown exceptionally tired of it. 

There is beauty in the pattern of white snow and blue shadow cast by an afternoon sun but I came down with a cold, the first heavy cold I've had in several years and this limited anything I was going to do, including shovel snow. Of course, that makes me frustrated because it needs to be moved from one location to another because it's too deep to be walked through in just shoes. I have to wear my boots and, as much as I like my boots, I'm tired of putting them on; of ear muffs, of scarves, of zippers and snaps and gloves. Just tired of winter in general. 

The weather people were quick to say that meteorological winter arrived at the end of February, all the while telling us there would be two more storms dumping snow on Chicagoland this week. As I type this, the 3 incher is outside, spitting white flakes in flurries and raging torrents. I was well enough yesterday to shovel the deck, out to the car and the front steps out to the mailbox. So much for that. 

There's nothing one can do besides yell outside when you've moved more snow, "Stop already" and know that Mother Nature is laughing. She seems more like a character from a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel this year than she ever has. I do wonder what we've done to honk her off so much that she insists winter be with us and her coat of snow covering the land for a long time. And when you're sick and the thought of moving yet another 3 inches from point A to point B makes you physically weak in the knees, you feel you will strangle another cheery weather person who says, "Well, we are in meteorological spring". Stick it where the sun don't shine. 

I spent Sunday and Monday either sleeping or in the recliner reading. The only good thing about being sick is that I'm pretty much immobile, excepting the times I need hot tea. That means my lap is not mobile. 

 That means, while I watch "Easter Parade" and then read, I have the benefit of both girls. Mija loves to flop onto my hand and gets her chin and head scratched.

Pilchard simply settles in, stretches out and goes to sleep. I haven't been coughing much with this cold so there isn't a wracking hack which would shake Pilchard and cause her to leave. Mija has always seemed scared of sneezes and coughs so she bolts when either of those occur. But, for about 2 hours, we are a happy trio.

It's rotten that there is more snow and no sign of spring. It's rotten that the current projections are that we will have a colder than normal spring because the lake is 90% frozen. It's rotten that a cold finally nailed me. Yet, when it's us, dozing in the recliner, watching the news or a lovely Fred Astair movie or just reading book number 2 for this year, we can, for a moment, set aside the next snow storm.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

2014 Book Number 1

Now that the magazine pile is gone, it is time to dive head first into fulfilling my next personal resolution which was to read 12 books which represent a book a month. The first selected was a Christmas present from Carole's boyfriend, Larry.

I had never heard of this. Perhaps, like me, your first inclination is to shudder. The second inclination is to laugh out loud. Okay, I'll bite. It's the movie Star Wars (Part 4 to be precise but that movie was the first one and it will always be the one I think of when someone says "Star Wars") written as Shakespeare would have done it. I hope they didn't spend too much on this because it's bound to be cringe-worthy. The publishers know there are a lot of Star Wars fans so they can toss anything out into the ether with a Star Wars theme and know it will be a hit. To say I was skeptical was a bit of an understatement.

I sat down a Saturday afternoon in February as the snow was falling and cracked open the book.

"Now is the summer of our happiness"? That's a permutation of "Now is the winter of our discontent" from Richard III. And "The princess shall have no escape this time!" is a direct quote from the movie. Hmmmm. This could be interesting.

It took me 2 weeks to read the book, owing to having other things that came up which required my attention. But, what you see in the first scene is what the book is. Intersperced with direct quotes from the movie are some of Shakespeare's most well-known lines. "But soft, what light through yonder window breaks." Wait a minute. That's not referring to droids. King Lear, Macbeth, Julius Caesar were quoted. I found myself laughing out loud, which may or may not, have been intentional. The author wrote quite a bit of iambic pentameter to fill out the lines he quoted directly from the script or from Shakespeare. I also found myself going, "Hmmmm...I know that but what's the original line" when it came to some lines he used from Shakespeare but had to rework to make them fit the Star Wars theme.

He follows the form of Shakespeare's plays. There are 5 acts and, generally, 5-7 scenes within each act. The end of the book felt rushed to me, as if he'd run out of play notations to use and he just wanted to get it finished. In spite of this, he maintains the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare and I tested random lines for this familiar beat. The weakest lines are lifted directly from the movie, as one would expect, but he was careful to select lines that follow this necessary format.

I was prepared to dislike this book and found myself enjoying it. I was prepared to find some hack had taken the script and forced Shakespeare into it as there are reams of masters and doctoral theses given over to Shakespearean themes in Star Wars. I remember reading, back when I was writing my senior thesis, that there are no new plots anymore. The Greeks "invented" them all and anything now is a retelling of those. I suspect the Greeks took their plots from older, oral, stories. Shakespeare just borrowed some of their ideas and changed the framework, just as George Lucas did, millenniums later. The author had Lucas' help in assembling this which give the book an air of authority. He wasn't some hack who thought he could make a quick buck in the Star Wars market. This was a labor of love and of craft.

There is not a broad range of appeal for this, however. I can see many fans would be put off by having to read the script as Shakespeare might have written it. I very much enjoyed it and it's the kind of book that I will come back to when I want a light read. I think I will appreciate it a bit more the second reading through.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


Once Will Be Enough

The Ideal Balance gift box that we won contained a bag of dry cat food, in addition to the cans of moist and the treats. The treats were refused with a look of pure disdain. The canned cat food has been well received by Pilchard and not so well by Mija. I'm not sure Mija will ever appreciate canned food. They don't get it very often so I can live with Pilchard eating her serving and Mija's after Mija licks some of the juice and then walks away.

I finally tried the Ideal Balance dry cat food. Previously, they ate Merrick's chicken flavor. They liked it and I noticed they weren't inhaling the food as quickly as with the Purina Naturals. I think the lack of "empty" calories in the Merrick, which come from grain, meant they were full sooner and that lasted longer. The loss of weight for both of them at the January vet visit was proof that I was doing something right. But I wanted to see if this new brand would be liked as much as the Merrick.

I put out a bowl of Merrick and a bowl of Ideal Balance. The Ideal was gone much sooner than the Merrick. As I needed to get cat food, I decided I'd get a full size bag of this since they seemed to really like it and it met my criteria for food to feed them.

I was not prepared for the sticker shock. A smaller bag of this compared to the last bag I bought of Merrick, cost $14 more. All of these bags have a velcro top with which to reseal the bag and keep the food fresher. That's not worth $14 more. I don't see any difference, really, between the two kinds of food other than price. That $14 is a big bag of Purina plus a big bag of Merrick. That's a huge price differential for me. I could not get the advertised special because I haven't saved up enough Petco points. As the only reason I go to Petco is because the closer pet food store didn't have Merrick, I won't be accumulating enough Petco points to get the sale price. The Merrick was on sale without Petco points.

So, once this bag is nearly finished, we are going back to Merrick. I think I will look online for deals too. There are a number of places from which I can get Merrick delivered to my door. I don't even have to set foot in Petco.

I love my girls and want them to have the best nutrition but it also shouldn't be a bank buster for me.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea


Simple Pleasures

The electrical is done. Ryan came on Saturday and installed the new kitchen switch. Everything now comes on with the exception of the light over the sink. He believes that's a problem with the fixture. I will have to do some research into finding the appropriate fixture for that light, assuming I want to replace it. I'm not sure I do. I used to keep it on when I had to go somewhere at night because the back light didn't work. But, with the new switch installed, which is, incidentally, the quietest light switch I've ever seen, I have a back light now which removes the need to have the over the sink light on to see.

The other reason I'm not overly worried about not having the light over the sink is because of the brilliance of the new kitchen light. This is the old light.

It was two bulbs opposite each other. At one point, it had a cover. Carole remembers the cover being a white frosted glass with flowers on it. I don't remember it. She also said we were cleaning in the kitchen and the cover was bumped and cracked. This was a long time ago. I don't remember that incident at all. I just remember this.

Well, that's gone and has been replaced with this.

That's 3 bulbs instead of two in about a 1.5 times bigger light. The amount of light in my kitchen is amazing now. So, the next step is to remove the broken floor lamp I was using. I'm so happy with this.

Now we move to the back bedroom. This fixture was a single bulb.

There was a globe over this but, in changing a bulb, it was dropped and broke. That was replaced with this.

It's so lovely in that room now. I really need to work on it, to make it the room I want it to be, even with the litter boxes there. There are things that I can do, decorative things, to screen the boxes. The girls would not like to go into the basement now that they have been upstairs for so long. This could become my reading room and a daybed would fit in it very nicely. That means I have to move a lot of the stuff that's stored in there, but such is life when you're changing how a room looks. First thing, though, it has to quit snowing. I refuse to do any painting or other stuff when I can't open the windows.

Lastly, my home office. I neglected to take a photo of that light but it was exactly like the one in the bedroom excepting the fixture was darker. I replaced it with this.

I love the art deco-ish look to this. I didn't realize it but this is a 2 bulb fixture. Right now, there are 2 incandescent bulbs in it. The kitchen and back bedroom are compact fluorescents.  As every other overhead light is CFL, I won't have to replace those for a very long time. This will be the only light that needs replacing and then, when I do, it will be with CFLs.

The last thing he did was to tighten up the outlet in the office where I plug in the computer. I need a faceplate for that but I'm really picky about my faceplates so that's a work in progress.

I have to admit to walking through the house on Saturday turning off and turning on all the lights that work again. Simple things make me happy and this has been a wonderful pleasure.

Beverage:  Earl Grey tea