Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Survived the Earthquake of 10/16/12

Have you ever experienced that shaking of the floor when the washer load is unbalanced and on spin? That's not what happened to me last night. 

What happened was an earthquake.

Now, living in New England, I feel pretty insulated from many things. I used to anyway, but the last few years have been pretty odd.  We don't normally get a lot of hurricanes or tornadoes.  It's just usually too cold.  Hurricanes lose strength when they get over the cold waters of the North Atlantic and except for those freak storms, like in 1938 and 1957, they don't really reach that catastrophic phase. At least, they didn't until that Irene creature tried to drown the state of Vermont last year.

No, the worst thing we deal with is the Nor'easter, which is a bit like a hurricane except it's mostly snow and ice instead of rain.  But even those really deadly blizzards strike in a decadal pattern - 1969, 1978, etc.

We definitely don't get earthquakes. 

So why have I experienced two earthquakes in New England?

The first one was probably twenty years ago.  The epicenter was in Quebec and when my chair began to shake and shiver, my first thought was that the freight train was rolling through.  Of course, I did realize eventually that the trains had not run since I was a small child and besides, they didn't run at night. By the time I opened my mouth to say "earthquake", it was over. It was a little bit like missing it.

So, I should have been prepared last night, should have recognized the nature of that shaking in an instant.  But no, my first thought was that the washing machine was spinning way too hard.  Then I realized it wasn't possible for it to spin that hard, mainly because the washing machine wasn't running at the time.  And again, by the time my brain had settled on earthquake, it was over.

I feel cheated, somehow.  I feel like I would have experienced those 5 or 7 seconds more fully if I had known from the start that it was an earthquake.  I mean, the washing machine spins every day.

The Boy was thrilled. The earthquake was the most exciting thing that has ever happened to him and he wanted more. He kept hoping that we'd get an aftershock, a rumble, a tremor, something or anything that would let him relive the experience.  I almost shared his desire for more but it would have been setting a poor example for me to encourage him in hoping for another possibly destructive act of nature.

But I do want to make him happy.  So tomorrow, just before he wakes up, I will put an unbalanced load in the washer and turn it on spin.  Then I will wake him up, shouting "Earthquake"!  Just think, he'll be the only one at his school who felt it...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Modern Marriages Have Higher Divorce Rates

I read an article today that some may find surprising.  I don't think I do, but maybe for reasons other than you might think.  Wait, I need a disclaimer here:

Disclaimer:  This post will most likely contain opinions that you disagree with, or maybe you will agree with them, but in any case you probably won't admit it.  All of the instances of stereotypes that you think you see, you probably do see, but just because this post may contain some broad generalizations about men, women, life, the universe and housework, doesn't mean that it might not be spot on.

Okay, got that out of the way.

Anyway, these very brave smart researchers in Norway have found that marriages where the housework is shared equally, have a much higher divorce rate - 50% higher, in fact.  Now they have all sorts of explanations for this, including the idea that "modern" women are more comfortable divorcing.  That might sound reasonable, after all, with education and a good job, it might be less worrisome to endure a divorce and strike out on your own.  But on the other hand, aren't they also saying that modern women with a good education are less likely to be successful at marriage and relationships?

They don't say that maybe marriages work best when what is divided equally is responsibility for things that each partner is actually good at.  They don't speculate that maybe people are happier when they know their roles in a relationship and the responsibilities that go along with them.  They can't say those things because that wouldn't be modern.

They certainly won't suggest that men and women may be *gasp* different.

Consider the fact that we often joke about "man-caves", those special spots in the house where men don't worry about the decor, where the creature comforts are everything - those being a large-screen television and beer, mostly. There's a reason they are called caves.  It's a place where only the most rudimentary housekeeping takes place.  That might include picking up a dropped beverage to see if there's any left in the can to drink.  It doesn't include coasters or wiping up spills before they stain.

I know, you're going to say you know women who have carved out their own "caves" in the house.  Have a look at those caves.  Chances are they have books, highly polished tables, coordinated drapes and rugs and a cozy on the teapot.  It's not the same.  A woman's cave is simply a place to go where she gets a few minutes of quiet.  It's not a place to hibernate under a pile of refuse.

Women are just more naturally in tune with their environment.  There are good reasons for that as well as the natural instincts.  No one ever walked into a messy house and immediately thought "wow, I bet her husband doesn't help with the housework".  We all know that people are not that kind.

Let's face it, the main reason that households where housework is shared don't work very well is that wives are usually disappointed with the quality of the work men have done.  We see that it's only half-done or not done the way we like it and we either do it over again or worse, complain about what they've done. Women assume that they've done it badly so they won't be asked to do it ever again, or just to be annoying.

For the man, this effort he's put into his chore is like a gift to his wife.  It says that he loves her, he's trying to help, he's done this wonderful thing. His wife is unappreciative, he gets yelled at anyway.  What's the point?

I don't have an answer for this problem.  The answer may be to train young boys to do housework the right way.  The answer may be for women to be trained to accept any effort, no matter how small, no matter if the dishes are all put away in the wrong cupboards and if the towels are folded the wrong way.  It's unlikely any of this will work.

Perhaps the answer lies in everyone appreciating everyone else, for everything they do and treating each other with mutual respect and love.  Maybe everyone needs to lower their expectations, even the ones they have for themselves.  Trust me ladies, your husbands won't notice or mind if you didn't do the supper dishes before you went to bed or haven't done the laundry today.  They will notice and mind only when there are NO clean dishes and they haven't got any clean socks.  Until it gets that bad, they will just go with the flow.  So, relax, appreciate the fact that they don't care all that much and make it work for you.

Friday, September 28, 2012

One of those days

Today ought to have been Saturday.  Unfortunately, when I woke up, it turned out to be only Friday.  Don't you hate it when that happens?  It's one of those days, already. A day of things that just aren't working out as planned.

It's one of those days when there are at least 15 local shops giving out free coffee for National Coffee Day. Sounds wonderful.  But, as it turns out, I won't be going out at all this morning to collect my 15 free cups.

It's the day that the local paper announced we are in drought conditions, so no outdoor watering of those brown spots starting to show up on your lawn.  However, since the forecast for the next four days is rain, rain, rain and rain, you won't need to water.

I will be going out this afternoon.  Later, when there's no free coffee but lots of rain.

I don't mind rain, really.  It's usually a good excuse to get lots of work done, there's all kinds of atmosphere and lovely drippy sounds all around and coffee tastes better when its warmth and comfort is in sharp contrast to a dreary, raw day.  It would have been even better if it were free, but let's not relive that tragedy again.

Overall, I think it ought to have been Saturday.  Of course, the children would be home if it were Saturday and so I wouldn't have this time to sit here and whine about not getting free coffee.

It's just one of those days.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Harvest Moon - September 29, 2012

There's an old song that goes:

"Shine one, shine on Harvest Moon,
Up in the sky
I ain't had no lovin' since January, February
June or July
Snow time, ain't no time to stay outdoors and spoon
So Shine on Shine on Harvest Moon..."

But do you know what the Harvest Moon actually is?

Of course, the Harvest Moon hasn't always been associated with popular song.  There's a tradition that states the Harvest Moon was important to farmers who used the extra hours of light to harvest more of their crops.

Moonrise is one of those things that comes a bit later every night, except at the time of the Hunter Moon and the Harvest Moon.  The Harvest Moon is that full moon which occurs closest to the Autumnal Equinox.  For several days, the moon will rise at about the same time each evening, right at sunset. This means there is no long period of darkness between sunset and moonrise.

It may be that these fall full moons leave such a lasting impression because they rise so large and luminous and hang low on the horizon.  I think that I associate October full moons with this more, perhaps because there are fewer leaves and my view of the sky is less obstructed.

There's a Harvest Moon coming up this weekend. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the Autumnal Equinox was on September 22.  Therefore, the full moon on September 29-30 is officially the Harvest Moon.  Even if you're not an avid skywatcher, the Harvest Moon is too beautiful to miss.

To my mind, the song is just as good an explanation of why the Harvest Moon is important.  Sure, the farmers are happy to have a bit more light to work in the fields, but harvest is also a harbinger of colder temperatures and the expectation of wintry weather.  So yeah, snow time ain't no time to stay outdoors and spoon, so you'd better get your cuddling in by the Harvest Moon.  

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Uncluttered Life

I've discovered something about myself that explains so much.  In fact, this is something that is universally true, at least as far as I can tell (not having taken world-wide polls or anything and basing my theory completely on personal experience and the entertainment industry).  The balance and distribution of power in the world now makes perfect sense to me.  It's all about feng shui.

Well, not specifically feng shui in the sense of everything being balanced, but certainly as it relates to space, design and decor. It is the difference between a shlub like me, and a highly-effective evil overlord. That difference is clutter.

I have to admit that I am drawn to old, Victorian-style houses.  Large rooms with darkly-stained wood trim and casements.  I would be perfectly happy in a parlor full of overstuffed chairs, velvet throw pillows, tapestries, fringed lamp shades and heavy drapes.  Oh go ahead, throw a huge braided rug in the middle of the floor, I will love it.  These kinds of rooms seem warm and secure, a place for people to feel insulated from the harsh world outside.  There are no sharp edges here, everything is soft, stuffed and covered in velvet.

I have decided that it is just this inclination that keeps me from wielding true power or achieving great status. Just compare this style with that of any famous evil overlord.

Take Dr, Evil, for instance, the super villain and arch-nemesis of Austin Powers.  Dr. Evil doesn't have comfy chairs or natural wooden tables, walls or surfaces.  Everything in his environment is clean, sharp, and utilitarian.  He doesn't have clutter.  In fact, if an underling begins to annoy Dr. Evil, or becomes a bit of clutter in his otherwise smooth-as-clockwork organization, Dr. Evil has no trouble disposing of him.  Even in the disposal of the offensive cluttering human, Dr. Evil doesn't abide mess or extra furniture.  He simply waves a hand and the offending underling's chair drops through the floor into an incinerating fire below.  What could be neater than that? There isn't even anything to throw away or sweep up. No clutter.

But evil overlords don't just exist in the movies.  Some of them are on television.  Take Simon Cowell, for instance.

Okay, so maybe you never thought of Simon Cowell as an evil overlord (or maybe you did), but he certainly meets the criteria.  First, he considers no opinion but his own to be of worth.  He is quick to dispose of people he finds annoying, unworthy, or unproductive in achieving Simon's personal goals. Simon can relegate people to their own personal oblivion with just a wave of his hand.  He holds the ultimate power over their futures. And if you do your research, you will find that Simon Cowell hates clutter.

Simon's house is all clean lines, mostly white furniture, walls, floors, tables, surfaces, etc.  Wherever you look, the house is white.  This isn't a problem for Simon, who says he bathes three times a day.  There is no clutter allowed.  His distaste for clutter has been cited as his main reason for never having children.  Children come with their own lifetime supply of clutter.

I will admit that sometimes I am drawn to these clean, open spaces that are kept an institutional white (hmmm, wonder if that is significant) but the feeling is short-lived.  For one thing, where would I sit?  I'd be afraid of getting the furniture dirty.  That may be the whole idea behind the white furniture without armrests - to keep anyone from feeling too comfortable.  An evil overlord has to keep on his toes.

And so what if evil overlords can demand excessive amounts of money to prevent them from blowing up the world or something equally sinister?  What are they going to spend the money on?  Just some more gadgets that drop their foes through floors into pits full of venomous snakes or something, or maybe invent some other weapon to threaten humanity and hold the world for ransom yet again.  It's a busy life, but a bit lonely.

Overall, I don't think I want to be an evil overlord.  Maybe it would be nice to have one of those uncluttered evil lairs for when you want to invite people over. Clean people, that is. People who won't track in clutter.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Flight of the Bumblebee

Today is a grey day, cool but not cold. Cloudy but no rain in sight. It's good weather if you need to work on clearing away brush or for doing some outside work on your house. I know this because my neighbor on one side is clearing away brush, and the neighbor on the other side is doing some work on the outside of his house.

It's not such a good day if you're a bumblebee, though. It's late September and pickings are slim. I have one pot of brave marigolds that keep pushing out blooms despite impending Autumn. Marigolds tend to be overlooked in warmer months, when there are fields of wildflowers, roses, rhododendrons and sweet petunias festooning every deck, footpath and window box. Marigolds smell funny and obviously their petals are not highly prized.

I know that Summer is over because the bumblebees are visiting the marigolds.  I know it's nearly Fall because these bumblebees are so desperate, they think about landing in my yellow hair, confused by it residing above a tender spring-green shirt. It's fall and bees are feeling desperate. They are also not very smart. Or rather, they are selectively smart.  A bumblebee is like a supercomputer that has only one software program installed. The bumblebee can find nectar, return to the nest and convey the exact location of said nectar by doing this little buzzing dance in front of his bee friends, which their little programmed brains can translate into a flight plan. But they can't figure out that I am not a flower.

Early Spring is equally dangerous as bees get all excited by warm weather but find few plants in bloom. In April, these bumblebees were completely fooled by The Boy's bright yellow remote control Mustang as it moved back and forth across the porch. They hovered over it, and followed it as he sent it streaking down the driveway. Again, the bumblebee's internal programming completely failed him.  Either he thought the car was a huge, yellow flower or he thought it was the Supreme Leader of all Bumblebees and was trying to follow its instructions. Hey, it's possible. I saw it in the Transformers movie.

The best thing about Autumn, of course, is that soon all insects - the dumb ones, the intelligent ones and the dangerous ones - will all be going into winter hibernation, leaving me free to sit on the deck and enjoy the crisp air and the coming foliage.

Today is a cool day, cloudy and grey. The kind of day that is counting down the last few remaining moments of Summer.  It's good weather if you're a little weary of being followed by bumblebees.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Civic Duty - Making my trash quota

Tomorrow is trash day. I was getting the trash ready for The Boy to take out to the street when an inner rant came bubbling to the surface. I was sorting my recyclables, which means breaking down all those boxes that I have been carelessly tossing into the bin all week. Not my favorite task, but one I make necessary by my laziness and procrastination.

Actually, the rant had been fomenting in the back of my brain since earlier today when I was peeling carrots and potatoes.  The reason for this will become clear.

See, the fascist environmentally-conscious town government has decreed that they will collect recyclables on a weekly basis, rather than the previous schedule of every other week. If your trash bin is unaccompanied by the requisite recycle bin, they will leave your trash at the curb and drive on by. I really cannot afford to keep my trash an extra week, they've already limited me to one trash barrel,  but I don't always have much for the recycling bin.  The problem then becomes finding enough things to throw in the recycle bin to convince them I really tried.  Do you realize how difficult that can be?

For instance, if you make real mashed potatoes out of real potatoes, there is no empty cardboard box  to flatten and recycle. You only get that if you buy those dehydrated potato flakes. If you buy whole carrots that just came out of the ground, then there's no can to toss in the bin.  Vegetable peelings are not recyclable except as compost.  They won't fill the bin.

So basically, if you want them to take your trash, you've got to buy more processed and packaged foods. The kinds of food the government keeps telling us are bad for us, the ones they say are making us obese.  But we've got to buy them and eat them, because we owe it to the environment to recycle all those boxes and cans.

And we've got to use more water and more energy to heat that water so we can wash those cans out.  And since we've got to keep the paper and cardboard separate from the plastics and glass and cans, we've got to ask for paper sacks at the grocery store so we'll have them available to pack our recyclable paper goods in. We've got to cut more trees down to make those paper sacks if we want to recycle and save those trees.

Maybe I am the only one who sees this as a vicious circle.  Maybe, but I don't think so. When the town announced the more frequent recycling, they expressed hope that the additional money from selling the recycling material weekly might make it less expensive to recycle in the first place, something that costs them more to do than they get out of it. Our tax dollars at work - paying more people to drive more trucks using more gas, expelling more carbon so they can pick up more recyclable goods that aren't worth very much so they can lose money on the deal.

And, for our part, we've all got to use more energy, waste more water, buy more fattening processed foods and cut down more forests to provide enough paper bags to put the recyclables in.

I think the Earth was better off before they started trying to save it.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Watch Out for the Gap

I was looking over a site that estimates your retirement income needs as opposed to the actual income you will end up with.  They say you need about 60% of your working income in order to be able to afford continuing to live after you've reached that certain age.  According to this site, there's a wee bit of a gap between my preparations and what they consider to be the necessary reality.  They estimate that gap to be $1.3 million.

I thought about that for a while and at first it seemed an insurmountable chasm between my income and my estimated expenses in my dotage.  But after considering a few things, I realized they are probably estimating for someone who is used to enjoying a certain lifestyle.  I can honestly say I haven't enjoyed a lifestyle since the children were born.

They probably figured reasonable housing expenses into that amount.  I don't require reasonable housing.  Not at all.  In fact, I have lived in more unreasonable housing than anyone could imagine.  And I don't mind that most of my residences have had little peculiarities and imperfections.  If they were perfect, they'd cost a lot more. For instance, I don't think I've ever had an apartment with a bathroom that was heated. It changes your whole attitude about that hot shower when you step out of the tub onto icy ceramic tile in the middle of January.  So I think I can shave a little off the gap based on my ability to be uncomfortable.

I am sure they expect me to require entertainment - going out to dinner, going to the theatre or the movies or even taking vacations.  I don't.  I need never leave the house, as long as we have an internet connection and some food. The gap narrows even more.

Transportation expenses - don't have any.  If you don't have a car, you don't have to buy gas, and let's face it, that's the expensive part.  It used to be that insurance was the most expensive part of maintaining a vehicle, now it is supplying the vehicle with enough fuel to get across town on a regular basis.  Well, I am shaving all of those skyrocketing gas prices right off that $1.3 million.

Alright, so I still have a gap and it's still probably in the hundreds of thousands.  But how much do I really care?  I think that most people these days are finding it's hard to get by, hard to pay the bills, hard to keep up a mortgage or car payment and hard to fund an enjoyable lifestyle.  I am not really any worse off than they are.  In fact, I might be a little bit better off.  After all, one day The Boy will be grown and working and perhaps he will take pity on his aging mother and support me.  If not, maybe he'll put me in a home.  Either way, I am not going to have to worry that much.

And in the end, it's not been worry that's helped me through the years, it's been prayer.  God hasn't forsaken me and He's always provided.  I think He likes to fill in the gaps for us.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Salt in Coffee? It really works.

Coffee is an essential part of life.  It's also a fairly expensive part of life.  That's why, when operating under an extreme food budget, it's necessary to find this essential at the lowest price possible.  Occasionally, I splurge and have one pound of extravagantly good coffee.  More often, I am buying what is on sale, or worse, what can be had the cheapest.  This last shopping trip, I ended up with some Brazilian espresso that is so dark and bitter, you could unclog drains with it.

So, I decided to try a suggestion once made to me many years ago.
I added a little salt. A friend told me that salt makes coffee less bitter and more flavorful, but was this anecdotal brewing tip really true?

Surprisingly, it is.  And there's a good scientific reason for it.  The  sodium (Na ion) interferes with the transduction mechanism of the bitter flavor - whatever that means.  And espresso is particularly bitter.  Percolated coffee can also be more bitter because it is brewed with water near its boiling point.  In fact, the hotter the water in the brewing process, the greater the extraction and the more bitter the coffee will be.  Just imagine the coffee made out on the trail in the Old West. They boiled it in a pan right over the fire. Wow.  Those cowboys were made of tougher stuff than I if they could drink that coffee.  I wonder if Wishbone put a pinch of salt in the coffee to make it palatable for Rowdy Yates and the rest of the Rawhide crew?

So, I added something like a pinch of salt to the coffee grounds before brewing (I haven't found an exact measurement requirement).  It was really more like a shake or two of the salt shaker.  How did it taste?  Well, that's a good question.

It does neutralize the bitterness - but, as bitterness is an integral part of the taste of coffee, is that a good thing?  It's hard to say.  I am not sure it tastes exactly like coffee anymore, but not exactly unlike coffee.  It's smooth and it's hot and it's brown and it tastes fine with the all-important caffeine still intact.  But, without the bitterness, something is missing. Of course, I started with some cheap and nearly undrinkable coffee, maybe bitter was its only flavor?

I am going to experiment with varying amounts of salt per pot of coffee.  It may be that one needs just enough salt to neutralize the excess bitterness, but not enough to remove the bitterness entirely.

In any case, it does work.  Salt in the coffee will make the coffee less bitter and that's a good thing if you dislike the bitter taste of the brew or if, like me, you bought cheap, disgusting coffee.  Give it a try.  Let me know if you discover the exact proportion of salt to coffee to produce the perfect cuppa. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

School Days - The Agony and the Whatever

Today was the first day of school.  Well, technically it is still the first day of school since they will be there a couple of hours more.  Time does fly, or at least, it walks briskly.

When it comes to things like the first day of school, I have two very different children with two very different approaches.  The Boy nervously frets, sets out his first day clothes at least a week in advance and has his backpack already stuffed full of all the important items on his supply list.  The Girl finally took her school supplies out of the plastic store bag  just ten minutes before she left the house, quickly transferring them into her backpack while finally emptying the odd and forgotten items that have been sitting in it all summer.  She pulled her first day outfit out of the clean clothes basket this morning.

As The Boy faced the day with trepidation and worries about a new year and new teachers and a new locker and new everything, I am tempted to wish he could adopt the same carefree spirit as his sister does.  But only slightly tempted.

Because being completely carefree, she is also worry-free.  She is worry-free in situations where a mother would like her to worry more, or even just a little.  Like crossing streets, talking to strangers, following the mailman (she actually did that when she was younger).  She's ebullient and fun-loving and without fear.

So as heart-wrenching it is to see The Boy struggling with his myriad worries, it is hard not to wish his sister could borrow just a few of them.  His emotional load would be lighter, and so would mine.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Ranting about shower curtains for no particular reason

I was at a family member's house for a nice holiday cookout over the Labor Day weekend.  I was enjoying myself until I had occasion to visit her bathroom.  Here, I discovered a problem that is becoming more and more widespread.  Shower curtains. Her shower curtain was too long.

It's been years since I lived in a house or apartment that had a proper curtain rod.  When I was growing up, curtain rods were fixtures, seriously and securely affixed to the wall, through the tile, with strong-looking screws.  They were attached at the perfect height.  Shower curtain liners hung well inside the tub, without touching the bottom of the tub and the curtain never draped its hem along the floor.

But nowadays most tubs are being replaced with those tub kits that have the wraparound walls to match. Above that is painted, or papered wall, not tile.  These tub forms are too slippery to hold an extension rod - you know, the kind with springs inside that can be adjusted in length to fit the space.  They often won't stay in place on the wall, either.  So, the only secure place for the rod is resting on the top of the tub form walls.  This makes your shower curtain several inches too long.

I have had to cut plastic shower curtains to avoid tripping over them in the tub.  But with a nice, fabric curtain, you'd have to hem it.  Shower curtains don't come in different lengths, they are all made for the tubs and rods of yesteryear.

Would it be that much trouble to make curtains in two lengths?  Would it be wrong to tile bathrooms again?  Let's face it, most new bathrooms are designed with tile only on the floor.  Tile is apparently passé.

And even though a shower curtain that wraps around your feet while you try to shower creates a hazardous, albeit nicely decorative, situation ( remember, most home accidents happen in the bathroom), no one except me will bother to whine and complain about this situation.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Air Conditioning

I consider air conditioning to be one of man’s greatest inventions. Having mastered the climate by inventing ways of heating cold places and making them habitable, man set about cooling the hot places and making them comfortable. And comfort is important.

Even here in the northeast, we’ve had some summer heat that would have been unbearable if I didn’t have AC in the house. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived summer without it.  But our summer heat is nothing compared to other parts of the country.  If you live in Arizona, for example, you know the necessity of effective air conditioning and how impossible life would be without it.

That’s why homes and businesses in Arizona are all air conditioned and why they all, at times, will need service.  Homeowners and businesses in Arizona can contact Sexton Heating and Air Conditioning when they need service.  Sexton has been serving the Valley of the Sun since 1960, and that’s a record in Phoenix air conditioning service.  Sexton can diagnose the problem with your AC and has technicians who are expert in repair.  They even offer emergency services in case your air conditioning fails after normal business hours. Summer in Phoenix is no time to have troubles with your air conditioning system, whether it’s at home or at your place of business.  Luckily, there’s a company with the experience to help you solve all your AC and heating problems.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored post.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via a cash payment, gift, or something else of value to write it. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally or believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Birds Say it's Time for Apple Pie

Today was the first day in many weeks where I could cool the house just by throwing open the right windows and creating a cross-breeze through the house.  A lovely, brisk current that should have made everyone feel refreshed and alive.

Instead, it created a feeling of impending doom for the younger members of the house.  Summer is indeed over, at least it's no longer in charge.  The cooler weather may not last for days, and warmer temperatures may return for a bit, but only for a bit.  The signs are all there.  It's time for school, and even the trees and the wind know it.

Some little part of me that still remembers the excitement, fear and sheer stress of these last few days of freedom becoming ten months of unrelenting education, felt sympathy with the cool wind that rustled the overgrown weeds that hang over the gravel pedestrian trail and carried hopeful seeds suspended from their white feathery parachutes. It's all necessary, but it happened so suddenly. 

Several dozen sparrows gathered in the brush and bushy undergrowth, until the sound of feet crunching through the gravel alerted them.  A flurry of brown wings beat the air and in a corporate flutter, they emerged to move further on.  Breeding done, they've gathered for a communal meeting, to discuss plans and destinations.  A small flock of geese flew over, calling attention to themselves with deep-throated honks. The great push is on to escape the cold that has not yet manifested but will soon be upon us.  It makes me think of sweaters and warm socks.

And apple pie.  That's when Autumn will really arrive.  When the wind blows cold and dry, the leaves chase each other as they tumble to the ground and the house smells of warm cinnamon and nutmeg.

I am looking forward to this, now.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Once in a Blue Moon - August 2012

A Blue Moon isn't actually blue, but doesn't this look pretty?
Tonight there will be a Blue Moon.  It's the last blue moon until 2015, or there's another one in 2013.  And if you look, you'll notice the moon isn't colored blue at all. Confused? 
If the answer to your question is "once in a blue moon" you probably figure that it's going to be a long, long wait.  But depending on the definition of "blue moon" you subscribe to, they might be more common than you imagined. One definition of "blue moon" is the second full moon in any month.  We had a full moon on August 1, and now we will have a second one on August 31, thus making tonight's full moon "blue".  The next blue moon of this kind will be in July of 2015.

But there is another definition of "blue moon" and that is when there are four full moons in a season.  Each season normally has three full moons, but if there are four full moons in one season, the third full moon is called the "blue moon".  I have no idea why the third moon is blue and not the fourth, sometimes these Old Farmers who make up Almanacs don't make a lot of sense.  This type of blue moon will occur next year, in August of 2013.

So, if you are waiting for a blue moon to see your dreams come true, don't despair.  They happen all the time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Going Wild

Summer always sneaks up on me.  I always have big plans for pots of tomatoes or flowering beds, but they never come to fruition (no pun intended).  This year, I just barely managed to get a few flowers potted in time.  Next year, I always say.

My big plans for next year are slightly different than in past years.  We have a lovely stretch of wild embankment that borders the property.  The wildflowers and weeds grow unmolested.  But I think it needs more color.

When my petunias ceased flowering, I noticed little black dots on the leaves.  After some searching on the net, I discovered that these were, in fact, seeds. I then set about collecting all the seed pods (once I had found out what they looked like) and have a baggie full of petunia seeds.  I plan on finding some other seeds of flowers that grow without much encouragement, and when spring has warmed the ground enough, I will send The Boy to walk along the trail, sprinkling seeds as he goes.

I should probably just congratulate myself on learning what petunia seeds look like and how to collect them.  As I said, I make big plans and very little ever comes of them. But if I were to actually put my plan into action, imagine the lovely show of color we'd have throughout the summer months!

In reality, I am just at odds with the town's parks department which insists on widening the pedestrian trail by slicing through the wildflowers and weeds until there's just a strip of them left on either side.  There's so little nature left anywhere but why not let it grow undisturbed along a nature trail? The brush and undergrowth are home to rabbits and other small wildlife, birds, butterflies... the list goes on.

So let them come to mow down what they can reach with their machines of destruction.  I will simply increase the plant life on the sloping bank that they cannot reach. Nature must be allowed to grow wild, and if necessary, it should be encouraged to grow wilder.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

More Crimes of Fashion

For years now, women have been dismayed with the fashion industry and the publishers of womens' magazines for their unrealistic portrayal of female beauty.  While waif-like women with shoulders like coat hangers who look more like stick figures draped in fabric (and not much of that) than women decorated the pages of every periodical aimed at womens' interests, young girls were dying to look like these underfed models and mature women were made to feel invisible in a world meant for air-brushed anorexics.  But reality never imitated art as obesity became more of a problem.  Meanwhile stricter standards that regulated just how skinny models were allowed to be have been put in place in many cities that host fashion show events.

You won't be surprised to discover that fashion photographers are still air-brushing models.  But you may be surprised why they are doing it.  They're adding fat.

Yes, of course. You see, curvy is back in style.  But they haven't got many curvy models, they've spent the last 20 years or more convincing these models that they must starve themselves to ultra-thinness in order to get work.  So, now they have to add curves.

I am glad to find that the fashion industry has decided to accept the fact that real women have breasts and hips.  I will be pleased if they stop encouraging young women to endanger their health just so they can fit some impossible ideal. 

But I will be more pleased when the fashion industry recognizes that women come in lots of shapes and sizes.  They're not all skinny, they're not all curvy.  It's okay to be stick thin if that's your body type, but it's not healthy to diet your way underweight just to be stick thin.  It's okay to be curvy if that's your body type, but it's not necessary to obsess over your imagined shortcomings to the point of having dangerous procedures.

It's okay to be who you are, really.

Fox News: Fashion magazines now airbrushing models to make them look ... fatter?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

With just a couple of weeks to go, the countdown to the first day of school has started. It's the day all mothers look forward to, the day they bustle the children off to school.  The Girl asked me why I was so excited about it, what do I get out of it?

 "Six hours a day, all to myself", I replied.

Honestly, I do understand how they feel.  I remember being a kid and how those last few days of summer crept up so quickly, just as you were settling into a nice leisurely summer routine.  In fact, even as an adult I have noticed the differences that signal Autumn is on the way, despite the continued hot and sunny days.

Even though this transitional time from carefree pursuits to tightly scheduled days and homework can be downright depressing for kids, the beginning of school is an exciting time as well.  I remember the thrill of new pencils and pens, the crisp, clean sheets of notebooks as yet unsullied by note-taking and doodling. There's an undercurrent of excitement in packing up the schoolbags, deciding on the exact right outfit for the first day, and hoping that this year will be better than last. For there's always that rush of organization and good intentions at the beginning of September, even if it starts to fade by November.

I know that I will miss the full house for a few days.  I will worry about how they are adjusting to new classes and teachers.  I will be waiting by the door when they come home.

But I will also be enjoying six hours a day, all to myself. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Never Do a Dish Before its Time

My mother was a stickler when it came to housework - she liked to make sure her children were doing a good job of it.

Whenever my siblings get together these days, each of us tries to outdo the others with our stories of waxing floors, doing laundry and being the indentured servants working our way to adulthood and freedom.  And although I often join in with exclamations of "yeah but I had to do three days' worth of dishes every morning!", I am actually grateful to my mother for being so gracious as to delegate these menial household chores. 

I am grateful, foremost, because I learned a lot. Unlike an entire generation that came after me, I know how to wash dishes by hand.  I still hate it, and I still make the job last far too long by instituting a strict and unchangeable algorithm for dish washing designed to ensure the cleanliness and greaselessness of every glass, pan and lowly spoon. I realize also why I never actually finished doing dishes then and why I still almost never have them completely done.  I hate doing the silverware but even more, I hate pots and pans.  I usually get as far as the silverware these days, but I always have a few pots left over to "soak" until a bit later.  Then later, when there are more dishes to do, I take the soaking pots out of the sink and start washing the dishes in order again - plates, bowls, glasses, silverware - until it's time to put the pots back into soak.

I get further these days because, well, we use many fewer dishes in my small family than we did in my mother's house with five children.  And I don't "scald" the dishes anymore (although I sometimes entertain the thought).  Scalding the dishes was my mother's way of eradicating any nasty germs that might have survived the washing and rinsing process.  She'd heat a kettle full of water on the stove until it was boiling and pour it over the newly washed dishes.  My mother was always good at adding one step to any already too long task.

I have to get back to the kitchen, now.  I have the pot from yesterday's beef stew soaking in the sink.  Oh, I am not going to wash it just yet.  I am going to get a cup of coffee.  We'll just let that pot soak a wee bit longer.  It may be ready to wash tomorrow.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Insect Encounters of the Third Kind

On warm summer evenings we have taken to sitting outside on the rear porch, enjoying whatever cool air and breeze may be available.  There's a remarkable difference between August nights and those of June and July.  Of course, darkness falls much earlier but other things change, imperceptibly at first, then markedly.  I am always amazed at how much I didn't know about the wild world of nature just beyond my back door back in the days when I never had time to just sit and watch and listen.

I noticed that the fireflies have gone.  For weeks we watched their flashy dances in the brush and over the lawn.  Taking their place of evening prominence is the less flashy - indeed invisible - but much louder, cricket population.  Their nightly symphonies, the desperate calling of one to another, are often background noise, barely noticed.  But once noticed, the cacophony becomes an insistent ringing in the ears.

We sit in the dark, enjoying the solitude and the cover of night.  However, on evenings when someone is expected home, the porch light is switched on.  I don't care for having the light on.  For one thing, I don't enjoy being in the spotlight and have no wish to attract attention to myself.  Worse, there are the bugs.  The poor moths, completely befuddled by this infernal invention of Edison, flutter about the light, asking directions, trying to navigate by a moon that has suddenly grown exceedingly large and fallen from the sky onto my porch.  The beetles fling themselves against the siding, making a pinging noise and then fall all around and in my hair.  At some point, we must navigate our way inside through the door without allowing our new-found friends to accompany us.

It's not unusual to hear the occasional buzzing of a mosquito, taking a reconnaissance flight round my ear, looking for a succulent spot to sink her proboscis into.  Buzzing I can handle.  But  the unearthly sound that met my ear last night still makes me shudder.

I was slipping through the open door when a terrible whir and screech sounded by my right ear.  I yelled calmly asked "What's that?" while waving a useless hand by my head, having no idea what I was trying to swat.

I cannot describe this sound.  It was like no other bug that was ever heard to whizz by my head.  It was a high-pitched sound that looped and paused and swept up and down some musical insect scale.  It was like a tiny voice crying out some great secret that I must be told before some unknown and menacing fate befell me.

Then I realized what it sounded like.

The Fly.

Not the Jeff Goldblum fly.  Not the Brundlefly that retained Jeff's voice and form  and Geena Davis as a girlfriend, while growing bristly hairs and spitting on its food.

 No, the other fly.

The fly with the tiny human head and the tiny human voice, squealing "Help me!, Help me!".

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

This is an American Goldfinch.

I know this only because I googled for yellow birds in New England.  I had never seen one before. However, for the past few days I have been seeing some bright yellow bird out of the corner of my eye.  I could never quite get a good look at it as it flitted by the house or swooped into the bushes.  Eventually, I decided that I was seeing a light-colored sparrow and the sun was playing tricks on my eyes.  Until today, however, when it landed on a fence post right next door.  I got a good look and then went to the computer to look it up.  To my surprise, these birds are considered quite common here and yet I have never seen one before in my life. 

Apparently, these birds often winter here in the cold north.  I am going to keep a lookout for them this winter and perhaps it will be a good time to start putting out birdseed.  This new location of ours has proved a wonderful spot for birdwatching.

More on the American Goldfinch:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Nature Visits Suburbia

In addition to the many birds and squirrels in my little neighborhood, we seem to have a family of bunnies who scour my back yard regularly, looking for food. On occasion, I have sent The Boy outside with some tasty crumbs of stale bread or the leavings in the cereal box which, while being too meager to fill a bowl for breakfast, is more than enough to satisfy the hunger of the occasional robin, tree squirrel or roving rabbit. My only concern for the bunnies is the pair of hawks that seemed to have moved into the area. They look quite majestic, soaring overhead seemingly without effort as they ride the air currents. The larger one looked slightly less majestic the day it perched on the nearby utility pole, tearing some hapless prey apart.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Time is For the Birds

I keep hearing the parakeet singing. The only problem is that I don't have a parakeet. My daughter bought me a bird clock as a punishment present.  Every hour, on the hour, it plays a different bird call.  At first, every time it chirped out a tune, I started, thinking there was a bird in the house.  Now, except for the Mourning Dove, I usually find a lazy thought about the parakeet floating through my mind until it hits the brain cell that retains the information that I haven't owned a parakeet in years.  Then, the brain cell that remembers the clock kicks in.

But the main effect of this clock has been to create a completely new and strange interest in birds and birdwatching.  Suddenly, bird songs I have heard in the backyard since I was a child have meaning to me.  I know which bird is making them.  And moreover, I hear birds that I never see, birds I didn't even realize lived in my backyard.

Perhaps it is old age.  I never had time before to sit on the deck and listen to birds or note the colors and plumage of birds or even think about identifying them.  And the clock doesn't scare me once an hour the way it did at first.

Except the Mourning Dove, that's still just too spooky.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Fresh Start

It's been a while since I have been able to blog. Part of that has to do with the joys of raising children. Since I have two, I guess I was just over-joyed for a while.

There are times in life when our normal routines and schedules change because of other changes over which we have no control. It's a question of learning to adapt to changes and finding ways to stay fulfilled and happy regardless of how these changes disrupt our comfortable existences. Personally, I hate change and I don't like the effort required to adapt. So, having taken quite a long time to adjust, I have decided its time to start working things like blogging back into my schedule.

I don't know if that's a warning or a promise.