31 March, 2011

A buncha stuff in no order and with no particular theme

The man with the huge sore on his leg. Twice this week I have passed a man begging for change in the middle of the street near my office. He is a mess: filthy, dressed in shorts and shoes without socks. He has a sore the size of a both my hands on one of his legs. It looks like his calf is rotting. The sight of that leg hit me so bad the first time I saw him that tears came to my eyes. I scrambled around and found a five dollar bill in my pocketbook and gave it to him. He said, "Thank you and God bless." I don't know anything about him other than he is an obviously sick man begging on the street, but seeing him shocks me and makes me sad and angry and frustrated. Dear Lord, what a world we live in.

People in Japan. The people in Japan who have been hit by earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster seem to be handling this all with such calm and dignity. There may be some people who have run amok, but the pictures I've seen show people taking care of each other. I saw a man walking down the street with an elderly woman on his back in a picture. In disasters, we are all we have.

Yogabeans. You should just go look at it. Because we all need to laugh sometimes.
Pho. Up until 6 months ago I'd never eaten Pho. Heck, up until about a year ago, I'd never even heard of it. Then some work friends took me to Pho #1 near the office, and now I dream about Pho, crave Pho, and take every chance I can to go get Pho. I wish I'd taken my parents to get Pho while they were here, they'd love it. What's not to like about the most umami broth ever with noodles, onions, basil, lemon, and rare steak? I had Pho for lunch today and will have my leftovers for lunch tomorrow. I can hardly wait for lunch.

I went to the library tonight. They did not have the new Maeve Binchy on the shelf, but I did get several books that will fill the hours.

29 March, 2011

Away from the madding crowd

It was a good weekend down at West River. There were a couple of moments when I was overcome by the sense of social awkwardness I often feel in groups, where I am aware of how separate and odd I often feel. But luckily, unlike in high school, where those moments lasted months, this weekend they were fleeting.

I put a final border on that Storm at Sea quilt. I did one quilt top that is destined for my mother, as well as a pieced back for the same quilt. That pieced back is not quite finished, but I have to buy some Moda Marble in black, and no one around here carries it. I am trying to support my LQS shops, but it hard when they don't stock what you need.

Saturday night a group of eight of us went down the road to the Swamp Circle, the local biker bar. We've been threatening to do it for years, and one of our newer members, who I think was jonesing for a refreshing alcoholic beverage, organized the trip. It was fine, really sort of anticlimactic. I think we thought (hoped?) it would be filled with stereotypical bikers, it was sort of tame. We went out back where they had a couple of fire pits and people drinking. Everyone was friendly, we had some beers (except for our four ladies who insisted on wine) and talked to some of the locals. One very drunk woman offered us some advice on getting a man: we'd need to "fuck 'em and feed 'em fish heads."  I don't really know what that means, but I'm sure it was kindly meant.

The retreat was the perfect Time Out for me. Recently my work has been so deadening and horrid that I was delighted to go somewhere and spend time with people doing something they loved. We talked, some of us more than others! There were good meals and lots of snacks. If you wanted advice on where to go with a project, there was always someone to bounce ideas off of. Life would be better if it were always like a quilt retreat.

24 March, 2011

A bunch of women sitting around sewing

Like the Fates or the Parcae, we will gather together playing with thread. Of course, it won't measure anyone's life or set the day of their death, but we will probably cover some of the important stuff. Sometime late on Saturday people relax, settle in, and start telling stories about stuff that is going on in their families.

I'm heading off to West River for a quilting retreat. I'm quite looking forward to it, time to work on a project or three without worrying about all the other things I should do and places I could go. No real distractions other than taking a nap or eating some chocolate.

I have three things to work on. I intend to put the final border on my Storm at Sea quilt, and I have two quilt tops to work on that will be very easy. I don't expect to finish both of them, but I think I can make progress on both, as they are simple patterns that can be cut out quickly and chain-pieced.

22 March, 2011

It made me smile

We ate dinner at Noodles tonight. It's where we go when we have no food in the house and can't figure out what we want to eat. It's a fallback, and since it's in the parking lot of the Gucci Giant, we stop by there and pick up some groceries.
I saw them as soon as I sat down, while Thomas was still getting his drink and going to wash his hands. He was wearing a loden coat, and a round cap like the one on the left here.
There was a little bunch of silver and white flowers tucked into the hat band. IT WAS SANTA CLAUS. He had a luxuriant  white beard, a nose like a cherry, and while I didn't see it shake like a bowl full of jelly, he had a round belly!
Mrs. Claus was wearing a dark green track suit like outfit, and guess what else? Mrs. Claus, who was 60 if she was a day, was wearing a gold hoop nose ring. Who knew the Clauses were so hip? Who knew they ate at Noodles?

Maybe the Multiverse knew I'm feeling a little down. My new glasses are hurting my nose and making me dizzy. A good friend just got some not-great news re: her health. My taxes may never get done. I am going to have to quit my job from boredom and I'll wind up a broken down waitress at a greasy spoon. But TODAY, I saw Santa and his wife, and they were awesome!

21 March, 2011

In real life there are no right answers

I used to be good at the kind of tests they gave in school. Multiple-choice, true-false, short answer, and essay questions, I did okay. Admittedly, Algebra and Trig kicked my butt, but in my overall school career, I won more than I lost.

Now I am solidly in the middle of my life, if I live as long as my grandparents did, and I feel like I am failing the Test of Life. The real thing, the test that matters. I'm coasting, sliding along doing the least amount possible, just a big, fat waste of oxygen. Part of my general feeling of ugh today may be that I have my new glasses and these bifocals are freaking me out (very different) and I have a headache that is rapidly reaching mammoth proportions.

It was another boring, horrid day at work where I didn't do enough to justify my salary and left feeling angry and frustrated. I've got NO leadership there right now and they want me to figure out what to do, and you know what? I'm not very good at it. I'm not good at making up processes and acting without guidance. I am one of nature's drones. Give me a clearly defined job and get the hell out of my way and I'll knock your socks off. But if you don't know what you want me to do, or what the final outcome should look like, I just thrash around feeling mad and stupid at the same time. It may be time to dust off the old resume.

The taxes are not done. Every time I think about them, I get a pain deep behind my eyes. I finally mentioned them to Thomas in the most polite manner possible, just last night. Really! I said that we should probably do the taxes soon. His answer? "Is that something I have to do RIGHT NOW?" So I leaped out of my chair and kicked him in the teeth. I so wish, but in my determination to be reasonable, I just said that I thought it should be done sooner rather than later. Fucking Taxes. If my marriage ever breaks up, it will be about housework or taxes.

17 March, 2011

Luck of the Irish

The luck of the Irish doesn't have anything on the luck of my German!

Last Wednesday Thomas went to a lunch meeting. They had a door prize of a $50 gift card to Morton's Steak House. He won it.

Today he went to an all day meeting somewhere downtown. Apparently he was a very active participant, and in honor of that, one of the the company reps gave him a $15 iTune gift card. Then they had the door prize drawing for an iPad. Guess who won that? It's a slightly older, more basic model than the one he was going to get himself, but we won't look this gift horse in the mouth. I'm delighted for him, and he's just tickled!

Then they had a St. Patrick's Day happy hour and he had four beers before taking the Metro home. Guess who's feeling pretty bubbly? Now we are off to our neighbor's house to eat corned beef and cabbage in honor of our non-existent Irish heritage. Well, today everybody's Irish, right?

16 March, 2011

Financial Sanity

Thomas and I have been on a journey to financial sanity for the last couple of years. Okay, I say that like it's a big deal, but it's not, because we weren't ever financially insane.

We are both fiscally conservative and have not been in huge consumer debt. Paying interest or a late fee on a credit card would give Thomas a heart attack. We don't mind spending money on things we want, but we are the kind of people who save up for things first.

However, two years ago we did have our mortgage, a HELOC taken out to revamp our bathrooms, and a real problem talking to each other about money. Inevitably money discussions turned into arguments, with me not feeling heard or respected, and Thomas feeling like I complained and was not supportive of his money plans. Thomas was focused almost exclusively on saving for retirement. I wanted to do that, but I also wanted to save for short term goals, like new windows for the house, trips, landscaping, and car repairs. Any time we took a trip or paid for some large bill it mean we had a lean, scary month after paying off the credit cards. We made good money, but every time "financial planning" came up, we were off to the fights.

We took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University in November 2009 - January 2010, and boy, how things have changed. We paid off the HELOC before our FPU class was over. I cut up all my credit cards and went exclusively to a debit card. Thomas wasn't ready to do that so he still uses a card, which of course he pays off early every month. We saved up our 3-6 month emergency fund by December 2010 and now we are working on paying off our mortgage early. The very best thing we got from FPU is that now we have a plan we came up with together, and we can talk about money without fighting. I feel like we are looking together in the same direction from the deck of The Good Ship Thomas&Amanda, and since we aren't rowing in different directions, our ship will come in a lot faster than I ever imagined.

I've been reading a lot of personal finance blogs that I would recommend. Most of them are of the "get rich slowly" philosophy. One of them is even called, duh, Get Rich Slowly.

Not only are they full of interesting and helpful advice, some of them are also very funny and provocative, if by provocative, you mean: gets you thinking about things you have not thought of before in just that way.

Get Rich Slowly
Punch Debt in the Face
Man vs. Debt
A Guy Named Dave

15 March, 2011

But is it really The Truth?

My March non-fiction work was the short book Staying True by Jenny Sanford, ex-wife of South Carolina's ex-governor. You know, the one who gave the phrase "hiking the Appalachian Trail" a whole new meaning.

My biggest question about Jenny is why a smart, successful woman would stay with a pathologically parsimonious man who apparently spent very little time with her over the years. I guess she was so involved with being mother to four children that she didn't realize that her relationship with her husband was more of a political partnership than an actual marriage.

I really lost it when she found out about Mark's extracurricular activities and didn't smite him with the clue phone. He would beg her for "permission" to go see his soul-mate to re-end it, having already ended it by phone and in person, and whine about how hard it was to be good all the time, and she just kept quoting the Bible at him and hoping he'd stop being an ass-hat.

I did like that she got a certain amount of gentle revenge by telling about his ridiculous cheapness, while mostly taking the high road. Of course, the problem with admitting that your husband is an ass-hat is that it leads to the question I've been asking, why did she hang around for so long to be Mrs. Ass-Hat?

14 March, 2011

Three Days of The Quilter

Mom and Dad were with us from Wednesday evening through early this a.m.

Mom came along for all the Quilt Expo fun. Friday night we helped set up the show for a few hours. Saturday morning we staffed the Membership Table as the show opened. I signed up three new members during my shift! Sunday we did two hours at Stash to Treasure and two at Admission.

I bought some fabric for a quilt I plan to make Mom. No idea of the design yet, but she got me started with some colors she likes.

I think our show was well attended, and hope that when the expenses are paid, we made a respectable amount of money on it.

Kristen and Christine came to the show, and Chris brought her friend Susan. We all went out for lunch on Saturday and had a jolly time at Bertucci's. Lots of laughing and silliness.

Mom and Dad left before light this morning. They had to get home and get back to the business of being retired. I'm not kidding, I don't know how they ever had time to fit in a job. Work was busy for me today! I can't think of the last time I had to say that. Lots to do, including filling out a horrible couple of expense reports. Considering that the ABC Corporation designs computer systems, why do the applications we have for ourselves always suck so bad?

After the dog walk this evening I put my pajama top on and started reading. Then I realized I had books that were exceedingly overdue. I got up, put my coat on over the pj top and headed off to the BCPL. Got my books on hold and paid a fine of mumble-fifty. Except, it wasn't a fine. They have re-named it. Now they charge you an extended use fee. Isn't that awesome? Instead of a punishing fine, you just pay a fee for extended use of the book. It's still 25 cents a day, but it's not a fine. I will sleep better knowing that I am not incurring fines.

09 March, 2011

Dread, large bore needles, and bifocals

Today was a day that started Bad, got Worse, and then at the end sped into Good. It was a rollercoaster of a day!

I had scheduled two appointments - 11:15 at the podiatrist for my hurty feet, and 1 at the eye doctor. One eyepiece cracked a couple of weeks ago and has been dragging out pieces of hair. It hurt, the glasses needed replacing.

I left work in plenty of time to get to the podiatrist, Dr. W____. I went into my purse while waiting at a light to discover I had a) my ATM card and b) my checkbook, but not c) my wallet. Bollocks, I remember quite clearly putting the wallet into the back pocket of the jeans I was wearing Tuesday night at quilt guild. So, no wallet means no insurance card and no medical savings account card. And no cash.

I get to GMBC, drive around for 10 minutes looking for parking. There is no parking. I park on a clearly illegal spot next to the stairs, right on top of the no parking lines. Screw em. There should be enough parking for patients.

Dr. W____ is a good guy. He takes x-rays and pokes around on my feet until he finds the sore spots. I think podiatrists may have a spot of sadism in their make-up, they look for the owies and mash on them, "Does that hurt? How much?" "Um, enough so that if you press any harder I am going to be forced to kick you in the face!"

He gets a needle, which is about 4 inches long and thicker than a toothpick, and jabs it repeatedly into my right heel. I knew this was going to happen, this is the third round of steroids I've had in my right foot in the past three years. All during the drive over to his office I was filled with dread of the large angry needle. Once the shot was over he had a tech give me a few minutes of ultrasound on the foot, and when I leave I am practically limp with relief that the shot is behind me. It's not fun, but once it's over, it's ovah! Until next Wednesday morning at 8:00 am, not that I am thinking about that already. Well, not much anyway.

Car still where I left it. I remove everything from the glove box hoping I can find a couple of "emergency dollars" tucked there. Dammit, no emergency dollars.

Note to self: when you use the emergency dollars, REPLACE THEM for the next emergency.

Write a $3.00 check for my hour of illegal parking in the garage. I found writing that ridiculous check both embarrassing and infuriating. Leaving the house without a wallet is just so stupid!

I drove back home at Mach 4 to grab my wallet and make it to the eye doctor on time. The tests all went swimmingly, and when I couldn't stop my eye from clamping closed before he could get any drops in, he used an alternate method to test for glaucoma. Dr. C_____ is a nice man too. Yep, I was feeling pleased with him right up until the time he cheerfully informed me that I, Amanda Graham, aged 45, need bifocals.

Perhaps I am not conveying the horror this news struck in my soul. I could feel my heart drop to somewhere around the bottom of my stomach. For one tiny moment I was afraid I was going to cry. Most people know that I am not particularly concerned with things like fashion and appearance. If everything I am wearing is clean and has no holes, I'm ahead of the game. I don't mind my gray hair that has started to come in this last year. I am getting fine lines around my eyes. All okay with me. But somehow when Dr. C____ said "presbyopia" and "bifocals" I wanted to pitch a fit. But it is what it is, the old graying mare, her vision is not what it used to be.

The doctor was convinced that I was worried that people would know that I had bifocals, and that wasn't it at all. Needing them just made me realize that like everyone else, I am aging and things in my body are changing, whether I like it or not. Facing up to that fact today gave me a couple of unhappy hours. I'm over it, because what else can you do? Aging isn't optional, but being bitter about it is.

I chose a pair of nice frames for my glasses, and a cool pair of retro frames for my Rx sunglasses. I was pleased with the choices, hope I like them as well as next week when I pick them up.

My parents were here at the house when I got home. They are here for a short visit. I wanted Mom to attend the Quilt Expo with me. We ate at Jumbo Seafood, our local Chinese restaurant, then Mom and I sewed (more of The Neverending Binding [me] and some X-stitch [her]) while my Dad played Angry Chickens on his iPad.

Now it's late and I'm off to get some rest.

06 March, 2011

I finished my February book!

Dangerously Funny is about the Smothers Brothers, their comedy hour, and how CBS fired them for being too rowdily and independently liberal, and also for making President IAmNotACrook Nixon, who was indeed a crook, mad at them. Apparently he had a pretty thin skin and was super vindictive if you mocked him.

Yay me for finishing my February non-fiction book, even though I did it technically in March. It wasn't exactly my fault. I lost the book for over two weeks. Admittedly, I lost it because it was hiding under a knitting pattern book, and I am such a notoriously bad housekeeper that I only found it by accident. That's hardly my fault now is it? I blame chaos theory.

I liked Dangerously Funny much better than Kay Graham's autobiography. It was funnier, for one thing, might one even say it was dangerously funny. For another, nowhere do the Smothers Brothers complain about how hard life is when the servants take a half day off.

But speaking of Kay Graham, today I watched an elderly Hitchcock movie called Sabotage, which was also released as A Woman Alone. Oskar Homolka starred as the unsympathetic foreign saboteur who blows up his wife's kid brother. I kept thinking that the name Homolka was ringing some bells, so I did a google search on him, and BING! He was married for some time to Florence Meyer, Kay Graham's older sister. Which was surprising to me, because Herr Homolka wasn't all that attractive and Flo Meyer was a looker when she was young. I did remember reading about him in Kay's book.

No idea what my next non-fiction outing will be. I always have lofty ideas of reading something meaningful, but when it comes time to pull the trigger and read the worthy tome, I usually pike out and go for quick and entertaining.

05 March, 2011

Like the Bay City Rollers said - Saturday Night!

I had a nice day. Super, super Saturday! It ended up with me going to Toni's for dinner and sewing.

We ended our evening watching HACHI with her kids. It was a nice movie, but woah, it was a tearjerker. At the end, I think we were all crying. Well, I know I was crying, and I suspect everyone else was too.

The movie is set in contemporary (1990s) America, but this is based on the true story of HACHIKO, an Akita dog in 1920-30s Japan. I came home and read a few pages about him.

I worked some more on my Round Robin that I did with my now-defunct mini group. I still have about 36 (or maybe more) inches of border to do. No idea what I will do with it then, probably just fold it and put it away. It's too nice to use daily and have the dogs roll all over it, but I don't want to use it as a wall hanging right now.

Small list of things to be happy about:
A truly excellent salad
40% off coupons for Jo-Ann's
Breakfast at the Suburban House
Talking to my cousin

04 March, 2011

I told you he was naughty!

Fair Warning: If you aren’t a dog person, look away now. I am giving you a chance to save yourself from a sad story that will probably just disgust you. If you don’t love animals and you think that dealing with a lot of, let’s call it bodily effluent is gross, this is not the post for you. Move along, nothing to see here.

Thomas and I take turns getting up at the buttcrack of dawn to let the dogs out to pee, then we feed them and put them back out to finish eliminating, and I think you know what I mean. This morning was my turn, so I got up and started mixing up the food. We are feeding kibble right now, mixed with some pumpkin and vitamin powder. I got it mixed up and put Dru’s dish down, and just as I was heading back to the bedroom to lift Jake down from the bed (he can’t jump down by himself real well anymore, he’s getting frail) I hear Thomas scream, “Shoot! Aaaaagh! Fuuuuuuuuss!” Except he didn’t say “shoot” or “fuss” and again, I think you know exactly what he did say. And this wasn’t an “Oh darn it,” kind of scream, this was a primal scream you really don’t want to hear at 6:05 in the morning.

The scream was due to the fact that Jake, my little Fat Baby, was peeing on the bed, and the first Thomas knew about it was when the pee splashed on his elbow. If you know Thomas, you know that overall, he’s a remarkably calm, self-possessed person. Being woken, not just by a pissing dog, but also by the dog pissing ON him, was enough to make him a furious, aggravated, non-dog-loving person.

So I came running, snatched Jake off the bed, and ran him outside, probably saving him from death by beating. By the time I returned, Thomas was stripping the covers off the bed. We removed all the bedding, including the mattress cover. I had a “Go Me!” moment when I realized that the expensive anti-dustmite mattress cover I purchased was so thick that it prevented any urine from soaking through to the mattress. So Jake gets points for the sheets and mattress cover, but NO points for the mattress.

While I was stuffing our pee-soaked bedding into the washer, Thomas was sterilizing his elbow. Then he went upstairs and fired up his computer to do some work. He was way too agitated to get back to sleep, not that he could use the bed, because, you know, NO BEDDING. Eventually he drowsed off to sleep in his La-Z-Boy. I don’ t know if he’ll ever really forgive Jake. We can’t sleep if we don’t let him on the bed because he paces around the bed for HOURS if we don’t let him on. I’m really not sure what to do. I want us all to sleep comfortably and I don’t ever want a repeat of this morning. My nerves cain’t take it!

01 March, 2011

Why I like spring

Welcome signs of Spring! Welcome snowdrops blooming in the ice and snow (last week). Welcome longer days, and hints of warmer weather. Welcome March, welcome Peeps and chocolate bunnies in the store. Welcome Lent, St. Patrick’s Day, and most particularly, welcome Daylight Savings. (I know there are people out there, who don’t welcome it, and they are free to have those incorrect attitudes, but I don’t want to hear it.)

Today I am thinking about gardening. I am looking at plant catalogs and thinking about what seeds and plants I want to buy. I am ordering a collection of squash seeds from The Cook’s Garden. Squash are gratifying to grow, because the brownest thumb will be successful with them. You’d have to go out daily and hack away at the vines with a hoe to even discourage them. I’ll buy pepper and tomato plants from the Farmer’s Market as soon as things warm up.

Another thing to look forward to is the Quilt Expo, put on by my quilt guild. If you are in the Greater Baltimore Metropolitan Area (and that includes you guys down in Silver Spring, Gaithersburg, and DC and up in Gettysburg) why don’t you attend and see some good quilts on March 12-13? Call me ahead of time and let’s set up a lunch or dinner out rolled into your visit to the quilt show.

I’m looking forward to another rite of spring -  Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. Toni and I have gone the past several year, and I’m sure we’ll do it again. I love the event, there is a lot to see, but I hope the weather cooperates. Two years ago it was cool and rainy. Last year it was hot as blue blazes. I’m hoping for a warm day with low humidity, is that too much to ask? Details: Saturday May 7, 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM and Sunday May 8, 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. There is more wool than you can shake a stick at, spinning, knitting, and weaving tools, accoutrement for the sheep farmer (shepherd?), plant stalls, and food fair of every description. Funnel cakes, fried snickers (!), kettle korn, and all kinds of lamb dishes. I never eat the lamb, it seems like eating lamb at the same fair where the sheep are being shown isn’t very nice. Instead I eat a burger or a hotdog, since there are no pigs or cows in sight!