Monday, April 24, 2017

STILL Talking Amtrak Trip: Part Three

For the past 3 days, every time I wake up (in the morning or from a nap) (yes, I am still exhausted from the trip), I'm confused. I'm looking out the window and thinking, "Huh, things aren't moving out there. We must be at a stop." And then I roll over and think, "Hey! There's a green wall over there! This is my bedroom! Why is it on a train?" Also, the bed is rocking.

This is a little scary. I can see it happening once, but 3 or 4 times?

Donner Lake, in the Sierra Nevadas
Speaking of things rocking, let's talk about California. We got off the train in Emeryville (which is on the other side of the Bay Bridge, which is not the Golden Gate Bridge, and who knew there were so many bridges?); but, unlike all the smart travelers who immediately boarded a special Amtrak bus for San Francisco, Susie and I pulled our luggage about a mile (shades of the Chicago death march, I know) to our AirBnB, because it was so much cheaper to stay in Emeryville than in the big city.

No one was there. So we stood outside while I phoned and texted and Susie marveled at the "weird" plants on the West Coast, and no one responded, so we pulled our suitcases back toward the hotels near the Bay Bridge (because, why? I had never heard of Uber?), which turned out to be further than the train station, and there were all sorts of weird detours for pedestrians (Powell Street, WTH?) until we staggered into one of the hotels I managed to pull up on my phone.

There was no room at the inn, essentially. Only, while I was standing at the desk being told that, the floor was rocking up and down beneath me. Earthquake? I glanced around to see if anyone was running for doorways. No, everyone seemed calm. Maybe they were used to this?

Puzzled, I led Susie back outside and we sat down on a bench while I called all the hotels which we could see from where we were sitting. The bench was rocking, too. I could only stop the rocking by pacing back and forth, which was sort of hard after dragging suitcases for over 2 miles. I finally found a reasonably priced room at a decent hotel. "We just have to walk over there," I told Susie, pointing at the sort-of-distant tower. She looked at me doubtfully. "It will be easy," I insisted. "Look, Maps says it's only a third of a mile!"

Have I mentioned it was now evening rush hour, at the eastern end of the Bay Bridge? Don't anyone be asking me to plan your trips, is what I'm saying.

Proof that we made it to SF eventually...
In short, we spent close to 2 hours wandering around Emeryville (read, NOT San Francisco) with suitcases in tow, looking for a place to stay, while our fellow train passengers rode in comfort all the way into the city and were dropped off near their hotels. We eventually did make it to our hotel room and collapsed. And of course the room was moving as soon as I stood still.

Reader, I Googled it. It had a name! What a relief! But still freaky.

Susie and I dined not-so-elegantly on microwave popcorn and Nestle Crunch ice cream bars that evening, because that was the only affordable food in the hotel. Again, professional trip planner is probably not going to be one of my future careers. But here is the joy of traveling with an 11-year-old: Susie didn't mind. She was too enamored with the large bathroom and the real bed to care much. Also, I think she was relieved we weren't sleeping outside somewhere, huddled together under our luggage. Frankly? So was I.

I'm realizing I skipped right over Salt Lake City here, with its two yarn stores and majestic mountains and awesome food. That's okay, I'll get back to it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Train Trip, Part The Second

I'll tell the truth - I am regretting my decision a week ago to wait until the end of the trip to blog about it. Because, really, I am seriously overwhelmed now. But, boy, was I tired, plus it was harder to experience the trip if I was constantly processing it via writing about it, if that makes any sense. So I decided to experience it and THEN write about it.

Beautiful, right? No idea where it is. Utah, maybe?
Naturally, the entire trip I had a list of travel tips running through my head, alongside amusing anecdotes of people met along the way, all of which I jotted down on the notekeeping app on my phone, confident that I would turn it all into a brilliant recounting of my travels. Unfortunately, what this means is, I'm sitting here staring at cryptic notes such as "Scottish twins" and "Cheeseburger lady" and wondering what the hell I was talking about.

I bet this never happened to Mark Twain.

Why is "Mark Twain" the only travel writer I can come up with at this point? My brain is completely addled. The trip, which I envisioned as being a super-easy jaunt across the country by rail, actually required quite a bit of energy. I am tapped out. I went to bed early last night (my bed! My beautiful bed!) and headed out to yoga this morning, where it turned out that a 2-week train ride can really mess with your balance. I came home and slept 2 more hours.

This all supports my "I'm not 20-something anymore" discovery that I talked about earlier.

Oh, my Lord, stop gabbing and write already. How about a list?

Train Travel Tips

1. Comfort

Luckily, Susie and I were smart enough to bring blankets - some lightweight down throws that pack down small - but what we also needed were a couple of those goofy-looking U-shaped neck pillows whose purpose I never understood before. All the cool travelers had them. We didn't, so we settled for bunching up our sweatshirts and stuffing those under our heads. This didn't work well. So buy the weird-looking pillows - you'll be glad you did.

2. Irritation

Not a hospitable environment...
Apparently, there is an Amtrak rule that there must be one weird guy who ALWAYS sits in a corner of the sightseer lounge and talks loudly enough that you know WAY too much about his life. Every single train, this happened. It's enough to make you (well, me, anyway) start hating humanity. The first train, it was the guitar guy. The second train (the one from Salt Lake to San Francisco), we had a guy who reminded me of the obnoxious up-and-comer on Scrooged - you know, the one after Bill Murray's job? The one who says, "There's no I in T-E-A-M" in an irritating voice? In addition, he was remarkably self-centered - he believed (in a car FULL of people using earbuds) that there was no problem setting up a small speaker to listen to his music with.

We didn't have to ride with him long to realize he had obvious personality issues - to the extent that, if there had been a sudden train breakdown high in the snowy Sierra Nevadas, he would have been the first passenger to freak out and try to get rid of all the old people - you know, in order to make the food last. And I would definitely have been one of those old people, particularly after I told him to use earbuds so I could hear the train's Park Service ranger give his spiel. The one about the Donner Party, ironically enough...

The regular coach cars had their issues, too. Mostly - MOSTLY - people talked in undertones, so all you would hear was a low murmur all around. Because that's what people DO in public, unless they are unsocialized cretins who have never been told by anyone that they are obnoxious individuals who should never consort with other human beings.

I mean, not to put too fine a point on it or anything...

In our coach from Seattle to Spokane, the entire car had to listen to someone of this ilk discuss finances with his seatmate, then endure his talking LOUDLY on his cellphone to some other victim. The entire car was thinking, "Dear Lord, please let this guy fall asleep. Please, please..." Which he finally did, around 10:00, and we all drew a sigh of relief - until he started snoring. I mean, these were Richter-scale snores. If his seat ticket hadn't indicated that he would be getting off in a couple of hours, there may have occurred a scene reminiscent of the Orient Express.

Suitable for knitting AND garrotting, I'd bet...
This is what extended train travel can do to you, people - it can turn you into someone who wonders how effective a murder weapon her 47" circular knitting needles would be.

3. Food

These taste heavenly on a train.
As noted here before, it took only a day and a half for Susie and I to become heartily sick of granola bars and dried fruit. For some reason, train travel makes you crave fresh food. So, on our second morning, we threw our budget out the window and took breakfast in the dining car (omelettes - yum!). On the train, they seat you with strangers, so they can keep all the tables full. That day we were seated with 2 gentlemen who hailed from Scotland, who happened to be twins, which made me feel as if we were about to be part of a weird Monty Python skit.

I literally couldn't understand what one of them was saying, so thick was his brogue. His brother, who had lived 20 years in England, was more intelligible, to my American ears anyway. I asked them how they were enjoying Brexit (politics at breakfast - what a great idea!) and he said, "Not so much - but you folks aren't doing much better here." So we got along, is what I'm saying, and it wasn't nearly as awkward as you might think dining with perfect strangers at a tiny table would be.

We did this again on our last morning, because we had been living on cheese and crackers for over 24 hours at that point, and sat with an older couple from Indiana. No, Wisconsin, they got on the train in Indiana. No, wait, Michigan - Michigan is above Indiana.

See? Train travel is excellent for learning geography.

These people were dedicated train travelers. I met quite a few of that type on the trip, actually, and it is interesting to note that they all paid the extra money for the roomettes. I would mention that we were traveling coach, and they would say, "Oh, yes, we traveled coach - ONCE." I would like to be rich enough one day to be one of these people.

Was this category about food or people? I'm terrible at staying on topic.

4. Conductors

She earned these.
People, if you are on a train, conductors are gods. They hold all power. You DO NOT want to irritate them. We had one conductor from Seattle to St. Paul who felt sorry for me (I told you I looked haggard) and said, "Grab those 2 empty seats tonight - I won't let anyone else sit there." And I was able to lie horizontally and actually get some sleep. That lady earned herself a pair of homemade fingerless mitts, I'll tell you.

But woe to the people they don't like. One conductor regaled us with the story of a roomette-dweller who buzzed her at 2:30 in the morning because he wanted a cheeseburger. "A cheeseburger!" she said. "I told him, I said, 'Don't you be asking me for no cheeseburger in the middle of the night!' and then I turned off my buzzer so he couldn't bother me. I said, 'You buzz me again, I'll have you meet my 2 brothers - Smith and Wesson!" At this point the other conductor was practically falling on the floor, laughing. "Girl," he said. "You go too far!" And she said, "Hey, I'm very assertive. People think I'm being rude."

We loved that woman.

Okay, enough about the train. Tomorrow (or Monday), we'll talk about the places we visited, once I can decipher some more of these notes. I mean, if anyone is even still reading this...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Train Trip, Part The First

Whew! It took me 10 minutes just to figure out how to use this keyboard and sign into my blog on this IPad. Maybe not quite as hard as attempting to record the entire trip on pieces of birch bark, but still...and forget about pictures - I can't figure out how to get them from my camera to my IPad.

Hey, Lewis and Clark didn't know how to do that, either.

So, we made it to Salt Lake City. You know, a few months ago, when I read that 20-something's blog post about how easy it was to cross the USA by rail, I never once stopped to consider the fact that I myself am not 20-something. Or that, unlike this devil-may-care traveler with his RailPass, I would have an 11-year-old daughter in tow.

I mean, I'm betting that blogger didn't spend half an hour at one of his stops attempting to contact Amtrak about a lost stuffed elephant, you know?

That guy managed to travel light. My toiletry bag alone weighs 5 pounds, what with the shampoo and conditioner and the moisturizer and make-up - in short, all the accoutrements required to keep my appearance from frightening perfect strangers on the train. So, when we stopped for our layover in Chicago, it was sort of a big deal when we learned that the lockers at the station had been torn out the week before. You see, the original plan had been to leave our 4 bags at the station and meander through downtown Chicago, checking out the Lake Shore, a yarn shop, and of course a Chicago pizza place.

With 2 rolling suitcases and 2 backpacks in tow, this meander turned into something closer to the Bataan Death March. We made it down to the lakefront (I sensibly jettisoned the yarn shop plans), but it wasn't a stellar experience. The way back was, of course, even worse. By the time we reached the station, my legs were shaking.

I believe it was at this point that the refrain "I am no longer 20-something" began running through my head.

It became my constant companion. Turns out, in your 50's? It's no longer so easy to sleep sitting up in a train, even with a reclining seat back and a nifty leg rest. Also, those fluorescent lights in the teeny-tiny bathrooms are not kind to a middle-aged person's face. I'm telling you, there is not enough make-up IN THE WORLD to fix what I saw there. And not sleeping for two nights didn't really help matters. Haggard would be the kindest way to describe it.

Also, applying mascara on a moving train requires a special kind of skill set, I'll tell you that right now.

Still, there were fun parts. There was the lounge car on each train, with the huge windows and swivel seats, where you could sit and watch the scenery. We saw the Midwest, and let me just say right here that Iowa wins the prize for rocking that Americana vibe. I mean, we rode past the farmer on his tractor and the children playing ball and the miles of rolling fields and all the cute little houses and wondered if this were an Amtrak version of The Truman Show, all set up near the tracks for our viewing pleasure.

We drove through miles and miles of flat Nebraska fields in the dark, with the full moon shining down on them the whole time. The sun rose and gave us light just in time to see the Rockies looming in the distance, snow-capped and magnificent. We jumped out of the train in Denver at 8 AM and ran into the (perfectly gorgeous) station, looking for some fresh food to buy for the rest of the day (we were going to be riding until 11 PM). Quite honestly, it turned out that our plan to subsist on granola bars and dried fruit while on the train itself was a VERY BAD IDEA.

I swear, I can't even look at a granola bar without gagging right now.

So there you have it - the first part of our trip, the good and the bad. There's more, but this post is too long as it is.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Packing Is Hard

Harder to do than it looks
Well, 15 minutes to leave for the train station. I've spent the last 5 hours packing. Yeah, I don't know why, either. I mean, the knitting did take a bit - looking for the right size needles, choosing the yarn - and I had to make sure everything fit and I wanted to arrange my clothes so I wouldn't have to go into my main suitcase until Salt Lake City, but 5 hours? If I had been with Lewis and Clark, they would never have managed to leave St. Louis.

Anyway, I've bought a keyboard for my IPad (oooh, fancy!) so I can blog at you during our trip. And hopefully I will leave this cough behind me at home, because seriously, someone on that train tonight might just kill me if I make the racket that I did last night. But have Robitussin, will travel - that's me. I'm so darn plucky.

Westward, ho!

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Lentil Expiation

You know which part of a cold I love? The part where you think you're getting better, but then the inside of your mouth and your tongue get covered in cold sores. Because, hey, why enjoy a good meal if you can be in constant pain instead, right?

So, yeah, I've been busy kvetching and also running around trying to get ready for this train trip. I am hauling along a veritable pharmacy of OTC medications, so I don't have to spend the one day I have in any particular city hunting for the local CVS.

These were complicated.
Oh, and then yesterday I was reading the Food section of our newspaper and I saw a lentils-and-rice recipe that I decided to try. Which might make sense, except I've never met a vegetarian lentil recipe that I've liked, so I have no idea why I thought this time might be any different. Or why I thought I had the time to mess around with a recipe that instructs the cook to let the sliced onions air dry for an hour before frying them in half a cup of oil. OR... well, you get the picture.

It didn't taste too bad, really. But it was still lentils and rice, and I don't see any of my vegetarians begging to eat it again today. The bright side is that I can spend the next 4 months or so resting on my laurels, as it were. You see, I usually feel guilty (because that's a whole lot of fun) about not trying new recipes. But now I can dispense with the remorse over my disinterest in new cuisines; instead, I can recall this unfortunate foray into fancy-cooked onions and smile contentedly at the thought of my culinary derring-do.

It's like a short-term vaccination against guilt, that's what it is.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Failed Housetraining

In case anyone thought my fears of what would happen to this house during my 2-week absence were exaggerated, I conducted an experiment: I assiduously refrained from reminding the children to take care of the kids' bathroom trash over the weekend. Please bear in mind that, contrary to appearances, I have spent the better part of 25 years instructing my children on the fine art of emptying a trash can. Apparently, my life's work has come to naught.

A few days ago...

Last night

And, yes, I will break down and make sure all trash cans are empty before I leave. Alas, my hopes are not high for after that point in time. Apres moi, le deluge...

And, some prettier pictures - I managed to join my friends for one day of their yarn crawl yesterday (but only AFTER getting up at 6:30 on a Sunday morning to fetch 4 dozen doughnuts for the stalwarts who showed up to deliver the last loads of mulch that day):

My usual awesome photography

2 skeins of fingering yarn - perfect for knitting some simple garter stitch shawlettes/scarves on the train. That and a couple of sock projects should keep me busy, I'm thinking. But check out the name on the one to the right: "Machete Shoppe." I don't know what's weirder, the word "machete" being used in a yarn brand name or the word "machete" being paired with the cutesy "pe" version of "shop." I picture sales clerks dressed as scary clowns. And you?

Friday, March 31, 2017

Most Emphatically NOT April Fools

I hate April Fools Day. But I have discussed that at length already, here and here and here. So we are just going to pretend it isn't happening this year.

In other positively scintillating news, I am sick with a stupid, stupid cold. It started on Wednesday, and all day I kept thinking, "It's not so bad. I'll drink orange juice. I'll kick this to the curb, no problem." By last night, though? I thought I was going to die.

Incidentally, it takes less than 48 hours for my house to fall apart around me. I can't even imagine what this place will look like when Susie and I return from our 2-week train trip. I picture the other family members wandering aimlessly through a trash-strewn house, foraging for food in a refrigerator filled with moldy leftovers. It will be like the Walking Dead, only messier.

You know what's fun about being a mom? Cleaning the bathroom when you're suffering with the cold from hell, because no one else even notices the dirt and you're too sick to order them around. Gosh, I LOVE being needed.

But, hey, right before I came down with the plague, I did manage to make those project bags out of the napkins I bought at World Market. Here are some really bad pictures I took at Knit Night, because I was giving them away and realized I didn't have a photo of them yet.

It's hard to see, but Susie and I bought fun-colored ribbons to make the drawstring at the top. I am, in a word, dumbfounded that I actually followed through on a project idea. Who knows? Maybe next month I'll finally get around to completing the braided rug that has been languishing on the rug loom I bought at Rhinebeck 1 1/2 years ago. Stranger things have happened.

I think the mustard and the orange soda set off that bag nicely, don't you? They give it a certain je ne sais quoi. Such a shame I never pursued that career in photography....

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Photo Finish

Best gummi bears EVER
I forgot to take pictures with my phone yesterday, so I have no idea what I did all day long. And now I'm wondering how we used to keep track of how our days went. Did we write notes to ourselves? Dictate events into tape recorders? Incidentally, if something ever happens to me (car accident, say) and EMT's are paging through the photos on my phone to figure out who I am, well...I don't think pictures of the gummy bear bulk bin at Wegmans are going to help them much.

Modern life is weird.

Our very own Harry Potter bedroom
There's also a picture of the fun thing Larry did in the basement while he was tearing out walls - our very own Pinterest-y under-the-stairs storage space. If you look closely, you can see traces of the way too bright blue-green paint that we tried on the walls before deciding that, no, we didn't need the place to be THAT cheerful. Also, in the back of that cubbyhole there, you can see a bit of the insulation my husband has been intent on installing EVERYWHERE in this house.

Anywhoo, I had grand plans for this area, folks. I mean, just search on "under stairs storage" on Pinterest and you'll see the plethora of ideas people have implemented in this sort of space: wine racks, reading nook, playhouse, kitten cubby (all right, we don't own a cat, forget that one), pull-out storage shelves, etc. But Larry and the handyman won out on this one in the end. Andy wasn't willing to build the fancy shelves on rollers that would enable us to take advantage of the depth, and my husband wanted a place to shove all the camping supplies that we don't keep in the pop-up camper. The upshot being, we're just going to add doors so that Larry can hide Nalgene water bottles, hiking poles, and God-knows-what-else in there.

No one's a visionary here except me.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Shopping - Not The Fun Kind

I was planning to have some finished napkin-project bags to show off here today, but that didn't happen. I spent all of Friday evening buying train tickets; I had to work at the yoga center Saturday morning, attend a fiber festival Saturday afternoon with knitting friends, and then Larry and I actually got our act together enough to GO OUT TO A MOVIE TOGETHER, just like all the other married couples do.

We walked to the movie, which was a nice idea, because it was so warm out that day and exercise and all that. Unfortunately, that meant we had to walk back, in the dark, after seeing a horror flick. Not very good planning, really.

So, yes, Larry and I managed to catch "Get Out" before it left the theaters. Now, I'm NOT a horror movie fan. But this was more old-style horror, psychological and suspense-driven, rather than people jumping out of closets wielding chainsaws or whatever it is they do in these scary films other folks watch. So I could handle it and even (gasp) ENJOY it.

What I couldn't handle, though, were all the R-rated previews that came before the movie. People, they were horrifying. All the characters were so nasty and mean and killings everywhere.

R-rated previews make me feel like this

Why, yes, I do watch "The Sound of Music" once a year. How could you tell?

Where was I? Oh, yeah, I didn't get my bags sewn up. Sunday was similarly stupidly busy, but really I don't have an excuse. And, hey, I had all morning to work on them today (I mean, after my amazingly athletic workout), but instead the handyman made me drive all over town looking for 1x5 boards. As noted here before, I do not belong in the lumber aisle of Home Depot. But, wanting this basement renovation to be done some day in the near future, I found myself once again pushing a weird-looking cart and trying to figure out how to bring home the correct items.  "NOT crooked," Andy had instructed me. "I can't make baseboards out of them if they are going every which way. And not too many knots."

Not crooked...not crooked...

I've mentioned I'm short, right? I had to climb up onto the shelf just to wrestle the 8-foot boards out from under the wires that held them in place. After that, I had to maneuver them over to the cart without bonking my own head (or that of an innocent passerby) in the process. Then, and only then, could I try to assess whether or not the boards met my handyman's criteria.

"Do you think these are straight enough for baseboards?" I asked a contractor-looking stranger in desperation.

"No, ma'am," he said. "Look how that one bows out. And that one, too."


Long story short (too late, I know), with the help of strangers, I managed to load 14 acceptable boards onto my (weird) cart, pay for them, and cram them into my Toyota Sienna. And if anyone managed to get a video of me attempting to slam the back gate down on my minivan before all those pieces of wood came sliding back out (NOT successful) ....well, let's just say odds are good you'll see me on YouTube soon.

Where, incidentally, I'll be wearing my new sneakers for my 15 minutes of fame, so there's that...

[Get Out image: Universal Pictures]

Friday, March 24, 2017

Undaunted Courage, Plus Yarn

I finally managed to buy our rail passes and make the reservations for every leg of the cross-country train trip Susie and I are planning to take. People, this was hard - I was trying to coordinate 7 train schedules with people I want to see and with available Airbnb places that looked clean and axe-murderer-less. I've had six thousand tabs open on my browser for a week, trying to figure it all out. Plus there was the hassle of not being able to make any of the train reservations online - when you buy one of the rail passes, you have to call the Amtrak reservation line, figure out the magic words to get past the automated reservation clerk, and then stay on hold for half an hour just to get to talk to someone who can make the reservations for you.

More complicated than it looks....
A daunting task for someone ultra-distractable like myself, but it is done! Well, except for the fact that all the Airbnb's in Seattle hiked their prices by hundreds of dollars over the Easter weekend, so we are still trying to figure that one out. It looks as though some of the hostels are family-friendly; maybe we'll try that.

Probably not Lewis and Clark's colors
I guess I should pack. But first, there's the dreaded Mulch Delivery Weekend, where I am still somehow obligated to help out with the food tent, despite my belief to the contrary. And there's our Metro Yarn Crawl, the same weekend as Mulch, which unfortunate confluence of events is engendering a very immature amount of resentment in me. AND I need to figure out what knitting to bring on the train trip. Socks, probably - socks all the way across the country and back. They're portable.

I bet Lewis and Clark brought socks to knit, also. AND complained about expensive Airbnbs. They probably left reviews like "That tepee was way overpriced, and no indoor plumbing...Will not portage my canoe here again."

Or, maybe not.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

I Bought Napkins, But Not Really

Remember my finger, the one I injured by reliving my youth? It's doing fine, hardly any bruising, no obvious swelling, so I'm pretty sure I didn't break it, just jammed the knuckle. Luckily, the injury hasn't affected my doing yoga, or typing, or knitting. But it does hurt when I am scrubbing sinks or bathtubs, putting a fitted sheet on the bed, washing dishes...

I mention this for the purpose of pointing out that I may have inadvertently discovered the PERFECT injury.

Also, because my life wasn't complicated and expensive enough with all these renovations, etc., going on, we had to purchase new toilet plungers recently. Apparently the high-efficiency toilets we've installed have a differently shaped hole than the 45-year-old American Standard ones that we are used to.

I'm not sure how much more change I can handle here, actually.

Larry picked out the new toilet plungers, because I'm not THAT much of a control freak and also he hadn't even been to Home Depot that day. He bought the ones with MaxPerformance Technology. I'm so proud.

You know, it seems to me that "high-efficiency" toilets shouldn't ever need a plunger, actually. I feel ripped off.

Let's talk about World Market for a minute, okay? There's one a few towns away from me, but I've never managed to actually visit it. At least every other month, one of my friends will share/show off some interesting or tasty or unusual thing, and I'll say, "Where did you get that?" And they'll say, "World Market." And I'll say, "Gee, I really need to go there some time." And then I never do.

But last Friday, at a knitting get-together, I noticed a drawstring project bag one of my knitting friends was carrying. Constructed out of an attractive cotton fabric, with just a ribbon threaded through a top casing for a closure, it was the perfect size to carry an incipient pair of socks, say, or the beginnings of a crescent shawl. "Oh, where did you get that?" I asked. "It's pretty!"

"This thing? I just made it out of a napkin that was on sale at World Market," she said, way too modestly.

(Let's note here that I have really creative friends, okay?)

So that's how I finally found myself inside a World Market today, asking some helpful sales clerk where the napkins were. He helped me find them.

I restrained myself and only bought six. Project bags for everyone, coming right up! Or that's the plan, anyway...

Monday, March 20, 2017

Gimme Three Steps...

I was jogging this morning (well, walking with a few short intervals of jogging thrown in, if you need precision there) and thanking the powers that be that I spotted my neighbor's new sneakers the other day. You see, a few months ago, I bought a pair of sneakers at Costco, because I thought MAYBE I would try using them to, oh I don't know, EXERCISE in. Then I put them in my closet and laughed and laughed and laughed.

Because, hey - I do yoga. In bare feet. I do my core exercises. In bare feet. I've hiked mountains at Acadia in my Teva sandals (drives Larry crazy, but hey, it worked). I don't need sneakers to exercise.

And then I went into the city with my son the other day. We saw the Metro train pulling in to the station and decided to run for it. So there I was, feeling every one of my 53 years as I panted toward the escalator at a run (read, slow jog), while my 16-year-old son loped easily along beside me, not breaking a sweat.

It was demoralizing, to say the least.

So I decided that I would work up to running a mile. That's all. No desire here to do marathons (so much wasted knitting time!). I just wanted the ability to run for a train without causing passersby to wonder if they should call 911. Is that too much to ask?

Most mornings this month, after I get up IN THE DARK (I hate you, Daylight Saving Time) to let in the handyman (whose cat gets him up at 4 AM), I've smooshed myself into my power pants and my Wacoal sport bra, laced up my Costco sneakers, and headed out to jog (a little), walk (a lot), and generally just get my heart rate up for a couple of minutes at a time.

It's been hard, I won't lie. I hate it. But I do feel better afterwards, and I am already able to jog a teeny bit further. And no one has called the EMTs on me yet, so that's a plus.

OMG, I'm long-winded today. All this to explain why, when I saw my friend's running sneakers, I realized that I needed their obviously superior support. I mean, I LOVE Costco, but the sneakers I had were not doing it. So I splurged and spent $80 (and that was on SALE) for these special Brooks running sneakers at Amazon. I hated to do it. I had to keep reminding myself that $80 was less than the (at least) 3 doctor appointment co-pays that would be in my future, should I ruin my knees and feet in cheap shoes.

Do you see the mental machinations I have to go through every time I spend money? We HAVE the money now, but years of needed frugality and penny-pinching die hard.

I can't stop talking today. Oh, well...

So, yeah, these sneakers were worth every penny. I can run further. My knees don't hurt. The support is great. Which got me to thinking that it would be a useful PSA to tell women under 45 or 50 that they need to save extra money for when they are older. I mean, maybe you think, "Yeah, I know - retirement, medical bills, trips to see the grandkids..."

Note drywall dust caked onto the floor, upper right 
But that's not what the money is for. The money is for shoes, so you can walk. Seriously. We're talking support. We're talking wide toe boxes. We're talking expensive. I have spent more money on shoes since I turned 47 or so than I had spent in my entire life up to that point. I have to assume I'll be spending $80 to $100 a pair (unless I chance on some FitFlops in my size at Nordstrom Rack, priced at $45 - helloooo, bargain!)

This is a lifestyle change that has been hard for my frugal soul to accept. But without my FitFlops and my Dansko/Sanita clogs and (now) my spiffy Brooks sneakers, I can't get around. My legs get tired, my knees hurt, my right foot goes numb.

Good Lord, I am not even 60 yet. Listen to me, I sound 85. Or, at least, without my price-y shoes, I sound 85. So don't think of them as shoes - think of them as a budget version of the Fountain of Youth. Looking at it that way, the expensive footwear is a downright bargain.

Or that's what I tell myself, anyway...

And today's title is courtesy of this earworm emanating from our handyman's radio at 7:30 this morning:

Friday, March 17, 2017

When East Meets West

My finger still hurts. It's not broken if I can bend it normally, right? Because, really, why go to the doctor when I can just ask a bunch of perfect strangers for medical advice?

I hate going to the doctor. I am convinced I'll pick up some deadly disease (or at least a highly inconvenient one) while I am there.

Also, that picture in the previous post was of an ice pack covering my afflicted appendage. I only mention this because a friend messaged me and asked what it was. She said, and I quote, that it looked like it "...was encased in some sort of metal bullet-type case and you were ready to stab people with it."

This sort of comment makes me wonder what my friends really think of me.

Rarely seen snowman skeleton
In other news, our two days of winter are over. The snow is melting, which is a good thing, because then I can't foolishly injure myself by reliving my youth. So now I have to start thinking about that train trip and planning exact dates and all. There will be a couple of AirBnB stays involved, because Amtrak is not obliging me by having the trains arrive in major cities early in the morning and then leaving again at night. That was the original plan, see - arrive in a city, look around, hop back onto the train and ride overnight, thus saving money on lodgings.

That's not going to happen. East Coaster that I am, I had no idea that there could be major cities where the train stops only once or twice a day. This blows my mind. I mean, have you seen the Amtrak schedule for trains running between DC and New York? There are at least a dozen each day.

I don't understand how the West Coast works, actually. Do you all drive everywhere? Fly? Or maybe you're all so healthy, you just bike? I feel as though I am an anthropologist, heading off to do field work. How do the natives live?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Cautionary Tale

It might seem like a good idea to recapture your youth by joining your kids on the sledding hill and flying down an ice-covered slope as though you are only half your age. But you're NOT half your age, and you'll prove it by injuring yourself in stupid ways. Jamming your finger, for instance, by placing it down in a frozen footprint as your sled is going approximately 30 mph, in an ineffective (and injurious) attempt to slow down.


It's HARD to take a picture with my left hand.
So I trudged back up the hill and took my tired, broken old body back to the house. The kids, however, stayed out a few more hours and came home with nary a scratch. Because they're young, unlike me.

Ice and ibuprofen are my friends right now. I don't think my finger's broken, and I am even still able to knit (oddly enough); but almost everything else I do hurts. Hurts my finger AND my pride, actually.

So, what else? We (well, our handyman, actually) applied the first coat of paint in the basement, and OMG it's bright. It looks downright radioactive. I'm waiting for Larry to come home before we even attempt a second coat. We might have to cover the whole thing with a different color. I don't know. I don't care. I'm done with paint.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Paint Colors? What Paint Colors?

In a highly unnatural state of organizing fervor a few weeks ago, I deleted a slew of emails from my inbox in one fell swoop. There, I thought, I didn't need any of those. I'm a normal person now, a person without 10,000 emails sitting in her inbox.

Only I did need at least one of those messages. Remember upnitestx, the lucky reader who won a copy of the Yarn Harlot's Knitting Rules? Remember how I pestered her for a week or two to please email me her address so I could send her prize to her? And, being an obliging sort of soul who wanted to read the book she had won, she did as I asked.

Wouldn't it have been nice if I had sent that book right away? Because then I wouldn't be in the embarrassing position I am in right now, which is that of begging her once again to email me her address.

So upnitestx, if you're even still reading this blog, please resend me that address so I can mail you the book. And I promise I won't delete it again.

Clock at the DMV - abandon all hope, ye who enter here
David is visiting this week. I took him to the DMV this morning so he could take his driver's test. He needed to get his license so he could buy our old minivan from us and drive it back down to school. We decided to charge him the trade-in value for the van, which was $1250 (we like the kids to have some skin in the game when it comes to cars - they pay their own insurance, too). "But first," said Larry, "I'm going to have its yearly inspection done and have the garage look it over."

Yeah, he might as well have said to the guys at the garage, "Hey, would you please take my money?" By the time I got the van back, we were $1242 poorer, what with cracked rear bushings and worn-out sway bar links and all.

$8 - we made $8 on that van. I'm thinking we should host a TV show - something like those popular real estate shows, right? But instead of flipping houses, we flip cars. And instead of making any money, we end up in the poorhouse. Think of it - viewers could take bets on how much money we will lose on each deal.

I think I've found our niche.

And, no, I still do not want to talk about paint.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

First Rule Of Paint Club

You know why it's Thursday and I haven't posted in 3 days? Because I do NOT want to talk about paint. AT ALL.

Our handyman kept showing up earlier and earlier all week. It was as if he was testing me, seeing when I would break. But hey, I was raised on stories of Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis - I don't break so easy. I kept on getting up earlier and earlier to unlock the door. HE'S NOT GOING TO BEAT ME.

Larry has been away all week, which is normally sort of relaxing: I don't sweat dinner as much (not that I do normally, come to think of it), I go to bed when I want without worrying about waking him up, I've got yarn strewn all over the bed (that is SO normal, shut up). It's like a mini-vacation, although for the life of me, I don't know why.

But David is coming home from college tonight, we've had a variety of dental appointments this week for the kids, Brian and Rachel have needed close to a zillion rides, and every client I have (well, 2, but it seems like a lot) unexpectedly needed me to drive them somewhere, also. I keep saying to myself, "This is nothing. You used to have 6 kids ages 13 and under at home. You homeschooled them, for heaven's sake. You cooked 3 meals a day, every day, because your oldest had a dairy allergy. There were mountains of laundry. You never had a good night's sleep. THAT was hard. NOW is easy."

Let's look at some pretty yarn and feel better, okay?
Easy - but I still feel as if I am going in 16 different directions and dropping a lot of balls. All I know is - today alone - I left milk in my car for 3 hours; I dashed out to the grocery store without my phone and then couldn't remember if I had accidentally turned the stove on under a pan of oil before I left (I didn't, whew); and I completely flipped out when Rachel, as I was driving her home from her after-school rehearsal, said "I KNOW" in a shut-up tone of voice that made me want to strangle her (again, I didn't, but it was close).

I sound stressed, but really, I just can't accept that as a possibility (see above re NOW is easy). This is all small potatoes (well, except for that potential house fire - that would have been bad). I'm thinking maybe I hate driving, which is unfortunate, as my job description is essentially one word: DRIVING. Or maybe it's just the unresolved paint thing gnawing at my subconscious.

We're NOT going to talk about it. Just, NO.

Monday, March 06, 2017

A Lighter Shade Of Teal

Okay, I might not be the brightest bulb in the pack, but I sense that the person who sent me an email the other day may not really have read my blog. She wrote (and I quote):

From what I can tell, you are a trusted expert in the camping, climbing & hiking industry and the 1000s of brands/retailers on Hubba will want to connect and work with you.

Really, do ANY of the posts at this link scream "trusted expert" to you? Or do they say, hey, maybe this particular blogger should never be allowed into the wilderness alone?

Madness. Sheer MADNESS.
You know where else I shouldn't be allowed alone? A paint store, that's where. In the continuing saga of Larry Renovates the Basement, I am expected to find a paint color that will make everyone happy. This is getting as bad as when we did our cheap-o kitchen renovation - remember? With all the paint stripes on the walls and our neighbors coming in and voting and our handyman pretty much picking the color for us?

Good times, people. Good times...

Still, the kitchen does look fantastic. I don't know if we are going to be as successful this time around, however. Larry wants some sort of deep teal. We are painting the brick fireplace and hearth white, so that might work, but the kids say the teal (well, teals - we have a number of them on our wall now) are too dark for the rest of the room. Andy (our handyman, remember?) says the space is too big to be all one color; we need to break it up with a contrast wall (except that's not what it's called - what's it called, dammit?). I agree with Andy, but Brian (who does have a pretty good visual sense) thinks we're both wrong.

Accent wall - that's the word I was looking for. ACCENT.

So yeah, stay tuned for the big reveal - will the family go for jade garden? Or will tropicana cabana win the day? And will the handyman ever get his accent wall? All these questions and more will be answered...sometime....I don't really know when, actually.

You know, white's a nice color. How about some nice basic white?

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Mystery Shopper

Where were YOU on 26 Nov 2016? 
Look to the right, there. I found this receipt in an otherwise-empty bag in my room. I am puzzled, because - to the best of my knowledge - I HAVE NEVER BEEN TO THIS YARN SHOP. I don't even LIVE in Pennsylvania. Does this mean that, unbeknownst to myself, I've been frequenting yarn stores two states away and buying things there? Could that possibly explain how all this yarn ended up in my bedroom?

Actually, that might be a good excuse to give to Larry...or maybe HE's buying yarn now? What's going on here, anyway?

Susie has been sick since Tuesday. Same thing every day, no better, no worse: "weird" headache, sore throat, cough. It feels like Groundhog Day. I've watched more TV in the past week than I've watched in a year.

Turns out Susie really likes The Dick Van Dyke Show. That kid has good taste, right?

Last night Brian and Rachel semi-willingly watched The Front with Larry and I. One of those rare movies that Woody Allen stars in but didn't write or direct, it has aged well (it doesn't hurt that its topic is the blacklisting that ran rampant during the McCarthy era - just substitute Muslim for Communist and you've got a pretty good civics lesson there). Plus, Zero Mostel is fantastic in it - I would watch it just for him.

What I am saying is, watch this film. Even the teens were laughing at the funny lines (no one plays nebbish as well as Woody Allen), and the movie says a lot about a part of American history we seem poised to repeat today.

Not finished yet...

And, in a sharp U-turn away from politics (because, hey, we see enough of that on Facebook, right?), here are some pictures of my under-reconstruction laundry room. The image to the right shows off our washer and dryer in their brand new spot, with the discounted utility sink nestled up against them. Cozy!

Note the attractively spackled drywall in the background and the strategically placed paint-stained stepladder to the right. This ladder, my friends, happens to symbolize both our upward-aspiring renovation plans and the messiness that is their reality. It belongs to our handyman, so we'll just regard it as his silent commentary on our whole cockamamie basement project.

Not quite Pinterest-ready

The picture on the left? That represents the small section of flooring Larry managed to peel and stick on the plywood the night before the plumbers showed up to move the washer. Let me assure you, this was not a fun weeknight activity, especially under pressure. I'm betting that during this particular project, Larry revisited more than once the ill-advised optimism with which he first became a homeowner, an optimism that has been repeatedly doused with the cold water of reality (see above, re paint-stained stepladder).

Larry is leaving town next week. He says it's a business trip, but I'm thinking that - at this point - the thought of doing the rest of the floor might just be too much for him, poor man.

Tomorrow? Pictures of all the paint samples on the walls of the basement. I'm telling you, this family knows how to have fun.

Friday, March 03, 2017

The 1980s Really Did Rock

Me? Just sitting here at the computer, Susie curled up behind me in the armchair in the den, coughing and languishing, both of us being regaled by the sound of "I Love Rock and Roll" wafting up from the basement. Before that, it was "I'll Stop the World and Melt With You."

Yes, our handyman and his radio are still here. The past two days, he has been joined by 2 very nice gentlemen from a local plumbing company, who are only too glad to earn lots of money moving all our pipes in the laundry room so that we can have the washer/dryer on a different wall. But, hey, we got a good deal on the new utility room sink, so there's that.

Floor model, 20% off!

But the reason I REALLY like the plumbers?  At one point yesterday, they were running the water in the kitchen sink, waiting for it to get hot. Waiting...and waiting...and waiting...until finally one of them turned to me and said, "What is UP with this thing?" When I told him our water heater woes, he said, "You have to flush the lines. That'll solve it."

Yeah, if I could figure out how to do that. Or if Larry would remove the items he shoved into the furnace closet when he emptied the laundry room, so that I could get the HVAC guy out here to do it. Anyway, it's nice to have an answer. And if anyone had told me a tankless water heater would be high maintenance, I wouldn't have bought one. We never had to think about our old-style water heater at all (well, except that time its thermocoupler up and quit).

I know one of you is going to comment and say it's really easy to flush the lines. I'll have you know I just looked it up on WikiHow, and believe me, this is NOT my skill set. Now, if I needed to yarn bomb my water heater, that would be right up my alley.

I'm signing off to the strains of  "White Wedding," so I'll share that with you.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Flu And Flue

There's been a lot of this lately
Susie's sick, for like the 3rd time in 4 weeks, to the point where I couldn't even take her to the doctor now if I wanted to, because I can't remember what happened when and I don't want to look negligent. But it does look as though this one she has now might be the flu. Let me not dwell too long on the fact that this is the FIRST year I managed to get Susie a flu shot, okay?

Anyhow, this afternoon, I took to my bed, because my head felt weird and my arms were heavy and I thought I was coming down with it, also. I lay there for about an hour, composing in my head the farewell blog post I would dictate to my husband once he got home, and then I got back up, because I wasn't sick enough to stay lying down.

I can't even do the flu right.

Photo of child's artwork, just because 
So I am feeling meh, but not awful, which is a good thing, because Larry is demanding I go to Home Depot tonight to pick out a utility room sink because the plumbers are coming tomorrow to reroute pipes and move our washer and dryer to the outside wall. This is a triumphant occasion for Larry, who has spent 20 years hating the fact that the dryer vent pipe has to travel all the way across the laundry room before it exits the house. Its length has caused all sorts of problems (excessive lint buildup, condensation, to name two), the result of which is he has spent more time maintaining that stupid pipe than he has on the rest of the house.

Okay, I'm happy about it, too, I'll admit it. That pipe has been a thorn in our sides for long enough. I am looking forward to an existence free of nagging Larry to dismantle it and clean it out AGAIN so that the dryer will once again be able to dry our clothes.

I can't believe we've been homeowners for 20 years. I thought that was for old people.

Oh, wait...

Monday, February 27, 2017

Shake It Up, Baby

Well, I was so busy patting myself on the back for being desperately adventurous 30 years ago, I took the weekend off from blogging. And really, there was nothing to write about - the only exciting thing I've done in the last 3 days is go to Shake Shack, where I discovered they make tables from defunct bowling alleys. Who knew?

Actually, I don't know why anyone reads this blog. I just called a trip to Shake Shack exciting. Maybe it makes you all feel better about your own lives. I don't know.

After I wrote Friday's post, I thought, Well, maybe I should take another leap. Maybe it's time. So I considered taking college courses in cybersecurity, or maybe accounting. I even went on the Internet and researched it a bit. Then I got distracted by Facebook and nothing happened.

It's a good thing Facebook wasn't around 30 years ago. I'd still be living in my parents' house and working as a secretarial temp.

And now Rachel needs the computer for schoolwork, so I have to leave you. She is breathing down my neck as only a fed-up teen girl is able to. Can't she see I'm doing something important here?

Friday, February 24, 2017


30 years ago today, a very-much-younger, scared, in-college-loan-debt me shipped out to Navy basic training in Orlando, Florida. How I wish I could reach back and tell that person getting on the plane (you know, the one who freaked out her fellow recruit/seatmate during take-off by grabbing her arm and saying, "Oh, my gosh - we're leaving the ground!") that everything was going to be all right. Because, seriously, I wasn't at all sure of that at the time.

No one in my family was in the military (aside from my father's long-ago stint in WWII). All my college friends either had "real" jobs or were on their way to having same. I felt like a failure: college degree but no job, in debt, no real purpose or goals. What the hell was I doing on this plane?

All I knew was that I had to do something.

My favorite poster EVER
I hated most of my Navy time. There was, as is the military's wont, a lot of stupid. But I was given a job, one involving skills that could transfer to the "real" world. I was given a decent paycheck. I was given health and dental care. All of these things, incidentally, are still easier to come by in the military than in the rest of our society.

But most importantly, I was given the type of experiences that middle class suburbia and the rarefied atmosphere of an Ivy League college could not have provided at that time: living and working with people of color, working under both women and people of color (this was the 1980's, remember), learning about the world of the military and the people who inhabited it, learning about the world of government (I happen to have been stationed at a gov't agency).

Oh, yeah, and I also met Larry. You know, my spouse of 26 years and the father of our 6 kids?

All because I did something.

I look back on that day and feel proud of my scared, unsure, directionless younger self.  And I pass that lesson on to my adult and soon-to-be-adult kids: no matter what, do something. Experience beats sitting around. No matter what you do, good or bad, you take away something from it. And all those little somethings mount up to build a life.

Of course, we know how that goes - they probably won't listen to me, because I'm their mother and what the heck do I know, anyway? But that doesn't matter, really, because that doesn't change the past 3 decades. I'll always have Florida.

[Navy poster image: Wikimedia]

Wednesday, February 22, 2017


Having been raised in the 1970's, a simpler (read we didn't even have microwave ovens) age, I maintain my child-like sense of wonder at all things technology-related. The 21st century is indeed full of marvels for a person who has passed the 50-year mark (that is, moi). Cellphones, Internet, self-closing toilet lids, self-driving cars, have I mentioned cellphones - there is no end of the stupefying signs of human progress.

I mean, if you ignore what happened in the good ol' USA last November, anyway...

So, the latest? Is the lowly toilet paper holder. I didn't even realize until after we finished the master bathroom - the first time I had to change the toilet paper, to be exact:

A hinge! Why didn't we figure this out sooner?
It would be difficult to overstate my astonishment when I realized the spindle (if you can even call it that now) lifted up on a hinge and involved no spring mechanism; it was akin to the feeling I had when someone first showed me she could take photos on her phone and then send those photos straight to the Internet. Whole new worlds of possibility opened up to me.

The weight of the roll pushes the arm back down.

Think about it: this is now a one-handed operation. That means you can hold a baby in one arm and change the toilet paper roll with the other (not that I have babies any more, but still...). What's more, I will no longer be spending my valuable free time chasing an escaped spindle spring across the bathroom every time I change the roll.

Was that just me? Tell me that isn't just me.

And, most important of all, the unfortunate incident from way back in November 2008 - the one where I foolishly insisted my own kid install the new toilet paper roll while she was pooping, whereupon she accidentally dropped the spindle into the just-used toilet bowl? That will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

Life is good.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Say It With Egg Cartons

It was a yarn-y sort of weekend, plus Theo drove up from Ft. Bragg to visit (he had a 4-day weekend), which meant I cooked a lot (Susie to Theo: "Mommy NEVER cooks for us!"), and you folks ended up getting the shaft.

Let's see, pot roast on Friday and then blueberry muffins Saturday morning and egg salad for lunch and then I went out all afternoon to meet friends and knit at a local yarn store, which also was having a 20% off sale, which, well, you know...

Let's just say some money changed hands, okay?

It followed me home, I swear it.

Sunday morning I made applesauce breakfast cake and then cooked up a white bean/chicken chili for my beloved family before abandoning them so I could join up with friends to knit all afternoon while eating donuts and gummy bears and bagels.

Knitting is not necessarily a healthy lifestyle, you know, despite all that fiber.

Ba-da-bum! Thank you folks, I'll be here all week.

What with all this knitting time I am getting in, you would think I'd be completing some projects, right? But no, it's a half-finished pair of socks here, and a lace shawl needing a bind-off there, and a Be Simple Shawl being worked on because it is fun, unless of course I'm busy knitting a blanket out of all my sock yarn leftovers.

This is what I do while Larry wrecks my house.

Yes, I DO have a lovely egg carton collection, thank you!

So, yeah, maybe not the most efficient way to churn out knitted objects. But I'll stick to it, because it takes my mind off the chaos which is roiling the basement and threatening to creep its way up the stairs. That's right, Larry emptied the laundry room today, and quite a few odd objects have somehow wound up in my living room (Exhibit A to the right).

Our handyman says he's planning to make a place under the stairs to store that cooler, but I guess until then I'm going to have to use it as a chair in the living room. I'm thinking it doesn't add much to the decor, actually.

And, yup, we eat a lot of eggs. In my defense, that is an entire winter's worth of egg cartons - I save them to donate to a local farm that sells eggs in the spring. This same farm allowed Theo (starting at age 12) to volunteer with them during the summer, thus saving him from dying of boredom and saving myself from dying of guilt that we didn't have the money to send him to some spiffy camp. I love those people with all my heart and I express this love in egg cartons. Which is sort of weird, but they seem to appreciate it...


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