Saturday, March 28, 2015

Project 2

Now that the wedding sampler has been completed and given, it's time to look for the next project. It hit me, on the way back from Virginia, that I have the perfect project.

Carole was cleaning boxes of stuff and came upon this. She started it several years ago, she said, but she's not that interested in cross-stitch now so she gave it to me. I have a number of partially finished projects so this kind of fit in. I added it to the stack. With the kids moving into a new house, I think I shall finish this. It fits right in with spring arriving.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Wedding Sampler

A week ago, there was a wedding. When I went to visit the kids in October of last year, I promised I'd make them a wedding sampler. With the impending Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays approaching, whether I'd a) find something I'd want to make them and b) get it made, was somewhat in doubt. But, I would make them a wedding sampler.

When I returned from Virginia that October, I had the thought that, since the wedding was going to have elements of Star Wars sprinkled through it, the sampler should have a Star Wars theme to it. Do you know how hard it is to find Star Wars cross-stitch patterns? I needed to be able to personalize the piece. There just isn't much out there for cross-stitchers. A search of etsy and eBay yielded nothing good. Finally, I went on Pinterest and found the perfect pattern. It's downloaded from the Internet and then printed out. While it's done on white material, I was going to do it on black because, well, space. I was also going to put stars, done as beads, around the piece but found, once I'd finished the Death Star, all it needed was the words and the border and it was good.

In early January, I decided to get a "real" wedding gift in the event I couldn't find anything I wanted to stitch. They got towels.

Mom gets the practical gift. As it turns out, they bought a house the day before their wedding and are moving today. This house comes with 3.5 baths. They will need towels.

If you've been reading, you've seen how the cross-stitch Death Star evolved, but you haven't seen the final piece. The week before the wedding on Saturday, March 14th, I sat in the recliner and stitched. That's all I did, well, that and channel surfed when I needed to give the fingers a rest. At 4:30 p.m., I finished it. Then, it was hand washed, dried in the sunshine of a sparkling Sunday and ironed.

Of course there was no time to get it framed but I decided to give it to them as is. This way, they can have it framed to fit the decor in whatever room in the new house where they decide to put it.

(This is the kitchen in the 'old' house.) The quote is from the first Star Wars movie. Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke, C3PO, R2D2 and Obi-Wan Kenobi reach the Alderaan system and find the planet destroyed.

I think it came out rather well.

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


Really Instant Oatmeal

A lot of commentary has been made, rightfully so, about the amount of sugar found in instant oatmeal. As a country, we aren't trusted to decide if that pouch contains enough sweet for us so an artificially high level of sugar is added. Quaker Instant Oatmeal is the biggest offender, but other instant oatmeals can be just as bad. I love oatmeal, but I don't like the 30 minute prep and cooking time. Plus, it seems to just take longer to eat the non-instant than the instant. It's probably a mind-set thing. "Instant" equals fast which means I eat it faster than the other stuff.

After reading the labels on instant oatmeal, I swore it off. Quaker Instant didn't have real flavors. It was artificial this and fake that. But during the brutally cold February, I found that a bowl of cereal before work just wasn't cutting it. I needed to find a better instant oatmeal. I think I have.

The ingredient list reads like an e e Cummings poem. Oats, sugar, flour, cinnamon, flax seeds and blueberries. Go read a box of Quaker instant. I'll see you tomorrow. By law, if a product is fortified, they have to list all the vitamins and minerals contained therein, but you'll be amazed at the ingredients when compared to other instant oatmeals. I thought I would give this a try.

Dump out a pouch of Quaker oatmeal and what do you generally see? The oatmeal comes out followed by a rain of dry stuff. That's sugar. That can be depressing, to see all of that in the bowl. This is what Better Oats' oatmeal looks like out of the pouch.

There is still sugar in this. The light stuff at the upper right is the sugar. The pouches have 12 grams of "sugars", which also includes the natural sugar found in blueberries. This is a bit of a downer but knowing that the sugar total includes the natural sugar of the blueberries made the oatmeal more palatable a purchase.

Instant oatmeals get mixed with water. I have heard of people mixing them with milk or juice, but they are designed to be water-based. Add your water. Put in the microwave and nuke or mix with hot, usually boiling, water and you have breakfast in 2-3 minutes. There is a measuring cup required. One of the "hooks", if you will, with Better Oats is that all you need is a bowl and a spoon. The pouch doubles as a measuring cup. Just fill to the line and add to your bowl.

You need to be careful that you don't squeeze. Water goes everywhere. The pouches are lined with a wax which makes them waterproof. One of the advantages of Quaker Instant Oatmeal is that everything is recyclable. Once you dump the contents of the pouch into a bowl, the pouch can be tossed with paper recycling. I can't recycle this pouch, at least, not yet. I don't know technology much to know if there is something that can be done to make the pouches recyclable but it was sad tossing this in the garbage.

It's a half cup of water which is added to the bowl. In case you put the box away after getting a pouch, the directions are printed on the side of the pouch in big letters so your bleary morning eyes can read them.

What is nice is the option to cook this on the stove, if you don't have a microwave. There is one final irritation but I've had this with regular oatmeal. The product expands as it cooks and contracts as it cools. The first time I made this in the microwave, it boiled over my soup bowl. I have to make it in a mixing bowl so there is room for the water to boil, the oats to expand and the product to rise and not prompt a clean up of the microwave. Technically, I needed to do that, but it wasn't something I wanted to do right then. If you've never had to clean up spilled oatmeal, do not let it harden. Trust me on this. You could pave roads with hardened cooked oatmeal. With the stovetop method, you would pour the resulting oatmeal into a soup bowl. I just eat it out of the bigger bowl.

When cooked, your oatmeal looks like this.

You can see how it boiled over the bowl. There is flaxseed for the Omega-3 vitamin they provide. It seemed a bit soupy for my taste so subsequent bowls have been with less than a half cup of water. That hasn't affected the taste.

And what about that taste? It's good. It's not nearly as sweet, even accounting for the blueberries, as Quaker. It's a more oatmeal taste. The dried blueberries reconstituted nicely. It's advertised as "blueberry muffin" flavor. To me, it tasted like blueberry oatmeal. I generally find blueberry muffins to be sweeter. I didn't add anything to this bowl and have not added anything, like honey, to additional bowls I've had. There's a good mouth feel and it looks like oatmeal. Sometimes, instant oatmeal can look like mush because the oats get overcooked.

The bottom line is this is, I think, better than Quaker brand. It's competitively priced. I think it was 30 cents more a box. I have seen it on sale for less than Quaker brand, however. There are a couple other flavors I have to try. When I want fast oatmeal, this is what I'll be eating.

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea



I try to get the girls some exercise but they are, like me, rather sedentary. I have seen videos of cats going bonkers over the ring with the ball in it. The animal welfare site I frequent happened to have a ring on sale for 50% off, so I thought, "What's one more thing to clutter up the living room floor?" 

The middle cardboard was catnip impregnated. Mija could smell that through the plastic wrap. I pulled off the identification paper and found some sticky stuff. 

It took a good 10 minutes to get this off the cardboard. I was not impressed with this. As it's encouraging cats to scratch, I don't want this in their claws where it could be ingested. Mija was in my face about the smell of catnip. I couldn't smell anything but she kept wanting to see what I had. 

You can see the sticky stuff on the center cardboard. They sent a bag of organic catnip, too. That fell on the floor and Pilchard found it. I had to take it away before she chewed through the plastic bag. 

I set the thing on the floor. It was sniffed, but once on the floor, they quickly lost interest. I then added catnip to the cardboard and Pilchard took to it. Mija prefers her catnip on the large scratching pads I have for them. I need to get more catnip, too. Horrors. We are almost out. 

I showed the girls what they can do with the ball. They both looked at me like I was crazy. Years ago, we had a tube that had a ball in it. It was covered with cut outs in places. Several of the cats we had loved the thing. I spent a good 10 minutes making the ball go 'round and 'round. Mija walked away. Pilchard jumped up onto the cat tree and watched me. So, I gave up. When I came back into the living room a couple hours later, Pilchard had figured out what the thing is for. 

Yes.../sigh. I have heard someone playing with it when I'm in the office. I come out and it's usually Pilchard who is walking away. Maybe it will just take time for them to figure out what it's for. 

In the same package, I got something for myself. 

I won't post a photo of the mitt it replaced. When you can feel the heat of a cookie sheet through your oven mitt, it's time to replace it. Plus, I couldn't get all the stains out. I'm not sure about giving it away. I think the expectation would be that it provides protection from oven heat and it doesn't do that well anymore. I think it's a toss. 

Since getting the new mitt, I haven't cooked anything requiring the oven. Figures. Oh well, at least I have something when I do. 

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


The End of The Sock Drawer

I've been remiss in posting photos of the last of the socks in the drawer. Things got really crazy around here with work and the wedding. But, I did photograph the last five pair of socks in the drawer before balling all of them up and putting them back.

I remember finding these on sale for 89 cents. I like the bold color and design. There is one problem with them.

Both heels look like this. Honestly, I don't know how to darn which would give these socks another few years of life, nor do I have the inclination to do so. Therefore, they are now in the give-away box. I'm sad to see them go but toe holes I can fix; threadbare heels I cannot and I have so many socks I'm not losing much.

I have had this pair for a very, very long time. I don't remember where or when I got them, that's how long it's been. Nothing's wrong with them, either. I think I got my money's worth.

I've had this pair for a long time, too. I have had to fix the toe area once, but, otherwise, they have lasted well. I stepped on gum somewhere while wearing these and that was a bear to get out.

It seems to me that my white socks tend to be the most flimsy in weight. Yet, this pair has lasted a good 10 years. I think it's because I don't wear the white ones as much as the other ones. I got rid of a couple pair of white socks last year because I just didn't wear them. When they came up in the drawer, I usually put them back. That's a sign that they can move on to someone who would like them.

This is the last pair from the drawer. Carole gave me these for Mother's Day in 2010. You can't go wrong with Gold Toe brand socks.

I realized, as I was sorting back in February for taxes, that I have a bunch of good socks in the mending pile. I'll get to those and there will be another post on my socks.

Beverage:  Fruit juice


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Views From the Street

I was in Chicago yesterday for a job.

The John Hancock building is as much a part of the Chicago skyline as the Sears, no, Willis, Tower, several miles south of here, is. There wasn't a cloud in the sky.

St. Dominic Catholic Church was near the parking lot of the project. This is an old church, built by immigrants. You can tell this by the clearstory windows in the chancel. I wonder if the spires of the churches in Chicago are all different or if several churches were built by German immigrants, their spires are the same. Maybe spires from the same era, say 1900-1920, are all the same. Perhaps someone has answered this question.

I love the architecture of the building. These churches are a bear to maintain, all that space that needs to be heated and cooled, as well as an acre of roof. Plus, the communities they serve have changed so much from the time of construction. Still, they are architectural gems, worthy of preservation if, for no other reason than the history of the neighborhood where they were built. Now I wonder if the Chicago Architecture Foundation has a church architecture tour.

This is One River Place, at the corner of Larrabee and Chicago Avenue. It's a condo building. I like the Art Deco feel of the exterior but was drawn to the statue on the peak. I can't find anything to say if it's an over-sized wind vane or just a statue. The arm points in the direction the wind was yesterday so I could be forgiven for thinking it's a weather vane. It kind of reminds me of the building in Ghostbusters, with the decorations.

I'm lucky to have a job that allows me to travel around the city. There's something new to see every time I go.

Beverage:  Huckleberry Tea


So You Don't Have To

Members of my World of Warcraft guild mentioned I needed to be on the look-out for these.

I happened to see a small group in the store so I bought a bag. My initial reaction, "Meh". That reaction didn't get any better as I ate through the package.

I don't know if the package I got was stale but the creme centers were crumbly, not at all creamy, as I've come to expect. The chocolate cookies were hard, overly crunchy. Usually, when you dip an Oreo in milk, the milk will soften the cookie. If you leave it in the milk too long, it can disintegrate. I didn't have that issue with the chocolate cookies in this package. The creme filling did disintegrate and turned the milk pink, but left a sugar residue in the bottom of the glass. That was wholly unappetizing.

Last year, I tried Oreos with a lemon center. Of all the flavored centers they have released in the past several years, that is my favorite. The lemon was not overpowering. The problem with the berry flavor was that there wasn't enough of it. The vanilla creme has a flavor. The chocolate creme has a flavor. It felt like they took unflavored creme, added food coloring and then passed some synthetic berries near the vat and called it a day. Make no mistake about this. There may be a nice stock photo of a strawberry and a raspberry on the cover, but those berries are nowhere to be found in this cookie. It's all artificially flavored. The only "natural" flavor was the cocoa in the cookie.

They do look like the package cover, with a glossy sheen to the creme. They separate easily, almost too easily. I'd like to have to work a bit to pull the Oreo apart.

The bottom line is that I won't buy these again, not even on sale. I was very disappointed in the lack of berry flavor and the toughness of the cookie. Perhaps it was my bag, but I'm not inclined to buy another package to see.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Pearls of Winter

Before the warm temperatures which melted any snow which wasn't perpetually in the shade, we'd had some around freezing temps followed by a plunge into the deep freeze. I came home from work and was struck by the snow in the drive.

It had developed a hard shell to it that, when the sun was just right, looked like pearl. It sparkled and gleamed.

When it's like this, it's really slick and the hard coat will hold a lot of weight so you have to be careful if you have to traverse even a small distance. But it was so pretty.

All this snow is gone now. The only place there is any snow is where huge piles had been created as it was moved aside. But these photos remind me that as cold as it was, there is beauty in winter. There's beauty everywhere, you just need to look for it.

Beverage:  Huckleberry tea


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Finished in Time

I spent all day Saturday doing cross-stitch, but the project is complete.

I watched more TV than I have in months, maybe years. I'd find something that was good for background noise and then the program would change and it would be something stupid. I did watch an invisible man movie, which was pretty good. A young Peter Lorre was in it. There was also the Rock Hudson movie with, I think it was a young Sophia Loren, and Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. It got kind of silly at one point so I switched channels. I don't know if Darin sang in that movie. If he did, it was in the middle when I was "watching" the invisible man. I really wanted to have college basketball on as background noise, but the CBS station here has the crappiest signal ever. It finally cut out for good and I gave up trying to get it back.

The project came out very well. The black fabric didn't pose as many problems as I thought it would. The end result is exceptionally good. I'm not sure what my next project will be. I'm itching to read so I might not pick up the needle until summer.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Spring's Arrival

I needed to use the iron over the weekend.

A stink bug. The last one I saw was back in October. I anticipate that ,as the weather warms, I'll be seeing more of these "lovely" things. The girls don't eat bugs like my other cats would. They love moths but once they knock it down and kill it, they look at me as if to say, "Fix it so it flies again". Um...yeah...about that. I grabbed this with a tissue and tossed it into the toilet for a quick flush. If you've never encountered them before, don't crush them. Oh my lord! The smell is horrible! It lingers, too. Just grab it with some tissue and flush.

Over the weekend, I cleaned out the birdbath.

I should have taken a "before" photo. Leaves, twigs and other debris had collected in the basin. I dumped it all out, rinsed the basin with hot water and refilled it. Sunday afternoon, a robin used this as it's intended, for a bath. I need to empty it again. They are such dirty birds and there was mud and plant debris in the basin when I came home from work today. The temperatures are to get below and at freezing for the next week, but will warm up into the 40's and low 50's so the water will thaw if the top freezes. Clean water would be appreciated by more than the robins.

I still don't have flowers in the front yard. I expect the crocus will bloom, if not the end of this week, next week. It was such a cold February when I usually see shoots, that I'm sure they are thinking, "No way. It needs to be 80 before I'm coming out of the ground."

The other exciting indication of spring is that the milkweed pods have split open.

I don't have as many around the yard as I'd like. I would like to hire people to dig up some of the crap in the beds so I can spread butterfly friendly flowers around. That's not happening this year.

I love the lacy look of the seeds and their fuzz. We've had some windy days lately and the air has been filled with the dancing of the seeds as they take off for other sections of the yard. I saw one monarch last year. The year before that, none. I'd like to devote more of the yard to indigenous flowers which would attract them. For now, I'll stay with milkweed.

Spring is in the air. I'm feeling much improved, both physically and mentally with the longer days. Sunshine on my face is wonderful.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Almost Here

The wedding is almost here.

The gift is taking up a corner of the living room table. After some incredibly beautiful and warm weather, we are back to what's normal for this time of year. Still, I'll take it. The alternative is feet of snow. I'm really glad we don't live in the Northeast US and that I'll be headed to Virginia.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Chucking Into the Can

So, last Friday, I come home from work and there's a magazine in the mailbox. That's not all that surprising as I get a Scotland magazine, a couple of counted cross-stitch magazines and Cooking Light. What was surprising, it was this magazine.

I would never subscribe to this. I consider this magazine one of the prime sources of fat shaming. Kate Hudson is incredibly airbrushed and Photoshopped. There is nothing about this publication that is, in any way, affirming the shape that you're in. It's all about how you aren't a good person if you aren't a size 3. I don't have Kate Hudson's genes. I'll never look like her and I really do resent having this shoved in my face.

Looking at the address label, it appears I'm destined for a year of this tripe coming once a month to grace my mailbox. I sincerely hope it wasn't a "friend" who thought this would inspire me. Inspire me to do what, exactly? Hate my body because I have RA which makes doing the kind of exercise routine JLo can do an impossibility? Hate my body because I really don't like asparagus and green beans and that's all that spring diets allow you to eat? If you sent this to me, don't own up to it because I will drop you from my friends circle faster than a 15 pound weight. I have no time for this.

I'm also considering this will be my last year for Cooking Light. I have enjoyed reading the publication and I have a lot of recipes to try. The spring issue, which arrived on Saturday, has some great ideas for quick meals that appeal to my not having a lot of energy at the end of the day, but wanting something healthy to eat.

Increasingly, however, both CL and Shape are being taken over by ads. Out of the current 120 pages in CL, drug ads take up 20 pages, twenty! Because the FDA requires drug companies to print patient information some drugs, such as the anti-depressants which seem to be everywhere in the first half of the magazine, have 4 pages of patient information. Other drugs are 2 pages of information. There is an article and a drug ad and an ad for food and an add for IKEA or cookware and suddenly, 8 pages have gone by with nothing but ads. Shape isn't quite so bad but you know athletic companies are paying handsomely for the privilege of outfitting their demonstration models.

And I've never understood why Cooking Light has 3 pages devoted to beauty. This month, all the beauty products featured oatmeal. What does this have to do with cooking? Shape's coverage of beauty is understandable.

It's tough to be a print medium in a digital world. I understand that one needs to find sponsors wherever one can. The money sunk into the magazine from sponsorship allows CL to keep the cost of a subscription where I can afford it. I hope whomever sent me Shape didn't pay through the nose for the privilege. Yet, I would probably pay more to get Cooking Light without at least half of the ads. It's kind of an affront to me to see all the drug ads in a cooking magazine. I'd rather those pages were given over to cookware or kitchen make overs. They used to feature the restaurants of a different city every month. While I don't think I'll ever get to Santa Fe, New Mexico, it was fun to read about local cuisine and then to have a few recipes from area cooks. This month, they had a very brief article about using edible flowers to grace your cooking. Why couldn't there be a column on gardening and using what you've grown in your cooking? I suggested they pair up foods with non-alcoholic beverages, for those of us who don't drink. I've yet to see anything like that.

The other thing that makes me inch toward not renewing is the sheer amount of crap ads in the back 10 pages of the magazine. You know which ones I'm talking about. "Lose weight with this amazing pill!" There must be 3 full pages of ads like this. Weight gain powders. Muscle firming tinctures. They are all right here. Shape is less of an offender here mainly because they can print yet another "amazing and fantastic" diet every month in the front pages of the magazine.

Hence, I think my years with Cooking Light are coming to an end. It's getting harder and harder to page through the magazine and justify what I'm reading with how the magazine is laid out. Fully half of it is ads. I'm bombarded enough as it is. Show me what to do with the fresh food from the Farmer's Market that resumes the first Saturday in May. I'm on a tight budget. What can I make which will keep in the fridge for a couple days to take to work and doesn't use something I've never heard of, and I consider myself fairly well-versed in food? What are the 10 essential utensils I should have in my kitchen and why? There are so many things which could be covered that don't have anything to do with my irritable bowels or my cholesterol. Thankfully, I can just chuck both into the recycling can.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Thursday, March 12, 2015

"It's okay. God's got it."

If you've been with my blog for some time, you know that I'm rather apathetic about this god person. I've been stepped on for a great many years and I think I can be forgiven for saying that I'm not sure he/she/it (?) pays any sort of attention to me. I can't worship any deity that seems to be apathetic to me; that seems to not know what I'm going through. I'm not into statue prayer, bead prayer or prayer of the desperate looking for anything. I just want to be acknowledged. There is an old question amongst ministry people when you say you're praying for something. "What if the answer is, 'No." Can you handle that?" Heck yeah. At least I'd know that I'd been heard.

In my theology, there is one God and all religions are manifestations of that one deity. It's like every religion is ice cream, but some are butter brickle or peanut butter or chocolate or chunky monkey. The similarities between religions are more prevalent than differences, although some religions more resemble chili dogs than ice cream. (They have extra onions, too, for extra heartburn.) So, if you have this prayer reality within your religion and you believe your deity hears you, then there is the possibility that she will not grant your request. (You cannot have a flame thrower to melt the snow in your front yard.) Perhaps your request would come with a caveat. (While you can't have a flame thrower, you can pay the tween kid down the block to break up the ice dam in the drive to let the melting snow run into the street. It's win-win for both of you.)

And then, there is the knowledge that [insert person or group of people] has life way worse than you will ever have it due to [insert life sucks moment or existence]. It's hard to be praying for a parking space to open up closer to the store so you don't have to walk as far when someone is praying not to die. It's about perspective.

Yet, when life hands you lemons, you can be forgive for saying, "I am sick of lemonade! I don't even like the stuff!" I find myself in this situation and I'm struggling with my perspective, even as the days have lengthened and the smell of spring is in the air.

I got a decent tax return this year. I spent 4 days, count 'em, DAYS, working the possibilities for what to do with this. Eventually, the numbers which won were to take down the dead tree at the NW corner of the house, get the cats their check up and shots, add to the rainy day fund and set aside seed money to replace the Jeep. There would be a bit for a treat for me and I would have money for the wedding trip.

Then the furnace died.

I awoke at 4:30 a.m. two weeks ago, thinking it seemed chilly in the house. Checking the thermometer, it was 58 degrees. Now, I turn down the temp at night, but not that low. I called the company who last performed actual service as opposed to the company who merely cleaned the beast. The latter company didn't have a 24-hour hot line. When diagnosed, the heater coil had gone out. Replacing that took 75% of my tax refund. Oh well, at least I had the money to fix it. Once fixed, it occurred to me that this problem has been on-going for several years. I've had to crank up the heat on several occasions because it just didn't feel like the house was warming. The repair company felt that the cleaning company, who said "everything is good for this year", didn't do any diagnosis. When I tried to find them in the yellow pages, they had vanished. [Insert sarcasm] I wonder why.

Anyway, there goes getting bids on taking the tree down. I can't have companies come out knowing I can't accept a bid. I'll just have to hope there are no hugely powerful storms which would cause a branch to come down.

I headed off to get the oil changed in the Jeep. It was time for the 21-point inspection. My U-joints are shot and the radiator has a very slow leak. The U-joints were of immediate concern so they were replaced last week. The radiator has to wait. I always keep a bottle of oil and a bottle of anti-freeze in the Jeep at all times. You just never know. My mechanic topped off the anti-freeze and said, "See you next month." Would that this were true.

I've just come back from an inspection trip to Iowa. The expense check I'm destined to get for that trip would, in theory, pay for a radiator replacement. My extremely car-handy brother has offered, instead, to replace the radiator if I buy the parts and dinner. I just need to take a weekend and get the car out there. We priced radiators and the attendant hoses and the $40 in gas it would take to get out there (Thank you, God, for low gas prices.) and man, is that tempting. There was a "funky" noise when I started the car today, after driving from Iowa to the office. We'll see if it's still there tomorrow.

There is wash overflowing in the laundry chute. I toss a load in the machine and go upstairs. After the thing fills, there is a horrible screeching noise. I go downstairs and it does not seem that the tub is agitating. I open and close the top several times and it appears that this agitation process is on-off, on-off. It still spins, however and the clothes were okay to be hung up to dry. But have they been agitated to be washed? Maybe just sitting soaking is okay? Maybe what I think I'm supposed to see is not what happens when it's on permanent press? Maybe I can find a rock along a stream somewhere? Or maybe I could take all my dirty clothes to my daughter's and spend the day before the wedding doing laundry? Maybe it's really okay?

The cats have to be postponed, at least until April. They seem to be fine, if more than a bit too fat. If the washer spun the clothes out, maybe, if I do small loads, it won't matter as much. If my brother really feels he can replace the radiator, it will just cost me a visit home and I can nurse the thing until then. I'm still really worried about the tree and I need to find a mowing service because the guy who used to mow my lawn is moving. I had sort of planned for that, which is "me-speak" for "I know it's coming but maybe it won't so I don't have to add mowing into my thin budget".

And then, Anne Lamott, the Christian writer I love so well, writes an amazing column about the trials and tribulations of being human. I won't post a link to the Facebook post here for those of you who loathe Facebook. If you'd like to read it, just type Anne Lamott in the search function and look for last Sunday's column. In essence, she was talking about prayer, about life and how frustration at irritations leads us to being angry. She drives a 1959 Volkswagon which doesn't have a gas gauge. She keeps meticulous records on how much gas she puts in the tank versus how much she's driven. The VW died but she said it couldn't be because it was out of gas. The good Samaritan who stopped to help her thought otherwise, but humored her while they when to his garage, got his big gas can, filled it and then added that to a bone-dry gas tank. He refused money for helping her.

She had recently encountered the title of this post coming from a woman who had been dealt a "high card" hand when everyone else had full-houses. I've encountered this in my travels about the Chicagoland area, coming from people with sagging and fallen plaster, remnants of sewage in the basement and a construction project digging up the front yard. "God is good," I've heard.

Suffice it to say I don't get it, not wholly, not fully. Lamott didn't get it either, at the time, but, this is what I love about her willingness to talk about this faith journey she's on, she admits that this is a struggle, that she's always going to wrestle with the "not getting it" part. The "It's okay. God's got it" is never going to come easily or quickly to the point that she can just blithely go through life secure in "God is good". When you're like me and you're not even sure God is aware of you or you think he merely opens a window "Laugh-In"-style and says, "Yeah, she's still there," it's not okay and God is not good and it's not going to matter if my god is cookie dough or strawberry ice cream flavor.

So, I'm struggling right now. The load of wash I did tonight is drying on the line. (In case you're wondering, I've never owned a dryer. It takes planning to make sure you have adequate clothes for the days ahead while a load dries on the line, but I grew up in another era when wash on the line was how you dried things.) I have 2 cats thrilled to see me. I have leftover pizza in the fridge and I'm grateful that's still working. The sun is out and the snow and ice are leaving. I'll need to jump into my financials and see where I'm at. Is there any extra in the rainy day fund for a washer? I don't know. But, I do know I can go to a laundromat and do a couple loads which would tide me over for at least a week. There are options.

I don't know if it's okay. I don't know if God's got it, whatever "it" happens to be. I'm soldiering on the only way I know how. I was thankful for a beautiful drive, for a chance to connect with my mom and my brother. It's in the little things that I think this God is good. The big stuff will sort itself out.

Beverage:  English Teatime Tea


Friday, March 6, 2015

Hello There

So, I'm making my morning cereal and I see something in the back yard flitting about the compost pile. There's a lid someone around the thing, but I never put it on. That would mean taking it off when I need to toss in more stuff. I stopped for a bit to see what was at the compost pile and saw this.

It's hard to see because although I held the camera still, the blue jay was not still.

This is new to me. I thought jays migrated, but the Audubon Society says they migrate one year and are stationary the next. Since it's still winter, I would guess this to mean this bird has been here all winter. They tend to be aggressive with other birds but very skittish around humans. I don't remember the last time I saw one in the yard. It's been years.

We're supposed to get a warm up over the next few days. Does the activity of the blue jay mean spring is finally on its way? Man, I hope so.

Beverage:  Water


Thursday, March 5, 2015


Shopping resulting in any accumulation of more than one bag leaves one with a dilemma. Witness the accumulation of bags on the recliner after last Saturday's trip.

We didn't go into a lot of stores. I tried, every time I purchased something, to see if they would add to a bag I had already accumulated. "No," was the universal answer.

Three years ago, that wouldn't have bothered me. The Dominicks grocery store across from the office had a large bin where a recycler would take your plastic bags. I never threw one into the garbage. But Dominicks closed and Mariano's is not stepping up, indeed no one is, to fill the void. I have 2 large bags filled with plastic bags accumulated over the past 2 years since Dominicks has been gone. I have myself so trained that I still stuff a large plastic bag with smaller bags out of habit, even though I know I have no place to take them. Mariano's does have a small, very small, bag recycling bin, but I could fill it just on my own.

According to the little bit available online, recycling bags is a headache. Black and colored bags differ in composition from white bags. Inks used to print logos have to be removed from the chemical soup which results when bags are ground and then melted to make more bags. It's expensive. The market for recycled paper products is huge and it's easy to turn used into new.

I understand the mindset of Lane Bryant, where I bought a pair of jeans. Your bag is somewhat free advertising. Seeing someone walking around with a Lane Bryant bag might make you consider going to that store to see what they have for sale. But companies need to also understand that consumers want to make greener choices. If I get a large bag because I bought a pair of jeans, I'm just going to stuff the other, smaller bags inside it. We've been doing that for centuries. Why lug around 15 bags when you can lug around 3? No one's going to see that I went to the Carter outlet because that bag is inside another. The mind set also can't be chalked up to loss prevention, either. I'm stuffing my purchase inside another bag. If I'm going to steal something, a bag from the Carter's outlet is NOT what I'm going to be using.

I don't shop much anymore. I try to remember, when I do go out, to grab a reuseable bag. I feel very bad about shoving my plastic bags into a garbage bag and setting it out with my garbage, yet I don't have an option. Maybe bag recycling needs to figure out a better way to be done. It's something very lacking in all the recycling we are able to do.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper



I'm just going to leave this right here, so to speak.

Pam went into the kitchen store at the mall and I followed. For two dollars and ninety-nine cents, you tell me how I was to resist. I washed it but I haven't used it, yet. I'm thinking this is a for pancakes. There's an apple oatmeal pancake I've had a hankering to make, but the oatmeal has to sit overnight. It's not a recipe one makes when one gets up with 45 minutes to be out the door and to the office.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Chocolate Wars

At the outlet mall, there is a Rocky Mountain Chocolatier and  Lindt Chocolate Shop. We passed by Rocky Mountain and stopped at Lindt. Lindt had a sale where we were able to split a set amount of chocolate and sign up for a frequent buyer card.

Technically, I needed a bag of Lindt chocolate like I need a rash. There are a lot of bags of M&Ms on top of the fridge. But there is something immensely satisfying about popping a Lindt chocolate into your mouth. Unlike M&Ms, I don't have to suck on the shell before it splits, to get at the whipped chocolate center. I think I have a half dozen different flavors in this bag. I don't have a favorite. They are all good, but I avoided the coconut and mint offerings.

I listened to the manager talk about how he never eats Hershey anymore. I thought, "What a shame." As I have grown older, I see the value in consuming a wide variety of chocolate. American chocolate is sweeter than European chocolate. Even when you're eating a 70% dark chocolate bar, the taste is sweeter if the confectionaire is based in the US. Europeans have, up until the last 10 years or so, had a wider variety of flavors from which to choose. We're better but still, M&M/Mars is the #1 chocolate manufacturer in the US. In spite of dark, white or candycane M&Ms, the essential offering is Americanized chocolate.

But while I feel a bit of sadness for this gentleman deciding that he will only eat one kind of chocolate. I have ruled out one kind for a very different reason. Last month, the Hershey company won a lawsuit against an importer of British chocolate. In case you don't know about this, Hershey bought the rights to the US production of Cadbury's chocolates. Very gradually, as global trade has exposed people to more items, importers began to bring in Cadbury chocolates from England. English ex-patriots say the US chocolate is of an inferior mix. Having experienced both European and US chocolate, I wouldn't say "inferior". It's different owing to what the US deems should be the composition of chocolate manufactured here. Plus, it's very much a decision based upon what you've grown up with.

Anyway, Hershey's filed a lawsuit against some importers of British candies claiming their trademarks were being infringed upon by these bits of British chocolate. They claim there is "confusion" between these sweets and their US made counterparts. The net result of this is the loss in heavily British/Irish communities, particularly on the east coast, of the chocolates and other treats which were imported for the few shops which do that kind of business.

I understand the need to protect one's creations from trademark infringement. When the case was settled, we had a discussion in my World of Warcraft guild about how important it is to protect what you've worked hard to create. Knock-offs are a huge business. But here's the rub. Unless you know exactly where to go, finding British chocolate is not as simple as picking up a candy bar at the Casey's when you fill up your gas tank. I'm told Cost Plus World Market has some things, but British chocolate seems to be a niche market. It would never make a dent in the grand trade that is Hershey's. I fail to see that if a wrapper is orange, it's going to confuse a shopper looking for Reese's Pieces. It seems to me, there is plenty of room in this vast world for Flakes and Crunchies and Reese's and York Peppermint Patties.

The bottom line, for me, is that I have decided not to buy Hershey products. I really didn't need to eat Twizzlers, but this will put a dent in my s'mores consumption. How can you make s'mores without that flat Hershey's bar? I guess, if I want this treat, I'm going to have to find out. Maybe I can take some Lindt chocolates and stack on them a hot marshmallow.

Beverage:  Dr Pepper


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Days 2 Through 5 of the First Project of 2015

I haven't been posting because I've been stitching. You're going to like what's happening.

Day 2.

I got a lot done on day 2. I had a huge computer issue which necessitated a reloading of my World of Warcraft game client. That meant that I took time off to spend with my cross-stitching, and the cats. Pilchard loves my lap but was not staying as long as she did in the summer. I would think winter would be better. She'd be in a warm lap instead of a cold box on the floor, but she lasts only for around an hour before jumping down.

Anyway, this might be a familiar shape to some people. Day 3 was just a bit of stitching.

It was more fill in of what I'd done before, rather than stitching into the empty space. On Day 4, I filled in the rest of what I had outlined before.

What you can't see with the camera and flash are the subtle color changes in the grays of the design. I tried a non-flash photo but since I'm stitching at night when I come home from work, flash is needed. I'm hoping to complete this design this weekend and then I'll see if natural light will better illuminate the color changes of the floss. To give you an idea of the power of the flash, the hoop is robin's egg blue.

I'm still struggling with stitching on black. I have difficulty finding the next hole for the needle. I'm grateful that I chose a design that doesn't have half or quarter or three-quarter stitches. I think I'd have to set this aside until summer when I could stitch outside in sunshine in order to see.

I worked more last night. Day 5 had the design fleshing out more.

Seeing how well and fast this is coming together makes me want to continue, setting aside things like the dishes in the sink and the wash in the basement. There is a border and lettering to be done, but I have high hopes I'll be finished within my target time.

Beverage:  Irish Breakfast Tea


The Printed Word

I managed to get 7 books read in 2014. I didn't review the last one. I don't even have a photo of it. It was a cat book with a copyright of 1976. It wasn't very informative or insightful. The study of the cat has come a long way in the almost 50 years since the book was published. Thankfully, I got it used so I don't feel cheated by spending money for a book containing now largely discredited information. I guess it's interesting to see how far science has come to trying to understand the cat.

The book that's been on the ottoman since the cat book has been Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication on the Rights of Women. I feel I should read a classic every year, either something I have read before or something I haven't. Wollstonecraft's book will, periodically, be used as a reference to women's rights. She wrote it in the 18th Century and was an uncommon woman. But it's kind of like slogging through a thawing peat bog. I'm half-way through it and I kind of feel like I HAVE to finish it, rather than want to finish it. That's a clear sign that I need to set it aside and pick up something else, something more engaging.

Lately, my eyes and brain have been assaulted by other books. As you know, I honestly don't NEED books. I should take a bag to Half Price Books because they will buy stuff and give you a store credit, which would promote the purchase of more books, but I'm sure I can find things to use up the store credit. At least I'd have the books out of the house. If they gave me $15 for a bag of books, I could, perhaps, find something large which could be a Christmas book for someone.

After much thought and reading, I purchased these from my friendly bookstore, Just the Bookstore, in downtown Glen Ellyn.

The Guild Leader's Handbook is a reference tome for people who lead guilds in computer games. As you know, I lead a guild in World of Warcraft. Any help I can have to navigate the needs of the guild and the drama of having 85 people in one place is welcome.

Living in the Shadow of Death is the book which sparked the PBS "American Experience" program about tuberculosis.

Amusing Ourselves to Death is a book about how television has eroded the ability to critically think and discuss politics, science, most anything. It was originally published in 1985, but I've seen it referenced in quite a few articles on the news and science sites I frequent. If eight different authors refer to this in eight different articles, I figured I should see what they were talking about.

As You Wish is the memoir of Cary Elwes who played "Wesley" in "The Princess Bride" movie. It's one of my favorite movies and has become a part of our culture. I probably should, at some point, read the original novel, The Princess Bride by William Goldman. While Goldman wrote the script for the movie, he left out a great deal which fleshes out the characters more.

I tend to steer clear of memoirs. A huge number are released every year and it's tough to find one that isn't about a horrible family or event which colors the author's world outlook. I guess if you had a happy childhood, you don't need to write a memoir to exorcise your demons. But the doom and gloom of most memoirs, even with a happy ending, turns me off. This book, however, promised to be very narrow in scope. It only deals with the time Elwes was filming the movie. Since the book's release, I've read probably a quarter of it on a wide variety of web sites. Everything I read was funny and well written. It seems like the perfect late winter book when the storm rages o'er me.

The top book was an impulse purchase. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up crossed my news feed in, of all places, a couple of craft blogs I read, as well as a book review on NPR. The premise of the book is the Japanese method of decluttering your life really will remove the stress we feel when our homes are filled with stuff. I've said, a lot, that I want to declutter, purge, remove. The Aunt Peaches blog to the right had a wonderfully glowing review of this book and that's what made me get it when I asked Renee if they had it in the store. I guess I need to read the whole book before jumping into decluttering. One of the tips is to hold up an item and say, "Does this bring me joy?" If not, it goes. I'm sure there is more to it. You'll be the first to know.

So, Mary Wollstonecraft is going back in the pile. I'm not sure which one of these I will start with. My goal is still to read a book a month, 12 books at least, per year. I think decluttering would go hand in hand with that. Did this book bring me joy? If not, add to the get rid of bag.

Beverage: Earl Grey Tea


Frosted Windowpanes

Monday's frost was the kind just made for photos.

I love the look of feathers. It's kind of a bear to scrape but it was lovely to look at.

This compares with this morning's ice.

This is the kind where you have to take the edge of the scraper and run it over the ice, breaking it up. Only then can you scrape off the chunks that result. Both of these will make you 10 minutes late for work.

I'm sure there is a scientific reason why the frost forms in feathers on a windshield. As difficult as it makes the start of the day, it did put a smile on my face.

Beverage:  English Teatime Tea



I went shopping with Pam this weekend for the final piece to my wedding ensemble. Once that was obtained, we wandered about this great outlet mall west of us.

I hadn't been here in a number of years. Some of the stores had moved from where my admittedly faulty memory remembered them. Thank goodness Pam was around to map out the places we wanted to visit.

It's an outdoor mall with covered areas in some wings. It's also expanding and will have a lot more stores open by August. We got there right after stores opened. By the time we were leaving, people were circling the parking lot looking for spots. We were quite amazed. They need better parking, but if we went there again, we're the kind of people who would get there at or before opening time to make sure we had close parking.

Anyway, after buying the last piece I needed, we wandered about. One of the stops we made was at the Clarks shoe store. The last time I was here, I bought a pair of Clarks and I was in the market for another pair. This is going to sound like a commercial for Clarks but I like the brand so much, I want to tell you about this.

I need another pair of shoes for work when I am on my feet doing inspections. I need something reasonably lightweight because I don't need to be really tired because I'm dragging a pair of work boots around.

I need sturdy, too. Stylish comes way down on the list, after affordability. That's why I liked going to the outlet. I regularly price Clarks shoes and know what they start at regular retail price. I can wear last year's styles. I don't care. This pair won.

I had foot problems years ago and the podiatrist I saw recommended Clark shoes. My rheumatologist has said Clarks have great fit and support. These shoes were billed as a help for people with foot problems. That kind of sold me on them to even try them on.

The other thing I liked was the tread. We tend to go into places, like basements, which have accumulated dirt or be outside in mud or snow, where having treads on the sole provides me with that much more stability. In the snow of a Monday morning, they were perfect.

Clarks are expensive. That is without question. I really can't afford them when they are on sale. I had to put the wedding shoes into the budget and cut something else, even though they were on sale, in order to get them. But I will wear the crap out of these. I'm still wearing Clarks which are 10 years old. They gave me a free shoe horn too. I've found that sliding into some of my shoes has become a bit tougher in recent years.

Perhaps the best part of the deal, the box.

Beverage:  English Teatime tea