Saturday, March 7, 2020

Could this be Spring?

The temperatures have warmed to more than 70ยบ during the daylight hours. The sky is the most beautiful shade of blue. Even the sky blue crayon can’t capture this color. It is indescribable. 

Upon waking, I recognize a new tone in the way the birds sing. It is different than it was just a few weeks ago. The buds on the Magnolia tree in the front yard have not just begun to swell, but to show color. And in some cases, they are in various phases of flower. As each day warms, there are more flowers. Soon, the tree will be in all its glory. It rarely lasts long. There is usually a heavy rain, windy day, or killing frost that stifles the spectacle,
but seeing this tree in bloom is a joy to behold.

Pear trees throughout the area now show signs of flowering as well. Soon there will be Redbuds, Dogwoods, and a variety of beautiful fruit trees showing off their colors. Daffodils are beginning to show up, bringing the color of sunshine to the muted landscape. This time of year is well worth the wait through a long and often times hard winter. We were quite fortunate this year. Here in my part of the Ozarks, there was no measurable snowfall. In fact, I only saw snow flurries once or twice. The wood stove barely got warmed up.

Outdoor changes are not the only ones taking place. I’ve noticed my own internal clock is adjusting. I feel more energy, a need to tidy things around the house, a desire to rearrange furniture and clean in places that haven’t been seen in a year. It is almost like I am programmed to notice things I hadn’t cared about for previous months. I want to wash the windows. It is like a frenzy to get my own nest in order. Normally mundane chores are not drudgery, but take on a kind of exuberance. And there is music.

Like the nesting birds, for me, there must be music.

I’m not crazy about today’s music, so I listen to the tunes that have marked so many life experiences. Music is so transformative. Daily activities are always better when there is music. While my hands perform cleaning tasks, my mind relates to the music I hear. So many memories…they all come flooding back. Nostalgia is not a wish to return to the past; it is a pleasant experience of joyful remembrance.

Happy Spring!

Friday, February 28, 2020

How I lived through a computer nightmare

chmusings: my computer
I remember when computers were billed as time savers, a way to create a paperless office, and basically the end all, be all for everyone. What a con!

We all fell for it though as we embraced technology for all it was worth. That was a long time ago. There are now generations of dependent computer users, many of whom cannot even imagine being without one, whether they are in the form of a desktop, laptop, tablet, or phone. The internet is as vital to daily life as the electric grid. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for example, are the next best thing to chatting with neighbors over a fence or sipping tea on the front porch.

But when it doesn’t work, it can invoke panic and pain as surely as a bad case of the flu. When the computer is down and we lose data, it can have the same effect as a house fire where we lose all our possessions. We rely so much on our computers for business and personal use that we may not even realize how much of our lives revolve around it.

I’ve experienced such a loss, but I was really lucky. 

It occurred following a Windows 10 update, a fate for which I have been victimized before. On the morning after, I turned on my computer as I always do. I got my morning coffee, came back and found what is commonly known as the blue screen of death.

The screen said I could restart or click on ‘advanced,’ with the former highlighted. Neither the keyboard nor mouse worked, so I was stuck. Prior versions of Windows had ways of solving this problem, but I knew of no way to resolve this. As instructed, I hit enter. I got a new screen that said Windows would perform a diagnostic process. It told me the process failed, citing, “critical process died.” It said it would restart my computer. I held my breath, almost sure this was just a glitch and I would see my familiar photo on the lock screen as Windows loaded and all was well. But that didn’t happen. I saw only the same blue screen that told me to restart or go to the advanced setting, which I could not. I turned it off, unplugged the system, hoping that would do the trick. It did not.

I got my laptop and searched google for “critical process died.” Ouch! Most of the entries told me to try the advanced settings, WHICH I COULD NOT DO BECAUSE I HAD NO MOUSE OR KEYBOARD. I tried all kinds of things, but nothing worked. I tore the house apart looking for a thumb drive that had a Windows 10 recovery on it. Finally, I found it. I inserted it—still nothing.

My laptop had a few programs on it, but nothing like what I feared I had lost. I started to think about all that I had done on my computer when the panic set in. I called Microsoft. After waiting a prolonged period of time, I was told that someone would call me “in two days.” I felt completely helpless. Thank goodness I still had my laptop, a tablet, and phone. I was not off the internet grid.

I pay bills online and take care of all the family finances and manage health information. I’ve taken pictures, including those precious family photos, as well as those of my beloved cats who are no longer living. I had quilt patterns and favorite quotes, recipes, and so much more I would really miss having access to, not to mention the computer games I play to keep me sane. There was just so much. The more I thought about it, the more I realized what was gone.

But I am fortunate. I have friends who are young, smart and well-versed computer gurus who offered to help. They were able to restore my operating system and even back up my data. I have no idea what they did, but I am so grateful. They saved me from having to buy a new computer. They brought mine back to life, as if it is a new computer. 

The bottom line is, and we have all heard it before, backup, backup, backup. I try to practice what I preach. In fact, just after I paid the bills this month, I backed up my data. I don’t always do that, but I did this time. I will now make it a habit every month.

I had also backed up my documents and pictures on a thumb drive, though not for the past two years. I figured I lost everything that I had done since then. I was resigned that this stuff was just lost. But I learned that when my friends were able to retrieve the current data as well. Basically, that means I have lost nothing. It is all there.

I had been through this computer nightmare before. The reason I backed up my information two years ago, was because that was the last time a Microsoft update killed my computer, a new one I had just purchased.

At that time, I called Microsoft. Over several different sessions, various technicians walked me through restoration, I remember sometimes, late into the night. I talked to several people at that time, some who knew more than others. Though they all tried to be helpful, some of the information they provided contradicted what others had said. The result was that my system ran, but was never really flawless, as expected. The ultimate answer once things were working was to simply start another user account and copy files from one account to another. We did this several times. It wasn’t a perfect solution because it didn’t fix the problem. It only masked it. As a result, I often times, looked for a file, knowing its location only to find a blank folder. It took a while for me to figure out that if I went to the previous user account, and looked in the same folder, I could find what I was looking for. It was rather nightmarish trying to find things. This problem also gave me multiple copies of picture files which I have been trying to delete, rename, and organize.

So now, my computer is really like a brand new system. It is actually running better now than it was before the crash, either crash.

Even with everything working, things are not quite what they were, so I’ve spent days at the keyboard trying to retrieve organization out of chaos. I have the data, but not the programs to access it. So, the first thing I did was to re-install programs I find necessary—programs that handle finances, word processing, email, picture management, and virus protection, etc. The more I put back into my system, the more I realized the obscure programs I have come to rely upon, that no longer existed. Reinstalling downloaded programs is difficult without serial numbers, keys, or registration numbers. Those should definitely be backed up along with the downloaded programs and internet locations.

It has taken me hours and days, but I have been able to restore all of the necessary programs I use regularly. My files are all in one user account. There are no longer redundancies. In many cases, I’ve been able to restore databases that go back to where I left off. I am even back to having all my photos in a jumbled mess, just like before. I thought I had lost all the work I put into them the last couple years, as I’d begun to organize them. I now have those files so I can continue trying to tame my thousands of photos.

The bottom line is that my next purchase will be an external hard drive. And, I like the idea of also backing up files onto a cloud. Not only is my computer restored, but my computer life is restored as well.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Living in the woods is like magic to me

Born a city girl, I will never tire of living in the woods. And I never want to go back. I love country life. The woods yield many surprises; one of them came to visit Saturday. 

This morning while gazing out the window, I happened to see this adult Red-Shouldered Hawk land on a tree right outside my window. 

It was Saturday morning, so I was talking to my friend Nancy on the phone at the time. Nancy and I used to work together. Since my husband and I moved to Arkansas, some fifteen years ago, Nancy and I have talked on the phone every Saturday, with very few exceptions. We talk for hours, sharing concerns, laughing, reminiscing, and generally enjoying each other's friendship. 

I usually sit in the sun porch with a cat or two or three on my lap as Nancy and I attempt to solve the world's problems, or at least harangue about them. As we talk, I usually gaze out the windows overlooking the woods in the backyard. Often times I remark about something I see that is notable, which was the case today. 

This hawk was definitely a part of today's conversation. 

As we talked, I couldn't keep my eyes off this huge, beautiful, bird. It was such a contrast from the tiny chickadees, finches, woodpeckers and titmice that visit the bird feeder which is also right outside my window. 

As I was watched, I saw a Blue Jay dive bomb the hawk, coming from a nearby branch above where the hawk was perched. The jay flew right at the hawk's head, punched at him with his feet, and flew off without missing a beat.  The hawk didn't budge, but I swear I detected the stink eye.

Once the jay flew off, the hawk continued to sit there, seemingly cozy and comfortable. He was there for more than an hour before he flew off into the woods.

Apparently the Blue Jays in the area don't like having predators around. For my part though, I'm kinda thrilled to have seen him. I hope he comes back. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Sometimes a movie really moves me

Little did I know when I read the description of a movie about three women working for NASA in the 1960’s that I was about to experience a host of emotions, from inspiration, nostalgia, and a personal recollection of national pride.

The story itself was excellent and was based on real events—events that I remember when I was 11 years old.

The movie was “Hidden Figures,” released by Twentieth Century Fox in 2017. It was one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time.

I’m not sure how I missed this movie, which has won several awards, including a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture and a BET for Best Movie. It received three nominations for an Oscar, including that of Best Picture.

The story, detailed the career and struggles of three brilliant African-American women, but highlighted the mathematical genius of Katherine Johnson, who was largely responsible for the mathematical calculations that made possible the launch of Friendship 7, the space capsule piloted by John Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth in 1962.

Johnson as well as Dorothy Vaughan, computer programmer and Mary Jackson, an aeronautical engineer as well as Christine Darden who later joined NASA and was not noted in the movie but was in the book of the same name, helped to shape the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, which was the first to send a man into space.

I recall those times. The charismatic President John F. Kennedy inspired our national interest in the exploration of outer space. Even as a child I remember the intensity of concern during Glenn’s four hour flight.

Television sets across the country were tuned in to watch the launch of the Mercury rocket. The nation held its collective breath as Glenn’s space capsule re-entered the earth’s atmosphere and subsequent communication silence. There were problems with the heat shield and it was unknown if the craft would make it back. But then he remarked that the parachute had deployed and the capsule splashed down into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Interestingly, this flight took place during the cold war with the Soviet Union, which is not unlike the adversarial mood today with Russia. The difference between then and now is that back then the country was completely united. Today it is completely divided.

The movie depicted the struggles of these women, African-American women in a white male-dominated workforce. Despite the amazing work they performed, they were still forced to sit in the back of the bus, unable to attend necessary classes in all-white schools, and to use an inconvenient “colored rest room,” at their workplace.

It was exhilarating to watch as the barriers came down. These strong women nudged their way to equality and justice, not through raucous demonstration as exemplified by the times, but through quiet, deliberate achievement. They were certainly not the “squeaky wheels,” which may be the reason they remained hidden figures for so long. Yet the results of their actions were epic.

Katherine Johnson, who turned 101 years old last August, Christine Darden, along with Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson posthumously will be the recipients of The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act, which was signed into law by Donald Trump weeks ago, on Nov. 8. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest honor to be given to a civilian.

A good movie is so much more than mere entertainment. I love a movie that inspires, teaches and evokes real emotion. This was such a movie. I was more than a spectator. I felt the struggles. I relived the moments. I remember some of the scenes of actual footage. I relived the feelings of jubilation and pride of a unified nation, if only for a little while.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

How did it get to be November?

It really does seem as though ‘time flies as we age.’ We’ve all heard the phrase, but surprise; it seems there really is a scientific reason for it. If interested, read it here.

Sometimes it is hard to keep track as one day blends into another, then weeks seemingly fly by. Before you know it, months and seasons are behind us.

Thank goodness nature provides hints along the way. I knew when the days grew shorter and the daytime temperature cools, it is time to bring in my plants. I just did that a few weeks ago.

This is always a challenge. I never think I have many plants, but it is seems they add up quickly. That’s OK, there is nothing more pleasant in cold weather than to be surrounded by all that green goodness.

The state of my Christmas Cactus, at right, shows that we are nearing the Holiday Season. Actually, this is a Thanksgiving Cactus, which will be in full bloom at the same time the turkey is in the oven.

I have several Christmas Cacti, and it is always exciting to see flowers in those cold winter months.

 Some of my other favorite blooming plants are my most recent purchase—Shamrock plants.

I have always loved these plants and around last March when they are generally sold in stores, I could not find any. I fretted over this, so I went to Amazon and found several of them for sale. I jumped at the chance to purchase two different varieties, one green, one purple. I love them both.

These may be my favorite house plants of all time. They are almost whimsical. I love how the tiny stems support such large leaves and dainty flowers. The plants visibly bend toward the light. I have to turn them often to keep them from growing in only one direction.

I love this room, my favorite room in the house. And, I love it the most when it is filled with plants.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Something has really been bugging me

I like to write when I’m inspired. And I just had a big win that totally inspired me, so…

Living in the south, with our hot and humid climate, bugs are a very common occurrence. There are large ones, small ones, interesting ones, pesky ones, biting ones, stinging ones, and just about every bug you can imagine. Some I’ve never seen before. It is a real education living in the Ozarks. Most don’t bother me, but I really don’t want to share a living space with them.

A termite inspection just a few months ago was negative.

And, with five cats that live indoors and one that lives inside but likes to go outside, I have battled more than my share of fleas and ticks.

A couple years ago, fleas were a big problem. We still had carpeting and I was wearing out the rug scrubber in an effort to be rid of those pesky fleas. I refused to put poison on my cats, so I flea combed them often, and finally dusted them with diatomaceous earth. I sprayed inside the house with an essential oil-based spray. I haven’t had a problem since.

Now, I use diatomaceous earth around and even on the front porch.

What bugged me more recently was just the other day when I noticed bugs had invaded my stove.

stove pic
To be more precise, there was some kind of winged thing inside the top portion of my electric stove that houses the clock. I banged on the top of the stove until I didn’t see it anymore. Then, one day I looked and there were a couple of them in there. “That isn’t good,” I thought.

I pondered the solution to this problem, not really wanting to have to pull out the stove and disassemble it. In my experience, that kind of thing rarely turns out well. I wasn’t even sure if I could do that myself, so I kept thinking about what to do.

What I settled on was to use the electric stove’s self-cleaning oven feature to either fry the unwanted freeloaders or at the very least, chase them away. The stove gets really hot, and it has just gotten cold outside, so this was a good time to turn it on. I figured I could always do the cleanup afterwards.

The deed was done and I am happy to report there are no more bugs in my stove clock.

When I got up this morning, having to change the clocks back an hour to mark the end of daylight saving time, I had contemplated taking the stove away from the wall and cleaning behind it. I found that wasn’t necessary. I took out the drawer on the bottom where I store some pots and pans. It gave me easy access to the floor, all the way to the wall. I vacuumed the entire area and applied diatomaceous earth near the baseboard. That should take care of the bug problem.

This reminds me of another weird bug experience.

refrigerator pic

There was the time when fruit flies seemingly invaded the ice maker in the refrigerator. Apparently, this is not uncommon, according to all that I’ve read on Google.

I never imagined such a thing. Every time I would get something to drink, I had to dump the first glass of ice and start over. I always had to inspect my glass to make sure there was nothing floating in it. This was really starting to bug me.

I realized that my problem was that I was cleaning with vinegar. I poured it down the drain to keep things running smoothly. Apparently that is where fruit flies like to spend their time when they aren’t munching on exposed fruit in a bowl on the kitchen table. I also cleaned the refrigerator and attempted to kill any bugs I saw with vinegar.

Thanks to Google, I learned that fruit flies are attracted to vinegar.

So, I used soap and water and Q-tips to clean the ice dispenser area. Finally, I sprayed with a little peppermint essential oil. No more bugs.

From what I’ve read, this is not an uncommon problem either. I was lucky. At least I didn’t have larvae in the ice maker.

The bottom line for me is to keep things as clean as possible and always stay vigilant. I try to never use poison in my house. I never want to use products that will harm people and/or pets.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

I've never been more proud to be from Arkansas

Living in Arkansas makes me proud today as I watched this video from an interview with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. National Public Radio Legal Affairs Correspondent Nita Totenerg interviewed the notorious RBG as she has been dubbed, just a few nights ago in Little Rock. For the first time in years, I felt exuberance and hope for the future. It reminded me of another time.

Seeing Justice Ginsberg introduced by President Bill Clinton transformed me back the early 1990's, with all those feelings of hope.

As a Correspondent for a daily newspaper, I was fortunate to be able to write about current events, including President Bill Clinton's campaign in 1992. With my friend Michelle, I attended a huge campaign event in Chicago, where we were just two in a sea of people--more people than I had ever seen at one time--gathered in Chicago's Daley Plaza. In fact, there were so many people gathered to hear the young Governor from Arkansas speak, that it was one of the biggest crowds the city had ever seen. 

Following his remarks when the crowd began to disperse, there were so many people that it was a little frightening. Michelle and I got separated. My 5-foot 2-inch self was surrounded by hoards of people, most of them way taller than me. I couldn't see past any of them and at times I was no longer standing on my own two feet. Instead I was shoved along with everyone else. We were no longer individuals, but moved as one, like a giant tsunami wave. 

Thankfully, it was an exuberant, happy crowd. In fact, there was a feeling in the air that day that was noticeably jubilant. When I was finally able to meet up with Michelle, both of us had plenty to talk about as we escaped the throngs of people so we could make our way back to our car. 

Everywhere, people were smiling, laughing, and waving to strangers. Chicago isn't a small town, and generally passers by don't even make eye contact with one another. But not this day, it was different. The presence of Bill Clinton was intoxicating. 

After the last few years of feeling doom and gloom from a President that isn't fit for office, it was tearfully moving to watch Bill Clinton once more, in the above video. To a crowd of his home state supporters, he introduced the woman he named to the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. 

The video shows footage of her swearing in during those good times back in 1993 in the rose garden. 

What a remarkable choice for a Supreme Court Justice. Thanks Bill Clinton for your intuition, your instinct, and your amazing political savvy. 

There could be no better member of the highest court in the land than Justice Ginsberg in my opinion. She is so intelligent, resilient, capable, remarkable, and renders opinions that completely fair, as they come from her knowledge, experience, education, and common sense. 

She has already achieved so much in her career. Her belief in the living genius of our Constitution and the meaning of "We the People," will be her legacy for future generations. She has worked so hard, been through so much, and continues to inspire us all. She, like the man who named her, lift my spirits and hope for a brighter future at a time when it is needed most. So thank you Justice Ginsberg for all you have done and all you continue to do.