Sunday, July 10, 2016

It is always about the people

We did meet people on the Holland cruise, but I first want to write a bit about the people we met when we were on our own.

Many of our wait staff were local but there was a large group from countries like Serbia and Moldova.  These were lovely, exotic, young women certainly hoping to get ahead when the poverty and war in their own country was so difficult.  I learned from one gal that Moldova is the poorest country in the area and they are struggling to be accepted into NATO.  One of our Presidential candidates would give that a big thumbs down and the other would see it as a way to make lemonade.  If you don't get what I just wrote, I am too upset over NATO to explain just now.

We took a very long (all day) Denali road trip by bus with the park service.  Our driver looked like "most white folks" favorite grandma.  She managed that bus like a professional over some very steep climbs and hairpin turns while still keeping up a very good patter about the woods, its animals and even the culture of Alaskans and how they dealt with summer.

And she had to be her own window-washer!  I am sure they do not pay her nearly enough.

Our other guide was a sweet child from Florida who had been a park ranger only 4 or 5 years.  She said she had found her home in Alaska at long last.  Now all she needs to do is find her Prince Charming.  She was good on the plants, admitted her weakness on the birds and took us to a homesteader's cabin that was now an historic part of the park.  (The man on the right was from Pakistan or India and certainly from the Brahman class.  He managed to spoil almost all of my shots from the bus as he was destined to be the only one who wanted to get shots of the animals and thus most of us got shots of the back of his head!)

We learned (as if we didn't already know) that these miners, hunters, trappers and homesteaders were a rough, strong, and determined class of people, although not usually able to complete a sentence without swearing.  Alaska is deceitful in all it beauty, because a wild animal, a landslide, or a lengthy cold spell can mean death to any man or woman.

The nails in the sign above are the Ranger's attempt at keeping the bears from rubbing the signs into oblivion when they scratch their backs.  The sign below was where the road through the wilderness came to an end.

AND we are so small for all the destruction we cause which has nothing to do with signs.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Re-Entry But Feeling Molecularly Challenged Thursday Thirteen

We are back.  Yes, it was about three weeks of travel.  First a few days in Santa Barbara, CA visiting a dear cousin who lost her loving husband years ago and is still adjusting.  Next a few days in Vancouver, BC, then boarding a Holland Cruise ship stopping at all the ports in Alaska along the way until we finally reached Seward and disembarked for another week in Anchorage with side trips to Denali National Park. 

With only 4 hours time difference from here at home it was still a loooong way from civilization, especially at the very end where people dressed and ate like hardworking lumbermen.  The 20 hour days of sunshine did not help in the adjusting either.  Weather was sunny, rainy and mostly in the high 60s F.

I took several thousand photos, even though I was trying to be be more circumspect!  I will not bore you with them all ... only a few scattered in coming posts.

Meanwhile, here is a short version of the trip on the Thursday Thirteen.

  1. Had to leave Santa Barbara as fires licked at her nearby mountains.  We tried to assure our cousin things would be fine  as she is in her 80's and has had to evacuate once before.
  2. Met up with my brother-in-law and finally after so many years met his second wife.  We were in the same house where my sister raised her children before her death and it was surprisingly painful. (Yeah, I know.)
  3. Vancouver was different than I expected...I could get my mind around it.
  4. They have a pseudo Disney type ride/movie of the Canadian land, which I actually enjoyed.
  5. I do not like medium or large cruise ships, but was able to enjoy this Holland one and kept thinking I could write a Hurcule Poirot story as I catalogued some of the passengers on our voyage.
  6. Crew were mostly Indonesian and so hubby and I (mostly hubby) got to practice what we remembered of the language.
  7.  I saw my first calving of a glacier which was worth the money for the whole trip.
  8. I could not see the puffins, even with binoculars!
  9. Alaska has only 600,000 plus people.  Everyone knows everyone.
  10. Most of the people who waited on us or worked retail were not "Alaskans".  We met Californians, Texans, Russians, Moldovans, Chinese, Taiwanese, and Serbians.
  11. Viewing a cow moose from a safe boardwalk, I realized how easy it was for them to disappear into the high grasses as the moose dissolved just beneath my vision.
  12. We could not take the hike my husband really wanted to try as the trail was closed due to a grizzly attack.  When it finally opened we drove up to the Park and were told it was closed once again due to a second attack--same bear that they thought had been driven away!
  13. Everyone who lives there says they love the winters and the dark days...really.  Methinks they are maybe overly enthusiastic?

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Dog Ate My Homework

Certainly one of my least liked chores, and my weakest skill, although I can talk the leg off a dead horse, is asking for people to volunteer their time.  My work for political parties is non-existent because of that lack of talent.  Anyway, I have had to step up to the plate and get more volunteers to help us work in our children's garden during the upcoming hot summer months, especially while we are on travel (more about that in another post).

I got the following excuses for why people were absent from helping in May and June:

My daughter had a premature baby and her daughter-in-law who was going to help got Mersa in the hospital while visiting.

I am helping my son move to Kentucky.

I am moving my husband into a nursing home.

My wife has gotten very ill.  (stroke).

I have been sick with Pneumonia the last two weeks and am now heading out for Italy.

I am having a growth removed from my face.  (We later learned it was cancerous.)

My work schedule is such that I am now on-call seven days a week and do not know when I have free time.

I will be away on my sailboat all of June.

These are all valid and honest excuses and probably not atypical for our group of retired, old, farts.  Looks like I will have to put in more hours for a while.

On a lighter note you can go here for our weather report.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Keeping Up with Mr. and Mrs. Jones

Got this in the mail the other day.  I am invited to participate in a program where "Your neighbor is already helping."  Nothing like pushing me to keep up with the Jones family.  AND the Jones family is "helping" give "energy" a break, so should not I?   I actually think I may have one of their recycle gizmos on the electric box outside, but since it is early in the morning and still dark, I will have to wait to see!

Written so that we feel concern for the poor electric company (!).  As global warming (climate change), whatever, is making summers hotter and longer, the consumer's demand for energy is not being met (?).  I live within a few miles of a nuclear power plant and a liquid energy depot and they want me to accept automatic brown outs because the county and state taxes I pay and the monthly electric bill that I pay are not enough of a subsidy to provide energy for all of us.  I can do this by giving my AC/heat pump a "rest."   The euphemisms abound.  So, if I think I may be having a hot flash, it is just my equipment being cycled.

I am almost old enough to remember the days when electric companies wanted me to use MORE electricity so that my life would be more modern and comfortable, but that is when "housewives" wore pears and high heels and not tanks tops and shorts.  When a company wants you to buy less of their product, it is time to take notice.  Things are never as simple as they seem.  I am expecting a rise in taxes and electric bills as the strain on the utility system grows.

Friday, June 03, 2016

This House Owns Us

It began with a small crack that ran along the base of the garage floor slab and the outside wall.  Then we noticed a hole where the slab met the entryway.  When hubby removed the brick pavers he noticed the cement apron was cracked.  Then we stuck a re-bar in the hole and found it went into an empty space that was a least one foot by one foot!

Time to call in the foundation companies of which we could only find two that would drive to our area.  They were concerned and were talking helical piers and thousands of dollars.  Time to call in the engineer at $300 a visit.  He seemed to feel the basement companies were on over kill mode and recommended removing it all and seeing what we found and probably needing to only put in a footing.  This garage sits next to a retaining wall and a slope which makes us nervous.

We paid for a repair plan and called in the big dogs.  They had to take a cement hammer to remove the apron and then began removing the filler sand.  We sit on a clay peninsula which meant sand was the best permeable fill to keep moisture and water away from the house.  And thus they began to remove the sand to see how big a hole was beneath the slab!

They dug a three foot deep and 1.5 foot wide trench that followed the front of the garage.  We were releaved to find the hole was only a small area where sand must have compressed.  There was no water leakage or erosion.  Thus they recommended a cement footer along the outside lip of the slab.

In a few days the pavers can be reinstalled and it looks as though we passed the danger zone.  Still waiting for a letter from the repair people as our house insurance has hinted we may have difficulty getting our insurance renewed in August if we do not have proof of responsible repair.  They do not pay for the repair, of course, because earth shift is not included in our policy!

This whole process has taken months to line up inspections and workers and cement trucks and then took only a day to do.  It still is going to cost thousands but not the tens of thousands that they had predicted.  We could have had some local workers do the repair at much less expense but it would have been a difficult hurdle to get the insurance company to accept that process.

This house has required a number of small repairs since it was built ten years ago and we are always looking for wall and foundation cracks and/or shifting, but it has stood the test of time thus far and we have no complaints with the builder, although he has long ago closed his company.  Now how about a photo of the front yard in all its spring glory while tucked against the surrounding woods so that we end on a happier note?

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Busy, Keeping Busy

I have been away from Blogger, not because I am so busy, although I am, but because I have really not felt I had anything compelling to write about.  The average days of an old lady, while a blessing due to their predictability, are also boring.  I have been staking peonies, iris, and even some of the roses that are finishing their first major blooming to prop up against the heavy rains that arrive between days of perfect sunshine.  I could not have ordered a better spring and being the suspicious soul, I wonder if I will have a hurricane nasty summer to keep my life in balance.

I have been helping harvest the abundance of strawberries and edible podded peas that are appearing as fast as raindrops these days. Except for the abundance of slugs, we are getting a great harvest.  They are small but have a good strawberry taste. The larger variety that hubby planted are not so flavorful and tend to rot!

While so few of the birds are nesting in the houses we so carefully cleaned, I have spotted a blue indigo bunting and the scarlet tanager.  While not so common here, they are not rare, but just have that ability to reflect sunlight and look like dark little birds unless you are carrying the binoculars and a bit familiar with the songs.  And then the cry of the red-shouldered hawk fledglings were heard the other day in the nearby woods.  It sounds like they are trying out for some show.  They were soon gone.

We had heard the "meep" of a small fawn near the fence line this past week and hubby explored and found a little one lying in the shade of a fallen tree and watching us carefully.  We left it, expecting mother was away, and later in the week when we kept startling vultures while gardening, we discovered it was dead.  You may remember last year we tried to "rescue" a fawn and found it was just normally waiting for mother...and you can go here to re-read that in case you missed it.  Thankfully the bugs, predators and rain have moved it away as the smell of death competed harshly with the fragrant honeysuckle now in bloom.

And finally, just to keep us on our toes, the towel racks in the guest bathroom and on hubby's bathroom wall came loose and while I tried unsuccessfully to re-install, it took the purchase of a ball hex tool in metric size 2 so I could angle the turns and a kneeling position to get them both installed again!  Then we were rewarded with one of the in-hull fittings coming loose as hubby was planning to put the boat in the water.  Luckily he saw the daylight through the back of the hull while switching over the batteries and we were told that this is common in a boat as old as ours!  I got on my knees once again and stretched my arm to put the temporary plug through the hole so that hubby could tighten the temporary fitting from the outside while sitting in the canoe.  You do not own stuff, it owns you.

I will save the garage foundation fix and the cement truck for another day!  In between times you can enjoy my self-seeding larkspur which has gone crazy this year.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

My Arbor Today

Maybe some of you will remember when I wrote about the tiny arbor we purchased from a local hardware store years ago.  It is a fragile and small structure that only one person could really sit on at a time.  I am allergic to stain, so it has not been painted in all these years, and if I remember, I will nag hubby to do that this fall.

I used to have a "Lincoln" rose that I was trying to get to climb up the arbor and finally transplanted it and bought another rose that the landscape lady told me was very popular.  I am not sure she heard me say I wanted a climber, because this also bushes out at the bottom like the others!

It has many spring blossoms, a lovely perfume and no thorns!  No wonder it is popular.  I will see how resistant it is to black spot, aphids, yellow leaf and all the other things that attack my roses in these woods.  (I fail on the organic garden end with my roses, but it cannot be helped with those Prima Donnas.)

Not shown in the photo above is a little blue bird house on the opposite end.  We have about ten bird houses (ceramic and wood) scattered across the property and no one seems to have taken us up on the free rent!  But the little house on the arbor has some tiny and noisy chickadees being fed by some rather harried parents.  Last year most of the bird houses had tenants.  Maybe as the year progresses...

(I would really like to save some money and install a larger arbor in this part of the yard with even more plants growing over the top.  We currently have a garage slab problem that is going to eat up any liquid funds, so that will be another day.)

Friday, May 20, 2016

Amateurs at Play

Citizen science has become one way to collect scientific data because it costs very little.  Every single thing in this world is about money.  EVERYTHING.  I will write a post on that perhaps soon.

Anyway, I was a citizen scientist yesterday.  What I gave was my time and energy and bravery against the ticks.  What I got was being outdoors on a perfect day, being able to take photographs, seeing a really beautiful nature trail and being with good company, human and animal.


It is spring and time to monitor those wood duck boxes that we fixed and/or installed last fall.  Data showed that of the 19 boxes, some were empty, some had hatched eggs, some had fatalities, some were never used and some had newly laid eggs.  Some of the boxes were in the early stages of their use with only 4 eggs laid and buried deep down in the wood chips with no down yet pulled from momma duck.  Others had as many as 15 viable eggs waiting to hatch and sitting deep in down.  One box was a tragedy, we think momma met with a danger and died as three little hatch-lings had pushed from their eggs and died in the box and the other eleven eggs never hatched.

The good news is that over 50 eggs were still waiting in the various boxes and about 30 had hatched and were on their way!

And we were very lucky to see Momma wood duck and 11 little ones out for one of their first swims.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


As a follow-up to comments I made on one of the young men in my life:

This was mailed on May 10, days after Mother's Day, and I got it yesterday...

There was a little hand written note inside:

He finds mushiness very hard.  Yet, I love him completely.

Monday, May 09, 2016

Grayness Is My Mantle

Another day of sprinkling rain today, coolish, but not unpleasant.  I wanted to be outside planting on my deck with the pots for summer color.  I have to transplant some seedlings of cosmos and Sweet William to the flower beds.  I still have to divide day lilies.   I got one sunny day yesterday and killed myself with weeding, planting and then rewarding myself for a Mother's Day treat to the local Antique Fair being held at the nearby garden/museum.  A perfect, sunny, warm day it was.

I am not a big antique shopper but do have a love of Art Deco vases.  I never find any, but I still look.  I found two lovely misty ink-blue vases about 6 inches high with a smooth glaze over a very subtle pattern and I wanted to buy them.  The vendor told me that they had been reduced in price since this was the second day of the sale.  They were reduced from $275 each to $175 each.  There is just no way I can justify spending that much money on something I could so easily break!  I decided on the two for $12 turquoise vases I had found in an earlier booth...but they either sold or we could not find the right tent among the almost 50 vendors because I went home only with some homemade bath salts.  Then as another Mother's Day reward, I took a bubble bath.

I got a quick call from my daughter (which I missed) to send good wishes for the day.  Nothing from my son.  He is that way and we will never change him.  He does what he wants when he wants.  He still says he loves me, but refuses to follow any suggestions from society about behavior or being gentle with people.  I do love him in spite of the challenges. 

AND that day was the ONLY sunny day we have had in days and days and I took that as my perfect Mother's Day gift!  The next few days this week are going to also be a challenge as far as weather goes.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

My Neightborhood -- Part II

If there is one thing most of us understand in the realm of physics is that eventually bubbles burst if they keep growing.  Maybe someday we will have a bubble material that expands endlessly, but not so at this time.  This applies to that housing bubble back in 2008 where the market growth and collapse brought the good and the bad down together.  Banks loaned money that should not have been lent and then sold the bad paper to another.  In the case of my neighborhood, a builder bought a piece of land that had a reality like a dark cloud hanging over it that he did not see. I wisely saw the housing collapse ahead of time if not being able to pin point its exact fall or extent.  I don't get much right in this world and this was a lucky call.  We sold our big house to move down here in a bit of a rush (I was not yet retired) because I was worried about the real estate bubble and being unable to sell my house.  I rented in the city for over two years and put my furniture in storage before I left my job.

If you read my prior post you note that there are some very wealthy people living here.  In most cases they are people that grew up here, earned their wealth here, and decided to stay.  There are also other people, like my husband and I, that while not rich, would be considered upper middle class by most standards, although our house is the smallest in the neighborhood --- so we just squeeze in there.  There are also a number empty lots in my neighborhood sitting idle because they claim a price to high to justify the type of house that would need to be built.  There is one large house on the water, the one with the tennis court, that sits idle as the owner rarely stayed here and has now passed on and his children may be deciding what to do with it.

Now, back to our builder.  When we bought our lot where we built I would drive by that builder's lot at the front end of the turn to our neighborhood a number of times.  They had cleared the land and I was wondering what was going to be built on that place.  Then a hurricane came through shortly after the clearing of that lot that brought down about 15 big pine trees on one side.  Building came to a halt while those trees were cleared away.

Finally, slowly, the house began to be built.  It was a big colonial which is popular in my state.  It was nicely landscaped and the builder seemed to have a good design.   It is all brick which is another step up in architecture where many homes have brick facing only.

It sat for some months after it was put up for sale and eventually the builder moved in.  He parked his big trucks, his boat, etc. in the driveway and the for sale sign still sat on the road.  The next year I was walking by and met a young woman with a toddler in front of the drive.  She explained she was the builder's sister and he had allowed her family to move in to help with expenses.  She was clearly delighted to be in this nice house.  More months went by.  I do not remember seeing any real estate agents showing the house, but I live a half mile down the road.  The asking price was in the high $400,000s.  This is not an outrageous price for this area, but the market had collapsed and there were no buyers anywhere. 

And then one day as I took my walk I saw the house was empty.  No cars, a few strewn toys, and padlocks on the doors.  Another year went by and the house was showing its neglect.  The neighbors and I tried to track the paperwork to see who owned it, but the mortgage had been sold and re-sold and now belonged to some conglomerate on the other side of the country!

As time passed, the house began to be robbed of its various parts and later used by others for overnights.  It does not take long before appliances, copper pipe, etc is gone! "They -- who now own the paper" put a log across the driveway which seemed to reduce the vagrancy.

This week I saw the log had been sawed into chunks and the driveway was open once again.  Maybe an investor has purchased it and has the capital to re-dress this grandam to her former glory.  I hope so, because I worry about fire in my woods and do not like to see such sadness.

The story of lives in distress, having no place to hang a hat, and craftsmanship destroyed is very depressing.  I could mourn the issue of my property values being compromised, but that hardly seems fair as this is a microcosm of happenings elsewhere, some far worse.  Seems we have forgotten this issue in our current election where bathrooms used have taken center stage.