Inspired by a little-known picture book from the pen of Bethany Tudor, this is a diary, of sorts, where I document some of my thoughts, activities, and ideas as I explore the challenges met by the characters in the story: hard work, the care and nurture of others, housekeeping skills, life changes, charity, community, and cooperation, among others. Like Samuel and Samantha, the ducks in the tale, I struggle and succeed, cope and celebrate, work and play, handling the tasks that come my way. I invite you to join me on my journey.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Have a Facebook Page

Well, I finally did it. I joined Facebook. All of my friends are on it, especially those who have high school and college students. Most, if not all, of the kids I interact with at Sunday School and our homeschool co-op have accounts on it. People I know aren’t really even using their traditional e-mail accounts to communicate anymore; they are using Facebook. So, out of a desire to remain “in the loop, “ I knuckled under and joined. It’s ok. I still feel rather odd posting updates about the minutiae in my day. It is more efficient than blogging, but I miss the lack of space to write longer articles. Oh, well.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An Economic Downturn?

If the market were experiencing a downturn, you would never know it by the number of mail-order catalogs arriving in my mailbox. Today, I received at least eight, one of which was Hammacher Schlemmer. I love this display of merchandise. It is so fun. Just look at the variety of clocks and marshmallow/snowball battle toys:

The Peaceful Progression Wake Up Clock
The Sunrise/Sunset Simulating Clock
The Color Pattern Clock
The Flying Alarm Clock

The 40 Foot Marshallow Blaster
The 40’ Marshmallow Bazooka
The Marshmallow Shooter
The Marshmallow Shooting Shortbow
The 50’ Snowball Launcher

Of course, I would be hard-pressed to buy any of these items. Then again, that Flying Alarm Clock might get my family moving in the morning.

Friday, December 05, 2008

I Love King Leo!

Today, while I was shopping at CVS, I discovered King Leo Soft Peppermint Sticks. They came in a box containing ~30 sticks, each one worth about 45 calories, and I think I have consumed 10-12 sticks since around 4:00 PM. Make no mistake about it, folks; these are incredibly addictive little treats (and I normally get tired of candy cane-like confections pretty quickly). The next best thing about these? The company has a store in one of my favorite places: Julian, California. If you are ever in southern California, don’t miss it --- the town or the store.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Chicken Soup That’s Tested

Katherine the Great finally came down with the cold that has been circulating through our locale of late. In an effort to keep on top of the nasty respiratory bug, I made some chicken soup for her from a recipe I found online: Grandma’s Recipe from Dr. Stephen Rennard of the University of Nebraska Medical Center. For a PDF copy of the recipe, click here. For the research article, click here. For a video about the tested soup, click below. As of yet, I cannot attest to its effectiveness. I can, however, attest to its flavor: extremely delicious.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

DYK? A Tip About Potatoes

One of my recent RealAge mailings had an interesting tip on how to keep more nutrition in your potatoes: boil them whole.
Cubing your potatoes first will slash their potassium content by as much as 50 percent.
Roasting, baking, or microwaving whole potatoes also preserves more iron, zinc, and magnesium. Who knew?

For more information, go to Max Out Your Mashed Potatoes.


Last night, just before the evening news at 6:00 PM, my littlest cat rushed over to the wall by the back door with an extremely curious expression on his face. As he listened intently to what was a high-pitched squeaking/scraping sound, my husband and I became interested as well. Within seconds, King Richard was investigating. And what did he find? Yep, you guessed it, none other than a bat! Actually, he found two bats but one of them flew away. The other guy took a hit of wasp killer that my husband sprayed in the hole that the critters had crawled into. Not to worry, though, King Richard cleaned the vermin and made a temporary shelter for him in the garage while he recovered from his ordeal. Eventually, he left for parts unknown.

Herr Fledermaus should consider himself fortunate. If he had encountered the woman of the house first, he may be dead because I am NOT a fan of bats.


Yesterday, I received a fund raising letter from the Museum of Science in Boston, MA, the content of which made me do a double take (and not because my forty-seven-year-old eyes are deteriorating). Consider the opening sentence:
A survey by the National Opinion Research Center showed about one in four American adults believe the Sun goes around the Earth.
One in four adults. That’s 25% folks. 25% of American adults do not know enough basic science to understand that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the original survey to check if this same percentage of people were also missing the fact that the Earth rotates on an axis whilst traveling about the Sun. I tried to defend these survey interviewees to myself for a moment, thinking that this statistic was returned by the survey because of how the survey designers asked the question, but the letter continued with this:
The same survey found people who believe that electrons are larger than atoms…that lasers work by focusing sound waves…that antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria…
And people wonder why I homeschool.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Anniversary Gift

As I mentioned in my previous post (How Did I Get Here?), I went shopping for a new clothes dryer yesterday. I had to engage in this exciting activity, on my anniversary of all days, because the dryer that I purchased when my daughter was born (over eighteen years ago) finally “expired.” The post that holds the drum broke in two; definitely not a repairable problem. Hence, my husband and I spent the afternoon shopping for a new appliance.

What did we find? A great deal! The first dryer we saw was on clearance for $399.93. The washer we eventually settled on was also on sale for $284.93. After taxes and a 10% discount on the washer, the total came to $695.76. Not bad considering that I was ready to put close to $2000-$3000 on my credit card for a brand new, steam treatment, silver ion, front-loading washer and a high-speed extraction dryer. Apparently, the Lord knew I needed a price break this year.

Not exactly the activity I would have planned to commemorate 23 years of marriage, and not exactly the gift I would have liked to celebrate such a well-established commitment, but it was appreciated nonetheless. Maybe next year I will go to Colonial Williamsburg and have dinner at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern. Now that’s my idea of a great anniversary gift.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

How Did I Get Here?

OK, so much for quoting the Talking Heads (“Once in a Lifetime” from the album Remain in the Light); now, on to the news:

Today is my anniversary. I have been married to the same man for 23 years, a fact that I have trouble wrapping around my brain some days. I don’t have trouble with the idea that I have been committed to him for that long. No, I have trouble with the idea that 23 years have flown by at the speed of light. Wasn’t I just 25 and learning to be a Navy wife? Wasn’t I just 28 and pregnant with our only child? Wasn’t I just 33 and sitting in a surgeon’s office listening to a description of the care plan for my husband who was stricken with thyroid cancer? Outside of the grace of God, I have no idea how I made it this far. It has been quite an adventure, and I am certain it will only get more interesting.

So how did I celebrate? Believe it or not, I did a totally middle-aged thing: I went shopping for a new clothes dryer.

Diocese Choir Concert Program

In case you were wondering what was on tap at the choir concert, here is a partial program. Enjoy!

Exsultate Jubilate
Mary Beth Lee, soprano

Psalm 117

Jubilate Deo
Mary Beth Lee, soprano
Scott Reeves, countertenor
Ed Tyler, baritone

Donations accepted at the door.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

How Should We Handle This?

Get a load of this, as reported on Right Michigan. I went to this website to read the source of the story I originally saw on American Thinker:
Prayer had just finished when men and women stood up in pockets across the congregation, on the main floor and in the balcony. "Jesus was gay," they shouted among other profanities and blasphemies as they rushed the stage. Some forced their way through rows of women and kids to try to hang a profane banner from the balcony while others began tossing fliers into the air. Two women made their way to the pulpit and began to kiss.

Their other props? I'll let them tell you in their own words... from another of their liberal blogs:

"(A) video camera, a megaphone, noise makers, condoms, glitter by the bucket load, confetti, pink fabric...yeh."

- snip –

The "open minded" and "tolerant" liberals ran down the aisles and across the pews, hoping against hope to catch a "right winger" on tape daring to push back (none did). And just in case their camera missed the target, they had a reporter in tow. According to a source inside the church yesterday there was a "journalist" from the Lansing City Pulse along for the ride, tipped off about the action and more interested in getting a story than in preventing the vandalism, the violence and anti-Christian hatred being spewed by the lefties.

- snip –

The church's response? After things settled down, the blasphemy ended, the lewd props removed and the families safe from fear of additional men and women running into and past them the pastor took the stage and led the congregation in one more prayer... not for retribution, or divine justice or a celestial comeuppance (that's what I'd have prayed for) but instead that the troubled individuals who'd just defiled the Lord's house, so full of anger and hate, would know Jesus' love in their lives and God's peace that exceeds human understanding.
My daughter had some interesting questions about this:

1) Should the church members turn the other cheek as Jesus instructs us to do?

Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. --- Luke 6:29

2) Should church members defend God’s house as Jesus did?

In the temple courts [Jesus] found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area both sheep and cattle; he shattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” --- John 2:14-16

3) How do church members decide between these two options? Is the sanctuary the tipping point? Is an invasion of the sacred space more serious and deserving of defensive action? Or is any intrusion, even if confined to the church grounds or a classroom, enough to activate a defensive response?

I have never been a fan of “security forces” at a church, but this incident has prompted me to begin re-examining my opinion on the subject. It may be awhile before I reach a sure conclusion. In the meantime, I will keep praying.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fight the Good Fight

A hymn from today's church service based on this Bible verse:

Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. --- 1 Timothy 6:12

Written in 1863, it was composed by John S. B. Monsell (1811-1875).
Fight the Good Fight With All Thy Might

Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy Strength and Christ they Right.
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race thro' God's good grace;
Lift up thine eyes and seek His face.
Life with its way before us lies;
Christ is the Path and Christ the Prize.

Cast care aside; upon thy Guide
Lean, and His mercy will provide;
Lean, and the trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its Life and Christ its Love.

Faint not nor fear, His arms are near;
He changeth not, and thou art dear.
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is All in all to thee.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fortune Cookies...Again

My family succumbed to weakness this evening and ordered Chinese food --- egg foo young and a pu pu platter. This time, we received six fortune cookies, two for each of us. Here are the fortunes:
No problem leaves you where you found it.
There are no strangers here, only friends you haven't met!
The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that extra.
Be a generous friend and a fair enemy.
The days you work are the best days.
And my favorite, which I plan to keep as a time management reminder:
The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because you think you can do only a little.
I wish I could figure out a way to send the Chinese vocabulary words on the reverse side of my fortunes to my American friend who just moved to Beijing. It would be interesting to see how accurately the manufacturer translated the words.

Don't Forget to Set Those Clocks

The end of Daylight Savings Time has finally arrived, so don't forget to set your clocks back an hour before turning in tonight. Remember, the time change does not apply in Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. It is also recommended (and customary) to use this time change as a reminder to replace the batteries in your smoke alarms.

So, check those smoke detectors and enjoy that extra hour of sleep. The holiday season is just around the corner!

Friday, October 31, 2008

This Day in History...

For most people, October 31st means Halloween and all its related festivities, but what else happened on this day in history? Infoplease had this to say:
Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Palace church, marking the start of the Protestant Reformation in Germany.

A heavy snowfall trapped the Donner Party in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Nevada became the 36th state.

Work on the Mount Rushmore monument was completed.

Rear Admiral G.H. Dufek became the first person to land an airplane at the South Pole.

Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated.

Pope John Paul II admitted that the Roman Catholic Church had erred in convicting Galileo of heresy 250 years earlier.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Some Interesting Local Events

More from my weekly community newspaper...
In honor of the Florence Griswold Museum's current exhibition, "Bessie Potter Vonnoh: Sculptor of Women," the museum, the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts and other venues along historic Lyme Street in Old Lyme are celebrating by opening their doors for free and offering special exhibitions, artist demonstrations, and hands-on activities. The even is made possible by a grant from the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism and will take place Saturday, Nov.1.

The museum, including the special exhibition, will be open free of charge. Visitors can tour the exhibition and the historic boarding house for artists, where Bessie and her husband, Robert, stayed before moving to the area. From 11 am to 2 pm participants can watch Sculptor-Residence Sue Chism and her model demonstrate the sculpting process in the museum galleries and then try their hand a t sculpting using clay in a drop-in workshop in the Hartman Education Center.

At the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts from noon to 3 pm, visitors can explore sculpture studios and meet students and faculty. Instructor Jeremy Davis demonstrates the sculpting process from noon to 4 pm. Visitors are invited to explore the special exhibitions, "A Slice of America: Selections from the New Britain Museum of Art" and "Excellence in Painting and Sculpture Exhibition, Samantha Weber and David Krevolin."

Also on Lyme Street, the Cooley Gallery has the work of a variety of artists on view, including a sound sculpture by Harry Bertoia and a new work by Michael McLaughlin. There are open houses at Studio 80, the studio and sculpture garden of artist Gil Boro, the Lyme Art Association, featuring the sculptures of female elected artists, and the Bee & Thistle Inn, where artist Andrews De Vries pours a bronze sculpture at 2 pm.

More information can be found at
The best part of this event is that it features the work of a young lady, Samantha Weber, whom I have known for a number of years through my homeschooling circles. Congratulations, Samantha!
Connecticut author Glenn Alan Cheney will speak about his book Thanksgiving: The Pilgrims First Year in America on Thursday, Nov. 6 at 7 pm. at the Lyme Public Library. The book covers the pilgrims' struggles for religious freedom in Holland, their decision to try life in a new world, the harrowing ocean crossing, and the crucial first year between the land of the Mayflower and the famous harvest feast that followed. The pilgrims survived in the new world and laid the foundation for a new nation, but their survival was far from guaranteed.

In addition to writing, Cheney has also been a businessman, and an adjunct professor at Fairfield University, Albertus Magnus College, Connecticut College, and Three Rivers Community-Technical College. He will sign books after the presentation. Copies of his book will be available for purchase at the program.

Call 434-2272 to register or for more information.

Halloween Safety

Even though I no longer celebrate Halloween for personal reasons, I think it is important for those who do participate in the festivities to do so safely. To that end, I offer this list of tips from Gabrieles Martial Arts. I found it on Zip06.
- Carry a flashlight.
- Stay on sidewalks.
- Always stay close to an adult.
- Don't run ahead of the group.
- Know who is around you.
- Try to have a bright costume so people can see you.
- Only go to the houses that are lit.
- It wearing a mask, take it off in between houses for air and good sight.

Parents and Guardians
- Make sure the neighborhood is a familiar one.
- Know exactly who your kids will be with, try to supervise personally.
- Have your child wear a watch they can read in the dark.
- Fill out an emergency contact paper and have your children keep it on them.
- Make sure they know how to reach you.
- Do not let children run ahead without adult supervision.

- Make sure the yard is safe to walk through.
- Put pets in a safe room so they don't get frightened or harmed.
- Use battery-powered ornaments, not real flames.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

DYK? Preparing for Colds & Flu

Note: These are only suggestions and are no guarantee that colds and flu will stay away from your home. Since I got my first cold on Saturday, it appears that I need to be taking my own advice more seriously.

Newsflash! Did you know that cold and flu season is here and that it is possible to navigate this time of year without getting horribly sick or, for that matter, without getting sick at all? Try these strategies from WebMD, as posted on The Weather Channel.

1. Get immunized.

I know this is a controversial/contentious subject for many people; however, being the survivor of an extremely severe case of German measles (contracted when I was sixteen) and being the child of parents who can remember their friends dying from diseases like diphtheria, I fully admit that I am an advocate for vaccination. The recommendation for cold and flu season is to check with your doctor about whether you should consider getting a flu shot, a pneumonia shot, or both. This may also be of interest:
...there is concern now about a resurgence of whooping cough, which is most contagious before the coughing actually starts. The best way to prevent whooping cough is still through vaccinations. The childhood vaccine is called DTaP, and there's also a whooping cough booster vaccine for adolescents and adults ages 19 through 64 called TDaP. The booster not only protects against whooping cough but also against tetanus and diphtheria.
2. Wash your hands.

This has got to be the king (or queen, depending on your perspective) of illness prevention strategies!
According to the CDC, frequent and thorough hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent catching cols, flu, or any contagious disease. Be sure to wash your hands frequently, including the following times:

- Before and after you prepare food
- Before you eat
- After you use the bathroom
- Before and after changing a baby's diaper
- After handling animals or animal waste
- After coughing or sneeze
- When your hands are dirty
- More frequently if someone in your home is sick

To wash hands properly, follow these steps:

- Wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap. Place bar soap on a soap dish that allows it to drain.
- Rub your hands together vigorously, scrubbing all surfaces for 15 to 20 seconds. That's about how long it takes ot hum the song "Happy Birthday to You" twice.
- Rinse well and dry your hands. In a public restroom, use the air dryer or paper towels.
- In the absence of soap and water, use alcohol-based disposable hand wipes or gel sanitizers.
3. Don't touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands.

Great advice! Tough to follow.

4. Don't share food, toiletries, towels, or pillows.

From a very young age, we are all taught that sharing is a good thing. Absolutely! But during cold and flu season, we need to be a little more conscientious about what we share. In our effort to be kind, we may give more than we intend.

5. Cover you mouth before coughing and your nose before sneezing.

If tissues are unavailable, cough or sneeze into your crooked elbow. If tissues are available and you use them, dispose of them quickly and (preferably) in the toilet so they can be flushed. If your are sick in bed, don't pile your used tissues on the nightstand or throw them on the floor next to the bed. Place them in a trash receptacle tat can be emptied and disinfected easily...and often.

6. Eat right, drink water, and get plenty of rest to improve your resistance.

Concentrate on foods that contain plenty of beta carotene, vitamin C, zinc, and garlic. Eat chicken soup. Drink the recommended eight glasses of water a day or, as some health professionals suggest, one-half ounce of water for every pound of body weight (in my case, 0.50 x 172 = 86 ounces). Sleep for six to eight hours per night; more if you are ill.

7. Stock up on supplies.

Here is what the WebMD article recommends:
- A thermometer for each family member
- Extra toothbrushes and personal tubes of toothpaste
- Plenty of tissues, toilet paper, and paper towels
- Throat lozenges and anything else that makes the sick person comfortable
My stock up list also includes:

- Expectorant, either liquid or tablet
- Cough suppressant (this is often combined with the expectorant)
- Acid reducer (sinus drainage often gives me heartburn)
- Ginger ale (in case sinus drainage causes nausea)
- Salt cartridge for my inhaler
- Humidifier filters

I also make sure my steamer is in good working order and my humidifier is cleaned and ready to go.

8. Disinfect germ hotspots.

Bacteria and viruses can survive on surfaces for as long as a few days or as short as a few hours. To keep on top of the contagions in your home.
...use a common disinfectant on the following household hotspots.

- Phones
- Remote controls
- Microwave and refrigerator handles
- Door handles and doorknobs
- Toilet seats and handles
- Faucets
- Light switches
- Computer keyboards/mouse
- Video game handheld controls
- Toys

What's the best disinfectant? The CDC recommends inexpensive chlorine bleach, which is effective against viruses. Add one-fourth of a cup of bleach to one gallon of warm water and allow the mixture to sit on the hotspot surface for 10 minutes before rinsing. Whenever disinfecting surfaces, you should wear rubber gloves, ventilate the area, and, if you're sensitive to chemicals, wear a mask. Wash your hand after removing the rubber gloves.
Personally, I use Shaklee Basic-G and wipe down most of the items listed above on a daily basis. It takes a few minutes, but the payoff is worth it fi you don't get sick.

9. Keep up with the laundry.

Containing illness is hard work. When you or a loved one is ill, it's advisable to wash towels, washcloths, pillows, and bedding daily. You may want to wash the stuffed animals that kids cuddle to remove germs.
I would also add heating pad covers to the aforementioned laundry list. Personally I don't wash my pillows. Instead, I cover them with both a vinyl pillow protector and a cloth pillow protector before putting on a pillowcase. Then when I change pillowcases and cloth protectors, all I need to do is spray and wipe the vinyl protector with some Basic-G to sanitize them. I also don't wash my sheets every day unless the severity of the illness dictates. Twice a week has proved sufficient in my home. I would be exhausted just from doing laundry if I washed sheets every day!

10. Know your enemies

Familiarize yourself with the "bugs" you could encounter during the season. Know the symptoms of each and their recommended care protocols, especially those symptoms that should trigger timely medical intervention. To learn more about the following diseases, visit this WebMD cold & flu information page. These are some of the illnesses you should be watching for:

- Common cold
- Acute bronchitis
- Strep throat
- Flu
- Chickenpox
- Stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis)
- Whooping cough

Filled for $37.00!!!

On Sunday, my husband filled the gas tank in my Subaru Outback (from the empty light, mind you) for only $37.00. In the past few months, that same amount of gasoline has set me back almost $60.00. One tank of gas at these new prices and I saved enough to pay for thirty minutes of voice lessons for my daughter. You gotta love it!

Price per gallon: $2.599

Monday, October 27, 2008

Will He Defend the Constitution?

In light of this old radio interview with Senator Obama, I got to thinking...

If this is the Oath of Office for the President of the United States:
I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
and the Illinois senator who is currently running for President had this to say in 2001 (emphasis mine):
...the Supreme Court never ventured into the issues of redistribution of wealth and sort of more basic issues of political and economic justice in this society. And to that extent as radical as people tried to characterize the Warren Court, it wasn't that radical. It didn't break free from the essential constraint that were placed by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution, at least as it's been interpreted, and the Warren Court interpreted it in the same way that generally the Constitution is a charter of negative liberties. It says what the state can't do to you, it says what the federal government can't do to you, but it doesn't say what the federal government or the state government must do on your behalf. And that hasn't shifted. One of the, I think, tragedies of the civil rights movement was because the civil rights movement became so court focused, I think that there was a tendency to lose track of the political and community organizing and activities on the ground that are able to put together the actual coalitions of power through which you bring about redistributed change...

- snip -

...I'm not optimistic about bringing about major redistributive change through the courts. The institution just isn't structured that way. You just look at very rare examples during the desegregation era, the court was willing to, for example, order changes that cost money to a local district. The court was very uncomfortable with it. It was very hard to manage, it was hard to figure out. You start getting into all sorts of separation of powers issues in terms of the court monitoring or engaging in a process that essentially is administrative and takes a lot of time.

- Does Senator Obama, who is trained and educated in the Constitution, believe in this most important foundational document as it was/is written, or does he see the document as irreparably flawed and inconvenient?

- If Senator Obama does not believe in the Constitution, can he honestly take an oath of office that requires him to "preserve, protect, and defend" the document itself and the government that it establishes?

Just a couple of questions that are worth pondering before the vote on Tuesday.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Survey: Mortgage or Credit Card?

If you have to choose between paying your mortgage and paying your credit card, which do you pay? Have you ever had to make this choice?

Answer in the comments, please.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Would I Do?

Tonight (10/16/08), I was watching yet another newsmagazine program when I heard that familiar sound byte of the day: being upside down in a mortgage. Sometimes I hear the variant: being underwater. Readers, you will need to forgive me on this one. Listen up: this is only part of the problem! The problem is cash flow…combined with falling home values. The problem is that the folks who are having trouble being in this condition on their mortgages are the folks who are not making/cannot make their monthly mortgage payments and/or the folks who need to sell their homes immediately. If you are making your monthly mortgage payment, have no intention of selling your home, and have no other debt being secured by the value of your house, it is ok to be “upside down” or “underwater” for a short period of time. My husband and I were in this condition when he was a cancer patient. We owed over $100,000 on our home; the housing market in the Northeast had tumbled, valuing our house at less than what we owed on it; and the Navy transferred him to Virginia. Hard truth: he commuted for 29 months and I stayed put because we couldn’t make enough on a home sale to pay off our mortgage so I could move with him.

The other issue that is not necessarily a problem: lack of a down payment when purchasing a home. Why do reporters always bring this up? What is the purpose of putting money down on a mortgage anyway? Simple: it lowers your monthly mortgage payment, making your home more affordable, because it lowers the total amount you need to finance. My husband and I did not put any money down when we purchased our house in 1989. We financed the entire amount --- $125,000. Our interest rate: 10.50% fixed. Our initial mortgage payment, plus escrow: $1354.00. We used a mortgage company instead of a bank or a credit union, something we will never do again. They sold off our mortgage within about three days of closing. Thankfully, within a couple of years, the interest rate had dropped to 8.00%; we were not “upside down” in our mortgage at the time; and we refinanced with a credit union that didn’t sell mortgages. Sadly, not everyone is so fortunate.

So, what would I do now if I had a cash flow problem and an “upside down” mortgage? First, I would pay only the necessary part of my mortgage payment; no extra principal payments for awhile. If I absolutely had to, I would investigate participating in one of the “bailout” plans so I could stay in my home and renegotiate my mortgage. If all else failed and I had no other options available, I would short sell my house and take the loss. Second, I would find a way to generate more income, either by getting a second (or a third) job or by finding a way to make money online. Medical transcription work, maybe. With a plethora of baby boomers approaching retirement age, employment in the medical sector is certainly in demand. Being a home educator, tutoring might be a reasonable alternative as well. If either of those options didn’t pan out, I would check the local businesses in my area for help wanted signs. At the moment at least three businesses within one mile of my home need help: Auto Zone, Starbucks, and Dominos Pizza. I would focus on jobs that didn’t have huge travel or wardrobe expenses. That way my employment costs wouldn’t eat all my earnings. Third, I would find ways to reduce my expenses. For example, I would park my Subaru Outback in the driveway and start sharing the Mazda Protégé with my husband; the former gets 22 mpg, while the latter comes in at 34 mpg. This strategy would save quite a bit of gas money, especially now that the price of fuel is dropping. It would require some pretty creative time management, but it would need to be done for the sake of saving money.

More importantly, I would try to adjust my thinking to accommodate the short-term reality of longer work hours, less time with family, and a new definition of fun that looks more like roasting marshmallows with friends in the backyard than like an excursion to Disney World. If necessary, I would also patch up my differences with friends and family members with whom I could cooperate in money-saving, expense-reducing efforts like childcare, carpooling, hand-me-down clothing, and the like. Lastly, I would reexamine my expectations about what I desire versus what is necessary to rebuild my financial well being. A four-bedroom house with a family room and a pool may be what I want, but a three-bedroom apartment and a few trips to the beach may be what I need to survive.

Most importantly, though, I would pray…a lot…for guidance about the best course of action, for protection from unexpected events that could cause my family more financial distress, and for the ability to endure gracefully whatever challenges I had to face. Since living in Connecticut, I have experienced two recessions: one from July 1990-March 1991 and the other just after 911. This one, if it truly is a recession, will be my third since getting married. I didn’t panic during the other two and I don’t plan to panic now. I plan to trust God.

He [the man who fears the Lord] will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. --- Psalm 112:7

Friday, October 17, 2008

Some Interest Rate Perspective

When I was home from college for Christmas vacation in December 1980, these were some of the business statistics our country faced, compared with the statistics at the close of trading today. Granted, I am looking at only three statistics and I am cherry picking the ones that, to me, paint a picture that is certainly not as dire as the mainstream media would have us believe; yet, I am tickled pink that my credit card interest rate isn’t calculated off the older prime rate.

Dow Jones Index (December 31, 1980)*: 963.99
Prime Rate**: 21.50%
Average mortgage interest rate***: 14.95%

Dow Jones Index: 8852.22
Prime Rate**: 4.50%
VA mortgage rate (30 year) @ my local credit union: 5.75%

Here is something else I found interesting. A look at the history of the prime rate in America reveals that 1980 was a pretty depressing year. Just look at these numbers from a table on the Wall Street Journal prime rate page. Between September and December 1980, the prime rate increased 10.00%, with more than six points of that increase coming in the last eight weeks of that period:

August 27, 1980 11.50%

September 8, 1980 12.00%
Septmeber 12, 1980 12.25%
September 19. 2008 12.50%
September 26, 1980 13.00%
1.50-point increase. Minimum increase 0.25%.

October 1, 1980 13.50%
October 17, 1980 14.00%
October 29, 1980 14.50%
1.50-point increase. Minimum increase 0.50%.

November 6, 1980 15.50%
November 17, 1980 16.25%
November 21, 1980 17.00%
November 26, 1980 17.75%
3.25-point increase. Minimum increase 0.75%.

December 2, 1980 18.50%
December 5, 1980 19.00%
December 10, 1980 20.00%
December 16, 1980 21.00%
December 19, 1980 21.50%
3.25-point increase. Minimum increase 0.50%

Just imagine if you had a credit card whose interest rate was calculated at prime + 3%. In 1980, the interest rate on that credit card could have changed from 14.50% to 24.50% from Labor Day to Christmas. Talk about putting the brakes on spending.

So, how do you feel about the current financial crisis now?

*Dow Jones Industrial Average History
**Prime Rate History
***Mortgage Rates Slides to 17.54%

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Cat on the Roof!

This morning, just before lunch, Katherine the Great came in the back door announcing that the neighbor’s cat was on our roof. I didn’t believe her at first because:

1) I have never seen a cat on the roof of a house, and
2) I couldn’t reason out how a cat could get on the roof of our house, seeing as we have no trees or poles or ladders that could afford access to the higher heights of our abode.

What kind of cat climbs onto a roof? The kind that curiosity kills? Well, this furry black maniac lived to see another day. She was rescued by my daughter and a very sturdy ladder.

Nothing like a little excitement in your day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Making History

Tonight (10/10/08), my daughter had the tremendous privilege of participating in an historical first: the premier of an opera at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton, Connecticut. Built in 1908, the facility originally served as a recreation hall for employees of the Comstock-Cheney factory. By 1930, the building had become a theater, opening operations with a Broadway play called “Broken Dishes.”
The theater gained in prestige to the point that invitations to work there were highly prized in the theater profession. Its reputation grew nationally and Paramount Pictures produced a short film showing its complete operation.

- snip –

Ivoryton’s fame as one of Americas leading summer showplaces continued to grow until the outbreak of World War II when the theater went dark for several seasons, mainly because severe tire and gasoline rationing made it virtually impossible for audiences to get to Ivoryton.
The Playhouse reopened after the war, hosting an array of well-known stars that included the likes of Marlon Brando, Art Carney, Talullah Bankhead, Helen Hayes, Betty Grable, Groucho Marx, June Lockhart, Gloria Vanderbilt, Kitty Carlisle, Don Ameche, John Forsythe, June Allison, Alan Alda, and Treat Williams (just to name a few). It continued to operate successfully until the late 1970’s when the owner, Ken Krezel, decided to sell the property.
It was then, amid rumors that the historic theater might be torn down to make way for a discount drug store that the non-profit Ivoryton Playhouse Foundation was organized and with the help of The Essex Savings Bank, came up with a mortgage to buy the property…for $115,000.

Over the course of the past 28 years, the Ivoryton Playhouse Foundation has completed a total renovation of the building, including new shingles, a new heating and air-conditioning system, new seats and state-of-the-art theatrical sound and lighting systems. The Playhouse has maintained its reputation as a first-class summer theatre and now produces a year-round professional season of musicals, comedies and dramas. well as opera; kudos to The Salt Marsh Opera Company for adding such a distinction to an already important historical venue for the arts in America. Congratulations on a job well done!

All quotes in this article are from the website of the Ivoryton Playhouse.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Another Sad Driving Tale

Several weeks ago, my girlfriend was involved in an auto accident in the parking lot of a nearby medical center. The incident was not her fault; it was determined to be the fault of the teenage driver who plowed into the rear quarter panel of the van my friend was driving. The force of the impact broke the tire on my friend’s vehicle and bent the rear axel to the point where the entire assembly had to be replaced. Despite this extensive damage, my friend (being the compassionate mom that she is) consoled the young lady while the police collected information at the scene. Fortunately, everyone was ok.

Sadly, this morning (10/8/08) the news was not so encouraging. Yesterday afternoon, this same teenager was involved in another accident…and this time she had two friends in the car. Our local newspaper is reporting that the young lady lost control of the Volkswagen Jetta she was driving, hitting a pickup truck being driven by a gentleman from Rhode Island. He is ok, treated and released from a nearby hospital (Lawrence & Memorial) after suffering a leg injury. The driver didn’t fare so well. She is currently in stable condition at Hartford Hospital after being transported there by Life Star helicopter. Her passengers remain hospitalized as well, one of them at Yale-New Haven; the other at William Backus Hospital in Norwich, CT. The accident continues to be investigated.

Let us pray for everyone involved in this mishap, for speedy recovery, and for timely resolution of the legalities that inevitably seem to follow these things.

Landmark Day

Amid the hustle and bustle associated with the end of my daughter’s opera internship, I didn’t want this headline to pass without recognition:

Same-Sex Marriage OK’d by State Supreme Court

Despite widely differing personal opinions regarding same-sex marriage, no one can deny the importance of this decision to the debate about whether the act of marriage belongs exclusively to a man and a woman, or whether civil unions are sufficient. My view falls in the latter camp, but that is not the point of this entry. I merely wanted to recognize the moment and to provide some information about the possible fallout here in my state of residence, as evidenced by this headline:

Ruling Spawns Movement to Revisit Connecticut Constitution

It was interesting for me (and for my daughter) to hear a personal reaction to this legislation, given by a younger gentleman who is working on the opera. He was thrilled that the case was decided in the affirmative; many of my acquaintances were not. I am waiting to see if the case ends here, even though the first article I referenced stated that no possibility exists for federal appeal.

Connecticut is now the third state in the union to recognize same-sex marriage. The other states to sanction this practice are Massachusetts and California.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Down Again!

It is 4:00 PM and the market just closed. Dow Jones: 9447.11.

Big losers
- Bank of America: -8.06 or -25.01%
- Morgan Stanley: -5.49 or -23.36%

Some perspective
Dow Jones closing on December 31, 1980 (the year I graduated from high school): 963.99

Happy Birthday, Chloe!

I didn't have a card for you, nor did I buy a gift. Instead, I give you this. Have a wonderful day.

Tight Credit? Better Lending Behavior?

This morning, after breakfast, I went through the Monday mail and found, to my astonishment, a credit card offer --- for my daughter! It is her first such offer. So, amongst all the talk of tightening up lending standards, my eighteen-year-old who is still in high school and has no income to speak of (and, therefore, no conceivable way to pay for any charges that my be placed on the card), received an invitation to apply for a Platinum MasterCard®. So much for a higher standard of behavior in the credit market.

NOW Opinion Poll

NOW on PBS has posted an opinion poll that asks:
Do you think Sarah Palin is qualified to serve as Vice President of the United States?
Follow this link to vote. The website also has some election-related videos. If you have time, check them out.

Another One Bites the Dust?

Up here in the Northeast, Connecticut is surrounded by states that rigorously regulate home education: New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and (a bit further away) Pennsylvania. New Jersey is actually one of our allies, so to speak, having a similar statute under which their families homeschool.* That is (possibly), until this week. A New Jersey assemblywoman and her fellow assemblyman introduced Assembly Bill No. 3123, an act that requires the registration and oversight of home education programs. To say that this bill may dramatically alter the homeschooling landscape in New Jersey is an understatement. What remains to be seen is if Connecticut will follow suit. Let’s hope not!

So what is New Jersey proposing?

1. That parents register their children in a homeschool program. Such registration will be accomplished via a notarized letter that includes:

- evidence that required subjects will be offered
- an outline of education objectives by subject
- evidence of immunization
- evidence of age-appropriate health/medical care
- certification that the education supervisor, all adults living in the home, and any person having legal custody of the children have not been convicted of specific criminal offenses within the preceding five years.

2. That each student shall receive 180 days of instruction per year in the subject areas determined by the education supervisor.

3. That guidelines for home education programs will be developed by the Commissioner of Education.

4. That parents may request use of public school textbooks, curriculum, etc.

5. That homeschooled students may have access to public school extracurricular activities provided the students meet all participation/tryout criteria and comply with all policies, rules, and regulations of the organizations governing the activities.

6. That the education supervisor will maintain a portfolio of work for each student enrolled in a homeschool program, including:

- a list of reading materials, samples of writing, worksheets, etc.
- standardized test results for students in grades three, five, and eight
- an annual written evaluation of student progress as determined by a qualified evaluator.

7. That a portfolio of student work will be submitted to the local school district annually by the education supervisor. If the superintendent of the local school district suspects that education is not occurring, he may request an early portfolio review. In such cases, the supervisor of the homeschool program has thirty days to respond. If the supervisor fails to comply, the home education program will be declared unsatisfactory and the children will be placed in a public or private school.

8. That the superintendent of the local school district has the authority to declare a home education program unsatisfactory. Upon such declaration, the supervisor of the program must be notified in writing. He has twenty days to respond by submitting additional portfolio documentation.

9. That in the case of a request for additional portfolio documentation, the home education program will declared unsatisfactory if the education supervisor fails to submit additional information. If the program is declared unsatisfactory, the children will be placed in a public or private school. If additional documentation is submitted, the superintendent will review it. If the home education program is still considered unsatisfactory, the local school board will hold a hearing on the matter and issue a determination. If the school board finds the program lacking as well, the children will be placed in a public or private school.

My biggest problem with this legislative proposal? It removes the parent as the “education supervisor.” I am not exactly sure who the New Jersey assemblyfolk plan to put in this position, but it isn’t the parent. Observe in section six:
b. for students in grade levels three, five, and eight, the results of nationally normed standardized achievement test in reading/language arts and mathematics administered by the supervisor…The test administrator shall not be the student’s parent or guardian.

c. an annual written evaluation of the student’s educational progress as determined by a qualified evaluator…The evaluator shall not be the supervisor or his spouse or the student’s parent or guardian.
If homeschooling isn’t done by the parent, then is it truly homeschooling? The nature of home education isn’t merely that it occurs in a location outside the brick and mortar walls of a public or private educational institution. The nature of home education is that it nurtures and strengthens the bonds of family relationships through the process of teaching and learning. Through the close mentor relationship that is established between parent and child, excellence is achieved. Taking the parent out of the picture by assigning, for example, some public school official to the position of “education supervisor” succeeds in transforming the homeschool into nothing more than a public school satellite program. I can’t think of a better way to quash the innovation that is so badly needed in education today. Can you?

* Every parent, guardian or other person having custody and control of a child between six and 16 shall cause such child regularly to attend the public schools of the district or a day school in which there is given instruction equivalent to that provided in the public schools for children of similar grades and attainments or to receive equivalent instruction elsewhere than at school.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Opening Night

Tonight was opening night of Lucia di Lammermoor. After two months of music memorization, four weeks of rehearsals, and three weeks of dance lessons, it was time to put it all to the test. How did it go? At the moment, I cannot answer that question. At the moment, I am sitting in the Tim Horton’s donut shop across the parking lot from the George Kent Performance Hall waiting for the first offering to conclude. I arrived here at 9:30 pm, figuring the production would finish around 10:00 pm. That expectation was just dashed by the lighting designer who snuck over for a latte. He informed me that the performance runs until 11:00 pm.

And so, I wait.

Note: At the request of Katherine the Great, I did not attend this evening’s performance. She was concerned that having a parent in the audience would make her nervous. I will be attending the Sunday night show with some of our homeschooling friends.

Cue Up the Jeopardy Music

Forty-five minutes late, the House is now voting on the bailout bill. Speaker Pelosi had some closing comments, which I won’t reiterate. Michelle Malkin blogged the discussion session this morning. You can read her entry here. I despise the bill and all the “sweeteners,” but I don’t know as I like the idea of risking the lack of confidence and downright fear that may result from waiting. I suppose I owe that reaction to my liberal economics training. This is a vote between many bad choices. If it flies, I will be dogging my Congressman to scrutinize every provision for possible reversals or improvements. I am also going to pay off my credit card!

The vote is in:
Yea 263
Nay 171

4:15 PM...The market is now closed. DOWN 157.47. This morning, before the vote, the market was up over 200 points. Yup. That bailout really helped.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Less Than 100 Days!!!

As you will see by the date below, I started this entry several days ago. Being busy with homeschool coursework and the support of Katherine the Great in her opera internship, I haven't had time to write. Now that I am sitting in my car outside the local dance studio, I thought I would finish this off and get it posted.

Today (9/16/08) marks exactly 100 days until Christmas. Given that the United States is coping with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike and the fallout from yesterday's financial news (the collapse of Lehman Brothers), I am guessing that most Americans haven't thought about the holidays yet. I have...and so has my young friend, Alexia, who works at a local restaurant. We both purchased our first Christmas gifts this week. I wasn't planning to start my holiday shopping this early, but one of the regulars on my gift list let slip the smallest of clues about something she wanted and would never expect to receive. Fortunately, the item was available online for a reasonable price, so I bought it and had it shipped to the house. It is already labeled and queued up for wrapping in the storage box at the end of my bed.. This year, I have decided to wrap my gifts as they arrive/are purchased in an effort to avoid that mad rush of wrapping toward the end when I would rather be baking or enjoying the company of family and friends.

Later...OK. So, obviously, I wrote that before the proposed bailout of AIG (American International Group). I am now thinking that many Americans, rather than not thinking about Christmas at all because it is too early, may actually be looking ahead to Christmas with a feeling of apprehension. I know I am beginning to consider a scale back plan, one that is a bit more radical than my original scale-back plan. One tool that is helping in this area: the Family Values Worksheet. Check it out at Here are some of my answers (see below). I also started working on a Master Gift List to see where I can conserve on my holiday gift-giving.

So, what you are doing to prepare for the holidays?

What went well for your family last year?

I would say that the positives for Christmas 2007 were
- the early completion of gift shopping
- the financial ability to give generously to our friends and family members
- timely shipping of distance gifts to Florida and Minnesota family and friends
- an easy Christmas meal that was delicious and prepared ahead, especially breakfast
- my success at getting the Advent wreath set up, even though I was unable to stay on track with daily devotions

What stresses did your family face? Were there too many activities on the calendar?

Stressors during Christmas 2007:
- Hubby traveled for work until the week before Christmas
- we put up and decorated the Christmas tree very late
- some in the household had minor illnesses that slowed our holiday preparations a bit
- we had an extremely full calendar of music performances

While the latter did add more stress than most families endure during an average holiday season, what with a cantata at church and four or five handbell concerts, the rewards of celebrating with many different people in many different venues are well worth the effort.

Was your family spiritually invigorated by the holiday celebration? Did you participate in appropriate worship, service, or giving activities?

This is a difficult question to answer for the other members of my family; however, I can answer if for myself. I felt spiritually renewed. Kate and I did some Advent devotionals at home and the entire family attended Christmas Eve service for a cantata (Kate was performing). I did a short Crossways International Bible study on the "real" story of Christmas. It was great because I learned a lot about some of the Middle Eastern traditions, etc. that are not generally understood in the "traditional" Christmas story as told in America.

As for our giving, we donated to Samaritan's Purse by making an Operation Christmas Child shoebox.

What would you have done differently last year?

I would have done the same thing I should have done every year --- decluttered my house!!! That said, I also would have:
- picked up the Christmas tree a few days earlier
- done more holiday cookie baking ahead of time
- done more freezer meals ahead of time
- purchased a small chest freezer to hold the "do ahead" food
- actually written Christmas cards and sent them (which I haven't done for several years)
- made more of a point to get together for dinner with friends (which depends on my house being decluttered)

If we could only do three things to celebrate Christmas, what would they be?

- tree tagging & decorating
- gift giving (small scale, if necessary)
- Advent devotionals

- tree tagging & decorating
- gift giving
- Christmas menu item: baked eggs

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More Exciting Opera News

My daughter had her second opera rehearsal last night, plus her first reception. She met the principals, those individuals who are singing the major parts, and she was fitted for her costume, a beautiful hunter green dress from the Metropolitan Opera costume department. I won’t even attempt to describe it here, as I was not privileged to see it. However, Katherine the Great says it looks like what I would typically think of as a “medieval” dress: it has leg-o-mutton sleeves, the square neckline, and a Tudor-era headband-style headdress to complete the ensemble. Needless to say, she is psyched! I can’t wait to see her in it. Now all she needs are some shoes and a necklace. Maybe I should ask Grandma. She used to do costuming for the college theater in her younger days. She might have some interesting ideas as to how we can pull off some accessories. Hmmm....

Life around here gets more interesting by the minute.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

When Is a Candidate Ready?

This morning, I was watching some election coverage when one of the commentators mentioned that he didn’t think Sarah Palin was ready to be President if, God forbid, anything happened to John McCain. I have heard folks say this about Barack Obama too. Considering that many people do not want a “Washington insider” to lead the country, a label that implies all kinds of experience working in Washington, D.C., my question for discussion is this:
What exactly makes an individual ready to be President?
The Constitution enumerates these qualifications in Article II, Section 1:

- must be a natural born citizen
- must be at least 35 years old
- must have lived in the United States for 14 years

Any ideas? Thanks for your input.

McCain campaign website
Obama campaign website

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Internship Has Begun

Last spring, Katherine the Great (who had only taken voice lessons for about seven months at the time) was offered an internship with a local opera company, singing as a chorus member. She filed the required paperwork in August and, yesterday, had an orientation meeting with the lady who takes care of the administrative tasks. Thirty minutes later, costume measurement sheet and rehearsal schedule in hand, her internship had officially begun. On the way home, I asked her how she was doing with the music. Current status: the first chorus piece is down cold. She sang part of it for me. Do you know who cool it is to have your Subaru filled with “live” opera music? I still have to pinch myself that my child has such a great voice. It truly astounds me. Best of all, I had nothing to do with it. It is totally her!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Catching the Bus

It is 6:45 AM and it is the first day of school for the 2008-2009 academic year. The bus that transports students to the local high school is about to stop a quarter-mile from my house. Thankfully, the school district scheduled two stops; one is a short walk in a northerly direction (6:52 AM); the other is a short walk in a southerly direction (6:50 AM). The distance is the same, regardless.

Do I know the whereabouts of my high school student? Yep. She is in bed! Oh no, she has exactly five minutes to catch the bus! Argh!!! What am I going to do? Well, because classes at the local high school don’t actually begin until 7:30 AM, I am not too worried. I am also not worried because I don’t need to be. You see, my family homeschools and the school year at “Home Education Academy” doesn’t begin until next week; and when classes do get up and running around here, the plan is to hit the math books about the same time the local kids hit the bus so my student can leave for three hours of organ and piano practice at a church 15-20 minutes from my house.

So, you see, the student who lives here still has to catch the bus. It is just that the bus looks more like a kitchen table (or a Subaru). I love homeschooling!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fortune Cookies

Been away for awhile decluttering my house and preparing for yet another year of homeschooling. Tonight, my husband grabbed Chinese food for dinner and, as usual, the restaurant tossed in those fortune cookies. Now, I am not a believer in fortune telling, but I do wonder about the history of the practice of including fortune cookies with a meal. If anyone has information about that, I would love to hear more. In the meantime, here are the King family fortunes for tonight:
Don't take life too seriously. Laugh and smile at it once in a while.

No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.

Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten.

Courtesy is contagious.
Find any interesting tidbits in your Chinese food lately?

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Now My Air Conditioner is Dead

Have you ever experienced one of those months where everything (or almost everything) you own seems to break? A while back it was my laptop computer. Then it was the two Firewire external hard drive enclosures that my husband purchased in an attempt to rescue the hard drive from the deceased laptop. Today, it was the air conditioner...on one of the most humid and uncomfortable days of summer thus far. Ugh!

Since my sinuses abhor humidity and his euthyroid state dislikes heat, it didn’t take long to study the available Internet dirt on the latest air conditioners. A little reading and we were off to Bernie's for a look-see. Nope; that air conditioner was too expensive, even with the Connecticut “Turn in Your Air Conditioner” rebate. Next up: Lowe’s; that air conditioner was the wrong model. Finally, Home Depot; that air conditioner was just right, so Papa Bear and I bought it before Goldilocks could say, “Maybe you should shop around a bit.” One gross, sticky afternoon later and the house is back at 70°F. Praise the Lord!

If civilization ever implodes, I am in big trouble because I am way too dependent on air conditioning. Stay cool.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Avoir, Steak & Ale

My girlfriend from Florida (2ravenhairedbeauties) informed me yesterday that the Bennigans restaurant in her area closed abruptly. I have no Bennigans in my area so I was unaware if the chain was struggling financially. Apparently, they were. As of a few days ago, all the company-owned Bennigans stores closed, as did all of the company-owned Steak & Ale restaurants. The Houston Chronicle had this to say:
... MetroMedia Restaurant Group confirmed that its subsidiary, S&A Restaurant Corp., had filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation. All corporate locations of its well-known storefronts, including Bennigans, Steak & Ale, and Tavern, will be shuttered for good.

- snip –

MetroMedia will continue to operate its Ponderosa and Bonanza steakhouses, the company said in a statement.
Strangely enough, I lost my local Ponderosa many years ago. It is now a Japanese restaurant.

To read more, click here.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Thank You, Mr. Bentley

Apparently at least one CBS News reporter has been assigned to cover the comings-and-goings of Senator John McCain in his bid to be the next President of the United States. How do I know this? Because I found this on the CBS News website:

The reporter? Mr. John Bentley. Thank you, sir, for covering this news event. I am tired of hearing about Senator Obama and his trip overseas. How refreshing to know that someone is paying attention to the other candidate. Yes, folks, there are two men running in Campaign ’08.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tour of California 2009

Yes! The route for the 2009 Amgen Tour of California has been released and I am psyched! The race ends in Escondido, near San Diego and Oceanside, the home of several of our Navy (and non-Navy) friends. My daughter was planning a trip to the Golden State to visit some of these folks, a trip that was cancelled/delayed this year due to the cost of gasoline. We were thinking of driving out next summer (June perhaps) after saving some money for travel costs. Now, I am beginning to wonder if we should reschedule the trip to February so we can see the final day of the race. Definitely a topic for further discussion.

Anyway, here is the route and a link to the USAToday article reporting the information. Start planning!

Stage 1: Sacramento (2/14/09)
Stage 2: Davis to Santa Rosa (2/15/09)
Stage 3: Sausalito to Santa Cruz (2/16/09)
Stage 4: San Jose to Modesto (2/17/09)
Stage 5: Merced to Clovis (2/18/09)
Stage 6: Visalia to Paso Robles (2/19/09)
Stage 7: Solvang (2/20/09) --- individual time trial
Stage 8: Santa Clarita to Pasadena (2/21/09)
Stage 9: Rancho Bernardo to Escondido (2/22/09)

To view a map of the route, click here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

TDF Entries Abandoned

Certainly anyone who reads Gooseberry Lane on a regular basis noticed that I began writing daily blog entries for the Tour de France and made it all the way to Stage 5. Talk about a fair weather fan who abandons at the first sign of trouble (dopers and computer problems). No, in actuality, I didn’t abandon the race at all; I just needed to abandon writing about it because my laptop died. I needed to focus my time on rescuing my hard drive. Sorry. Rest assured, I haven’t abandoned the race. In fact, I have it taping as I write so I don’t miss Stage 16 from Cuneo, Italy to Jausiers, France. It promises to be an exciting day with two massive climbs and a sprint finish. If you have time, catch the race on Versus. Vive le Tour!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Cycling Perspective

Versus is currently running a Take Back the Tour commercial that I find somewhat amusing and extremely accurate in its portrayal of the pain and suffering experienced by professional cyclists. Here is the text from the ad. On television, Jonathan Vaughters, the directeur sportif of Team Garmin Chipotle and a former cyclist from the US Postal Team, does the voice-over.
When they crash on those sprint finishes, that’s 40-45 miles an hour; if they’re on a descent, it can be 55-60 miles an hour. Next time you’re in your car at 50 miles an hour, strip down to your underwear and jump out the door...and that’s what it’s like to crash in a professional bike race.
I cannot post the video here, but it should be posted soon at

My Price is Capped

One of my financial strategies of late is to put as many recurring bills as possible on the budget plan. That way, I won’t be hit with big bills, like car insurance or fuel oil payments, every few months, requiring me to come up with a large block of cash. For example, at the end of May, I locked in my oil price for the winter at $3.799/gallon. Actually, I contracted for a price cap, meaning the highest price I will pay, per gallon, for oil from now until May 2009 is the aforementioned amount. If the price goes down, I will pay the cheaper price; if the price increases to more than $3.799/gallon, I will not be charged the higher price point. After I signed the contract, I was concerned that I had negotiated too high a price. Then my good friend, Koalagirl15, called me to say that the going fuel oil price for a “lock in” contract with her oil company was $5.499/gallon! I am so happy I bought early.

Fortunately for me, I only need to heat my house. Here in Connecticut, many homeowners use fuel oil to heat their hot water as well. Translation: they are required to purchase fuel oil all year long. Sadly, many of my friends are in this position. Now, I don’t know how many gallons of oil they use per month, but I can tell you that I use ~600 gallons of fuel oil just to heat my home every winter. At $3.799/gallon, my cost this coming winter will be $2279.40; at $5.499/gallon, it would be $2749.50 (and my house is only 900 square feet). For my friends who live in 3000-square-foot houses, their fuel oil cost this winter, just for heat, could be in the neighborhood of $5000.00...or more. Frightening!

So, what have you done to plan for heat this winter?

Divide and Conquer

This morning, I saw yet another news article about IndyMacBank and the depositors who are attempting to get their money out of the beleaguered financial institution as fast as possible. Some of these folks have in excess of $200,000 in their accounts; but, because funds are only insured for their full value up to $100,000, these people may only get that fully insured amount and then (possibly) 50% of the amount on deposit above that. What does that mean? If you have $250,000 on deposit, you will get $100,000 for sure. Then, you will get 50% of the rest, or $75,000. That means you will lose $75,000. Not good. The simplest way to avoid this scenario? Divide the original $250,000 among various financial institutions so that no one account goes above the fully insured amount.

Another word to the wise: if you do not have money in IndymacBank, or one of the other banks in danger of failing, leave your money alone. If those of us whose financial institutions are sound run to the bank and withdraw our money, the banking industry (and the economy for that matter) will become even more volatile. Protect your funds as much as possible while still leaving them on deposit. The bank cannot function without your money; but, more importantly, the bank cannot function without your trust and confidence in their ability to weather this financial storm.

My Laptop is...Dead

A few days ago, my Apple laptop lost its mind, deciding to quit completely sometime in the late afternoon. It had been behaving badly for a few days, refusing to save documents and renaming the hard drive indiscriminately. Now, my tool of choice for writing blog entries is unavailable, forcing me to use a stationary computer that traps me at a desk. Ugh! Frustrating and inconvenient, but not cause for whining. Just know that updates to Gooseberry Lane may be slow while I share the family room computer with my daughter. Thank you.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Think Before You Eat

Ok, I have no idea if this is true. I suppose I could test it for myself if I wanted to save a McDonald’s hamburger or a McDonald’s french fry for several years. I don’t really want to do that. My point in sharing this is to spark your thinking about the content of fast food and why it probably isn’t something any of us should eat, especially on a regular basis. To be fair, McDonalds does offer healthy food as well, like Apple Dippers® (without caramel) and Southwest Salad®. I, for one, like their Asian Salad® and their Fruit 'n Yogurt Parfait®. Bon appetite.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hopefully, the Only Doper

I am a little behind on writing my stage-by-stage blurbs on the Tour de France, but I couldn’t let this pass without comment. This morning, first thing after tuning in to the daily Versus coverage, I heard the announcement that Manuel Beltran of Team Liquigas (and a former Team Discovery Channel climber/domestique) was arrested for doping. Allegedly, he used erythropoetin (EPO) to enhance his performance on Stage 1 of the race. At the risk of sounding judgmental (which I have been accused of doing on occasion), dare I ask:


After all the hard work that the race organizers, the team managers, and the riders have done to make sure the competition is clean, possibly for the first time ever, it is worse than unfortunate that a single individual attempted to cheat. It was wrong. It is wrong, and it is insulting and disrespectful to every other cyclist in the Tour.

The immediate consequences:
- ejected from the Tour de France
- arrested by French police
- fired from Team Liquigas (pending B-sample analysis)

The long-term impact: an even more difficult return to trust for the entire sport.

If you speak/read French, you can read more about the incident in L’Equipe, the French sporting newspaper:
- Beltran positif à l’EPO
- Beltran exclu, Liquigas continue

English speakers can check these articles from Sporting Life:
- Beltran: Innocent Until Proven Guilty
- Beltran Pulled From Tour

Thursday, July 10, 2008

TDF Stage 5

Catching up...

Route: Cholet - Châteauroux
Riders: 178
Distance: 232 km
- None

The longest day of the 2008 Tour de France was definitely a day for the sprinters…and yet another great day for Team Columbia with a stage win by Mark Cavendish. They now possess the white jersey of the best young rider and are currently second in the team competition. True, they handed the sprint jersey to Thor Hushovd today but, hey, sharing is a good thing. Right? Only seven points separate Kim Kirchen and Mr. Hushovd in that contest. One lousy day for the latter and the former may be wearing green again in no time. Remember, it isn’t over until the fat lady sings…or, in this case, until the fat cyclist rides. Well, you get the idea.

Favorite part of the day: the sprint finish, of course. How nerve wracking! With 35 sprint points up for grabs on the finish line, the sprinters had a prize worth fighting for. Team Liquigas set the pace at the front of the peleton in order to reel in a three-man breakaway and set up their man for a win (Francesco Chicchi). Team Columbia took a turn in the drivers seat as well in an attempt to launch Mark Cavendish over the line. An incident with a spectator and a crash on a roundabout did little or nothing to slow the pace into Châteauroux. Dicey, dicey, dicey. Nicolas Vogondy, one of the breakaway leaders, came up with one last desperate attempt to stay out front, but to not avail. Caught just meters from the finish, victory was not to be for the Frenchman. Instead, the win went to Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia. Kudos to the High Road Sports organization for a job well done.

Saddest part of the day: the withdrawal of Juan Mauricio Soler due to suspected broken bones in his scaphoid, the result of a crash on Stage 1. Today, he crashed again in the neutral zone and, shortly thereafter, decided to abandon the Tour. Too bad. The contest for the polka-dot jersey just won’t be the same.

In other news: Alejandro Valverde crashed early in the day. He has some road rash, but seems fine.

Oddity of the day: the giant yellow bug sculpture in one of the traffic circles. It was at around 56 miles before the end of the stage. Did you see it? It looked like an ant to me.

- Juan Mauricio Hernandez Soler

Overall Standings
- Stefan Schumacher
- Kim Kirchen
- David Millar
- Cadel Evans
- Fabian Cancellara
- Christian Vande Velde
- George Hincapie
- Thomas Lövkvist

For the latest video, click here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

TDF Stage 4

Route: Cholet - Cholet
Riders: 178
Distance: 29.5 km
- None

The first individual time trial of the 2008 Tour de France started on my television at 8:00 AM this morning. Too bad I wasn’t able to sit and watch it. I needed to work on some homeschooling tasks, including running my daughter out to church for organ practice. The wonders of videotaping (or Tivo, if you like) are such a blessing. Now the only challenge will be finding time to watch what I taped.

One day later…11:00 PM…folding towels…feeding the cockatiel…collecting trash…and watching my tape of the individual time trial. Hopefully, I will finish both the viewing and this blog entry before midnight so I can get some sleep. Don’t you just love July?

So, the upsets continue. Stefan Schumacher took the day, prevailing over second-place finisher Kim Kirchen by a mere 18 seconds. Favorite Alejandro Valverde came in twenty-third. Don’t know what happened there. The yellow jersey, Romain Feillu, completed the competition in 169th place, apparently just inside the elimination time. Whew! Other notables on the day: top spots for men from the two new American teams. Kim Kirchen (Team Columbia) took 2nd, David Millar (Garmin Chipotle) held 3rd, Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Chipotle) came in 8th, George Hincapie (Team Columbia) grabbed 9th, Thomas Lövkvist (Team Columbia) enjoyed 11th place, and Danny Pate (Garmin Chipotle) rounded out the bunch in 14th place. Very impressive efforts all.

The American teams are faring quite well this year, thus far. Team Garmin Chipotle currently sports first place in the team competition, while Team Columbia holds second in the team contest, first place in the sprint competition, and first place for best young rider. And remember, this is under the watchful eye of the drug testers at the Tour de France and at the Agency for Cycling Ethics. My greatest hope is that someone from one of these two teams will win the entire race and be able to demonstrate that they did it without the assistance of performance-enhancing drugs. Wouldn’t that be awesome!

Time trial oddity: listening to the aerodynamic rear wheel as the riders fly past the cameramen on the road.

- None

Overall Standings
- Stefan Schumacher
- Kim Kirchen
- David Millar
- Cadel Evans
- Fabian Cancellara
- Christian Vande Velde
- George Hincapie
- Thomas Lövkvist

For the latest video, click here.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

How Do We Learn About “The Other?”

On Sunday morning, I saw this in the Daily Mail:
Two schoolboys were given detention after refusing to kneel down and ‘pray to Allah’ during a religious education lesson.
In the Old Testament, the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3 (NASB), I can read this:
You, O king, have made a decree that every man who hears the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, is to fall down and worship the golden image.

But whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.

There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.

Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king.

Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?”

“Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?”
Now, let’s be clear, I am not equating the practice of Islam with the religious practices of the ancient Babylonians. I am, however, wondering about the compulsion factor in each of these accounts. The schoolboys in modern times and the Jews of ancient days were both asked to bow down to a god that was not their own. Seriously, even in the interest of education, can society require (or even ask) this of anyone? I have to agree with the parent interviewed in the Daily Mail article, who said:
“But if Muslims were asked to go to church on Sunday and take Holy Communion, there would be war.”
So, if it would be unacceptable for a Muslim to participate in the practice of Christianity for educational purposes, why is it acceptable in reverse? A bigger question for me is: how can people learn about the religious beliefs and practices of others in the interest of community and understanding without “corrupting” their own religious observance? Is it enough to read about the beliefs of others? Or do we need to actually observe and perform the religious rituals or sacraments of another in order to truly understand? I happen to think that “book learning” and conversation with those who hold different beliefs is sufficient. I think the teachers and administrators at the British school went too far in this case.

My daughter’s music composition teacher told me once that he believes the need for religion will vanish someday and, with it, our need to label as “the other” anyone who believes differently from us. I don’t think that is possible…unless, of course, we all believe exactly the same thing. But then we wouldn’t be unique individuals, created by God for His specific purpose; we would be robots. So, unless and until we all become robots, I think we need to work toward a solution to this “understanding each other” thing.

Your thoughts on the subject?

TDF Stage 3

Route: Saint-Malo – Nantes
Riders: 178
Distance: 208 km
- None

More wind (and rain), a crash near the finish line, and a peleton that gambled a bit too much on their ability to reel in a breakaway made for some interesting racing today. The scenery was interesting as well, heading out of Brittany and into the beautiful Loire Valley, known for its wine production and for the longest river in France.

The day was dominated early on by a four-man breakaway comprised of Samuel Dumoulin, Romain Feillu, Will Frischkorn, and Paolo Longo Borghini. They headed away from the pack in the second kilometer, thinking (I suppose) that they would get some visibility for their team sponsors at best. Well, when the peleton was still working to catch them with less than thirty kilometers to go, their wildest dreams came into view --- that of winning a stage of the Tour de France or, in the case of Romain Feillu, of capturing the overall lead. Who would have thought?! A little known (to me anyway) twenty-four year old cyclist from Châteaudun, France taking the yellow jersey from Alejandro Valverde. Talk about having a great day!

By contrast, Angel Gomez had a horrible day, crashing with about twenty-five kilometers to go when he mixed it up with a piece of road furniture (in America, these are generally referred to as medians). The result? Certainly not a yellow jersey. No, Mr. Gomez received a trip to the hospital and a suspected broken pelvis. Ouch! Also involved: the Danish road racing champion, Nicki Sorenson. Thankfully, he is fine.

A bit of the incidental television coverage on Versus today: the Agency for Cycling Ethics. I am very intrigued by this effort: physicians, researchers, and athletes working together to determine a normal band of physiological measures for an individual human athlete and to develop a way to spot broad-scale changes in physiology, as well as the presence of illegal substances. The whole idea seems very proactively health-oriented. Don’t just look for banned substances; be concerned about the health of rider too. Team Garmin Chipotle and Team Columbia have both signed on to this. Good for them. I would love to see both American teams race clean and with reams of documentation to prove it.

- Angel Gomez

Overall Standings
- Romaine Feillu
- Paolo Borghini Longo
- Will Frischkorn
- Alejandro Valverde
- Kim Kirchen

For the latest video, click here.