Sunday, June 29, 2008

Creative driving 201

I'm not a fan of the Dallas area managed HOV lanes and I've blogged such before. Difficult to get on coming north from Dallas itself and nigh impossible to get out of in either direction. Unless of course you're doing a bit of creative driving.

Almost as soon as the lane was opened, the plastic barricades were disappearing. Not by the ones and twos but by the dozen, displaced by cars. Going in? Coming out? Had my answer on Tuesday.

Going south, the first part of the HOV is 4 or 5 miles in length, if that. But no sooner had it started than traffic ground to stop and go, maybe 20 mph. As is usually the case, there was no sign of accident or construction. It just slowed. And then slowed some more. I flipped the radio to a local channel (the XM version of traffic and weather is, I have found, useless and out of time) and there was nothing being reported. I decided to stick with my lane and putter along, a move which in this case, paid off in a mile when we were back up to speed.

In the meantime, I amused myself with my fellow drivers' creative driving. I say 201, because that's the numbering sequence for sophomore level courses and this was sophomore level driving.

Remember those gaps in the barricades? Well, if you're practically at a stop and no one is coming up behind you in the HOV, it doesn't take a great length to get your car in the designated lane, whether you deserve to be or not. Unless there was someone hiding in the back seat, there was some serious violating going on. These impatient people were endangering us all by now diving into a lane they either had eschewed earlier or did not have a right to be in in any case.

Just another reason not to like it!

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Curiouser and curiouser

In speaking to my friends about the soon-to-be lack of local fabric selections, I found that everyone already knew. (Note to self: get out more.) And no one was disturbed about it! As one friend, an avid quilter, explained, who sews any more except to quilt? And for that, you don't go to the big-box for your fabric selection.

Hmmm. Now that you mention it, I haven't sewn a garment for myself from "store bought" fabric in years. I have sewn skirts (2 of them last year in fact) from flea market finds, one a vintage bed coverlet and the other a not-very-old Battenberg-esque lace shower curtain. Compliments abound for both. But a granddaughter (and the prospect of another) have got me in the sewing mood.

So I took my ill-gotten knowledge out to the big-box to commiserate with the employees in that department and to buy all that was left of large red/white gingham check which I make tablecloths and napkins out of. I found that the district manager had told them this morning that their fabric department wasn't closing. Wasn't going to be dissolved into "life celebrations" with pre-cut yardage.

Now just whom do I believe--the customer service rep with her finger on the corporate pulse, or the latest word-of-mouth? I know whom I WANT to believe.

But I bought all that was on the bolt anyway, all seven yards of it. Picnic, anyone?

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Monday, June 23, 2008

An open letter to my local big-box

It's not really a secret whose name appears on my local big-box store. It's familiar to all of rural America except those clever enough to forbid entry to it in order to keep their downtowns in business. Our downtown has been doing a slow-fast-slow downturn ever since the big-box arrived in the mid-70s.

But today, after three decades of being alternately surprised and disappointed in the store, I was sufficiently upset to call the 1-800 customer service number for the first time. Three minutes on hold (I was giving them 5) and I was in touch with a pleasant sounding woman who had heard it all before. "Thank you for calling and I'll refer your comments to the proper people." Or words to that effect.

And my complaint? I went looking for a larger embroidery hoop, (and embroidery was going to be the subject of my today's blog but it will wait until my snit disappears), and not immediately finding it, decided I'd find the embroidery floss instead. (I knew the customer service rep had heard my complaint before because I said 'thread' and she replied with the proper term 'floss.') There wasn't any. None. No three or four hundred colors for me to scan and salivate over, touch and compare. Last summer I'd had a high old time picking out colors for the grandbaby's quilt. This summer looked to be another matter.

So I slunk over to the sales person and leaned in. Had I, by any chance, missed the embroidery thread? No, she informed me, it had been gone for several months and had taken the hoops with it. Many customers had been disappointed. I could call the 800 number and she gave it to me.

Feeling she was definitely on my side, I wasted no time in complaining. Alas, I found out more than I wanted to. Hold onto your shears, fellow fabric craftsmen, the world is changing.

The fabric department as we know it is being phased out. In its place will be a "life celebrations" department. (oh, please) Their research had shown that most people now shopped for wedding, birthday and their ilk celebration items instead of fabric. There would still be fabric, she assured me, it would just be pre-cut and not on the bolt.

I was stunned. This was going to be everywhere, all stores. So, I asked, never mind that the company had made their money on rural America, rural America would be driving 30 miles (in my case) to get fabric? I should have asked about thread and seam binding, but my mouth was already on the floor.

I am so disappointed and I told her so. Not that my opinion counts, but if there are enough of us, maybe eventually they'll see the error of their ways. Or not. But we'll feel better. And then I won't be putting quilting pins in the little box I'd like to make.

If I could find the fabric.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

For every Duchess, a duke

This is Duchess:

And this is Sammy:

Duchess is the mama cat who spent two-plus summers giving our neighborhood kittens until I trapped her last August and had her put out of the business. Obviously, as she has spent the intervening year sleeping on my chaise and eating my food, I have been forgiven. Perhaps my "misdeed" has not been forgotten however because I still can't pet her.

Duchess is so called because her first companion was already named Duke. This was several years ago when she took up with Duke and, in order to refer to her to her human "mother", I called her Duchess. Duke, I was informed, was neutered, so I suppose that for the majority of the year, they were friends, and for a couple of brief periods, she left him for more fertile company. Duke eventually disappeared; he was an older cat and mainly feral, so he could easily have happened upon a misadventure. And was, no doubt, no match for Duchess's brief liaisons.

But like many humans, men who seek feminine companionship and women who can't seem to be without a man, Duchess needed a buddy. Enter Sammy. He, too, belongs next door, but has decided my patio is a better deal. He'll climb the wooden fence and sit on the window sills and look in. He talks to my indoor cats through the screens. He lets me pet him and practically knocks me over when I'm gardening and he wants attention.

He would seem the perfect male companion: solicitous, easily pawed out of the way over a chicken tidbit, and ever ready to share his sleeping space. And neutered. Did I mention that? He's able to give his entire attention to Duchess. And, to her chagrin, to me.

Duchess has once again shown good taste in companions, but the Duch, she doesn't like to share. This may explain the frequently raised paw when I'm putting her generous portion of free food in front of her. Just a little warning... and then she hip-butts Sammy out of the way.

Heaven only knows what she'd like to do to me.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Shut in

So now that we've shut the windows and shut out the outside, we find ourselves shut in. Rains came, temps lowered, and the house is stuffy. Open the doors? Open a few windows? Hope for a scorcher and the question will go away?

I find when we close the windows I'm distanced from my yard and flower beds. They no longer interest me like they do when an open window beckons me to come pull weeds. It becomes a planned activity, not a spur-of-the-moment jaunt.

But if I stay in, I'll have to do the equivalent indoor exercise: clean house.

Bummer. I need to start a new book and ditch both!

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Monday, June 16, 2008

Shutting out the outside

In a streak of what can only be attributed to sheer stubbornness--and giving lip service to carbon footprint reduction--we had not closed our windows. Usually we make it to Memorial Day, when the humidity index exceeds our ability to sleep. Then, as a team we close storm and house windows in rapid order, turn on the a/c and... sleep.

This year, we've not lost sleep. A few "cool" spells have arrived just in time to make us think we could make it one more day. Until yesterday, a near record late capitulation.

We've had days as hot (nearing 100) but not days where we've spent the entire time in someone else's a/c. I think this is what did it. Church was air-conditioned, the car on the way to the theatre, the son's house where we had Father's Day dinner, the car on the way home. Had we spent the day on golf course or patio, we'd have been acclimated. But coming in to a very warm house... well, it was down with the windows and hello to the electric company.

And did we sleep? Not well. The a/c kept coming on, cooling me down, had me reaching for nonexistent covers, and in general, waking me up.

Spam count: Eight on Friday, a max since I last reported.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Duly noted

I don't have a regular desk upon which my computer and printer sit. Instead, I co-opted our first dining table, a sturdy little 40s number which was antiqued green when we bought it at a garage sale. The spouse stripped and refinished it over 30 years ago and it's worn its light oak finish ever since. It came (for the princely sum of $25) with 4 matching chairs which are scattered over the house doing duty as small tables or--egad!--chairs.

Atop this table is a quilter's cutting board or gauge, 24" x 36", which I really need to take into my sewing area. However, it ended up where it is because at the time of setting up my little neck of the woods, I needed a mouse pad and this was large and everything, including the desktop computer, fit so nicely on it. I now have a laptop and laziness (and the fact that I really don't even SEE this cutting pad any more) have kept me from moving it. And I think I'll need help lift and separate everything, but that's another topic.

Today's topic is all the little pieces of paper which clutter around. There's even a folded napkin with "bk idea" written on it and a cryptic message following that. I think I remember what it means. But all these little pieces of pseudo-post-its are scribbled on, marked out, and then turned over with more scribbling and Kay-hieroglyphics. At times, I am awash in 3 7/8" x 3 7/8" pieces of paper. (I know the measurements because I just held one down to the quilter's surface.)

I am in no danger of running out of paper. Therefore, I'm going to stop turning them on the back. It's gotten so that I don't know where I've been or what I've done. One side with scrawls and cross-outs and then it's to the trash!

As to the spam count, as soon as I complain and start counting, the volume drops off dramatically. (This is not a complaint.) From June 4-June 10, the most I've had on any one day is 4. I know that because I'm keeping track on a little piece of paper.

It's around here somewhere.

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Dove love?

Twenty years ago (about) we bought a window bird-feeder with 6 stations. It had suction cups on the back, was mirrored so the birds couldn't see our eager faces on the other side, and attached it to the dining area window. We--all of us, me, spouse, kids, cats--learned a lot about fowl, principally that there are many little birds that sneak under our radar when we're busy admiring cardinals and robins.

We learned the seasons of our visitors, eventually went to an all-sunflower-seed-all-the-time diet for them, and beat on the window to scare the squirrels away. The latter didn't work more than a time or two, so we learned to live with them. We even watched a dove (who was not coming to the feeder but was just on the fence) face down a squirrel in a fauna-version of "mine is bigger than yours."

In the spring we watched the parent birds bring their offspring to the feeder. Most notable are the cardinals, who will line their current clutch up on the fence and then proceed to the feeder to crack the seeds and return to the fence to stuff such down their dears' gullets. The babies make a pitiful chirp and flutter their wings in avian-begging. Keep in mind that in the cardinal family by the time they're on the fence, they are as large as the parents and quite capable of feeding themselves, as we've caught them doing.

So it was with interest this afternoon when I saw a parent dove with a baby. The doves have only recently become comfortable enough with the feeder than they will eat from it. They've admired it from afar for many years. I had never seen a baby dove before. Half the size of the parent, its feathers were mottled and its tail short. It huddled on the fence while mom or dad found a seed at the window and flew back.

I expected a full scale assault on the parent as I've witnessed before. Instead the parent almost ignored the chick. Baby barely flapped one wing and ever so cautiously inched toward the parent. Reaching him, he nestled his head against the parent's breast, but no food exchanged.

This was so out of proportion to what I had seen before. I was amazed. Would the parent eventually feed him? I'll never know because after making a few mournful sounds, the parent flew away, hungry chick close behind.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The price of bananas

Many moons ago (and not an insignificant number of years), we lived in Galveston, Texas. We were half a block from the Gulf and could practically see the ships as they unloaded. Well, okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but it wouldn't have been a problem to do it. Nonetheless, the price of bananas in the Galveston grocery stores was the same as what my mother was paying 350 miles to the north: 19 cents per pound.

This always irritated me. Why shouldn't I pay a lot less since all they were doing was, metaphorically, rolling a crate across the street and putting it on the shelves?

No one asked me and the price, no matter where we lived or visited, stayed consistent.

Then over the last few years, it rose. 25, 30, 35--3 pounds for a dollar. It had finally settled in the mid-40s when gasoline prices shot up. The first commodity victim I noticed was the price of bananas. They immediately--overnight, if not quicker!--went to 59-64 cents a pound.

It's not like you can buy and store them. Nor is it possible to grow them here. No pick-ur-own banana farms in this neck of the woods. Want bananas--pay up!

It does make me wonder what they're going for in Galveston. If I knew anyone who lived there, I'd call.

To catch up:

No sooner do I get so disgusted with the number of Viagra spams I'm receiving and decide to start counting, than the well dries up. (This is not a complaint.) Must have been a lot of rush orders at the end of May.

June 1: 28 spam emails
June 2: 0 (not a typo and probably a first)
June 3: 3

On another front:

The fourth season of Meerkat Manor begins Friday night on Animal Planet at 8 pm CDT. Now that matriarch Flower is gone, the Whiskers have divided in two, with rival sisters at the helms. It doesn't get more human than this, does it?

Thank goodness they don't eat bananas. They'd starve.

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Monday, June 02, 2008

All spammed out

The last few days of May were a spam feast in my junk mail box--and all promoting one of three products: Viagra, Cialis and Pfizer, which I know isn't a product, but that was the subject line. l have never seen so many spam emails about one subject. One subject, which, I would like the senders to know, is not appropriate for my anatomy!

So, I've decided to do something I've threatened to do for over a year: a spam count. I have my table made and every evening before my MacBook and I disconnect, I'll write down--and then ruthlessly deleter--the entire number of them.

And we'll all keep count.