Saturday, December 31, 2011

Year In Review, Or ...?

Everybody else is doing it. I'm having trouble getting up the energy to revisit this past year. So much of it, from this perspective, can be summed up in the word "deathwatch". Besides, I already did that, only it was called a Christmas letter. Of course, reading that, my news of the past year could best be summed up in the word "deathwatch". Sound a bit redundant?

Does to me. Why repeat it yet again?

I'd rather think about upcoming events. The kind of things that are important enough to require lists. There's a wedding, and it's got a long list, lotta stuff to do in six weeks. Then there's a honeymoon trip, shorter list but we're taking it pretty much by ear, so to speak. Its schedule mostly depends on weather and how we feel day-to-day. None of this by-Tuesday-we-have-to-be-in-City-X-so there's-no-time-to-stop-at-.... crap.

Then there's househunting. I contacted a realtor down in Arizona, and got a login-in password to a realty website. Steve and I have been pouring over the listings, narrowing down the wish-list, comparing features and prices. Dreaming. Beginning to arrange financing. Looking at serious snowbirding if I can come to an accommodation with the Phoenix branch of the company I contract with.

And there's this house. The carpeting needs replacing in the living room after Daddy's walker snagged it all to heck. After looking over options, and noticing that the kitchen linoleum hasn't held up well to 20 years of wear, I decided to go with ripping it all out and putting down laminate flooring, a vinyl-backed product vs. particleboard product, in light woodgrain. The formal estimate was a bit outrageous and didn't include leveling or taking up the plywood in the kitchen, or any other little unexpected thing that is sure to come along.

So I went with Plan B: have Richard do the install (which he agreed to after much researching), and work out an agreement to pay three months of his child support in exchange. There was a gap in his income from summer work that would have wound up with his losing his driver's license again, and likely ending up in jail again, probably just in time to screw with his next season's job. This bridges that gap until work starts up again, as well as getting me a decent new flooring that doesn't cling to every allergen in the world that's decided to pick on me.

The original offer was two rooms for two months' support, but after I cut down the labor-plus part of the bill, I added in my bedroom to the job. Its carpet is nice enough for twenty-year-old carpet, but my allergies are kicking up a bit again after I moved back into it, so I'm following Doctor's orders and getting it out of there.

I've already picked up the flooring. The cost plus what I'm paying Richard plus miscellaneous tools and supplies is still less that the 'they-do-it" estimate, even when we know the estimate doesn't include extras. It's sitting on the floor of my bedroom in a spot I usually don't need to walk on. Good thing too, since it's not going to move easily. When I picked it up I had to argue with the store to be able to get the extra 9 boxes (Have you had it measured? The installation price will have to be adjusted. How do we tell the computer what you're doing?), but three people later it was mine. It took two young fellows and a flatbed cart to get it loaded, taken to the cash register (more arguing), and finally loaded into my cute little hatchback. (You don't have a truck?)

Their guess while loading it was that each box weighed 15-20 pounds. Their estimate was 400 lbs. total. Yeah. Right. We're talking 33 boxes of laminate. It got stacked front-to back with the seat down, but there's a little tilt on the floor that way, and once the boxes cleared the back lip of the hatch door in height, there was the issue of keeping slippery boxes from sliding right back out again. So they put the remainder crosswise right behind the seats, since there's a spot where the back seat backs go when upright that's narrower. It turns out it's narrower than the boxes are long and they wedge three across in that space very nicely and don't slide any further back. Everything went in, the car sagged a lot but not too much for a cautious drive home, and my two-wheeler still fit right in on top of all the boxes without doing any damage.


I enlisted Paul and Richard to haul them into my bedroom, though I had to wake Rich to do so. That was the simple part. Where the problem lay was getting the boxes out of the car. Those cross-laying boxes, wedged forward of the narrow spot? Well, when the third box went into each layer, it took up the remainder of the space behind the front seats. No biggie if you can take them out the same way they went in, but in reverse: lift, turn at an angle, slide out. The turning at an angle part is only possible after one box has been lifted clear. And I quickly found out that each box weighs, not 15 lbs., not 20 lbs, either of which would have been enough fun when one needs to stretch way forward over the back of the car towards the front and then have only one's arms for leverage, but 40 lbs.! We wound up putting my seat back forward and taking the first box of each crosswise stack out my door so the other two could be turned to free them and slid down to the hatch opening. Eventually it worked, they all got in, and the car rose back to its normal height above the ground.

So, 33 boxes at 40 lbs. each... Nice little load for my hatchback. Nice load for my bedroom floor, spread out over about 12 square feet.

There's a lot of prep work first. I'm taking Rich shopping this morning, before the weather moves in with rain/ice/snow, wind and cold temps right in time to stay home for New Year's Eve. There are supplies and tools to get, though I've already picked up 100 lbs. of leveling compound, a squeegee, and a linoleum knife. The first segment of cut up linoleum went out in the garbage can this week, and that and carpeting will be fed through in bits till it's gone. Maybe May? We need a 3-foot level to find any other hollows besides the one we know about in the floor which is already going to take the 100 lbs. of compound to fill. Then knee pads, a small thin pry bar to remove the wooden floor molding - carefully, I hope, to reuse - razor knife and blades to cut carpet, a wood chisel to cut through the plywood the cabinets stand on to we can have a smooth vertical edge and a floor level from kitchen to living room, shims or something to give a gap around the edges, and whatever else we find out we might need. Something to pry up plywood? Eventually quarter-round for along cabinets, covering the gap, and trim strips where laminate meets other flooring.

Still cheaper, even with an added room, than the incomplete estimate.

We'll have to be careful for a while of splinters, especially as the kitchen plywood is being torn out. The curio cabinet will have to be packed up and moved out. (Where? Please, where?) A plumber or similar expert will need to be called to disconnect and reconnect the water to the icemaker and the gas to the stove.

Oh yeah, and I've told Richard it needs to be finished by the time Steve and I get back from the honeymoon. March 6th.

It's going to look so good.

Friday, December 30, 2011

When Headlines Hit

I admit it: I'm one of the many who let most of the news headlines just wash over them. Heard it before, somebody else's family/neighborhood/situation, stuff of my own going on. So when I heard about yet another shooting in Minneapolis where a stray (they think) bullet entered a house and hit a child, it didn't really register. Yes, of course it was a tragedy, and of course it hit all the local news services as repeating headlines.

Some things made this one stand out. Little Terrell Mayes was only three. I'd listened to his mom being interviewed over my car radio, talking about how after having her first child, she'd been told there could be no more. The next two were her miracle babies. Terrell was the youngest of her three. The bullet hit him in the back of the head, and he spent 17 hours in the hospital before he died.

Still, this story was just another tragedy for somebody else until yesterday's TV news. I saw a picture of him, so adorable it broke my heart. Now most 3-year-olds are cute, possibly except when their noses are running. Mine were. But this little guy was exceptional, especially in one picture where he and his mom posed with their heads together and big wide grins filling their faces. And then I heard some of the rest of the story.

Terrell and his brother had been eating supper in their home when they first heard shots nearby. The two of them were doing exactly what they had been taught to do under those circumstances: either drop to the floor or head upstairs to the second floor and hide in a closet. Terrell grabbed his plate of spaghetti and was heading up the stairs with it when the bullet struck.

It hit me over and over. It's not the irony of doing what's right and it turning out wrong. It's that they had a plan! Gunshots are so common in his neighborhood that the kids are all told what the plan is for when they hear gunfire. Imagine! When I hear gunfire around here, I know it's another hunting season. There's no plan, except to be cautious outdoors away from the yard. Orange might be a good wardrobe color. I've never needed "a plan". I've never needed to tell my kids to hit the floor. I can't imagine myself having to drop to the floor when any loud noise sounds, mostly because of the problems getting up again with my knees. But in these neighborhoods, these families have a plan.

That breaks my heart even more.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Ghosts of Christmases Past

Work has been slow this week. There's been a lot of time to listen to the X-mas music on Classical MPR and let the melancholy set in. Not sure why, but I figure there's still some grieving catching up with me, having been so busy-busy these last couple months and not slowing down. Lots of memories come up, bringing lots of feelings, all tied into the season.

The earliest X-mas memories come in tidbits and flashes. There's the tantrum at Grandma's (Brogren) when I hated the silly little present she got me, threw it against the wall, and broke it. Needless to say I was sent to bed without any presents or other goodies, definitely intensifying my mood if not improving it. I was just old enough to be selfish, not old enough to be grateful. And certainly not old enough to understand about budgets and tight times. I suspect that was also about the time that Grandma was newly widowed.

The trees were generally spruces, often cut ourselves, and set in a stand that needed watering yet still let needles drop all over before it was taken down. Tinsel was a must back then, hung carefully after all the other decorations were on, and neatly vertical or we'd done it wrong. The other decorations consisted of regular lights, now the size of night-lite bulbs, and bubbler lights, something still available every few years. Some of the ornaments were shiny foil circles sewn in chains or folded flat for storage and opened up into many layers spread into a three-dimensional shape such as a ball, bell, or star. I've never met anybody who remembers that kind of ornaments outside of our immediate family, but would love it if anybody could come up with a line on how to find some.

Being great on economizing, we also strung popcorn and sometimes cranberries. We never economized so much that we turned to using the funny pages to wrap presents in, though I'd heard about it when raising my kids and thought it seemed like a good idea in the really lean years.

Earliest traditions involved waking up on X-mas morning, waiting for our parents to get up, and then, finally, being allowed to open presents. You had to recognize your own name and only open your own, but it was pretty much every kid for herself/himself. I have no idea what my parents did with opening their presents. One year I got up early and snuck down to peek at my presents. I didn't dare turn on a light because Mom was a light sleeper. I slid open the wrapping paper, careful to make it so I could re-affix the tape later and pretend it was a complete surprise. I'd been hoping for an Easy Bake Oven. Unfortunately, it was so dark and some of the letters were red on black or perhaps black on red, and thus invisible in the dark. So it was still a surprise when I opened it the next morning and got my oven! First time I recall getting just what I asked for.

Some years there were dolls, or gray modeling clay in a block like a quarter pound stick of butter. Often clothes came disguised as presents. When I got older there was a Kodak Brownie Starflash camera. It had some flash bulbs which melted on the outside when they were used. And it came with a roll of black-and-white film. I was busy for a while shooting everything I could, finding out that flash overpowers nearby things and doesn't touch far things, making some interesting pictures. I also learned about budgeting to buy new flash bulbs, film, and paying for developing.

The family went down to Minneapolis most years to join the rest of the relatives who mostly lived down there. There'd be a big Maxson Christmas party while my grandmother Elizabeth still lived, held somewhere large enough to accommodate that huge and growing bunch of us, though we were about the youngest, thus last, of the grandchildren and many of our cousins were old enough to have been our aunts and uncles. Every kid would get some kind of present, and a couple years a photo was taken of the whole group. Looking back it's amazing what we thought fashions should be and how young our parents were. The last year I remember of one of those parties, our parents had told us while we were about halfway down in the car that they'd had Goldie, our golden retriever, put to sleep while we were gone. We never knew she was sick, never noticed her getting old, never got a chance to say good-bye to her. She was older than I was, and had always been a part of my life. I keenly felt the betrayal, and wore it like a Greek tragedy the whole time we were down there. Nobody else seemed to care, and it wasn't like I didn't announce it to anybody I thought might listen and sympathize.

The tiny Methodist Church in Hubbard, the nearest town to our resort, celebrated X-mas with lots of singing of carols and by giving each kid a small paper bag of salted-in-the-shell peanuts. There were some candies in them as well, nasty little things, but, hey, sugar! I seem to recall an orange one year. At any rate, these were treats for us and our parents didn't object to us eating what we got, so there was nobody to spoil the gift of goodies. Mom was always so full of rules and cautions that I sometimes wonder how we got to enjoy anything.

While we didn't often get peanuts, every year at Christmas there was a bowl of mixed nuts, along with a nutcracker and nut picks. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and Brazil nuts. Of course we never knew their proper name back then. They were always called "nigger-toes", back before we'd ever seen anyone of African descent, before we had any idea that the name was offensive. We giggled about it, but it was the thought of nuts being named after toes we found so silly. They were the hardest to crack too, needing to be lined up just so in the jaws of the nutcracker, and could take up long segments of time trying to pick the last speck of white nut out of the unforgiving shell.

Speaking of nasty little candies, those were the days of ribbon candies. Pretty until they broke, relatively flavorless, but again, hey, sugar! And too big to put all the way in your mouth so you'd drool while eating them. I found some years later to give my kids, but they were completely unimpressed. Another fond memory/tradition bites the dust.

Once grown and married, we started some of our own traditions. Every year I bought some new ornament for the tree. When the kids were old enough, they painted and glued wooden ornaments, or melted plastic beads in forms to make "stained glass". There were beaded snowflake balls using sequins and beads on hatpins stuck into a cork ball. I handmade felt stockings decorated with sequins including each kid's name, still surviving to this day including the part where Richard chewed off a few of the sequins. If he swallowed them, they seem to have done him no harm. I never did find bits.

While the kids were young, we traveled to southern Minnesota to the Rosa family farm to do Christmas with Paul's folks. Mostly my memories were of how drunk everybody got. Except me. After one drinking disaster during my college years, I couldn't stand the stuff, and was the sole sober person in the room hoping nobody would notice how impolite I was not to be entertained by all the rest of them, hoping I didn't show my total boredom, hoping it was soon bedtime.

There was one amazing exception. Steph was two and Richard a baby that year. I'd just taken her to see the Loyce Holton's Nutcracker, the version filled with tiny kids in mouse costumes. It was a magical time, and the first of several such times we went to such performances until finally the kids announced they were bored with them. But this year it was new, fresh, magic! After supper, the afternoon rain stopped. In the weather's wake a thick fog rolled in. The strong yard lights typical of isolated farms revealed that the rain had frozen on every surface including tree branches, resulting in a glistening and crackling winter wonderland worthy of the best Nutcracker set. The family located the old toboggan, Steph and I dressed in our winter warmest, and escaped for about half an hour into a land of fantasy and ice. Arriving down at the end of the drive near the highway, there were moments where we could imagine we were the only people on earth, until another car came along to spoil the illusion.

One new tradition with our kids was started by my folks. They gave us $20.00 for each kid to spend on other people. The only rules were they had to spend it all on others, and we parents could take them shopping but could not influence their choices of gift. We could inform them how much they'd spent and how much they had left, and often the last few pennies went for a candy cane or some such tidbit, duly wrapped and gifted. The most memorable gift was a toy "Little Bird", a small yellow stuffed friend to the Big Bird on Sesame Street, presented to me by Paul. Of course after I opened it he thought it should be his to play with since I wasn't going to give Little Bird the proper attention he deserved. Paul got properly thanked, and after a few days it went up on a shelf somewhere. But not for long. We gave the kids toys for Easter too, and Little Bird showed up as one of Paul's presents that spring. On another gift-giving occasion, Little Bird went to somebody else, and his travels became a family joke for a while afterwards.

Hmm, I wonder if anybody would remember if I located another one and restarted his travels?

Steph has strongly negative associations with Christmas. The year her father and I agreed to split up, it was just before Christmas. He decided to wait until after the holiday to tell them and move out, so as to not spoil the holiday for them. But by noon on Christmas day he couldn't stand it any more and gathered the kids together and informed them he was leaving. It finally was about him after all. Thanks, guy!

While the timing sucked, the reason for it and the implementation made it ultimately the best thing he did for his kids. We had been visiting my folks for Thanksgiving while they were vacationing on Sanibel Island, relatively close to where we lived then outside Atlanta. Seeing the shock in their eyes over how he treated his kids opened his eyes to what he was doing. While he told a lot of wild stories later about the "why" of the divorce, his reason at the time was that he didn't want his youngest and namesake to go through the abuse that his older son was. At that time, if you yelled Richard's name in irritation at him, his response was to duck and cover his head with his arms. Somehow, we'd managed not to let ourselves see it. It's the one thing I'm most ashamed of in my life, not seeing my child being abused. My only excuse is that I was so busy surviving emotionally myself during those years that I wouldn't allow myself that one extra blow to my defenses.

It still doesn't help much.

There were some particularly lean years after the divorce. It got so bad one year that one day a neighbor came over to announce that we had been chosen to be the family "sponsored" for X-mas by the hospital she worked for. She explained that everybody at the hospital contributed, our family was selected of the ones submitted for consideration, that she was sent to explain the gift, get my permission for it, and get the kid's sizes for new clothes. Later she'd be back with clothes, toys, and food. Even all these years later remembering that Christmas gets me choked up. I'd already had the humiliation of applying for food stamps. The child support, had I known it, was about to go from erratic to nonexistent, and my job was proving insufficient to the task of supporting the family. It had never occurred to me that somebody else had noticed, much less would offer to help. Once back on my financial feet again I've tried to find ways to pay it forward. While I sent a thank you letter to the hospital, I can only hope that they might know how much it still means to me.

This year Christmas is mostly a joyful time. I'm surrounded by loving family, making plans for wonderful new things in my life. All those Ghosts of Christmases Past are still there, but the melancholy doesn't last. Mostly they make me appreciate life today all the more. For all of you and yours, I'm hoping for the same.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Caught 'Em!

Ahah! I caught them in the act. Trying to make my payment late so they can raise the interest rate in my credit card account, those scoundrels!

Too bad for them. I pay them with what's left after bills out of every paycheck, and that's every two weeks. This one may be held for three days so it comes in at my credit union the day after billing cut-off, but they've already gotten paid once, perhaps twice this period, depending on what finnagling they did two paychecks ago. So I'm not late, hard as they try to make it so.

I love electronic trails. My pay period on the credit card is the 18th of each month. This time I paid them electronically on the 16th. I print those out every time, figuring the proof is worth the paper. It got paid in actuality on the 19th. Had it been my only payment, it would have been late.

I understand their motives. Greed, of course. Plain ol' greed. I still have the deal on this card of prime plus 1% for my interest. I've had this card with this deal for years. Were I late once, they could bump me way up. So I don't get late.

I've noticed that a payment made, say, on the 1st of the month, midway through the period, can go through the same day or at latest the next. They do want their money soonest then. Funny how efficient they can be when they want to. But I'm keeping an eye on them. Or rather, I'm keeping an eye on me, making sure I'm prompt. It pays.

Monday, December 19, 2011

On the Vikings

Face it, this year they stink. Somehow, they seem to still be winning in the we-want-you-to-fund-a-new-stadium battle with the state. Apparently good things come to bad teams' owners. For some the threat of no football is worse than really bad football. (They probably see relationships the same way.)

I had to watch a few early season games. We taped them for my dad, and while he was still able to watch and enjoy them, somebody had to be there to pause, or fast-forward through the commercials. That was me. They gave a pretty good showing for a while and still wound up losing. Just before the weekend they had a 2-11 record, and I neither know nor care whether they even played this weekend.

I wound up thinking of them this way: they're nearly as good as every other team out there.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

X-mas Letter 2011

December, 2011

Boy, what a year! Where did it go?

Most of Heather’s year was spent either working or watching the long slow decline of her father, managing his changing needs, blowing off steam on her blog, and finally seeing to his funeral and burial at Fort Snelling in November. Seeing/hearing the full military burial honors experience (WWII First Sergeant, Europe) is quite impressive. Getting to tell the stories of his life at his funeral was a great way to say, “Good-bye.”

Once Steve picked a date for moving in, there was a whole lot of work dedicated to rearranging half the house to accommodate him and his belongings. The date he picked turned out to be just after John’s funeral, so there wound up being room after all, at least for most stuff, but we would have made it work anyway. Steve started his year busy enjoying retirement out in Dassel, and as soon as the lakes opened up, fishing with one of his sons who also lived in the area. After the son moved away with his family, Steve sacrificed the rest of his fishing season to get his third knee replacement - and no, he’s not a three-legged man!

Speaking of our collective offspring, both of us wound up this year having a son working and traveling with a carnival. Orrin stayed mostly in Minnesota. While Rich spent spent the summer here, he also worked off-season locations in Miami and Dallas. Maria is taking time off from working on her degree at St. Kate's to deal with health issues, but plans to return and graduate. When Lance moved his family last summer, they wound up in a situation with such severe electrical problems that between lack of heat and hot spots in the walls, they evacuated under emergency conditions - but luckily safely, and are now sharing space with relatives while seeking safer, more comfortable quarters. He’s looking forward to learning welding in an educational setting that has a great record with job placement. Paul and Josh are pretty much same-old, same-old, although this year Paul finally instituted a regular spraying regimen on the apple trees and suddenly we were finding a whole new cluster of friends to donate bagfuls of them to. Stephanie is starting to think about finding another company to work for, disliking the increasingly corporatized atmosphere where she’s been for 9 years now that they’ve been bought out by a larger company. I have a granddaughter (Jordan) old enough to graduate high school last summer. Steve’s grand kids are younger, enough that two, Angelique and Ethan, will serve as flower girl and ring bearer in February.

Steve and I remain busy, settling in and making future plans. Even a small wedding on Valentine’s Day requires a lot of work and expense, though we’re keeping that down as much as possible. Topping that off we plan a three-week driving honeymoon down to Arizona. We’re hoping to make it work without a lot of advance reservations, not knowing how much distance we’ll make each day with the sightseeing we want to take in along the way, and especially not knowing what Mother Nature’s got scheduled on her blizzard calendar. Once there, we hope to find a way to begin making snowbirding possible on our budget.

So while it’s been something of a sad, hard year, we’re looking forward to our future together, and extend our wishes to all of you for a brighter year next year as well!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Pay No Attention to That Other Post

Oops. Mea Culpa. Forgive me. My Bad.

Of course, I paid for it already. That's how I know. But you shouldn't blindly follow and have to do it as well.

What am I talking about? That substitute pumpkin pie recipe, of course. Yes, it tastes great when it's only a single spoonful sample. But whoa! Too much is waaaayyyyyyy too much! I was just in such a hurry for something nummy that I didn't go cautiously.

Remember that comment about the strong flavor? Apparently after sitting overnight it only got stronger. So much so that I was only able to force myself to eat half of what I packed. And maybe there's something about cooking that destroys some of the spice - volatile oils or whatever.

On the plus side that means fewer calories in. On the minus, though, it means that nasty deprived feeling all day. Well, emotionally, anyway. I wasn't actually hungry for the whole day. Partly because the spices lingered on my tongue - for hours! Well, not quite, but it seemed that way. And I guess also just because there was simply no time to stop and indulge in shopping for something else to eat, and every time I might have been tempted to be hungry I hit that barricade of this is what is sitting in your cooler waiting for you! I did finally hit a Holiday for a couple jalapeno cheddar brats with mustard, no buns, about 4PM.

When I got home the other container, untouched, was still cold and went into the fridge. Today I'm going to mix it with a full 'nother container of cottage cheese. It'd be better if there were an easy way to mash out the lumps and spread the flavor even more, but no time or energy for that. Still, it's gotta be better than what I had yesterday. And hey, Mom taught me not to waste food. So, another day, another experiment.

I'll let ya know.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Patience - RIGHT NOW!

I guess it's a good thing I'm actually capable of having patience. Or maybe it's just a case of really, really lowered expectations.

Take my recent experiences with my car, the one I just got back with the pretty new outside. After the second time when a minimal drain on my battery required jump starting, and with winter coming up, I decided I needed to replace it. Nevermind what the gadgets said about it being just fine, thank you. I have a winter to get through as well as a 4500+ mile trip, where I need absolute dependability. It's worth a few months less use of the old one. Then, there were tires to replace. I'd done two earlier in the year, and with upcoming snowy conditions, it was time to go for a full four with decent tread. One of the rear tires had a slow leak, and maybe it was in the tire though nothing showed like a nail head. And what the heck: oil change due as well.

So, Walmart. On a Sunday in the X-mas shopping hubbub. Hour and a half wait.

That was OK. I brought X-mas cards to work on. First, 70 return address labels. Then fold and stuff 70 X-mas letters I'd written and printed out before leaving home. I left the picture cards home, not willing to risk any damage to them in Grease Central. I'd add 70 addresses, but honestly, we just didn't have all of the ones we needed for the cards we wanted to send out this year. Steve isn't used to sending out cards, so he needed to dig up nearly all the addresses for his list. (Just got the last two finally.) And if that wasn't enough, I had a book in the bag which only had the first chapter read.

Ergo, patience. Plus, I've waited at Walmart before: ergo, lowered expectations.

Sore back too, since without any table to work at but juggling everything between two chairs, I was doing a lot of twisting in the same direction and my body started protesting halfway through.

Or, what should have been halfway through. A full hour into the wait, the whippersnapper at the counter, an obvious new trainee, came to me and announced that the two tires he knew he had at the start of our transaction were no no longer anywhere to be found. A bit later one of the actual fellows working on my car came in to verify that I really wanted my battery replaced, and questioned why I canceled my tires order. I explained they were not in casa, and he went to check for himself. I guess he'd had some experiences with the trainee guy before. But they truly were not there, so after finishing up my car, taking up the full hour and a half without replacing any tires, he called over to another Walmart, confirmed the presence of the desired tires (they had 11) and had them reserve two for me, sending me over there.

Another hour and a half. And a broken TPMS sensor discovered, possibly explaining why one tire required filling every 2-3 weeks. Possibly not, since the other one had a valve stem where the center part couldn't be replaced because it just turned in place, not unscrewing, demonstrating stripped threads. I'll know in another three weeks or so. I can't be sure which back wheel landed on which front side, even though I asked for a straight rotation.

Finally I got home, and was able to enlist Steve's help in finishing up the cards, or at least as far as we could go at that time. Some addresses were still missing then, and there were cards I wanted to put notes in. He stuffed the picture card inside and licked envelopes, while I added stamps.

However, the car stuff still wasn't done. I'd spent Saturday at Steph's house in Minneapolis. Together we were sewing my piece of silk into my tunic for the wedding. This actually means I helped at the dining room table with layout, pinning and cutting, and she did the traipsing up and down the stairs to use the sewing machine. It finally got to the point where there was nothing left that I could do, and we were pretty talked out by then, so I drove home after her offer to finish up. Eventually I'll have a bunch of Czech art-glass buttons to sew on it, 7/8" shank roses with irridescent backs. Leaving, my car started missing and my engine light began flashing, then held steady.

OK, this has happened before. The cure before has always been to turn it off and restart. This no longer worked. So all the running around Sunday was a bit nerve wracking, wondering if it was going to get bad enough to stall out. I started putting it in neutral every time I hit a stop.

Monday morning it went in to my favorite mechanics at Mike's Amoco in downtown St. Paul. Yes, they're worth driving the 41 miles for when at all possible. They're good, tell you up front what they can/can't do for you (no trannys, no allignments), and never charge you for 4 of something when only one needs replacing just because the book says it's done that way, unless you give the OK, don't add in fixes for things that weren't broken in the first place. It was acting like an engine coil (this car has 4) had given up the ghost for real this time, as it had threatened many times before. So the engine codes say.

Plus, I still had a TPMS sensor to replace. Walmart didn't carry my kind.

In almost no time I was out on the road again, ready to work. You thought that was good news? Well, the sensor got replaced, but the "missing" problem turned out not to be the coil - cheap and easy to replace - but the fuel injector. It seems that instead of going spritz spritz spritz with the gas, it went drip drip drip. Not conducive to firing. More expensive to fix. And not a single replacement in the metro area. It needed to be shipped in, taking a day. So meanwhile they put injector cleaner in, in case it might fix things, and sent me on my way until the part arrived.

About 20 miles down the road my TPMS sensor light came back on. Dang! Which tire was going flat this time? Did they fix it wrong? Did they fix the wrong one? Back I drove to the shop, after checking tire pressure (fine) and dropping the work I had aboard. No problems, go ahead and drive again, just keep an eye on them in case...

The car at least was drivable, though still a bit nerve wracking. There was a "sweet spot" at about 35 MPH, and another at 50-62, where you could almost be fooled into thinking there was nothing wrong. Almost. Try maintaining either of those speeds driving around the metro area.

Now let's top off the day by having the dispatch computer system totally crash at work. We wound up calling in on our cell phones, writing down the run information, and calling back when we were ready for more work. We had to tell them where we were as well because there was no GPS working. Oh, yeah, and noting the time of the drops on our logs because there was no computer to keep track of that for you. The next morning after logging in, those runs would show up on your blackberry and you'd have to wade through them, dropping each one adding time/date information so it wouldn't show falsely that they got dropped a day late at 7:23 in the morning, or whatever.

And yes, through all this I was able to remain patient. Cheerful even. Hmmm, what's wrong here?

Tuesday was deja vu. After completing a run, I got the call my part was in so I headed over to the shop again. This time I finished the X-mas card letters and got well into that book I'd started. The fuel injector was replaced, I turned the car on... and it was still missing. They sprayed stuff on all four cylinders, making for quite a wheeeeeeeee as my fan intake feasted on the chemicals. But, still missing. They got the bright idea to replace my spark plugs, reasoning that the dripping of the gas had likely fowled them up. I saw them: it had. A couple more tiny tweeks, and she's purring now.

They checked on my sensor: it needs to be programmed after being replaced, meaning going to the dealership, more down time. I'll think about that. I can ignore the light, treating it as if it wasn't there in the first place, just like every other car I've driven to this point. I'll just keep an eye on the tires myself, like in the good-ol'-days.

After emerging from the repairs, I tried logging back in to work and... gee, down again. I did say deja vu, after all. Cell phone and pen-and-paper time again. Oh well, been here before. At least there was work, and I was in shape to do it. No fuss, no bother. Let's just get on with it. Someday, likely soon enough, there will be things to loose my patience over.

Just not now.

If You Hated Giving Up Pumpkin Pie...

Joan, this one's for you too.

Ever notice? The taste of pumpkin pie is such a favorite that now you can even get coffee in that flavor - seasonally, of course. Forty years ago a local dairy even made pumpkin yogurt - again, only seasonally.

I'm one of the pumpkin pie lovers. I tried this year to be very careful: tiny servings, waiting two hours after the meal, leaving the crust behind. It still kicked up my blood sugar levels past desired levels. I had to satisfy myself with a bit of the pumpkin cappucino in a big cup of black coffee about once every other week, on days when I really needed some extra caffeine. Like today, when the rain, the windshiled wipers, long drive and slight shortness of sleep combined to make me drowsy. Yummm.

It got me thinking.

To start with, I've been combining my cottage cheese with apples for way too long now. I particularly don't like the ever more frequent surprises in the middle of the apples we're storing in the back entry. You know, those brown trails through the core with an occasional extra bit of protein at the end. Sure, they've been cheap. I don't need to buy fruits twice a week or so, since I'm supposed to stick to fresh rather than canned, presumably because of no added sugar. But it's time for a change.

When I passed a Pumpkin pie filling display while shopping for other things, it hit me: I can "fake" pumpkin pie with blending ingredients into my cottage cheese! Worth enough of a try that I picked up three cans. Then I called home to see what still existed on the spice rack and shelves. OK, needed ground cloves. Not sure how much Paul has raided my Splenda supply in making low-carb jellies this year, I got a bag of that too. And, may as well grab more cottage cheese while I'm here.

Among the benefits, it's easy, tasty, and no-cook. Reasonably nutritious, low fat, low calorie, low carb. Also no gluten, since I don't bother with a crust. I guess if it needs a fancy name, you could call it lumpy pumpkin mousse, served chilled. Lumps are optional, depending on how much stirring/beating you feel like doing. Mine will have lumps.

Here's my recipe:

1 29 oz. can pumpkin filling.
1 22 oz. container 1% fat cottage cheese.
1 1/2 cup Splenda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. each ground cloves, nutmeg, and ginger.
1/2 tsp. salt.
In a very large bowl, mix all dry ingredients thoroughly. Stir in pumpkin, then stir in cottage cheese. You can stir with a spoon for lumpy texture, or with a mixer for smooth. Makes about 6 cups. Divide into portions and chill.

What's a portion? Up to you. 1, 2, or 3 cups. Is it dessert? Part of a meal? The whole meal?

For nutrition stats, the whole recipe contains 720 calories, 90.5 carbs. Even if you only divide it into two full meals, each is 360 calories and 45 grams carbs, or three units as I'm counting them these days. That's the limit for a full meal, which is how I've divided mine: breakfast and lunch tomorrow. If you go for thirds, each is 240 calories and 30 grams carbs. If sixths... well, you can do the math. It's easy. You want more information like protein or fat, get your own and read the labels.

It is highly seasoned. You might play around with lower levels of spices if that's an issue.

We'll see if I'm still thrilled with it by tomorrow night. There are still two more pumpkin cans to go through.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Rental Car Blues Redux

Ahhh, finally back in my own car. Gleaming white all over: they cleaned it! Not just the parts they replaced but every darn last inch of it. Even the inside is clean, though I'm having to drive with the windows open in 10 degree temperatures in a still-cold car just to get the fumes out from whatever they polished the dash with.

Note to the interested: ABRA does good work.

And my bill: $0.00. Perfect!

I forgot to mention the thing that really annoyed me about the HHR. It's not about the model but this specific car. It pulls to the left. You don't dare take your hand off the wheel for a second, unless you have some screwey idea about getting up close and personal with oncoming lanes of traffic. I can't just hold the wheel, I have to spend all day pulling on the wheel. My arm aches. While driving I feel like I've gotten a muscle pull from the back of my wrist to halfway up from the elbow. Every moment behind the wheel is annoying.

I was going to leave Enterprise a note about it, but after the run-in with the guy at the gas station, filling up so the guage registered at least as high as it did when it was rented out to me, it slipped my mind.

This car takes E85. There is one (!) station in Forest Lake that has one (!) double-sided pump for E85. When I pulled in tonight, one side of the pump was blocked by the tanker filling the reservoirs with new gas. The other side was blocked by two cars filling up (regular gas, mind you) and one waiting.

One might note that during the whole incident there were unused pumps at the other two islands at this station. Nobody had to wait in this row, unless they were waiting for E85. And none of the others were. Technically this takes standard gas as well, but I'm paying for gas somebody else will be using, and I'm not about to pay the extra $.50/gal of standard. Plus, I checked the last couple days, and the car claims to get just 1 mpg less than with standard gas. Definitely not worth the price.

A side note here, I'd let the gas get low during the day, unwilling to have more than the required 1/4 tank in it at drop off. After dropping paperwork off at HQ, I pushed the buttons on the trip up to the gas station to see how much further it said I could still drive on the remains of this tank: 78 miles. No sweat. After a couple miles, it changed to 79. Then 80, 81, and by the time I had driven about 15 miles, it claimed I could still go 85 miles on this tank. Pretty slick, eh? Wonder if I could repeat that?

I judged the space between the tanker and the pumps to be a tad small for the HHR, especially allowing for my need to open my door (big enough that it'd already clipped my leg a good one once) and my need to stand on the other side of the car where some idiot placed the gas cap, another annoying feature of this beast. I circled the pumps, and the line for "my" island just got longer. I swung around the outside of the tanker, and killed off a minute talking to the driver. He informed me he'd just finished, expressed surprise that there was only the one E85 pump, and offered to move his rig in a minute. I continued around to get into position, and suddenly the other side of the pump had cleared. I just needed to back in from where I was, which I proceeded to do.

Of course, that required a bit of back-and-forth, tight quarters being exacerbated by both my turning radius and the sudden presence of another SUV blocking me in so I had even shorter runs to make in my turn.

Got the picture? Are you ready for it? This new driver got impatient with me after complicating my task, and decided to just whip around me and pull up blocking the E85 pump so he could use another one to get regular gas.


I honked at him, something I ordinarily consider the height of rudeness, unless done for safety reasons. Then I backed up - suddenly with more room - and pulled up to the pump on the side that the tanker was no longer blocking.

I could not resist. I rolled my passenger window down and yelled out to him,"You know I was backing up for that pump you just blocked."

He just looked all innocent and puzzled, and responded, "No I didn't. I just thought you were parking across the end of the pumps."


I'm not sure why I bothered, except to vent. Some people just aren't trainable.


Last night I was in Target ordering our X-mas cards for the year. First year in more than a decade I haven't used one of my own pictures in it, but you'll see why when yours arrives. (It broke the printing machine, but that's another story.)

Since I had to wait, but was told it'd be about an hour, I did some shopping. That didn't take the full hour, so I wheeled the stuff out to the car with plans to come back and wait on a chair in the area. Hitting the cold air, I noticed a black SUV parked in the driving aisle with the engine running. A skinny fellow hopped and quickly approached me, offering to help me with my cart "because it's cold out."

I smilingly declined, letting him know my car was right here, in the handicap area. He split, and using my manners training drilled into me since birth, I thanked him for the offer. Loading up the car, I turned the cart around and headed back in with it. I can, after all, lean on it a bit to make those short distances more comfortable walking.

But I got to thinking. Nobody, but nobody, has ever offered to help me with my cart and getting it to my car, unless it was a store employee seeing me in my electric shopping cart at the cash register. There were a mere three bags in it. I wasn't overloaded, merely, perhaps, a bit vulnerable looking. I do limp on both legs these days. Perhaps my car was somewhere down the row where the lights don't reach well. How would he know? Was he really a Good Samaritan feeling the spirit of the season?

Or do I read too many murder mysteries?

I'll never know. I do however remain thankful for yet another reason that I can park right up next to the store where the lights are bright and lots of people pass. When I emerged later with only a partial card order (I said it broke their printer), the vehicle was no longer in sight.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Rental Car Blues

I waited and waited for Idiot's insurance company to get back to me about fixing my car. I called my "assigned" adjuster and left messages. They went unanswered. Finally, I went back to the main number and asked for somebody else, somebody who was actually there and could/would talk to me. That got through.

After giving her the claim number, and giving her half a minute to look it up, she let me know that their company took full responsibility for the accident and how did I want to get my car fixed? All this nothing, and suddenly let's go ahead lickety split?

So, what were my options? I mean, the less work I had to do to accomplish anything, the better. There's enough to do already. We settled on my dropping the car off at ABRA in Forest Lake, who works directly with them, and they'd have Enterprise car rental pick me up from there and give me a car for the duration. Only, please start the repairs on a Monday so they didn't have to pay for the weekend.

That seemed reasonable. The process started this Monday. I am now driving a Chevy HHR, dark red. I hate it!

Let's start with it being ugly. It's Chevy's version of the P T Cruiser, only lumpier. It chugs gas, not too bad for its class but much worse mileage than I'm used to, and the gas is all on my dime. "Free" rental doesn't pay for the $15+/day they charge me for their insurance coverage. My insurance cover's whatever I'm driving but that doesn't count to the rental people. The visor doesn't block the sun. It's got a bigger turning radius than works well with all the funny places I drive into, and parallel parking is again an interesting endeavor. I no longer know where "my" corners are. (I start in a new vehicle by sending imaginary feelers out into the full body of the car until it feels like it's a part of me. Essentially for 10-12 hours a day, it is.)

Internally, everything is in the wrong place for my habits, or moves the wrong way, so I have to think about what I'm doing rather than where I'm driving. I never have figured out why sometimes the dashboard tells me the time, the radio station I'm tuned to, the odometer reading, and if I ask it to, all kinds of other things including individual tire pressure, and other times all those displays are black and stay black. I did figure out how to move the seat back away from the front so I'm not biting my kneecaps while I drive, but I have to keep resetting it every couple days. The lights and radio stay on well past shutting it off or even removing the key, and I just can't get used to that. Glad it's not actually my battery that's being asked to do that.

I can't figure out how the cruise control works. I've used cruise control on older American cars before, but nothing I try tells it to kick in on this thing. Lucky I am used to not having it. Of course I need to pay more attention to my speeds because it doesn't "feel" like I'm going the speed I am.

And of course it's not stickered "Dynamex" so I can park in loading zones. If I can find a meter or a handicap space I'm fine, but still nobody knows who I am by looking at the monster I rode in on. And speaking of handicap parking, my hanger card cracked in three places and the hanger part separated completely from the rest the first time I used it in this car so it doesn't actually hang any more. Sigh! Another errand to take time off work for. I'm not saying the brittleness of the card is the car's fault, but the rearview mirror is weirdly shaped and it's a pain to get the hanger card on or off, even without cracking apart.

So when do I get my car back?

Yesterday the guy fixing it called me, claiming he left me voicemail the previous day and was disappointed I hadn't called back. (I checked after the call: no message.) The upshot was after they pulled the metal parts off they found some plastic ones that needed replacing, and then there's my tricked-up paint job. I was in just the frame of mind when I dropped the car off to point out my silver-red-silver racing stripe on my white car. This comes from preserving as much of the old paint job as I could get away with when I had the car painted white for work. If they'd just put silver striping on a white replacement part, it'd look funny right next to the "original". It'd look repaired. So they're doing what they can to make it match the rest of the car. They're even making the underside parts red again!

He figured it'd be ready Friday morning and cost about $2600. I don't need to know the cost. It's not mine. Just... interesting.

But I called this afternoon to see if they could pin down the ETA for pick up any better for me. I was informed it'd just finished getting painted, like that told me anything about when it would be ready. So I asked for a translation of that into terms of time. There are plans to rearrange. I can now authorotatively state that the definition of "Friday morning" means sometime after 2PM.

Of course it does. How did I not know that?

What's that going to translate into tomorrow?

Saturday, December 3, 2011


They say timing is everything. In this case, "they" are right.

It was going to be a late night at work. This meant that when I headed north from my New Richmond drop on my way to Spooner, it was already dark. The snow that began to fall just as I walked into the Spooner drop meant it would wind up being over another two hours until I made it home, making for a 15-hour day with an 8-hour turnaround until I needed to be out the door for an early pick the next morning. Not that I was complaining. I enjoy driving itself, and long runs make for bigger paychecks.

It was what struck me on the way that made the night memorable.

I was taking the road through Star Prairie north to hook up to Hwy. 8 when it got interesting. It turned into a rollercoaster. Up and down in short steep hills, lots of turns, very little visibility, and I was attracting a bit of a following. My speed was decreasing the longer I was on this road. I just couldn't see past the top of the next hill. I knew there wasn't another car coming by the lack of a glow, but I couldn't tell if there might be deer moving or a curve just past the crest. Suddenly 30 mph seemed risky. As soon as a straight stretch opened up, I got passed, which was fine. I decided to pick up a bit and follow the car now ahead of me. It worked for a bit, but he really was more determined to move ahead than I was, and his taillights soon left my view.

Just about as this whole rollercoaster was ending, there was an interesting sign along the road. It warned of steep hills and limited visibility.

Gee, ya think? You couldn't put up this sign ten miles back? I mean, if we haven't figured it out by now....