Saturday, December 31, 2011

Out with the Old

It's too easy to take potshots at 2011. It is a year that, while not my worst, and while considerably good by the standards of the less fortunate, will go down as infinitely less than a stellar one.

The year saw fit to meddle with (in chronological order) my car, my dog, my job, my family. It affected almost everything I hold dear. Almost.

With the exceptions of my immediate family and closest friends, 2011 did its damnedest to slime my life.

Fate seemed to forget something though. I'm a stubborn sumb*tch. I can take a punch. In fact, I can take quite a pummeling. I may fall down. I may even stay down for a while. On the way back up, I may have to crawl a bit. I may stumble. And for a time, I may be less than steady on my feet.

But in the end, I will get up. I always have. I always will.

So, go ahead 2011. Trifle with me if you must, while you can. Your hours are numbered.

And yet, here I stand. Maybe a little unsure of my next step but vertical just the same. While my stance is uncertain, my resolve is not. It is as strong as it has ever been. With it, two words are poised on my lips, poised to greet the year that will soon make its appearance: "Bring it."

Take heed, 2012. Take heed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Winter Project

In one of my most recent posts, I alluded to a landscaping project ...

I had wanted to start this project toward the end of summer. But it seemed like something was always happening to postpone it. I couldn't have imagined that I'd be working on it in DECEMBER! But there I was.

After months on and off of collecting bricks, I was putting them into the ground in an attempt to rein in the quarries of white marble chip that surround three sides of the house and regularly end up all over the yard. I thought it might also add a little shot of color around the house.

I FINALLY started Thanksgiving weekend. And while it's straightforward work, certainly not rocket science, it was a very time-consuming task. And Mother Nature kept challenging me to get it done. Right after I started, we got hit with a string of days with highs in the 40s and winds almost that high. Then, we had a couple days with highs in or near the 60s, so I got my silly self moving at top speed.

It wasn't too hard, considering I was still working with a messed-up left hand. But, it did require some elbow grease, a few adjustments to allow for my injury and LOTS of patience. The biggest challenge was dealing with all the decades of rock I was hitting as I attempted to dig up weed-filled dirt, create a small trench, line it with plastic and then put down each brick.

Finally, last weekend, I got it finished. Well, all but the back yard. I got the sides and front done. Now we just need to add some rock, straighten out the brick bases in the rock and get the trees out.

Even though it's not completely done, I think it looks pretty good. Here's a look.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Merry Birthday!

Here's hoping that everyone had a great holiday yesterday and that today (Dec. 26), the MonkeyGirl had a fabulous birthday.

It's been a very lazy day for me. Other than braving Wal-Mart, a grocery store and Michael's this afternoon, I haven't done a whole lot. (Believe me when I say that was quite enough!) I made it home ahead of some sleet and it's done nothing but rain ever since. Really wishing it would stop as it has saturated my poor bones, including my still-healing hand, making all of them ache.

I did take a vacation day on Tuesday (thank God!) so that means I don't wake to a pre-dawn alarm. Yippee!! While tomorrow won't be as lazy as today, I'm hoping it WILL still be a slow one. We were pretty busy around here from Thursday through yesterday so the quiet, easy pace will certainly be a welcome one.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Back to Monday

It was a busy and productive weekend.

Saturday was sunny and created the deception of warmth. While the temp supposedly reached 45, with the associated wind, the wind chill factor made it feel like 39!
If you’re me, that’s at least 15 degrees below “passable” work outside temps!

Yesterday was infinitely better. While there wasn’t much sun, the wind was mostly quiet until just before sunset and it hit the upper 50s. YAY! Much more conducive to working outside for a solid EIGHT HOURS. I am sore and tired today but I got some nice landscaping nearly done AND I got the yard mowed and a lot of leaves picked up. (I’d share a photo so you could see my latest project, but it’s raining.) We also needed to get some rock down and some trees out but that just didn’t happen. We’ll have to see if Mother Nature gives us another decent day to wrap things up out there.

Meanwhile, things are progressing inside, too, though much more slowly. The mother has been doing the “deep” cleaning of everything in addition to unboxing kitchen stuff. It’s beginning to resemble a house again! Don’t think I can ask for too much more for Christmas than that. (Except maybe a decent-paying, centrally-located, full-time job. Maybe even one that I could be passionate and truly feel good about. Or else just win MegaMillions tomorrow night. That would work, too … )

Friday, December 9, 2011

Albert, Androids and Apple

It's been an interesting few days. First, after early-morning rumblings to the contrary, we learned that Albert Pujols was leaving the Cardinals.

It sucks, but it is what it is. The Cardinals will be fine. Really.

Then, I started getting emails about stuff I downloaded from Apple iTunes. Wait. WHAT?! (I hadn't purchased anything since September!) Some asshat decided it would be fun to hack and raid my account. They got my store credit (somewhere around $12) and another $70 or so from PayPal. PayPal was awesome. They were on it and reaching out to Apple post-haste. Apple? Not so much. Apparently, you can't talk to anyone to fix your woes with them.

I was relieved to find out that my iTunes account was shutdown temporarily. But, what if I need/want to use it? I'm in the resolution process now but told it could take "several days." We'll see how that goes.

And then, there's the Android. Yep, I am the proud owner of a tablet. (Not an iPad.) I bought an IdeaPad. Thanks to a new addition as of this very afternoon (a compatible portable keyboard which WILL fit in the bag with it) I am LOVING this thing. I think it's going to do just what I need it to. Just as soon as I can figure out how to copy and paste ...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A Month of Mourning

It's hard to turn down a "command" performance. So, OK, Karen Anne, I'm speaking!

And the first thing I want to say is thank you again. As I told a group of my "realtime" nearest and dearest yesterday, the last few months have not been exactly stellar ones for me. It started on July 21, in the hours before my birthday, and just went to hell from there.

I'm grateful for the glimmers of good fortune and goodwill that have managed to shine through despite it all, especially the kindness of those on the blog. Some of those glimmers have kept me pretty busy. That's a good thing as they have allowed me to replace, at least temporarily, almost all of my lost income. While one of those opportunities will likely go away soon, I'm hoping to quickly replace it with another. Wish me luck. In the meantime, I still have another ongoing opportunity that has allowed me to revisit my journalism career. (Between you and me, I rather like it!)

A special shout-out to the MonkeyGirl is in order, and to Mr. Monkeygirl, too. See, she "kidnapped" me a few weekends ago for a scrapbooking event. Got me away from the house and away from what seems to be a constant cycle of work (I'm not complaining, really!) for about 36 hours. It was a fabulous respite and a nice prelude to our annual scrapbooking pilgrimage which is now less than six weeks away! (And while MG had been traveling quite a bit in the weeks leading up to our recent adventure, I'm grateful to Mr. MG for sparing his best girl during her brief time back home.)

You might notice, too, that some new advertisements have popped up. I'm equally grateful for those. (More on that in a separate post.)

So, it hasn't been all bad. Not by a longshot. Just incredibly hard. Things have been further complicated by an injury to my left hand (1 broken finger, 1 bruised finger and some joint and ligament damage in my hand). Sometimes I just get really sick of the struggle. Can't ANYTHING be easy? Ever? And then come reminders of just how bad I don't have it. This year, that reminder has come in the forms of about nearly 50 people, the people our charity program at work will be helping after "adopting" them for the holidays.

These are people whose entire lives, in most cases, have been a string of tragedy, hardship and pain. Mine hasn't been all rosy but it's surely been a cakewalk by comparison. I'm grateful then to not only have been thusly spared but to be given the chance to have an impact on their lives, albeit a very brief and small one.

I allowed myself to wallow a bit last month and provided myself with a bit of a pity party. No more. (Well, outside the occasional overwhelming sense of loss of Ozzie. I miss him terribly!)

I've been thinking a lot lately (drives and train rides tend to give you that opportunity) about what's next. Where do I go from here? I wish I knew just what that answer was. It's a huge uncertainty. I like to think though that also means there are myriad possibilities. Surely something good has to come from that. Right?

New Year's Eve will be particularly meaningful this year as I can't wait to kick this year to the curb and get to the blank canvas that is 2012.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

General Weirdness

It's been two weeks. Two weeks.

I've been silent but I haven't really had much to say. Ozzie's absence has been felt acutely. Each day I seem to find myself expecting to see him turn the corner between rooms. Sometimes, I swear I hear him as I enter the house. It's going to take a lot of getting used to, this post-Ozzie world.

A lot.

The one thing I do have to say is a huge THANK YOU for all of the support during this phase of general weirdness. It has helped immensely and means so much.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


It’s a sad state of affairs when you can’t leave something in your front yard without someone having the gonads to come onto your property and take it. But, that’s what happened last Saturday.

You may recall that I recently sealed the driveway again (watch for some product reviews to come). When I finished, I took my two sawhorses (metal, with legs that fold up into the base) out and put one at each of the driveway. I was a little concerned about the one at the edge of the alley. We have junkmen who drive up and down the alleys all the time and then there are mischievous kids who like to occasionally destroy property out back.

I had them up all last week and I had both cars parked in the yard. On Friday, I had Pearl washed so I wasn’t pulling a dirty car onto my nice, freshly painted driveway. When I got home mid-afternoon, there was no traffic coming, so I was able to stay on the four-lane roadway long enough to jump out and put the sawhorse into the front yard before bringing Pearl through.
I left the one in place out back and didn’t think any more about either one on Friday, planning to deal with it over the weekend.

When I came out of the house shortly before noon Saturday, the sawhorse at the alley was still in place. As I backed out of the driveway to run some errands, I discovered that that the sawhorse I’d put in the front yard less than 24 hours earlier – and which had still been there as recently as 12 hours before – was gone. Seriously?

It had to be scrappers. And why they took the one OUT OF MY YARD and left the one that was at the edge of the alley is beyond me. They physically had to walk at least 3 feet onto my property to do this.

It's not that it's a major loss, as frankly, I've been planning to replace them anyway. It is, however, sad commentary on just how brazen people are today.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Saying Goodbye to the Moose

During the past few months, I’ve become accustomed to being awakened by a breathing alarm clock, emitting either a solid series of barks or a shrill, urgent yipe.

This morning, neither these sounds nor the digital alarm clock stirred me. I awakened to silence, five minutes ahead of the alarm.

As I’ve also become accustomed to doing, I padded the short distance to the kitchen where Ozzie has been camping for the night because the medication makes him both hungry and in need of constant potty breaks. The mother has the 2:30 a.m. (or so) feeding covered; potty pads take care of the rest.

But today, the clack of claws and low, rolling grunt of a greeting are not there. Instead, there is only an empty bed laying against the bank of cabinets. And that’s when the reality of all hits me like a freight train.

My boy is gone.

Yesterday was the day that I have long dreaded and yet known was coming since July. We had to let Ozzie go. The lymphoma had taken over. And while he was a super trooper, with new tumors appearing externally on a daily basis, I couldn’t relinquish him. He was still mobile and able to eat and anxious to be a part of everything around him.

Hell, two weeks ago, he dropped a squeaky toy at my feet!!! Unless you knew – or touched his tumor-riddled back or throat – you would never believe this dog was sick. In just the past week, it had become more visually obvious: tumors began to cover the top of his head.

On Monday, that tide started to turn. The mother, who has long been an opponent of euthanasia, began to soften to the notion. That was my first sign. There was also a noticeable shift in Ozzie’s behavior. A look in his eyes that went beyond tired, or even exhausted. It was more of a resignation. We decided that I should call and make an appointment yesterday. I did so with a great deal of reluctance, hanging up at least three times before finally waiting long enough for someone to answer. When he didn't eat yesterday morning (this dog NEVER missed a meal), that was confirmation enough for me.

It was ironic. Here I was trying so hard to hang onto a dog that initially, I had not even wanted.

We were less than a week past the loss of our first Yorkie in 1997. That occasion had marked the first time I’d ever had to put down an animal, despite having lost scores of them through the years. I had decided that day in the vet’s office that I never wanted another dog. So, it was not surprising when, by the end of that week, I balked when the mother wanted to “go look” at puppies. That Saturday morning though, I was in for a huge surprise.

When the alleged breeder (who was licensed, but horrible) first asked me, “Do you want to hold him?” all I could think was how that spastic little puppy, then 11 weeks old, was going to be a wiggle worm. Yet the second she handed him to me, he stopped moving. Before I could hold him at arm’s length (to avoid all of this puppy nonsense), he had nestled in the crook of my arm and gently flopped his head against my shoulder. “Are you lovey?” I asked this little 3-pound furball – and he promptly reached up and licked my cheek.

I was toast. There was no way I could leave him there. It was as if he knew that I was the one he had to win over. And he did. And while all of the animals I’ve ever had (with the possible exception of my childhood cat) have loved me, but always gravitated to the mother – her being something of a Dr. Doolittle – Ozzie was indelibly mine.

For much of the last 14 years, his was the first face I would see in the morning and the last I would see at night.
His face, pressed against the full-view storm door, would greet me most nights, a chaotic barking fit and happy dance to follow. He had a continual flow of energy and was my constant, ever curious, companion no matter what I was doing. Hey … whatcha got? Show me! Can I eat? Can I play with it? Where you goin?! Come back here! Nevermind. I'll come with ya.

One of many nicknames – though the most consistently used – was Moosie. (I had dubbed him “the moose” because he had grown so much in his first year, I was convinced we would have the world’s first 40-pound Yorkie. He actually got up to more than 16 pounds. I used to tell him that he was TWO standard Yorkies!) I never had children but I always joke that I have three "babies:" My boys (Oz and Toby the Cat) have fur; my girl (Pearl) has wheels.

But now, the Moo-Man is gone from my life. That is a fact. Yet, with an equal degree of certainty, I know that he will never leave my heart.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Driveway Debacle

During many afternoons in the past few weeks, I diligently repaired the driveway in preparation for sealing. Hard to believe, but it has already been THREE YEARS since the last time!

Rain and/or temperature drops and/or abbreviated daylight hours impeded my progress. I finally finished early last week. Or so I thought. (But more on that later … plus product reviews!)
Anyway, the driveway is now done except for a bit of touch-up work.

I wasn’t going to seal the driveway this year – only patch it. But, an unfortunate coincidence found me with all the supplies, a gorgeous fall day and an ill mother. Between her condition – and Ozzie’s continually deteriorating one – I couldn’t leave them, even though I was supposed to be going (with a nod to my good friend, KayO, on “supposed to”) to Croptoberfest a week ago Saturday and scrapbooking with my friends all day. I was bummed. I didn’t want to work at my online job. I couldn’t sleep. But wanting the two of them to rest, I needed to be quiet. Driveway sealing was a “quiet” job and it would accomplish something.

It was a nice day. I was able to start pretty quickly. About an hour into my work, two squirrels ran through the area I’d just finished. If it had been a few minutes longer, I doubt they’d have had an impact. But since I had just coated that area, there were their little pawprints popping through as the drying process began. D*MN! So, I rolled over the area again and went on about my work.

An hour or two later, a couple with a stroller – and a HUGE dog on a leash, in tow – walked by. The dog had a lot of leeway and as they walked by the drive, the dog bounded from our yard and into the driveway. While it scattered leaves and other debris, it didn’t do anything else. WHEW!!!
The true scare of the day came as I was approaching the halfway mark and the afternoon was winding down. It came in the form of a huge flatbed truck, hauling a completely-assembled, cottage-style storage shed. The truck roared up onto the sidewalk and all but pulled into the driveway, stopping short by a few mere inches. I dropped my roller and wildly waved my arms, all the while yelling, “NOOOOOOOO!” as I ran toward the truck.

The driver looked at me sheepishly and came to a halt on the sidewalk. My neighbors, mortified, were now standing at the edge of their driveway. “Any other day, guys. Any other day!” I yelled across to them. I would have gladly let the truck pull in so it could back into their yard – just not on my freshly-sealed driveway!

Another potential disaster averted! But then … the rain came and brought plummeting temps along. And it rained. And rained. And rained. And it barely got above 50.

I can already see a few patches where standing water took a bit of a toll. (After closer inspection over the weekend, doesn’t look too bad at all. I hadn’t yet done my touch-up! I have to that this afternoon so it has another day or – in 70-degree temps, thankyouverymuch – to get good and dry.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Feeling Disorganized?

I know I am!

Lately, life has been one spiraling ball of confusion, though, not all of it has been bad. But while I generally thrive within chaos, it's been exhausting -- even I’m ready to wave a white flag.

Apparently, it was Get Organized Week earlier this month. Who knew?!

Well, Emma did. She wrote to let me know that she had put up 50 blog links in honor of getting organized – and that This D*mn House was among them. We were included in a list of 10 DIY-related blogs. Thanks for the honor.

So, if you’re feeling disorganized, go check out the list. You might find something to help. I know I’ve found some good sites already.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday ToolTalk:

Technically, a canvas print isn’t a tool. It is, however, a great way to turn one of your original photos into a piece of art. (Never let it be said that at This D*mn House, we don’t talk about a multitude of ways to decorate your walls.)

I love photos. I love art work. I love Ozzie. So being asked try a free canvas print for a chance to combine all of these loves in a single product was a classic “Godfather” offer – one I couldn’t refuse. Thanks to Brendan at for extending this offer. (You can go to the website OR click on the image icon in the right-hand margin.)

This easy, five-step process moves quickly and offers coaching from beginning to end. The only thing they don’t help you with – and what ended up being the most difficult step for me – was choosing the photo to use. Otherwise, I was done within minutes.

I think it is fabulous – and a wonderful way to immortalize a happy and healthy Ozzie! (This is an 8x10; eerily, it's not that much smaller than real life. The fancy hanging hook is not included, though the print came with a picture hanger mounted to the back.)

The mother was thrilled, too, and is mulling photo options to have one done of Toby eventually.In a nutshell, here’s the process:
Pick your size. (There's a great variety, starting at 8x8, and including 8x10, 11x14 and additional standard and custom sizes.) Then,

  • Load your photo.

  • Make sure all of the image you want to capture fits into the designated box.

  • Choose a border – or not.

  • Put in your payment/shipping info.

Done. Just like that, you’ve created a masterpiece! What a wonderful, personalized piece of art for your home or to use as a gift. (The holidays are coming.)

Here are a few things to consider and/or do before you go to place your order.

  • Think about how you want to display the finished product. Let that location guide your size choice.

  • Easy Canvas Prints accepts PNG, JPG, EPS, BMP and TIF files up to 20MB. Choose the highest resolution version of your image possible. (During the process, the system will analyze your uploaded photo and will let you know whether its quality is good enough to replicate.)

  • If you don’t have an image of your own but could use something new for your walls, they have a gallery of images that you can pick from, too.

So, visit And while you're there, sign up to get great offers by email.

(Full Disclosure: Earlier this year, I accepted an offer from to try a free 8x10 or smaller canvas print or deduct the equivalent value from a larger size. As a result, I received the product described above for evaluation for free. I did not receive any additional compensation for participating in this program.)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Awaking from the Silence

Hi. Remember me?

Just because the blog's been quiet, doesn't mean that things have been quiet at This D*mn House at all. In fact, that's the largest hunk of the reason why the blog has gone so dark lately. I've been trying to eke out every second of the good weather we've been having because I know it's destined to end all too soon. Today, in fact. *sigh*

That said, I'll be back this week with lots of news, photos and PRODUCT REVIEWS.

Hope you'll stay tuned.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Homeless in St. Louis

I frequently write about the beauty of downtown, the skyscrapers lined with incredible architectural features. Unfortunately, at ground level, some of the sights are not so exhilirating.

The pre-dawn hours in downtown St. Louis are when you are most likely to smell them. The odor of urine permeates the air outside the parking garages where many go to relieve themselves. Occasionally, this odor is masked by bleach that some poor worker was tasked with applying.

In the pre-dawn hours, you are most likely to see them -- in their entirety. They are sprawled on street corners, laying beneath overhangs, tucked into doorways, lining several feet of sidewalk. They are the homeless. They are innumerable.

Most of them have luggage now, not something I remember seeing in my youth. I frequently see them as they pack up for the day, stuffing blankets or sleeping bags into plastic bags, lashing the contents to a rolling suitcase or duffel. For the early commuters like me, this is regular morning sight.

But, every once in a while, something takes me aback. That happened this morning, when, from across the street, I spied this scene.

I couldn't help myself; I pulled out the camera. It had to be captured and I had to share it.

Of course, not 50 yards away from this scene, people were in a queue to buy $5 coffees. As I snapped a few photos, I watched a handful of people walk by without really taking in this scene. To me, it's a sad commentary on what this country has become ... and what it will continue to devolve to if we allow it.

If more people took the "There but for the grace of God" approach to the economy, I can't help but think how much greater a place we'd all call home. I've been feeling a little sorry for myself this week.

Now, I'm just ashamed.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Day Away

I know I've been away a lot longer than a day ... but yesterday was my "escape it all" afternoon.

I should have been at home, plugging away at a freelance project I'm wrapping up and at my other part-time job I managed to secure last month. But I wasn't. The mother and I went to exercise a little retail therapy.

Instead, we spent a few hours away from windows, caulk, paint and bricks and online employment, and mostly ... the inevitability of death. (Which, BTW, THANK YOU to everyone for the kind words and prayers and thoughts. They really do mean a lot.)

I did buy a few things. Nothing out of line. (It was a celebration of sorts, having collected my first significant money as a freelancer. An almost as big payment should be coming soon, too!)

But just browsing the aisles of a scrapbooking store (making mental notes of things to check online for that I'm sure I could score a few bucks cheaper) felt fabulous. And using coupons to get dollars off and finding a few "clearance" items on the shelves was great, too. And splurging a couple of dollars on things I didn't expect to find (single sheets of Graphic 45 vintage papers) was like slugging down a Margarita.

So, I got my break. Now, it's back into the mix of everything with both feet! I have all kinds of house things to write about. (That will have to wait until the freelance project is done.)

Thanks for hangin' with me as my world continues on in this weird loop-de-loop pattern ...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ends … and Beginnings

I haven’t written in a while. Suffice it to say that I’ve had a lot on my mind and that I’ve got even more on my plate.

Things continue to deteriorate with Ozzie. He is in remarkably good shape considering that each and every day brings the discovery of a new tumor or of a new gland that has swelled. He continues to eat like a dog three times his size (and would eat more if we’d give it to him, but I’m afraid overloading his system would negate the ground that he has, so far at least, managed to hang onto.

So, watching that part of life has been incredibly hard. And I’ve had plenty of time to prepare myself for the idea that it is only going to get a lot harder.

Summer has had its unofficial end (Labor Day) and the official one is just around the corner. Mother Nature has reminded us of this by plunging us into the 40s. Brrrrrrr…

Today also brings a new end for me. One that I am much less prepared for, but making it work just the same. Today is the last day, for now at least, that I have a full-time job. I go part-time starting tomorrow. I’m not happy about it, but have made my peace with it. Let’s just leave it at that.

I’ve explored a variety of interim options, none of them ideal, but at least they’re options, right?

It’s been a humbling, and at times demeaning, experience to see just what some people are willing to offer for work – and what some are willing to accept. Writers really are a dime a dozen anymore. In fact, that may be overstating the price considering that one “offer” paid $1.50 for a 500-word article. If you calculate the time to do the research, to write, to edit for the “perfect grammar” this offer demanded, I made a lot more money as a 15-year-old earning 1980s-era minimum wage. I politely declined.

But, in some respects, I’ve been very lucky and snagged a few gigs that aren’t dehumanizing, that are, in fact, reasonable. Rest assured, I’ve welcomed them with both hands. It’s meant going both night and day most of the time but I’ve never been one to shy away from hard work or to ever back down from a worthwhile fight.

While it has been tough to do so (optimism has never been one of my strong suits), I’m keeping the faith that the next new beginning is out there, circling, just waiting to land. And, I’m not sitting at home, waiting for news of its arrival. Oh, no. As soon as it dips beneath the clouds and into my view, I’ll be waiting. With a lasso. Or maybe a ladder.

Or maybe standing on the tarmac, waving it in, ready to climb aboard …

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Hammer, a Ladder and a Coupla Nails

I hadn’t even set my stuff down yet when I heard the mother from the next room: “We need to go help R,” she said. (R is the husband in the couple who live next door. They are a few years older than the mother. R has been battling cancer for quite some time. He’s a shadow of the robust guy he once was and now relies heavily on a cane.

I was almost afraid to ask why, but I needn’t have worried; the mother quickly answered the question without my asking. “The fascia on the front of the house is hanging off and he is having a fit,” she said. “I told him you could probably fix it.”

"I’m not sure why I was the candidate to repair it, but I agreed to change clothes and go look at it.

On Monday night, I’d borrowed an 8-foot stepladder from my neighbor since the mother has such a hard time using my 17-foot multi-extension Werner. Since the borrowed ladder was handy, I carted it over first. Its height was just enough to get me to one corner of the A-frame where one nail was in danger of popping free and where just a few feet above, the aluminum strip had been whipped out of place because the lefthand piece of the peak at the A was hanging free of the house, flapping in the breeze.

The 8-foot ladder would not reach the peak, so I had to fetch the Werner. Freeing the strip so that it could be tucked, then tapped, back into place. Including the time it took to get tools, hardware and to fetch and put away both ladders, the job took about 30 minutes.

It wasn’t tough. My neighbor was grateful. And I was relieved that it was something I actually could fix.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Establishing the SDS

What time is it? What day is it? Who am I?

These have all been key questions during the past few weeks that I have found myself trying to answer almost every night, sometimes more than once a night. That’s because, at least in part, what I am experiencing has to be akin to what every parent caring for a newborn experiences: intensive sleep deprivation.

The difference is my “newborn” has fur, four feet and a tail. And, at 14, he’s hardly a newborn. Other than that, the similarities are many:
· I am awakened, on average, 1-3 times each night by a “crying baby.”
· This is a baby who is either hungry, needs to pee or both. (For Ozzie, both are due to his meds.)
· Sometimes, these adventures are short-lived and the return to sleep is quick. Generally, this is not the case.
· Said baby gets to sleep all day … while I must trudge off to work.

And so it’s been the past few weeks. So much so that I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in I can’t even remember. So, I figure I would just go ahead and establish the Sleep Deprivation Society (SDS) . I hereby call this meeting to order.

Other than this, and the fact that some tumors are growing while he appears to slowly be losing weight, (SO glad he has it to spare, at least for now.) Ozzie is doing quite well. He’s spry and engaged, eating like a horse. Still interested in playing and offers spastic greetings when you arrive home.

And this is just one part of my life right now. I’ll try to get caught up with everyone again soon. In the meantime, sleep tight.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Out the Window

By now, I had hoped that the three storm windows that are currently off the house (the kitchen and the two in my bedroom) would have been safely replaced and that Lawrence and I would be fairly close to having the remaining three windows removed.

But, that was not to be. Mother Nature decided to thunder through, leaving rain in her wake. I knew that rain was in the forecast but had hoped it would stave off until noonish, giving me enough time to take on the windows. So, I postponed with Lawrence.

The good news is that nothing seems to be severe ... yet. That's in the forecast for later. Even so, Mother Nature can do her d*mndest but it won't keep me from trekking over to the church where, once again, they're serving up TACOS!!! Mmmm...

Things are looking up already.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Silent Treatment

I have fallen silent for a week. Trust me when I say that eventually you’ll be glad that I did.

And what a week it’s been. Today, I feel like I should be wearing a shirt that says: “I busted my *ss for two decades and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.”

But more on that at a later date. Meanwhile, here are some other updates.
After more than a week’s absence, Pearl returned home once again last week. She is now safely jammed beneath the carport, carefully tucked between the mother’s myriad outdoor painting projects. (You may recall she was in the body shop getting the hail damage from April’s Easter week storms repaired.)

Thankfully, It would appear that the body shop does an infinitely better job with body work than they do in communicating with their customers. Whatever they did to the hood to remove a single dent, they managed to touch up a few other trouble spots making it look better than ever.

And, it’s now odd to see her trunk lid PRISTINE again. I was kind of getting used to seeing all of the assorted dings and dents, some of which were only revealed when the sun hit them a certain way. Now let’s just hope that Mother Nature is done hurling ice the size of golf balls and beyond for a while.
Ozzie continues to hold his own. The medication though has made him ravenous. He’s ready for his next meal within 10 seconds of completing one. And, it has increased his water intake and output. This means that I am awakened at least once or twice a night. I don’t mind though. It’s better than the every 30-40 minutes when he first started the meds and, at least for right now, he seems comfortable and contented.

We’ll be going to the vet again soon so we’ll see what the diagnostics have to say.
Outdoor projects are progressing at a snail’s pace. It’s frustrating, but they keep moving. Currently, I’m still doing battle with the windows. We have been taking off the storm windows and scraping, painting, caulking/repairing the house windows. A long, tedious process. So far, two of the eight are done with the storm windows back in place. I have three more painted and repaired. They just need a good razor-scraping and cleaning and then those storm windows can go back up.

Then, just three more to go …

Monday, August 8, 2011

Home-grown Terrorists

Terrorist: A person who uses terrorism in the pursuit of political aims.

Terrorism: The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

I don’t know if Vice President Joe Biden called the Teaheads terrorists or not. I guess that all depends on who you choose to believe. It’s immaterial to me. Because if he did, I think he’s right. (That was the theme of this op-ed in the New York Times that I think hit the nail directly on the head!) Sorry folks. Whether Joe Biden called ‘em terrorists are not, I will.

What else can you call being willing to take a nation to the brink of financial ruin if, like a pouty 3-year-old, you don’t get your way and you don’t get your way NOW? Happy about the credit downgrade and continued Dow plunge? The continued shake-up in the volatile world markets?

Pleased with yourselves that EVERYONE could end up paying more for credit cards/mortgages/car loans thanks to your shenanigans?! This could be just the beginning of yet another downward spiral. THANKS SO MUCH!

History has shown us myriad examples of how you cannot negotiate with terrorists. Hmmm. And which group absolutely, positively, wanted to put none of their demands aside? (Clue: It wasn’t the Democrats.)

Sorry, but these people are irresponsible, arrogant hypocrites. One need only see two examples of their fine hypocrisy to get the gist. You couldn’t make this stuff up – and, as it turns out, you don’t have to.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann doesn’t like government and thinks people need to “get off the government teat.” Why the hell doesn’t she become the first example? After all, this former IRS lawyer has never worked anywhere else – and continues to draw a six-figure income, courtesy of you and me. She doesn’t like the stimulus program (but had no problem asking for money for her district), and she, personally, has been the beneficiary of multiple government programs. For instance, A family farm in Wisconsin, in which Bachmann is a partner, received nearly $260,000 in federal farm subsidies. And, before voting to dismantle Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, she made sure first to get a $417,000 home loan.

Apparently, the government can only dole out funds to a select few. I guess as long as Bachmann is included on that short list, she’s OK with it.

Yeah, I want this one as my president. Not.

Then there’s the piece of work that is Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh (not to be confused with the former Eagle and James Gang member). Walsh is quick to tell you that he won’t place another dollar of burden on the backs of his children and grandchildren. Perhaps he ought to take some of the burden that’s already on those kids’ backs and pay some child support! Turns out our Mr. Family Values 2011 is in arrears on those payments by more than $100,000.

Normally, I wouldn’t use the latter point against him. How I feel about someone as a person and as a legislator aren’t always synonymous. (Though in this case, they are.) But … he’s the one who brought his children into the conversation. If he’s that worried about his kids, maybe he should be the first in line to help their futures along. So, he should practice a bit of what he preaches or shut the hell up already.

I guess it does offer some insight into his debt ceiling views. Clearly, the congressman has no issue with walking away from debt. And either he doesn’t understand – or doesn’t care – about the consequences of ignoring financial obligations. In either case, not someone I’m proud to have representing my state.

Now that the infantile antics have been temporarily subdued, maybe we can focus on something really important and that plays a major role in reducing the deficit: JOBS.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Quality Time

Ozzie slept through the night. Nearly six hours of almost uninterrupted sleep. It was a thing of beauty.

Lawrence was supposed to come back today but due to the weather, I wasn’t able to finish the windows. (We’re taking down the storm windows and cleaning, caulking and painting the windows. Two of the eight – except for caulking and painting the OUTSIDE now that the storm windows are back in place – are done. Lawrence took three more down when he was here on Wednesday.)

I canceled with Lawrence since I’d not yet started with the next round of windows nor done anything in the bathroom. And, because we had nasty, airless weather again, dotted with occasional showers.

Technically, I could have worked on the bathroom. I didn’t. Instead, I took care of Ozzie and logged some general quality time. He still has occasional choking fits but they are shorter and there aren’t as many. This morning was kind of bad but it was only intermittent throughout the rest of the day.

He continues to eat well. In fact, the medication has taken his already voracious appetite and made him completely obsessed about when he eats next! It can get annoying , but I’m just grateful that he still can eat.

Assuming that it doesn’t rain all day tomorrow (it was raining when I got up this morning), I may spend a few hours working on the windows. I’m not going to kill myself doing it though.

It’s been a long, stressful few weeks and I worked plenty hard while I was home last week, so a little R&R may be just the ticket!

Learning About Lymphoma

During the past few days, I’ve learned a lot about the lymphatic system. Knowing that poor Ozzie’s is under siege, I’ve set out to see what I can do to ease his plight.

Apparently, the vets have already given up on him – or someone would have bothered to tell me that his homecooked food, which has always been healthy – suddenly has some serious problems for a dog with cancer. It’s not like they don’t know what he eats; they ask each and every time I take him in!

On my onw, I have learned that dairy products (like the cottage cheese he eats) are bad. Luckily, because he has been severely congesteed this week, I had already started backing him off of the cottage cheese. Then I learned that “sweet fruits,” with bananas and pineapple being the primary culprits, “fuel swollen lymph glands.” Oh, great.

I found out that beets are a better alternative as are the “leafy greens.” Watermelon is good, and grapefruit is, too. All of these have been added to Ozzie’s diet. I found out that supplements like fish oil, echinachea and zinc are good, too.
They may have given up. Fine. Let them.

But we haven’t.

Monday, August 1, 2011

All That AND Tacos!

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. The heat. Busy at work, busy at home. Ozzie’s diagnosis.

The end of last week began a stint of little to no sleep. Ozzie’s condition and shifting medications have made him restless and/or frequently needing to pee. That means getting up in the night. Many times.

Wednesday, Thursday and then Friday nights – collectively, I got maybe seven or eight hours sleep. Friday was the worst of these. I went to bed at 12:30. My first “wake-up” from Ozzie was less than 45 minutes later. And it went on every 30-45 minutes after until I finally gave up and got out of bed at 4 a.m. I’d gotten all of 90 minutes sleep, if that.

So when Lawrence arrived Saturday morning, I wasn’t necessarily ready for the normal rote. (We’ve been blessed to have Lawrence return after a loooooong hiatus.) But Lawrence, being Lawrence, managed to fix that quickly.

He managed to knock out one job after another in very short order. One trip to the hardware store and less than four hours later: the kitchen sink had stopped leaking; the hose was once again In working order thanks to a new exterior faucet and the shut-off downstairs was tightened and stopped leaking; the shower had a new porcelain handle (courtesy of the commode) and the commode had a new porcelain handle (courtesy of a new handle kit I had picked up, thinking it might work for the shower). But the biggest plus for the day was the additon of a phone jack.
We’ve lived in this house for 25 years. Before Saturday, it had a total of five phone jacks between upstairs and down. None of them were in my bedroom. I can’t say that now!

So, Saturday was a good day. And I needed a good day so I let it play out. To recap: the return of Lawrence, several small jobs complete in just a few hours, and a phone jack in my room. But then, things got a little bit better.

I was starving. Eating had been a rarity, nearly as much as sleep. I had noticed that the Catholic church by my house was selling tacos. I didn’t get too excited but I was determined to check it out. (The mother and I are taco “snobs” as we don’t do cornmeal.) Much to my delight, they offered fried flour tortillas!!! And they were GOOD.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Tea Party of My Own

WARNING: This is an angry political rant.

I'd love to have my own tea party. Only at my tea party, we would throw the Tea Party into Boston Harbor. (And maybe toss John Boehner and Eric Cantor in behind them?)

Because they all seriously need to go soak their heads. And Grover Norquist? He can kiss my *ss. Not only is he not even an elected official, who the hell died and left him God? He surely does not represent me and I seriously resent that he has the kind of sway that he apparently does over those who do.

I'm glad that all these people have done so well, God bless 'em. But does that mean they don't have to be concerned about anyone else? Nice "Christian" values, those.

Good Lord these people make St. Ronald Reagan, the darling of the real Republican party, a sight for sore eyes! (And this is a man I couldn’t stand. How do you think I feel about this outfit?!) Nick Kristof of the New York Times had a great column last week. In some ways, it was like a “light” version of Jonathan Swift’s 18th century essay “A Modest Proposal” in its acerbic and exaggerated tone.

I am ashamed that our government representatives seriously believe that programs on which the elderly, disabled and infirm depend on for their very survival should be decimated … so that things like tax loopholes on corporate jets can remain open and so we can continue to dole out massive incentives to oil and gas companies who have enjoyed RECORD-SETTING PROFITS the past few years. By all means, throw Grandma under the plane. Make sure you get her right beneath the wheel …

I’m stunned that there is all this focus on making mincemeat of Grandma and making a doormat of armless/legless Johnny. (That, and on reproductive rights. Screw a whole segment of society that's already here, but you must have every fetus, but screw you and it once it’s here.) Weren’t these people supposed to be focused on jobs? (Hey, Boehner, WHERE ARE THE JOBS?!) Apparently not.

No, I don't favor abortion but I DO support someone else's right to make that call for themselves on something that is much too personal. (And these are maneuvers by some of the same people who say that government "over reaches." I think it is a government over reach of the worst kind for its long arm to extend to any woman's ...) Yes, government spending needs to be reined in, but NOT in a way that makes bloodbaths of vital programs. And certainly NOT to the betterment of the 2 percent of the American population who don’t need it.

But clearly, they are after Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Sure, go after the most vulnerable. And they aren’t giving an inch. (If you can’t see where their interests lie, then folks, you have my pity.) They have been offered cuts and their precious lack of tax increases. And still, it’s kill Grandma. And these are some of the same people who created “false” death panel rumors during the Health Care Reform debates. Well, they should know what death panels look like. They’re trying like hell to create REAL ones!

And they better not, not a single damn one of them, say ANYTHING about being a Christian. I have to think that Jesus would have a field day with these folks. Or, maybe they never heard that “what you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

Think on that … as you scrape up whatever’s left of Grandma once these people are finished.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The ‘L’ Word

Sometimes, life really sucks. This is one of those times.

It’s not that I wasn’t aware of the inevitability or that I’m not a realist. It’s just when it comes out into the harsh light of day, some facts beat you over the head with a bat, rabbit punch you in the kidneys and then stab you in the gut.

The ‘L’ word in this case is lymphoma. Ozzie was diagnosed with it last night.

He’s 14. If it wasn’t that, it would be something else. I know this. And yet I feel like my heart has been ripped from my chest with a pitchfork.

Except for some rather excessive swelling in and around his throat, he seems to be his normal little self. In fact, within a few hours of getting home from the vet last night, he vigorously helped me open one of my birthday presents (a pre-midnight surprise and I suspect a pick-me-up courtesy of the mother) and then proceeded to play with the present with the vigor of a puppy (a softball-sized, color-changing ball – something I play with every time we go to Cracker Barrel).

First, we’re going to see if steroids will bring his lymph nodes down any. If not, chemo is another option. But he is 14 and while, according to the vet, dogs do tolerate it relatively well, that’s a bit radical to put him through. Or at least I think it is.

But that’s looking too far ahead.

For right now, I just want him to be as happy and as comfortable as I can make him and enjoy whatever time he has left. He’s had a good long run and I’m grateful for that.

This is just going to be incredibly hard.

All Around Lafayette Park, Part 1

Lafayette Park has had its St. Louis niche clearly carved out for more than 150 years. The neighborhood, of which the 36–acre park is the center, covers several square blocks surrounding it.

It is an awesome mix (if you’re a historic architecture nut like I am) of Victorian, Queen Anne, Greek Revival, Italianate, Mansard, Craftsman and about a dozen other styles from the late 19th century.

The Lafayette Park Subdivision deed restrictions and an Act of the State Legislature protected Lafayette Square from much of the “undesirable types of mixed land-use” like manufacturing or taverns. While this co-existence was the norm in most inner city neighborhoods of the pre-zoning era, Lafayette Square was an early NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) advocate. Kind of ironic, too, considering that bars and specialty pubs are commonplace there and that the boundaries of the neighborhood, extended in 1986, include former brewers, a bed manufacturer, shoemaker and a publishing house.

It may, though, be that historic designation, that haughty pride in ownership, which has made this neighborhood one of the city’s most beautiful and enduring. There are so many gorgeous home, literally hundreds of them, that I couldn’t hope to photograph much less post them all. (And that's probably why the ENTIRE NEIGHBORHOOD is a designated historic site by the National Register of Historic Places.)

I can tell you I was like a kid turned loose in a candy store, my eyes gobbling up one gorgeous home after another.
Benton Place, laid out in 1868, is St. Louis' earliest existing private street. It seems as good a place as any to start. And, the pictures should speak for themselves …

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

And She Sets Sail … Bon Voyage!

I catch glimpses of the news each morning as I walk between my room and the bath, occasionally peering in at the TV in the living room. The Admiral was back in the headlines Tuesday because she was officially moving on.

She wouldn’t be under her own power; a barge would push her to Columbia, Ill., and a waiting scrap heap. She’d already overstayed thanks to rising river levels so workers began stripping away the upper deck weeks ago so she could pass beneath the bridges in her path.

I took an early lunch and headed for the riverfront. I decided to seek a perch atop the garage just off Morgan Street.

It’s hard to see much at ground level except through an occasional opening in a garage wall, but I spied a glint of silver reflecting in the baking hot sun. She’s still there! I hadn’t missed it.

I snapped a few photos and waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.

By 10:45, I decided I could run to a nearby sandwich shop and then resume my perch. That way, I’d at least go back to the office with something to eat!

I was encouraged by movement of the crane, that had been atop the now decimated upper deck, being moved over to the side.

More preparations were under way and her departure seemed imminent. Occasionally, a barge would go by, even though traffic was supposed to be halted. Then, even the Tom Sawyer paddle-wheeler, its decks lined with spectators, floated by.
Shortly after 11, after baking in the sun for about 40 minutes, I knew I had to leave and go back. Begrudgingly, I snapped a few more photos, threw the Admiral a salute and a wave and walked back. Back at the office, I dealt with a few tasks and then checked out a conference room overlooking the river.

I was delighted to find that I could see enough of the Admiral to know when it was moving. Even from my desk, careful craning provided me with a tiny sliver of the hulking boat. Then, she began to move. First, she pulls away from her moorings just opposite the MLK Bridge.
Then, she cruises beneath the historic Eads one final time.

At that point, the boat is extremely close to shore but soon begins to make a wide turn to put it out farther into the Mississippi. I gulp and tear up a bit as I get my initial firsthand look at the devastated upper decks, a place which had been the site of many happy childhood times.

The Admiral begins to straighten her course and then … leaves downtown St. Louis forever. As she glides from view, an era in both downtown’s history and mine ends.

R.I.P. SS Admiral

The Albatross 1907-1937

SS Admiral 1940-2011

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I spent the bulk of Sunday morning working in the yard. I thought that by starting before 8 a.m. I’d beat the bulk of the heat.

Yeah. Right.

It was already 85 degrees by then and the humidity was well over 60 percent. Totally freakin’ airless.

Fortunately, there was an occasional breeze which, if you were in the shade when it blew through, was delicious! The sun was bright and steady. It made for a tough haul in trimming and mowing the yard today. With one short break and a conversation with a neighbor, I still managed to get done by 11. I spent the next 30-45 minutes cleaning everything up and getting ready for a run to the dump.

By the time I got the car loaded, I was drenched and a bit on the exhausted side. I went inside and spent the next 40 minutes cooling down. Finally taking a shower was akin to a religious experience.

I guess though that I’d better get used to it. It’s supposed to be at or near 100 degrees for the next week. YIKES!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Bearcats, Columns and Fountains – Oh, My!

It doesn’t happen often that I get to meet someone that I “know” online. In fact, it has only happened one other time when I had the pleasure of meeting Beth Anne from The Seventh Level of Boredom.

I might have gotten to meet Vicky from Not So SAHM if she hadn’t been doing a virtual fly-by of downtown. But other than that, its been online forums, emails, comments, etc. from my fellow bloggers and Georgers.

But on Friday, I got to meet TWO Georgers! “Scrunchee” lives in the St. Louis area but Mary lives in California. She is visiting family in Illinois, northern Illinois at that, but she drove down to St. Louis for a visit. I met here and Scrunchee at Square One in the Lafayette neighborhood. I hadn’t been in that part of town for a while and what a joy it was.

Our late lunch lasted three hours! And it went by quick. Mary and Scrunchee are both teachers and, as if that wasn’t a challenging enough job, they teach at-risk kids. My hat is truly off to both of them. They are both great gals.

We met at a brew pub called Square One. (I got the distinct feeling that I’d been there before when it was something else but it’s possible it just reminded me of another place.) Despite the fact that it was 90 degrees, we braved the courtyard patio. It turned out to be an amazingly pleasant place, mostly shaded, offering the breeze of two fans and the relaxing sounds and view of a fountain. This is the backdrop of that fountain that was capped off by a rectangular basin about a foot deep.

I’d love to have seen the building that the doorway once graced! Mary and I had Scrunchee (who is camera shy) take our picture in front of it.

The inside had just as many architectural offerings but I didn’t really spend any time inside. I’ll save that for a future visit. Outside in the courtyard though we were under the watchful eyes of a pair of these lion/bear heads.
They reminded me a lot of Louis Sullivan's bearcats so I was naturally smitten with them.

There was also this Romanesque column to enhance the scenery.

Good food. Good folks. Great atmosphere. And a pleasant July day in St. Louis. You can’t really ask for much more than that. And, contented as I was, I certainly didn’t expect it. But, as our party dissolved and we went our separate ways, I was immediately taken with many of the homes on adjacent blocks.

So, guess who went for a walk? And took about 60 photos in 45 minutes. More to come …

Friday, July 15, 2011

Keeping Track of Warranties

I got a letter last week from Maytag informing me that the warranty on the refrigerator we had purchased in 2009 was expiring this week. I knew that couldn’t be right. I distinctly remembered having purchased extended warranties on both the stove and refrigerator last year.

I flipped through my checkbook register and found entries for both a Frigidaire and some off name extended service program. For the off name, I’d paid $159 on June 30, 2010. No WAY that was for one year! (Maybe there are programs that cost that much; I don’t pay that much!) I drug out our trusty dusty home journal book where thankfully I HAD stored the warranty contract I’d received in the mail. (Instead of stowing it in the bill drawer which I would normally do and where it might never be seen again.)

It was definitely for our Maytag refrigerator. And it said the warranty was effective from July 10, 2010, through July 10, 2014! OK. Great. I wasn’t off the beam after all.

What I found out is that even though the mail I got had the Maytag logo on it, it may or may not have really been from Maytag. I pulled one of the letters I’d gotten last year soliciting the protection program I ultimately bought and it looked almost identical to the one I got last week.
(Just a different address and same coverage at cheaper rates.)

What I learned is that both the manufacturer and the retail outlet you buy from (in this case, Home Depot) either provide or contract with warranty service organizations. Apparently, they compete against each other for your warranty dollar.

So, before you purchase an appliance warranty, here’s a couple tips.

  • See if there’s another option available.

  • Know for sure WHICH organization you’re contracting with.

  • Keep any and all paperwork, including the check number or credit card info for your transaction.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Holiday Project

I didn’t see any fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend. I saw lots and lots of bricks though.

That’s because I finally got around to that landscaping project that kept eluding me. Or, more accurately, the first phase of it. This involved taking up about two dozen landscaping timber pieces (which I loathed, hated and despised), chopping them up for disposal, and replacing them at the edge of the concrete slab our shed sits on with brick.

When I started, the area around the slab looked a lot like this. (This is an older photo, pre-pimped shed -- notice the dimple in the back wall -- but you can see how the timbers were used.) The timbers ranged from 3 to 4 feet in length and were stacked two deep.

I started working on Sunday but the on again/off again rain which eventually blew in as a storm around 5 p.m., meant that I barely got the timbers removed and chopped up. In between mini-showers and sunshine on Monday (the Fourth) I was able to get prep work under way AND lay down the short side of bricks.

I think there were originally timbers there when we bought This D*mn House and that these were the replacement models. Like they did everything else, the POs did this in a weird way, too.

Apparently, on the shorter side, they didn’t dig as deeply as on the longer side. This meant that I had to stack two rows of bricks on the shorter side, but three rows on the longer one. And, it meant that I had to stagger them so that I could get the 90-degree intersection of the two sides to meet up.

With some patience to get them as level as I could (which wasn’t all that level in some cases) by digging or filling in with a sand/mortar mix, I finally got them to line up. I still need to go back and mortar the lines a bit, but it all seems to have dried nicely.

I don’t know about you, but I like the bricks a thousand times better than I ever could those stupid landscape timbers!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pool Party!

With all the hot summer days, there has been plenty of activity around our pool. Oh. Haven't I shown you our new pool.? Here it is.
That's Frank. And Jemmy is getting a drink. And in the pool? That's a newcomer. She is a third tag-along duck. (Or maybe it's a he. I think it's a girl.) Since she is the first to actually get IN the pool, which she does multiple times each day, the mother has started calling her Esther Williams.
And so there they are. Frank, Jemmy and Esther. Everyone is being quite well-behaved.
Some other friends even join the crowd, but steering fairly clear of the pool itself.And still, quiet swimming and drinking goes on.

Looks like Frank has decided that it's time to head for home. Out of the pool, Esther! But apparently, that idea doesn't go over too well ...

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Learning About Ducks

Until this week, what I knew about ducks was pretty limited. In fact, I'd say the following pretty much sums up the majority of my prior knowledge:

  • Donald, Daisy, Daffy ... and Howard

  • Quack and AFLAC!

  • Feathers, bills and webbed feet

  • They're are several different varieties.

  • They fly and like water.

  • Ducklings are cute.

Yep. I think that about covers it. But, after Frank and Jemmy arrived in May, I quickly learned the differences between a mallard drake and a hen. Pretty easy to tell. The male is the "pretty" colored one. Females are a drab, mottled brown. Pretty easy indeed. Or so I thought.

I took that photo on May 11. During the next few weeks, I noticed that Frank's colors were becoming less vibrant and that his head was just growing darker. The change was so gradual that I didn't really notice it ... at first. Then I discovered, quite by accident, that Frank was missing a foot. That got me doing side-by-side comparisons of weeks' worth of photos.

Wait ... this isn't even the same duck! In fact, that duck looks suspiciously more like a female.

Except, it really IS the same duck! Notice the little flecks of green/purple on his head and neck. And, at the very end of his neck, see the white stripe? That is what remains of Frank's ultra identifiable feathers. He is now sporting eclipse plumage.

And when does this normally occur with mallard ducks? The process starts in mid- to late June -- after mating season. He won't get his "pretty boy" feathers back until fall when he'll once more begin wooing girls for the spring!

This might also explain what happened to Frank's foot. Because the process renders him at least temporarily flightless, he may not have been able to completely outrun a dog or cat. Or, being grounded, got himself trapped in a fence or pen.

Now this all makes sense! If you can't fly so good, the last thing you want to do is be really easy for a predator to spot. Thus, the drakes turn more of the drab brown colors. Even his bill, once kind of a vibrant yellow-green, is now like algae green. (Females always have a brown or orange bill so that's one way to tell the difference at this phase.)

Did you know this about ducks?! I sure didn't. And I'm geekily fascinated by it. Nature can be down right amazing.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Just A Shell

If this doesn't make you want to weep, then you were never aboard the SS Admiral.

I took this earlier this week during one of my lunchtime walks. I had caught a glimpse of the Admiral one day a few weeks ago when the bus was rerouted over the MLK. I didn't think it was even here anymore because I'd heard they had started tearing her apart back in March or April. She was then to head upriver to Alton for "final disposition." More than a century of history goes with her.

I walked down to the Landing on a whim and found this. Turns out my prediction, made in this post about the Admiral last year, was dead-on: she's headed for the scrap heap. Seems like a waste of a gem of a boat. It's like having part of your childhood thrown into a dump.

I prefer now to always think of her like this, as she was 70 years ago in all her steel-clad glory, just a few years into her regeneration from an old steamer called the Albatross.

The Admiral, c. 1941, University of Missouri Archives

Ladybird Rides Again!

Last Friday, I got a phone call providing me with a five-word, life-altering phrase: "It's NOT the head gasket."

Whew! I was terrified this time last week that Ladybird had taken her last flight. But I'm happy to report that one water pump and several hundred dollars later, she is back on the road! We got her back on Tuesday evening. (Which surprised me; I didn't think I'd see her before THURSDAY.)

I made her feel right at home by promptly loading her up with yard waste and heading for the dump. She was happy to comply. She's a very good girl and is going to get a good scrubbin' down this weekend.

So, life is good again in our driveway. Now, to deal with Pearl's hail damage ... an an airbag-related safety recall. Nice.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A War on Three Fronts

I wrote this column a few weeks ago. I wasn't going to post it, content to leave it as a stress-relieving rant. But after hearing of developments in the President's latest round of "negotiations" (negotiations meaning "I'll lay here and you steam-roller me flat")I'm going to put it out there.

People were worried that this president is "secretly" a Muslim. That wouldn't bother me if he was. I'm worried he's "secretly" a Republican.

The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. – Pres. Barack Obama, inaugural address

We are a nation at war on three fronts. Not in Iraq. Not in Afghanistan. Not in Libya. But right here, within our own boundaries, fighting amongst ourselves. Over class. Over race. Over age. The only thing united about these war fronts is that they are all tethered to the pitiful state of our economy.

The Class War. The gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ has grown at an almost unprecedented rate during the past 30 years. (At the rate things are going, that decline will accelerate as the gap continues to widen.) You’re lucky to be employed. And even if you can find a job after being unemployed, a salary remotely comparable to the one you last had is probably out of the question.

What’s seriously wrong with this picture? In 2008, the top 0.1 percent of earners took in more than 10 percent of personal income in the United States, including capital gains, and the top 1 percent took in more than 20 percent. So, less than 1/10th of 1 percent of working people made 1/10th of all income. In 1975, the top 0.1 percent of earners took in about 2.5 percent of U.S. personal income. (These stats are part of a great Washington Post article examining the widening income gap in America.)

Who owns most of this wealth? Corporate executives.

America wouldn’t be America if it was right to begrudge success. And defenders argue that executives warrant their brain-numbing salaries because business is “bigger and more complex” today and that the compensation is tied to the performance of the companies they lead. Really?

That’s not what the research shows. Consider: Researchers Raghavendra Rau and Huseyin Gulen of Purdue University and Michael J. Cooper of the University of Utah surveyed the performance of 1,500 companies between 1994 and 2006 and found that “lavish CEO compensation may in fact undermine shareholder wealth.” The researchers concluded that “the 10 percent of companies with the most highly paid CEOs earned unusually low returns in both the near- and long-term.”

The Race War. You’d think that more than 145 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, this would be over. But no. And, unfortunately, it’s not just limited to a single race. Aren’t white? You apparently qualify. I’m appalled by the number of people who use the phrase, “Send ‘em back.” Really? Show me your ancestry, pal. Unless it’s 100 percent Native American Indian (the people we stole this country from) then you are a guest, too. Where would you like to be sent back to?

I can’t wait to see how the radical right will respond to the recent report about the birth rate of “non-white” babies now outpacing white babies. Trust me, this is going to be a headline for the anti-abortion movement— if it isn’t already.

There is always some whippin’ boy in American society. While racial profiling is supposed to be illegal, its goes on all the time. And there’s a disproportionate number of people of color in prison. If you don’t have the “right” color of skin, then maybe you don’t worship the “right” way either. It’s a great way to keep all of “sorta haves” and “have nots” pitted against one another, isn’t it?

The Age War. I saw a comment to a story talking about the number of retirees who rely on Social Security as their primary income source. It was from a young kid, bragging about the fact that they had already saved $10,000 toward their retirement and just didn’t understand how these retirees couldn’t have managed to have saved for their retirement. Well, of course, this youngster doesn’t.

He/she didn’t live and work through the 1980s. He/she didn’t LOSE their retirement, after decades of saving, in a single day on Wall Street. He/she has not yet fallen victim to the fact that, during the past three decades, wages have stagnated while the cost of living has continued to spiral skyward.

Again, the economy, pitting us against one another for resources. Retirement. Jobs (if you aren’t old enough to retire). Basic survival.

Right now, kids can’t get summer jobs because they’re being filled by older people who can’t find anything else. There are proposals around the country to abolish child labor laws and to pay students BELOW minimum wage. For those of us under 55 but within 20-30 years of retirement, just who is it that is going to employ us into our 70s? Let’s just do it the way they did it a century ago: work ‘til you drop or slink off into the night to starve to death once you’re shown the door.

So where does it end? And how?

I say it ends here, today, right now. And it ends by getting together as a people. Let’s stop fighting amongst ourselves – and start fighting FOR ourselves …with them! That’s going to mean facing some realities.

· Cutting taxes will neither stimulate growth nor create jobs. It didn’t when Ronald Reagan started it; it won’t today.
· Our Congressmen, who make six-figure incomes, need to stop disrespecting the people who pay those salaries – and begrudging decent wages to people who earn significantly less than they do. How full of yourself you must be to think what you do is so much more valuable than the work of teachers, policemen, firefighters and nurses.
· Politicians don’t care about anything but their careers. If they did, they would be concerned about doing things that are best for all of us as a people – not for their respective parties.

Mr. President … remember that inauguration quote? Mr. Boehner … how about you ask yourself "where are the jobs?"

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Birthday, Eads (and America, too)!

It’s the Fourth of July and the birthday of our nation – Happy Birthday, USA!

During this country’s first century, work was under way on a structure that would span the Mississippi, connecting St. Louis to its neighbors to the immediate east in Illinois. The Eads Bridge was officially dedicated on July 4, 1874.

Here she is. (With the spans of the infinitely newer Martin Luther King Bridge visible in the background.)

Construction on the mile-long bridge, at a cost of $10 million, had started in August 1867. The three-span, ribbed steel, deck arch design was the brainchild of Capt. James B. Eads, a hydraulic river engineer who had built iron clad gunboats for the Union during the Civil War. It would be his first and only bridge Eads was obsessed with the perfect foundation, convinced that the foundations should reach bedrock. This obsession was no doubt encouraged by an 1868 trip to Europe. The result: the Eads Bridge foundation is 136 feet below high water on the east pier, the deepest pneumatic caisson ever constructed.

Quite a feat for the time. Because he was familiar with the depths below the river from recovering sunken warships, Eads knew a lot about diving. But not everything.

During the caisson construction, 14 men died of the bends.

Things got off to a rocky start once consruction finshed, too. While the first train through its tunnel had been adjusted, the body of the train remained a few inches wider, causing it to scrape the sides and assault its passengers with smoke and an unpleasant smell. But that would be the least of its worries.

Initially serving a single railroad, other lines boycotted the new bridge. It created an untenable financial situation, forcing the bridge into receivership and to be auctioned in 1878. In 1889, the Terminal Railroad Association (TRRA) assumed ownership.
The bridge was the first major structure constructed with steel as its primary metal. It had the largest spans of any bridge at the time and in total length it would remain unrivaled until 1932. (In the photo above, from the University of Missouri archives, youngsters aboard the Admiral in 1941 peer out onto the Eads.)

The bridge became a National Historical Landmark in 1964 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places four years later. By the 1970s, it had been displaced as a railroad bridge and the tracks were removed around 1974.

The bridge was closed for more than a decade, starting in the mid-‘90s. When the Eads finally did reopen, my beloved McKinley Bridge was still closed so it was such welcome relief.

A lot of people didn’t know it had reopened so for a long time it was a well-kept secret that made my occasional drives to work a breeze.

Today, the bridge is a throwback to its history, once again carrying both cars and train traffic. This time though the train is the MetroLink, St. Louis’ version of the subway.

And it’s just as beautiful now and I never miss a chance to catch a glimpse of it and marvel at it.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Craigslist: The Summertime Money Maker

I had a busy week and the weekend hasn’t slowed the pace a step. I’ve been trying to work through the heat and it hasn’t been easy. And seriously slowing my progress. So, while I’m out sweating my butt off, here’s a guest post for your perusal. Seems like there's some great ways to make a few extra bucks this summer! Isabella York at Balsam Hill was kind enough to share this post telling how. Read on...

By Isabella York

Craigslist: The Summertime Money Maker

Summer, more often than not, is the time for home improvement projects. With the school year finally over, this period offers the best opportunity to get your teenagers' help with the gardening or even fence repainting (you might have to bribe them with several dollars for this one though!)

In our family, the dry, hot months of summer means cleaning the house and getting out our brushes, power tools and all the other stuff from the garage to make our home feel brand spanking new. As we were getting ready to landscape the front yard just last month, we pulled out a still healthy hedge that lined the front foot path to make room for a small fence. My boy remarked that it would be a good idea to sell it on Craigslist, the open market for anything that you wanted an ad for. After ten minutes of posting on Craigslist, we already had three people interested in buying it! This got me and my husband thinking about other items that may be worth selling on the site, and after looking around the house for more stuff, we came up with this list:

  1. Parts and items from home improvement projects that have not come into fruition. For us in the home improvement hobbyist world, we often come into our garage and find odds and ends, and other items that are part of projects that have failed, succeeded or forgotten. These items are gems to the Craigslist ad world, where people try to find little things they might not necessarily pay for full price out in stores. Upgraded your doors and found the old one lying around? Those are perfect for selling! Just make sure you put the dimensions on right. Cans of spray paint you barely used would also be perfect for do-it-yourselfers wanting good deals. Take note of the stuff you've set aside for projects you don't ever think you're going to get back to, and sell them online. You may even buy new stuff for better, newer projects in the future with the money you make from these!

  2. Spare parts and accessories of a car already sold. If you happen to have spare parts of a car that you've already sold, these could really sell well on the site! We got rid of our 2000 Honda Accord five years ago, but still had some parts lying around. A box of spark plugs, an old caliper, a couple of car mats and an old car cover gone, we made about $100 from car enthusiasts who were on the lookout for cheaper auto parts online. Some of our customers have even asked us to reserve for them any other car accessories that we may find lying in the house in the near future.

  3. Appliances that have zonked out. There are a lot of fixer uppers out there, who love to buy stuff we consider junk, fix it up, and sell it as refurbished items. A few of our old appliances like our microwave, toaster and waffle irons are apparently very easy to fix, and go for quite a bit more than your neighborhood junkyard.

  4. Old furniture.In the process of building your dream home, you are bound to collect a few furniture pieces that warrant a "What was I thinking when I bought that?" a few years later, and kept in the garage until you've found a better place for it. I have seen one woman's design nightmare change into another's dream online. Somehow, old furniture is one of the easiest items to sell on Craigslist, especially for collectors and designers. Just make sure you've cleaned it out and repaired the few rips on upholstery that have accumulated over the years.

  5. Musical instruments. Tried to teach yourself guitar or the drums but realized you were just making noise? Musical instruments are a category of the better selling items on the site, as musicians are always looking out for gear or other items to add to their collections. Even just a drum cymbal or a guitar pickup can be several dollars each so go post it online! If you have no idea how much it goes for, check music forums and ask for advice. They usually give a straight answer on how much these things cost.

With the onset of home improvements, and the cleaning out process that comes with it, you can actually make money on items you may consider junk! So take out those brushes and prepare for a home improvement project that is not only fulfilling design wise, but also in the wallet. Make money of the stuff you've accumulated throughout the years (and during the spurts of your inner DIY-er), and get the funding for bigger and better projects that will last you until the next season!

Isabella York is a dedicated working mother. She works for Balsam Hill, a purveyor of Artificial Christmas Trees in traditional and modern styles, and assorted other Christmas Trees.