16 December 2009

Oops, Sorry About That

My last posting here was in early August and then, as far as anyone could tell, I just dropped off the face of the earth. I didn't, really. Instead, I discovered facebook and started posting all my news there, as well as in alt.fans.cecil-adams, leaving myself with nothing new to say here.

So, let's see. I knitted a baby blanket and an afghan, for my favorite baby and his grandmother, respectively. I've gotten pretty good at making navy bean soup in my pressure cooker. I've done a lot of reading on the Kindle DX. I discovered Woot.com and Wine.Woot.com and have spent too much money on gifts and bottles. We're down in Palm Desert (we got here a week ago) and Gordo the Wonder Collie is settling in, although he did fall into the waterfall pond on his first day here.

My beloved cousin (well, she's actually my cousin's wife, but I love her as if she were a sister, so there's no single word to describe the relationship) will be here in a couple of hours, to stay until the day after Christmas. The rest of the family will show up a little later. Her husband (the actual cousin) and their daughter get here on Sunday and their son shows up three days later. The kids' arrival dates are functions of their college and high school schedules. Her sister lives just north of us, as do his father and his sister and her husband.

I spent two hours at the supermarket earlier today, trying to fill in my pantry and have some nice fresh produce for her. I went to Stater Bros. (for the first time ever) and discovered that they have a very extensive La Brea Bakery product line. I went a little overboard and will have to do a little freezing before bedtime. Nice produce and a nice service butcher, too. There was a customer at the butcher counter looking at beef roasts and he asked to look at the other side of every roast there. I know why he was doing that, but it's excessive when it's a rib roast from the middle of the piece. Sort of like looking at both sides of a center-cut pork chop.

I'm having Christmas dinner this year for all the California members of my mother's family. That's not very many people, though. There's us, my uncle, and his two kids and their families. As I wrote above, my uncle's son has two kids. His daughter has one son, who lives in the Pacific Northwest. He and his wife won't be here because they bought a house and the escrow is closing on the 23rd or 24th, so they had to stay there. They're going to have a baby in the spring (I already bought a present on kids.woot.com). So this year there will be nine of us for dinner on Christmas Eve. I'm hoping that this becomes a family tradition, now that three households are so conveniently close.

I'm sure there's more to tell, but I've got to go put the rest of the groceries away. I'm going to light some candles to greet my cousin, too. Festive is my watchword this year.

10 August 2009

Good News and Bad (But Improving) News

First the good news. I made another batch of bean and bacon soup (recipe posted here previously), only this time I spread it out over several days. It's been so hot here that I really didn't want to make it in one session. Well, actually, it started after I soaked the beans and then didn't feel like making soup after all. Still, I was glad to find out that I could spread the process over a few days.

I picked over and soaked the beans about five days ago, freezing them after I rinsed them. Then on Saturday I sliced and fried the bacon and drained it, then put it in the fridge. This afternoon I took care of the onion and garlic, then put the peppercorns, bay leaves, onion and garlic, bacon, and beans (nuked briefly so they wouldn't be a great big bean lump) into the pressure cooker, set it, and sat down to see what was new on Facebook I'm Mary Shafer there, if you want to friend me.

It's finished cooking now and I've tasted it. It tastes pretty good, but it needs salt, of course. It's too hot to whiz with the stick blender; I don't like the idea of flinging really hot soup all over me and the kitchen. I'll add salt while I'm doing that, to be sure to get it evenly mixed. I didn't put enough in the first batch, partly because my cousin was coming and I wasn't sure how much salt she'd like.

Speaking of my cousin, we had a wonderful visit. We were so sad to see her leave. Even Gordo missed her and kept going to the guest room to look for her. He'd give me this pitiful look like "How could you let her go away?" and, of course, there was no explaining it to him. She's the one who introduced me to Starbuck's iced chai latte last year. I'm now a regular customer and it's all her fault. I don't drink coffee, so I hadn't known they sold tea. I got her back, though. I introduced her to the Kindle and loaned my Kindle 2 to her. Both she and her husband have been reading with it and they really like it. I suspect they're going to end up buying one (or, maybe, two). We're a reading family, even the people who marry in, and it passes on to the kids, too.

Now for the bad news. Gordo the Wonder Collie had to have extensive exploratory surgery on Friday. He'd managed to swallow a 3" by 3" piece of rigid plastic, as well as a bunch of smaller pieces of the same plastic and some other stuff, and this was really messing up his digestive system. We took him over to the vet after he vomited five times in the night. Collies have deep chests, which made the surgery more difficult. They cut open his stomach and pulled all the junk out of it, which took both hands, and then examined his intestines carefully for smaller pieces.

He had a small fever over the weekend, but that's gone (this is written on Monday). He's still not eating much, but he's always been a picky eater. We now have great hopes that he'll come home tomorrow, since he actually ate a little kibble today. I think he has to demonstrate that his digestive system works from end to end, as it were, the same way that people who have had surgery on their digestive tracts do.

20 July 2009

Navy Bean and Bacon Soup

Last week I created a recipe for navy bean and bacon soup, mostly because I'd soaked the beans overnight and needed to cook them right away, before they sprouted or molded or whatever soaked beans do if they don't get cooked right away. As a result, this recipe is based on what I had on hand, which was pretty much bacon (beans are good with smoked pork), onions, and garlic.

Here's the recipe. I have to tell you that this is pretty rich and filling, with so much bacon in it.

Mary's Navy Bean and Bacon Soup
  • One pound of navy beans, picked over and soaked in cold water for at least eight hours, drained, and rinsed.
  • One pound of relatively lean premium thick-sliced bacon (hickory or apple wood smoked), sliced into half-inch strips, fried until crisp, and the fat drained off.
  • One large yellow onion, chopped and cooked in a small amount of bacon fat until soft and translucent
  • One head of garlic, peeled and each clove cut in half vertically, added to the cooking onions. Do not, whatever you do, let the garlic burn, as that makes it terribly bitter and nasty. Don’t worry if the garlic doesn’t do anything more than get warm in the pan. It'll get cooked completely with the beans.
  • Two bay leaves.
  • A rounded teaspoon of whole black peppercorns. Use less if you're not wild about black pepper.
  • Salt to taste.
Put everything but the salt into a pressure cooker, stir, add water to cover everything by an inch or so, bring to a boil, and process for nine or ten minutes. Allow to cool naturally (do not vent). If cooking on the stove top, instead of using a pressure cooker, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the beans are completely soft. Remove all the bay leaves (they stay whole and they'll be easy to see.) Whiz into a puree with a stick blender. Taste and add salt as desired, stirring thoroughly between additions.

This is pretty good right out of the pan, but it’s even better the next day. If you reheat it on the stove, keep an eye on it, as it’s a thick puree and will scorch easily.

27 June 2009

That's Embarrassing

I've been busy tidying up my house, so that my cousin will be able to get to the bed in the guest room and reach the love seat in the living room and sit at the dinner table. When I thought we were going to Palm Desert, I'd bought a number of things for the house and piled them all in the guest room. And I'd been collecting cardboard boxes and bubble sheets and other packing material from all the stuff I'd bought, like new smaller clothes, in the living room. Fortunately for the sake of the house, I have to get rid off all this before my cousin arrives.

I have completely filled the recycle bin four or five times in the last two months. Once I even borrowed the recycle bin from the folks across the street and filled it up, too. Handling all this cardboard has been painful, as I've managed to give myself a number of paper cuts from it. Such cuts are more painful than dangerous, of course, but they're always on the hand, which means they hurt over and over again as I use my hands. The living room looks great now, although one end of the dining room has boxes stacked across it, to go down this fall.

I'm putting the family photos into bins to take to Palm Desert. My sole remaining uncle lives nearby and has promised to help me identify the people and estimate the dates of the photos of my maternal family. One of my cousins is a photographer (he was a newspaper photographer for years, before he drifted into management at a printing company) and he has been scanning family photos onto disk. His mother was my mom's sister; it appears that the women of the family were the custodians of the photos. We have plans to merge the two collections and distribute copies to all the cousins.

Pat and I gathered up all the books in the house and boxed them in categories. There's Knitting, Cooking, Nonfiction (mostly beading and paper crafts), Read, and Unread. The last is the embarrassing part. I've got nearly twelve cubic feet of unread books sitting in the hall. Actually, they're not all unread. Quite a number are books I really want to read again.

I also have hundreds of unread books on my Kindles. I downloaded a bunch of books when I first got the Kindle 2 in late February. My buying has really tapered off markedly. Now that I've organized my actual books, I'm probably not going to buy any more books until I've read a few cubic feet of the books I already have.

Unfortunately, I discovered that I could fill in the gaps of my silver flatware on eBay, at prices much lower than buying new. As a result I've gotten the iced tea spoons I needed but hadn't wanted to pay list price for, as well as a number of serving pieces. My pattern, Royal Danish by International Silver, came out in 1939 and is still in production. It's very popular and there are all sorts of fancy little serving pieces, like a sardine fork and a corn-on-the-cob butterer. I bought the former, purely out of curiosity, but passed on the latter. I figure any meal that includes corn on the cob is too informal to require any flatware more formal than plastic. I have now stopped looking at new flatware items on eBay. If I don't see it, I can't bid on it.

Gordo the Wonder Collie broke a Corelle bowl last night. It was sitting on the pull-out board of the microwave stand, perched on top of a box of snickerdoodles. He was after the cookies, of course, and knocked the whole pile on the floor. The bowl hit just right and shattered into hundreds of razor-sharp pieces. I was really worried that he'd step on one and cut his pads badly, but luckily he didn't. He spent the rest of the evening in his crate, first to keep him away while I cleaned up and then to make a point. He was quite chastened, but had returned to his normal ebullient self this morning.

I'd started out by first dropping a container of mushroom risotto that I was reheating for dinner. Then I knocked the tub of freeze-dried beef liver bits onto the floor and had to scramble to retrieve most of them before Gordo ate them. I don't know why we were both so clumsy last night. I remember once hearing a theory that news reporters' slips of the tongue were correlated with solar flare activity; there may be a similar astronomical influence on kitchen accidents.

I've got to finish the paper on in-flight simulation, as the deadline is looming over me. Since I'm no longer working at NASA, I have to do all the layout work that the Reports group used to do for me, like laying out and checking references. I always knew that they did a lot of hard work for authors and I'm really appreciating that again now. I've got to cut a bunch of photos out, which is really difficult, with renumbering references and captions.

28 May 2009

Like Cool, Man

Well, it's taken two return trips by the techs and 20 ft of PVC pipe, but the ductless a/c seems to be working. The system startled us by suddenly dripping a lot of water on the floor. The water spread out to be quite a large puddle, although not very deep. Just proves they did a good job when they laid the slab.

It turned out that the way our ceiling is built, they couldn't get a good downhill slope the way they originally tried. So now the drain tube goes the other way, out over the double doors from the patio. It drains into an elbow on a run of PVC that goes across above the window over the sink, around the corner, over the other window, and then drops down to nearly ground level. I'd take a photo but my kitchen counters, which you can see through the windows, are an absolute mess and I'm not going to display that to the whole world. More spring cleaning to do, of course.

As for the other problems, the technician suggested checking the second remote (my policy is to buy a second remote at the time, not wait years until the replacement is no longer available) and all the other problems went away. We're not sure if the first remote was bad or if it was the wrong remote. The remote that came with our system had been robbed out of the box and they'd brought us a substitute. The second remote was dropped off the next day and we didn't even put the batteries in it, just put it into a drawer with the paperwork.

So now the system is working perfectly. We close the doors to the family room and use it during the day and it's cool and comfortable. Meanwhile, the rest of the house stays fairly cool because we've had the windows open all night. Here in the desert, the nights get very cool; a temperature drop of 40°F is common. We use that natural cooling to get the house cool enough so that we can ride it out until it starts cooling off the next evening. With the help of a few fans, that works pretty well.

I had a panic with my Kindle the day before yesterday. It wouldn't wake up, although I did manage to turn it off completely, not just sleep it. I went to the Kindle help site and immediately found the answer. It booted up, very obligingly, and has been working just fine since. I was pretty upset, since I was in the middle of a great book. However, I have a number of regular books that I need to read, so it wouldn't have been a catastrophe if I'd had to send the Kindle for repairs. It would have been inconvenient, because my husband is a light sleeper and clicking the Kindle is much quieter than turning the page of a book. How quickly we adapt!

So all's well here, electronically and mechanically. At least for now.

My husband's little laptop is starting to act a little oddly, so I just bought him a replacement from eBay. These laptops were last manufactured about four years ago and he's not ready to change over to a newer model (he runs a dual boot, Linux and XP). I'm using an even older laptop and am on my third replacement. I'm still running W2K. I have a 1600x1200-pixel 16.1" display and I'm not ready to switch over to the letterbox-shaped displays that the newer laptops have. Fortunately, we still have a couple of replacements in reserve. We'll both have to give up eventually, I'm sure, but we'll probably manage to skip another generation before we do.

Gordo the Wonder Collie is doing well on his new medication schedule. We've reduced the doses and he's a great deal more lively. He got a floppy rhinoceros from Orvis for his birthday. He's very fond of it and takes it to bed with him at night, using it for a pillow. He also got a dog nest and an outdoor dog bed and he's using them both.

I've taken most of the photos I promised in the last posting and will be putting them up soon. I think I've found the right lace pattern for the beautiful silk and I'll be getting back to knitting. Now that it's so cool in the family room, I'm ready to knit again.

16 May 2009

Mac the Knife

We're having some unseasonably hot weather right now. Although it's really not that unseasonable because we haven't hit the local record high temperature yet. It's probably going to be 100°F at the peak, although there's a slight breeze picking up, meaning that we may get the marine layer here early.

Updated to add that we did indeed set a new record for the local high for the day, by 4°, at 99°, so far. It may get another degree or two hotter.

Anyway, we put the ductless a/c unit in on Thursday, but it's not working. There's a problem with getting the remote to work and, of course, it only works with the remote. They're coming over on Monday with a new remote and an electrician to sort everything out.

Meanwhile I'm struggling with a constant problem that has kind of gotten out of hand. I do a lot of shopping on the Internet. It's mostly because of the dog; between his epilepsy and the weather, I don't like to go off and leave him for very long at all. Shopping is no fun if you're in a panic to get back home. So UPS and FedEx and USPS keep delivering cartons of shopping to my house. I've been buying a fair amount of clothing because nothing I had would fit and that really added the boxes. The two most recent deliveries were a new HP all-in-one from Amazon and a pair of utility knives from Overstock.

I needed the utility knives because I've used up all the snap-off blades on my U-Haul box cutters. Cutting up cardboard with a dull knife is dangerous and frustrating. All these cartons that keep showing up have to be cut up and put, along with most of the packing material, into the recycle bin. I'd gotten really behind and I had cardboard boxes everywhere. My housekeeper and I made a good start two weeks ago, clearing out the stuff in the guest room. We only stopped because we ran out of space in the recycle bin. So last week I borrowed my neighbor's recycle bin and filled up both bins, but that still didn't take care of all the boxes.

Yesterday afternoon I cut up another half a bin's worth. And the new utility knives really work well. The grip is very comfortable and it's easy to change blades. Plus they each came with fifty spare blades, which should last close to a lifetime. You should have seen me slashing through the carton they came in, with the razor-sharp blade making it effortless. Just call me Mac the Knife.

As soon as it cools off I'm going to go cut up enough to fill the recycle bin so it will go away on Tuesday. Then I'm going to polish off the rest, get it all out of my entry hall and living room, and never let myself get so far behind again. I don't have any real problem keeping up with the household recycling, mostly from the kitchen, just with the inundation of cartons.

Updated to add that I did get all the big cartons and the packing material into the recycle bin, with a little room left over for the kitchen stuff. The worst part was going out into the heat to transfer it from the large carton I'd put it into as I cut it up to the bin. It's not just hot, but more humid than normal. I just couldn't bear to wait until it got cooler. I've gotten a little compulsive about all this cardboard.

UPS bringeth,
USPS bringeth, and
FedEx bringeth,
But none of them taketh away.

It's Spring and my house needs attention and I'm restless. I've got another two 33-gallon bags to donate to the thrift store and I'm starting to be able to hang clothes in my closet without prying apart what already in there. I'm saving the guest room closet for when my cousin comes, in July. She'll help me be ruthless with the dressier work clothes that went in there when I outgrew them. I of course had hopes of losing weight and wearing them again, but I didn't know it wouldn't be until I'd been retired for six years and no longer had anywhere to wear them.

I will get back to knitting, I promise. I'll take photos of all the new yarn I've gotten (I have to put it away, now that it's out of its cartons) in the next couple of days and put some photos up here (and add all of them in Ravelry). I've even got two FOs to photograph and post. Plus two triangular shawls that just need blocking to be finished and a circular shawl ditto. I'm saving the circular shawl for when my cousin is here, since it's for her. After we get it blocked, we may have to shorten it. She's my height and this is supposed to be a circular shawl to keep her shoulders warm in over-cooled restaurants, not a mid-thigh-length cape. It's knit top-down in a modified fan and feather, so shortening it won't be difficult.

14 May 2009

Long Day

We had a long day today. Poor Gordo was so worn out he skipped dinner entirely. We had a ductless air conditioner and heater installed in the family room and kitchen. The installation crews got here at 0900 and left at 1950, although they did go for a quick lunch.

Our house is H-shaped, with the family room and kitchen (really all one room) on the south leg of the H, the four bedrooms and two bathrooms on the north leg, and the living and dining rooms on the crossbar. There's a covered entry on the east side and a covered patio on the west side. The way our HVAC system works, combined with the orientation of the house, the trees in the back yard, the position of the sun, the three pilot lights in the built-in double oven, and the 22-cubic foot side-by-side refrigerator, leaves the family room and kitchen warm in the summer and cool in the winter.

The ductless unit is pretty much the same as the units you see in motel rooms, except that there's a separate compressor and the unit hangs from the wall, up by the ceiling, and is operated by a remote control. Its purpose is to augment the whole-house system and, coupled with the back-up electrical generator we installed eight years ago, keep this room cool in a power outage, even in the summer. We should have put it in long ago, if you ask me. What really tipped us over the edge was the way the summer monsoons have been sneaking into the Antelope Valley. We used to have them for maybe a week or two, if we had them at all, but recently we've had them for a month or more. That humidity just kills me.

The unit also has a heat pump, just in case we lose power in the winter. Our whole-house unit runs on 230 but the ductless unit runs on 110, which is what we set the back-up generator up to provide. We could have added 230, but to do it now would require a new cross-over switch and inspections by the city and Edison, which were big hassles when we installed it originally. So we decided to leave it alone.

Gordo had to watch everything, which is why he's so tired. He spent most of the day in a crate, either in the family room or back in our bedroom, and got no naps at all. Normally, he sleeps in until about noon, frolics around the back yard for a while and then sleeps all afternoon. Not today, through. I'm pretty tired, myself, but not nearly as tired as he is.

I got some beautiful silk lace yarn in gorgeous colors. I'll take a photo and get it posted here as soon as I get organized. I think I've fallen in love with it and will never be able to give it away.

10 May 2009

Gordo's Mother's Day Gift to Me

Gordo is saving his allowance to give me the Amazon Kindle DX for Mother's Day, or so we joke. It's a good joke if you ignore that a) Gordo doesn't get an allowance, b) he has no idea what a Kindle is, c) I'm not his mother, and d) dogs really aren't that good at saving.

Wendy Johnson mentioned that Amazon was rumored to be coming out with a new Kindle this summer but that she wasn't going to wait and had bought a Kindle 2. She really likes it and says many of the same things that I did after I got mine.

The idea of an advanced model interested me greatly, so last night I surfed on over to Amazon on my Kindle 2 and discovered that they'd just made the formal announcement. I read the page, decided I really needed the larger screen, and put in a pre-order for the Kindle DX and the leather cover. It will be coming out in the summer, they say, and promise a definite delivery day as soon as they know it. Bigger screen, choice of portrait or landscape mode, more storage (3500 vs 1500 books), better graphics, native PDF display. The screen is 9.4" diagonally, compared to the Kindle 2's 6".

It looks to me as if it has one flaw, though. It doesn't have the page controls on the left side, just on the right side. I like to hold my book in my left hand and, on the Kindle, use my left thumb to change pages. This isn't a huge deal and I'll learn to live with it, but I'm sure I'll miss it sorely at first.

It's kind of funny. A few months ago, I might have looked at the Kindle DX page and thought something vague like "That's nice, I suppose" and now I'm criticizing the control layout based on the images. How I've changed since the end of February.

Update on the pressure cooker. I tried cooking potatoes for five minutes and one potato was just fine but the other one was overdone, although not as badly as the seven-minute batch had been. I had noticed a difference in the texture of the potatoes as I peeled them, so I wasn't totally surprised when they cooked up so differently. I ran over to the store about an hour ago and picked up more potatoes. These look very similar, at least on the outside, so they may cook more uniformly.

The navy bean soup turned out very well. I think it was better after sitting overnight and being reheated. I'm more than halfway through it and really enjoying it. When I bought the beans, the store had them on sale, three one-pound bags for five dollars, so I have more beans to practice with. In addition, it seems to be pretty much impossible to buy a single ham hock. I've got a recipe that uses bacon instead of ham and I picked up some thick-sliced applewood smoked bacon at the service butcher, so I may try that one next. The extra ham hocks will freeze nicely.

I really do like the pressure cooker, although I haven't cooked anything too challenging, just potatoes, beans, and rice. I've cooked a couple of boxed risottos. They're not really cooked like risottos, which requires adding the liquid gradually and stirring constantly for twenty minutes, but they're pretty tasty. They're really quick in the pressure cooker, pretty much requiring just that I react when it chirps.

02 May 2009

Trying Again

I dashed out today and got dog food (we were down to the last dishful and Gordo was looking worried), the mail, and more russet potatoes. I'm bound and determined to get this potato cooking thing to work. I mean, really, how hard can it be to cook a potato correctly? I guess I'm going to find out, aren't I?

I also picked up a pair of ham hocks and a pound of navy beans. Years and years ago, back in the early days of the HL-20, when the engineers at Langley were putting it together with little bits of time here and there, I went back there with two test pilots to fly the Differential Motion Simulator with a high-alpha cockpit display.

The reason I know it was in the early days of the HL-20 was that one of my test pilots was Bill Dana, at that time the last lifting-body (and X-15) pilot still flying research aircraft. Well, we ran into one of my friends at LaRC, one of the guys working on the HL-20 simulation, and I, of course, introduced him to Bill and Ed. His eyes got kind of wide, meeting the legendary Bill Dana. We went back to the DMS and I got a call from my friend about twenty minutes later, asking me if there was any chance that Bill might possibly be interested in flying the HL-20 sim, if only for a few minutes and entirely at his convenience, to give them suggestions. Fortunately for the HL-20, the DMS had just developed a small mechanical problem (a small hydraulic leak, I think) and we were just sitting around wondering what to do until the system came back up. So we all joined my friend and his test pilot at the HL-20 simulation and flew it for hours and a good time was had by all. To this day, my friend still thinks I'm a miracle worker, offhandedly producing a renowned lifting body pilot to fly his simulation.

So what does this have to do with ham hocks and navy beans, you ask? They're inextricably linked in my mind. Every Thursday the Langley cafeteria served navy bean soup and we were there on a Thursday and I had the soup and it was wonderful. It was a cool, damp day and the warm, succulent soup, with the grace note of smoky ham, was absolutely perfect. Warm, tasty, comfort food. So I've been making and eating navy bean soup since then. The canned stuff isn't really good enough, if you ask me, but it's quite easy to make. Pressure cookers are supposed to be wonderful for cooking beans, so I'm going to give it a try, right after I take on the potatoes again.

Then there's a Swedish yellow split pea soup, flavored with marjoram, that I made back when I was in college that I want to try again. I'd subscribed to the Time-Life Foods of the World series when I still lived in the dorm (I like to read about cooking almost as much as I like to cook) and this was one of the recipes that caught my eye. When I moved to an apartment for my senior year, this was one of the first things I cooked. It was better than I thought it would be, too. Obviously this was a while ago, in the late '60s. It was so long ago that cookbooks noted that corn tortillas could be purchased in cans at gourmet stores. This was mind-boggling to me, as I'd lived in the CA Central Valley and in SoCal since 1953 and I thought every store in town sold fresh tortillas, both corn and flour, even the 7-11 stores.

It's late afternoon here, about time for me to go start dinner. I guess I'm hungrier that I thought I was. I only meant to mention that I was ready to try again on the potatoes, but I've digressed to lifting bodies, test pilots, and a lot more about food. Hmmm....

01 May 2009

It's Gordo's Birthday

Today Gordo the Wonder Puppy is one year old. He has really grown and grown up in this year. There have been days when I thought we should have named him "May Day" but we seem to be past a lot of that.

About a month ago I ran into Gordon Fullerton and we chatted briefly. I told him I'd gotten a new smooth-coated collie puppy and named it after him. I think it kind of took him aback at first but he warmed to the idea.

Speaking of Gordo (the dog), I hadn't realized that a smooth-coated collie would shed as much, or as often, as a rough-coated collie. Nor did I realize that the shorter hair would cling so tenaciously to everything, particularly fabrics. My vacuum just wasn't picking it all up, even though it had worked perfectly for the longer hair from Gordo's rough-coated predecessors. After a lot of shopping around on the internet, I bought a Eureka model designed to pick up animal hair. It looks, and works, a lot like a Dyson, but cost less than half as much (at least, it did on Overstock.com).

I'm still doing a lot of reading on my Kindle (Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives, right now) and haven't been doing much more. I've done a little internet shopping in the last month, mostly very ordinary stuff. The one exception is the two skeins of beautiful cream silk yarn with aurora borealis sequins (Tilly Thomas Disco Lights Natural) that I picked up on eBay for an excellent price. This is an insanely luxurious yarn and I have no idea what I'm going to knit it into. Yarn like this really needs exactly the right pattern and recipient.

I bought a pressure cooker from Overstock.com and have been doing a little fiddling around with that. I'm trying to get back to more cooking "from scratch" instead of nuking something from Stouffer's. The first thing I cooked was potatoes, to slice and fry. I made a tiny mistake and cooked them for about twice as long as I should have. Fortunately I managed to pick out enough big chunks that I could actually slice and fry them, but most of them had disintegrated completely. I had entertained some thoughts of making mashed potatoes, but have decided to just toss them and buy more spuds. You can be sure that I'll cut the cooking time radically this time. I'm a quick learner.

It's finally shorts and tees time here again. I discovered that all of my shorts were at least one size too large. I have bagged them up to go to New to You, the hospital volunteers' thrift store. A lot of my tees were also too big and starting to get a little limp from being washed so many times, so I'm going through those, too. I've gotten new shorts and tees from Land's End, Dillard's, Overstock.com, and Smartbargains.com. It's actually fairly inexpensive to wear shorts and tees. Not that I wear business clothes, but I do notice the prices.

I'm actually back to the size that some of the dressier clothes, currently hanging in the guest room closet, are, but I don't think I'll get much wear out of them. They're too old to be in style but not old enough to be back in style, if you know what I mean. I still have some '70s and '80s clothes in cartons. I can't fit into them yet, but maybe by next year.... I just hope retro stays in style. If I'd had any sense I'd have gotten rid of these long ago. I guess I packed them away at the end of a season and just never went back through the boxes.

Now that I've written this down, I see that I'm actually doing some Spring cleaning. Sorting through clothes, getting on top of the dog hair problem, and so on. I love Spring, even though the season can be very windy here. It's so nice to have open windows and fresh air after having the house closed up all winter. It seems to me that Spring, more than New Year's, is the time to make resolutions and changes. Too hard to be hopeful in the dead of winter, maybe.

24 April 2009

Birthday Cards

I got a birthday card and note from my favorite niece in the whole world (she's actually my only niece, but I still recognize her superiority at being a niece). She told me that she bought herself a Kindle 2 after reading my posting on mine. She has always been a great reader, like me, which I think has made us closer over the years. I have to admit to having aided and abetted her reading habit; I would buy her books when we visited Iowa and even now we give her Amazon gift certificates.

Still, to convince her, with just a few words, to buy a Kindle 2.... Fortunately for my auntly reputation, she loves it with a passion. I am so pleased to hear that from her, since I love mine, and her, so very much.

She is a wonderful person. She's really good at dealing with people, which is a large part of her job (she's a fairly high-level manager at the hospital system of a big Midwestern university), and she's very intelligent. She got her MBA at that same university while working full time, with excellent grades. We are so proud of her and her success. She's also a wonderful aunt to her four nieces and one nephew. She graciously gives me a much-needed outlet for knitted goods, by accepting and wearing warm woolly scarves.

Maybe she'll start leaving the occasional comment here. I didn't even know she was reading.

22 April 2009

Sad Anniversaries

It will be my mother's birthday on the 24th, the second since she died. Somehow this anniversary makes me sadder than the anniversary of her death. In reaction to this, I find myself swamped in creativity or, maybe, in shopping to support creativity. I've been buying lace weight yarn like crazy. I bought three partial cones of Jaggerspun Zephyr and another three colors of cashmere-silk blend on eBay, four different colorways from Black Bunny Yarn, and two colorways of kettle-dyed yarn from Knit Picks. Then today I got a skein of Lorna's Laces Helen's Lace for the 2009 Year of Lace Spring offering.

The funny thing is, I don't know why I'm suddenly accumulating lace weight yarn. It's not in honor of my mother. I never knit a lace shawl for my mother and she wouldn't have worn it if I had. She rarely wore sweaters or jackets or coats and a lace shawl just wasn't her style at all. An afghan would have suited her, but I'm just now starting to think about knitting afghans, mostly for the new house.

There's some miscellaneous news. We're having a heat wave here. It's been in the '90s, which is unusual in April. Today we're having a lot of convective activity and there's an actual thunderstorm just north of us that has really dropped the temperature. I doubt if we'll see any precipitation, though.

Gordo went to the vet last week and he weighs 75 lbs now. He'll be one year old on May Day. He's doing very well, although he has trouble sleeping in the warm evenings. We've started leaving the slider in the bedroom open and he's doing better. His crate is right by the door and the cool air washes over him, making him more comfortable. He also seems to be eating a little better. I think he's not wild about the lamb and rice kibble, so I'm going to look for a different brand next time. Maybe I'll pick up a small bag of Canidae. My previous pair of collies liked it very much, so I can hope Gordo will, too, and that it won't make him itch.

Some time ago I got a new vacuum cleaner, a Eureka, that claims to pick up dog hair. It does and I'm really pleased. I hadn't realized how much hair Gordo had shed in the bedroom (or how much we'd tracked in) until I saw it whirling around in the vacuum cup. His hair is pretty much invisible on the silver plush, which helped conceal the quantity. The vacuum can also be used on hard floors, having a switch to turn the beater brushes off, which is really nice. My halls and bathrooms are tiled and regular vacuums just spread stuff around on them, rather than sucking it up. This vacuum came from Overstock.com and was quite reasonably priced. I looked at Dysans but couldn't find one with the hard-floor option and thought they were kind of expensive. I've had Eurekas before and liked them, so that's what I got.

At the same time I also picked up a Bissell carpet cleaner from Overstock.com. It's refurbished and has a minimal complement of accessories, but I'ver never found that I use the accessories. I probably should, now that I actually think about it, since the chair I regularly sit in is a bit grubby and could stand to have the arms cleaned, at the very least. We have the carpet cleaners come in about once a year and do everything, but with a dog it's nice to be able to tackle spots when they appear, without doing the entire house. All of my dogs have been very good about not making organic messes, being well-trained, but I swear that they would sometimes clench an entire pawful of mud to track onto the carpet on rainy days. Add in my propensity to spill Caffeine-Free Diet Coke and spot-cleaning gets important.

The third thing in my order was a pressure cooker. I've never had one, but my mom loved hers. She was a working woman for as long as I can remember and the pressure cooker let her put dinner on the table in no time. I'm more interested in keeping the kitchen cool during the summer. I'm trying to add some balance and variety to my diet and I know I'm more likely to eat food I've prepared. For example, I despise cooked bell peppers, yet a lot of companies sneak them into frozen meals, where they taint the entire dish. This is particularly true of baked pasta dishes and Mexican foods, like enchiladas. I also think the pressure cooker will let me cook smaller quantities. There's really no reason to make two big pans of cheese enchiladas or lasagna just because you're going to all that work anyway. The cooker is also touted as making excellent rice and, with special pans, steamed desserts. I'll let you know how this works out.

14 April 2009

Birthday Just Passed

My birthday was on the 9th of April and it was really good. My sweet husband had given me a Kindle 2 as an early birthday gift and I've been lost in reading. This is truly a wonderful device and I just love it. My dear cousin sent me a pound of See's chocolates. The dark chocolate Bordeaux, to be exact. I like them so much

I gave myself M'Lou Baber's new book, Double Knitting, and Iris Schreier's new Reversible Knitting. I also bought some yarn from Knit Picks for double-knitted scarves. Amazon recommended Lucy Neatby's DVD on Double Knitting and I had to have it. Actually, I had to have a couple other of her DVDs, too. So I've started on the Exchequered scarf from Knitty. I'm knitting it in Coal (black) and Asparagus (soft gray-green) Merino Style. So far, so good, although I've only just started.

Actually, there was yet another birthday gift. Somewhere along the line last year I had decided I was 62. It must have been bad arithmetic; a couple of days before I actually turned 62 I figured out that I was only 61. It didn't last long, but somehow I feel better.

08 March 2009


Some years ago[1] Purina ran ads for Puppy Chow with the jingle

Puppy Chow for a full year,
Til he's full-grown.

It had a catchy little tune that's currently chasing itself around my brain.

I know this was an ad designed to sell Puppy Chow, but it's actually not the worst advice in the world for feeding puppies. Dogs actually mature at different rates, corresponding to their size, and a year is a pretty good average for a medium-sized dog. The giant breeds may not be completely mature until they're two years old.

What brought this to my mind was that tonight, for the first time in quite a while, I had to loosen Gordo the Wonder Puppy's adjustable collar. He's ten months old now and he's still growing, but the rate has really slowed. He's getting pretty close to his adult height and weight and he's maturing mentally, too. He's markedly better behaved and much less destructive, although he's still fond of tipping over the recycling bin and picking out some box or plastic container to chew on. That's kind of OK with me, so he doesn't get into much trouble over it. He seems to prefer rawhide to cardboard these days and the tipping is getting less frequent.

I really don't know how the medications he takes for his epilepsy are affecting his growth. Epilepsy is uncommon in puppies, so the vet isn't really sure, either. We recently halved the dose of the Keppra. This has made Gordo a litle less somnolent and a little more frisky, and he hasn't had a seizure for almost two months. He also hasn't had any of the little neurological "episodes" that he'd been having. I'm really pleased with how he's doing, in fact.

Anyway, to get back to the Puppy Chow, when he was about seven months old, Nutro discontinued the lamb and rice puppy food and I started trying new brands. This was when we discovered that he's allergic to some ingredient in other foods. It's probably a protein, because allergies usually are, and it's not a grain, because he's allergic to not just one, but two, count them, two super-expensive super-premium dog foods made with no grain at all. It's also not chicken, which is really good because he loves those dried chicken breast strips as treats and inducements.

Anyway, I was having a real problem finding puppy food he could eat and I called the breeder about this. She told me that she put all her puppies on adult Nutro at six months. Well, that made life easy and now Gordo is eating adult lamb and rice food. So much for the jingle.

[1] This is my way of saying I have no idea when, although I think it was probably after about 1972, when we got our first collie. I can remember other advertising jingles, too, which says a lot about their staying power. Some of them are from the '50s and the products are long gone, but the jingle lingers on.

02 March 2009

An Early Birthday Present

OK, this time I did drop off the surface of the earth for a week. On Tuesday, the 24th, FedEx delivered a Kindle 2 into my hands. This is a wonderful toy, which I have stuffed with over 100 books (mostly from Baen.com). I have done virtually nothing but play with it. My husband, who gave it to me, is patiently waiting for my infatuation to diminish enough that I'll let him read a book from it.

I have always loved the printed word. I was raised in a household of people who read all the time and I started with being read to and, in first grade, switched to reading myself. This was literally true; when I started first grade my father would read the paper to me and about halfway through the school year I started reading it to him. I haven't stopped reading since then.

Along with reading went book buying, but not, unfortunately, book disposal. I have many, many shelves of books at both houses, as well as a lot of cartons of books at both. I cling to my books, which I do re-read, as if book publication were going to stop tomorrow and I'd have to spend the rest of my life with only the books I have on hand. This is silly, of course. I actually did manage to give the Lancaster Friends of the Library two cubic yards (eighteen cubic feet) of books about four years ago and I've trained myself to give them some magazines after I've read them. This is a major behavioral change and I'm fairly proud of myself for making it.

However, it hasn't been enough. That's why I'm so pleased with the Kindle 2. It's small, light, easy to read, and doesn't need any bookshelf space at all. I just copied the eighty or so books I'd downloaded from Baen.com to a single CD (81 MB on a standard 700-MB CD). It's less than a quarter-inch wide, put in a minimum-sized jewel box.

The Kindle 2 is great for regular text books, but it's not designed for books with photos and figures and graphs, like knitting books. The Kindle 2 has sixteen shades of gray, compared to the Kindle 1's four shades, but that's gray, not color. That works just fine for covers, but it would be really inadequate for knitting books. This isn't just my opinion; books like that don't come in Kindle versions. I've actually bought four real books since the Kindle arrived. Two of these were about knitting (one was about color work) and two were about bread and pastry. I sure wish I'd known I was getting a Kindle, though, because I wouldn't have bought the seven-volume boxed set of Sookie Stackhouse paperbacks the week before.

Some of you are probably familiar with how the Kindle works, but that's not going to stop me from explaining it. Included in the cost of the book is use of a 3G network (Sprint, I think). Buy a Kindle version of a book from Amazon and it delivers it over the network pretty much instantaneously. E-books from other sources, like Baen, can be mailed directly to the Kindle, via Amazon or they can be downloaded to a computer and mailed from there. I've chosen the second method so that I can back the e-books up on CD. I think that I've bought eternal download rights from Baen, but I don't know that for sure. I know I've bought eternal download rights from Amazon, because they suggest using those rights to "archive" books when my Kindle gets too full (it holds 1500 average-sized books). I can also plug my Kindle into a USB 2 port on my computer and transfer e-books directly. However, my laptop doesn't have USB 2, so that's not an option at this time. My husband's computer has it, so the possibility is there. It's just that the mailing procedure works really well.

If you mail an e-book that's not of the two Kindle formats (.mobi and .prc) Amazon will convert it. There's a ten-cent charge (billed after thirty e-books, so there's no flood of dime charges), which seems pretty reasonable to me. I've been mailing e-books in those two formats, so I haven't been charged for mailing them, though.

Baen has a very clever scheme going with their e-books. At least, I think it's clever and I know they make money on it. The first one or two books in a series are free. Just download and mail to the Kindle (or read them on your computer; a number of formats are available). Then, once you're absolutely hooked on the series, the subsequent books cost $6 each, which is very reasonable. Remember, there's no shipping to pay. Some older e-books are $5 and bundled e-books are $4, so the e-books are economical.

On Amazon the e-books are no more than $9.95 for new hardbounds. When the book becomes available in paperback (usually $7.99 list price these days), the cost of the e-book drops to be less than the cover price, I think. At least the few I've looked at work that way. I can't claim to have looked at the comparative prices of many books and e-books, so I don't really know what the actual Amazon policy is. I will say, though, that I expect to recoup the cost of the device with the savings on the e-books fairly soon, like less than a year.

I also expect to give a lot of books to the Friends, since I will no longer need them. I've got two sets of some of my favorite series, for example, so that I could re-read them at either house without having to pack them and transport them twice a year. These are all in paperback, because I'm fond of them, but not at hardbound prices. Mostly, though, I only buy one copy and end up packing and transporting several (four or five, at least) cartons each way. Now all I'll have to do is take my Kindle 2 and the back-up CD. That will make changing houses a lot easier and reduce the strain on my back and knees.

I'll still have a box or two of knitting books, though. Knitting books are heavier that regular books, because they're printed on glossy paper. On the other hand, they're usually thinner, even though the pages are larger. The latest David Weber book is about 2" thick but it's an unusual knitting book that's over ½" thick.

I don't want you to think I love my Kindle 2 for purely practical reasons like saving shelf space. There's a lot more to it than that. It's just plain cute and fun. It's so light and the ergonomics are really well thought out. It works well with my habit of holding a book in my left hand, as the "next page" and "previous page" buttons are right under my thumb (they haven't ignored people who hold books in their right hands; there's a "next page" button on the right side, too). The screen isn't back-lit, meaning that I need a little book light to read it in bed, but I find back-lit screens to be tiring after a while.

Let's see, what other functions does it have that might be interesting? It can be used to shop directly from Amazon, and not just for e-books. Actually, it'll go anywhere on the Web, although the small screen size makes reading pages that aren't designed for it a bit difficult. You can subscribe to newspapers and magazines through Amazon. The list of magazines is kind of short, but that probably won't last. Amazon will send sample chapters from their books free. These are usually the first couple of chapters.

The battery charge life is astounding, particularly if the net is turned off (like cell phones, it checks in with the cell tower regularly and that can eat battery life in a fringe area). The charging cord is very clever, as it's both the USB cord and a regular electric cord (the far end is a little transformer that the USB cord plugs into). It charges quickly from the wall (I haven't tried USB charging). There are six font sizes to choose from. It'll read the book aloud, although rather oddly. I don't like being read to, though, so I don't really care if it's a little odd.

I bought a Patagonia padded cover for mine, but I don't like it because the zippers don't move easily and the little straps make a funny bump under my hand. So I've ordered a leather cover that just flips open. The additional warranty I bought promises one complete replacement if the device is totaled by owner/operator error. However, it can be dropped and still survive (some of the drop tests are shown on the Amazon page. I like to read in the bathtub, so this coverage makes me more confident, although I've never dropped a book in the tub in all my years of reading there.

I didn't realize I had so much to write about the Kindle 2 and e-books and regular books. I should have known, though, because reading and, therefore, books are such an important part of my life.

20 February 2009


No, not itchy yarn. Itchy hair. I got my hair cut this afternoon and it's driving me crazy. The short little ends (shaping the back and neckline take a lot of snipping) have caught in the ballerina neckline of my shirt and keep digging in.

I'd go change into a different shirt, hoping that all the loose hair has left my head and is now captive in my shirt, but I just did an amazing amount of laundry and the only people things not yet washed are my nightgown and the sheets. I even washed the load of microfiber cloths, which have to be washed separately, and the new red-purple bath mats (which produced two lint filters full of lint and still aren't dry). I feel so virtuous to have done so much laundry, although I still need to run a load for the covers on Gordo's crate pads.

Usually I take a bath and change clothes right away, as soon as I get home, but I got distracted and now it's so late I'm not sure my hair will be dry before I go to bed. I have a lot of hair and it only dries quickly if it's about two inches long at the most. Back when I was in college, I wore it in a pixie cut, with blonde frosting, but now I wear it about four inches at the crown, in what used to be called an artichoke cut (turn an artichoke upside down and ignore the stem to get the idea). No frosting, just gray and silver for "highlights". I stopped coloring my hair on my sixtieth birthday because I'd gotten tired of the constant need to get the roots colored.

I'm going to post this and then go brush my hair over the sink again (for the third time) and put on my nightgown. One load of laundry for the people tomorrow, one for Gordo, and a load of dishes and then everything in the house will be clean and we'll start getting it all dirty again.

No end in sight on laundry and dishes, ever.

Updated about an hour after posting: I brushed Gordo quite thoroughly, much to his dismay. I got a lot of hair off him, both undercoat and guard hairs. Smooth coated collies shed as much as do rough coated collies, only the hair is about a third or a quarter the length and a lot harder to get off the furniture, particularly furniture upholstered in Ultrasuede. Then I went in and brushed my hair again, took off the itchy shirt, and am now comfortable in my nightgown.

I got into the habit of changing the sheets on the bed on Saturday, back when I worked, and I've kept it, here in Lancaster. Down at the Palm Desert house my cleaners, who come on Wednesday, change the sheets for me. But I still feel as if I should be doing something on Saturday. Old habits die hard.

18 February 2009

Miscellaneous News

I thought I'd update everyone on what's going on here. Not that it's a lot, but there are a few little things I've written about earlier.

The crown that I thought would be cemented a day or two ago still isn't here. I finally called and asked about it; I'm sorry to say that the mother of the lab guy passed away and everything has been delayed. However, I have a really good temporary on the tooth, so I'm not in too much of a hurry. I would like to be done with all this, but another week or two isn't going to make a big difference in the long run.

Gordo the Wonder Puppy is doing well. He hasn't had a seizure for a month and he seems to be less drugged than he was when he started on the Keppra. This latter is a mixed blessing; he's recently learned to tip the recycling bin over and fish out something interesting to drag into the family room and dismember. On the other hand, he's sleeping through the night, which has greatly improved my sleep.

My Rainbow Argosy Afghan is about 80% done. Well, maybe not so much, since I dropped a stitch about eight rows back and am tinking back to that point, two rows at a time. I can't just drop the stitches near the error and re-knit, because there's a yarnover in every other row and I don't have enough yarn to make it. Very annoying, as there's also a new ball of yarn joined in the the rows that have to come out.

Anyway, here's a photo of it at about 70% done.

And here's a close-up to show you the pattern and how the variegation works out.

This yarn is really soft and puffy. The afghan is going to be nice and warm. I do like Lorna's Laces yarns. I got a skein of Helen's Lace, which is 50/50 merino and silk. It's a big skein, maybe six ounces, 1200 yards (three-quarters of a mile), and beautifully dyed. I also got a shawl pattern for it. Unfortunately, I've got a number of projects that I absolutely must complete before I start another big lace project. It doesn't help that I have four other lace wraps that I really want to knit and another six or eight that I have in mind.

16 February 2009

Out of the Blue

I got a very interesting phone call last week and it really was a thrill. It's kind of complicated, so I'll have to start with some background.

Back in 1991 a couple of guys I worked with doing in-flight simulation were Technical Chairman and a Session Chair, respectively, at the AIAA Simulation Science Conference, which was held at the same time and place as the AIAA Guidance, Navigation, and Control and Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conferences. My husband and I always went to these conferences, which are in August. The guys wanted me to write a paper about in-flight simulation at Dryden. There were two reasons for this, that I'd been managing the in-flight simulation at Dryden for years and that it wouldn't look like an advertisement, since Dryden used the various aircraft, rather than providing the service. I guess I need to mention that the conference TC was the USAF manager of their in-flight simulators and the Session Chair was the department head of the company that operated those aircraft and a couple of their own. You can see where them writing such a paper might not look entirely neutral on the subject.

So I wrote the paper. It took a lot of research and I spent a lot of time up at the Ames Research Center, going through fiches and reading old, old papers. I blew a lot of them back and would have a heavy box to carry back on the KingAir on every trip. I went around and interviewed past and present research test pilots and engineers and generally had a good time, but it was harder to write this paper than it was to turn out a more focused paper on some flight test results. I also spent a lot of time picking out photos so the paper wouldn't be just text.

I gave the paper at the conference (it was in New Orleans that year) and the room was full to overflowing and engineers came up afterward to tell me how much they'd liked it, engineers I knew and respected. As a result, I decided it was a pretty good paper. AIAA couldn't publish it as a journal paper because it was way too long and there was no good way I could cut it down, so I was kind of stuck, looking for a more widely distributed publication method. I happened to talk to Dick Hallion, who was working as a historian for the Air Force Wright Aeronautical Laboratory at the time, about the paper (he'd liked it) and he suggested I try the Journal of the American Aviation Historians Society. Dick had written a very good history of Dryden some years before this, which was when I'd gotten to know him.

So I sent it to the AAHS and they were very happy to publish it for me. I made a few small changes and we sent it off, with a stack of photos, and got back copies of the magazine some time later. They did a beautiful job printing the paper, because they used glossy paper and photos were important to them.

You can read the TM version of the paper, In-Flight Simulation Studies at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Facility, here. It's not very technical and it may be interesting.

OK, that's the background. You can see why I said that you needed it to understand what happened last week.

Dick Hallion is back working for NASA as a historian again. The agency is putting together a four-volume series on NACA/NASA aeronautics research history, aimed at letting the young engineers learn about all the stuff that has been done in aeronautics over the years. Three of the volumes are about aerodynamics and wind tunnels and the fourth volume is about handling and flying qualities and topics like that. At least, I think that's how Dick described it. I may be wrong, though. Dick is in charge of this effort (I think he's a contractor, not that it matters) and he'd remembered my paper all these years and thinks it should be included.

So he called me up to ask me if I'd like to bring it up to date for inclusion in this, because he thinks it's important to include the topic and I'd already written such a good paper, he thought. This is a form of profession immortality, in its way. I'll be a contractor to NASA and I think I'll be able to use the Dryden library and photo lab, as well as having access to the pilots and researchers. So far as I know, there hasn't been a lot of in-flight simulation studies at Dryden since I wrote the paper. Handling and flying qualities research has really dropped off the charts for funding these days, as has aeronautics, at least at NASA (and, I think, the USAF). Aeronautics has kind of been the red-headed step child at NASA once the Space program really started sucking up the funding.

And I get a copy of the four-volume set, too. Plus they pay me, although not a huge amount.

10 February 2009

Something New & Yard Work

I did something I never thought I'd do. I ordered the DVD of the entire first season of a TV show, The Big Bang Theory. I really don't watch much TV, but I like this show. My goddaughter, who was then majoring in physics at Penn State, recommended it to me at about the second show, but we didn't get around to watching it until late last year. Now that we've discovered it, I had to have the first season. It's really a funny show.

Hard-science guys with little or no idea about social interactions; where I have seen that before? Why, could it be at UCLA, where I was an engineering student? Or at NASA Dryden, where I was an engineer for most of my career? Or both?

We're having the trees trimmed today and tomorrow. We have three big forty-year-plus fruitless mulberries and they have to be "laced" every couple of years to reduce the sail loading when the wind blows. We also have a Chinese pistache that's nearly as big and a beautiful liquidamber beside the driveway that needed a little trimming, nothing as drastic as the mulberries.

My pomegranate bush needed to be cut back severely, though, since it sets fruit on newer growth. It's down to about four trunks now, instead of a dozen. I only had about a dozen fruit on it last year, if that many. It may not produce much this year, but I should get a bumper crop the next year. If the school kids leave me enough, I'll juice them and make jelly. Messy, but gratifying. Making this jelly is a family tradition dating back almost fifty years. I cheat and use bottled pomegranate juice from the supermarket when I don't have fresh fruit available. I posted the recipe here earlier.

The junipers on the other side of the driveway had encroached quite fiercely and we cut them back about three feet, maybe more. They really look ugly now, but they'll grow back. We've created some nice humus under there, I noticed. I asked the trimmers to cut the ivy and Virginia creeper in the back yard back to the ground. Both had really gotten out of hand and were taking over. They're going to move my Madame Galen scarlet trumpet creeper around to the back yard so I can see it from the windows (which are almost all on the back of the house). I'm not really razing all the plant life at the house, although it may sound like it. I'm just tidying up stuff that has needed attention for a while. I'd kind of coasted on some of this but I suddenly got tired of the overgrown vines and the narrowed driveway and the clutter.

This is the same team that's going to transplant my big Mediterranean clumping fan palm from here in Lancaster to the front yard of our house in Palm Desert. We left a big space for it when we landscaped down there. It's outgrown the place I have it in here and needs to be moved somewhere. It was a gift from a very dear friend, a guy who went to college with my husband and worked at Dryden for many years. He has since died, so the palm is very dear to me.

Here's the Mediterranean clumping fan palm from the south. To give you an idea of its size, the block front of the raised bed is about 26". You can see some of the Virginia creeper on the left side of the photo, growing into the palm. These three photos were taken in September, which is why the creeper still has its leaves. Right now it's just a bundle of light brown stems and really ugly.

Here's a photo from the southeast, with the trunk of the Chinese pistache on the right side. You can see Virginia creeper on both sides. The stuff really spreads.

And this photo is from the north. The grass-like plant that you can see arching on the right is a volunteer clump of pampas grass. The neighbors on the other side of the wall had pampas grass against their side of the wall and it seeded freely. Pampas grass is nasty to deal with. It's very hard to kill and the leaves are exceeding sharp. It'll cut bare hands readily. This little clump is going away tomorrow, along with all that Virginia creeper you can see.

Gordo the Wonder Puppy has greatly enjoyed having the tree trimmers over. They are very obliging with pats and attention and have flapping pants cuffs to chase. He had to come into the house because I decided he was a bit of a tripping menace, chasing cuffs and boot laces. I think the crew was relieved to see him go. I would have been. It was really funny to see him take in the changes in the back yard after the team knocked off for the day. The ivy is down off the little metal shed in heaps and some of the privets have vanished.

Gordo went to the vet to have his blood levels of his epilepsy meds checked. He's up to 68 pounds, at 9.5 months. He's supposed to weigh about 75 pounds when he's fully grown, but I'm beginning to think he may be a little heavier. He'll still fit on my lap, as long as I have the hassock under my legs to extend my lap enough. He napped briefly on my lap this afternoon, having been worn out by all the excitement and getting up early. He's definitely still a puppy.

05 February 2009

Latest News about Gordo the Wonder Puppy

About a week ago we started Gordo on another drug, Keppra, for his epilepsy. This is in addition to the Phenobarbital and the potassium bromide. It actually seems to have controlled the seizures that were slipping through the first two drugs, but it also seems to have really upset his digestive system. His appetite has really gone away and he has been producing very soft stools, which are a real nuisance to pick up off the lawn. He also seems to be really uncomfortable and doesn't like to have him tummy touched, which is new for him.

Today we took him over to the vet to discuss this whole thing. They took blood to check the Phenobarbital and potassium bromide levels and examined him, poking at his tummy and listening to various places. The vet told me to take him off the Keppra for a while, to see if the problem clears up. And they gave me probiota paste and capsules.

The probiota paste, which has all kinds of beneficial digestive bacteria in it, comes in a tube about half the size of a caulk tube, like you use around sinks and tubs and stuff. I dialed up the 5-ml dose, convinced Gordo to let me put the end into his mouth, and squeezed the stuff onto his tongue. He promptly spat the entire dose of beige paste out, right onto my white jeans. Then he sniffed it, licked it off, and started looking for more.

Now I wonder what's going to happen with the next dose. I know I won't be wearing white jeans again. Khaki pants, maybe.

25 January 2009

I Haven't Dropped Off The Surface Of The Earth

It's been more than two months since I last posted something here, although I've been updating afca regularly. There's isn't a lot of news, except about Gordo the Collie Puppy and his epilepsy. I did a little knitting and will update that soon, with photos.

Meanwhile, about the Wonder Puppy....

We've been titrating his dosages of Phenobarbital and potassium bromide and seem to be getting satisfactory blood levels. The number of seizures has dropped significantly. Last week we bit the bullet and sent him down to West Los Angeles to have an MRI and a spinal tap, just to be absolutely certain that there was nothing obvious causing the problem. Apparently, onset of epilepsy in a puppy is uncommon, particularly when there's so much trouble controlling it. They didn't find anything, but we did get a nifty DVD and I can assure you that, despite how he sometimes acts, Gordo does indeed have a brain.

Our vet has been consulting with a neurologist (vets specialize these days, just as do MDs). The neurologist suggested a new drug to add to the other two, so our vet called in a prescription to my pharmacy. This is human medication, too, and is very expensive for the uninsured, like Gordo. My pharmacy called me three times, just to make sure I knew how much it cost. We haven't started him on this, yet, because he seems to be doing better without it right now. We'll see.