Saturday, January 23, 2016

S - N - O - W!

In honor of Winter Storm Jonas and all my friends burdened by Mother Nature's wrath, I thought I'd revisit a story I wrote last year! Even though we have no snow here in the Ozarks, I feel your pain!

Too much experience with snow makes me love and appreciate Arkansas

Winter Storm Nemo
Winter Storm (Photo credit: jdn)
Despite the biting cold temperatures we've been experiencing here in the Natural State this winter, I am so thrilled to be here.

I know the other side of winter--the one currently being experienced by my friends and family--elsewhere in the country. I am hearing reports of road closures, hideously long travel times, blizzard-like conditions, plummeting temperatures, and unending snow-shoveling. The pictures are terrible.

I can relate.

It doesn't seem so long ago that I remember my feet being so cold I could barely feel my toes. I recall more than once, stepping off a curb onto the ice only to have it give way beneath me, plunging my feet into an icy abyss. The freezing cold slush may have only been a couple inches deep, but it was as shocking to my system as being completely submerged into a frozen sea. Just as bad was the feeling when my skin began to thaw. It was accompanied by that annoying intense itching, second only to an infestation of chigger bites.

I remember trying to breathe what little warmth my body possessed into a scarf just to keep my nose from freezing. I remember getting off the train at Union Station only to have to walk to my office across the bridge over the Chicago River, hoping the bitterly cold wind in the aptly-named windy city didn't carry me away or freeze me in place. 

But my worst winter experience was when I was stranded in my car. For nine hours I waited to be rescued, all the while, having  very full bladder, which was the worst part of the entire ordeal.

Toyota Celica GT (TA22) 1972
Toyota Celica 1972 (Photo credit: Toyota UK)
It was April 2, 1975. The day began in the 60's. There were eight days in a row that made it feel like spring would be early that year. I dressed accordingly for work that day.

I lived in Aurora, IL and worked in Downers Grove, IL, western suburbs of Chicago. It was about a 20-mile drive home. It was a crazy day. Seemingly out of the blue, the temperature fell like a rock in the afternoon. It also began to snow, with that wet, heavy, quickly-accumulating snow. It was also very windy, causing white-out conditions.

At the time I had worked at a check-printing plant. I was not alone in thinking we should close early, but the management would have none of that. So, we stayed until 5 p.m. I lived the farthest away.

The snow began to pile up in what would result in the "biggest snow of the 1974-75 snow season that recorded 52.2 inches," according to Chicago Weatherman Tom Skilling.

It wasn't too bad driving, at least for me. I had a Toyota Celica with studded snow tires. It was the last year before they were banned. If I'm not mistaken, I should have already taken them off my car, but just hadn't gotten around to it. I think April 1 was the cut-off date.

Thankfully, I was able to maneuver through the heavy snow, and had relatively little trouble stopping at intersections. I loved those tires.

Then at one point, the traffic just stopped moving. I was in a long line of cars that suddenly were stationary. Fortunately I had gas in the car, and a jacket in the back seat. Most importantly, I had my favorite eight-track tapes with me. There were no cell phones back then. There was no way to get in touch with anyone. So I just listened to my music, wrapped the jacket around my legs, and told myself this wouldn't last very long.

It was starting to get really dark. It started to get cold too, even though the car was running and the heater was on full blast. Finally, some guy appeared on a snowmobile. He stopped at each of the cars, one at a time. When he got to me, he asked if I was alright, if I had any medical conditions. I told him I was fine. He advised me to keep my windows ajar and to turn off the car now and then, so as not to become asphyxiated from carbon monoxide. I asked what was the hold up and how long would we be stuck here. He said two trucks had jack-knifed, one in each direction, unable to climb the incline of a bridge just up ahead. Once they were moved, we could get on our way.

I felt a little better, except that ever since the time I left work, I had to go to the bathroom. It was starting to get serious now. I wondered how much a bladder could hold before bursting.

The wind continued howling and blowing the ever-increasing piles of snow. It was drifting up against my car. I kept opening the door periodically and removing the snow from around it. I realized if I wasn't able to move soon, I'd be really stuck. I observed the people around me. There were two guys in front of me in a pickup; two guys behind me in a car. One by one, guys were getting out of their car and walking toward a billboard just ahead of us. It dawned on me, they were reliving themselves. I wasn't the only one that had to go potty. I thought about traipsing up there myself, but the thought of wading through what was now more than a foot of snow in a short skirt, heels and panty hose was not my idea of a good time. I looked in the back seat for some kind of container. There wasn't any. I was probably more worried about a bathroom than a warming station at this point.

Finally, nine hours into my ordeal, another snowmobiler came by. It was a fireman who said he was going to help me make my way to the fire station, about a quarter of a mile from where we were parked. Our location was also just outside a new shopping center that was in various stages of being built--Fox Valley Center. It was way too far to get to on foot in these conditions. For that matter, so was the fire station, but we were going to try. So we left my car in what I was beginning to think of as its snowy grave. The fireman held me up as I attempted to walk in snow higher than my knees. I'm short--it was very difficult. Without him I couldn't have done it. I clung to him with each step. There were drifts up to my thighs in some places. He helped me navigate them. Finally, we got to the station where there was a bathroom, thank goodness. There was also a phone. I was able to call my roommate and my mother to tell them I was alright. A fire squad ferried several of us to the Sears store. They were already out of food, but had a little coffee left. The store was new and hadn't opened yet, so they didn't have provisions for wayward travelers.

I ended up spending the night at one of the tables in the snack bar at Sears talking with a couple of guys who worked at Fermi-Lab. I think I put my head down and fell asleep for a few hours only to be awakened at dawn by one of the guys who said they were taking us to our cars. When I got there, I noticed I had a flat tire. There was also a local farmer with a front end loader that offered to pull my car out of the snow for a fee. I gave him a few bucks and off I went, flat tire and all. I couldn't wait to go home to my bed. When I got there, I called in to work, telling them I wouldn't be in because I had just gotten home. No sympathy. In fact, they seemed suspicious, as if I was lying. I think they were a little miffed that I wanted to take the day off. I was annoyed, but too tired to think about it. I got regular tires put on the next day and went to work.

This wasn't my only experience being stranded in the snow.

West Lafayette, Indiana
West Lafayette, Indiana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Two years later, when my husband John and I were returning from our honeymoon in Florida, we hit a freak snow storm. It started snowing in Kentucky and by the time we got to Lafayette, Indiana, the traffic was no longer moving. Since we couldn't go any further, and I had been in this play before, I convinced him to turn around like many others were doing. We drove the wrong way on the interstate to get to the last exit where we maneuvered our way into town.

We passed trucks stopped along the way, cars in the ditches, and huge snow drifts that we almost got stuck in ourselves. Finally, we learned that the interstate, I-65, was shut down at West Lafayette. Had we not turned around, we would likely have been stuck in our car. We found a motel with a vacancy and checked in for the night.

The weather was as bad as it could get. It was snowing, blowing, and the temperature hovered around zero. This was way too similar to what I had been through just two years earlier.

Sleeping was out of the question. I don't think either of us had ever been that cold.The wind howled through the night and drove the snow in through the cracks in the walls and windows. There was actually snow inside our room. The heater wasn't great either. We huddled and shivered for hours. Finally, with the light of day, we decided we would do anything to get home. Home was north, but the road was still closed, so we took a different route south, then west, and north again on I-57. We were finally able to make it home after going way out of our way.

The bottom line for me, is, I paid my dues to live in Arkansas. It would be easy to say that I never want to see snow again, but that isn't quite the case. I love the snow, as long as I can stay home and enjoy its beauty. That is what it is all about for me, living in Arkansas. I am drawn to the immense beauty of this place. I love living in a place that only gets a couple inches of snow at a time, it melts quickly, and doesn't happen too often.

I feel sorry for my friends and family, but I wouldn't live up north for anything. I love it here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Petunias in January--love it!

Indoor Petunia
The first day of Spring is less than 60 days from now.

Indoor Petunia 2
While this has been a relatively easy winter, thus far, with temperatures seldom dipping below the freezing mark, that can all change in a heartbeat. 

At of this writing, the temperature here in the Ozarks is a pleasant 38.7ยบ--not too shabby for January.

White begoniaCHMusings: pink begoniaThere have been winter storms all around us. Neighboring states are snow-covered, but we got lucky with a small amount of cold days and a minimum of freezing precipitation. So, where I live, the effects have been minimal. The sun is shining now and any ice out there is melting.

I refuse to let this bother me though. No matter what the weather, I enjoy retreating to my favorite room in the house--our sun porch--which faces south, but also has windows on the east and west. Nothing makes me happier than to see flowers inside when it is cold and often dreary outside.

These petunias were growing in a pot outside this summer. I simply brought it indoors. 
I am also enjoying a few begonias that seem to like the big windows and sun shining through them on the sun porch

These plants were growing outside and blooming up until it got cold. At that time, I dug up, repotted them and brought them inside. 

I've done the same with some of my favorite herbs; basil, sage, thyme, and lemon verbena. 

Some of those are doing better than others, but I can still snip off a few leaves to throw into a pot of soup now and then. 

I even brought in a hearty Serrano pepper plant. For some reason it is doing better indoors than it did outside all last year.  I wouldn't be surprised if it bore peppers before the season is over. At the very least, I will get some very early peppers.

I am also thrilled to have my old favorite standbys--African violets. 

There was a time that I couldn't get an African Violet to live to save my life. For some reason, that is no longer the case. These two have been thriving here for years. I've even been able to propagate them by leaf cuttings. 

CHMusings: African Violet #1CHMusings: African Violet #2

There is nothing that makes winter more pleasant than flowers. With Spring just around the corner, I can't wait to get my hands dirty again. Flowers inside are matched only by flowers outside. C'mon Spring, my favorite time of year.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A day in my life with cats

Kasey at the computer
One of my cats, Kasey, shown left, is sitting atop my computer tower, next to a model of a 747.

I've had that little airplane for years. I was at Chicago's O'Hare Airport when the first 747 landed there in the 1970's. It was a such sight to behold as that humongous plane inched its way toward the glass of the terminal building. I remember thinking the plane was going to come right through that huge window, but it stopped just short.

This little trinket commemorates that event for me, one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. 

Though in the picture, it looks like this plane is taking off, but I'm here to tell you, my little jet is about to crash. 

That is always what happens when little Kasey is around, whether it be near magazines on the coffee table, books on top of a book shelf, or the dining room table piled high with the morning mail. Eventually, it all ends up on the floor. She is like a two-year old that drives their Mother crazy by continually throwing things off their high chair. Here, every surface in our house is Kasey's high chair.

I'm not sure why she has taken to sitting on top of my computer. It must be warm there. Cats love anything that is warm. The other day she was dozing and very ungracefully, fell off. She managed to catch a front claw on the way down, in one of the holes of the cooling vents on the side of the case. As I was trying to free her, I managed to get the computer onto its side with one hand while holding her paw with the other. All the while she let me know she wasn't happy with me, even though I was trying to help her.

I got her to the proper angle to work her claw free. When I did, she ran away with no apology for all the hissing and no appreciable gratitude.

In the meantime, she knocked down everything that was on my desk. The worst part was a basket that contained a year's worth of stuff. There were bills to pay and items to be filed, income tax receipts, and general paperwork that needed attention, as well as some that had already been dealt with but had no place to go as of yet. On the way down the basket took out a CD holder, so about a couple dozen CDs added to the mess.

As I was picking it all up from the floor, I knew I had a pretty hefty task ahead of me. Being the problem solver that I am, I wondered if there was something I could do to prevent this from happening again. The simple solution was to keep my desk clean. Anyone who knows me though, knows that I am organized only in my head. It does not spill onto my desk or other surroundings, try as I might. I am creative; can't do everything. 

I reasoned that it might be a good idea to keep my computer tower on its side. Not only could Kasey not fall off, perhaps she wouldn't even be interested. If I was careful to not cover the vents, perhaps I could put my flat screen monitor on top of it. It isn't very heavy.

I spent the day on my project, making new file folders, putting things in 'their place.' I cleaned and organized my desk, put all my CD's back where they belonged. The floor was now empty. The desk was now clean.

I liked how the computer was now a much smaller footprint on my desk, which left room for all the other stuff I have on it, including four paper weights, a jar of ink for my favorite fountain pen, scratch pads for taking notes, the telephone, a desk lamp, stapler, tape holder, and a jar filled with pens. It really looked nice. 

It didn't take very long though before I realized I had to nix the idea of putting the monitor on top of the computer. The screen was much too high; my neck had to be in an awkward position to see. So, I put the monitor back where it was with the computer to the left of it. I cleaned the screen, polished the PC and scrubbed the keyboard with baby wipes and a tiny brush. It was sparkling clean and cat hair free. Alas, even the keys still worked. 

This morning I realized my computer was running slower than normal. And, the hard drive kept starting and stopping, starting and stopping. I looked up online "can I lay a vertical tower on its side?" The reaction was mixed. I already knew the answer. So, I ended up putting the computer back to where it had been before.

I was a little disappointed that this great fix didn't work. So I took out my frustration by emptying three of the drawers on the left side of my desk. It has seven altogether; three on each side and one in the middle. Each one is jammed full. There weren't enough hours in the day to clean out all the drawers, but I got a really good start. Sadly, I didn't find anything worth noting. Mostly I tossed a bunch of things that related to my former job. I no longer needed business cards of people I'd never call again, so lots of those got tossed. I found a nickle and six pennies. I did find some old pictures and old greeting cards. Mostly all I was hanging onto is now trash.

Kasey hasn't been back since all this began. Although my initial problem of her sitting on top of my computer wasn't solved, since I haven't seen her all day, perhaps getting her claw stuck in a hole taught her a lesson. Or perhaps she just had something else mischievous to do that I haven't yet discovered. At any rate, I had a nice, pleasant afternoon of cleaning. And now, I can even open the drawers without any trouble. 

The bottom line is, I'm sure glad I have cats to help encourage me to clean my work space.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Keeping those names and numbers safe and handy

I'm a little terrified of my computer. 

my computer

It isn't the actual box on my desk that worries me as much as the information that is stored in its memory. Oh, I have the usual backup, but I can't help but wonder if that is enough. 

Last month, my husband John attempted to download the new Windows 10 operating system on his computer. He had a bugger of a time with it, having to spend hours on the phone with tech support. After days of back and forth and long conversations punctuated by longer waiting periods, he finally got his computer up and running. He loved Windows 10 and was thrilled to finally have the headaches behind him. 

It worked flawlessly until one morning when he turned it on. It refused to boot.
my address book 1
He and I tried everything we could think of, including a clean Windows 7 installation, reformatting the hard drive, etc. Nothing worked. Windows tech people told him they could fix it for $99. He hung up on them. 

His computer was strictly personal, which means he lost all his email, photographs, favorite places and bookmarks, software, games, some which he actually paid for, all his passwords, and most of his sanity. He backed up the system, but it didn't work. How many times have we all backed up our computer, with the question in the back of our minds, is this going to fail when I need it the most? Well, he asked that question and sadly, got the answer. Yes, it failed. So, at a time, when we really couldn't afford it, he got a new computer. 

Since then, I've been in better-be-safe-than-sorry mode. With so much information being stored on home computers, how often do we consider the what-ifs? 

I always think of the what-ifs. That is why this week I bought a new address book into which I can write all of the addresses and phone numbers that are stored on my home computer.

my address book 2This back story about John's computer failure isn't the only or even the most important reason I wanted a new address book. Truth is, I just wanted one. I have for some time. John's computer failure was the catalyst that pushed me into acting on it. 

As I set out to buy an address book, I realized how that wasn't as easy these days as it once was. They are not readily available, and they are certainly not cheap. I looked around a bit and finally settled on a book from E-Bay for $10. 
I remember having such a book with all those names and numbers of people and business I knew, close at hand, but I'll be darned if I know whatever happened to it. I haven't seen it in years and I really missed the thing. 

my address book 3I readily admit that I have always enjoyed writing in a new book. I pondered whether I should use a .05 mechanical pencil or my favorite fountain pen. Oh, such difficult decisions! Many years ago John gave me a Cross fountain pen for Christmas. I use it only for special occasions, like Christmas cards or whenever I decide to write in my journal. I had just purchased refills for it and decided that would be my tool of choice. If someone moved or died, I could use white-out or simply cross out the entry. I hated having errors on the pages, so those things used to bother me, but I have grown to like shabby-chic. That is what I think of when I see something look worn, well-used. I expect this book to be just that.

When I was a kid, my favorite time of year was just before the new school year began. There was a kind of exhilaration, first about picking out, and later using clean, blank pages in brand new notebooks, an armful of rainbow color-coded folders, and of course all those brand new pencils and packages of pens. I was especially fond of black ink--don't know why. 

I guess the years haven't changed me much. The trend has carried on into adulthood in the form of stationery and address books. If I had to choose whether to shop for new clothes or new office supplies, the latter would win hands down. The first time I walked into a Staples store, I felt like that was heaven. 

I've spent the better part of today, a gray and rainy day, writing in my new address book while listening to John Lennon songs on Spotify. Today would have been his 75th birthday. Such an interesting connection--the music I listened to as a kid and a brand new address book to write in--the more things change, the more they stay the same.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Jigsaw puzzles, more to me than fitting pieces together

I've been puzzling for most of my life. I find this to be a relaxing and enjoyable activity that I don't do often enough. Yesterday though, I decided it was time to drag a puzzle from under the bed. This is the first one I grabbed, one of the many I have picked up at a garage sale.

If I don't like the photograph of the finished puzzle, I simply won't do it. I seem to be drawn to nature scenes. This one is pretty--rather reminds me of Arkansas in the Fall.

As in the photo at right, this one cost only $.50. Such a bargain for hours of enjoyment. I never know if all the pieces will be there in a used puzzle, but if not, well it only adds to the challenge.

I love a good challenge.

To me, working a puzzle in the quiet of a cloudy day or just before the sun sets on the natural light that is so advantageous, is just about nirvana for me.

Working jigsaw puzzles has taught me many lessons in my life.

I suppose it all started with my father, who was a master puzzler. I remember one night he stayed up all night working on a 5,000-piece puzzle that was the hardest one I'd ever seen. The pieces were tiny and the colors muted. I was little back then, maybe 7 or 8 years old. He was working on it when I went to bed. When I got up the next morning, the puzzle was done. I was pretty impressed. 

Finish what you start

I have always believed in finishing what you start. Perhaps this is where it began. My father had the patience of a saint. I'd like to think I learned that from him too. I don't mind performing tedious tasks. I like the process of accomplishing something, never hurrying just to get it done. 

I have specific disciplines in mind when I put a puzzle together. First, the border pieces must be located--as many as possible. They all get taken out and put into a pile until the four corner pieces are found. Only then do I allow myself to put the border together, at least as much of it as possible. That is the stage pictured above. Most of the border is complete, with only a few pieces missing. 

The next phase is to turn over all the pieces, right side up, and lay them onto the table. That is always the hardest part, because as is evident at my house, there are tiny paws that like to play with puzzle pieces. Ryan has her claws into the pieces and is raising the border off the table. Such a great action shot--who knew? The next step will searching the floor for whatever is missing.

This only adds to the challenge. Let's face it, challenging myself is what this is all about.

Ryan loves puzzles. Her playfulness, along with that of her sisters, may explain why I don't do this very often.

There is always a lot of sleuthing going on when putting a puzzle together

As I was working on this puzzle this morning, I was thinking about other lessons this activity has taught me. It has certainly made me observant. My eyes tend to scour the pieces in the box in search of any and all straight edges. Later, I look for specific colors or shape. Colors of the pieces are so important. Subtle changes in color make all the difference in locating just the right piece. Then there are those seemingly one-of-a-kind shapes that are just a little different than all the others. That aids in finding the pieces too.

Puzzling is meditative. Often times my mind will wander as I look for pieces to fit into the right place. There is no corralling the thoughts that run through my mind, thoughts that range from what I'm going to make for dinner to whether or not jigsaw puzzles have contributed to my love of quilting. The two activities do have some commonality. Of course there is the news of the day that comes and goes and the more deep thoughts about how I wish my father was sitting beside me working his magic on this puzzle.

People my age still do puzzles, evident in senior gatherings, for example. But I wonder how many young people today do them. The world is so fast-paced today, that I doubt young people have the patience for such an activity. They tend to like instant gratification. Putting a puzzle together takes too much time for that.

Puzzling is a nice family activity too. I remember a folding table being set up for days at our house. The whole family would work on it. Sometimes, it was just a matter of walking by and spending a few minutes looking for a few pieces. Other times it was like a magnet in the room that refused to release me.

I hope this activity never gets lost in the shuffle. Puzzling really is so much more than just fitting pieces together.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

hummingbird rests
While I truly love the Fall, one of the saddest parts is that I will miss these beloved hummingbirds as they head out on their long long journey south for the winter. I always miss them.

This little female, (pictured above), was perched on a heart-shaped wrought-iron plant hanger. It is positioned just past the front porch, but still beneath the overhang of the roof, so it is always shaded.

front garden
This seems to be a favorite place 
for the usually frenzied fliers to rest those crazy wings of theirs, which flap a feverish 50 to 200 beats per second.

I love to watch them, whether they are flying, hovering, or just sitting and looking around. They don't generally perch for long, because the more aggressive males will generally chase the females. Often times, they simply take her place. No worries. There are lots of shrubs and trees that offer perfect little twigs on which little hummers like to perch.

back porchA few weeks ago I was sitting on the couch talking on the phone when a hummingbird flew right up to the window, and looked right at me, hovering close to the glass. There used to be a hummingbird feeder in the back of the house, until one of the pesky squirrels I've been plagued with this year, knocked it down, shattering the glass on the rocks below. I hadn't replaced it.

But after this encounter, I took the hint and installed a new feeder there. Before long, it became a regular stop for several hummers.

Hummingbirds are said to be smart, with remarkable memories about their food sources, remembering every flower and ever feeder they have visited. I believe they return every year, so some of them are like old friends. They know at this location, there is always clean, fresh nectar for them.

hummersI plan to enjoy them for as long as I can, while they are still here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Just sittin' for a bit

Sometimes you just need some time to sit and enjoy the view.

That's what happened to me on this gorgeous Tuesday morning. The temperature is perfect, there is a slight breeze--just enough to let the leaves dance as they fall from the trees. Tomorrow is certainly the start of Fall. And, all is well here in the Ozarks.

I had just finished mopping the kitchen floor, so I decided to take a minute to chill on the front porch while the floor dried. I went out to sit for a while, my feet resting comfortably atop a homemade stool.

All of a sudden I looked down and realized I wasn't alone. There was a young opossum drinking out of my cat's water dish. I don't know where it came from or when or how it got here. I must have really been deep in thought because the little critter seemingly just appeared.

I haven't seen many possums in the yard. They rarely have rabies, and they are generally nocturnal, so this one was probably asleep and like the rest of us have experienced, he got up because he was thirsty.

I watched for a short time before I decided to get my camera. I didn't get a picture of him drinking, but he did stick around long enough to pose for a few shots. Then off he went.

possum 1

possum pic 2

Funny, as I watched him walk across the front yard, I had an idea where he was going. We have a pretty large oak tree at the edge of the woods that has a huge hollowed out spot near ground level. I swear, that tree must be a neighborhood all its own. That's where all the raccoons run to and from in the night when I catch them stealing bird food. I've seen a squirrel or two take refuge there as well.

And one time, there was a guinea hen sitting on a branch of that very tree, squawking. I couldn't figure out what the heck it was until I got the binoculars and saw it.

There must be something about that tree.