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 13, 2011

McDonalds Gone Retro

Recently, the McDonald's in my neighborhood began an exterior renovation that transformed it from the age-old angled roof style to the new square design.  Completed just a few weeks ago, a recent evening drive past the restaurant revealed that some interior redecorating had also occurred.  Curious, my daughter and I visited the establishment to check out the new look.  Having grown up in the 1960's and 1970's, all I can say is!  I felt like I had time traveled.  The new brown paneling looked like the stuff the Big Three automakers used to glue to the sides of vans;  the wallpaper reminded me of lava lamps;  and the color scheme was...well, bright.  The only missing ingredient was a Happy Meal doodle pad sporting art from the Yellow Submarine.

Query:  why does brown paneling look upscale in Starbucks and horribly dated in McDonald's?

For more information about the new look, check out the following news articles:
Mickey D's McMakeover
McDonald's Restaurant - Exterior Design & Implementation
Modern Restaurant Design:  McDonald's?  We're Luvin' It!
A McDonald's for Architecture Snobs
McDonald's Redesign:  A New Era for Fast-Food Restaurants

Note:  I have been in two other updated McDonald's in my local area.  Their new looks did not disturb me quite as much as the one in my neighborhood.  I think it may be the colors/materials chosen by my nearby franchisee.  I do like some of the interiors shown in the articles listed above.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Christmas Concert #1

This afternoon began the 2011-2012 Christmas concert season of Shoreline Ringers, the handbell choir that my daughter has played with for nearly six years.  It was a good start today.  The audience was average size (i.e., not too small, not too big, but just right), full of interesting questions, and much appreciative of the program selelctions:

Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel
Noels Ringing, Tidings Bringing
The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came
Sing We Now of Christmas
God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Carol of the Bells
It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Joy to the World

If you are out and about his holiday season and are in the mood for an hour of musical relaxation, consider attending one of these concerts:

December 10, 2011, 7:00 PM @ Somers Congregational Church, Somers, CT
December 17, 2011, 3:00 PM @ Niantic Community Church, Niantic, CT
January 8, 2012, 7:00 PM @ Central Baptist Church, Norwich, CT

Admission is free.  That said, the group does accept donations to cover travel costs, etc.  For a preview, here they are playing "Pat-a-Pan" from last season.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Finally Reading the Sourcebook

Yesterday, after eighteen years as the wife of a cancer survivor, I finally started reading The Thyroid Sourcebook by M. Sara Rosenthal, Ph.D.  The first edition of this book (now it its fifth edition) was published in 1993, the year King Richard was diagnosed with medullary carcinoma of the thyroid, a dangerous, often hereditary, type of cancer that does not respond to radioactive iodine or radiation therapy.  So why now?  Why read the premier book on thyroid treatment after all these years?  Well, for one, I wanted to make sure I had the latest information on follow-up care for my husband and, two, I wanted to offer the book to the family of a newly engaged young couple at church (the bride has been diagnosed with thyroid disease) and I couldn't do that in good conscience without first reading the volume.

Living with a thyroid patient is no picnic.  Every day means dealing with some manifestation of two issues:  the reality of a physiology with a compromised organ (or, in my husband's case, no organ) and the reality of a medication that has side effects.  Most days, I am uncertain which is going to show up, biochemically speaking, but whichever issue makes an appearance, I try to cope with grace.  Note the symptoms of each issue;  those in bold are the ones I have had to deal with over the years.

Synthroid® Side Effects

Rapid or irregular heartbeat
Chest pain, breathing issues
Increased sensitivity to cold
Muscle weakness
Pale, dry skin
Puffy face
Hoarse voice
Elevated blood cholesterol level
Unexplained weight gain
Change in appetite
Muscle aches, tenderness, stiffness
Weight loss
Pain, stiffness, joint swelling
Muscle weakness
Frequent bowel movements
Brittle fingernails & hair
Excessive sweating
Heat intolerance
Forgetfulness, slow thinking

Impaired fertility

Decreased bone density

Other unusual medical events

Most, if not all, of these symptoms are relatively mild or nonexistent for my husband these days, either that or I have become so inured to them after eighteen years that they only seem mild to me now.  It wasn't always like that.  The first few months after surgery were a very different story, as our first endocrinologist tried to settle on an optimal Synthroid® dosage for King Richard.  She eventually had him taking 325 mcg of levothyroxine daily, an amount we later discovered was so high that, most of the time, my poor husband walked around in a state of profound hyperthyroidism as his doctor attempted to force his TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) level to register zero on a bloodwork run.  Such was the accepted therapy for medullary thyroid cancer at that time, thinking that suppression of TSH would prevent recurrence.  At least that is what we were told back in the early 1990's.  Thankfully, my husband and I eventually found our way to an excellent specialist who adjusted his Synthroid® dose down to a more normal level (~175 mcg), not in the stratosphere.

So why do I want this young couple to be armed with the information in this book?  Quite simply:  divorce.  Over the years, King Richard and I have encountered a number of couples that have dealt with some kind of thyroid disease, be it thyroid cancer, Graves disease, or hypothyroidism.  To date, of the couples we know in our locale that have had to deal with thyroid cancer, ours is the only marriage still intact.  I do not say that to brag, nor do I say it lightly.  As I said before, living with a thyroid patient is no picnic.  Ending up with a thyroid patient after several years of marriage is one thing.  Taking on a thyroid patient as a "young couple in love" and having little or no knowledge of what you are getting into could be disastrous;  at the very least, it could lead to years of emotional damage.

So...I will offer the book to them when I am finished with it.  Hopefully, they will find it helpful and will graciously listen to an elder who has walked the path before them.  If not, then I will continue to make myself available to them for advice and counsel should they ever have the need or the desire to ask for it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Critters in the Garden

A lovely little garter snake
Photo by Plush Duck

...and a lovely little wooly
Photo by King Richard

This afternoon, my husband mowed the lawn (possibly for the last time this fall) and tuned up the lawnmower in preparation for winter storage.  When he was leaving the backyard (with the mower running) to work in the front yard, he found this little guy.  Fortunately, he saw him before he ran him over.  Unfortunately, he brought him in the house to share him with the rest of us.  I am not a fan of wildlife in the house.  Well, of course, I yelped and "asked" him to take the little critter outside.  My daughter, on the other hand, was thrilled and immediately followed her dad outside to investigate.  We don't get many snakes of any size in our yard, so no opportunity to experience nature should be squandered when it slithers past.  They had a great time.  I took the picture and went back in the house.  A little later in the day, the wooly guy showed up.  I love my yard! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Pleasurable Solo

Photo by King Richard
On Sunday afternoon, my family and I attended a wonderful organ recital given as part of the Music at Central Series at Central Baptist Church in Norwich, CT.  The organist was my daughter's instructor, Nathan Bayreuther, who currently serves as Director of Music down the shoreline at the First Congregational Church of Madison, CT.  The program was well rounded, featuring pleasantly playful pieces alongside those that were musingly meditative.  The highlight of the 90-minute performance was a four-hand encore of Stars and Stripes Forever, executed by Mr. Bayreuther and his long-time acquaintance, Mr. David Warfield, the Music Director at Central Baptist.  The recital was followed by a small reception with the usual delicious goodies that the congregation is known for.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend one of the Music at Central offerings, I encourage you to do so.  This year, the season features a barbershop quartet, the Shoreline Ringer Handbell Ensemble, Celticity, and Mr. Charles Callahan, another organist.  See you there!

Recital Program
Festival Toccata by Percy Fletcher
Organ Concerto in G Minor by Handel
Meditation by Leo Sowerby
Music by Theodore Dubois
Toccata by Joseph Callaerts

Friday, October 07, 2011

A Float!

Photo by King Richard
The other day, King Richard changed the brake fluid in the clutch control system of his Toyota Tundra.  When he first opened the reservoir tank, the fluid was black, really black.  So black, in fact, that the float visible in this photo was invisible.  That's right, invisible.  This is how the reservoir tank looks now, and how it is supposed to look.  If you haven't checked your brake fluid in a while, it might be wise to do so before the snow flies.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Car Parts in My Sink

Coil springs, clean & shiny
Photo by Plush Duck

About two weeks ago, my beloved husband laundered his greasy garage towels in my washer, necessitating some experimentation with scum-removal techniques.  After a few tries, and some help from Koalagirl, I managed to get the goo off the agitator and the wall of the washer tub.  Today, King Richard decided to wash the coil springs from his Toyota Tundra in my kitchen sink.  The purpose of this activity:  to clean the grease from them so they could be painted.  That's right.  My hubby-mechanic is painting truck parts in an effort to stave off rust.  This time, the procedure is part and parcel of a shock absorber replacement job.  The procedural paint subjects:  the previously mentioned coil springs and some bushing washers.  I really don't mind that he is so excruciatingly meticulous.  He often performs such preventative maintenance on our vehicles.  It saves us a ton of money in car repairs.  I am just not a big fan of the smell.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

An Opportunity to Help

This afternoon, I went to the local grocery store to procure ingredients for the planned Sunday entree, Cranapple Chicken.  My daughter invited her "little brother" to dinner, a young man who has been a family friend since she was ten and he was eight, so she wanted to try something new.  Anyway, as I entered the market, I was met by an older woman who was handing out donation slips for a meal ministry at one of the area churches.  If I wished to participate in the fundraiser, I could either make a monetary donation or I could purchase food items from a predetermined list.  If you would like to help as well, visit the F.A.M.I.L.Y. Kitchen website.  Also housed at the F.A.M.I.L.Y. Kitchen:  the Groton Animal Pantry, a place where people who need help feeding their pets can obtain free dog or cat food.  Check out these charities if you are in need or if you would like to help!

Note:  No compensation was received for any referrals or mentions in this article.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Breakfast Doodle

Doodle by King Richard
This morning, my family and I ate breakfast at one of our favorite local restaurants.  While enjoying the conversation at our table, my husband doodled on his placemat.  This is what came out of his pen.  I thought it was cute.  Not a masterpiece, by any means, but fun nonetheless.  Since the doodle seemed so happy, I thought I would share him with all of you.

Blessings on your day!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Movie Comes to Town

Noah's Restaurant became the Nor'easter Diner
Photo by Plush Duck
Yesterday afternoon, I drove down to one of the seaside towns near my house to have lunch with my daughter.  The traffic, which is normally quiet, was crowded and crazy.  There were also signs everywhere that read "GHS Base Camp" and "GHS Crew Parking" and just plain "GHS."  Orange traffic cones and barricades had been erected at almost every intersection heading onto the main drag where I had planned to grab a bite to eat, and large moving trucks filled with equipment had been strategically placed throughout town, along with personnel communicating into small walkie-talkies perched on shoulders or held in hands.  What in the world was going on?  It was as if the entire borough had been transformed.

Well, the community ( and the restaurant where I had planned to enjoy a long, peaceful lunch) had been renamed for the day to film some scenes for an upcoming movie titled Great Hope Springs (hence, all those "GHS" signs).  Starring Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep, the comedic flick tells the story of a long-time marriage gone stale (possibly):
Many years of marriage have left Maeve wanting to spice things up and reconnect with her husband.  When she hears of a famed relationship guru in the town of Great Hope Springs, she must persuade her skeptical husband to get on a plane for an intense week of marriage and sex therapy.  Getting there was hard shedding their bedroom hang ups, learning some new moves and rediscovering their youthful spark is when the real adventure begins.
So, hopefully, my general geographic locale benefited, economically and otherwise, from the film crew activity today.  I am told the movie will hit theaters around December 14, 2012.  I, for one, will be attending just so I can see how they did making a small seaside town in Connecticut look like a small town in Maine.  From the looks of what went on today, I am guessing they did a great job.

If you want to see another movie that was filmed around here, check out Mystic Pizza (1988).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall Has Officially Arrived

Spice cookies on depression glass
Photo by Plush Duck
Yesterday was the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere, that day toward the end of the year when light and dark are equal (or nearly so).  Gone are the hot, humid days of August;  approaching are the chilly days of October and November when the leaves will change color and the beautiful shades of red, yellow, and gold will fill the landscape, especially here in New England.  The fact that, today, the temperature is 73˚ F, the humidity is 93%, and the large maple tree in my backyard is still loaded with green leaves should be roundly dismissed as evidence to the contrary.  Autumn is here and the time has come to begin the hard work of preparing the home and garden for winter.

That said, I wanted to take some time to slow down and recognize the moment, to recognize the intricate design of the universe that makes it possible for us to identify the signs and seasons of the year.  To mark the day, my daughter created a tasty meal of chili and rice, topped off by these delicious spice cookies.  She started with a gingersnap recipe and tweaked it a bit.  They really were as yummy as they look.  Many blessings on your day.

And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the the night;  and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years. --- Genesis 1:14 NASB

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cave-Aged Cheese?

Last week, my daughter and I visited the cheese section of our local grocery store in search of just the right combination of cheeses for a "fancy" macaroni and cheese dish that she was creating.  Parmesan, romano, and asiago ended up in the recipe but as we were heading to the checkout, I noticed a sample table of Emmental Cave-Aged Swiss cheese.  Cave aged?  Intrigued, I purchased some.

This afternoon, we finally broke open the package, thinking it would make a good snack.  Wow!  What a wonderful flavor!  It was strong but very smooth and creamy with little aftertaste.  I would highly recommend it to anyone, especially for a snack tray at a wine and cheese party or shredded on a salad.

To learn more about Emmental cheeses, visit these links:
- Emmental:  The Art of Making Cheese
- Cave-Aged Emmental, Have I Mentioned That Age Matters?

Priced at ~$15.00/pound in my area of the country, I suggest looking for a small piece to keep the cost from breaking your budget.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Washing My Washer

Washing machine agitator full of greasy film
Photo by Plush Duck
It sounds ridiculous, but this evening I had to wash my washer.  You would think that putting detergent and bleach through it almost daily would keep a washer in tip-top shape, but when certain individuals decided to wash garage towels in the washing machine, consequences ensued (observe photo).

Now I know why the instructions on the lid of my washer say this:
Never place items in the washer that are dampened with gasoline or other flammable fluids.  No washer can completely remove oil.
Granted, those words were placed there as part of a fire hazard warning, but they could just as easily have said, "Don't wash any item containing petroleum product residue because it will stain your washer and lay down a layer of oily scum that may be impossible to remove."  Given the color and consistency of the goo in my washer, I suspected the culprit was anti-seize, but I would never know for sure.  What I did know for sure was that I needed to correct this problem as soon as possible because I had other loads of laundry to wash.

So what did I do?  I kept experimenting until something worked.

Solution #1:  ran the washer with Tide Free and the hottest possible water.

Nope.  Didn't work.  Washer looked exactly the same.

Solution #2:  wiped down the washer with Windex, scrubbing to remove the black residue.

Managed to remove most of the gray color and some of the small particulate matter.  However, the oily residue remained.

Solution #3:  wiped down the washer with Washer Magic®, then ran the washer with the same substance on the hottest possible water setting.

Eureka!  My washer was clean!.  Many thanks to Koalagirl for the Washer Magic®.  I owe her one.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The SpongeBob Car!

Yesterday afternoon, my husband called me on his phone, yelling, "I'm behind the SpongeBob car!"  My response was, "Follow it and get a picture."  He knew I had been trying to get a photo of that car for, literally, years, which is why he called me.  Unfortunately, King Richard was lacking the camera, so I hopped in my Subaru and headed off to get my own snapshot.  Sadly, when I found the car, I managed to miss the fact that the camera was set to manual focus, messing up all the pictures I took.  Not to worry, though, someone else in my community took video of the SpongeBob car in a location where I often see it:  the Walmart parking lot.  Enjoy!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Photo by Plush Duck
Ten years ago today, shortly after breakfast, my daughter and I began her spelling lesson for the day.  Being homeschoolers who were starting a new school year, we decided to get an early start.  The weather was absolutely gorgeous, one of those memorable mornings with the smell of crisp, clean autumn air wafting in the open windows and the warm feel of not-yet-departed late summer temperatures spreading over you if you stood in the sunshine.  My husband had departed for work at the Home Depot but had returned home by the time Flight 77 had crashed into the Pentagon.  I recall standing next to him in the family room watching the initial coverage of that third attack.  Like many Americans, I remember exactly where I was that fateful morning.

Yesterday evening, my family and I were discussing how best to mark this most important anniversary.  Aside from attending Sunday morning worship services, I suggested watching the film United 93 since we had never viewed it.  My husband, who purchased the movie, replied, "I don't think I am ready to watch that yet."  Given that response, I decided to see how the day unfolded rather than try to plan some elaborate commemorative observance.

This morning, as I was preparing to leave for church, I turned on Fox News and began watching the Ground Zero memorial service.  I wasn't able to catch very much of it as I had to leave for church after about the first thirty minutes.  I did begin to hear the names of the dead prior to getting in my car.  As I traveled down the freeway, I continued to listen to the service on the radio.  At some point, a news commentator described how a family member of one of the victims physically traced over the name of her loved one on the plaques that surround the new reflecting pools.  It occurred to me that if I did not have a grave to visit, if I had never received the remains of a loved one, that simple act of touching the name of a loved one would be a tremendously meaningful act of remembrance and healing and closure, like me traveling to Minnesota for the first time after my father died and placing my hand on his headstone.  Tears welled up in my eyes right then and I worried that I would cry through church*

Around noon, I headed to a picnic and enjoyed the company of friends and loved ones, much like I do on Memorial Day.  In fact, the entire mood of the day felt very similar to Memorial Day:  remembrances, fellowship meals, cookouts, small flags in the cemetery, family get-togethers, etc.  Maybe in future, September 11th (rather than Labor Day) will be the holiday that marks the beginning of fall at my house.
It makes sense to bookend my summer, my time of rest and relaxation, vacation and fun, with days of remembrance and recognition where I pause to remember the people who died so I can enjoy such a season of renewal in peace, comfort, and security.

Yesterday, my daughter and I participated in a local heritage event exploring the history of the Civil War in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the start of that conflict.  At the closing ceremony, Abraham Lincoln (a re-enactor) recited the Gettysburg Address and a local pastor recited a prayer written by a Civil War soldier before giving a benediction.  As "President Lincoln" spoke, I made a point of focusing on the words of the Gettysburg Address, meditating on them in the context of the 9/11 anniversary and the dedication of the memorial at Ground Zero.  I encourage my readers to do the same and, to that end, I offer the words of that famous address so you can think on them now.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.  We are met on a great battlefield of that war.  We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate --- we can not consecrate --- we can not hallow --- this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us --- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion --- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain --- that this nation, under God, shall not perish from the earth.
May you and your family have a time of quiet remembrance, dedicated service, and family connection this September 11th.  My best wishes to you all.

*Sadly, and embarrassingly, my pastor never mentioned the 9/11 anniversary in church.  Neither did we sing any patriotic songs (like "God Bless America"), nor were any prayers offered for the victims, their families, or the first responders.  Basically, the event went unrecognized.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A New Favorite Snack

Photo by King Richard
A few weeks ago, I passed a promotion at the end of an aisle in my local grocery store.  I succumbed to said advertisement and purchased the suggested snack, Olde Cape Cod Kettle Corn Popped Crisps.  Made from corn, popped in sunflower oil, and sprinkled with powdered sugar and sea salt, these things were so yummy that they survived less than an hour in my kitchen once they were opened.  The other day, I found these same chips on sale again.  This time, they were buy one, get two free!  Tough decision.  Yes, the chips made it into my cart, into my car, into my kitchen, and into my family.  Latest accompaniment:  as a side to a bowl of chicken corn chowder made by Katherine the Great.

Note:  No compensation was received for featuring this product.

Jury Duty...Again

My sticker
Photo by King Richard

Today, for the umpteenth time, I had to report to the Superior Court building for jury duty.  Since moving to the Northeast over twenty years ago, I have had the honor of performing this civic task more times than I can count.  Mind you, I don't always have to show up in person (like today).  Sometimes all I need to do is call in to see if they need me.*  At other times, I have been excused.  For example, when Katherine the Great was young and still nursing, I was allowed to delay my service until she was weaned.  A few times, I was permitted to bow out because I was a homeschooling mom with a deployed military husband.  Once, after going through part of the voir dire process, I was excused because I was the back-up labor and delivery coach for my friend who was pregnant with twins.  About six years ago, I was granted permission to leave because I was the executor for my father's will.  Today, however, I had to make an appearance in person.  Thankfully, I only had to stay for about two hours.  I was impannelled for a civil case that was subsequently continued, so the other jurors and I were dismissed.  Now, because I actually showed up for jury duty, I won't be required to serve for three years.  Unfortunately, that will not stop the judicial system from sending me a jury summons.  I get those a least once every six to twelve months.**  Fortunately, this time, when I get a new summons, I will be able to refer to my juror certificate as evidence of previous service.  Hurrah!

*In my state of residence, being excused from jury duty by being listed on a "no show" list prior to your appearance date excuses you only for the current court year, which runs from September 1 to August 31.

**Jury summons are mailed to citizens based on a randomly generated list that pulls names from the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Central Voter Registry of the Secretary of State, the state income tax rolls at the Department of Revenue Services, and the unemployment compensation records from the Department of Labor.  This random selection does not take into account prior jury service.  The judicial system relies on jurors to alert the court as to their previous service, if any.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Sights of Recovery

My husband and I ran some business errands this evening, looking for (of all things) AAA batteries.  No such luck.  The flashlight and battery shelves remain empty as evidenced by this photograph.

The cupboard was bare @ Home Depot
Photo by Plush Duck
What isn't empty is the local mall parking lot.  It is chock full of utility trucks.  I have never seen such a sight.  My speculation is that the crews were given a mandatory eight-hour rest period so they didn't work with live power lines and chain saws while sleepy.  Aggravating for those without power, I am sure, because it will slow the recovery work.  However, I think it is a wise decision.

Utility trucks @ the local mall
Photo by King Richard
If you remain without power this evening, I am sorry and I hope you will be reconnected soon.  If your power has been restored, I am happy for you.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blessings, Obvious & Hidden

Well, it has been three days since Hurricane Irene blew through the Northeast.  My family and I made it through without losing power and potable water;  we had only a few small branches come down in the backyard, along with what seemed like a ton of leaf litter;  and we sustained no wind damage whatsoever.  Clearly, we were blessed.  However, after seeing the flash flood damage in Vermont and considering the long-term struggles it will create for the residents there, I feel guilty at how minimally affected my family and I have been by this unexpected weather event.

As many people in the surrounding towns are still without utilities and the local schools have delayed opening, the area restaurants are filled with families who are eating out.  At first I didn't think much of this but as I watched people (while I myself was enjoying some time off from cooking), I noticed that large parties were dining together and that the level of conversation was loud and animated.  Greetings and farewells, likewise, were very affectionate, with hugs and kisses begin exchanged sans reservation as people came and went.  It seems that the void created by a lack of electricity and extracurriculuar activities has freed up a lot of time for friends and family to reconnect in a very old-fashioned, community-oriented, face-to-face way.  What a blessing!  Hopefully, we can all remember to continue this behavior when life returns to normal.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

As Ready As Possible (I Think)

Yesterday, I posted my Hurricane Irene preparation list.  Today, I thought I would take stock of that list to see if I am ready for this unprecedented (we'll see) weather event.

- stake corn plants:  DONE
- harvest produce:  DONE
- store empty planters:  DONE
- take down & store trellis after harvest beans:  DONE

My husband created a "frame" for the corn plants, hoping that they might have a better chance of remaining upright as a group rather than being staked individually.  The produce harvest from our garden consisted of turnips and a small bowl of beans from the vines that were disentangled form the trellises before they were packed into the playhouse.  The neighbors across the street, Mr. & Mrs. Clayton, gave us some tomatoes and cucumbers from their excess harvest.  Per the planter storage, I stowed two EarthBoxes, some terra cotta pots, and a few small wooden barrels in the shed.

- clean up driveway & yard clutter:  DONE
- dump run (if needed):  ELIMINATED FROM LIST
- take down hanging bird feeders:  DONE
- store trash cans in garage:  DONE
- install new hasp for garage lock:  ELIMINATED FROM LIST
- strap garden shed for additional structural support (if needed):  DONE
- board up garage windows (if needed):  DONE

Stashing the tube feeders in a safe space was a bit more difficult than initially anticipated as one of them contained an active yellow jacket nets.  The solution:  enclose the offending feeder in a contractor trash bag, shut it securely with a zip tie, and take it to the playhouse.  My husband braced the garage door instead of messing with the hasp.  He also strapped the shed, and he strapped the sawhorses, the wheelbarrow, and the step ladder to the shed.  The single side window, the open soffit, and the front windows of the garage were boarded.

- remove awning hardware:  DONE
- disassemble scaffolding (for remodeling project):  DONE
- check status of oil lamps & lamp supplies:  DONE
- purchase hurricane lamp & candle for kitchen table:  DONE
- purchase batteries:  DONE
- check operational status of all flashlights & transistor radio:  PARTIAL COMPLETION
- strap chimney for additional support (if needed):  ELIMINATED FROM LIST
- board up windows (if needed):  DONE
- check operational status of sump pump:  DONE

The decision to (possibly) board the windows was discussed and made on Wednesday (8/24/2011).  This was the first time I ever felt the need to board up anything.  At first, the plan was to board only the south and southeast facing windows.  This morning, however, when Hurricane Irene looked as though she would remain quite strong well into Connecticut, my husband decided to board everything.  Only two windows remain uncovered, one in the bathroom and one in the kitchen.  They are vinyl clad and difficult to board without ruining the entire frame.  Of course, the doors are uncovered for obvious safety reasons.

- purchase cat food & bird seed:  DONE
- get pet carriers down from attic:  PARTIAL COMPLETION
- change cat litter:  DONE
- clean bird cage:  ELIMINATED FROM LIST

The cat carriers are right next to the attic door, so I have located them and know exactly where to get them should I need them.

- bake bread, quick bread, & snacks for storm:  DONE
- cook soups, stews, & pasta dishes to reheat on camp stove:  DONE
- stock up on water & non-perishable supplies:  DONE
- locate, set up, & test camp stove:  DONE
- make ice packs for use in refrigerator:  DONE

- makes sure all laundry is washed, folded, & put away:  PARTIAL COMPLETION
- locate all raincoats & waterproof footwear;  stage near back door:  DONE

The laundry is all washed but not all of it is folded and put away.  I figured preparing the exterior of my house should be the focus of activity.  I can always fold once I am trapped inside during the storm.

- fill car & truck with gas:  PARTIAL COMPLETION
- get some cash for short-term purchases after storm:  DONE
- take pictures of house exterior for insurance purposes:  DONE

My husband decided he had a sufficient amount of gas in his truck.

So, given that most items on my preparation list were finished, I guess I am as prepared as I can be and, even if I am not, I am out of time.  As I write this, I can hear the wind building outside my home.  Goodnight and stay safe.

Disaster Averted, Some Advice

Yesterday afternoon, after considering the possibility of a power outage and after hearing an idea on how to extend the cooling ability of your refrigerator during an outage, my daughter and I decided to place water in quart plastic bags and freeze them in the bottom freezer drawer of our refrigerator.  This evening, my daughter tried to open that freezer drawer.  It was frozen shut!  The quart plastic bags of water had leaked into the drawer slide mechanism.  The bags weren't even overfilled (to allow for expansion).  I am still uncertain as to why they leaked and, at this point, it really doesn't matter.  Thankfully, my husband was able to open the freezer drawer and thaw the mechanism with my hair dryer.  I was freaked!  I thought, for sure, that my daughter and I had broken the refrigerator!  Praise the Lord, no.  No broken relationships, either.  A little panic, some edgy yelling, and some forgiving words/hugs later, all appears to be ok.

If you, too, heard this advice --- to put water in plastic bags and freeze them to turn your refrigerator into a giant cooler in case of a power outage --- be careful how you implement the idea.  You could create a disaster in your house before the one outside your house (Hurricane Irene) ever arrives.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane A'Comin'

Well, it looks like Hurricane Irene is DEFINITELY coming to town.  The meteorologists are still tweaking the exact track and timing, but no matter when she arrives, I really don't like the whole scenario.  Why?  Because she could get here near high tide and be intense in the overnight hours.  For the latter reason alone, I think my husband agreed to purchase plywood in order to (finally) make some custom-sized window panels to use if the forecast wind speeds are still quite high on Saturday.  Since he just restored a few of our windows and since our neighbor has a lot of lawn clutter that could become airborne, not to mention our backyard has three old silver maple trees within "clobber your house" distance if any limbs come down (of a tree topples altogether), I thought it prudent to plan for at least a few boarded windows on the south/southeast side of the house...just in case.  Yes, I am probably overreacting but I thought it better to be safe than sorry since windows don't come cheap these days.

At last check (11:00 PM 8/26/2011), Hurricane Irene is still ~430 miles wide with a barometric pressure of 951 MB and wind speeds of 100 mph, a Category 2 storm.  The current forecast expects her to weaken to a moderate Category 1 (or a strong tropical storm) by the time she reaches Connecticut.  Expected wind speeds:  85 mph.  That makes Irene a bit stronger (for me) than Hurricane Bob (1991), the last storm I endured since moving to New England.  According to Wikipedia, it was the costliest hurricane to hit this area.

So, what am I doing to prepare?  Based on the possibility that Irene could be a Category 1 storm, these are the damage parameters:

- wind speed 74-95 mph
- very dangerous winds will produce some damage
- damage to roof shingles, vinyl siding, soffits, gutters
- removal of porch coverings & awnings
- window breakage from flying debris
- masonry chimneys toppled
- large tree branches snapped or trees uprooted
- power outages that could last for several days

Using this information as a guide, here is my prep list:

- stake corn plants
- harvest produce
- store empty planters
- take down & store trellis after harvesting beans

- clean up driveway & yard clutter
- dump run (if needed)
- take down hanging bird feeders
- store trash cans in garage
- install new hasp for garage lock
- strap garden shed for additional structural support (if needed)
- board up garage windows (if needed)

- remove awning hardware
- disassemble sscaffolding (for remodeling project)
- check status of oil lamps & lamp supplies
- purchase hurricane lamp & candle for kitchen table
- purchase batteries
- check operational status of all flashlights & transistor radio
- strap chimney for additional structural support (if needed)
- board up windows (if needed)

- purchase cat food & bird seed
- get pet carriers down from attic
- change cat litter
- clean bird cage

- bake bread, quick breads, & snacks for storm
- cook soups, stews, & pasta dishes to reheat on camp stove
- stock up on water & non-perishable supplies
- locate, set up, & test camp stove
- make ice packs for use in refrigerator

- make sure all laundry is washed, folded, & put away
- locate all raincoats & waterproof footwear;  stage near back door

- fill car & truck with gas
- get some cash for short-term purchases after storm
- take pictures of house exterior for insurance purposes

This has been the focus of my household activities for a few days.  Happily, my husband and daughter are here to help this time.  He is taking care of the exterior protective issues;  she is doing a lot of the cooking and baking;  I am focused on laundry/cleaning, other emergency prep issues, and monitoring storm updates.  During the last hurricane that knocked on the door of Connecticut, Katherine the Great was only one year old and King Richard was out to sea on a submarine.

So, what are you doing to prepare for Irene?  Whatever it is, I pray that you stay safe.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earthquake Study Resources

In light of today's earthquake and aftershocks, some homeschool families may want to examine the subject of plate tectonics in more depth.  Here are some resources that may help:

A Science Odyssey (PBS).
You Try It:  Mountain Maker, Earth Shaker
Earthquake & Tsunami Unit Study & Lapbook
Earth Science:  Plate Movement, Earthquakes
Booklist for Plate Tectonics, Earthquakes, Volcanoes
How the Earth Works (high school/college/adult)

and my favorite:  the seismophone at the Science Museum of Minnesota.  Here is a short video of what it does.  Enjoy!

Go Figure, An Earthquake

This afternoon, after the end of a Late Summer Lunch that was held by our local homeschool support group, I stopped by the church office to say goodbye to my friend, Pam, the church secretary.  She informed me that Washington, D.C.had been hit by an earthquake, that the Pentagon had been evacuated, and that people as far away as Hartford, CT had experienced some movement.  Now, I must admit, of all the news that Pam could have shared with me today, an earthquake report was nowhere on my list.  I didn't feel a thing.  Then again, after a few busy hours with homeschool moms and their very energetic kids, I was pretty preoccupied.  Still, I used to live in southern California.  You would think I would be aware enough to feel an earthquake.  Apparently not!

Watching the news coverage this evening, I was struck by the number of people and reporters who stated that they ran out of their office buildings.  Even the Pentagon officials, as mentioned above, emptied thier building.*  Believe it or not, this is not the recommended response.  Duck, Cover, & Hold is the advised action, as explained in this publication from FEMA, "What To Do During an Earthquake."  It does seem counterintuitive, but staying put keeps people out of the way of the most common earthquake hazards:  falling glass and debris from windows and building exteriors.  Of course, if you are walking on the street directly in front of a skyscraper, you may want to step into a nearby lobby to avoid falling debris but, generally speaking, remaining in place is less risky.

So, today is Tuesday and we felt an earthquake in the Northeast.  On Sunday, we could be in the midst of a hurricane.  Looks like it is shaping up to be an exciting weather week.

*A later report containing interviews with Pentagon employees shared that many people thought an explosion had occurred, understandable for folks who had experienced the 9/11 attacks firsthand.  In this situation, I would probably evacuate a building too, despite any recommendation to the contrary.

Monday, August 22, 2011

My Own Secret Question

Recently, I had to re-establish an online account to pay my telephone bill (don't ask, it is a long story).  As part of that process, I was asked to set up two security questions, although this particular company called them "secret" questions, which I found a bit annoying.  Aside from that, this protective process was not unexpected and I was glad that such a procedure was in place.  Account security is important to me since I have, in the past, been the victim of credit card theft to the tune of $2000 (another long story).  What I didn't expect as part of the process was the inability to select my own "secret" questions.

This particular website asked me to choose from a variety of predetermined queries, most of which were meaningless to me.  The most memorably obnoxious one was, "Where did you attend your first concert?"  Now if I was a teenager, that option might work for me.  However, being over forty, I have attended so many concerts in my life, the first one has really faded into the distant past.  A more memorable question for me would be, "Where were you on 9/11?"  I doubt that one would work for, say, an eleven-year-old because they themselves probably don't remember the day the World Trade Center collapsed.  They certainly would have heard about it and seen video footage of it, but they probably don't have a first-hand recollection of the day.  Simply put, they were just too young.  Conclusion of these examples:  it is impossible to create a set of predetermined security questions that will work for everyone.

Which brings me to the point of this complaint.  Well, it is a plea really.  If you own a website that has a security procedure in place where patrons must establish a "secret" question, please allow them to choose their own.  It will save both of us a lot of headaches.  I won't forget my security information and you won't need to troubleshoot the problem for me when I am shut out of my account because I forgot one of the queries you pre-designed for me.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

My First Scrapbooking Project

This past Wednesday, after about a week of on-again-off-again page planning/design and shopping to collect supplies (like paper, embellishments, and adhesive), I finally assembled my first scrapbook page.  Not for my personal use, this page will (hopefully) brighten the Sign In Area of our homeschool support group meetings.  I plan to create a page for each month, September 2011 through June 2012.  If I am really inspired, I might add pages for July and August 2012 as well.  Of course, that would only be if the group decides to meet next summer.

Being related (by marriage) to a scrapbook entrepreneur and having a best friend who has worked as a scrapbook page designer for a website, I really should have caught the creative memory keeping bug long ago, but I didn't.  Why I caught it now, I cannot say.  I guess I just wanted to give a warm welcome to the families in our homeschool community and creatively preserve some of the moments we share together.  Or maybe in my old age (I will turn fifty soon), I have softened to the idea that there is some purpose to "frivolous" decoration:  that of making people comfortable and letting them know you care enough to make their environs pretty.  Whatever the reason, I have finished my first project and am moving on to another:  October holidays.  No Halloween, though.  I have decided to focus on three other celebrations.  Can you guess what they might be?

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

DYK? The Viking Diet

I had never heard of this eating plan before receiving a note about it in my RealAge mailing this morning.  Like the famous Mediterranean diet, Viking cuisine also reduces mortality but with foods traditionally consumed in Nordic cultures:  cabbage, rye bread, root vegetables, fish, etc.  A twelve-year inquiry actually verified the positive effects of the diet, quoting from my e-mail message:
In the study, researchers assigned people a score from 0 to 6, depending on how closely they adhered to the traditional Nordic eating style.  For every point earned, mortality dropped by 4 to 6 percent over the course of the 12-year study.  Overall, men with the most points reduced their mortality by 36 percent while top-scoring women lowered their mortality by 25 percent. 
Since the Viking diet contains foods that I enjoy, I am tempted to try it.  However, I do have one nagging question:  how do people with glycemic issues --- diabetes, insulin resistance, and the like --- fare on this plan?  Consumption of bread and root vegetables, no matter how healthy, can often send blood sugar levels swinging for such individuals.  While I research this concern for myself, here are some links that you may want to investigate should you decide to try this new food fad:

Eat Like a Viking to Live Longer
The Viking Diet
The Viking Diet:  How to Lose Weight Successfully and Keep It Off
Introducing:  The Viking Diet

Bon appetit!  Or should I say nyte maten?

No compensation has been received from or any other websites mentioned or linked in this posting.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Some Trivia About "The Ten Commandments"

This evening, as I was watching "The Ten Commandments" with my husband, I got curious about Anne Baxter, the actress who played the character Nefretiri in the film.  So, I went a-Googling.  This is what I found:  Anne Baxter was the granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright.  She died of a brain aneurysm in 1985, collapsing while hailing a cab in New York City.  Her grave is located on the Wright estate in Wisconsin.  One of her three daughters is a interior designer;  another, named Maginel, is a Catholic nun who lives in Rome.

As I said, just some trivia.