Friday, May 27, 2016

Obligatory Friday check in*

*with promises of pictures...later

The Friday before the beginning of a vacation - even if the vacation is a "staycation" - is the longest Friday of the year. Add to that the fact that you went to bed an hour and a half later than usual the night before, only to wake at 2:45, finally giving up on sleep at 3:45 and, well, let's just say not much actual work is being done.

The landscapers did the front bed yesterday, and it looks wonderful. Scott called early this morning to check in with me (super extra-special bonus brownie points to Scott for being incredibly proactive and deliberate about communications all through the project), mentioning that at least two of my neighbors, seeing the work they were doing for me, asked him to give them estimates on their places. I'd call that a win all the way around.

I'll have pictures in a day or two. There's some finish work that's up to me: washing the windows (the roof overhangs by almost three feet - how the heck did they get so dirty?), repainting the mailbox and putting a pretty plant on the shepherd's hook (which I decided to leave where it is - a plant hung there mostly hides the ugly electric etc. meters that some dingdong decided should be mounted on the center front of the house). Oh - and tightening the flag bracket, switching the pole from the wooden one to the aluminum and sticking the solar powered spotlight into the ground.

The landscapers also put grass seed in front of the brick border, as they had to tear up some of the grass to do the work. It's the same stuff they seeded along our strip last year, and comes in very thick and green with only the slightest encouragement.

In spite of a forecast that calls for rain/storms almost every day of my entire vacation, finishing up the outside stuff is top on my to-do list. The forecasters say it won't rain all day, that the showers will be hit or miss. Humpf. Every time they say that and I try to do something outdoors, it's "hit" Diane with a deluge time. Even if there isn't a cloud in the sky when I start.

Other than that, I'd like to also finish up, or at least make good progress on, decluttering and rearranging my bedroom. There are several quilts to work on, a couple more to plan (dang friends are done getting married, but everyone is getting ready to pop out kids) and a book to read for a community book club.

I've decided I need to force myself to get out more. While I am perfectly happy puttering around home amusing myself, when I find myself constantly talking (out loud) to myself, it's time to start being a bit more social. This particular club meets at the local library. The book for June is The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. In July, I'm rereading Farenheit 451 for a different community reading group - this group meets in a local bar.

That alone will make it worth attending.

As I said, pictures in a day or two, assuming I can take them without getting soaked.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Out from under

Wow. I hadn't realized it has been two weeks without a post. Not that you have missed me, but while I've thought about posting several times, I didn't quite make it to the keyboard.

Bear with me - it's not quite 4 a.m. and I've been up for half an hour. Sleep cycles lately have been challenging, I think thanks to a med I started taking three weeks ago. Usually, I go to bed just before night, get up once for a pit stop somewhere between 1:3 - 2:30, then fall right back asleep until just before the alarm goes off.

Lately, though, bedtime has crept closer to eight. When it does, I tend to get up twice, once just before midnight, and again somewhere after three. Since I get up at four, that last awakening can be a bit dicey. Today, for instance, it just didn't make sense to go back to bed.

The earlier bedtime, I'm fairly sure, is the result of the med counteracting some of the effects of my thyroid med, specifically, the one that keeps me from being an exhausted slug. Eh, we'll do a blood test to find out for sure; in the meantime, I'll be a bit of a zombie.

Last night I met with the second of three landscapers about the front flower bed edging. This is the same firm that does the landscaping and snow removal for our association. He actually turned the existing edging over to see what was underneath, made himself a drawing, asked a bunch of questions and measured the bed. The first company, though they sounded eager for my business when I called (and I explained very clearly it was a very small project) sent out a salesman who was rather...uninterested.

The guy last night also gave me an approximate quote - considerably lower than the first company.

One more estimate to get, but things are looking good for this guy. If I make a decision for them by the end of the week, they can get to it within the next three weeks or so. Yay!

All the board-approved tax returns have been filed for last fiscal year, which means I'm at the start of the slowest part of my work year. For the next couple of weeks, at least, I can cut back to regular hours. At the beginning of June, however, I'll go back to putting in an extra hour each day, which, with our "summer hours" policy, will give me Friday afternoons off. I've done the "work four ten hour days, take one full day per week off" thing in the past, but ten hours during the slow part of my year simply doesn't pass as quickly as it does when I'm busy.

Besides, it's kind of fun when your half day ends at 10:15 in the morning - it's almost like having a full day off.

Other than the landscape project, I'll make a short list of things to do. Some fun, some home projects. I still haven't had the Fit out on the highway for a nice, long drive. Aimless driving isn't my thing, but I could take a trip out to the Elegant Farmer. Or go to the quilt shop just outside of Madison to shop for a bit.

Then again, I may just sit on the patio and read. The Readathon lit a fire under me, and I've finished at least five books in the three and a half weeks since the event. None of them from the huge pile of nonfiction looming on my kindle. Most of them were the books recommended by Facebook friends as fodder for the Readathon; I'll put up my thoughts on them a bit later.

I'm rambling, and it's time to watch the news for a bit before clearing the sleep sand out of my eyes to get on with the day. I'm foreseeing an early bedtime...

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!