Thursday, December 24, 2015

My eyes! My eyes!

Went to see an ophthalmologist yesterday afternoon, for an itchy eyelid that had been nagging at me, always feeling as if something was in that eye, grumble. Turned out to be blepharitis and dry eye, easily treatable with warm compresses and eyedrops, plus the doc recommended adding some flax oil to my diet since imbalance in fatty acids can contribute to the problem. I tried adding a spoonful to my delicious yogurt stir-ins this morning -- YUM! Well, acceptable, anyway.

As part of the exam I got my pupils dilated. I had wrap-around sunglasses with me, as I'd suspected that would happen, but given how dull and overcast the day was, they turned out not to be necessary. "It'll wear off in a couple of hours," I was told.

Yeah, right. I got the pupils dilated around 3:00 p.m.; they finally went back to normal a little before midnight. This was not fun. Try proofreading when you can't adjust your pupils to focus precisely.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Thinking Ahead

As part of the euthanasia process for Ted, my vet's office offered a range of options for his body's disposal. I feel the body is merely a shell for the spirit that animates it and have no sentimental attachment to remains, so chose cremation without return of the ashes. But I was intrigued by one option they let me know about: EterniTrees. It's a biodegradable urn for cremation ashes that's packaged with seeds and nutrients for the tree of your choice.

Noodling around the Internet, I see that's not the only company offering such services: - which provides a seedling rather than seeds

And so on -- there are other companies out there offering these and related services.

I was tempted, but have no place to plant a tree, so let it go. Still, I'm keeping it in mind, as these companies offer containers for human as well as pet ashes, and it's pleasant to think my corporeal remains might one day nourish, say, a dogwood, or a blue spruce. Certainly beats taking up useless space in the relatively sterile ground of a cemetery, eh? And you can even buy them on Amazon! Maybe I'll invest in one and give it to my executor-to-be brother so he'll have that all set when the time comes. Assuming the seeds would stay viable for another decade or two....

P.S. Can't wait to see what Google and Amazon start offering me after the searches I just ran!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Goodbye, Ted

And it's done. The vet examined Ted's gaunt body and found nothing overtly amiss, except a somewhat enlarged liver. Most likely? There was a tumor hidden in there. So we did what was right and he slipped away softly.

I came home and threw myself into disassembly of his cage complex; a grubby hard job, but an hour and a half later, it's done -- cages cleaned, collapsed, and stored in the basement, bedding bundled up for the trash, floor vacuumed to neatness -- and a dozen-plus cat toys excavated from under the cages where they'd accumulated over the years.

The other cats seemed alternately fascinated and bewildered by it all. I find it strange now, even a bit unsettling, to have so much open space where the cage complex loomed for so long.

Ted was a fine cat, handsome, affectionate, easy-going, occasionally goofy. I'll miss him.

Where the cage complex sat for those four-plus years, there remain deep indentations in the rug.

They may disappear with time. Ted's imprint in my heart will not.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Ted: Looks Like It's Time

My tribe of seven felines is probably going down to six this week. Ted, my eldest, is 17, and I've had him since he was four months old. For the last four and a half years he's been living in my living room in a gigantic cage complex because he's an inveterate house-pisser. He was happy in there, safe from some of the other cats stealing his food and bullying him, getting plenty of attention from me, charging up and down his tower for play, chilling with his friend Peanut snuggling up to him on the other side of the bars. I'd take him out periodically for snuggles, claw-clipping, brushing, and he'd be anxious to get back to his castle.

Now, though, he's going downhill. For the last several months he hasn't been diligent about grooming and I've had to de-mat him a couple of times. His fur has that old-cat look to it. He was never a voracious eater; once he no longer had to compete with the others, he preferred to eat a bit, go away, come back to it; cleaning his dish usually but at his own pace. He gets wet food at breakfast and supper and always has a mix of dry foods available, much to the greedy cats' thwarted envy. Over the last month or so his appetite's become erratic, gradually diminishing, till now in the last week he's hardly eating anything; still drinking, though. He's getting gaunt; no longer jumping up to the third level of the tower in his cage complex, just spending most of his time in his lair.

I’m going to take him to the vet Monday or Tuesday, and unless this is something easily fixable, with no treatment distress for him, I don’t think I’ll be taking him home. He's old and frail and fading away. I’m not going to keep him alive till he’s outright miserable, just because I'll miss him terribly. I owe it to him to do the right thing.

The history: Why Ted went into prison; how he adjusted; his first set of slammer digs; the creation of his current realm:…/teds-in-slammer-and-it……/ted-held-hostage-day-t……/finally-floodgates-ope……/…/teds-new-tower.html

Friday, November 27, 2015

The perversity of machinery, part the umpteenth

My shredder quit working. Yes, it was plugged in. Yes, the head was seated properly on the bin. No, it refused to work when I turned it on.

Sigh.... Off to the store for a replacement. I don't need it often, but I do need it. So Wednesday I got a new one, hauled it upstairs to the office, and left it in its box till after Thanksgiving.

Today I decided to move the dead shredder to the basement pending finding out how to properly dispose of it. I took hold of the cord and began to lift the head....

And the furshlugginer "on" light blinked to life.

Oh, come on -- really? Yes, really; it ate the sheets I fed it. I turned it off; turned it back on; it lit up again.

So I guess I have two shredders now; one old but still functional machine, one sitting in its box awaiting its turn.

Oh, and remember the scanner/printer that stopped printing for a while, then magically healed itself? It stopped printing again. Still worked fine as a scanner so I left it by my downstairs workstation. Then it had to get piled in the recliner seat during the window installation. When I put it back and turned it on, it hummed, buzzed, clanked, whined, made other carriage-moving sounds -- then seized a sheet of paper and began its little in-and-out alignment dance, ending with ... a printed page. And it's been printing ever since. I daresay it will eventually quit on me again, but this time I have A Plan.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ben Enjoys His Thanksgiving Day

Ben is a happy horse today.

He was turned out in his paddock with his lady when I got to the barn, his midweight blanket already off thanks to the warmth of the day. I put him in the indoor ring for some (relatively) wide-open spaces time. As I'd hoped, after puttering around for a while looking for just the right place, he rolled -- in a far corner close to the wall, of course (in the vast expanse of the arena, he always goes to roll there), and he managed to find the one spot, the one sole, solitary spot, in the whole ring with a road apple pile to roll into. I wasn't worried about him getting cast against the wall, since he never, ever, rolls all the way over; no, he folds down onto one side, does his wallowing, heaves himself upright, paws, and drops again to to the other side.

I left him there while I went to pick some of his paddock. There weren't any horses in the stalls that flank the ring, and although he could see some turned-out horses through a window I knew he'd eventually decide he'd been abandoned to the wolves. Sure enough, after several minutes: "NNNNEEEIIIIGGGGHHHH!!!" Pause. "NNNNEEEIIIIGGGGHHHH!!!" I stopped what I was doing in the paddock and walked over to the gate, trying not to laugh (too much) at the long worried face that greeted me. The poor thing was so relieved to get back to his paddock and his tiny herd (Dora his lady, Levi across the fence).

I finished cleaning part of the paddock, then clipped the leadrope onto Ben, led him into the fourstall and put him on the crossties for a long, dusty grooming -- well, dusty over most of him except for the mucky patch on his left shoulder where he'd rolled onto the road apples. He got curried, body-brushed, his forelock and mane brushed out, and a final going over with the soft brush, finishing with his face. Ben adores such pampering; he was totally relaxed and happy by the end. Also very shiny, even in his fuzzy winter coat.

I put him back in his paddock, fed him his last horse cookies, and departed in a miasma of stinky horse dust.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Good Morning!

What a way to start my morning.

So there I was, lying on my side in bed, half-awake as I wait for the alarm buzz. The bedside TV's on and the early news is droning softly but my eyes are shut. Sally's curled into my belly; Pumpkin's doing library-lion on my hip. All is peaceful....

Chaos erupts! Shrieking yowling exploding cats! A frantic hind paw slashes the side of my face as Sally bolts!

I jerk upright. No cats to be seen, not even the sumfabitch (Stan or Schooner, take your pick) who'd made the sudden lunge from the floor that spooked my bedmates into panicked flight.

And I'm bleeding. Oh, not very much, point-source ooze, really, and a quick lurch to the bathroom, cleanup, antibiotic dabs, and Band-Aids take care of it -- even the ding a quarter of an inch from my (shudder) eye.

The alarm goes off while I'm in there working on my face, so I get to listen to its whiny beeps while I repair the damage.

This is not how I'd intended to start my day.

Monday, November 16, 2015

À la recherche du temps perdu

I was visiting a friend living in Paris back a couple of decades ago. It was a time in Europe when some group or other was occasionally carrying out terrorist attacks. We were having lunch outdoors at a cafe somewhere, don't recall where, in the heart of the city, when a sudden BOOM at some small distance jolted us and the diners around us.

People looked around, wondering. There were nervous titters, some neck-craning in the direction of the blast. I exchanged a grimace and shrug with a woman at a nearby table.

Then we all quietly went back to our meals. Because, really, what else was there to do?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Today's Daring Adventure

So what did I do today?

I rode a horse, that's what I did. I rode Finnegan -- Finny to his many friends -- one of Hilly's schoolies. I hadn't thought I'd ever get on another horse after Royal, what with the massive collection of issues I have about riding these days, physical and mental, but Finny has a sterling reputation for safe, safe, SAFE. Plus he's only about 14.1 hands high. In his winter coat. If you don't pick out his hooves first. He's got a red-brown pinto coat complete with long red forelock on a Fjord-style body (but maybe rounder in the barrel, I kid you not). So, not very far to the ground, and he's built round and stumpy-legged and sturdy, well up to my weight, plus my Aussie security-blanket saddle fits him perfectly.

So, firmly tamping down the usual butterflies, I groomed Finny, tacked him up (let Hilly bridle him since he can be a bit of a pill about that), then took him in the ring and got aboard. He stood politely for mounting (well, Hilly was at his head, but he didn't give her an argument about it) and walked off when requested. I liked his walk; it wasn't Ben's spider-legged big but it was larger than Royal's had been. After a bit I tried some trotting.

Now, I'd been warned that Finny has an amazingly big trot for such a tiny tub, a sort of downsized-Warmblood effect, and he certainly had a lot of energy in it. I found it to be more vertical than forward, though Hilly told me he does tend to dog it in the ring and moves out more on the trail, but I could easily post to it, in fact I found it just as easy to sit to it despite its vigor. He was fun!

After ten or fifteen minutes I asked Hilly if we could ride out, and off we went -- down the driveway, along the road, and up a small side street as far as the driveway up to Yellow House field. Walking all the way, since I was getting a bit tired by then and in any case we were on pavement, but Finny was solid and sensible and clearly wanted to stick right by Hilly's shoulder. Well, as we neared the turn-around point he did try two or three times to see if I'd let him turn for home, but submitted without fuss when I legged him back in line. He also gave me one tiny spook -- one quick head-up step to the side a rank beginner could ride through, then back to placid. He's very good off seat and leg and stops Right. Away. when told "Whoa." I like that in a horse.

By the time we got back I'd been aboard for about 25 minutes, and even at mostly a walk my fat old self had had enough -- but what a delightful ride it was! I definitely want to do this again.

Oh, and Hilly took a couple of photos with her phone of me aboard him but hasn't sent them yet. I'm going to take a camera to the barn tomorrow and try to get a shot or two of him. He's really adorable.

Monday, November 2, 2015

So what did I do with my morning?

I’ve got horse stuff. Lots and lots of horse stuff. Years and years of accumulation cluttering up my basement and garage that’s in fine shape but will never be used by me again. So today I wiped down a bunch of tack, dusted off a bunch of other horsey stuff, and drove it all over to Windrush Farm to donate. To wit:

three English saddle pads
one foam pad
five English bridles with snaffle bits
two Western bridles with snaffle bits
two leather English girths
one pair of stirrup leathers
one plastic tote of summer weight breeches (around eight)
one plastic tote of winter weight breeches (around six)
one pair winter insulated overall pants
one barn jacket
one rain jacket
one fleece vest
one heavy winter horse blanket
two rain sheets
one fleece stable blanket
one fleece cooler sheet
two bucket heaters
one hay bale bag

No partridge in a pear tree – wouldn’t fit in the car.

The woman who helped me unload all this from my car was thrilled. She said a lot of the breeches could be used for their clients who didn’t have/couldn’t afford pants for riding, and most everything else would be useful in their program too. What isn’t can go to an auction to raise money.

And I’ve still got enough stuff that another trip isn’t such a bad idea. It was a lovely drive through lovely New England fall color back country, after all....

Windrush Farm:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mischief on the Hoof

Ben is a bad boy. Behind that innocent obedient facade lurks mischief.

I visited Ben today, pulled him out of his paddock for a long, relaxing grooming, fed him cookies, and put him back out. Then I sat for a while in my car, doing stuff, when....

Bang. Bang. Not loud, not fast, but bang... bang... from the direction of Ben's paddock.

I looked out the windshield over toward the paddock gate. There was Ben, standing parallel to the fence, pushing his nose in between the gate and gatepost, shoving at the gate. The chain and snap fastener held, though the gatepost wobbled with each shove.

I'm told that Ben makes a habit of testing his gate to see if it's been left unlatched, and has been spotted more than once ambling about the barnyard, nibbling grass or headed for his stall, where he knows there's hay waiting. Apparently (I've never been there to witness it), being an elderly fellow who cares more for fodder than freedom, he doesn't take off running when he's escaped, just goes in search of food.

This behavior is even more clever than you'd at first think, since the gate opens inward and he'd have to figure out how to maneuver it out of his way, rather than just shoving it forward.

I wonder whether Ben bothers when there's snow covering the grass.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

This is getting out of control....

The window man is coming on Thursday to final-measure the windows for manufacturing; I’ll also be able to discuss with him exactly what needs to be cleared away for the installers to work. But why not get a jump on that? I’ve already taken down the blinds, after all. What’s next?

What’s next, yesterday, was hauling out from under the living room windowsill a small three-shelf VCR cartridge storage thingie; plucking out the few tapes I wanted to save; bundling up the rest to chuck out; hauling all the chuck-outs and the shelves to the basement. Then it was on to the tall narrow black bookcase where I kept more VCR tapes. I took them all out and dragged that to the dining area on the front side of the condo.

There I pulled out a three-tier wicker corner shelf from where it nestled next to a three-tier glass-front bookcase; took everything off it, sorted out the keeps/chucks, cleaned it, and found it a new home in a niche next to the china cabinet. (It just fit!) I pushed/pulled the glass-front bookcase and the two-shelf open bookcase next to it (without removing the books) a few inches along the wall, slid the black bookcase into the vacated space, carried all the saved tapes from the living room to the dining area, sorted them into categories, and reloaded the bookcase. Did some dusting and cleaning of every thing and area I’d worked on, and there it was! More prep work done, and the attacked areas looked more open and airy and light.

I looked at the dining table. Hmmmmmmm..... But no. Not right then. Had other things to do and I was tired anyway.

Today, though; today I decided to go ahead and take the central leaf out of the table. After all, it’s just me here, right? It’s not like I’m throwing dinner parties, after all. So I cleared away all the stuff that had accreted on the table (it’s such a convenient place to put stuff down when I come in, after all), wiped it down, then tugged the sections apart and heaved the heavy leaf out. Got it propped next to the closet, then turned back to reassembling my now circular little table; put a judicious selection of stuff back into place; disposed of or rehomed other stuff; and put the two least-damaged chairs back under it.

Ah, yes; least damaged chairs. I inherited the dining set from my mother, who did not have cats. The seats are upholstered, now sadly stained, scratched, and cat-haired; the backs had once had woven wicker inserts, now more or less shredded. Time to replace them! I’ve found an all-wood, hopefully catproof set online at a reasonable price and will be ordering them: Arlington side chairs, black back and legs with a java seat. The veneer on the table is either walnut or dark-brown fruitwood, so they should look okay with it.

So I horsed the two immediate-reject chairs over toward the basement stairs, then turned to put the leaf into the front entry-area closet, opened the door, and....

Half an hour later, the closet floor was swept, the leaf was propped up inside, the Shark vacuum was back in place, and several years’ worth of old plastic UPS delivery-protection bags (you never know when they might come in handy!) were out, either stuffed into one bag for recycling or stuffed with the jackets, scarves, gloves and so forth I’d hauled out of the closet, decided I’d never wear/fit into again, and bundled up for the St. Vincent de Paul collection bins at the church just down the street.

I threw all the bags down the basement stairs, then horsed down the chairs one by one. Now the bags are in the car, the chairs are in the back of the basement waiting for their turn on trash day (only one large item other than the barrel per pickup, so I’ll be doling stuff out for a while), and I am done.

Well, except for tweaking the area rug under the dining table, trying to get rug, table, and chandelier all aligned just right. But other than that, and deciding to wait till tomorrow to vacuum....

Holy guacamole, what a difference in the dining area! So much more room! So much more open and airy and bright it seems! The table looks tiny and I’ll have to get used to that, but it’ll be good discipline to not let stuff accumulate.

Not sure how the cats feel about it, though. Some of them like to perch on top of the china cabinet, and to exit therefrom by leaping down to the table. That’s not going to work so well now – it’s a smaller target and farther from their launching pad. Oh, well.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Thank you; I'll do it myself."

I'm going to have seven double-hung windows replaced in my condo, 30+ year old windows that desperately need it. The sale's been made, the installer will be coming out shortly to take final measurements, and then it will be about eight weeks to get them fabricated to be installed in probably mid-December.

Meanwhile, six of the seven are in pairs with blinds that I inherited from the previous owner. Those blinds would need to come down before the new windows can be put in, and the installers don't do that. Given the privacy of my location, sun direction on either side of the building, and so forth, I don't really need them, so might as well take them down now. I kind of dislike them anyhow -- not the bitter hate I have for the old windows, drafty gaps, difficult opening/closing, clumsy metal storms and all, but a casual contempt for their dust-collecting uselessness (the cats have chewed half the cords into oblivion).

Now, taking them down would be a pain in the butt, awkward, and not easy for my fat old self. So I called a contractor who did some minor job for me a few years ago to ask if he'd do it. Sure, he said, but I don't have my appointment book here. I'll get back to you.

Yeh, right. That was several days ago. Screw that. I'm tired of obsessing over it; I'd like to move on to some new target for my OCD, please.

So this morning I hauled the stepstool out of the garage, brushed the cobwebs off it, grabbed a couple of screwdrivers, and DID. IT. MYSELF.

It was indeed an awkward pain in the butt, a strain for my fat old body, I’m sneezing from all the long-neglected dust, I need to change my clothes, my hands are still trembly from the effort – but it’s DONE. The windows are revealed, the hanging plants are back up, and the carcasses are tied up into one long filthy bundle in the basement, awaiting disposal.

I just hope the trash truck will take them away tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

So Very, Very Good

Self-indulgence tonight: I'm treating myself to some aged Gouda. Very aged Gouda. Gouda so aged, it's firm and crumbly when you cut into its intense yet soft orangeness inside the rind; smooth and yet crunchy with crystallization; and the flavor? Deep, rich, complex, worlds beyond any common supermarket Gouda you've ever had, a vintage wine compared to grape juice. I eat it in tiny nibbles, to stretch out the ecstasy as long as possible.

This... is Gouda for the gods.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Miracle Kitten

Two weeks ago this once-feral kitten teetered at death's door: nine weeks old but the size of a kitten half that age, thanks to starvation and the infection burning in the stumps where his lower hind legs should have been -- limbs most probably chewed off at birth by his mother as she bit through the umbilical cord likely wrapped around his feet. He should have died then; he should have died any time in the weeks that followed; but he refused to quit.

He was mere days away from dying when rescued, a feeble, frightened, grubby bag of tiny bones somehow hauling himself through the forest; nursed back to health by his incredibly dedicated fosterer and her equally devoted vet; and now?

Now he's getting pudgy. Now he's bright-eyed and fluffy and playful and throws tiny tantrums when his human mom leaves him. His stumps that oozed pus from skin broken where bone poked through are healed over and he scoots along on his two front feet with pushoffs from his right stump, almost as fast as a normal kitten. He's discovered stair-climbing.

And now he's learning a new skill, thanks to great-hearted well-wishers who made him his very own tiny wheelchair.

And yes, I teared up watching this. I've been following his progress since he was brought in to his foster home, scared, bewildered, in pain, and near-moribund. It still beggars belief that he survived at all, let alone came to thrive. He still has far to go on his recovery, but now I believe he'll make it to a happy, healthy life.

Because he doesn't know he's handicapped. He just knows he's fed, sheltered, loved, and having lots of kitten fun.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Adventures in Cookery!

I haven’t done much cooking in many years, preferring to subsist on salads and the superb prepared foods I can get at the Ipswich Shellfish market, and I was but an indifferent cook when I did do my own meal prep, but lately I’ve ventured into something so simple even I could do it: frittatas.

Armed with “The Good Egg” cookbook, a previous impulse purchase that had been gathering dust for some time, I made my first attempt in an old Joyce Chen pan that was supposed to be nonstick. It wasn’t, alas, at this stage in its life, and I ended up with something far more akin to scrambled eggs, but tasty, filling, and surprisingly easy other than the stuck-on residue. I did not, needless to say, try flipping my frittata, just scavenged a lid from some old pot to cover the pan for finishing.

(Why, yes. Yes, I do have quite an assortment of kitchen stuff – after all, I’ve had decades to accumulate cookbooks and gear for my random spasms of cheffing.)

So – fast, easy prep, fast easy cooking, and good to eat, but that pan just wasn’t doing the job. I needed something better. Once again, Google was my friend, Amazon was my connection, and today I received my prize: a Cuisinart frittata pan set, two interlocking nonstick pans to make cooking and flipping your frittata a snap!

The pans:

And a heck of a good buy they were, too, less than half of list price. I’d used a wooden spoon so far but that was clumsy and not the right tool, so with the pans I bought an Oxo omelet turner:

And so, geared up properly at last, I set about making a frittata to my own recipe: chopped scallions, chopped mushrooms, matchstick carrots, diced sun-dried tomatoes in oil, and a small chicken sausage, also chopped, sautéed together in a bit of olive oil, then covered with the beaten eggs and gently cooked.

And it worked! Nothing stuck! The Oxo omelet turner had just the right flexibility to slide along the curve of the pan’s side under the hardening egg, just the right stiffness to manipulate it, to let liquid egg flow out from the center under the raised edge. Shortly before the frittata was ready to flip I sprinkled it with grated Parmesan and some chopped avocado, cooked it another minute or so, then fitted the second pan on, flipped the whole thing over, and voila! The frittata spiked the landing. A bit more time on the fire, and it was done.

And it was PERFECT. Also delicious. And the pans cleaned up in a jiffy.

That “Good Egg” cookbook has quite a few frittata recipes to explore. Why, armed with my magical Oxo flipper, I might even try making an omelet!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Yes, I Laughed

Oh, Peanut! You poor thing!

He was lying on top of Ted's cage annex with Squash, stretched out on his side, oozing, oozing over the edge....

And fell with a massive THUD flat on his massive side.

And lay there looking stunned for a bit. Then rolled onto his back ("I meant to do that"), then sat up, and has just leaped back up to snuggle into his buddy, purring loudly.

Some few but sufficient inches from the edge.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Welcome to my world!

This is my living room proofreading setup, established in the months leading up to my hip replacement in early 2013, when sitting in a task chair for hours in my upstairs office became too painful. It began with one laptop and one printer/scanner and has grown to this -- all of which gets used; it's not just OCD spare-hoarding. That's Schooner in the recliner, right where he insists on burrowing even when I'm in there, though with me he prefers lying on his back, the better to snag my arm for attention. That blue cylinder next to him is the pillow he reposes on when I'm hogging most of the seat.

My lapdesk and the pillow it rests on sit atop my proofing draft pile (not much in this photo) on the old revolving bookcase scavenged from a family attic many years ago. The rear laptop runs the printers/scanners and sends/receives jobs; the front laptop handles the Google research, backs up email, does photo editing, and in general is surf city. It can also run the printers/scanners if necessary.

The printer/scanner in this June photo's foreground is the infamous Epson, so prone to scanner failure and eventual demise, now banished upstairs to mere rarely-used backup printer existence. Its replacement is the Lexmark it traded places with, yes, the very machine whose printer function died, then mysteriously revived sua sponte. Why, yes -- yes I do have a lot of hardware. Well, why not? If it needs replacing but is still useful for something, why throw it out? This is why I still have an XP desktop in the upstairs office, vintage 2004, no longer online but still faithfully performing a handful of tasks.

In the lower left corner is a corner of Ted's cage complex. And yes, that's a TV remote on the chair arm; my television sits opposite me, and the kitchen is only steps away. It's true I still find it uncomfortable, even now, to sit for long in the upstairs office, and the afternoon sun streaming in through its west-facing windows makes it hot in summertime, but that's not the only reason why I continue to do most of my work here.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The More Things Change....

You'd have to be of a certain age to remember this -- in-ground garbage pails. We had one by the back door of the house I spent most of my childhood in, and used it until eventually installing what my grandmother called "the pig in the sink" -- a garbage disposal.

Now, after decades of using a disposal, I save all my food scraps in a countertop collector for the town's compost program, scraps which join the litterbox gleanings in a wheeled bin to be picked up weekly, and am loving it -- but it does amuse me to think on how retro it all is, in essence.

Here's a neat short description and image of garbage pails I found online:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Upgrading to Windows 10

Windows 10: Should you accept the free upgrade of your current OS?

I bought a lower-end ASUS notebook on deep discount with 8.1 on it, just to test it out before potentially borking any of my Win7 workhorses. Good idea. I learned a lot, including:

1. I hate Windows 8.1. I had a helluva time finding anything, I couldn't get email to work at all, the supposedly prepaid year of Office 365 refused to recognize it was allowed. No preloaded antivirus showed up when I started using it, so I downloaded and installed AVG -- and then, finally McAfee (it had to be McAfee, of course) showed up and started nagging me. Getting anything configured the way I wanted it was a tedious struggle. I put Classic Shell on it, which helped, but it was still a pain to use. After a while I was able to get Windows Livemail working, so there was email, and I did get a Kindle reader and my e-library downloaded to it, at least all the unread volumes.

2. So after a few days of picking away at the thing, I tried downloading and installing Win10. And failed twice because there wasn't enough free memory (9 gigs!) to do it. So I toddled off to Staples to get a thumbdrive -- 16 gigs for 12 bucks, such a deal -- plugged it in, and tried again.

3. Success! Well, eventually. The process took so long that I got an apologetic "This is taking a bit longer than normal, but..." message after a while, but eventually it finished. I turned it on, to a much handsomer welcome screen than before, logged in, and started checking it out.

Stuff worked. Classic Shell came up immediately when I logged in instead of the execrable Start screen with all those excitingly asymmetrical icons. I played with it for a bit, then turned it off and unplugged the thumbdrive; turned it back on....

And it would not function. "Internal log-in failed" or some such message appeared on the Black Screen of Doom. I tried variations of with/without thumbdrive, turning on and off, got the error message a second time, then even worse -- a BSofD with a frozen cursor that would not go away when I pressed the on/off button. Just sat there staring blankly back at me, thumbing its useless thumbdrive at me.

I called Staples tech support, since that's who I bought it from, and after a while got a real live tech to unburden myself to. As we talked, I tried yet again to turn it off -- and off it went! I turned it back on, and there it all was, functioning just fine, thankyouverymuch. The tech and I agreed it probably will have to live forever with the thumbdrive stuck in it since its factory-born memory just hadn't been enough.

4. So now it's cruising nicely. When I log on I'm taken right to Classic Shell. Livemail works fine. Firefox works fine -- although I still have some issues with bookmarks and toolbars, but nothing I can't live with. If I get around to hooking up Sync that could solve them, in fact.

Just one little problem: I turned on the upstairs desktop this morning for the first time since before noodling with the notebook yesterday... and discovered a number of emails I should have received didn't arrive. I knew I'd gotten them on my laptops, so why?

Turns out, when I dug deep into the notebook Livemail settings, that the box for "Remove emails from server after deleting" was checked -- and the missing emails had indeed been deleted from the notebook inbox after I'd checked that Livemail worked. So I unchecked that box, made all same-same as the laptop I was checking settings against, and forwarded what I needed to so that the desktop could receive them. Hopefully it's all good now -- and I don't plan to do email on the notebook any time soon, just in case.

So, bottom line, after all that? I will be noodling around some more in Win10, see how I like it, but barring any more nasty surprises, it seems to work well. Still, I don't think I'll be upgrading my Win7 machines any time soon; they suit me just fine as is, and I'm not sure they'd have enough free memory to do it without adding thumbdrives to them, too.

Monday, July 27, 2015

...and a miracle occurred.

I have a Lexmark S515 printer/scanner, pretty good at the scanning part though it does occasionally eat a page, an ink hog, as most inkjets are, but a decent printer otherwise -- or it was, till I started getting error messages that there was something wrong with the printhead, and that function quit working.

I looked up the error message and followed the manual's cleaning instructions. Nope. I Googled and discovered this model has had a widespread problem with its printhead. The recommended solution was to download and install a firmware fix. Downloaded, installed. Nope. Same error message, but at least I could hit the "OK" button to dismiss it and the scanning function would still work.

In desperation, I looked for a replacement printhead. None available from Lexmark since this model has been discontinued, but I did find some aftermarket parts online. I knew even as I ordered a new printhead that this would probably end in tears, but dammit! I had, of course, just bought several new ink cartridges for the thing just before it went wonky on me, so what the hell.

The replacement printhead arrived. I transferred the ink cartridges to it, noting that they seemed somewhat looser in their wee slots than in the original, then installed the printhead.

Yikes! Never mind getting an error message that there's a problem, see instructions; now, with a despairing screek, the printhead carriage jammed in place and I got a new message that the printhead can't move at all. Well, duh, I noticed that. Not to mention, now the whole thing seized up and nothing on the machine would function. Sigh. I took out the dud, stuck the cartridges back in the old printhead, and reinstalled it. Still got the first error message, but at least I could dismiss it with an "OK" and the scanner would work again.

So we went on, my scanner/not-printer and I, turning it on each day, getting and dismissing the same error message and scanning with it -- until today. Today, as it warmed up, it made a lot of unfamiliar noises that went on and on beyond the usual warmup time. And what's this message? "Aligning the printhead - paper may move in and out - do not turn off printer"? Wait, what? And! Paper fed into it. And!! It did indeed move in and out. And!!! It printed. It printed! All those little rows of boxes, in black, in color!

Well, in fact, it cycled twice through its alignment dance, then rested, done. Could it be? Could it have healed itself? I set up a draft and asked it to print one page -- just one page, baby, can you do it? YES! I told it to print the other 107 pages, and away it went. The print was a bit defective for the first 40 or so pages, then it paused, made odd noises (cleaning its nozzles, perhaps?), and when it resumed the print was perfect.

I was, and still am, gobsmacked. Machines just don't get better on their own. But this one did! Delayed-onset firmware fix? A kindly gremlin passing by? Dunno, but I'll take my miracles where I can find them, you betcha.

Of course, now I'm afraid to turn it off.

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

So proud American patriots are taking up arms to stand guard outside recruiting offices, defending them against dastardly attacks. What could possibly go wrong?


Methinks if somebody's looking to light up another recruiting office and sees one of these guys out front, that'll be his first target, taken by surprise and most likely blown out of the way before Our Hero can react heroically, adrenaline jag spurting through him as he pumps bullets in the general direction of the attacker.

Not that these guys are going to last more than a handful of weeks before the waning adulation/attention of passerbys and growing boredom of it all thins their ranks to oblivion. For damn sure ain't nobody gonna be out there in the north in January.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Still More Fun With Technology

Getting used to...

New monitor on my elderly XP. Its original monitor, a Samsung, had begun developing a tiny black patch in the upper left of the screen -- just a few pixels' worth at first, but it slowly kept sending out tendrils of oblivion.

Now, I don't use that computer for much these days, not since Microsoft stopped supporting XP and I took it offline, but it does still serve a few functions I prefer to do on it rather than the Win7 desktop or laptops. So I looked around for a reasonably inexpensive but still reliable monitor, found an Acer, and bought it.

The installation of the new monitor went about as well as could be expected -- minimal instructions (in 2-point type) didn't mention loading the setup disk BEFORE connecting things and turning on the tower -- and after some invective-laced moments I got the mouse to work ("Why aren't you working? Why isn't the cursor moving? What the ^U*&%R&*Y&&*^$ is wrong with..." [turns over wireless mouse; looks at on/off switch] "Oh." *click*) and there it was, all my usual icons, the usual photo for the background.

All stretched waaaaaaaaaaaaaay sideways. And teensy tiny icons.

Well, yeh -- the XP is vintage 2004 and the old monitor had the classic CRT aspect ratio. This new one is way wider. Some fumbling about in the Control Panel adjusted the size of icons, but what about the photo? I tried a different one -- same result. I tried editing it, unlocking the aspect ratio and saving it compressed -- still didn't look right. Finally I yanked the screen resolution slider indicator from its old place near the left all the way over to the right -- and voila! Now the same uncompressed photo looked okay. (Just cropped a new photo for the wider aspect ratio, and it too looks fine. Wonderful clarity, color and detail, in fact.)

And then, of course, I had to reset font size for the icons again. And every document I open needs tweaking. Some differences I'll just have to get used to. But it sure is bright and crisp-looking.

And no more little black spider of oblivion creeping out of the upper left corner.

Here, by the way, is the new desktop photo for the new monitor:

Sunday, July 5, 2015


My sister sent me an old, old photo, from back before I was born, way back from 1939. It’s a group of people sitting in front of the lakeside end of a small vacation cabin in Lake Shore Park on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. Out of the picture, a dozen or so feet in front of them, would be a hardpacked dirt road running along the shoreline, the bed of a railroad that used to run there in the 19th century. To their left would be a sandy parking area that would hold maybe five cars; just beyond that, and among the pine trees on the land sloping gently upwards behind the cabin, would be scattered more campsites, with tiny two-room cabins and platforms for tents. The other photo gives you a good idea of what the park in general would have looked like in that era – small rental cabins interspersed with cabins and tents owned by folks who rented the plots from the park’s owners. Water was piped to campsites but there were no sewer facilities; everybody used centrally located outhouse blocks. There was a central Pavilion with a small general store and a dance hall, sandy beaches to swim from, big granite boulders to dive off of, woods behind the campsites for children to explore, a tremendous view across the broadest part of the lake to the White Mountains towering over the farther shore. People came back year after year; they sent the wives and children up from Massachusetts to stay for the summer and the husbands would come up for weekends and their two weeks of vacation in July or August. It was a helluva drive in the days before the interstate highways, but it was worth it.

That’s pretty much how it still was when I was a kid growing up in the ‘50’s – maybe some upgrades to infrastructure, permanent people buying what had been daily/weekly rental cabins, more cabins and fewer tents, even in the Tent City part of the park, but still those central outhouses (with plumbing, not pits, by then, though), still a close-knit community, and still a low-key paradise for kids to run wild in.

The man on the far left is my Grampa Graf; Gramma is in the middle; the man second from the right is my father, though that’s not my mother leaning against him; that’s dad’s “date of the week”, we’re told. Observe the little path paralleling the cabin where their feet rest; it plays a role in the story here.

My parents would go up to the lake every summer with us kids in the traditional fashion I’ve described above. Eventually they were able to buy the cabin directly behind this one for our own family, but in the early years we stayed with Grampa and Gramma, somehow cramming four adults and, over time, four children into a two-room cabin with an alcove-sized room for my grandparents’ bedroom. There were two sets of bunk beds in the rear room where we kids were deposited; in the summer I’m thinking of now, my sister, the baby of the family, was an infant, and her crib was placed against the front wall of the cabin, under that big picture window.

Good weather days at the lake were glorious, but thunderstorms that roared across the width of the lake from the mountains could be terrifying in their power by the time they slammed into the park. One such monster struck one night after we’d all gone to bed.

It was a furious storm with lots of lightning strikes. One bolt hit a towering old pine tree close to a cabin down the shore road from us, Pavilion-direction, just past the parking area. The people inside managed to get out just before the pine toppled over and smashed down through the middle of their cabin, destroying it, on an arc of doom toward the Graf cabin.

The tree trunk hammered into the ground directly in front of our cabin, straight into that clear area where those people in the photo have their feet, perfectly perpendicular to the wall. It missed hitting the cabin front by inches. The whole structure leaped off its supports from the shock of the impact (the tree was at least two feet in diameter!) and woke everybody up. Neighbors from other cabins rushed through the wind and torrenting rain to see if everybody was okay, took in the folks whose cabin was destroyed and offered to take us in too, even though our cabin was still standing. I can’t recall whether we went with them or whether the Graf adults, after checking the cabin’s structural stability, decided it was safe to stay there.

The scene the next morning was appalling: The broken stump of the great pine, the crushed cabin it fell through, its end walls sagging inward over the havoc, and the massive trunk lying from the ruins beeline to and across the front of our cabin, its heavy branches ramming into the underbrush a short way beyond. I shudder to think what would have happened to our cabin if the trunk hadn’t been bare of branches for the first 50 or so feet.

I’m 66 years old now, and must have been about five or six when it happened. I still get that “Holy cow!” feeling whenever I’m reminded of this – reminded, say, by an old photo of happy people sitting with their feet in the path of future near-doom.


Sent a somewhat shorter version of the story off to my siblings and got this response from my older brother, whose memory is probably better than mine where the stories conflict:

Great story and told much better than this but here is how I recall those events. I am adding the Penny’s back into this string as I will add some “history” as I recall that goes to their story and questions.

First the pic shows the camp basically unpainted, the many years later when we started, as kids, going it was painted and there was a bit of a wood deck on front where the folks were sitting. As I recall the story Laura told it was during the week as no Dads were there, many left for work during the week to return on weekends. I think it was Grandma, Mom and the 4 of us. No one could have slept through that storm, perhaps the most impressive T storm of my life. We ran about the cabin looking out the windows. A lightning bolt hit a very large tall tree that was just to the far side of the camp directly across from the Graf camp. Then great commotion as many adults ran about yelling, it was decided that that camp had to be abandoned as the tree would surely fall damaging the camp. But there were many that thought it would fall in another direction towards the parking area so all cars had to be moved. Keep in mind time is passing rapidly but the tree was still standing. Someone came to get Mom to come move her car and she ran out with the keys leaving us with Grandma.

Here comes a side note of history related to the Penny’s note. At that time there was no parking between Graf camp and this other camp (can’t remember their name) it was a badminton court with rows of raspberry bush’s down both sides. No one could park there because under the sandy court was actually the septic field for the old outhouse up behind the camps. It was surrounded by several well carved and painted totem poles. These were all made by our uncle Harris (the dentist) and grandpas Chris Craft boat was also called the totem and had a miniature totem pole carved by Harris that would be displayed in the boats rear flag holder when out for a ride. I don’t know which came first the totem poles or the boat name.

So the cars were parked much further away than now, about the area of the road going up to Railroad.

Mom left and shortly after much yelling and screaming as we were looking out the windows, the tree was coming down right for us! Grandma yelled and pushed, I mean pushed all of us into the back of camp bed room. Much crash and bag sounds and yes the camp did jump. We came from the back to get out with folks rushing towards the camp we meet as we came out the door including a Mom that was a bit upset. No injuries to anyone.

My picture of what happened - the tree more like three feet in dia. and perhaps 600 feet tall fell through the camp next door, in the first ten feet of the cabin and all commented on right through the door almost as it had planned to open the door, across the space between the camps and brushed down the front of the Graf camp. I recall branches all over the front to the point you almost could not see out the windows and it broke the eves off the front but no other damage. A great story either way.

Friday, July 3, 2015

The perversity of cats, part 2,644.782.37

Right after breakfast, Peanut wants, nay, demands fresh water in a clean bowl. Lately Pumpkin has also developed a desire for same. Since I'm maintaining water for six felines loose in the house (plus Teddy's little bowl in his cage kingdom) I keep two big dog-size bowls in the kitchen and tend to them right after I clean the breakfast food bowls. Peanut waits impatiently a yard or two away; Pumpkin lurks just beyond him.

Finally! I put the bowls down -- both at once rather than one then the other, since there are two thirsty little souls to satisfy. They pad to the bowls, sniff to be sure it's to their liking, then....

Two bowls, boys! TWO! What are you...?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Just a few more pages....

So yesterday was busy, workwise. Bookwork and billing consumed the morning. The afternoon and evening I spent proofreading the usual more or less dreary sludge of deposition transcripts. They were all short-deadline stuff and I completed the last one around 1:30 a.m. -- a bit of a late night even for this night owl.

Then thought: But before I go to bed, let me just read for half an hour just for pleasure. I'm well into Lois McMaster Bujold's "Memory"; let's do it.

...and I finished the book at quarter of 5:00.

Now I have one 160-pager I need to get out by early/midafternoon. Then I should take a nap.

Or start the next book in the series.

Friday, June 26, 2015

It's a Wonderful Day

From the groundbreaking case of Goodridge v. DPH, 400 Mass. 309 (2003), the pioneering decision of Massachusetts' highest court that opened the way for gay marriage to become legal; the key passage by Chief Justice Margaret Marshall:


Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. “It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects.” Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

It is undoubtedly for these concrete reasons, as well as for its intimately personal significance, that civil marriage has long been termed a “civil right.”

Without the right to marry – or more properly, the right to choose to marry – one is excluded from the full range of human experience and denied full protection of the laws for one’s “avowed commitment to an intimate and lasting human relationship.” Because civil marriage is central to the lives of individuals and the welfare of the community, our laws assiduously protect the individual’s right to marry against undue government incursion.

That same-sex couples are willing to embrace marriage’s solemn obligations of exclusivity, mutual support, and commitment to one another is a testament to the enduring place of marriage in our laws and in the human spirit.


We led the way; today we celebrate a victory for all Americans! Hurrah!

Thursday, June 18, 2015

More Fun With Computers

As posted on Facebook, my diary of descent into computer hell:

June 16: I'd mentioned in email to a friend I was having computer issues. She commiserated with me and I took the opportunity to unload all my frustrations:

The computer thing is more than glitches. My primary Win7 desktop had been getting increasingly erratic, so I brought it in yesterday to the shop for a checkup, which revealed it was riddled with malware, despite my antivirus software and best efforts to be cautious. It’s still there, being tidied up. That left me with two backup desktops, old XPs that I no longer connect to the Internet since Microsoft stopped supporting that OS, just use for certain offline tasks, plus the Win7 laptop I’m using now.

I decided to buy a slightly used Win7 laptop at the shop for a backup just in case. I’d already made two trips to the shop, the original dropoff and a second to bring in the backup external hard drive of the desktop for checkup. Third trip was to put a deposit on the second laptop and provide some info for initializing it. Even though the shop is only a few minutes’ drive from home, you can imagine how much of yesterday got chewed up by all that.

Today was another trip to the shop, to pick up the “new” laptop, pay the balance, and check on desktop progress – won’t be done till tomorrow sometime. I’ve tried not to spend much time on the new laptop but of course couldn’t resist rearranging the furniture and hanging new wallpaper to suit me, also uploaded a bunch of My Documents files I’d copied to a thumbdrive from my older laptop; imported all my bookmarks, then had to get the appropriate ones into the toolbar; tried to import a file of my contacts into Outlook – and somehow managed to bork Outlook so thoroughly in the process that not only did I not fill the address book, I managed to disable Outlook entirely. It took a good hour of struggle, including a desperation system restore, to get Outlook functioning again.

I still have to install two printer/scanners and manually input my entire address book, but that will have to wait till tomorrow; I am done for now.


June 17: Got the main computer back and running fine. Now the old laptop is in to be virus-scanned and cleaned.

And because I had both laptops running and online to email at the same time (so I could go through the old one's Outlook address book to manually input contacts into the new laptop) I had to leave the new one in the shop also so it, too, could be scanned for any uglies that might have leapt onto it during that brief window of opportunity.

Hopefully I'll get the new one back late this afternoon; if not, then tomorrow. The old laptop may take two days to ream out.



Later yesterday: Got the new machine back, clean of any problems, no charge -- just as well, considering what I'm getting soaked for to fix the other two. Installed the two scanner/printers, no problem, just some customization tweaks to trudge through. Still getting used to this new keyboard. Still have to assemble the new mobile cart that got shipped to me today; then I can figure out how to reconfigure the side-table setup around my recliner to fit in a second laptop along with the first plus the two printers, all within easy arm's reach of the controls from where I sit.

Why, yes. Yes, I am rather obsessive about my technology array.


This morning: *YAWN* -- was up till 3:00 a.m. getting out proofreading that had slid up to/past its delivery date while I wrestled with technological hell. Woke up at 9:00, lay there for a while gathering wits scattered to hell and gone, then at the cats' insistence lurched into my day. Feel like molasses in November heading into December.

Still, I appear to be in the home stretch at this point -- just have to get back the primary laptop from the shop if it's done today (and pay the last installment on the grand-plus this has cost me), also assemble the new mobile cart and rearrange the setup around my downstairs recliner office, with laptop(s) to my right hand and printer/scanners to my left, since it's still uncomfortable for me to work long stretches upstairs in my office. Also have two rush/expedites to get out today, plus whatever regular delivery work I can manage to slog through.

At this point my electronic collection encompasses two offline elderly XP tower desktops, one just out of the shop Win7 all-in-one desktop, two Win7 laptops, five, count 'em five inkjet printer/scanners of varying utility, a photo-quality color inkjet printer, a B&W laser draft printer, and a low-end inkjet for printing checks. Gateway, Dell, Canon, Lexmark, HP, and Epson all own a piece of my soul.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Fun With Computers

Had to bring my main desktop computer from the upstairs office to the computer shop for virus removal and general tuneup today. The laptop I use downstairs will probably have to be next. Decided to buy a slightly used backup Win7 laptop while I was in the shop, just in case. All in all this has been a very expensive day, considering this is going to set me back over 700 bucks when it's all said and done.

I got an email in late afternoon telling me the laptop is ready for pickup with what I wanted installed -- just too late to go get it today. I'll pick it up tomorrow. Also, after much tedious searching, ordered online a small wheeled printer cart with two top shelves that will do nicely to maintain both new and old laptops next to my recliner, with a third, bottom shelf for holding paper reams. And while I was browsing to pick that out I found my favorite paper (Domtar Earthchoice) on sale at half price so I grabbed a couple of cases of that, too. Should get all that delivered Wednesday.

I'll still have to get the new laptop passworded into my router, of course, and install a couple of printer/scanners, upload a number of files, my bookmarks, and my email contacts from the thumbdrive I copied them to, get various settings set the way I like them, get certain shortcut icons on the desktop, etc. Then, when it's all operational, I can take the laptop I'm using now into the shop to check for viruses. And then, when the office desktop computer comes back clean of malware, I can zoom around changing all my critical passwords. Such fun!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Game of Thrones: Why I Quit After Book Three

First, let me make one thing clear: George R.R. Martin is a brilliant writer and his stuff is powerful, fascinating, compulsively readable and incredibly imaginative. I’ve read all of Dreamsongs Volume I and most of Volume II, and if you have not read these collections of his numerous and wide-ranging works outside the GoT world, I strongly recommend them.

And that very talent as a writer is why I can’t read any more of the Song of Ice and Fire series. I started it with enthusiasm, galloped through the first book rapt by and wrapped up in the amazing saga, read on, and on, and on....

And by the end of the third book I’d had enough. Enough of cruelty, enough of brutality, enough of a world brimful of savagery, merciless, thronged with loathsome characters, where anyone evoking the least flicker of sympathy in the reader is viciously mauled at some point, beaten down into sick misery and suffering. It’s too much, it bothers me too much, to go on wallowing in such a world.

I had a similar reaction to John Sanford’s “Prey” series of detective thrillers. They too are compulsively readable, fast-paced, intriguing – and the criminals Lucas Davenport confronts are horrifying monsters. I think it was the one that ended with the little girl in the well that did me in – just couldn’t bear to enter his world any more.

Am I a weakling, then? Too sensitive? Heaven knows I’ve read some mighty gruesome stuff over the decades and never flinched – though I find my tolerance for such content waning in my waning years. Do I want only fluffy puppies and kittens? Oh, hell, no; I’m currently making my enthralled way through the Vorkosigan Saga, and that’s by no means all sunshine and rainbows. I’m also reading Adam-Troy Castro’s collection of short stories “Her Husband’s Hands”, in small doses; those are harsh and difficult stories too, powerfully affecting because so well written; but by spacing them out between other people’s works I can very much admire and enjoy them.

I’m getting old, time is running out, there are so many books, so little time – maybe it’s just a matter of deciding, don’t waste what time is left on worlds that I find repulsive. I can admire the craftsmanship that created worlds so brilliantly realized that they disturb me, but I don’t have to go there.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Good News Today

It's been a good day.

I had my annual physical this morning and was pronounced well, very well indeed, considering. Got vaccinated for pneumonia and shingles while I was there.

Then this afternoon I rode -- not Royal this time, but a different horse, another of Hilly's schoolies, a mare named KC. I'd tried her a few months ago, my second or third time back in the saddle after my long layoff, and had been forced to use a Western saddle instead of my Aussie, which didn't fit her. I wasn't comfortable in that saddle; the stirrups were just too long; she seemed unnervingly wiggly, when being groomed and under me; and in short, it just wasn't fun, and after ten or fifteen minutes I gave in to my insecurities and quit.

But today was a different story. Today, with several successful, confidence-building rides on Royal to encourage me, I decided to try her again. My Aussie saddle still didn't fit her, but I brought my dressage saddle to the barn and with a foam pad it fit her well. Sure, it's not as secure as the Aussie, but it's my saddle, I'm comfortable in it, and the stirrups were the right length. (My dressage girth, sized to my big-bellied 16.1 hand TB, swam on her but fortunately Hilly found one that would fit.)

Now, KC is a quiet horse. A very quiet horse. Rather a slug, to be blunt. Also not straight, especially going to the right, requiring strong leg to keep her from sagging in toward the center of the ring, as well as strong, constant riding forward to keep her moving along in the trot. So after about 15 minutes of walking and trotting, I was so tired I said that's enough. I don't want to work that hard for my fun!

But! I was not afraid! I did not get that "OH SHIT" stab when she broke into her trot, as I had before; I felt completely in charge, even if frustrated at the effort it was taking, throughout the ride; I didn't even feel scared when KC caught a hind toe at the trot and took a couple of stumbling butt-dropping steps. In short, I have come a wonderfully long way from my last ride on her, and it feels great!

Royal's gaits are smaller than KC's, but once you put him in your chosen gear he pretty much stays there till you tell him to change, with minimal input. More fun for me to ride, and I'm going to stick with him henceforth -- for now, anyway. Hilly's currently investigating a Morgan gelding for sale in Vermont who might be perfect for me as well as her school program. If he doesn't get sold to someone else before then, she'll be going to check him out next weekend.

But whether or not we get that Morgan, or some other horse that would suit me comes along some day, I now feel confident that I will be able to move onward and upward in my riding. No, I'll never be the rider I was a decade ago, but I'm not done yet.

Here's KC with Hilly up, back in November shortly after her arrival at the barn. She's a nice mare, a pretty girl, easy to handle. Just not the right horse for me.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Applies to Internet flamewars:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Roll of the Ben

I wanted to check on how Ben's hock arthritis is doing, so I turned him loose in the ring today, figuring he'd take advantage of the opportunity to roll, and I'd be able to see (a) how easily -- or not -- he got back up, and (b) if he was stiff at first afterwards. When the arthritis is bad, he has to make more than one heaving attempt to get up and his hind end seems almost paralyzed at first once he's up, until he works out of it bit by bit.

No problem! He dropped, rolled on one side, got right back up, dropped to the other side, rolled on that one, got up and moved off comfortably. (No, Ben never rolls all the way over like a normal horse.) He also trotted along the long side freely and walked with an easy stride, stepping well under himself. You'd almost think he was ridable!

Ben did, of course, wander off to a far corner of the ring to paw and sniff and paw till he'd found just the right spot -- so close to the wall that if he had gone over he'd have been in a fair way to get cast. He always does that, the silly boy. I asked him, as I always do, "With all the ring to choose from, why there?" He answered, as he always does, "Cookie?"

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Today at the Barn

So today was warm and sunny, and I began the long hard process of cleaning Ben and Dora's paddock of the layers upon layers of manure and waste hay that built up over the winter. I took out five wheelbarrow loads, filled about three-quarters full since I'm not all that strong, and that stuff is wet and heavy thanks to the continuing meltwater runoff from the snow mounds along the barnside -- greatly diminished from their roof-lapping heights but still not gone. My hour of toil got down to bare ground in an area that must have been all of six, maybe seven square feet! Sigh. But I was working near the gate, where the worst of it is; once I've cleared about a 20x20 foot area, the rest won't be as bad.

When I'd had enough of that I took Ben into the fourstall and groomed him. Ran a stiff brush over him to knock off the upper layer of dust and shavings; dug deeper with the rubber currycomb, lifting mass quantities of loose fur; ran the medium brush over him to clean that off; took the Furminator in hand next and removed another layer of shed; and finished him with the soft brush. By then he was putty in my hands. I brushed and combed his long thick tangled mane and forelock till all the shavings flakes and knots were out, then girded my mental loins and began on his tail.

Now, Ben's tail, after a winter of blanket-wearing that causes him to fail to raise his tail very high when he relieves himself, is a mess you don't want to examine too closely. Or at all, really. It also likes to dreadlock itself if not combed out regularly, something I haven't done this winter. So working through it, level by level from the bottom up, handful of strands by handful of strands, with my special detangling brush was neither swift nor pleasant, but I did it; finished the exercise with a generous application of Cowboy Magic detangler/shine-imparter; and stood back to admire the glorious results of my hour's labor.

Then I turned him back out into his muddy paddock so he could roll and destroy all my handiwork.

He didn't, though, at least while I was there; no, there was lunch hay waiting for him, and so he set to it, far enough from his lady Dora that she wasn't likely to come attitude him off it, at least for a while. They munched companionably till a brouhaha over by the middle paddocks erupted. Dora rushed to the gate and watched, quivering, as things got sorted out. Ben looked up, decided it had nothing to do with him, and kept eating.


Five days later: Ben's paddock is clean! I've been pecking away at it for several days, clawing up the layers upon layers of ancient manure and waste hay, raking them into little piles, forking the piles into a wheelbarrow, and trundling them off to the manure container. Each day's labor saw several more square feet of cleared ground, and I figured if I kept at it and the weather held, I could get done in a week, maybe less.

Imagine my delight when I arrived at the barn yesterday to find Karen hard at work in the paddock, having taken over for Hilly, and a good three-quarters at least of what had been left to do already cleaned out! She took out one last big load, then had to leave, and I took over the job. With an hour or so of work, I forked the last load into my little wheelbarrow (I used a half-sized one so as not to overburden my feeble self) and trundled it off to dump.

And it was done! Oh, there are a few small spots where I want to tidy things up further, and there may be a bit more still hidden under the pathetic little strip of snow remaining along the wall where the giant slope once reared up to the barn eaves, but the paddock has been cleared of the horrible mess the melting revealed.

Thanks so much, Hilly and Karen! Couldn't have done it nearly so fast without you!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Memory of Belmont Past.

My word, as often as I've watched this, I STILL choke up every time! Screamed my throat raw when I watched it live. Secretariat was... Secretariat. The master of his era.

I used to think, how grand it would be if Secretariat could run a match race with Man O' War. But now I think they should each be the unique colossus of their own time, never to meet their equal, for in their own times there never was one worthy to claim that honor. Affirmed had his Alydar; these horses had no peer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Ben's Choppers

Poor Ben, now he's got dental issues.

I got a call from the vet this morning, who'd just floated Ben's teeth and wanted me to know he'd found an upper molar cracked, partially missing, and a lower molar that was loose. Neither tooth appeared to be actively painful, and he's not having any problems eating his hay, in fact he gets extra and cleans up every bit, so we're not taking out either tooth just yet.

We'll have to keep alert for signs of trouble developing: not finishing his hay or eating in a way that indicates it's uncomfortable for him; dropping weight. Bacteria could travel up the crack in his upper tooth and brew an infection in his sinus, so a discharge from the nostril on that side would be another red alert. In any case, we'll have his teeth floated again in another six months or so and check on the problem teeth then.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Finally warm enough for this!

Ben and I had a lovely time today. I hauled him out of his stall, put him on the crossties, pulled his blanket off, and went at him with curry comb, brush, and Furminator shedding tool. It’s been so long since I groomed the poor boy, his bridle path was grown out a good three inches. He was so ecstatic at being curried and brushed he didn’t even mug me for cookies, or object too much as I dragged the rake-comb through his tangled mane and forelock. Didn’t even try to deal with his tail; didn't have the strength, patience, and all afternoon.

I put him out in a paddock naked while I dug out the wet area in his stall and picked the worst of the manure. Nobody got turned out today (forecast of rain by late morning? Hilly went home sick? Dunno) and only one other boarder was there. She finished her stall and brought her horse in from an adjoining paddock before I was done, so I had to listen to Ben bellow piteously about being abandoned, but he was a good boy and didn't bounce around when I finally did rescue him. He’d only rolled on one freshly groomed side, and in snow, not the manure packed on top of it, so the refilthifying wasn't too bad.

I left him bare (and one-sided damp) in his stall. If he gets his midweight blanket put back on tonight, great; if not, he’s got enough fur despite today’s shedding adventure, not to mention a healthy layer of blubber, to keep him comfortable.

I'm sure he can't wait to roll in fresh spring mud.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Same Compost, Different Day

Into my second week on the composting program, and how do I like it so far?

Very, very much. I'd already been getting the cat litter into composting via the barn's manure collector container, but seeing it accumulate in my own little 12.5-gallon bin brought home just how much even one week's worth is -- most of the bin, in fact. Add another couple of food scrap bags' worth from the kitchen and the thing was stuffed full for its first pickup. Granted, I'd been dumping some outdated stuff in the scraps, which bulked that up somewhat, but this week's collector bag is almost full enough to go to the bin and I'll need to start a second one with three days to go before putting the bin out again.

Smell? No problem. The bin's in the garage and there's no odors escaping except when I lift the lid to dump the day's gleanings in. The kitchen scrap bag also doesn't smell, except for a slight whiff, not all that bad, when I lift the lid on the bag-holding container.

Replacement bags for the starters the folks at Public Works gave me? Those Bag To Earth kraft paper bags, alas, can't be found at any US retailer, but there are several suppliers of BPI-certified "plastic" bags. I now have a sleek plastic container on my kitchen shelf from Full Circle that works great and looks elegantly simple (in the grey and white, not that virulent green). I tried a 13-gallon bag in my bin but it wasn't wide enough at the top to hook over the rim, so I've Amazon-ordered a small box each of half a dozen different brands of 30/33-gallon trash/lawn and leaf BPI bags to see which I prefer. Yes, they'll be oversized, but at least I'll be able to drape the tops over the rim rather than having to reach down inside to unfold a smaller bag each time I want to dump something. Could leave the bin unlined, of course, but then I'd have to wash it out after each week's collection.

The folks running the town's program have sent me helpful emails with lots of good information, including yesterday's blast email to everyone about what can go into supermarket plastic bag collection bins -- not just grocery bags, but also bread bags, food/snack storage bags, shrinkwrap, produce bags, deflated packing air pillows, paper towel/toilet paper wrappings, dry cleaning bags -- it's just amazing how much can come out of the trash stream! Even before composting I had my trash disposal down to one bag every other week; I'm thinking now once every three weeks looks doable, with only my recycles going out every week.

And here's a tip: Those annoying packing peanuts? Hold one under running water; if it dissolves, it's compostable and can go into your compost bin.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Compost Happens

Compost happens! It's a happening thing! Right here in Chez Graf!

I recycle, of course, all the usual stuff in the weekly green bin collection. Have been for many years, and the trash burden is down to one bag every other week, usually. But still it wasn’t enough. All those food scraps – salad trimmings down the garbage disposal, banana peels and coffee grounds in the trash along with used paper napkins – it seems like such a waste. Also there’s the cat litter. It’s all natural, corn or wheat or walnut shell based and compostable. I’ve been disposing of it in the manure trailer at the barn, but that has its own drawbacks, not least having to transport it there in my car in the hot season.

So I checked out my town’s composting program, found it good, and signed up. For a fee of $1.30 week ($68/year, prorated for when you join the program) you get a free 12-gallon collecting bin with a locking lid, a comprehensive information sheet, a couple of sample liner bags for the bin and some sample food scrap bags for the kitchen counter. The program takes a lot of stuff beyond food scraps, too:

The sample bags are a brand called Bag To Earth. That company makes a variety of composting bags, and if the samples I got are any indication, they do a terrific job. The tall skinny bag pictured is the bin liner I got.

I’ve been doing the composting collection for a couple of days now and my only question is, why did I wait so long to sign up? The scrap bag is already almost full, but that’s partly because I’ve tossed in a bunch of stuff I’d been meaning to do something about but let slide. The locking lid really does seal in the odors for the collecting bin, which in any case lives in my garage rather in the house. The kitchen scrap bag, a heavy kraft paper with a waxy paper liner that does not leak liquids, also keeps odors confined despite being sealed by no more than folding over and chip-clipping. I’ve already ordered a scrap container and BPI-certified liner bags (a different, easily available brand) for when the sample kitchen bags run out.

But. The one problem I have is liner bags for the bin. The samples fit the tall skinny bin perfectly. They’re also kraft paper and have the same fluid-resistant lining as the kitchen bags. But they’re made in Ontario, Canada, and so far are not available in my neck of the woods, in fact I don’t think any retailer in the United States is carrying them yet.

The friendly folks at Public Works suggested newspapers for lining the bin, but I don’t buy the newspaper any more; or paper grocery bags, which I do use for recycling anyway, but they don’t rise high enough in the bin. I picked up a pack of tall leaf collection kraft bags from the local hardware store, but while tall enough they’re too wide.

I’m going to email Bag To Earth and beg them to open up a source in the United States. And then there’s this friend I have in Canada, in Ontario, in fact....

Yo, Tina?

Sunday, March 8, 2015


It's been a horrible last month-plus of winter. Just awful. Haven't felt like writing here at all. Finally, there's some slow-melting relief in sight.

To hell with slow -- throw another bucket of water on that wicked winter witch!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Done -- But at What Price?

The massive mound on my second floor deck is no more. Given the forecast for rain on Sunday, I couldn't leave it un-dealt-with any longer. So as I slid the door open I braced cardboard in the opening to stop any mini-avalanche (though it's packed down enough not to be much of a threat that way, anyway) and after knocking down a multitude of icicles with my trusty snow shovel began attacking the chin-high drift.

I worked slowly, with frequent brief rest stops, for about half an hour and got a lot of it on one side over/through/under the railings. Then I went and lay down on my bed for a while, then went downstairs to finish the morning cat chores. The felines, I found, were mildly freaked out by the snowfalls I'd been creating.

After a bit I went back upstairs and resumed the attack. I could only get the slider partway open, and couldn't go out on the deck itself to work since I was still in my fuzzy mukluk slippers, but by stretching from the doorway I was able to clear all but a final rimwall from the far side of the deck -- well, for a certain value of "clear"; there's still around half a packed foot on the deck surface, but I've gotten off at least 75 percent of what had been out there. So now I shouldn't have to worry about the deck collapsing.

I may collapse, though. Never mind waking up tomorrow stiff and sore; I've got immediate aches in my bad ankle and my phony hip. My lower back is grumbling. My brachial plexus has some rather bitter things to say too. We'll see whether the ibuprofen can settle them down; if not, I do have a small stash of oxycodone left over from the surgery recovery. Don't want to use it; haven't needed to for over a year; but if I'm in real pain after I run the daily errands and don't have to go out and drive again, well....

And then, next week, there'll be ice. Dear Merciless God, there'll be ice. I'm going to check out Peapod.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Another Problem Solved

So I dodged an icy bullet today.

I've been worrying about one of the icicles growing ever downward from the eaves above my deck, the massively menacing one that pointed down into the gap between the deck and the privacy fence. Down, ever down, till it stretched from the second-floor eave to halfway down the first story. Down toward the gas pipe feeding my home, entering the basement wall a good foot-plus above ground level.

That pipe runs along the edge of the pit I've cleared around the dryer vent and furnace air intake, close to the privacy fence and partially covered with a steep snow slope -- but if the icicle fell it would crash right into the exposed part of the pipe. What would happen if it broke I'd rather not contemplate, not least because a gigantic drift has buried the pipe and the meter just past the exposed part, and beyond the meter there's also the air conditioner compressor and a large bush blocking access underneath the snow. And that's not even considering how the hell a gas repair crew would get access to the rear of the condo complex to begin with.


So this afternoon I dragged a six-foot aluminum folding ladder up from the basement, along with a snow shovel and a hay bale tote bag. The cats took one horrified look and fled. Having maneuvered everything out into the tiny cleared path snaking from the slider to the deck rail along the head-high deck drift, I leaned over the railing, cleared some snow from the edge of the pit, then wrestled the ladder over the rail and got its top propped against the privacy fence, sloping down over the pipe, and jammed its legs into the snow alongside the deck. Then I draped the flattened hay bale tote over the ladder to cover the gaps between the ladder sides and treads.

I looked up at the menacing icicle. It dripped menacingly at me. I reached out and up with the shovel and tapped it a few inches from its menacingly dripping tip.

Instantly the entire menacing monster broke loose and smashed down onto my makeshift shield. Large menacing chunks of menacingly drippy ice flew in all directions -- but the pipe protection held firm!

I did then have to plant the shovel in the snow to support myself as I leaned precariously down over the rail to clear away some still menacing chunks that had jammed between the pipe shield and the dryer vent flaps, but that was swiftly done and I was able to retreat back inside, scattering random clumps of snow on the carpet and brandishing my shovel. No cats, alas, were on hand to witness my triumphant return.

I'll have to keep an eye on things out there, make sure any future accumulations (like what's forecast for this weekend, sob) don't block the air access around the sides of the shield, but I feel ever so much safer now.

For those of you who don't know, here's a picture of a hay bale bag. It's about four feet long. If I feel sufficiently ambitious tomorrow, I'll take a picture of my handiwork.

Flying Cat

Many years ago I was lying in a clawfoot bathtub, quietly soaking, with the bathroom door open. Beastie came hurtling in, intent on leaping into the bathtub to hide, wildeyed, from whoever was pursuing her at the time -- a favorite game in the feline tribe. She zoomed in, bounded hugely onto the edge of the tub....

.. saw in one shocked and horrified instant that she was about to plunge into water....

... changed her trajectory to leap OVER me, hit the wall on the other side of the tub with all four feet, sproing off it, land back on the tub edge, and race out of the bathroom.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Adventures on a post-blizzard deck

So we've been walloped twice in less than a week with mass quantities of snow -- first, over two feet's worth in the blizzard last week, then another 17 inches on Monday. My deck is buried in a drift that peaks over four feet.

That bit of black bar is the top of a metal deck chair. And those furrows along the top of the snow... whatever could they be?

From the mound on the deck the tunneling proceeds down the snow slope in the gap between the railing and the privacy fence:

Down, down, all the way to the pit where my digging and the hot air blast from the dryer and water heater have excavated a pit in the snow:

And those shots were how it looked yesterday. Today, whatever has been tracking and tunneling through the snow had expanded its realm; yesterday's tunnels have been enlarged and improved upon. See that dark triangle to the right of the post?

Let's take a closer look. Yup, the tunnel runs right along the deck planter, no doubt emerging at the outer rail of the deck.

Yes, that's the planter that's sitting on the top rail of the deck. That's how deep the snow drifted -- all 17 inches on top of the two-plus feet from the blizzard. Whatever's been digging through there has constructed an impressive highway.

There are lots of squirrels around here; my thinking during the day has been those rascals were/are responsible for the byway-building.

But wait! I'll be darned!

May not have been squirrels making those tunnels in the snow after all!

Just now, I was sitting in the living room and saw first Schooner, then Peanut hurry to the slider to the deck and stare out, entranced. I got up and came to see what they found so fascinating.

There, sitting in the snow, its wee nose right up against the glass, was....

A rabbit!

A little brown wild rabbit, looking in at the cats looking at it, and not in the least dismayed into flight at my appearance. It twitched its nose a couple of times, then calmly turned and hopped in a loop back to the top of the snow mound and paused.

I rushed to the dining room table -- no camera. I'd put it back in the car. When I came back to the living room the bunny was gone, though the cats still sat staring out into the snowy darkness.

And so ends another adventure in the exurban wilderness.... For now. Who knows what other surprises are lurking out there?

Monday, January 26, 2015

It's the little things....

Attention to detail. Gotta love it.

As part of having my bathroom repainted, I bought new cover plates for the light switches and electrical outlets. The painter put those on in the course of finishing up the job.

This evening I happened to take a closer look at them and realized that, of the four screws holding on one plate and two screws holding on the other, every single one had its screwdriver slot vertical. Only one was even slightly out of plumb.

Now, that's good workmanship.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Curses! Foiled again!

So I'm peeling and sectioning a blood orange -- my first time trying one, by the way; unfortunate name for a decently tasty fruit -- and Peanut, he of the ever-raging appetite, stands below me in the kitchen, looking hopeful, while Schooner, the cat who does not grasp the concept of boundaries, comes up along the sink to me to see what I'm fixing.

I offer both a whiff of half-peeled orange. They shrink back, wrinkling their whiskery noses in distaste.

I take the bowl to my recliner in the living room, sit down, and begin eating as I proofread. The ever-raging appetite and the boundaryless one observe this and lock radar on the bowl. "Food? You eat, we eat. Yes?"

I hold the bowl down toward them as they close on my chair. They sniff, pull back in dismay, and stare bewildered at me. I'm eating it; it must be good; they should get some; what has gone wrong? Surely if they stare hard enough at me I will relent and produce the good stuff that must be in that bowl?

I offer it again. It is, alas, still not good stuff. They wander away, disconsolate.

I am a hardhearted woman, and not at all a good mom. I chuckle.

Addendum: Every few minutes Peanut comes back to check: "Has the icky stuff turned into FUD? For ME?" Bowl proffered. Cat repelled. Again.


Update on Peanut: Yesterday he was cruelly disappointed when the bowl I was eating from proved to contain icky orange slices rather than FUD! he'd like.

Today, however, his luck had turned. When I'd finished my snack of chips and dip I offered him the dip bowl to see if he'd like the scanty remnants, and he did.

He licked up every minuscule bit of mashed avocado coloring the bowl.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Report

I'm currently racing to the finish of Philippa Gregory's "The Red Queen", set in pre-Tudor England during the War of the Roses, and it's quite the tour de force: Told in the first person by what has to be the most remarkably nasty, bitter, vain, spiteful, envious, self-righteous, cold-hearted, holier-than-thou, hateful protagonist I have ever encountered -- and it's a gripping, engrossing page-turner.

It's chronologically the second book in her Cousins' War historical novel series about the pre-Tudor era, but fortunately I started with "The White Queen" (number 3), then went back to "The Lady of the Rivers" before "The Red Queen" -- these books all overlap a lot, timewise, you're seeing many of the same events from wildly different perspectives, and if I'd read the current novel before "The White Queen" (which in fact was written first) I'd have missed a lot of what makes this one so deliciously enjoyable despite the truly dreadful persona of the protagonist. Next up: "The Kingmaker's Daughter", then "The White Princess", then "The King's Curse".

This is the author of "The Other Boleyn Girl" and "The Queen's Fool", both part of her series of novels set in the Tudor era, which I'd read some years ago. I'm tempted, when I'm done with the Cousins' War series, to go back to them and wallow in all six books in her Tudor Court series.

Her website, for more info if you're interested:

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Ben is a bad boy

Caught in the act! And no, Ben, it wasn't Winston who yanked off Dora's halter and then tossed it over the fence; and you aren't merely trying to put it back on her.

You are a very mischievous boy.

A delightful surprise

How wicked cool is this?

I ordered a bunch of stamps from the USPS online and when they arrived, I unsleeved them from their protective wrap and backing. When I got to the sheet of Janis Joplin commemoratives, I got a pleasant surprise!

Online you just see the image of the stamp itself. On the actual sheet, what you'll find is this: on the back, it's all a photo of Janis in full joyous belt against a backdrop of funky psychedelic lettering. On the stamp side, the block on stamps lies on what looks like an album paper jacket, complete with the worn-down outline of the platter within, and with the edge of the record just peeking out of the top.

Well done, USPS!