Friday, December 31, 2010

Book reading, and time spent.

Against a friend's advice, I counted how many books I read this year.  Jamie said counting them would make me compete with myself.  Well, I got curious, so I went through my journals for the past 2 years.  I was surprised and pleased to see that I had read 78 books this year. 

Then I counted last year's reading list.  89.  Considering this is the last day of the year, there is no way I can match last year's count.

So the excuses ensue. 

Last year I read 35 Trixie Belden books.  They are quick reads so they shouldn't count the same as one Jim Bishop Dresden Files book. 

I reread some favorite books last year.  Rereading is quicker than a first read.  (By the way, I have no idea whether this is true.)

Counting books doesn't account for the magazines I read this year, like the Smithsonian.  Of course, I don't enumerate magazines, so I have no idea how many magazines I read.  And, honestly, didn't I read magazines last year too?

So whatever my reasons, my book count this year is less than last year's.  Regardless, I have read a lot of books the past two years.  

And that answers a question that had been bothering me.  Why don't I accomplish more? 

I started a stained glass piece early this year that I still haven't finished.  Now, part of that is that I was making it to sell.  Since I have had so little luck selling the pieces I have already finished, the incentive to finish this one has diminished.  On the other hand, I have other pieces I want to make and can't start them until I finish this one and get it out of the way.

I have the beginnings of an idea for a novel.  I've even written a couple chapters.  But I can't seem to find the time to work on it.  Now I know part of the reason why.  I'm too busy enjoying the fruits of someone else's labors to labor myself.  I haven't been willing to devote the necessary time to finishing my own story.

I think another part of this obstruction is that both glass and writing take a lot of time.  Creating a glass piece is also a little painful.  I usually end up with a stiff neck from leaning over the glass and cuts on one or more fingers after a session with the glass.  But I do love seeing the sun shining through the finished piece.

If I can sell neither glass art nor books, is it worth the effort it takes to create them?  This is the quandary that has me taking refuge in the written works of others. 

I love to read.  I always have.  I always will.  But I think my resolution for 2011 is to spend less time reading and more time creating. 

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

How often and what to blog?

I find myself thinking about things I could have, should have blogged when I am driving home from work, far from a computer.  And generally the things I think about are in the past.  Why can't I think about blogging when the news is current?  I know no one but me will know that a conversation or happening didn't actually occur today.  But it seems like cheating to write about the past.  Or maybe I need to rethink what a blog means to me.

Tis a puzzlement.  (Is that how Yul Brynner said it in The King and I?)

So here are a few things that happened within the last two weeks:

Angel caught kennel cough.  The wheezing frightened her and I would pet her and make soothing noises.  So it was gratifying when she started wheezing and came running to me for comfort.  

All year I told myself if I got an annual bonus I would give half to a local charity.  (Wild Horse Ranch Rescue).  Giving them money brought me more pleasure than anything I could have bought for myself. 

With the half bonus I had left, I paid off my new washer.  Out of the rest I was going to buy a Kindle.  But when I looked at one, I realized I really like books.  I am not ready to give up paper.  So I gave that money to my vet for their fund for needy animals.  And that felt really good too.

The same day, I read The Bloggess column where she offered $30 gift cards to the first 20 people that really needed it.  When she ran out of gift cards, other readers offered to help.  Over $40,000 was shared with people in need.  I cried reading the comments. 

I am in a very good place right now, very happy, healthy, able to pay my bills, grateful to be able to share some of what I have. 

Have a happy New Year.  I hope 2011 brings you joy.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Pros and cons of my work world

Today I sat down and did the pluses and minuses of working for my company.  Don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t deciding whether to leave or not.  I like the work I do and I like the people I work with.  

I was trying to justify why I stay.   I wanted to make sure I wasn't staying because I am too lazy, or too afraid, to leave.  Are there true reasons to stay? 

It bothers me that the company seems to aspire to be like every other company in their market space, even in areas where they are actually better.  We are told that our benefits, or workspace, or whatever, are industry average.   On the other hand, the company talks about aspiring to be an industry leader.  Upper management hasn’t seemed to figure out that you cannot lead and follow at the same time.   

The lack of logic is disturbing. 

And they somehow think that rewarding everyone equally is logical.  It is unsettling, and demotivating, to give everyone the same raise regardless of whether they worked their behinds off, phoned it in, or barely escaped termination.  How does that inspire an employee to put in the extra effort the next year?

So I compiled my list of good and bad.  It was enlightening. 

I realized that what I like about the company has been determined at the local level, before the big corporate takeover.  There is the flexible work schedule that lets me come in at 6:30 and leave at 3.  There is the ability to work from home one day a week (which I don’t take advantage of, but is still nice to have).  There is the casual dress code that allows me to wear jeans and sneakers to work every day.  The understanding of my desire to have a cubicle by a window and to do the type of work I enjoy and am good at.  The hiring of people who work well together and are not prima donnas.  Compassion for people who have families and situations that sometimes require attention during a work day. 

The only good thing on my list that comes from the corporate level is the plentiful vacation time.  And Corporate is planning on mucking that up in the next year or so. 

So now I know what keeps me here.  And I am comfortable with those reasons.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Scottsdale Iron Pour 2010

I have a friend who takes an iron sculpture class at a Scottsdale Community College.  Twice a year there is an iron pour where the artists melt enough iron to fill hundreds of molds. In the spring it is done at a college with no room for observers.  But in November, visitors are welcomed and encouraged.

Last year, my first to observe, was held in the morning and I was quite impressed.  It takes a lot of careful coordination because the iron is kept continuously flowing and is heated to 2500 degrees. 

This year they held the event at sundown and I remembered to bring a camera. As impressive as it is in the daylight, it is twice as cool at dark when the iron is glowing red and the steam is rising off the poured molds.

This is maybe one-sixth of the molds laid out
One of the small plaque molds is mine.

The molds are laid out on a pile of sand.  This enables the molds to be leveled and catches any drips of molten iron.

The smaller open face molds to the right are the ones they sell at the iron pour for people to play with.


Last minutes instructions before the pour.

As you can see, everyone is wearing welders leathers and helmets with face shields.  This is too dangerous to take chances with.

Blazing hot cupola

The cupola is loaded from the top with iron and coke.  The molten iron pours out the bottom.  Slag exits from the side (hidden in this picture) 

Sparks everywhere

Waiting to lift

 One of the reasons for the protective gear. 

It takes two people to handle the ladle.  Here they are waiting for the last bit of iron to fill the ladle before they take it.  The fiberglass blanket keeps the iron hot  and prevents splashing.   

The first thing done with a fresh ladle is scrape off the slag, which rises to the top of the ladle.

Pouring the open face molds.
Glowing iron

Pouring the molds requires a lot of manpower.  The 2 ladle handlers can't see into the mold from their posts.  So there is a spotter that tells them when the mold is full.

Besides the spotter, there are one or two shovelers  that cover any overflow with sand and watch for fires.

Pouring a mold

Closer view

The amount of iron required depends on the size of the mold.  And the temperature of the iron varies within the ladle with the hottest at the bottom.

The detail of the mold determines whether it is poured first or last from the ladle.  The differing sizes of iron requires someone to calculate which molds can be poured from the current ladle.

Pouring ceramic shells

Some of the more delicate pieces are created using ceramic shells.  A wax design is created and the ceramic poured over it to create the shell.  These are preheated before iron is poured into them so the ceramic doesn't shatter.

Smoking and burning after being poured.

This is part of the reason for the sand base.  You can see the iron burning outside the molds where is over flowed.

The largest of the night.

This mold required 250 lbs of iron.  That took two ladles poured simultaneously.  One ladle was filled, then set aside with its fiberglass cover while the second was being filled.  Then the 2 ladles were poured at the same time.

I enjoyed the pour immensely and highly recommend it.  .

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cupcake to Eclair - geek, not foodie

I have been the happy owner of a Motorola Cliq for about a year.  The Cliq used the Android OS 1.5, called Cupcake.  (Not sure what is with the food fetish).

I had no real complaints, but as time passed, some of the apps being recommended to me would not run on Cupcake.  Although really, did I need the Kindle app?  Am I really going to read a book on a 4 inch screen?  But I am enough of a geek to dislike being behind in technology.

So I was thrilled when Android 2.1 (Eclair) was finally offered as an upgrade to Cliq users.  But the thrill didn't last.

I read ALL of the instructions.  And there were pages and pages of them.  Maybe that should have been my first clue.  I realized I had a cable for connectivity at work, so I downloaded the upgrade and installed it.  And it bailed on me.  It got stuck in a shutting down, booting up cycle. 

Another bad sign - there was a FAQ for just this situation.

I removed the battery as recommended.  That didn't stop the cycling. So, reluctantly, I did a factory reset, as the trouble-shooting guide suggested.  Only I couldn't finish the reset because I didn't have 3G connectivity in the office, nor did I know the password for the Wi-Fi here. I was NOT a happy camper.

When I got home, I set my Wi-Fi connection back up and finished resetting my phone. The good news was that the update was in place after the reset.  The bad news was that not everything I had downloaded showed up in My Download.  Among the missing, my 2 favorite apps, which I paid for, which I use nearly every day.

Anxious to get my phone back to its pre-upgrade state, I didn't bother to look for my receipt e-mails.  I downloaded them anyway and paid again. The one was only $3.  But the other was $15.  Impatience has its price.

Finally I got everything mostly restored and I was able to use my phone.  There were some differences I liked, such as the native widgets for turning Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and off.  Some I didn't, like having to slide the lock icon instead of double-tapping the menu button to unlock. But overall, I was okay with it.

Then the next day I couldn't get my music to play.  I was frantic.  I was furious.  I Googled.  I talked to an Android compatriot.  Nothing. 

I had plugged my phone into my computer to remove the update file as required.  Only I didn't change the USB from drive to charge.  So the music wouldn't play.  I could argue for better messaging, but this instance was user error.

And it turns out that I really love the new Connected Music Player.  It even displays the lyrics for the song I am playing.  How cool is that!

So overall, happy with upgrade, unhappy with upgrade process.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sunday afternoon on the patio

I live in the suburbs, but there is a lot of undeveloped land in the area.   I was reading out on the patio where I could enjoy the cool autumn air and watch the birds. 

The thrasher was preventing the quail from dining at the bird block.  I had never seen it get aggressive before. It is about half the size of the quail, but the quail yielded to it.  Maybe they were intimidated by that long, curved beak.

Angel lay on the cement, staring at the block wall,  keeping watch for the squirrel. The first time she went to chase it, Peanut waylaid her, blocking her way with a snarl for no apparent reason.  The squirrel got away, as always. 

The hummingbird stopped to feed frequently, wings whirring.  I don't know if it was the 'owner' of the feeder or the intruder.  Periodically, one hummingbird chased another through the acacia tree, past the side of the house, looping and diving.

The squirrel came back, running across the top of the block wall.  Angel and Peanut tore after the squirrel, scaring the thrasher away, briefly, and the quail got a couple nibbles in.

An orange and black butterfly flitted across the yard and into the acacia tree. A gecko sunned itself, clinging to the vertical surface of the wall, escaping into the gaps in the blocks when frightened.  A grasshopper or locust buzzed and hopped across the lawn as a cloud of white flies danced over the grass.

A light breezed swayed the wind chimes, the deep clang of the sun moon chime counterpointed by the light ting of. the pipe chime.  The shirts hanging on the line rocked in the breeze, hangers twisting back and forth.

There is a rustle from under the china berry. A towhee scratches at fallen leaves, looking for sustenance. Its activity attracts the attention of the sparrows. Four or five hop around near the towhee.

The quail alternate standing on the block wall and pecking at the seed block ..It's hard to tell whether everyone is getting a turn at the block.  Sparrows hop in between the quail, pecking quickly at the block, before hopping away again.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

I don't understand bullying

I don't understand the psychology of bullying.  Why would someone take pleasure in harming another person physically or mentally?  How do people become so cruel, so young?  (Or at all, actually)

I don't know if bullying has gotten worse or if I just didn't notice it growing up.  I was only the victim of a bully once and I didn't even recognize it for bullying until years later.

I didn't fit in with the typical cliques in high school.  I wasn't into sports and I wasn't popular.  If there was a smart club, I didn't know about it.  Though not a stoner, I hung out with the stoners and the other outsiders.   I used to dress in tattered jeans and an army jacket.  I sat on the floor in the hall during breaks and embroidered designs on jeans.

You would think all that would be fodder for verbal abuse, but people basically left me alone.  

But one day a girl in a group of girls made snide comments about the fringe on my jacket and the fringe on my boots.  I remember being more puzzled than concerned.  I mean, I barely knew her.  Why did she feel the need to comment?  My friends told me to just ignore her.

I ignored her next couple comments, not even acknowledging them.  So she escalated.  She threatened to beat me up.  Now that got my attention.  I had never been in a fight except with my brothers.  And you aren't really trying to harm each other in those. Not really.

My friend stepped in front of me and told her if she started anything it would be with both of us.  The girl turned on her heel and she and her entourage left.  And I was not beaten up, nor was I bothered for the rest of my high school years.

Maybe my good fortune was in having friends to stand with me.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's not just an old car to me.

Tuesday I got caught in a hail storm not more than 2 minutes after I left the underground parking at work.  I've never been out in a hailstorm before and it's one scary experience.

There wasn't anywhere to go to be sheltered.  My one goal was to drive out of the storm.  This was made more difficult by a couple of different idiots that stopped right in the middle of the road.  The experts say not to stop for sand storms and snow storms.  Surely it applies to hail storms as well?  I was able to switch lanes in both cases, although I did fishtail on the hail stones a little.

Every hail stone that hit my poor car made me flinch.  I waited for the windshield to break.  The carnage only lasted a couple minutes before it devolved into rain.  I drove home convincing myself that the damage wasn't bad and I would be able to live with it.

But when I got out of the car and looked at the damage, I was appalled.  There were 60 or 70 small dents on the hood, roof, and trunk. Further examination revealed a broken sidelight and dings in every horizontal surface of my car.

She's not new, my car, not even close.  She's a 1999 Mazda.  But I've taken good care of her through the years.  She is mechanically sound.  She gets 35 miles to the gallon.  And I don't have a car payment. 
People seemed to think I would be thrilled to have a reason to get a new car.  They were surprised that I wanted to keep her.  Why wouldn't I want to replace a 12 year old car?

Have I mentioned the no car payment situation?  I thought so.

At least the insurance adjuster didn't blink.  The damages were more than my car was worth, so they wouldn't fix it.  He cut me a check for a little more than the blue book value and sent me on my way.

Now I am trying home remedies for getting dents out of cars.  (By the way, the compressed air method didn't work for me.)  If none of that works, my choices are: live with it, fix what can be fixed for the insurance money, turn my car into an art project and emphasize the dents.

At this moment, none of the options is to get a new car.  Have I mentioned the no car payment thing?  I thought so.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

City of Mesa - Efficient Hazardous Waste Collection

I was bowled over by the efficiency of the Household Hazardous Waste Collection event held In Mesa today. 

I got a recent reminder of the event, in perfect time to plan to participate.  You know, not too late that you can't gather up your stuff.  But not so early that you forget by the time the day arrives.  And I had really been wanting to clean up my garage.

So I boxed up 10 years worth of leftover cans of paint and spray paint.  Add to that, chemicals like brake fluid, Scotchguard, cleaners, etc.that had been in the garage for years subjected to temperatures guaranteed to break down the formulas.  I filled up my trunk with boxes of the discards. 

I have never participated in an event like this and didn't know what to expect.   The event started at 8, or so the web site said.  I arrived at the location at 7:48 and was dismayed to find 40 or 50 cars ahead of me. 

I was expecting a very, very long wait.

To my surprise, the line was already moving, and cars were already leaving.  The line moved steadily to the drop-off point.  By 8, I was only about 15 cars back.  The lanes were clearly marked.  There were spotters at key points.  And there was a horde of employees emptying vehicles.  The whole process worked with clockwork efficiency.

My trunk was completely empty by 8:10 and I was on my way home, happy and feeling quite smug about disposing of my household waste responsibly.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Panic and Job Rumors

Today I saw a news item saying the company I work for isn't being purchased.  Management says the company isn't for sale and these are unfounded rumors.

I find this less than reassuring.  Something had to prompt the rumor.

I've worked hard on this product for the past 7 years and part of me feels that a buyer would acknowledge that expertise and keep me on. They would invest lots of money into improving the product and have super benefits. This is my Disney view of the world.

But another part of me feels that a buyer would take the product in an entirely different direction and my services would no longer be required.  They would move the production to another town and I would be stuck here with my underwater house. This is the Brothers Grimm reality.

I don't want to look for a new job.  I like the one I have.  It took me a long time to get to do the specific kind of programming I like.   I like the people I've worked with for years.  And I like my recently hired team mate. 

Selling myself is one task at which I do not excel.  I mentioned that I thought my skills were too niche to make it easy to find another.  My team mate has worked contract jobs the past few years and assured me that I would have no difficulty.  (This is one of the reasons I like him.: )

I know it's premature to worry.  But I have been in the work force long enough to recognize the signs are there.   

When I grew up, the guys got out of high school, got jobs at the local plant, and worked there until retirement.

At the moment, that stability sounds really nice.

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm trying to be green - ish.

I grew up in the hippie era, where everyone was going to live in communes and live close to nature.  While that didn't happen, I have been trying to be more aware.

I've switched almost all of my light bulbs for CFL bulbs.  Although now I am hearing that the mercury content of the CFL bulbs may not make them quite as green as previously believed.

I've put most of my electronic equipment on a switch so I can prevent vampire energy.

I had my 13 year old air conditioner replaced with a more efficient unit.  And when the nights are cool, I use window fans to bring the cool air in and turn off the air conditioner entirely.

My thermostat is set at 88 during the day and 85 at night, supplemented with a couple of fans to circulate the air.  I am quite comfortable at those temperatures, but if I get warm, well, it is summer in the desert.

I had the insulation in my attic doubled.  That has really helped keep the hot air out of the house.  Does it count if I also benefit from lower electric bills?

I had the patio cover extended along the whole south of the house.  The sun stays out of the house and those rooms stay cooler.

I hang my laundry out to dry.  Why not take advantage of the extreme Arizona dryness?   And if that prolongs the life of my 13 year old dryer, even better.

I use cloth napkins, and cloth cleaning rags.  I gave up paper plates for real plates.

I use a push mower on my small patch of lawn and put the grass clippings on my flower garden.   That the push mower is so much quieter than the electric mower that preceded it is an additional benefit.

I've cut back on irrigation to most of my plants and discovered they do just fine with less water.  Maybe even better. 

I put leftover bread, fruit, and vegetables out for the wild birds and bunnies.

I sweep once for every time I vacuum.  I think it's quicker.  And it is definitely quieter. 

But still, I have far too many gadgets with batteries that must be recharged often.

And I drive alone to work every day.

I am hoping that everything else I do compensates for that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Two toenails clipped, 8 to go.

If I had written this post yesterday, the title would have been one toenail clipped.  But wonder of wonders, Angel let me clip one more toenail today.   (I am only counting the front paws.  The claws on the back don't seem to grow as fast.)

Why is this worthy of celebration?  Well, when I was given Angel I was told it was impossible to clip her toenails.  And as you can see, that girl's toenails are lethal - long, strong, and wielded when she wants your attention.  I have scratches on my upper arms from ignoring her desire to be petted.  

Shortly after I got her, I took her to the vet for her annual shots.  "While we are here," I asked, "can you clip her toenails?'  Sure, no problem.  They took her into the back.  Fifteen minutes later, they brought her back, the technician disheveled and flushed.  "We got one toenail clipped," she admitted glumly.  Apparently they tried sweetness to no avail.  And they had three people hold her down.  That was how they got the one toenail clipped.  "She will have to be sedated to have her toenails clipped."

 Yikes!  Sedation is not cheap.  However, she needed to have her teeth cleaned. They cut her toenails while she was unconscious for the teeth cleaning.

That was a year ago.

Those pesky toenails have continued growing since then.  So recently I started a campaign to get her to allow this procedure.  She has always been willing to have you handle her toes as long as your hand was empty.  One day I was filing my fingernails and quickly ran the file against one toe.  She looked at me, startled.  Was she startled that I did it, or startled that it didn't hurt? 

The next day, the same procedure, but for slightly longer.  Then I waited until she was standing in the kitchen and asked her for her paw.  Another quick swipe of the file.  She bounced around the family room, quite pleased with herself.  At that point, I put Peanut up on the counter and trimmed her toenails.  When I put her down, I asked Angel for her paw.  When she gave it to me, I quickly snipped one toenail.  Again she was thrilled.

But I couldn't get her to give me her paw again.  For the past week, I have been running the file against her toenails whenever she lays her head in my lap.  But until today, she wouldn't allow me near her with the clippers.

Two down.  Eight to go.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Letting go of an elderly pet

For me, the hardest part about being a pet parent is deciding when to let go.  The actual letting go is difficult, of course, and the grief has to be dealt with.  But deciding when the time is right is a horrible decision to make.

None of my pet children have died on their own.  I have had to choose the time to have them put down.  Yet I know that I would have been more devastated had any of my beloved pets gone off into a corner and died alone.

Belker made the right time apparent.  He was blind and deaf and had what I now know was canine dementia.  When I found him lying with his tail in his water dish and not caring. I knew it was time.  But still, 15 years later, I wonder if there was more I could have or should have done.

Marlie didn't give me any indication that he was ready.  But he clearly had dementia and seemed disturbed by it, endlessly pacing the house. Again, there is doubt.  Was he ready?  Or was I?

Now Rags.  But his situation was different and, to me, more difficult.  His problem was illness, not age. 
I treated the Valley Fever and it got better.  But the damage to his kidneys was irreversible.  Cats, I am told, can live long and comfortably with kidney disease.  Not so, dogs.

So I did what I could, and more than I could really afford, trying to save my friend, my companion, my fur child. I spent the Labor Day weekend fussing over him, treating him with medicine, loving and holding him. 

And it became apparent that I was doing this for me, not for him.  He became more and more frail, more and more tired, but always willing to let me hold him and hug him.  At least for a little while.  Those times became briefer and briefer as he just wanted to be left alone to escape into sleep.

And I knew it was time, though I didn't want to admit it.  He had an evaluation at the vet this morning.  I held out one last hope that his lab numbers would be better, that he was actually improving.  He lost only four tenths pound in 3 days.  That was a small victory, wasn't it?

But the vet called and said he was wasting away, that there wasn't anything more that could be done.  That it was time.  So I cried and held my pet, my child, my friend until he took his last breath. 

The vet told me Rags was lucky to have me, that I took good care of him.

No.  I was the lucky one.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

No Pink Tools

I use my reciprocating saw a lot.  It is one of the few tools I have that I purchased brand new.  It's slim and light and easy to handle.  And it's orange.

It's orange because it was marketed as a one-handed saw.  For men.  If it been marketed as a light weight saw for women, it would have been pink.  I don't do pink tools.

I'm not sure where manufacturers got the idea that if they color it pink, women will flock to buy their product, regardless of what that product is.  Pink toasters, pink tools, pink food processors, pink frying pans, the list goes on and on.

For every woman who is thrilled to buy a pink something, there are women like me who are repulsed.  I know a woman who paid extra to have a man's bicycle modified to fit rather than buy the pink woman's version.
What is wrong with black, or silver, or blue?  Oh wait, somehow blue became associated with little boys.  Girls are associated with pink.  Pink has it's place.  I have pink shirts and a pink dress.  But keep pink out of the hardware store. 

I think my biggest objection here is the implication that 'every' woman wants the same things.  I get irritated at commercials that state every woman wants pearl earrings for her birthday.  Not all of us want to be given flowers and candy and jewelry.  My favorite gifts are electronics and tools and books. 

Not all women want the same things any more than all men want the same things.  Don't make assumptions about an entire gender.  You could be alienating some of your customer base.

No pink tools.

Friday, September 3, 2010

I don't mind Product Placement

I admit I skip the commercials every chance I get.  I occasionally miss out on a funny one, but I'm willing to take that risk.

So I don't mind that programs are resorting to product placements within the shows - if it is done organically.

It's not like this is a new practice.  It's been done since the days of radio.  For all I know, maybe the Shakespearean Globe players shilled products within their plays.  Somewhere along the line, it became accepted practice to use generics within the program.  No one wanted to alienate possible advertisers.  Disguising the brand of soda or bread, or turning products so the brands weren't visible made the programs less realistic.

In my circle, if you buy a new phone, the first question is, which one?  (Motorola Cliq)  Ditto for cars.  (Mazda Protege)  If I ask someone to grab me a can of pop, I don't leave the choice up to them.  I specify Diet Pepsi.  So discussing what we've bought, by brand, is natural and realistic.

Product placement can be natural or jarring, sometimes within the same program.  I find it endearing that Myka Bering on Warehouse 13 likes Twizzlers.  I only hope the actress, Joanne Kelly does too.  When Myka is nibbling on a Twizzler within the scene, or buying them at a convenience store, the actions seem genuine.  However, when she goes to her class reunion and there is a big container of Twizzlers on the sign-in desk, that screamed "Product Placement".

Ditto Covert Affairs.  The scene where Annie's sister, Danielle takes Bud Light out of the refrigerator was blatant product placement, but in a sly way I found amusing.  The scene where Jai was doing a stakeout by using the car's rear camera was awesome.  I was impressed at the new use of technology.  (Yes, he was too close to the house not to be seen. Different issue.)  But moments later he walks behind the car and instead of following the actor, the camera pans the rear of the car to show the model name.  Buzz!  Penalty for blatant promotion.  And it didn't work.  I don't know what kind of car it was.

If White Collar does product placement, it is so subtle as to be completely natural.  In this week's episode, Neil mentions Peter looks good in his Armani suit.  Was that a product placement or character development?  And the villain's propensity for a specific kind of liquor.  Product Placement or plot device?  Lastly, the frequent mentions of gourmet coffee blends.  Product Placement or plot device?  Or both?

Product placement can affect everything from which model cars the characters drive, the computers on their desk, and their favorite foods.  As long as it fits into the story, I don't mind.  I prefer that to the 20 minutes of commercials. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm grateful my sick dog is the smallest.

I don't know how I would have handled it if one of the bigger dogs had gotten Valley Fever.  Rags is my littlest fur child at 20 pounds.

This makes it easy to pick him up and put him on the kitchen counter where  I can over power him to force him to take his pills.  I am grateful he fights and fidgets instead of bites.  Size isn't as much of an issue with sharp teeth.

His size makes it possible for me to carry him up the stairs when he doesn't have the energy.  Or to carry him part way around the retention basin when he wants to come, but can't quite make it.

And because he is small, I can stick globs of peanut butter in his mouth to give him some protein on the days when he won't eat.  He's lost 3 of 21 pounds in 2 weeks.  That's almost 15% of his body weight. 

This morning was another not eating day.  I was able to force feed him some liquid food with a syringe.  It was messy.  I don't hold him so tightly that I hurt him.  But I did get some food into him.  Onto him, onto the counter, onto me.

If it had been either the 40 or 70 pound dog that got sick and they resisted as Rags has, I don't think I would come out the victor.

Monday, August 16, 2010

"Just" doing paint touch-up

On my list of to-dos was the seemingly innocuous "Touch up paint" in  the pecan color that makes such a wonderful accent wall.  The white nicks and dark scuffs look glaringly obvious against the pecan.  At least to me.

This is a quick chore.  Open the leftover paint, stir it up, grab a paint brush.  Touch up scuffs.  Easy, right?

Not the way I do it.  Oh, the first three steps were as described.  Easy.  But after that, things got more involved.

The major scuffs were from the couch rubbing against the wall.  The couch itself was quite easy to slide away from the wall, since it sits on a tile floor.  But moving the couch displaced a plethora of lost, half-chewed rawhides.  I picked those up and threw them back into the open.

A throng of dust bunnies and dead bugs remained, requiring that I get out the broom and dust pan to sweep.  This seemed easier than dragging out the vacuum.  As I dumped the dust and debris into the garbage, I noticed how dirty the broom and dust pan were.  So I washed them.

Back to the wall where some of the nicks needing painted were on the window sill.  I conscientiously pulled up the wooden blinds, so they wouldn't get accidentally painted.  The window was adjacent to a relatively dust free entertainment center.  At least, that's what I thought until the sunlight exposed the inaccuracy of that belief.

So I dusted all of the shelves in the entertainment center.  And part of the wall that needed touched up.  After all, paint won't stick to dust, will it?

Pulling the couch away from the wall also exposed the hole in the back created when the couch had been pushed up against an extended electrical outlet.  Seeing the hole reminded me that I had wanted to try to find matching fabric so I could repair it.  I snipped a small piece of the torn fabric to put in my purse.

Then I touched up the paint scuffs.  Done.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Sookie Stackhouse

I recently picked up an omnibus with the first three books of the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris because I had heard the trailers for the HBO series, True Blood.

I started with Dead Until Dark.  It was interesting, but didn't grab me enough to want to continue.  However, since I had the omnibus, I read the next, Living Dead in Dallas.  And then I was hooked.  I picked up the rest of the series through the latest, Dead in the Family.

What do I like about the series?  Well, for one, I like the way the story line builds from one edition to the next and the way the people change from their circumstances.  In Dead to the World, Sookie and a suitor's girlfriend have an unfortunate encounter.  This echoes through 2 more books.  The rescue of Bill from his maker in Club Dead has repercussions in the last book.  

Sookie goes from being ashamed of her telepathy to almost seeing it as the gift the vampires and Weres think it is.  There is the progression from her discovery of vampires to shapeshifters to Weres, weres, witches, demons and fairies.  And the realization that she herself isn't entirely human.  People live, people die, even people we don't want to die.

Through it all, Sookie maintains her belief in tolerance, in trying to do the best you can to help others.  The intolerance and fear of those that are different are realistic.   Sookie's fears and doubts are realistically portrayed.  She tries to help others who have the gift avoid the problems she has faced.  

Bad things, sometimes very bad things, happen to and around Sookie.  She is a catalyst, often seeing the situation in ways those more intimately involved can't.  In this way, she reminds me of Sheriff Carter on Eureka, without the super intellect, but with the common sense to see a problem to its resolution.

I've enjoyed these books very much and anxiously await the next installment.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

My poor Rags

I'm very worried about Rags.  He will be 13 in November.  I lost my last 2 Lhasas at 13.

And he's sick.  Very sick.

He was at the vet in June for annual boosters.  Since he is geriatric (the nice way of saying 'old'), they did a blood workup.  Slightly high liver proteins, probably from too many 'Meat-in-the-middle' rawhides, but other than that he was in good shape.

I cut back on the rawhides and bought some low fat treats.  But he's been lethargic the last couple weeks.  Normally he follows me everywhere I go.  But he's been staying out until he knows I am not coming back to the room.

I attributed it to the humidity or his arthritis, until he wouldn't eat his morning treat.  So Wednesday I took him back to the vet.  They did a bunch of tests, but since the results weren't conclusive, they sent the blood work to another lab for analysis.  We left without any medication.  

I felt helpless knowing he was hurting.  Friday morning I remembered I had some leftover canine antibiotics and I gave him one in the morning.  In the afternoon, the vet called with 2 prescriptions of antibiotics.  His liver numbers were better.  The urinalysis came back normal.  But his white cell count was double normal.  With no indication why, they suggested I bring him in yesterday for x-rays.

So he spent the whole day at the vet.  The x-rays were inconclusive.  They did show he has bladder stones again, so surgery is in his future, but since the urinalysis was normal, they aren't the cause of the white blood count.  There was a slight shadowing on his lungs, like a fluid build up, which would maybe indicate Valley Fever.

They reran the blood work.  His white count was now triple normal.  They are sending the blood work to be analyzed more thoroughly.  Since a simple infection seems to have been ruled out, at this point, the best case scenario would be Valley Fever.  The worst case would be cancer - again. 

In the meantime, he sleeps a lot.  He is sweet and loving and I wish I could fix him by waving a magic wand.

Updated - 8/6/10
The test results came back high positive for Valley Fever.  He's on 5 different medications for 2 weeks, then down to 3.  And since he won't eat, I have to force feed him.  Peanut butter on the roof of the mouth works.  And using a syringe-like utensil to squirt pureed dog food down his throat.  Poor baby.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

My house is ruled by dogs

I was looking at my counter and realized that 90% of one counter was taken up by dog treats and medicines. The canister of sugar is for the hummingbird feeder.  (I use Splenda from the coffee cup.)

Well, the stove top qualifies as a counter if you don't actually cook on it.  Doesn't it?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

New Air Conditioner

First, let me state this is NOT a sponsored blog. I just was blown away by the service I got.

I was recently reminded that there was a $1500 tax credit for replacing an inefficient air conditioner.  Well, my heat pump was going on its 13th summer.  It worked fine, but the past 2 years I've been told it's losing SEER.  From a 12, it was down to a 6.  Since A/C units are good for about 10 years, I figured I was on borrowed time.  Why not take advantage of the tax credit?

So I called Wolff Mechanical to get a quote.  I admit I did not get any competing quotes.  I have done business with them for a few years for my annual checks.  They are one of SRP's recommended vendors.  They are highly rated on-line, and they have only 3 complaints with the BBB.  And those were all resolved.  Possibly another vendor would have come in for less, but I don't believe in going with the lowest bidder anyway.

The first thing Bo did, after admiring my dogs, was to tell me that the unit I had was too big for my house.  They could easily have sold me another 5 ton unit and I would have thought nothing of it.  But he explained that I only needed a 4 ton.   He explained that the air return was too small for the house and would need to be expanded.  He also told me the filters I use don't allow enough air flow to the air conditioner.

The day of the installation, two guys, Brian and Ed, arrived promptly at 8.  They were polite and professional.  They moved my computer desk out of the way of the attic access with no grumbling and put it back in exactly the same spot when the work was done.   

For 12 years I have been complaining about the high temperature in the master bedroom.  I was told with the sun beating on a south and west wall, I would have to deal with it.  Brian informed me that the precedence of the ducts has been sending the coldest air to the lower level.  He fixed that and the bedroom is now the coldest room in the house.  Yeah!

The air return couldn't be expanded because there were roof trusses in the way.  I was expecting Brian to say that the 20 x 30 would work well enough.  No.  He asked me if it was OK to put one in the next room.  I pointed out that there was no access to that part of the attic because there was plywood in the way.  He just shrugged and said when they hipped the roofs together they didn't bother to cut out the plywood facing.  He cut a hole for the new duct and an access for a person.  And let me know that there was sufficient insulation in that section.

Even though they didn't replace the original air return, he installed a new cover for it.  This one has slats spaced further apart.  I was thrilled to note that the clips to open the grill were now facing away from the wall.  It's been a hassle to squeeze up against the wall to release the old ones.  I thanked him and he pointed out that the vanes on the grill were pointed away from the stairway.  People downstairs looking up would see only the vanes and not the filter.  Isn't that cool!  A fine example of paying attention to the details.

Finally, they did a great job of cleaning up, even vacuuming the fallen insulation from the floor of the loft.  

The new air conditioner is quieter and keeps the temperature more even than the old one did.  It's too soon to tell if the bills will be lower, but even if they are the same, I am quite happy with the new unit.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Melanie Travis mysteries

I spent last week reading the last 10 of Laurien Berenson's Melanie Travis mysteries, in chronological order.

I only recently discovered the series, even though the first was written in 1995 and the last in 2008.  The latter bothers me.  There should be another edition by now.  I will be very disappointed if there aren't more books. 

The first book I read was from the middle of the series.  I found it in a used book store.  The title, Once Bitten, was the same as a vampire book I had just read.  It seemed whimsical to read 2 different genre books with the same title.  

I was hooked and immediately bought the entire series.  To me, the mysteries are secondary to the family relationships and the dogs.  The people are realistic and well developed.  I matched the characters to real people in my own life.

The main dogs are standard Poodles, but there are guest appearances by other show breeds.  The books provide an insight into the world of pedigree dogs shows and the care and training of Poodles in particular.  Towards the end of the series, the emphasis shifts away from dog shows and we get insight into dog food marketing and obedience training.

I found the books entertaining, absorbing, and informative.  I was bereft when I finished reading the last book of the series.  .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Cube with a view

My department moved recently to 'temporary' space for six months while our current location is being gutted and remodeled.

My old cubicle was a little short for comfort, only three feet high, but I faced the window, could see the sky, and enjoyed the natural light.  The temporary suite had windows with a beautiful view of a mature golf course, with grass and large trees and flowers.

So I was dismayed to find that my assigned cubicle had five foot walls.  I had a beautiful view - of my calendar.  Additionally, the vampire developers that I work with voted to have the line of lights kept off.  (I do agree that the glare was annoying.)   My cubicle was a cozy, dark, quiet cave.  And I hated it.

I moved to Arizona because the sun barely shone in Iowa all winter.  I am solar-powered.  I am active when the sun is up, crash when it sets. I found the lack of light and the isolation stifling. 

So I modified my cubicle.  Well, actually I got permission and the cubicle guy did the change.  But I would have done it myself if I had had the tools to do it.

I am thrilled with the change.  I have just enough privacy to work, but I can see the trees on the golf course from my chair.

So far the reaction from everyone else has been interesting.  There seems to be no middle ground.  They either love it or hate it.  Two other people had their cubicles modified.

But every single person who commented on my cubicle mentioned "Office Space".  Are we total geeks or what?

           The view before                                                  The view after (early morning)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

It's supposed to be hot

I live in Phoenix. The temperature this past week has been in the low 100's. I don't have my air conditioner turned on.

I don't bring that up in conversation. People immediately assume I can't afford to pay the electric bill. I can.

The second conclusion is that I am weird. Maybe. I just prefer to have my doors and windows open. I suppose in a metropolis it's an oxymoron to say I like the fresh air. But I do.

I grew up in Iowa where the temperature often reached the high 90's in the summer. And no one I knew had air conditioning. People just dealt with the heat.

I have fans blowing to circulate the air. I drink a lot of water. I dress for the temperature. I sweat.

People here wear long sleeves and sweaters to deal with the low temperatures in stores, restaurants, offices, and homes. Where is the logic in that? Where did Phoenicians get the idea that we should never sweat?

We live in a desert. Deserts are hot in the summer. The summer heat is the price we pay for the fabulous weather we get in the winter. I think we should embrace both.

That's not to say I intend to go the entire summer without air conditioning. When the inside temperature hits 100, then I will turn on my air.

I'm eccentric, not crazy.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Karma and the pickup truck

A while back, after breakfast and the newspaper, the dogs and I went to the feed store for more bird seed.  I was distracted, thinking about what else I needed to do that day.  I suddenly realized I was in the wrong lane for the feed store which was only half a block away. 

When the car to my left went, so did I.   Right through a red light.  Fortunately, the on-coming cars were paying more attention than I was.  I pulled into the feed store parking lot, thankful that I had not been hit. As I got out of the car, a white pickup with an old man and a young girl pulled up next to me.  I figured he was there to shop and paid him no attention. 

“You know you went through a red light back there.”  he said to me through the truck window, leaning over the girl. 

Now why would anyone bother to tell you that?  Either you know it and him telling you is pointless, or you don’t realize it and you aren’t going to believe him. 

I said, “Yeah, I realized that partway through.”

“You know you were lucky.”  he said sternly.

I said, “Yes I know” and walked toward the entrance to the store.  I thought maybe he was already coming to the feed store, but no, he had stopped just to tell me I had screwed up.

Before I even got to the front door, he backed up to leave.  And backed into another truck! 

I just kept walking, but I was laughing inside.  Instant Karma!  I did feel sorry for the guy he backed into.  I only needed a bag of seed, but I wandered around a bit because I wasn't sure if the old man would blame me for the accident.

I FaceBooked the incident when I got home and I wasn’t the only one that thought it was Karmic.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Midnight visit in suburbia

At 11:45 pm Sunday, I wake up because I hear a dog barking outside.  My dog, Peanut.  Now I will admit she is a bit of a barker, warning anyone who dares to walk past our house to walk faster.  But that is during the day.  At night she is generally curled up on my bed with Angel and Rags. 

So I go downstairs to see what the problem is, Angel and Rags running ahead.  I flip the patio light on and see Angel and Peanut with their noses to the ground, following a circuitous route through the back yard. 

Great, I think.  There's been a cat in the yard.  I hope it isn't still here.

Moments later, Peanut makes a beeline for the back wall, barking loudly.  A raven is standing on the wall, unconcerned, looking at her.  I hush her and stand within a foot of the raven.  It is a small raven, probably one of the three babies that were born in the nest on the electrical tower behind my house.  I talk to it.

"Don't you think you should leave?  It isn't exactly safe here."  The raven blinks, but doesn't leave.  "Shoo."  It shifts its weight, nearly falling off the wall, and I see that it has an injury to its foot. 

Cat, I think again. 

Peanut won't take her eyes off the raven.  Rags is starting to growl, preparatory to barking, and I hear another noise near the front of the walled-in yard.  Not wanting any midnight barking, or any cat and dog fights, I hustle Angel and Rags into the house and close off the doggy door.  Peanut won't come, so I pick her up bodily.  The dogs stand at the patio door staring out at me. 

I hear another noise up front.  It doesn't sound cat-like and I wonder if one of the raven siblings is also stranded, maybe injured.  I walk up front, in my pajamas, the street light my only illumination.

At the front of the yard is a slatted double gate.  Where the block meets the house, I have a wheel barrow propped on its end.  The corner is completely in shadow.   As I near the gate, I hear a canine warning growl.  I stop cold, wondering whether it is safe to move away.  Will the canine in question follow me, attack me?  I slowly turn around and walk back to the house. 

Now, I can't leave the animal in my yard.  My dogs will need to go outside someday.  And I suspect, since it is a nocturnal canine capable of jumping a 6 foot fence, that my guest is a coyote.  This is both good and bad news.  Good because I haven't seen any coyotes recently.  I had worried they had all been chased from the area.  Bad because, well, because in a battle between a dog and a coyote, I think the coyote would win.

I grab a jacket to cover my pajamas and a flashlight and go to the front of the double gate.  I shine the flashlight into the yard and the coyote looks at me calmly through the gap.  I see an eye and a nose, but nothing else.  I am not willing to get close enough to see more.  I don't want to frighten it.  I need a way to get it out of my yard.

The padlock on the gate isn't latched.  It's just slipped through the hasp.  Keeping an eye on the spot where the coyote is, I reach my hand over the gate.  I have a vision of it leaping up and grabbing my hand, but it neither growls nor moves. 

I can't reach the padlock so I move a large decorative rock closer to the gate.  Standing on it, I can reach the lock.  I slip it from the hasp and loosen the latch. Since the coyote probably came from the retention basin side of the  property, I also go through the house to the back yard.  I unlock the gate to the basin and prop it open with a watering can. 

Then back to the front to make sure the gate had swung open, as it generally does. But didn't this time.  So I carefully walk over and open the gate about 6 inches.  Then I hightail it back into the house.  The dogs and I go back upstairs.  Looking out the front window, I half hope to see the coyote exit the yard, but I am sure it will wait until it feels safer.  I have trouble getting back to sleep, wondering what to do if it is still there in the morning.

Awake by 4, I dress quickly, grab a flashlight and do a complete survey of the back yard.  Thankfully, the coyote has departed.  I let the dogs out and get ready for work. 

Later, as it starts to get light out, I see Angel and Peanut leaping at the wall, trying to get the raven still perched there.  They can't reach it, but it is making an odd hissing sound at them.  That sound alerts mama raven and she starts cawing and circling overhead. 

Fearing mama will attack my dogs, I approach the small raven. Again it doesn't move.  I lightly touch the back feathers and it hobbles along the fence.  I encourage it across the property line onto my neighbor's wall, out of sight of the dogs.  When I leave for work fifteen minutes later, it is back on my side of the fence sheltered under an overhanging tree branch. 

I sigh and hope for the best. When I get home from work, the raven is gone. I can't tell whether or not it is back with its family in the nest.

The whole adventure reminds me of the beginning of a bad joke - A raven and a coyote walk into a yard …