Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Road Trip

My office had a lady who lived in Wisconsin. She handled about 90% of our Wisconsin business. But, she was only part time, even though there were weeks when she was working as much as the rest of us, and she wanted full-time. So, she left us September 1st for a full-time job. What that means is that the jobs she would have normally handled have to be handled by those of us in the Chicagoland office. Generally, we do more inspections in Wisconsin over a wider variety of smaller projects, than we do active on-site work. "Deb, you're the best inspector in this office." Where am I going this week?

Last week, I found myself up near Fond du Lac. I got my maps and directions and set off. I got to just south of Fond du Lac on Interstate 41 and made a right onto US Highway 151. Wait. What?

See? I was on US 151. Why should that matter? Well, when I go to Iowa, one of the routes I can use to get to mom's involves driving a chunk of 151 from Anamosa to Marion. It had never occurred to me that 151 began or ended somewhere. It doesn't have a song about it like Route 66 does. It's not considered the "arterial of the nation", as Interstate 80 is sometimes called. It's just US Highway 151. I know this number. That got me looking on Google for where this road begins and ends.

It begins in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

To the right is Lake Michigan. US Highway 10 is running north and south through the downtown and 151 heads west. It heads diagonally southwest through the mid-section of Wisconsin, passing Fond du Lac and Madison before exiting Wisconsin and entering Iowa at Dubuque.

Once in Iowa, it goes southwest from Dubuque past Anamosa and Marion and the Amana Colonies before ending at Interstate 80 east of Williamsburg.

I've been on quite a bit of this road. It runs past Dickeyville, Wisconsin and I was there before my Memorial Day vacation to see Patt. I remember when we had to do on-site work when the state of Iowa widened 151 from 2 lanes to 4 and the road wound up passing close to some homes. I remember driving on sections of 151 when my parents lived in Marquette, Iowa and getting from Wheaton to Marquette was fastest taking the Interstate to Madison and then going west.

Google says the route can be driven in 6 hours. I'm tempted. I would not make it a very long day. I would drive up to Manitowoc, a place I don't think I've been, and stay overnight. In the morning, I would begin a leisurely drive southwest, stopping along the way at the historical markers and interesting places along the route. I haven't been to the grotto in Dickeyville since I was in middle school. I didn't go in May; there wasn't time. I drove by it and it didn't look all that different from what I remembered.

Dubuque is worth a couple hours. They have the National Mississippi River Museum. I watched that being built but have yet to go there. All these years of knowing the Mississippi and I've never been to the museum.

And, at the southern end are the Amana Colonies. They are worth driving there just for the history and the preservation of a way of life. It's another place I haven't been to in a very long time. For the modern world to crash down upon your senses, you drive a few miles west and go to the outlet mall. Once I get into Iowa, I have a ready made B&B a few miles north of 151, in Walker.

Oh yes, this has potential. I think about road trips I'd like to do. I would like to fill in the drive on Interstate 80 from New Jersey east to where it ends in New York City and drive west from Reno, Nevada to where it ends in San Francisco. I've driven all the rest of I-80.

I grew up along the Mississippi and am very familiar with the signs indicating a "Great River Road". I've driven all facets of that route from its beginnings at Lake Itasca in Minnesota to Keokuk, Iowa. Back in the 1970's, we took a 2-week family road trip and drove a large loop through the south, coming north from Louisiana to St. Louis before going inland and going due north to home. Some of that was on small sections of the Great River Road but we were tired at that point and Interstate was the fastest route home. A Great River Road Trip would be more than a week's worth of driving. There would be so much to see along the route and much of it is NOT interstate.

As I look ahead, briefly; gotta get through BlizzCon; to vacations in the next year, the idea of a few days spent following a road through a section of country I know reasonably well, is very appealing. I'm willing to wager you've never really looked at the numbered highways that go through your neck of the woods. Where do they begin and end? What kind of excitement would be along the way? I think I may find out.

Beverage:  Water


Going Away

I've been in Wheaton a long time; July 4, 1981, to be exact. We moved into the house on Prospect St in December of 1983. The tree at the northwest corner of the house was there when we moved in. I didn't know what kind of tree it was. I knew that it tended to shed branches and was the first to leaf out in the spring and drop leaves in the fall. In 1996, after the leaves fell, we discovered a wasp nest high up in the tree. It was 1 1/2 times the size of a basketball. I climbed up on the roof and knocked it down, ironically, with a basketball.

I never really thought too much about it until last year, when I noticed it didn't leaf out as much as in past years. The City of Wheaton took down a dead ash tree at the southeast corner of the drive way and it occurred to me that tree was the same as the one at the northwest corner of the house. The ash in the parkway was felled by the Emerald Ash Borer, a noxious pest that has savaged our once beautiful trees. My tree never had any leaves on it this year.

I knew it had to come down so I've spent the summer saving. It makes me sad.

It's so tall and majestic. I've been concerned over the summer, as the summer storms roll through with the heavy rain and winds. With it so close to the house and quite dead, what are the chances of losing a branch.

You can see how it forks. The neighbor's drive is 6 feet off the tree to the north. They had concerns about the branches over their property, and rightly so. Eventually, structural integrity fails and this thing called "gravity" takes over. If I don't take it down, I could be paying for a new car or repairs to a house. Ironically, in the last strong wind event, the maple in the parkway lost a branch. This dead tree did not.

So, next Thursday, October 29th, in the afternoon, the whole thing comes down. The company doing it is also going to remove a lot of the trash trees which have grown up around the base, making mowing a bit of an adventure.

Understand that in addition to a sense of loss and sadness associated with the removal, I have a lot of conflicting feelings. The amount of birds in the yard, particularly in the northwest corner have been phenomenal this year. I've seen a huge abundance of chickadees, cardinals, flickers, titmice, robins and sparrows. Bugs love dead wood and birds love bugs. The large amount of what I term "trash trees" on the north and west sides provide excellent cover for birds from predators, although I don't have many of those. I haven't seen any signs of feral cats in my yard and I don't have hawks around either. It's been a lot of fun to sit on the deck and be scolded by an unseen chickadee. Or to look up and see a bird hopping from branch to branch and then have to run get the birding guide because I don't recognize it. All of the above, except for the pine trees and the lilac are going away.

I am having them leave the truck about 3-4 feet tall and leveled. I bought a ground feeder and I'm going to mount that feeder to the trunk. I intend to add seed and the occasional batch of peanuts or other squirrel delights to it. Clearing out the volunteer trees will also allow me room to get at the north window where I can hang a window feeder. It's so overgrown that it's hard to get to that location. I hope the birds and squirrels don't leave. The tree is a hazard, unfortunately, even if it's providing wonderful habitat.

There will be photos. I've made my peace with this. Still, it's like losing an old friend. I need to ask for a slice of the trunk as a memento.

Beverage:  Water


Find 10 Pennies

Find a penny
Pick it up.
All day long
You'll have good luck. 

It's not the most perfect rhyme, but I learned this at a very young age. I can't say how much money I've found over the years. The best random haul was when I was on a job at an elevated train stop. The project was to expand the stop as a community college had purchased the land adjacent and was going to build a new campus on it. I stood under the train platform to watch my equipment. Over the three days I was there, I must have found close to $10 in coins. People drop them; they fall through the slats in the station platform and wind up in the dirt underneath. As that area is closed to all but essential personnel, the coins lay in the dirt. It was mostly pennies, nickels and dimes, but when you're finding more than your pockets can carry, it quickly adds up.

Since then, I've found a lot of money just by looking around, being aware. I found this last week in the parking lot when I went to Panera to get soup and sandwich. (Side note: The autumn squash soup pared with their turkey cranberry sandwich is wonderful.)

Every time I pick up a penny, I recite the above rhyme. Yes, I'm superstitious. So what do I recite when it's 10 pennies?

Beverage:  Water



I finished the last shirt on Sunday.

It was helpful that the Iowa Northwestern football game was on TV. I could finish seams with my feet up while watching the game. The next step is to wash and dry the shirts.

Officially today, two weeks from right now, I will be in an airplane heading to California. It hardly seems possible that it's just 14 days away. Things have come together nicely in spite of some set backs. I'm trying not to be anxious, but it's a struggle. What have I forgotten to do? The shirts are done. That is a load off my mind. I've started to set clothing aside so it doesn't get worn. This isn't like going to Carole's. This is a pack 'em up vacation. Breathe. Breathe. We'll be the best looking people at BlizzCon.

Beverage:  Water


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mom's Cake

I play Dungeons and Dragons with a couple of groups. One group meets online. The other actually plays the way the game started, with pencils and paper and dice and maps. For the latter group, we get together roughly every 2-3 weeks. Part of that involves food. We've had theme food night and last week, it was breakfast.

Originally, I was going to make a chocolate walnut bread, but chose to sink my time into sewing shirt number 2. But I still had to bring something. I wasn't interested in dashing to the store for anything. I wanted to bake. What could I make that was quick but symbolic of breakfast? I know. Mom's coffee cake.

It's ridiculously simple and I've probably blogged about this before. Mix dry ingredients together with vegetable oil.

Set aside a cup of this crumbly mixture and add egg and buttermilk to the rest.

Pour into a 9x13 greased and floured pan and sprinkle the saved crumb over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes and inhale the fragrance of cinnamon and nutmeg and brown sugar.

Cut in pieces and serve warm, with ice cream or cooled for breakfast or as a snack. This cake freezes very well. I've made it, cut it into pieces and stuck the pieces in the freezer. Even defrosting them at 3-4 months out, they were still moist.

This was a staple of family meals when I was growing up. I don't know if mom remembers where she found the recipe but she's been making this for at least 55 years, maybe longer. It's pretty much foolproof and would be a great cake to get kids cooking. I took what was left to the office and then finished off what was left after everyone at work had a piece.

Here's the recipe:

Salad Oil Coffee Cake

3 cups flour
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

1)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2)  Grease and flour a 9 x 13 inch pan.
3)  Mix flour, sugars and spices together.
4)  Add oil to dry ingredients, stirring until blended and mixture is lumpy.
5)  Reserve 1 cup of the flour/sugar mixture. Set aside.
6)  Add egg, buttermilk, soda and salt to the remaining mixture. Beat until well blended and creamy.
7)  Sprinkle reserved mixture over the top of the batter.
8)  Bake in preheated oven 45 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.
9)  Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes before cutting and serving. May be frozen for later servings.


Beverage:  Water



A week ago, the Chicago Bears surprised everyone by snatching a victory from the jaws of defeat, so to speak.

The field goal kicker kicked the ball through the uprights from 49 yards out. On September 26th, Marshall Koehn kicked a field goal to win the game for my Iowa Hawkeyes.

Nothing unusual about a last second field goal to win a football game except the kick was 58 yards. If you know something about football, that's OVER half of the total yardage on the field. And when you look at both kicks, there was enough distance that they could have been kicked from 53 and 63 yards away, respectively.

When did field goal kickers develop the ability to kick from downtown Iowa City? In the case of Iowa kickers, these are 18-22 year-olds doing this. Field goal kickers last longer than linemen or quarterbacks or defensive ends because they usually don't get attacked or find themselves called upon to tackle a opponent. But I remember a time when these kinds of distances were completely unheard of. If you had a guy who had a 75% make percentage from 40 yards out, you were golden. Against tough defenses, it meant you didn't have to get to the end zone to add points. Now days, 40 yard is expected. The longest field goal in NFL history is 64-yards done by Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos on December 8, 2013. The longest field goal in NCAA history is 65 yards, set by Martin Gramatica of Kansas State on September 12, 1998.

Perhaps it's the changing game. Today's players are stronger. Their size, strength and agility is carefully monitored. Weight rooms, while a nice idea back in the 1980's, are high tech and every player is required to use them. Training and practice, even for kickers, is planned. I guess it would stand to reason that, as players get stronger, the ability to kick farther is a by-product of that conditioning.

As much as a kicker being able to do these above distance kicks, the easy ones can become harder than usual. Koehn had a string of 59 straight point after touchdowns broken. The PAT is almost boring in it's regularity. Only freshman kickers would miss these. Um...not so much. Koehn, a 98% field goal kicker inside 30 yards, missed one each in Iowa's next two games after the 58 yarder. Just because he can nail the long ones doesn't mean he can get the short ones. And I saw this over the past weekend when I had football on in the background while I sewed. Pro kickers are just as prone to hooking a short kick or missing a point after touchdown as college kickers are.

Perhaps the idea that you have a kicker who can make the goal from yards and yards away is a novelty. The bread and butter kicks are still the ones 40 yards and less and those are the ones you should be making. Still it's a marvel to me that teams make decisions based upon whether their kicker could make a field goal from 45+ yards away. I guess that's evolution for you. Bigger, stronger, more agile.

Beverage:  Water


Monday, October 12, 2015

'Tis the Season

I needed stamps. I don't write nearly the number of letters I used to, but there comes a time when you just need stamps. When I went to get some, they had the first of their Christmas issue out.

Woohoo! "A Charlie Brown Christmas" immortalized in stamps. Last year, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was on stamps. It was just a 4-pane, repeated, so I could use up all except one pane. I've been meaning to frame these. It appears Charlie Brown is 10 different stamps. I'll save one section and use the rest. Then, I really should look at framing these or, at the very least, putting them somewhere other than the sleeve I have for stamps and return address envelopes.

At one point, I was going to get cat Christmas cards which I saw in one of the catalogues showing up now. But then I realized, I am going to a couple places where the opportunities for photos are great. It costs more, but this year, I'm sending photo cards. I should go buy more Charlie Brown stamps to make sure I have enough.

I also discovered I don't own a copy of "A Charlie Brown Christmas". I'm not sure how that happened but, thanks to needing a smaller purse for BlizzCon, I ordered the Blu-Ray disc from Target. "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" is also not in my collection. One movie at a time.

Beverage:  Water


Excuse Me?

I was in the office, working on some guild stuff when I heard a noise at the window.

He's rather bold. He just sat there looking at me.

He was very interested in what I was doing. But as I started taking photos, he decided he'd had enough of posing.

There's going to be a major change in the yard, perhaps as early as this month. I struggled with how much change to make because the yard is alive with wildlife. But I've figured out a way to keep the squirrels and the birds somewhat happy.

I keep forgetting to buy peanuts in the shell for the squirrels. It's so cute to watch them open the shells to get at the nut. There is a feeder that mounts to a deck railing. If I have some extra funds after coming back from BlizzCon, I could get that and put it right here by the window. I know the girls would like Squirrel TV.

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


Last Shirt

I cut out and started stitching the last of the three shirts for BlizzCon.

It's hard to believe that it's T-23 days and counting. I'm starting to think of the clothes I want to bring along and are they clean, particularly the shirts. As I don't do wash but once a week now, I have to actually plan for things instead of just what happens to be next in the closet.

I had purchased all the fabric on the bolt, when I was at JoAnn's. This was to give me a cushion, in case I screwed something up. As it turns out, I needed the cushion just to cut the pattern. Not exactly sure how I miscalculated, but I wound up needing all of the length. I do have a chunk near the end which wasn't big enough for anything. I just set it aside in the scrap box. Some day...

It was intriguing to see how the cardboard bolts are fashioned now.

After determining that I'd take the whole thing, the gal at JoAnn's simply rolled the fabric back on the bolt and gave me the whole thing. I unrolled the rest of the fabric and discovered the bolt is just folded cardboard. I remember when this was a fairly sturdy rectangle. Maybe that's still true for some fabrics, but, for this one, it wasn't. This is, actually, easier to add to the recycling bin.

Now that I'm on the third shirt, it's going together rather quickly. The hard part is the collar and front facing. Once that is done, it's a piece of cake to finish. BlizzCon, here we come.

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea



I've had an issue with Pilchard lately. She's been going into the basement to poop when she wants to register some discontent with the litter boxes. I never know, precisely, what that discontent is and the fact that I don't have to do laundry as often as I used to, thanks to Patt and Pam helping me out in May and June means I don't find the poop for many days.

Over the weekend, I went into the basement to do a load of clothes and saw a dark line by the washer. You need to scrub the area where the cat pees or poops to remove the smell and I was irritated at having yet another spot to clean. I grabbed a paper towel and went to pick up the piece only to find out it wasn't poop. Viola. It was a wooly bear.

I used to see these caterpillars in a lot of places this time of year. It wasn't uncommon to see 4-5 in a week. Now, it's rare to see even one in a year. I chanced across one in Wisconsin while doing an inspection.

I was thrilled to see this one. Having one in my basement is very special. But he wasn't going to survive down there. So I took him outside and put him in the remnants of the pansies. It tickled when he crawled across my hand.

It's interesting that the Wisconsin wooly bear's stripes are roughly the same width, while my wooly bear is distinctly more brown. Folklore would say that the Madison area, where I was doing inspections, is going to have a winter similar to last year while my house will have a mild winter. I've seen projections which say a warmer but snowier winter. Mild, I don't mind. Less heating costs. Snowier? Well, I'm on the fence about that. It would mean more shoveling, something my joints wouldn't appreciate. We'll just have to see.

I wonder if the lack of wooly bears is akin to the lack of monarchs. I'm disappointed that, with all the milkweed I let grow in my yard, I don't have any chrysalises. You'd think, if they can find food, they'd leave their eggs. I try to provide an attractive ecosystem for moths and butterflies even if it makes the yard look unkempt.

Beverage:  English Breakfast tea


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Happy Season

Part of the sewing experience is there are times when I have to sit and pin or sit and hand sew. In those times, I like to pop in a movie or have the TV on to be glanced at. I consider my crafting ancestors and realize this is an anomaly. They would not have had TV, radio, DvDs or Blu-Ray movies to occupy their time when they were darning socks or stitching up a dress or two. Yet there is something about that "background noise" which makes projects go a bit faster than a house with no artificial sounds.

As I was pinning sleeves onto the latest shirt to be completed, I popped in the quintessential Halloween movie. You'll recognize it.

That's right, it's "Nightmare Before Christmas". This is my second favorite line in the movie. "And since I am dead, I can take off my head and recite Shakespearean quotations." I have to chuckle at this since a great number of ghosts permeate Shakespeare's plays and deliver important lines to further on the plot.

My absolute favorite lines are spoken by this character at this time in the movie.

If you don't know the movie, the mayor shows up at Jack Skellington's house to go over the plans for next Halloween. Jack, having a crisis of identity, is out wandering about and is not home. After ringing the bell twice, the mayor goes from happy to this pleading face.

"Jack, I'm only an elected official. I can't make decision by myself." When I see the current crop of presidential candidates, of either party, trot themselves out and start brandishing whatever policy they think can get them elected, I think of this character and simply laugh.

The only other thing I need to watch is "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" and Halloween will be in full force. Time to change the fall wreath on the door to the one with ghosts on it.

Beverage:  Water


T Minus 28 Days and Two Shirts

Shirt number two was finished last night.

It's hanging up in my closet. This weekend, I will cut and start work on shirt number 3. That one should be finished next week and then I can give these a washing before packing them for BlizzCon. Speaking of which, there are 28 days before I'm on a plane flying to California and 30 days, exactly, until the convention starts. I'll be going to Disneyland on Thursday for a few hours, with Elizabeth, while we await Ashley's arrival. It doesn't seem possible that I'm less than a month away from this trip I've been planning for 6 months. Everything seems to be in order but I am worried there will be something unplanned come up and make me overstressed. I have to remember to breathe when things get hairy.

I had help on this shirt.

When I have to pin stuff, I'll pop in a movie and recline. Mija usually sits next to me. She's not a lap cat but loves just being next to me, where she can demand ear scratches. Pilchard, on the other hand...

When she wants my lap, she wants me lap, regardless of what I happen to be doing. Here, I was attaching buttons to the front of shirt number 2. She demands my attention.

She has to smell my fingers, sometimes lick them.

Once I've been sufficiently smelled, I'm allowed the opportunity to scratch. Of course, this stops all work on the shirt, and that is, possibly, the reason for the leap into the lap.

So, here we go, down to the wire. I would have had these done earlier if I hadn't gotten sick. Oh well. What's that aphorism? If it wasn't for the last minute, a lot of things wouldn't get done.

Beverage:  Water


Saturday, October 3, 2015

I Don't Like This Place

Pilchard's had some vomiting problems of late. Once a week, for the last three weeks, she's thrown up a rather large hairball. I comb her a couple times a week, but when it happened a third time, I started to worry that she might have something else going on. Off to the vet we went. I need to get a better cat carrier. There are a lot of choices out there which would be much easier to transport than the hard sided carrier I have. I'm getting rid of the one I've had for nearly 30 years. The clasp on the door doesn't hold anymore. If the cat is docile and just goes into the carrier and sits, it's fine. But Pilchard tries to force the door so it doesn't hold.

She's down .9 of a pound since our March visit. That does not bother me as she tops the scale at 13.1 pounds. She's always been a bit chunky, but could stand to lose a couple pounds.

After blood work to rule out any underlying problems, it seems the problem is not being able to get rid of hair she ingests while grooming. I have to add a can of wet food to meals now and laxative paste as much as I can. Dr. Cody wants her to have 2 inches per day, but I'm going to be lucky to get a quarter of that. The stuff I have is 'chicken flavor'. Neither girl was impressed with it.

If she continues to vomit hair, there may be a mass in her stomach, which was tender on one side, that will need surgery to remove. Let's hope it doesn't get to that point. I can't imagine the hissing and spitting and growling I'll have to deal with after bringing her home from that kind of appointment. There was enough anger Thursday and Friday to last me the rest of the year.

I found this amusing.

The stress of going to the doctor can cause cats to shed. Pilchard sheds a lot anyway but there was this mass on my pants. It stuck, perfectly, to the wall.

Beverage:  English Breakfast Tea


Thursday, October 1, 2015

That's a Surprise

Over a year ago, my guild mate, Amber, who lives in Australia, sent me two packages of this cookie called "Tim Tam". I'd never heard of it. They are biscuit-like cookies with a flavored layer sandwiched between them and the whole thing dipped in chocolate. It was a lot of fun to have something from the other side of the world.

I was in Target a couple weeks ago and had to walk down the cookie aisle to get from point A to point B. I thought I wanted cookies to nosh on but not really, I decided, until I saw this.

Wait...what? I've had the regular Tim Tam to the left. The caramel was new to me. I had to try those.

Here's a cross section of the cookie. There's the 2 biscuit layers and the cream layer with caramel and the outer chocolate shell. They are good but rather sweet. This is not a tray of cookies you'll sit down and eat all in one sitting.

For me, the attraction of these cookies is the connection I have to Amber. If I hadn't known about them, I would have passed them by. They aren't remarkable in their own right; more a novelty in the vast cookie aisle. What they remind me, though, is just how global life is now. These are an Australian cookie on the shelf of my Wheaton Target. Some executive made the decision to either import them or have a manufacturing plant make them here. I can't see them taking over much more in shelf space, but who knows. Something new and different could garner just enough of a following that we'll see other flavors besides plain chocolate and caramel on the shelves.

Beverage:  Dunkin Donuts Tea


A Return of the Yum

It's back.

Panera has their autumn squash soup back. One bowl of this and life doesn't feel quite so hard. I have to cut back on eating out at lunch. It's too easy to let someone else cook and then pay for that privilege. But...but...soup...

Beverage:  Dunkin Donuts Tea