Monday, June 30, 2014

The State of the Mind

It's the end of the month and that means payday and the need to check one's stock of staples and visit the grocery. I keep a running list. I love the note pads with the magnets which go onto the fridge. Then, as I'm doing something, I can write down what I realize I need. Of course, that doesn't work when I'm in the basement and realize I need laundry detergent and fabric softener. The joke about going into the basement and forgetting why you've gone there works equally well going up the stairs. "What was it I was supposed to remember when I got up here?"

So it was with no sense of amusement and frustration that I got home from the recent trip to the store, started to put away the groceries and realized, I have salt.

It couldn't be any more plain. There it is. On the top shelf of the cupboard. One whole container of salt.

Why is it that we don't see these things? Now I have 2 containers of salt. I won't need salt until 2025.

Beverage:  Coke



So the yard was mowed last week and, when I came home from work, I saw this.

I'm not sure if this is a case of staking out one's territory or if they are planning for a rabbit convention. Usually, they will take off running when they see me, but these two didn't. Maybe they are getting used to seeing me come and go.

Beverage:  Huckleberry Tea


On Vacation -- I Really Should Have

Carole and I went to WalMart to get the ingredients for the cheesecakes I was making for the guild party on Sunday. We were wandering about, looking for items and these were on the end cap of an aisle.

At the time, I didn't want to spend the money. But, as the time has passed, I realize I should have. I really should have bought one of each and made them.

I'm curious about the colors. Usually, making something like this, with swirls of other colors, is a somewhat time consuming process. You have to separate batter and add the food coloring. Then, put the main color in the pan, adding the additional color(s) slowly so they don't mix. This is akin to paint and if you mix the colors, not swirl them, you'll come up with a brown, muddy mess. It's still edible, it just looks like a fresh cow pie. I realize its a horrid stereotype but I can't see the average WalMart shopper doing a labor intensive project like a red, white and blue cake. I missed my chance to check these out. I was just so dumbfounded at seeing them in the aisle.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Saturday, June 28, 2014

On Vacation-Driving Virginia

Carole and Larry live off a highway south of Warrenton, Virginia. On Friday, Carole and I had to run errands. We took the rental car and drove around so I could have some sense of the land where they live.

First of all, it's green. There are a lot of trees and pasture in this area. Horse farms too.

Ironically, when mom and I were out here in 2011, we turned onto the very road Carole and Larry now live on and drove it quite a ways before turning around because at that time, we weren't going the right way.

The road winds.

That's the part that is very interesting to me. There are some straight stretches, but the road is quite curvy. 

Trees and telephone poles are right on top of the road and if you're looking for a ditch, well, some places have one and some places don't. 

I've remarked on history before. I can sometimes think of "history" as starting with the early settlers of the Midwest. Although the area had been scouted by Father Marquette, real settlement didn't come until the early 19th century. Lewis and Clark didn't find large settlements when they headed west. Chicago was still draining the swamp. I take for granted that if I take Country Road Y54 to the north, it will, at some point, intersect with Highway 151 which runs on a diagonal from Cedar Rapids to Dubuque. Getting "there" from "here" in Iowa won't get you totally lost. In Virginia, all bets are off. 

We came to an intersection and Carole said, "I've never been this way. Let's see where it goes." 

It went past more horse farms and stone walls which mark perimeters of homesteads which have been around for nearly 300 years. That's the part that is fascinating. (It's something we forget when we walk on European soil and see places where people have lived for millennia.) Warrenton was settled around the time of the War of 1812. Many places in Virginia were settled far earlier than that. People needed to get from point a to point b and they created the first roads by repeatedly driving a route someone had found. 

That route has never been substantially changed, although Interstates and more heavily traveled roads are straight. The roads we poked around on on Friday were not and were not as wide as we expected. 

The idea of a grid system to roads and town design wasn't used in Virginia. You need to go from here to there, you hopped into the buggy and headed that way. So the roads we drove on date from around the War of 1812; buggy tracks which were gradually improved, eventually blacktopped, but make them wider than a car and a half? Not likely. In fact, our road went from the above blacktop, one and a half car widths wide to a two track asphalt drive. 

Although covered with asphalt and looking reasonably sturdy, we decided this would be as far as our "where does this go" would take us on that day. 

I imagine soldiers of the Civil War trudging along these roads. They would have been unimproved and prone to flooding and mud when it rained. Macadam road construction, developed by a Scotsman, hadn't reached all public roads and that made a lot of them, little more than wheel packed dirt, quagmires when wet. It was a fascinating drive. 

I kind of want to know where this goes. 

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I, I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference." Robert Frost

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


A Foggy Day in Old Chi-Town

As promised, here are the foggy Chicago photos from a week ago. I was west of the Lincoln Park Zoo, just off Fullerton, for those who know their Chicago. This is about 2 miles from the lake itself. When I was done, I headed east on Fullerton to pick up Lake Shore Drive to go south toward "the city", i.e. the location of all the skyscrapers, and connect with the interstate to head back to the office.

This is just north of the zoo.

What was so interesting about this fog was that it came in waves. The sky would brighten a bit and then the next ribbon of fog would come. Lake Michigan is about a quarter of a mile east of here.

Turn right and get on Lake Shore Drive, the iconic road that winds from Hollywood down to 65th Street, running along the lake. It can be called "LSD", but most people I know who are natives call it "the Drive".

The zoo is to the right and the lake is to the left. The Drive was still reasonably busy at 10:15 a.m. so I didn't really oogle the lake. Didn't have to. The atmosphere of the heavy fog was enough for me.

Straight ahead of me should be the beginning of the "Magnificent Mile" if you approach it from the north. You see, to the right, the sign pointing to Michigan Avenue. Oak Street beach is to the left off the photo and the only true "S" curve left on the drive is approaching. Putting the camera away.

Now that traffic is stopped for the first of about a dozen traffic lights east of Chicago's downtown proper, I could pull the camera out for a last look at the fog.

To the left should be Navy Pier with Lake Point Tower and the ferris wheel. Um... The lake was a dark green color, not real choppy. The fog only went inland a couple miles and by the time I'd crossed the river, it was mostly gone.

We haven't had these kinds of fog in the 'burbs. I love being out in this, drinking in the water droplets, feeling the dew on my face. It takes a special kind of weather to get this heavy fog. I have no idea how tall it went either. As much as I'm afraid of heights, I'd love to be up in a multi-story building where the floor was in the middle of the fog and then above the fog. Of course, if I was above the fog, I'd probably be standing 10 feet from the window sayings, "Yes, I can see. Looks nice."

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Goodness Gracious Great Balls of Fire

I try to make time for blogging but, sometimes, my time is not my own. I've had a lot of things to do lately so although I have posts in mind and a lot of photos which scream "Blog about me!", that's as far as it gets. And then Mother Nature tosses a curve ball and, well, I think it was John Lennon who said, "Life is what happens when you were making other plans."

I had to go into the city very early last Thursday. We had a huge job which I needed to help do installations on. It was really cool in the city, and I don't mean temperature, although that hovered around 62 degrees. The fog off the lake was thick, like cotton. I love fog. I have photos. I'll get around to posting them.

Anyway, there was a phone call about a meeting Thursday night for this society to which my company belongs. My boss sighed and asked if I would go. He was too tired and he's got a 3 year-old who is being, well, a 3 year-old. Sure. It's overtime.

We've been going through a period of unstable air. It doesn't feel humid but the air is coming from the Gulf of Mexico and mixing with cool, dry Canadian air and we're seeing a lot of rain and thunderstorms. I kind of forced the meeting to break up when the setting sun suddenly disappeared behind a wall of blue black. I wanted to be home. Pilchard hates storms so I really wanted to be there for her. I managed to get home about 10 minutes after the line came through. Plus, I had been up since 5 a.m. I was tired and driving in a pounding rain was not my idea of fun. I got soaked running from the car to the house, but no matter. I was home.

The storm lasted about 30 minutes. I gave it another 10 minutes and logged onto the Internet and into World of Warcraft. I had a nice conversation with guild members until the corner of my left eye registered flashes. Uh oh. Another line of storms was coming. I decided the better part of valor was turning off the computer while this next wave passed.

The computer was off. I turned to my left to turn off the floor lamp. I have a lovely view of my backyard from my home office windows. Suddenly, there was a blue-white ball of light in the middle of my back yard. It had a band on the top that was snow white and a band around the bottom that was blood red. The rest of it was a swirling blue white. It looked like Sauron's eye, without the eye part, or a portal that you'll see in a video game. There was a sound with it like the sound of that firework which will be shot into the air before fireworks to let people know the show will start soon. I think it's an M80. It shook my house. It was all over in a split second. I can still see that swirling blue ball in my memory. It was about 3-5 feet in diameter.

My house never lost power, it didn't even blink. The neighbors behind me, however, lost power. In fact that whole west side of my block was without power after this. The flash was so bright, the street lights on either side of me went out. They came back in about 5 minutes.

I just sat here, blinking at the back yard. I thought to myself, "Ohhhh....kay. I'm just gonna go read a book." I turned off all the lights except the bedroom light, grabbed my book and read 3 more chapters before calling it a night. In the morning, I went into the back yard. No sign of anything scorched, nothing. I was pretty sure it had been ball lightning, but I was very surprised there was no sign of any scorching.

Friday, I come home from work and try to log onto the Internet. Nothing. I realize that my modem/router has no lights on it. The phone runs through the router so I have no phone either. Mike, the nice guy from AT&T who helped me was thrilled with my story. He is writing a book about lightning and said it was ball lightning. I called the meteorology department at College of DuPage and the student I talked to said it sure sounded like ball lightning. It doesn't usually leave scorch marks, either. It's a spot of concentrated electrical energy released. Well, this is all nice, but I want my phone and Internet back. AT&T would have someone out on Sunday.

Joe came out on Sunday. Step one is to make sure the signal is getting to the box. Because wasps like to nest in the boxes, he opened it up very carefully.

Looks pretty normal, doesn't it? This is what we saw when he opened it up.

Lightning had traveled down the phone line and into the box, completely frying the contents. It's charred. The wires inside are all fused together. The box acted like a ground, however, and the energy never went into the house. The modem/router took a surge and the power supply was toasted, but my phone, my computer, my TV, my electrical is all good. There is also no fire or scorch marks inside. I have had my miracle for this year and I'll take it. He jokingly said, "A new router isn't going to connect you to the Internet." Ya think?

The problem was that the pole where the phone line comes off was energized or "hot". Com Ed, our highly responsive electric company, and yes, that is sarcasm, needed to come deenergize the pole before AT&T could climb it. I was going to need a complete new line from the pole to the house, as well as a new box and he felt they should just string a new line to the office. He said I'd probably need a new modem/router, just to be safe. But, there was nothing he could do on Sunday until the pole was deenergized. He put in a ticket, took some photos, and we began the waiting game.

This morning, when I still didn't have phone or Internet I gave AT&T a call. Customer service was very apologetic. She couldn't see the status of my ticket, but she gave me a $35 credit because of lost service and a $25 Visa gift card. That will buy a number of lunches. She also said, "You don't have line insurance. I know it's at your discretion, but if they are telling you they need to string new line, you need to get this insurance. It's $6 a month and it means that if any line needs to be replaced, we do it for free. Otherwise, you're paying $93 an hour for the tech to be there. I'll make it retroactive to Thursday, when the lightning hit." I usually get upset when something is pushed like that but knowing that I would have to have a new line, I jumped on getting that. I can always call and cancel it, but it will have saved me a lot of money.

I called tech support and they had not heard from Com Ed. Also, my ticket was not expedited so that a tech would check on the line on Monday. So, the guy did that and Sherwade was at my house today at 8:45. Com Ed had done their part so he strung a new line to the house, installed a new box and ran a line directly to the office. No going through the basement with a phone line. He was at the house for 90 minutes. At $93 an hour, that would have been a bank breaker. It won't cost me a thing.

In a case of "some days you're the pigeon and some days you're the statue", the tech had finished everything, cleaned up and had just pulled away from the curb and ... the power went out. Seriously. I thought about running after him waving like a maniac, but, instead, I called Com Ed. As I was explaining to the gal what had happened, she said, "Oh ma'am. I see that 1700 people around you are without power. It's not AT&T or you." According to the flashing on the clock in the bedroom, power was restored about 45 minutes after I left for work.

Here's the new box. The tech said it's less wasp permeable. The brown on the siding is from the lightning. My vinyl siding probably helped prevent a fire, too.

I missed an eye appointment because I couldn't get the voice mail notice and I didn't know how to get my voice mails by calling in from another location. (It's also my fault for losing the card on which the time was written and not calling the clinic to verify the appointment.) I spent the weekend and the first 2 days of this week reading, cleaning, writing a letter that I discovered I couldn't print because my printer is hooked up, wirelessly, to the computer through ... the dead modem. /sigh I also finished the stitching on a wedding present. Now to finish the sewing on said present. I also cleaned. There is value to being without this modern contraption.

The tech said today that this end of spring beginning of summer has been horribly rough on phone and Internet. "We'd rather be out doing installations. Instead, we're climbing poles and doing repairs." I guess it's the price we pay for living in the Midwest.

So, I'm back. I have a lot of blog posts to get done. I will say that "Brave" looks really good when played on my computer. The only bad part is that I don't have space in my lap for Pilchard when I watch a movie on the computer. (Oh yeah. My TV is dying, too.)

Beverage:  Water


Monday, June 16, 2014

Ready for Summer

I am reasonably ready for summer. I found the screen to cover the back door.

The velcro on the left side is pulling away from the siding. I need to go get more from the craft store, but otherwise, the velcro survived quite well, our nasty winter.

Zeke power washed the deck

and the front steps.

I found the can of front steps paint. I think there is just enough left to add a coat to the steps. Next year's touch up will require a new can.

I like the more natural color of the wood on the deck, now that it's been washed. I'm thinking of trying to match this or go with a clear water repellent. The dark red that the deck has been for years gets really warm and uncomfortable in the summer. This might be a touch cooler.

I'm ready now. Bring on summer sitting on the deck.

Beverage:  Water



My vacation coincided with the time I usually go to a local nursery and buy plants for the deck. After the huge number of flowers I had last year, I was going to cut back this year anyway. I had given some thought to swinging by a nursery in Virginia and seeing what they had to offer, but there wasn't time for that. I also didn't have time to go to a nursery in my neck of the woods. Enter the need to be somewhere else for work.

Last week, I had to go to Wisconsin on Tuesday and Wednesday for work. I had a hefty break around the lunch hour so after lunch, I went to a local garden shop.

It was kind of hard to get into the mood for planing flowers when it was rainy and the air temperature hovered around 65. But I had time to kill so I wandered about the aisles looking at the flowers and thinking, "I have three pots on the front steps, one by the end of the deck and that one that sat out all winter." I couldn't find vegetables so I stuck with flowers this year. I stuck them in the back seat of the Jeep, finished my work for the day and drove home.

It's just a couple boxes of flowers. This garden center was nice, but they didn't have the huge assortment I'm used to. It's good to go somewhere else because it makes you appreciate what you have near you.

I left the flowers in the boxes on the deck and yesterday, planted.

It's a pink and orange year this year, I think. I was drawn to those colors with some white for accent. And, as in year's past, even with the knowledge that I need not buy as many flowers as I had in years previous, I have more flowers than pots. I went with impatiens for the front steps this year. Last year's begonias were wonderful, but I like variety.

I will have to watch that they don't get too leggy and cut them back in late July. I like the blue of the steps with the pink of the impatiens.

This is the pot at the foot of the deck steps.

That's a Gerbera Daisy with Gazania accents. I forget what the trailing white flowers are. I couldn't find alyssum, my usual go-to for light low-growing accent flowers. I like Gerbera's for their hardiness, height and color. This is cream and works well with the red of the deck.

After filling these and the one ceramic pot that was outside all winter, I still had flowers left over. So, I went to the shed and pulled out a couple more. What's that smell? Maybe it's the compost pile. I started pulling out my accent pieces too; the Easter Island head, the directional stone which is over by the birdbath and the ceramic cat and pumpkin piece. When I picked that up, there was a rather fat field mouse under it. That smell was mouse urine. I've had this garden shed in my backyard going on 15 years, possibly longer. I have never had mice in it, never. There's no food in it. The front left door, however, was open about an inch over the winter. Given the 88 inches of snow we got, I perhaps shouldn't be surprised that mice took up residence in the shed. I also should probably be glad they are in the shed and not in the house. But, I will have to open the doors of the shed and let it air out.

I ran out of potting soil before I could get everything planted.

The soil in the blue pot at the lower left was just not suitable, after years of use, for new plants, so I chucked it. It came out in one clump which is not a good sign. I have one pack of impatiens and one pack of marigolds to plant as well as the white plant which will drape over the side. I might go with a larger pot, but I still need soil. It's a nice cluster this year and will be much easier to care for. I only have one chair and the table on the deck at the moment. The girls have not been interested in coming outside. I found a large piece of scat in the back when I was pruning back some buckthorn. That could be why they don't wish to be out on the deck with me. If they aren't coming outside, then I don't need to drag the other chairs up.

The deck and the front steps were power washed 10 days ago. I think my next project will be to paint them. Perhaps that's the July 4th project.

Beverage:  Water


Friday, June 13, 2014

On Vacation-A New Addition

One of the delightful things about going to visit Carole is seeing how long it takes Faux to remember me. I think it was 2 hours this time. I got a tour of the house and then we sat down to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and, well hello there.

He wanted on the table because that's where the action was, but allowed an ear scratch and gave me a kind of "I know you" look.

He's so happy at Larry's house. This cat, mellow and reasonably calm as a breed, (He's a Maine Coon.) has traveled from Illinois to Washington state; moved 3 times in the Seattle area and then moved across country to Connecticut. From there, he moved to Virginia and has moved 3 times since coming to Virginia. Back in November, when Larry and Carole were going to Walt Disney World, Carole brought Faux to Larry's house. Larry's dad was going to look after him. As she was going to be moving in with Larry once her lease was up in April and would be spending most weekends here, she left him here, rather than drive to and from Richmond, where she lived, with a cat in the car. Faux seems to know this is a mostly forever home Unless they decide to buy a house elsewhere, this is where he lives.

Larry loves this cat. He doesn't like him or merely tolerate him because he's Carole's cat. He genuinely loves Faux. Larry grew up with cats so that helps, but Faux is a lovable cat. Larry spent the winter and spring getting to know Faux. He also trained him.

Faux loves to go outside. They watch him because Larry lives out in the country and they have foxes and opossums and raccoons and deer and neighbor's dogs. But Faux is also trusted to not roam much and he doesn't really. Larry trained Faux to go into the house immediately, when Larry stamps his feet and says, "Faux! House!" It was quite interesting to watch. Sometimes Faux will do it when Carole stamps her feet. Other times, he'll just look at her. I didn't try it. When Larry stamps, Faux moves. So, having a place to live where he won't be moved in another year has helped make Faux mellower.

The other things is that he got a brother. Meet Tobey.

Tobey lived with friends of Larry and Carole and was the youngest cat in a 2 cat household. When the older cat went over the Rainbow Bridge, the friends decided to replace the cat with a dog. This dog would not leave Tobey alone. It barked at him constantly. Tobey had to stay on the top of his cat tree because, if he would jump down to go use the litter box, the dog would attack him to try to play. Tobey was increasingly depressed and it was clear either the dog or the cat had to go. They opted to try to find a new home for Tobey. Carole took him.

There were concerns. Tobey is just a couple years old and Faux is nearly 8. Faux has been an only cat for all but the first 9 months of his life. Introductions needed to be done slowly.

Carole said they "met" accidentally about a week after Tobey had moved in. There was the usual hissing and growling, but that lasted just a few days. They are buddies now. The above is where you can usually find them; Faux on one side of the hallway and Tobey on the other or in the middle. They chase each other at 11:30 p.m., which seems to be a universal time for cats to tear around the house madly. They play tag and I heard the familiar "thunk" of someone hitting the floor as the other tackled. Tobey is about the same size and weight as Faux so they are evenly matched.

Tobey knows that Faux is "top cat", but Larry and Carole have gone out of their way to make Tobey feel welcome. He's still a bit skittish and was scared of me for the first couple of days. Then, one day, I had to walk from the guest bedroom, which is to the right in this photo, to the guest bathroom, which is the doorway on the left and I had to step over Tobey. He tensed up and I thought he was going to run, but he didn't. After that, he seemed to sense that I wasn't going to make him move unless he truly was in the way. Lie in the middle of the hallway? No problem. I didn't want to walk there anyway.

On the last day of my stay, which was a day to just relax at the house, Tobey came into the living room and lay down. He seems to know this is his forever home, that he's not going to be moving anywhere else. As I sat in a chair reading, he rolled over.

This is trust. My girls won't do this and they have lived with me for nearly 5 years now. He let me scratch his belly for a bit. He's not real keen on being picked up, something Carole is working on with him. He loves to jump up into her lap when she's on her computer and lie down. He will drape himself over the arm of her recliner when she's watching TV. And having a brother has made Faux that much more mellow. He clearly enjoys sharing his home and life with another cat.

Yes, I did come back with some new smells which probably played a part in some misbehavior on the part of my cats last week, but I got my kitteh fix. And I want to mention that they agreed to take Tobey because they wanted to give him a good home, not because he matched the carpeting.

Beverage:  Water


On Vacation-You Won't Forget Us, Will You?

Years ago, I read an article that said if you were planning a trip of more than an overnight, you should bring your suitcase out several days in advance so your cats know something is going to change. They might even learn to recognize the suitcase as meaning you are leaving and they should anticipate someone else coming to care for them. I don't know if the girls know the suitcase because, for years, I couldn't afford to go anywhere for more than an overnight, but I brought up the suitcase and left it in the living room for them to sniff and lie in, if they so chose.

The first day it was out, they were in it. They were sniffing it. With the top flopped open, Pilchard would hide under the lid and charge out at Mija until Mija took a swing at her one evening. They watched as I dropped clothing and toiletries into the bag. Then, Wednesday night, I zipped it shut and stood it by the front door. I was ready to go.

On Friday, when we were getting ready to run errands, I pulled out clean clothes for the day and out popped this.

This poor bedraggled thing is a one of a set of wool felted mice I got last year for them. This one seems to be the one they prefer to attack and drag all over the house. I've found it in my shoes or on my bed and once, in the water dish. To say it is "well loved" is a bit of an understatement.

I did some laundry while I was at Carole's so I wouldn't have to pack enough clothing for the full week. This accidentally got wrapped up in the clothes I was washing so not only did it go to Virginia, but also it got a better bath than being dropped in a water dish.

We pet owners tend to anthropomorphise our pet's behavior, sometimes, to the extreme. We ascribe human traits to animal behavior. But I like to think that they saw I was packing for a longer stay than overnight and they were worried I'd forget them. So, they dropped a token of them into my bag. That way, I'd remember them all week. It's more like someone was playing with this, tossed it into the air and it landed in the suitcase. They left it rather than try to find it amongst the clothing. Still, it made me laugh. I'd never forget my girls and I'll always come home to them.

Beverage:  Water


On Vacation-The Games We Played

I've danced around the issue, but, for this post, it's time to acknowledge that my daughter's first marriage didn't work out. There are many reasons why but it just didn't work out. She's got a new beau, Larry, and mom is quite happy with this one. There's a lot more in common and a lot more mutual respect. One of the big things they have in common is playing games.

The ex was okay with game playing so long as it was the games he wanted to play. Larry doesn't care. It's about the experience of playing games with friends and family. Winning or losing is immaterial. Playing games, from card games to board games to role-playing games to online games, has long been a part of our family life. From the earliest times when Carole learned to play Candyland to now when she's off playing online games that are quite complicated, gaming is something she does. That Larry shares her interest in games is a huge plus.

I have long been jealous of my friends, April and Perry, who had a long running Monday Night Game Night where they got together with a bunch of friends and played anything and everything. There are a lot of studies which talk about how games keep your brain learning and learning staves off dementia. My ability to understand what April and Perry and friends were playing was limited. I sometimes felt as if the synapses in my brain just gave up. But their game nights were also more about being with friends, which, of itself, helps keep a myriad of health problems away. If I had a boat load of friends nearby, I'd try to have game nights once a month.

So, I was excited to play games with Larry and Carole while I was on vacation. We got out our sodas and cookies and had a ball. The first game we played was Star Wars Trivial Pursuit.

Holy Millennium Falcon, Batman. Talk about trivial. That Larry knew what color "x's" robe was when he was on x planet in the 3rd movie was impressive. He probably knows more than I've forgotten about the movies. Needless to say, he creamed Carole and I.

After that, we played World of Warcraft Trivial Pursuit. Um...yeah. I redeemed myself, going from last place to first place. Carole quipped, "Well, let's see if we even get a turn" as she pulled up the first card to read to me. I don't know everything about WOW, just as Larry doesn't know everything contained in the Star Wars trivia. It's fun to run into a question you don't know, one that makes you sit back and say, "Really? I didn't know that."

Later in the week, we played Settlers of Catan.

I've played this before with April and Perry. It's a fun game and requires just enough strategy to not make me dislike it. I really don't like strategy games so you'll never find me playing something like Risk. Settlers requires thinking about where to build roads and towns, but there's the luck of the dice roll too, which you can't control. Carole is really good at this game and soundly beat Larry and I.

The last game we played was Boggle.

Larry has a degree in computer science. Words are not his strong suit. Carole had, at one point, considered a double major in English and Anthropology, but opted just for Anthropology, so she can spell. Larry doesn't mind playing Boggle with her even though she can beat him by 100 points. He was looking forward to watching the two of us go head to head.

I'm afraid I cannot keep up with my daughter. I have slowed down in word recognition. She sees words very easily and, while I can see some words she can't, she's much better at it than I. She won both games we played although the first game was closer than the second game.

They also go to a local Irish pub on Wednesday nights for a trivia contest. I had really good fish and chips and some incredible chocolate mousse. Oh my, was it good. We were in 3rd place after the first round, first place after the second round, 2nd place after the bonus round, 4th place after the 4th round and then the bottom fell out. There was a "name that tune" final round. I had no clue what any of the music was so I just ate my chocolate mousse. It was current music and "classic rock", two areas that I have a very limited knowledge of. The guy running the trivia contest did have "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart, which caused me to laugh out loud because this came after 4 songs I hadn't a clue about. The others in attendance knew a few more than me, but we sank to 9th place overall. Still, I could see doing that on a monthly basis if I lived closer. My team would just have to understand I don't know rock music. Jazz on the other hand...

We went to lunch at Larry's parents' house on Monday and they also like to play games. We played one of the longest Uno games I think I've played in years. We also played Rat-a-tat Cat. This is a very fun card game from Gamewright Games. It's suitable for all ages. It was a lot of fun to play with Larry's parents, to see where he got his love of gaming from.

I miss this. I have a large number of games in my closet that I'd love to play if I could get a group of people together. Mille Bourne, Scrabble, Disney Trivial Pursuit or Humble anyone?

Beverage:  Water


Monday, June 9, 2014

On Vacation-The Trip To Virginia

I left Thursday, May 22nd. The day dawned cool and clear.

Realizing I had a 12 hour drive ahead of me, before stops for gas and food and to simply walk around, my goal was to leave at 6 a.m., which is 7 a.m. in Virginia. I packed as much as I could on Wednesday night. There were just a few things to pack on Thursday and, at 5:45 a.m., I kissed my girls goodbye, told them Pam would be taking care of them and headed out the driveway. The first stop would be breakfast.

Of course I'm going to start my vacation with Dunkin'. I did it last year. I think it should become a tradition. I told the manager I'd see her again in June. She wished me a good trip and I was off, officially.

I couldn't have asked for a better driving day. The sky in Chicagoland was completely clear. Leaving at that time of day means getting to Indiana is a breeze, unlike about an hour later when it can be stop and go.

The perfect weather continued through Ohio. I had to laugh because in middle Ohio, Interstate 80 is undergoing major repairs. Road destruction doesn't phase me, but how the road was divided was confusing to people.

I'm in the "express lane". This is for cars only who don't want to exit at any time during this 25-mile stretch of construction. We have these all over Chicagoland, even when there isn't construction. I got behind more than one car that found themselves in these lanes but needing to get off. Once the lanes ended, they would head to the shoulder, map in hand, to figure out how to get back to where they needed to get off.

The rental car was great here. As long as there was no slow traffic, I could set the cruise control for the mandatory 45 miles per hour and not worry that I was accidentally exceeding the speed limit. I saw more than one person pulled over upon existing the construction zone. With a fine of at least $250, that puts a huge damper on a vacation.

Interstate 80 is often referred to as "the artery of America". Running coast to coast from New York, past Chicago, to San Francisco, it's probably the easiest way to get from point A to point B through the mid-section of the country. Memorial Day weekend is when Rolling Thunder hits Washington DC. This event, which brings awareness of the POW/MIA situation, sees thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts arrive in DC for events, speeches and get-togethers. I was vaguely aware of this as I headed east. The farther east I went, the more motorcycles I saw.

At rest stops, they would congregate together, asking where each other was from and if they wanted to ride together to DC. I often heard, "Oh I'm not a vet. I just ride to show my support." A lot of people were riding to show their support.

I think we all had the same directions because I saw the same people over and over. You know the feeling when you pass a truck, get off for gas, and pass it again when you get back on. I passed the car pulling the trailer here in front of me several times from western Ohio as I headed east.

And the thing about Internet or GPS directions, they often send you out of the way in the drive for fast. I'm picking up US 522 to head south here. I had to leave 522 to get to 37 to get to I-66. I'm leaving Interstate 70 east here. US 522 runs from I-66 straight north to I-70. The only fly in the ointment for speed is that 522 goes through downtown Winchester, Virginia, a very old city where George Washington lived for a time. I know this because, on my way home, I opted not to completely retrace my steps, but take 522 straight north. I lost it south of downtown Winchester and wound up spending 30 minutes driving around the downtown before I found it again. Downtown Winchester is a pedestrian mall with a museum dedicated to George Washington's law office. I think it merits a visit some day, but not when I'm trying to go home.

522 is a beautiful drive in Virginia.

It's four lanes for a bit in Maryland but narrows to 2 lanes in West Virginia. This moved along swiftly, even taking into account the drive through a couple of towns. Once it gets into Virginia, it's 4 lanes of lovely driving.

This is Interstate 66 heading east to DC. I caught up with some of the cyclists I'd seen back on Interstate 80. From this point, it was about an hour to Carole's. The drive had been most pleasant and is probably going to be my route from now on. I just have to figure out how it goes through downtown Winchester.

Beverage:  Water


On Vacation-The 2nd Best Thing

We'd just shoveled another 8 inches out of the driveway back in January but the office chat turned to vacations. Being a small office, we try not to have two of us out at one time. If  you're flying somewhere, you might have to leave or return on a day when someone else is coming or going, but having two people out for more than one day is just inviting the phone to ring with "I need this now" requests.

I get 3 weeks because of my 14 years here so I started thinking about where to spend the time. Because Carole has settled in Virginia, traveling there once a year until I can't travel anymore, is what I will do. I want to see where she lives in all kinds of seasons. I'd been there in mid-May and August. After talking to her, I decided to travel around Memorial Day. I have members of my World of Warcraft guild in Virginia, too, so getting together with them for a party would be easier when there is an extra day to travel.

Now, I love my Jeep. It fits me, fits my lifestyle and what I do. But, with RA, the age of my Jeep and the fact that it's a stick shift make the prospect of a long drive less appealing. In March, I made the decision that, if possible, I was going to rent a car to drive out there. It would be more comfortable than the Jeep. I'd have air conditioning which the Jeep doesn't have. I wouldn't have to shift. I wouldn't have wear and tear on the Jeep and there would be cruise control, allowing me to stretch out my legs in between those times when I stop to actually get out and walk around. Then I fell on May 1st.

My right foot still swells at night, although not like it used to. There is no pain in the knee and the bruises are all gone. But that trauma made the desire to rent very strong and when the cost of renting dropped $100 between the time I checked in April and when I went to reserve a car in May, the deal was sealed. This is what I got.

This is a Nissan Versa. With a large back seat AND a large trunk, I was able to take boxes and bins of Carole's stuff from the basement to her house. I never would have fit 2 boxes and a bin in the Jeep, along with the 2 boxes and 2 suitcases I had with me.

This was the 2nd best idea I had on vacation. (The best idea was going to visit Carole over Memorial Day.) The car drove like a dream. It was nimble, maneuvering easily through traffic leaving Chicago. It was stingy on gas.

My first fill-up, after picking it up with half a tank, was just inside the Ohio border. This is half-way through Pennsylvania. On this tank of gas, I made it to Warrenton. Two fill-ups is all. Had I taken the Jeep, last year's trip leads me to believe I would have needed 4 fill-ups. A smaller tank and better gas mileage made the cost of gas less than $100 one way.

All the room in the back meant the most important things could be in the passenger seat next to me.

That's lunch, Dr Pepper, my cell phone and my music. I could keep my life right there at easy reach. Last year, my music got sandwiched behind a suitcase I was bringing because there was no other place to put it. Having non-essentials in the back was wonderful.

Traveling with an I-Pass to breeze along tollways is a bit of a problem when you have a rental car.

I know how to add and delete cars from my I-Pass account. I was told NOT to add the rental car because any outstanding tolls attached to that car would automatically be deducted from my account and getting a refund from the Tollway was worse than pulling hen's teeth. "Just go through the manual lanes" I was told. That did result in some slow-down in my travel time, and I forgot on a few occasions because I'm so used to just breezing through the lanes. But this small nuisance is not enough to detract me from renting again the next time I go visit Carole.

One thing came up that I hadn't considered. Mountains.

Last year, the drive to and from Carole's involved my spending time in the slow lane to the right. In fact, the Jeep was so slow that not only did I have to put on my flashers, but I got passed by semi trucks hauling thousands of pounds of stuff. This slow travel contributed to the 16 hour drive on the way home.

But I set the cruise control and, as the mountains and their slow lanes arrived, felt the car compensate for this. A steady speed was maintained up and down. I didn't have to move over unless I got behind someone slower than me. This contributed to my trip out taking 11 hours and 40 minutes. I came back in rush hour on a Friday night so my trip back was an hour longer due to stop and go traffic. I'll need to remember that next time.

All-in-all, this was a fantastic way to enjoy my vacation. We used the rental car to go everywhere. It made me realize that, as much as I love my Jeep, as much as it fits with my personality, I need to get a newer car. I'd love something like this Versa, although not in black. The only problem with it would be getting it out of the drive in the winter. What the Jeep plows through with ease would cause the Versa to become stuck. But that would be a small price to pay for the lack of car repairs, the ease of getting around and the savings on gas. I cannot afford a car this year, even used. I try not to think about the Jeep dying and being forced into needing a car.

Here's the final mileage.

That was two thousand of the most comfortable miles I think I have driven in a long time. Renting a car. Brilliant idea. I'm glad I thought of it.

Beverage:  Water