Saturday, February 27, 2010

My Kind of Day

The alarm went off a bit earlier than I'd like for a Saturday and the bank drive-thru wasn't open at 8 (though I was there), but it was otherwise a VERY good day!

Pearl and I made record time in arriving at the MonkeyGirl's, XM's "First Wave" cranked the whole way. She had a surprise for me (I won't steal her thunder though) that slightly altered our morning plans. I got to love Coal the Lab and meet the new baby granddaughter.

We arrived at the crop (the annual Marathon Crop which lasts all day) shortly after it began. Mama Martha joined us a little later. And what an awesome day!

It was just the kind of day I needed -- laughing and playing with friends. What a fabulous way to unwind and recharge after the crazy, wacky, draining past few weeks.

I have a feeling I'll be making up for it tomorrow. But that's OK. I need to get back on track anway. There's so much to be done it's really daunting.

At least now I'm energized enough to take it all on. Thanks MG and MM for an awesome day.

Friday, February 26, 2010

One Last Look Around

There’s something about a house where no one has lived for a long time, especially once its order has been irrevocably disturbed, rifled and ransacked by countless hands.

The upstairs is mostly barren. All three bedrooms, empty. Likewise in the livingroom.
The dining room would be empty except for a stack of pillows and rolls of foam that the auctioneer’s junkmen were supposed to take but didn’t.

The kitchen counters are cluttered with items for which the status remains undecided: keep, pitch or leave for the new owners? A similar scene, only on a larger scale, is developing on the sunporch.

The basement looks like a tornado hit it. The junkmen took less than half of what they were supposed to and my godmother sits among the wreckage, trying to decide what is a keepsake and what she will need to turn loose for her own sake. It’s excruciating to watch so I try to occupy myself by carting things upstairs that I know will be leaving. I briefly wonder how there can still be so much stuff left to contend with when the culling process has been going on so earnestly for weeks.

The house itself means nothing to me. I do not have the ties to it that I did to its predecessor. It was not the backdrop for many happy childhood memories. And yet, there is the hesitance to wrap things up because it’s so much more than selling a house. It is the final page of the last chapter of two lives.

My great-aunt died more than a decade ago and my great-uncle nearly a year ago. And yet their lives were, to some degree, frozen in time, carefully encapsulated between walls and tucked beneath a roof. Only occasionally did anyone break the sanctity of their suspended earthly domain. In recent months though, as more and more strangers trod through, invading the sacred ground, the reality and the finality of it all came flooding through: they are both gone. It’s a fact that cannot be ignored.

As the evening wears on, the scene improves only marginally, but the demeanor has changed. The mood is a bit lighter. We laugh. We joke. We exchange stories. We share fond memories unearthed by the newest find. (One of those things is a kindergarten photo of me!)

Then, there is the arduous task of packing up. Fitting all of this stuff into a single pick-up –with the added challenge of a closing lid – puts my logistical skills to the test. “Ye of little faith,” I quip to my baby cousin though I have my own doubts.

A few condensed boxes and last-minute maneuvers and somehow it all fits – except the top shelf to a rolling garment bag. (This ends up inside Pearl’s trunk for future delivery.) We do a final walk-through. And then a final final walk-through. And then one more, just to be certain.

Doors shut. Locks lock. Lights go dark. A chapter closes.

As I drive away, it occurs to me that it doesn’t really end here. Not really. Not as long as we remember.

The life of the dead is retained in the memory of the living.Cicero

Snippets

I am filled with stories today -- but am also exhausted and sore. (No, no. Don't get your hopes up. Hauling boxes upstairs and hopping in and out of a truckbed nearly as tall as me will do that to ya.)

But I thought I'd share a few updates since I'm not so sure I'm capable of really good story-telling at the moment and not being one to want to waste a really good story ... you get snippets instead.
***

Except for one, I've had to have every car I've ever owned emission-tested. (The exception was my Chevy Beretta. By the time the state caught up with that registration, I had already junked the car.) In the midst of engine-light hell with Pearl, a testing notice came. So, last Friday I had her tested. AND SHE PASSED! And it took all of 15 seconds. Having to wait just a few minutes for the single car ahead of me, it almost took longer for me to get out and then back in the car than it did for the test itself.

And ... still no engine light. I plan to be doing a fair amount of driving this weekend so that should be the true test of whether the purge valve solenoid was to blame. Cross your fingers.
***
If you do a lot of online shopping, sign up for MyPoints.com. You can get a bonus for everything you buy. I recently bought a new coat -- at a bargain price -- from Overstock.com and scored 600 points! And then, they made me an offer on an Entertainment Book. (If you have kids, they've probably sold these at some point.) It's essentially a huge book of coupons to businesses in your local area.
I'm already ahead of the game. For my $20, the book comes with six $5 off coupons at my local grocery store. there are a TON of BOGO admissions to different sites and events as well as free and discounted entrees at area restaurants. If planned out well, I can easily get 1o times my investment back!
***
We have a diffrent cat. Toby was quite sick earlier in the week but is now doing much better.
He hasn't had pills for a few days as a result, but even that process is going much better.
He is even demanding that the mother pet him and laying directly next to her on the sofa. He's even letting me pet and scratch him WITHOUT immediately running away. I'm wondering if the vet didn't perform a lobotomy after all.
***
A certain dear friend of mine visited the family's new restaurant yesterday. I haven't spoken with her yet to hear about the experience but I heard last night that she took my godmother a little flower plant. PB, how sweet are you?! She was so disappointed that she didn't get to meet you. (She was home with a sick grandkid.)
This story led the mother to tell her that "all of those girls" that befriended me in high school are "just so good" and she recounted the many great things that the MonkeyGirls and CD have done to help out and how all those many years ago, they all rallied around me when Steven died. My godmother told me that I have some awesome friends.
Yes, I sure do.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Spring, Where ARE You?

“Is it ever going to warm up?” one of my fellow riders asked as we boarded the bus this morning.

I’m beginning to think that it’s not. The past few mornings have had us back in the teens. That wouldn’t be so hard to take – except that it got up to 55 on Saturday. It’s amazing to me how it takes just a single nice day to transform me back into a winter wimp! And it really has done that. I very nearly could not get out of bed this morning. I was just too comfy and warm.

At least I’m not alone in my zealous anticipation of spring. I’ve even heard people who supposedly like cold weather express their desire for it to finally end this year.

We’re supposed to reach the lower 40s over the weekend and no one is speaking of rain, much less snow, anytime soon so I guess I can find consolation in that. Again, I don’t know how all of you who got monstrous loads of snow this year managed to cope. I think that if we’d had to deal with THAT, I might well have just run off to the Caribbean!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Good News for DIY; Toyota – Not So Much

If results from Home Depot and Lowe’s are any indication, it would seem that the worst of the economy may be over. Hoorah!

Both companies are reporting that consumers are slowly opening their wallets again. While officials from neither company are declaring 2010 a banner year, they are calling it a “transitional” one. Here’s hoping that’s a transition into a very positive 2011.

As for me, I continue to do my part for both companies by getting things for This D*mn House and Another D*mn House. (Stay tuned for a vanity update.)

Meanwhile, each day seems to bring more bad news for Toyota.


I read this article today about the possibility of electromagnetic interference (EMI) being the culprit in the sudden acceleration cases. Interesting theory. I don’t know enough about electronics to either support or dismiss it though.

I can tell you that I know what it’s like for a car to suddenly decide to accelerate on its own. It happened to me a few years ago behind the wheel of Ladybird. (Which is a Ford, not a Toyota.)

I was on the highway heading home from a shopping adventure with the mother when I spotted a few cars up ahead. I noticed I was going a few miles over the speed limit, too, so I removed my foot from the gas pedal to coast to a lower speed. Instead, much to my horror, I watched as the speedometer edged in the wrong direction.

65, 70, 75 … I began applying the brakes which, thankfully, did slow me down, if only temporarily. Even so, you could feel the car continuing to pull against them. We were about 15 miles from home at the time. It was late. It was dark and most of the rest of the journey was relatively desolate highway. So I braved it. And I was lucky.

The only bad parts were the few stoplights and stop signs along the way. Ladybird bucked and lurched like a would be drag-racer. Luckily, I think there was someone in front of me only once.
I thought that maybe the cruise control – something I never use anyway – had gone wacko but it turned out to be something with the throttle gone awry. (I don’t remember exactly what anymore.)

I thought about that experience when I saw snippets of the testimony from a Toyota-made Lexus owner recounting her frightening trip before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. She was lucky she lived to tell the tale!

Bouncing Off the Satellite

A few weeks ago, I discovered quite by accident that Pearl’s XM Radio had been activated.

Since it’s not something that I did, I’m sure it’s something that OnStar took upon themselves to do. Last week I got a letter informing me of my trial but giving me no details as to when the trial period started or when it will end. (Another phone call in my future.)

While the meter is running on a service that’s currently free, I decided to do a bit of exploring. There is every kind of musical genre you can think of right there at your fingertips. In duplicate. In triplicate. And yet, I found myself gravitating to a single station: 1st Wave. Oh, what a horrid temptor thou art, XM!

Every time I flip on this station, I am magically transported back to the 1980s and the early days of alternative rock which provided the golden soundtrack for me through high school, college and my early adulthood. Ah, how those sounds do move me. (I’m of the mind that, with very few exceptions, there hasn’t been much worth listening to that’s been made post 1990.)

On the way home last night I was treated to The Smiths, INXS, R.E.M, The Pet Shop Boys, The Violent Femmes, Echo and The Bunnymen, and Yello. Some of these bands (like The Smiths and R.E.M.) already reside on homemade CDs that I listen to regularly. Others, I haven’t heard in years so what a treat this little technological marvel has been.

Sadly though, once the trial ends, it’s over. $24.95/month is a bit much, especially when you consider that I’ll also have the expense of OnStar coming up. And, it’s not like I often spend prolonged periods of time in the car. If I did, I might well be able to justify this luxury. Instead, I will sadly bid it adieu.

But I’m sure going to enjoy it while it lasts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Just Wait 'til He's 16

Clearing my great-uncle's house has been exhausting both physically and emotionally. But every once in a while there's that little dose of comic relief that seems to arrive at just the right moment.

Case in point: my baby cousin's son fell in love with one of those leather flapped winter hunting hats. He was wearing it all over the place. He decided it made him look like "Cousin Eddie" from the Vacation movies. (And it kinda does.)

Then, he discovered this wild Hawaiian shirt and decided that he had to put it on right this minute along with the Cousin Eddie hat. Oh. My. God.

I told my little cousin that this is the photo you casually drag out when he brings his first girlfriend home ...

Some Assembly Required

A while back, the mother and I found this awesome little curio cabinet at Big Lots. It would be a perfect item for the new restaurant and was a real steal at just $30.

It came though at a terrific cost to my sanity: There were at least 20 pieces but NO INSTRUCTIONS!!! I went to Big Lots but they were no help. They opened the only other box with the item they had in stock and didn't find any directions there either. They more or less shrugged their shoulders, gave me the manufacturer name and pretty much brushed me off. (And this was my local store's "furniture manager." They'll be hearing from me at a higher level in the future. Yet another case of stellar customer service -- NOT!)

In the meantime, there I was with all these pieces and hardware strewn over my bedroom floor. I really didn't relish the thought of boxing them all up again, though I came close to doing this more than once, taking them all to the store and demanding the assembled display model.

I'm outrageously stubborn and determined and I've put together more than my share of my stuff, so I wasn't so easily deterred. Patience, persistence and a string of obscenities ultimately resulted in this.

It took over three hourse and I think I only made one major gaffe in the order of assembly. (That cost me an hour at least.) The mother stained a corbel to match and add a shelf-like effect underneath so I think the end result is kick-ass. Good thing for you, Big Lots.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Surprise!

One of the greatest things about doing a DIY project are those rarest of rare occasions when you find exactly what you are looking for at a good price and in a way that ultimately means less work for you in the long run. Sometimes you can get one or the other of these. Almost never do you find something that does both.

That happened Saturday though as I walked the aisles of Vanity World at Lowe’s.

I had just finished documenting The Contenders and was back-tracking up an aisle I’d missed on the first go-round when BAM! Out pops this little gem.

It’s a stark contrast to the fancy schmansy stuff we’ve been looking at to be sure, but … the men’s room is both narrower and shorter than the ladies’ room so the standard 18x16 cannot be deviated from. I’d already set my sights on a standard white model that was $68.

I consoled myself with the fact that I could always spruce it up with a little beadboard and the mother could give it some black accents as the room is going to have a black and white theme. And, it’s the men’s room. (No offense, guys, but most of you just aren’t as likely to notice the vanity anyway, unlike your female counterparts nextdoor.)

Besides, there will be lots of other things to see in there with the wallpaper and some knick-knacks, etc.

So, I don’t need to add beadboard – it’s already there. Translation: Less work! And … it’s $58 – a whole $10 cheaper than the other one. That means we’ve gone from $98 to $58.


BOO-YAH!

The Contenders

To say that I was unhappy with Lowe’s on Saturday would be a gross understatement.

I went by there on a mission, amid a number of other tasks, to see just what they had in stock in the way of vanities. What greeted me upon entering the bath department was this sign, telling me that I could special order the dream vanity in seven days.

I know this to be BS. And after all the calls I’d had with a department manager less than 24 hours before, there that sign remained! Seriously, you'd think they could have found five seconds to take it down to help anyone avoid some of the upset that I've had the past few days over making the reality of inventory match what's shown as available.

Apparently not.
So, angry though I was, I took a look around. I'm really glad that I did.

I saw this vanity.




And this one, too.
I like that first one but both of these have vessel bowls atop the vanity. I’m not incredibly wild about that and neither is the godmother though she likes he first one, too. Documented details on both of these as potential contenders.

But, there was always this one.

It’s the bigger brother if you will of the dream vanity which has caused so much heartache.

Not only is this one still available there is one in stock IN THE STORE. It’s a little bigger (2ox31) and pushing the limits of the available space in this tiny room, but I think it will work.

The godmother loves it, of course, since it is the big brother of her first choice. Like me, she’s concerned about the additional size. Truth is, it’s an inch deeper than the smaller one. One inch. At 20 inches, that still leaves 25 inches of clearance to enter the room. If you can’t enter a 25-inch space, well, that vanity isn’t your problem.

So … I’m calling the manager this morning to ideally purchase that vanity and a different one for the men’s room that I was pleasantly surprised to find. (The manager, who was off for the weekend) promised to “work with me” on the price of a substitute because of all the upset and confustion over the dream vanity.

Let’s see just how good a deal he’s willing to make.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Bonfire of the (Dream) Vanity

I haven’t told my godmother yet. I don’t think it’s fair that I have to so I’ve been avoiding it since last night. But I’m much too far ahead in the story. Rewind to Tuesday …

I’m eating a donut and drinking a coffee and checking out Lowe’s site when I see this. It’s $298! My brain isn’t processing this amount. It CAN’t be $298. But it is. I nearly spill coffee on myself.

I print a photo and all the details and that night, I show it to the godmother. She falls in love. Immediately.

“That’s it. That’s the one,” she says. “It’s the one for the women’s restroom.”

She wanted me to check out Lowe’s for something for the men’s restroom and I said I would. I did. I found a small standard one (the only one the room is big enough to handle) and cheaper than Home Depot.

I was ready to order both for her yesterday. Except … when my cart came back up, the cart that had the dream vanity in it, it said “unavailable.”

I called and talked to a customer service rep and last night, a local store manager called me. Apparently, this vanity had been discontinued sometime back. He had no explanation for why it remained on both their Web site and manufacturer RSI’s. He said he checked stores all over to see if someone had one in stock, but no dice. So that's it for the perfect style, perfect size, perfect price.

There are a few options but only one is a real possibility. Meanwhile, I’ve continued to look but in vain. Now I have to burst that bubble. Lucky me.

Friday, February 19, 2010

B.B., Buddy, The MonkeyGirl & Me

I sat my little child down when he was old enough to know
I said I fell in this big wide world You're gonna be all kinda froze
I said son it all comes down to just one simple rule:
That you treat everybody just the way You want them to treat you.
-- Buddy Guy, "Skin Deep"

Yesterday was a whirlwind of activity. All good, but exhausting. So, last night was the most welcome kind of change: Hangin' with a good friend at an awesome concert. The MonkeyGirl let me introduce her to the world o'blues -- LIVE!

B.B. King was in town last night. I've missed his last two visits (only times since about '94 that's the case) and considering that he's 84, I figured I shouldn't take any chances. And he was back with Buddy Guy whom I also love so I bought tickets when they went on sale back in September.

I didn't know there was a third act but music was already playing once we found the right gate to our seats. They had some kind of odd name but they sounded like .38 Special. I thought that was an interesting intro. Soon, we'd trade those twangin' guitars for some WAILIN' ones, thank God!

But finally, it was Buddy Guy to the stage. And, Buddy, WHAT A SHOW! He regaled us with jokes and stories, double entendres and just some out and out good ole blues! He even gave us music mimicking the styles of some of the other guitar greats including: Albert King, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix.

This was about the ninth or 10th time I've seen B.B. And to be honest, I'm glad that Buddy opened for him. Buddy gave such a great performance I didn't feel as slighted by the ole King of the Blues. Granted, he's 84 and he showed us he can still belt a tune and play a lick. But to be honest, he didn't play that much. I'm saying he played maybe 25 minutes MAX and I'd bet it was less than 20. He had a kick-ass orchestra and they played most of his set.

I'm sure at 84 though it's tiring to do ANY of it so I felt privileged just the same.

Much to my delight, B.B. did give us part of "The Thrill Is Gone." He says he plays a different version every time he plays it and I liked this one. When he started though, it was clear that he had forgotten the lyrics, God love him, which he started, then stopped, and ended up skipping an entire verse.

I only wish I'd brought my camera. I was going to (little voice in my gut told me to stick it in my pocket) but the venue was pretty specific about anything other than sporting events: no cameras. I think I was the only person in the place who abided by this. And I could kick myself for it! The seats were awesome (the sound NOT so much).

Even today, my ears are still ringin' a little. But in a good, good way.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Illogic of Dishware

Have you ever been at a relative or friend's house and they directed you to get yourself a glass or a plate? Usually, you open a cabinet to find some logical structure and order to the dishware. And usually, many of the pieces inside it might even match.

Usually. And then there's my late great uncle's house where the segregating and packing up of everything in the entire place continues in earnest.

Last night, I helped empty a china cabinet (of a set that seemed to have at least 40 of EVERY piece), clear a closet, and empty not one, not two, but THREE cabinets overflowing with both dishes and glasses. This was where we had stopped the night before, not only because it was getting late but because we were daunted by the sheer volume of it.

We speculate that the girlfriend is responsible for some of the mismatched madness cloaked by the cabinetry. (Since you're not supposed to speak ill of the dead, I'll reserve comment on her taste in dishes.) Understandably, my family wanted no part of these so they were boxed up for future sale. We tried desperately to sort the collection by design, packing what like things there were together. The evening was a flurry of newspaper, glassware and boxes.

When it was all said and done, there was quite a pile of boxes to be seen everywhere. A stack in the livingroom to be sold or donated, a thinner pile on the sunporch to go home or to the restaurant. We were feeling pretty good about the progress until my baby cousin realized that this was only upstairs -- there was still a basement to do.

"And the garage," I reminded her. Her eyes glazed over.

Even so, there will be no packing tonight. Not only is everyone just plain tired, but life beckons. There are children's sport events to attend, a fledgling business to be tended to, and, for me, a concert to see. (The MonkeyGirl has graciously agreed to accompany me to see B.B. King and Buddy Guy tonight after the illustrious B., who is generally my cohort for BB concerts, has thrown me over for a work event. I know that secretly, she'd rather be dancing with Buddy Guy.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Year Ago

I am not the person I was a year ago.

If you’ve ever been the victim of domestic violence (or of sexual abuse or assault) or if you have someone amongst your nearest and dearest who has, I don’t need to explain to you what a dark, dismal place that can be. It’s all the more dark and dismal because most of us are there alone.

No one else could possibly live this way. That’s what we think. That’s what we tell ourselves. We close our eyes, close our mouths and move silently on with our lives. For many of us, we were children who had no power to make a choice.

But one year ago today, Violence UnSilenced began breaking through the layers of denial, shame, fear and mute acceptance that so many of us, too d*mned many of us, have wrangled with for significant portions of our lives. This Web site, the brainchild of Maggie Dammit, gave us a place to face our fears, collect our courage and pony up with our pasts – on our terms.

For me, the catharsis of sharing was eye-opening, gut-wrenching and nothing short of life-altering. I discovered some things about myself buried for decades. I was at first amazed and then horrified by how much had been locked away behind the face that greets me in the mirror every day. I began to see some of my most brilliant adult mistakes with amazing clarity. (I was trying to recreate my childhood! So that's what that was all about ...)

I faced realities that were shoved down so deep and unspoken for so long, I’m still not sure how they ever reached surface. But they did. And I’m SO glad they did. No one needs to have that kind of garbage residing within their psyche. No one.

Was it easy? No. Did it suddenly fix everything? No. I don’t believe it ever is easy nor that it’s ever possible to “fix” everything. So what has changed? I finally set the record straight with the person for whom it was most important: me.

As an avid DIYer, I know that some things aren’t worth repairing. You throw them out and start over anew. And for those things that are, the things that are beautiful and delicate and valuable, you put the time and the effort into lovingly restoring them. Especially when those things are key components of you.

I’ve been joined by 100 others so far – and half that many more are in a queue, all waiting to speak out through VU. In a way, it’s sad that the numbers are so great. It’s not exactly a club that the membership aspires to. (No one wakes up thinking how great it would be to be beaten/raped/molested/terrified/belittled/betrayed today.)

What would be sadder though is if that chance to share, to cleanse our souls, and to reach out to all those who may not yet be ready or even able to tell their stories, didn’t exist at all. Those stories, woven together in twice-weekly tales, are a collective digital hand reaching out to those still trapped in circumstances that no one would envy. A hand touching, then tugging, then grasping and then pulling …

Like my house, I remain a work in progress. I continue to declutter and regroup. Repair, replace and maintain. I point with pride at the things I like. I toil into the wee hours on the ones I do not.
No, I am not the person I was a year ago. No.

I’m a better one.

And I’m not alone. Thanks, VU. (And Maggie for this awesome montage.)


A Small Box of Treasures

A Cutco cookbook, every bit of 40 years old (likely older) like brand new.
A microwave cookbook – inscribed to “my favorite aunt” – dated 1978.
One of two vintage Pyrex pie plates, identical to my grandmother’s.
A collection of like-new microwaveable storage containers.
A Cadillac emblem key fob from a now defunct local dealership.


These made up the small box of treasures that I arrived home with last night.

I picked up Pearl from the shop and ideally, she is fixed. (One purge valve solenoid and vacuum hose later.) If she passes emissions on Friday, then all will be well.

I arrived home unable to pull in and under the carport because my godmother was in the driveway. The mother had said that she and my baby cousin might come by. (My baby cousin in her early 30s.) She had stopped by en route to my late great uncle’s house which is slated for closing next week. She got to see some of the many things that the mother has been busily creating for the restaurant – and she saw her new room signs and loved them! *grin*

I went over help them work on going through things at the house. We managed to go through every drawer and cabinet in the kitchen. Small though it may be, that kitchen is LOADED with cabinets. (Wish I had that much storage.) We managed to clear out all but four shelves worth of glassware. Looks like that’s where we’ll pick up tonight.

I carted two bags of trash to the garage which I’ll take out to the curb on trash day. I’m sure I’ll be adding to that collection tonight.

The mother was thrilled to get the new Cutco book (hers is in tatters) and couldn’t help but smile at the book she had given to my great aunt more than 30 years ago.

There were two pie plates. My baby cousin took one and I, the other. The mother thinks it’s entirely possible that these may have been my grandmother’s anyway, these other two ones that had gotten lost between sisters (my grandmother and her only sibling) decades ago. In any case, I’m glad to have it. I scrubbed it up and put it with grandma’s known plates last night. It seems to belong there.

We had some serious laughs at some of the things that emerged from random drawers and I couldn’t help but think how funny some of my own drawer contents might look if laid bare, without my presence to explain some of them.

I had hoped we could finish the kitchen last night but there was a lot more stuff than I thought. And there are still several closets, a basement and a garage to pick through. OUCH!
So, my TV-viewing plans are being pre-empted. I’ll be back in duty tonight, likely getting up close and personal with some of my own family history,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Faces of America

It’s not often that I watch a TV show and afterward exclaim, “Wow! That was awesome.” It’s even rarer that this happens and the mother agrees with me. But that was the case last night after stumbling upon “Faces of America,” a PBS series exploring the genealogy of 12 “famous” Americans.

As the show drew to a close – and I even popped the cable guide up to make sure that it really only was on for an hour – I found myself wanting more. Luckily, there is more every Wednesday through March 3. While this first show touched on all 12 lives to be featured, it focused on three: director/actor Mike Nichols, Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. (You can catch it online here if your local PBS station doesn’t rerun it.)

Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates presents each guest with a “book of life” featuring highlights he unearthed within their respective family trees. For Nichols, this includes photos of great uncles who were slain by the Russians as revolutionaries. For Yamaguchi, it was a newspaper clipping announcing the 1943 birth of her mother in a U.S. Japanese internment camp – an event that occurred while Yamaguchi’s grandfather was serving with the U.S military. How’s that for irony?

And speaking of irony … Yes, it’s the Henry Gates that had the run-in with Cambridge, Mass., cops last summer while “breaking into” his own home with the help of a cabbie after finding the door jammed. (Oddly enough, the incident occurred as Gates returned home from China where he’d been researching Ma’s family tree.)

I’m not going to participate in a racial debate on this incident. Feel free to do that on another site. But if you watch this series, you’ll notice in the initial minutes of the first episode that Gates points out that through historical research and DNA evidence, he discovered that he is “more white” than black. Just bear that in mind. That’s all I’m saying.

If you’ve been reading a while, you know I’m an avid (sometimes) genealogist. Winter is usually the time that my family research thrives but not so this year. The historical trails have grown as cold as this season’s temperatures. But watching shows like this stokes those fires anew. I teared up (yes, I’m a sap for these things) watching the expressions of the participants seeing the photos, ship manifests and newspaper clippings for the very first time. Glimpsing relatives they never knew and in some cases, never heard of.

I am never prouder of this country than when I hear these stories of people who overcame such incredible odds just to come here. Whether it was to escape persecution, starvation, or just the hope of a better life, they made the boldest of strides that laid the foundation for this country. And those people come in a rainbow of colors, each contributing a unique perspective and cultural significance that make the United States different from any other country on the planet.

We are a nation of immigrants. And I think that's just cool as hell.

It makes me want to dust off my folders of research on my own “mutt” line that includes a little bit of everything including Irish, English, French, German, Scottish, and Native American blood. I’m proud of that heritage and feel particularly privileged to know as much about it as I do. I want to know more! A first-generation American in my tree and her Irish-born mother, just some of the colorful characters in my lineage I'm privileged to know a little about though both were long gone before my time.
In the meantime though, I’ll live vicariously through this PBS special. Part 2 airs tomorrow night.

Something to Sneeze About

Dear crystal meth-makers, insurance companies, and various state legislatures,

THANK YOU so much for making my practically year-round seasonal allergy issues just a little more painful. The whole stand in line and show your driver’s license and sign the touchscreen routine is so convenient. And it makes SO much sense, too. I mean, if I’m out to make meth, I should DEFINITELY spring for one of the most expensive allergy meds out there (Claritin-D) and NOT those generic little Red Hot candy-looking pills that usually come 5 million to a box and cost just a couple bucks. Yeah, expensive is definitely the route to go. Definitely.

THANK YOU legislatures for writing such detailed laws that technically, I might have had to go without a night’s meds, even though I buy in legal quantities and had nine days lapse in between purchases. (Thank God I had my mother with me. She was able to legally purchase this medication so I would not have to skip a night.) According to the Wal-Mart pharmacist, while I had purchased on Jan. 15 and again on Feb. 3, both legally, that meant that I was technically unable to buy more until Feb. 15 because buying on Feb. 12 would exceed the amount in a 30-day limit – even though I had only 2 pills left, one each for the 12th and 13th. Meaning, I would have to skip a dose in the interim. Seriously? Is this what you really intended? I prefer to think not.

And a double THANK YOU to the insurance companies who started all this mess to begin with by raising co-pays steadily on these drugs and planting the idea within the minds of the manufacturers that they could just as easily collect this money themselves. And one by one, they decided to do just that. With the prescription requirement lifted, every idiot redneck in the world was free to suck up as much pseudoephedrine as they could carry. And the cockamamie system by which we now must abide in order to breathe was born.

For the record, I have no real issue with the tracking of the purchases. Fine. Here’s my ID. Do what you must. But when it comes to being kept from buying enough medication to take every day, I’m afraid I’m going to protest that. And loudly.

Also for the record, the only crystal anything that I’m addicted to? Crystal Light Raspberry Lemonade. Put THAT in your pipe and smoke it!

Monday, February 15, 2010

A Slight Diversion

I got the signs done last night and the mother liked them. But the longer we both looked at them, something was missing.

I'd tried some small metal fleur-de-lis emblems in the corners. Too much. And I'd mulled the smaller frames the mother had set aside on the table. I thought those just might be perfect. But I also thought she already had plans for them so I never suggested that.

Ultimately though, she did. And this was the end result.
I love the other frames but concede that they were just a bit bigger than needed. I'm happier with these, too. And the mother was raving about them to the godmother last night. She can't wait to see them in place!

Me neither! (Let's hope Mother Nature cuts us some slack soon so that we can make that happen.)

Birdseye Frozen People

Despite 3 or so inches of snow, I got Pearl to Jim’s shop this morning with very little trouble. I wasn’t able to zip across town as I’m accustomed to but I’d left myself plenty of time this morning so that I wouldn’t even want to.

I got to Jim’s early enough to catch the bus before mine. It finally came – even later than my bus! So after standing outside in single-digit wndchills for more than 30 minutes, I’m a little frozen. And to top it all off, we have to take the long way – our old route – due to some offramp issues. And now that we’re on that route, they tell us it’s all clear to use the bridge again. D*MMIT!

So, I may never get to work today. I guess the good news is that it’s a holiday and the traffic that the old route dumps us into would be much worse if it wasn’t. I guess I get there when I get there.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

My furry Valentine,
Sweet comic Valentine
You make me smile
With your bark.
Your antics are laughable
SO photographable
Your photos are my favorite works of art.


Though you've lost your pup physique
And your eyesight's getting weak.
And your bones how they do creak.
And you're so not smart.

But don't change a hair for me.
Boy who really cares for me.
Stay, furry Valentine, stay.
You'll get some extra bonies to-day.

The Project

I barely looked at much less touched a computer yesterday. It was actually kind of nice to be digital-free for 24 hours. Of course, I’m hopelessly addicted so I couldn’t go too much longer.

And after that last post, I figured I wouldn’t leave too long a silence in place. Rest assured that all is well and the changes that were alluded to are good. Very good. I’ll explain … soon.

In the meantime, Saturday was a day to run around and get household supplies ahead of more snow and to just generally veg on the loveseat with a dog in my lap. But, determined to accomplish something this weekend, I picked up “the project” I alluded to the other night when I was dismantling all those 8x10 framed pieces.

Now that I finally had the necessary materials, I grabbed a ruler and my trusty purple tweezers out of my scrapbooking supplies. I remember when I was given those tweezers at some scrapbooking event many years back and I couldn’t fathom why I would ever need them. Today, I wouldn’t embark on a project like this without them!

Since I got the frames apart, the mother has managed to jazz them up a bit with some gold leaf paint. (You might remember this paint as she used it a while back to paint the leading in the glass of the front door. It’s become a staple around here ever since.)

So, this morning, I spread everything out on my bed and set to work. (Consider it a mix of lounging and progress.) The task: Create new signs for two of the named dining rooms in my godparent’s new restaurant, also affectionately called Another D*mn House.

Both of the rooms bear the names of original residents of the house, both of whom allegedly have never moved from the place. Both signs – which will replace somewhat pathetic existing versions – were made with merlot linen paper (free, courtesy of an Archiver’s coupon) and gold foil letters (half-price at Hobby Lobby). On the latter is where the tweezers came in handy. Getting those letters apart was a monster and would have been even worse without those handy dandy tweezers.

Total project cost (including frames w/glass and a small bit of leafing paint): $25. That means they were less than $13 each. Perhaps I’m biased but I’m particularly proud of the bargain.



Initially, I wanted to use rub-on letters but my choices were limited to black or white. I was leaning toward white. But then the mother insisted that the lettering be gold.

That meant that I had to either a) pick a Cricut font and ask the MonkeyGirl or MamaMartha to cut them for me or b) use stickers instead. I saw lots of stickers I liked but none had both small and capital letters. Since that wasn’t negotiable, I was all prepared to call up MG and enlist her help. So, I started to head for the paper aisle to get gold paper.

That’s when I saw the foil letters – with both small and caps! I liked them, but they had to pass with the mother. She declared them “very pretty” and at half-price …

I think they look elegant (infinitely more so than what’s currently in place) and I can hardly wait to see them up! Here’s hoping that the spirits whose names they bear are just as pleased.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same.
David Bowie, “Changes”

I hate change.

That might be overstating the case a bit, and seem completely incompatible with a serial DIYer who is busy changing everything about her surroundings. But it’s true. As a general rule, I resist it like the plague. Ask anyone who knows me in real life.

Getting me to wear something that’s not an earthtone … not happenin’.

Giving up my collection of 80s and early 90s alternative rock CDs … not happenin’ either.

Trying an exotically-named dish with an equally exotic presentation … that’s probably not gonna happen any time soon either.

I find much more comfort in the familiar than is probably healthy, but I’m OK with that. I just am not an exciting or overly adventurous person. I accepted that a long, long time ago.
It’s not that I don’t like new things or am averse to using my talents in new ways. It’s just that whole “comfort zone” thing. I prefer my life to be like that favorite pair of sweats or that tattered throw that you threaten to give up – until you use it again. Then, they’d have to pry it from your cold, dead hands.

But, without change we miss out on a lot, too. You don’t go anywhere new. You don’t meet anyone new. You don’t learn anything new. And then your brain just rots and you die. You miss out. Big time.

And man, I hate to miss an opportunity – probably more than I hate change. Therefore, I must change.

AAAAACKKKK! That’s scary. That's got to be the worst part of change -- fear of the unknown. But … seasons change. People change. Times change. So, for a perfect end to a wacky week, I’m toasting change.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll come ‘round … eventually.

Frigid Friday

The bus has no heat this morning. I guess it’s a good thing that it is a little warmer out than it was yesterday and that I am wearing a heavier coat again today.

It’s supposed to snow a little bit today, stop, and then start up again tomorrow night leaving another few inches behind. At least it’s on the small side, or it is so far. Have to see what they come up with later.

It’s been quite a week so I don’t plan to work all weekend but I would like to log a good 5-6 hours on the bathroom. Maybe get some walls coated and get some trim painted. Being distracted by Another D*mn House has done nothing to get motivation up around here but the current state of both the bathroom and kitchen – not to mention the rest of the place – is really starting to get to me. I’ll probably start tackling some of that on Sunday.

It’s a plan anyway.

In the meantime, I’ve got a whole day to get through first. Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Even Better News

Dear God,

Thank you for the peace which we received at our house. Last night. All night. Amen.

The mother picked up the piller at the vet. It worked.

The hard part was restraining Toby long enough to use it -- without getting skinned or chewed alive. See, there is no way, if you like your skin and fingers much, that you're going to simultaneously "hold" this cat and deliver the pill without a layer of protection between you.

Though I hated like hell to do it, he finally left me no choice but to invade his "safe" place: the bathtub. The place where he runs and confines himself when people come or when activity in the house makes him upset. He will even close the shower doors behind him if he's uber-anxious!

But after two failed attempts to otherwise roll him in the towel, I finally had to confront him in the tub. My resolve was set: the rest of the houseshold was NOT going to endure a third consecutive night of hell. So, I slowly and carefully placed one of his pillows and then the towel between us, leaning in just enough to pin everything but his head into a sitting position beneath both layers.

It took two tries.

The first time, after gingerly coaxing his head onto the edge of the pillow to open his mouth and ideally gently rock his jaw backward and up, I inserted the piller. As I tried to push back into his throat, he managed to dislodge the pill and fling it from the side of his mouth. (Part of it was all the growling and hissing that was going on.)

The second time, he happened to be mid-growl when the plunger hit the back of his throat. I let it fly and before he could stop himself, he quickly gulped the pill. I gathered the pillow and towel and got the hell out of there.

We left him in there for about 20 minutes, door closed. During the 20 or so minutes after that, during which he emerged from the bath on his own (after I gingerly opened the door) and situated himself on his window perch, a different cat appeared. There aren't words to describe the transformation. He quietly watched snow flurries deposit themselves on the deck.

He got a drink. He ate a little. He used his scratch post. And 30 minutes later, he was asleep.

I'm hoping that Toby won't be a permanent pharma case but I know now that that is a very real possibility. I just hope that the distribution of the pill will get easier over time. For both of us.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Good News ...Bad News

After days of holding my breath in anxious anticipation over what would be the financial burden of my recent adventure with a stop sign, today I got my answer: $120.

Whew. Huge sigh. Deeeeeeeeeeep breath. Exhale. Relief.

The lucky part (beyond the obvious that no other car was involved and that my own wasn’t seriously damaged) is that the sign itself is intact. (Apparently, those cost some bucks.) The breakaway post and other materials – I’m assuming concrete – make up more than half that cost per our city’s street director. I saw somewhere online that the posts sell for something like $10/lf. So, all in all, that doesn’t sound out of line to me.

This also means that I don’t have to complete a “motorist report” for the state as the requirement is if “any one vehicle, person, or personal property sustains at least $500 in damages.” Doesn’t apply here, so skip it!

If only the situation with Toby was going that well. He went BALLISTIC after a pilling attempt last night. I was so tempted to throw him out in the snow it wasn’t even funny. I’ve never felt that way about an animal before. Never. And, it made for another long night at This D*mn House, even after we finally got him confined to the bathroom. The scary part is that I don't even think it was just the pilling attempt. He was just spoilin' for a fight. (This is one of the primary reasons he's on the meds to begin with!)

The mother is supposed to pick up the piller at the vet today. We’ll see if that happens. And if it makes any difference. I honestly don’t know WHAT we’re going to do if it doesn’t. There’s some kind of spray that the vet is currently out of. Maybe she can add some of that to his current prescription. Hmmm…

I read a post online from some woman who was criticizing people for wrapping cats in blankets or towels to pill them. She was ranting about how much stress that causes the cat. Well, honey, anytime you want you just come on by and take on this piranha with fur – sans beach towel – and we’ll see how much the ensuing plastic surgery you’ll require is going to cost.

The Super StormTroopers

No, this is not a post about Star Wars. Instead, it’s a shout out to all of our friends in the east who, probably as I type this, are once again getting pounded with snow. As screwy as this winter has been and as much as I’m longing for spring, we really have no right to complain.

They, however, do.

I’ve been trying to keep up with everyone’s exploits and personal versions of the Winter Olympics, but I’ll admit, I’m way behind. I have been keeping tabs on a few folks in and around the Capitol though to see how they have weathered the storms. (That’s storms, plural.) I have to say they’ve done remarkably well. I know I wouldn’t hold up so good under similar circumstances.

Jen and her dogs at Dogs and Jen found themselves in temporary housing for part of the storm. Luckily, there was shelter very close to home in the form of a Hyatt. Now that’s resourceful!
Vicki at NotSoSAHM not only managed to dine by dark – while keeping two young girls and two very confused cats in check – she even had to venture out to get her hubby to work. (Pure, solid bravery that.)

And poor Benny at D.C. Rowhouse. She just wanted to venture out for groceries but instead spent an hour helping to free a trapped pick-up in her path. My kind of neighbor!

Lucky for us, we aren’t dealing with snow beyond the few inches on the ground or an occasional flurry. Instead, it’s just plain old cold. We’re supposed to warm gradually during the next few days, so here’s hoping.

Wherever you are and however you’re managing to endure Snowpocalypse, here’s hoping that you’re safe and warm. Vancouver’s got NOTHING on all of you!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pilling A Cat And Other Perils

After more than a week on drugs (one night of which we skipped and regretted it), we had a method down. Until last night.

Toby is onto us. He knows what certain movements mean and even about what time to expect them. This is in spite of our efforts to change things up so this wouldn’t happen.

Last night, he was horrible and vicious. I even have the bite marks to prove it. He got no pill as a result. It was a long night.

Tomorrow, he is getting more pills (we’ve wasted two of the original 10 so far) and a “piller.” Someone suggested this to me the other day and I went, “A what?”

Someone had also suggested pill pockets but Toby with the extra discriminating taste was having none of it. Apparently, the piller is like a syringe but with a specially designed tip to accommodate pills and tablets. It works in much the same way otherwise. Sounds like a winner to me!

The other peril of the past 24 hours has been bitter cold. It got down in the teens last night with windchills below zero. (Someone opened a door earlier and something akin to a gale-force wind blew through, knocked down signs in the lobby and very nearly toppled a huge, potted ficus!

I get to go out into that scenario now. Hopefully, it's only a temporary phase.

C'mon spring! We're all rootin' for ya!

A Snow Treaty

This morning, unlike yesterday, the roads are obviously snow-packed and slick. I trudged down the street to catch the bus. No way I’m touching a car today! It’s only a few inches (maybe 2-3, nothing like the epic totals many of you have been coping with) but just enough to make the ride into work interesting.

The bus is sliding around nearly every corner.

What’s funny is that as deceivingly slick as the roads were yesterday morning, by afternoon, the bulk of the snow was gone. Gone, as if it had never been there at all. It was clearly mocking me. If someone had driven the same path at noon as I did yesterday morning I’m sure they’d have thought I made it all up.

Of course, I was not the only one to have traffic issues yesterday. When the police finally did arrive – nearly three hours after my unfortunate slide – the officer told me that I was his fourth traffic incident of the day and he’d only been on duty a few hours. There had been more than 30 such incidents at that point in our city already. Luckily, he said, no injuries and no serious damages. “People aren’t driving fast enough for that,” he said. “Surprisingly, they’re using their brains.”

He commiserated with me as he gave me my paperwork. “Even if you’re careful, it happens.”
I know it’s because I scoffed at the snow over the weekend. Snow that, much like yesterday’s, disappeared quickly. Only I wasn’t trying to drive in it then until after it did the disappearing act. So I scoffed at it.

No more. I give up. Snow is officially the victor this time.

Seems appropriate then that I’m waving a white flag, doesn't it?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Ladybird vs. Stop Sign

So I'm waiting for the police.

Nearly two hours ago, I slid into a stop sign. It was better than hitting the little blue car in front of me that had slid out of control and then went sliding around the corner and on its way. He had started to fish tail but was able to correct himself (or slow down enough) to make the curve.

I started trying to stop as soon as I saw him whip around. I almost made it. Almost.

I went straight to avoid him, was stopping (from about 15-20 mph) but got into a slide I couldn't escape. If I had been able to stop just a foot shorter, there'd have been no incident. As it was, the bumper connected with the stop sign and kncoked it down. Cracked a little bit of paint on the bumper.

Like I said, just enough to make an incident of it. Glad that's all it was but dreading dealing with the police, insurance, etc. The good news is that it wasn't Pearl. Grateful for that and that no other car was involved. Of course, I think Pearl would have stopped. Ladybird is a notorious slider.

I didn't realize it was that slick out or I'd have just ridden the bus.

Bummer.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

I Won! I Won! I Won!

You find out the d*mndest things sometimes when you check your email.

Thank you, Todd, and Sears! Can't wait to get my hands on this baby. You know there will be a review.

A Salvage Operation

The mother couldn't find the frames she wanted. Well, she couldn't find the frames she wanted without something already in them.

So, there I was on the livingroom floor ...

A small stack of tools, a pile of debris and two hours later and this d*mned thing was dislodged. This and three others like it.
Only one of them got broken.

But the payoff finally came.



At last, they are free to be used for a better purpose. Two of them already have a special project awaiting them. As soon as I can get my act together to do it. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The No-Show Snow

That's not entirely accurate. We did get snow -- just nothing near the original 3-5 inches or even the later downgraded 1-3. And that's A-OK with me. Makes me pity those of you in the D.C./Baltimore area.

All hype. No show. Perfect when you're talking about snow.

This means the mother and I are back on the road again. She in search of God only knows what for the restaurant. Our adventures will span both sides of the Mississippi.

Later today, I'll be in the neighborhood of both MonkeyGirl and Sewwhat. So, if you think you see Pearl, you just might! Hi in advance.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Writing Is on the Wall(paper)

I was reading a forum thread about wallpaper. Someone had asked if wallpaper border was outdated. For the most part, the answers were mixed. Most people said that you should do whatever you wanted to do, a belief I firmly echo. Others contended that yes, it is outdated.

Someone made the very valid point that it depended a lot on the look and the overall d├ęcor of your home. If your home happens to follow a Victorian theme, wallpaper and border never go out of style.

The mother is all about Victorian. I like most of it. Wallpaper and wainscoating and gilding and dark woods. Frilly frames, bird feathers, beads. Yeah. I like all that. And at This D*mn House, we know a thing or two about some wallpaper and beadboard. Except for the livingroom and diningroom, there is – or will be – beadboard and wallpaper in every other room of the house.

And now that our family has purchased a genuine Victorian era house/restaurant (1850s) and she’s essentially been set loose in it, the mother is thinking 100 miles a minute. Luckily, it already has some appropriate era wallpaper and beadboard. But, in discussing the rehab of the downstairs men’s and ladies’ rooms with my godmother, the new owner of Another D*mn House as I’ve taken to calling it, some changes will definitely be in order.

In the ladies’ room, she’d like a toile pattern. This will be a carryover from one of the dining rooms where she put up a new curtain in merlot toile (courtesy of us, an extra from my future bedroom) and recently purchased wine-colored tablecloths. We’re looking at this pattern, which is eventually going in my bedroom, or this similar pattern.




The problem with the first is that it is virtually discontinued and though I can find the wallpaper, I can’t find the coordinating border. (And I’m not willing to give mine up.) The second pattern’s border was hard to locate but I did find it online. A decision is still to be made. I like them both but we'll see what the g'mother has to say!

The men’s room is going to be done in black and white. This is the pattern currently under consideration. (It’s one we looked at last year for our own bathroom but opted against. Go figure.)

The verdict is still out on the vanities and flooring options. (Of course they’ve neither been fully explored nor fully vetted yet either. ) And both bathrooms will be getting “real” baseboard and molding. Each currently has that nasty brown vinyl industrial crap glued about 4 inches up on the beadboard. The godmother loathes it. I agree.)

It’s amazing how many little things have to be thought out. And I have to keep reminding the mother that while this is a house, it’s not a home – it’s a business. So you can’t have things protruding from walls or furniture all on top of each other. There has to be space to move, unencumbered.

So far, she’s listening. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Silence Is Golden

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that Toby the Cat is psychotic. Part of it is hormonal. That’s being dealt with. But in the interim, Toby is getting a little assistance from pharma. I’m stunned by the difference.

I never thought I’d live to see the day that we gave a cat an anti-depressant but apparently that day has arrived. It’s brought relief to the cat who is soooo calm it’s kind of scary. And it’s brought peace to This D*mn House for the first time in I don’t even remember. Is that really our cat?

The cat sleeps. The cat eats. The cat plays. The cat uses his litterbox. The cat lets you pet him. He’s still not wild about you picking him up but he doesn’t go rigid when you do.

And because the cat sleeps, the people sleep, too. Three blissful consecutive nights now. I don’t remember when that last happened.

The cat doesn’t hiss (except when he’s being restrained to get the pill). The cat doesn’t yowl or growl. The cat doesn’t charge people or the dog. The cat doesn’t immediately bristle and begin screaming if the mother goes into the basement or out the door.

It’s almost like having a normal cat. I always knew this cat wasn’t wired quite right. Now I’ve got proof.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Coming Up Next

I don’t pay a lot of attention to visitor and page view stats for This D*mn House but I do keep score. Mostly, it’s just me being shocked as hell by how many places across the country and even around the world check in from time to time.

Occasional upswings are normal. During the past few years, I’ve had several. They rarely last more than a few days. But nearly two weeks ago, I noticed something a little odd: lots of visits from all over the world. Lots. And it's not trending down.

There was one of two things responsible for it. 1. My February 2009 review of the Twin DraftGuard (understandable, as even places that don’t really have winter have been cold this year) is getting a lot of Google hits and 2. referrals from Next blog.

Huh? What’s a next blog?

The first Google entries on Blogger’s Next Blog were about how to disable it. (Apparently, back in 2005/2006, it could potentially link you to porn, though for some people that might be a plus.) But then I came across this rather interesting article on Blogger Buzz. If you visit Blogger blogs or use it for your own blog, you might notice the little navigation bar atop the blog’s header. That's where Next Blog lives. Used to be that if you clicked on it, it would take you to a random blog. No more.

Now, according to Blogger Buzz: The new and improved Next Blog link will now take you to a blog with similar content, in a language that you understand. If you are reading a Spanish blog about food, the Next Blog link will likely take you to another blog about food. In Spanish!

How cool is that? As if I don’t already have enough blogs to lose track of, I’ve discovered a few more this week. Some selections have made more sense than others. And others, while they don’t seem at all related to either my blog or the blog I was just reading after hitting Next Blog, are just fun.

Just in the past couple of days, I’ve had visitors from Albania, Romania, St. Lucia, Dubai, Paris, London, Glasgow, Moscow, Berlin, Brazil, Japan, New Zealand, Greece, Turkey, Brussels, Malaysia, Spain, the Philippines and Iran (just to name a few!) Hi world – so nice of you to stop by!

So, if you’re looking for something new to read, give ole Next Blog a click. Eventually, you might end up right back here.

Racing

The past two mornings I’ve been racing the bus to the station. Each day, I’ve managed to stay a single stoplight ahead of it.

Last week, I was racing to do my taxes. My taxes are pretty straightforward, just a little time-consuming, and I pride myself on getting them filed before the end of January. That’s something I’ve done the past few years. Well, I was a little slow on the draw this year and I only filed them yesterday.

I awoke this morning to find that my federal return has been accepted; my money should arrive next week. YAYYY! No word yet on Missouri. I guess it’s a good thing I break even with my home state every year as if you’re expecting money from the state of Illinois these days, I wouldn’t hold my breath. And I was holding my breath, too, with the new income tax hike our esteemed governor enacted in 2009. Apparently, I still send enough money collectively to both Missouri and the City of St. Louis to satisfy the man.

Also, by filing early, I figure I can make sure I get my money before either the feds or the state run out of it. (I was lucky last year to file early as I got my return in just ahead of Missouri announcing it would be delaying state income tax payments.

E-filing is awesome. I’ve been doing it with federal since it started. For states, it’s only been in the past few years that I have been able to file online in both Missouri and Illinois. (For a while, I couldn’t in Missouri because I’m a non-resident and there’s a whole bunch of hoops to go through for that; likewise in Illinois only because I have non-resident income.) That’s all changed now though.

I use TaxAct.com. You can file a federal return for free but I usually spring for the $13.95 version that lets you file federal and one state, plus it walks you through a bunch of tax code updates and alerts you to things that appear missing or wrong based on previous years. That fee also lets me import all of my information from last year, too, so I don’t have to enter address and employment information at all, unless it has changed. (Which it hasn’t. Almost 10 years with this company and nearly 24 years with the same address.) Pretty painless overall. You can both print and download a PDF of your return and any associated forms, so you have them on file away from the site, too.

I’ll get around to filing Illinois myself. Since we don’t owe each other anything, that’s usually an 11:59 p.m. April 15 process. That’s too far into the future to even contemplate right now. Of course, the way this year is buzzing by, it won’t be long at all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Vanity of Vanities

Living in a house with a single, tiny bathroom, I've never had much reason to shop for a vanity.

The mother had a small oak one installed not long after we moved in and this was removed a few years back when the bathroom got yet another makeover. (The work in progress now is a continuation of what started back then when beadboard went up, the vanity came out, and a new pedestal sink and coordinating commode went in.)

But Another D*mn House has three bathrooms, all in need of some TLC. And, now that I think we've found wallpaper, the debate rages on over flooring. Before a floor goes in though, the vanities in the two downstairs baths -- the ones where the majority of diners visit -- will need to be purchased. You'll want to do that AFTER the wallpaper and new flooring go in. So, I began a quest.

Much like our bath, both of these rooms are small and both are exceedingly narrow. They currently have 18x16 vanities. While the ladies' room could accommodate something just a teensy bit bigger, that's not really an option in the men's room. In a perfect world, where size and cost aren't an option, we could put in something like this.

Unfortunately, the black top wouldn't be right in the ladies' room and the unit's 21-inch dept would be stifling in the men's room where it would otherwise look great. Oh. And I almost forgot: Its "sale price" for just one of these babies, combined with the delivery charge, would likely be more than the entire budget for both bathrooms!

So, clearly not an option. Instead, for the men's room at least, it will have to be something infintely more practical and cost conscious. Something more along the lines of this, a perfect standard 18x16 replacement.

Yeah, not exactly what I saw in my mind's eye either. But, I'm hoping that some nice, old-fashioned fixtures and hardware will dress it up a bit, or at least enough that it doesn't take away from the rest of the updates currently being planned for the restroom. The ladies' room may be able to get by with something a little fancier. I haven't suggested this one yet, but I really like it, even if it is twice the cost of the standard one here. Even the handles on this one would work, though they are a separate purchase.

Another option was a pedestal sink. Unfortunately, I don't know what is behind the existing vanities, meaning did they put beadboard around the existing vanity or did they put it in after the beadboard was in place? This wasn't among discussion topics on Saturday so it wasn't something I checked. I've made a note to look into this on the next visit.

The plusses with all of these are that they come with sinks. I saw many, many models that did not, further driving the cost up.

If you've recently redone a bathroom or are currently doing one, you have my sympathy. I don't know how you decide. I'll admit that I never knew there were so many choices!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

The movie Groundhog Day cracks me up.The premise of it, however – reliving the same day ad finitum – scares the hell out of me.

Admittedly, on the surface, living one day again and again and again sounds instantly appealing. I think we all have at least one day that we thought would be ideal for a few times on repeat. I know I do. In fact, I can think of a few and it would be hard to whittle it down to just one. I also know my luck though and I'd likely be doomed to spend infinity in a day from Hell. And just like Bill Murray, I'd probably be looking for new and creative ways to just turn the game OFF.

But what one day could you get the most out of? The one where, with just a little inside baseball, you could change the outcome, and potentially, your whole life? It's an interesting concept. I've seriously thought about this before and the answer, while it seemed elusive in the beginning, is pretty obvious: today.

Yeah, you don't get the benefit of the inside baseball knowledge and you don't always get a second chance. But life isn't a game of street ball. A "do over," thanks to the car rounding the corner that you didn't anticipate, isn't always guaranteed.

All any of us can do is make the most out of the day before us. I'm telling myself this as I've woken up waaaaaay grumpier than normal thanks to my sinuses who are in full revolt, rebelling against the time I spent in a dentist’s chair yesterday. Even so, my resolve is set: I'm determined to go out there and have a really good day.

Even if that stupid little rodent predicted six more weeks of winter ...

Monday, February 1, 2010

More From Another D*mn House

So I mentioned that we went to the restaurant and did much measuring, plotting and planning over the weekend.

The mother has been making herself crazy with it for the past two weeks. But yesterday, she had a few "a-ha" moments based on some of the pictures I took and some of the discussion that followed between she and I. I got the distinct impression by the part of the phone conversation that I could hear last night between her and the godmother that those ideas were largely approved.

While the place is very pretty, it needs some help. It's riddled with potential but it's going to be harder than hell to work in a place that's open seven days a week. Even so, the mother and godmother are thick as thieves in the plotting. It was funny to see how excited she was when the mother unveiled a creation for this dining room. (I didn't get to shoot this room last time because it was full of people.) The mother's creation: It was funny to watch the godmother take that dome and literally RUN into that dining room with it the second it was unboxed. She promptly pulled some goofy flowers that had adorned either end of the mantle right off and this got plunked into place.

The mother also brought along a nice merlot toile curtain for this window. We did take the bamboo shade down but the curtain isn't up. (The godmother loved that shade as much as the discarded flowers.) Yet. See where that blank spot is in the photo above with pieces of metal at 90-degree angles? A small cabinet is going there. I have to put it together first.


There will be mirrors and photos and maybe shelves going in these two dining rooms upstairs, too. There are three bathrooms in need of redoing, too, but I’ll save those for true before and after shots. I'm not sure when all this work is going to start or how exactly it's all going to get done. But, it will. And I think it's going to look awesome!

Bright Sunshiny Day

Turn the clock to zero, boss
The river's wide, we'll swim across
Started up a brand new day.
-- Sting "Brand New Day"

As I zipped into the office this morning (I drove thanks to a "must keep" dentist appointment I forgot about) the sun was throwing color all over the morning sky. I was wishing I was able to snap some then, but luckily, it held out just long enough. (If you're a regular follower, you know how I love my sunrise/sunset photos.)

It's February now, so you won't be capturing the sun under the Arch again until next winter, but hey, this is still pretty d*mn awesome. Definitely not too shabby for a Monday ...