Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thoughts of spring

On Monday, I've someone from a local greenhouse/garden center coming to give me an estimate on replacing the brick border around the front flowerbed. There are a few challenges...the current border is only about six inches high, but cannot be raised any higher, since the outdoor faucet is on the house at the back of the bed, only an additional six inches or so above the ground. I've looked online at some bricks/pavers/edgings, and honestly, have not found much that appeals. Hopefully, this guy will have more resources.

They will most likely want to provide plantings as well - my efforts last year look rather sad this spring. I think one of the three bushes will make it, while the other two are on the fence. I've no objection to purchasing the plants from them, as well as having them plant them. I can, however, cut some costs by putting down the soaker hose and doing the mulching myself.

At long last I've come up with a solution for the garden hose as well (because of the way the units are built, most of the neighbors have a leader hose running from the faucet to a hose box or reel that sits right in front of the gate to the patio - kind of silly, if you ask me). There are some very pretty hose stands available that I can put in the back corner of the bed. I only need twenty-five feet of hose, which will coil around it very neatly.

Since winters here are just Too Darn Cold for perennials to survive in urns unless said urns are brought inside for the season, the giant outside urns will be filled with annuals. I gave it a try with perennials, but I'm too indifferent a gardener for them to have a fighting chance.

It is still too early to actually plant anything here in the land of Too Darn Cold. The local weatherperson posted a picture on Twitter of the seven day forecast for their sister station in Orlando. Our daytime highs will not reach their current nighttime lows for almost another month. My heat still comes on regularly. Usually, it's completely turned off by now. The sun doesn't set until almost 8 p.m., but if you want to sit outside enjoying the light, you will need warm shoes, your winter coat, a stadium blanket and maybe mittens. Not to mention hot chocolate rather than a cold brew.

It may well be too chilly the week of Memorial Day for the annual tuning up of the air conditioning.

Global warming my frozen butt.

Signs of spring are there if you look closely: grass greening up nicely, leaf buds on trees, geese meandering down the condo complex entrance road... With a bit of luck, we will have a least a day or two of "spring" before Ma Nature flips the switch from Too Darn Cold to Hot, Humid and Hazy.

We can hope, anyway.

Readathon wrap-up

I keep saying that one of these days I'll return to more coherent posts; today is not that day. I've a bit of a cold and haven't been sleeping well this week (two nights ago I had a very pleasant, if slightly creepy dream that featured the (now deceased) owner of my favorite local quilt shop). As a result, I'm a bit foggy and slow to focus.

I did indeed start out the Readathon day strong at 6 a.m., but slowly died out around noon. Too much other stuff to do. I did finish a book I'd already started, start Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and listen to about two hours of an audiobook (Marie Kondos' book on decluttering). I will get to the rest of the books several of you recommended on Facebook...especially as I have some vacation time the end of next month.

One thing the Readathon did accomplish, though, is to get me back into the habit of reading a book at lunch, rather than randomly reading news stories, blogs and other flotsam from the web. Amazing how much you can read in half an hour. Years ago, most of my reading was done either early in the morning, or at bus stops before and after work, yet I managed to read three, sometimes four books each week. My focus may not be as sharp these days, but having consistent, even if short, times to read really helps to increase the "books read" list.

The next day of reading is in October. That's usually a better time for me - the weather is getting cooler, the fire is inviting and it's easier to curl up with a book or three for the day. October 22nd is the day; consider joining the almost 2,000 other people who love to read that day.

Friday, April 22, 2016

'Twas the night before Readathon

I'm not sure I've mentioned it here, but I'm participating in Dewey's 24-hour Readathon on Saturday.

This is my third go-round with the Readathon, but I'm certainly not a hard core, stay up all night kind of reader. I'll read for as much of the day as I can, and will most likely get a couple of additional hours in before church on Sunday, but I value my sleep.

Preparation is the key to being able to read most of the day without guilt.

First, the "stack".

While most of the pictures of reading stacks I've seen from other Readathon participants consist of physical books, mine are all on the Kindle.

This is really a partial stack, as I could only fit the first five books or so on the screen at once. Ironically, the one book that is not shown - Private Justice, the first book in a series recommended to me by a friend - is no longer in the stack because I've read it. Along with the next two in the series. All in the last ten days.

How's that for a warm up?

The beauty of the Kindle is that if none of the original choices grab my attention on Saturday, there are close to one hundred other books in my "unread" kindle library, plus the vast quantities of books available for purchase and immediate download from Amazon.

I'll certainly not want for reading choices.

Next, the snacks.

People seem to be almost as excited by the snacks and other food they've planned for the Readathon as for the reading itself.

Me, I'm planning to stick to mostly "real food" meals and snacks, though I do have both Oreos and Goldfish crackers available as well. The current plan includes:

Breakfast "power sandwich" at Panera to start the day
Hummus and green pepper strips for a morning snack
Chicken and broccoli mostly-crustless quiche and a spinach salad for lunch
An apple, graham crackers and peanut butter for the afternoon pick-me-up
Leftover lemon chicken with mushrooms over pearled couscous for dinner

While I will begin the day with coffee, most of the rest of the day my libation of choice will be ice water. That's pretty much what I do most days, anyway, and the water will keep me well hydrated. If I want a change up in the afternoon, I've refrigerated bottled water and those tubes of Crystal Light lemonade that are made to mix in.

A glass of wine (or two) and some cheese and crackers may round out the later night hours.

Lastly, the locations.

As much as I love to read, I simply cannot stay in one place for the entire Readathon.

As mentioned, I'll start the day at Panera, at 6 a.m. It's an hour before the "official" start in my time zone, but I'm generally up and out by that time on the weekend anyway. The restaurant doesn't start to get noisy and crowded until 8 - 8:30, which gives me plenty of time to get a good start on Hitchhiker's Guide.

Home, then, by midmorning, to curl up in the recliner for a few hours, and the morning snack. I can keep reading through lunch, as the kindle cover works as a stand, allowing me to read almost hands free (still have to keep a finger clean to swipe for page turns).

Here's where things may go a bit awry. Ideally, I'd stay home the rest of the day, moving among the dining room table, recliner, couch and desk to read. But there is a good chance I'll want to get out once more, most likely to Starbucks later in the afternoon. I find that I concentrate better in a slightly noisy place. The bits of my brain that would usually be wandering off and pulling me toward distractions are occupied with keeping the noise at bay, allowing me to focus more keenly on actually reading. It works for me, anyway.

I never, ever read in bed (Bed is for two things, and reading is incompatible with either), so the last reading of the night will be on the computer at the desk upstairs. That's another great thing about the kindle - I can read my books directly from my amazon account on any screen - phone, tablet, computer.

That's the plan. The day will be a success not if all these components come together as laid out, but if I simply spend more of the day reading than not.

The true gold in the Readathon is the impact it has on my usual reading habits. I find that during the week before, and for several months afterwards, I'm more deliberate in my reading, planning out times to read rather than fitting it in any old time. Given that I work full time and have other rather time consuming hobbies, increasing reading time takes that extra bit of planning.

It's well worth it.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Overtaxed

So very, very happy to see Friday. This has been a week. While my boss was at a conference out of state, the information for the board of trustees meeting later this month were due. My part had been done since the week before, but he had forgotten to do his part.

Guess who got to drop everything Monday to write the summary?

Actually, it was more taking the summary that was presented to a smaller committee of the BOT in February, updating page numbers and adding a couple of points, but still... Not usually my circus, nor my monkeys.

Trust tax returns, however, are generally my barrel o' poo-flinging primates. Usually, the treasury services director prepares the K-1s and I do the rest of the return.

His assistant told me on April 1st the returns were "done". She indicated that they were fully, completely done, ready for a review. Yay! I could start reviewing them the following Monday. Only when Monday rolled around, he hadn't given me the files (housed only on his particular computer) that have the completed returns.

Oh yeah - he was on vacation last week.

Grr.

Anyway, as of yesterday, the returns are reviewed, signed and mailed. I have no clue why he completely prepared them, except for the fact that once you've entered the information needed to issue the K-1, the return is eighty percent finished.

I had hoped that was the end of my tax-related activities, at least for a week or so (after the BOT reviews and "accepts" the university's 990 (a procedure not technically required by the IRS, even though the IRS asks on the return itself whether or not the governing body has reviewed and approved it), I can actually file it).

No such luck.

A J-1 researcher called me yesterday in a panic about filing her personal taxes. We do not give personal tax advice, but with nonresident aliens, I like to at least give them a list of resources.

Unfortunately, it turns out that she never completed the necessary paperwork to allow Payroll to give her the tax break allowed for Turkish J-1s working in the U.S. That meant she didn't have access to the software we use, whose manufacturer will do an NRA tax return for a reasonable fee. The software company is an expert in NRA taxes - so much better to have them prepare the return than a local firm.

She's coming in this morning to complete the paperwork required for 2016, now having access to the software system. Hopefully, she can still do her 2015 return through their service.

People can complain about our dysfunctional tax system all they want: it keeps me employed.

On that note, I should get to some of the other stuff that was put aside in favor of tax returns.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

In which I try to poison myself. Three times.

After I share this, I may find it very difficult to find anyone willing to risk dinner at my place.

On Sunday, I made a small lasagna. Well, as small as any lasagna can reasonably be, in a deep, seven by eleven inch pan. Only two layers of no-boil noodles, one on the bottom, one on the top. Ground turkey, a little bit of onion and green pepper mixed with spaghetti sauce for one layer, sliced fresh mozzarella for another. A mix of freshly ground, imported Parmesan cheese mixed with ricotta cheese and an egg for another layer.

That ricotta...

It had been in the refrigerator since I first decided to make lasagna, a while ago. Long enough ago that the carton was a bit past the "sell by" date. The container had not yet been opened. I've never had an issue with using dairy a bit past the sell by date, provided it hadn't been opened yet.

Until now.

The lasagna tasted great. I had a bit for dinner, then refrigerated the rest. Once it firmed up, I'd layer the slices in a freezer container, and voila! lasagna available to thaw for future meals.

It started just before bedtime. That rumbly tummy, uncomfortable bloated feeling. That "I need to do this right.now." feeling, coupled with an inability to do just that.

No fun.

No fun, especially the three times I was up in the night, not counting finally giving up and getting out of bed for good at 3:30 a.m.

Monday was an extra coffee kind of day.

Monday night I went to pack up a portion of salad dressing for Tuesday's lunch. I'd used the last of the yummy Marie Calander poppyseed ranch for Monday's salad. There was a new jar of it in a grocery bag in the pantry.

That dressing...I'd added it to the grocery order a week ago, knowing I was running out. The grocery bags up the order with the nonperishable separate from the perishable goods. I have a bad habit of letting the nonperishable stuff stay in the bag on the pantry floor, especially if I intend to use the stuff soon. I'd not gotten to this new jar as quickly as expected, because I miscalculated and ran out of viable spinach for salads earlier than I thought I would. A quick stop at the store Monday night fixed that.

I unscrewed the lid on the new jar, transferred a couple of teaspoons of the dressing into my little container for lunch, licked the spoon, went to put the lid back on the jar...

The texture of the dressing looked a bit, um, off. Kind of lumpy.

Hmm. This time with my reading glasses on, I searched every inch of the jar until I found the tiny words: "keep refrigerated". Yep, I'd totally forgotten that this dressing is sold from a refrigerated section in the produce area. The person who pulled my order apparently forgot that little fact, too, and packed the jar with the nonperishables.

Sigh. No poppyseed dressing for me. Hopefully, the licked teaspoon wouldn't cause me as much trouble as the expired cheese. Then again, I'd had much, much less of the dressing.

There's a bottle of regular ranch dressing in the fridge, so I put some of that in another container for lunch, carefully looking at it, smelling it and tasting a bit, just in case. It was fine.

Until lunchtime today, however, when I opened that little container and discovered that the dressing had separated. Ew. The lunchbag is insulated, and everything went into it at 6 a.m., cold from the refrigerator. I had lunch around 12:15. The bag was closed the entire time. I'd never had this happen before.

Another bottle of dressing bit the dust.

At least this time, I caught it before I ingested any of it.

It seems to be time for a really, really thorough pantry/refrigerator/kitchen purge.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Fluffy Friday

Dual meaning to the title, as fluffy stuff is going to fall from the sky today, not once, but twice. Someone please contact Mother Nature and remind her to turn her seasonal calendar to spring.

Not so fluffy
: A young (not yet 30) friend has been diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia. Diagnosed in November, he went through all the preparatory chemo and other things leading up to a stem cell transplant from a near-perfect donor from Europe. The cells went in yesterday; now it's a waiting game.

(Side note: it is continually astonishing to me not only what medicine can do, but how global treatment can be.)

His name is Ian, if you are inclined to pray for him. If you have any interest in helping to defray his quickly mounting costs of treatment, please contact me (email in "about" section, or leave a comment) and I'll hook you up.

Good for a snow day: The spring edition of Dewey's 24 hour readathon is fast approaching.

The Readathon starts at the same time worldwide. For Milwaukee and anyone in the Central time zone, that would be 7 a.m. Saturday, running until 7 a.m. Sunday. I plan to go to church Sunday, so I can't possibly read late into (or over) night on Saturday to Sunday. As a result, I'm cheating a bit. Personally, I plan to start as soon as I get home from work on Friday, and read as much as possible before bedtime on Saturday night. I'll miss some of the fun stuff, but I do very much like my sleep.

Fun stuff? There are giveaways, cheerleaders, challenges and more - always helpful for those who don't have the concentration to simply read for long periods, or as decent breaks for those of us who do.

I'll take suggestions on things to read. I'm currently in a fantasy phase (think Jim C. Hines, Marissa Meyer, Larry Correia), though mystery is always my first love (currently Louise Penny, Cleo Coyle, Margery Allingham, Sara Paretsky - well, almost anything mystery related). The plan is to work a bit on the stack of nonfiction as well.

It's entirely possible that by the time the event rolls around in two weeks, our weather will be sunny and seventy. There is a warm up coming next week. Maybe I'll be able to sit on the patio to read.

A peek of sun: It's been crazy at work, and I've been tempted to come home, eat dinner and collapse in bed. Resisting that temptation, I've spent an hour a night in the studio once or twice during each of the last two weeks. I've several quilt to layer up this week, including a long overdue project for a friend. The layering takes time, but once done, an hour's work every couple of days will have them done in a jiffy.

Hopeful thinking: One of the local home and hardware places has their bedding plants on sale right now. I may brave the snow after work (kidding, sort of, on the snow - it's only supposed to be about half an inch, and shouldn't stick) and go take a look. Though having to brush a bit of snow off the plants to see what they are is a bit...off-putting. Then there is the question of whether or not I'd be able to keep them alive until a planting date that has a reasonable chance of falling after the last possible freeze date (around here, that would be Memorial Day).

We'll see. In the meantime, happy weekend!

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Let there be...a reasonable amount of light

The light fixture in my upstairs bathroom is both old and ugly. Eventually, hopefully within the next year, I plan to remodel the bathroom; it makes no financial sense to replace the current fixture in advance of that remodel.

When I moved in, all four of the bulbs in the fixture were small compact florescents. Given that I keep the temperature in the condo at just-below-where-any-reasonable-person-would-be-comfortable, those bulbs took several minutes to warm to full power and illumination. Drove me crazy, so I changed to standard 60 watt incandescents.

Well...one of the end sockets is bad, so that bulb never lights. No big deal, as there are three more.

Until the other socket connected to that one died, as well.

No big deal, plenty of light from the remaining two.

Two weeks ago, one of the two remaining bulbs burned out and was replaced. On my next trip to the bathroom, a "pop" was heard whilst I turned on the light, and that replacement bulb burned out.

Sigh.

I've been functioning with one ever since, not having the time or patience to deal with it. I just replaced the (hopefully only) burned out bulb with one of the original CFs (I have a whole box full of these, as the previous owners used them in every doggone fixture, and I've replaced most of them).

Let there be...more light than before.

This still leaves me with a bit of a dilemma. The entire fixture should really be replaced. I'm willing to do that. The question, though...do I get a cheapie that will be donated someplace when I do the remodel, or do I try to find something really nice, that I'd like to keep, in the hopes that when the remodel is done, it will fit in with all the other changes?

Argh.

I can get a basic 4 light strip for under $30, but the bulbs (type G) are $12 each...and I'd need four.

Too many decisions. Fortunately, we are in the few months of the year when the amount of daylight in the morning is increasing. The sun is almost fully up when I leave the house at 6 a.m. Soon I'll almost not need the vanity light much before work (there is a nice light in the shower, at least).

Better make a decision, then, before the summer solistice.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

All we need are the peanuts and cotton candy

The circus is in town this week, or at least touring the state. All five remaining serious contenders for party presidential nominations are in Wisconsin, thanks to our only-in-the-nation-that-day primary coming up next Tuesday.

The three Rs (who bear nothing at all in common with readin, 'riting and 'rithmatic) are having a "town hall" about a mile from campus tonight. I'm half expecting Trump to take offense at some point during the proceedings, walking off the stage in a huff. Given that he hung up on a local conservative talk show host yesterday, I think a walk-off is a possibility.

While I was off last week, I intended to drop in to City Hall to early vote. That never happened. The new plan is to go after work tonight. While I feel a responsibility to do my civic duty, I find the choices available less than stellar, and feel a low level of repugnance for the whole process.

On the bright side, while it may be a circus, I know the Ringmaster and trust Him. Will He give us what we need - or let us get what we deserve? Either way, I know He has a plan, a long range, all encompassing plan in which this election is a small, small point.

Keep reminding me of that, would you?