Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Patriotic, Not Political, 912 Tea Parties

National Tax Day Tea Parties are planned across the country for April 15th this year. They're non-partisan, or at least they're supposed to be. This is not the time to criticize a political party or condemn the president. It is time to stand together and remind those in power just who put them there. It is time to gather together and peacefully make our voices heard.

Actually, tea parties have been springing up across the land for a couple of months now. These groups of people gather to demand proper representation by those they've elected. Some carry signs that are clever; some are angry. There are those who use the venue for their own political agendas, but so far they've been in the minority. I pray it'll stay that way on tax day here.

For my friends in Southern California, I've made it easy. You can contact Carolyn, 805.262.2477. The Thousand Oaks Tea Party will be at the Thousand Oaks main Post office, T.O. Blvd., 12 noon to two p.m.

Here in Loveland, Colorado, the tea party is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the intersection of Highways 287 and 34.

You can look up your city in any State on this Tea Party web site. Get other information about the tea parties on this site.

It's easy to sit home and let others get involved. If you need to do that, it's certainly your choice. It's still a free country. I stayed away from the protests and marches in the 60s, due to mixed emotions about the war. Everyone needs to follow their own conscience.

I'm going to make a sign. If the tea party goes beyond patriotic into political, I'll take it and go home, but I'd like to share with you what it's going to say, so you'll know what my priorities are, and why it's important to me that I go.

The sign will have two sides. One side will have a quote from George Washington. “
Government ... Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” The other side will be my favorite quote from Benjamin Franklin. “Those who ... give up ... liberty to purchase ... safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

One final word. They call these Tea Parties "912" Tea Parties. Do you remember how you felt the day after 9/11? Do you remember saying, "We will never forget?" That's the point of these rallies. We're trying to come together as a country, the way we did on 9/12. Together, we are strong and capable. We can help each other, as long as we're free.

Now I'll just trot my soap box back out to the garage.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Dancing With the Stars: Revenge of the Nerds

If television shows named their seasons like movies named their sequels, this year would definitely be The Revenge of the Nerds on Dancing With the Stars, instead of just "Season 8."

Last year everyone I talked to was suffering through the tedious, clumsy, and eventually not even funny Cloris Leachman routines. This is the sort of thing DVRs were invented for, and I used mine appropriately, rushing through most of her stuff.  It was just too embarrassing to watch.  The judges were beyond kind in their remarks to her, and her fan base (amazingly) just kept voting her back on, week after week.

This year, Steve Wozniak, Apple Computer's co-founder, is not being treated so gently by the panel of judges. In my opinion, he's not nearly as bad as Leachman was, but as much as I love my Macintosh, I wouldn't vote for him as a dancer. He seems like a really nice guy. I've got a hundred questions I'd love to ask him. I sure wish he'd come to dinner. But a dancer? Nope. And yet, his fans keeps voting him back, too. I wonder if people realize it's a dancing competition, not a popularity contest. 

Okay, I'll admit I'm voting for Ty Murray, the cowboy, even though he's not the best, because well, I guess I just see his great potential. And he sure could ride those bulls. (And if you're not a PBR fan, he really does look good in his Wranglers, ladies.)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Dixieland Comes to Loveland

One of the pastors of our church hails from New Orleans, although not recently. She certainly has no accent. This Sunday she invited The Stover Street Stompers, a Ft. Collins Dixieland band, to play all the music at two of the services at our  church in Loveland, Colorado. Although John and I generally attend the Saturday evening service, we couldn't resist hearing this group play Dixieland gospel music, so we shoveled the snow off the car and headed down the hill into town for the 8:30 a.m. service.

The band was wonderful. Eight men and one woman took over one side of the altar. The lady was beyond proficient, playing honkey tonk piano. The men played drums, banjo, two slide trombones, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, and tuba. If they ever missed a note, I didn't hear it. What amazed me was seeing the little silver haired ladies and gentlemen, all dressed up in their Sunday best, clapping their hands and stomping their feet. Some of them were really getting into it, singing louder than I've ever heard them sing before today.

Actually, I would have thought they wouldn't like "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" sung so fast, or with such an interesting rhythm. I knew I would, but I was really impressed that the older people did. I'm not sure why. Preconceived notions are so often wrong. At the end, when everyone marched out to (what else?) When The Saints Go Marching In, many of the most elderly were actually dancing down the aisles. I felt so upbeat, my great mood lasted all day. I think we should do this monthly—at least.

Saturday, March 28, 2009


I've always had a strange sense of humor. Here's what I ended up laughing about today, and I'm requesting similar stories from the lives of my friends and readers. I know we all have to have things like this in our lives. 

My husband will not put a new roll of toilet paper on the holder. If there are four squares left, he'll use three of them and leave one for me. I'm used to that. It doesn't even make me mad anymore. I just think it's strange, since you don't actually need to move to change the roll. It's right there in a nice little dispenser. It takes five seconds. 

In the kitchen, however, is a paper towel dispenser. When it runs out, the new paper towel rolls are stored all the way out in the garage on a high shelf. John rarely uses the paper towels. I do. When I run out of paper towels, I'm usually busy. If I don't run out to the garage immediately, John does it. In fact, if he sees that there are just a couple of towels left on the roll, he'll run out and replace it, carefully folding the towels from the old empty roll and putting them on the counter. Is that all logical? 

So what strange and inconsistent funny stories are you willing to share?

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Cost of Education

Sometime during grade school somebody mentioned to me that whenever a student missed a day of class, it cost the school $60 in federal funding. That's what the school was paid by the government, per student, to see that we were educated. I'll admit that may seem low, compared to what they're paying now, but I'll bet I was getting a better education. 

I was surprised, when my own kids went through school, by what they didn't have to learn. None of them had to memorize the prepositions. None of them had to learn how to diagram sentences. They didn't have to parse verbs. Essay questions? Most teachers didn't believe in them. After all, if you give an essay question, then you have to read and grade it. That sounds like a lot of trouble for the teacher. True/False or multiple choice are much easier to grade. (Easier to guess if you didn't study, too.)

Foreign language was offered from Seventh Grade on up when I was in school in Virginia. By the time we moved to California, they had to put me in an ESL (English as a Second Language) class to allow me to continue taking Spanish. I was a 4th year Spanish student as a Sophomore. That's all they offered in California, even then. I think they only offer two or three years now. Things are going backwards.

I guess I could follow up by making a big political statement about throwing more money into the education system. I could, but I don't think you're dense enough to need me to do that. What I'd rather do is get some comments on what you remember learning in school that perhaps your kids aren't being taught. Do you think money is the key? I'd sure love to have a few answers.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Yes, I Prayed For This Snow

If you grew up enjoying four seasons, then living in  Southern California can seem like paying an unending penance for something you can't remember doing. We spent thirty some years there. Our sons, who were all born there, never understood why their dad and I didn't love having a whole year that seemed vaguely Summer, but each year I hated it more.

As this March started coming to an end, I found myself praying for one more snowfall, just so I could sit and watch, enjoy the luxury of the chill, knowing I didn't have to go anywhere or do anything. I prayed, and I dreamed that I would watch the deer in the yard as my final snowfall of the season accumulated across our property. 

It began last night, and I've been smiling all day. It's supposed to keep going through the night, and on into tomorrow. They're calling the part that's coming later tonight a "blizzard." I'm going to try to sit up and watch. I have the deck light turned on now. And you know what? I don't have anywhere to go until Saturday evening. The deer come to us. Of course, the newspaper might not make it up here in the morning. Worse things happen to people everywhere. It won't effect my smile. 

I sure got what I asked for. Now I can start preparing mentally for baseball season.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Daydream: Four of Me

Since there are never enough hours in the day to follow all my passions, I thought back to those days when our three sons played baseball at the same time on three different fields. I had quipped to my Mom that I was either going to have an out of mind or an out of body experience. I thought that, since I couldn't figure out the logistics to the out of body deal, the out of mind would have to do. So far, it's worked for me.

As the years go by, I've never quite given up the notion that if there were more of me, I could do several things at once. I've gotten to the point where my daydream is to have four of me. You've probably met most of us.

Kathleen the Writer: I'll probably forget to eat unless someone comes in and stares at me for a long time. I'll get up in the middle of the night with an idea for that chapter I'm working on. If I disappear in the middle of the afternoon, I'm probably taking a nap. If I'm not there, check the decks. I'm probably on one of them with a stack of printouts and a red pen. If I'm thinking about the best way to edit something, being out with the pines and the deer help me clear my mind.

The Musician: Just stand still and listen. I'm probably all by myself with the guitar or accordion somewhere. Check the basement or or the back deck. I could be out by the fire pit. If I'm learning new music, I'm probably near the computer. What am I playing? It could be anything, but probably something you've never heard before. 

The Crafter:  Most of the time there's a gift in progress, but lately I've started making a sweater for myself. It's a short-sleeved knit I just started. We'll see how much time I actually give to that. Usually it's baby gifts, crochet as often as knit, and sometimes it's bead work or leather tooling instead of yarn, but that's not often.

The Cook-Hostess: Isn't it fun to just make time to spend in the kitchen, fixing things for family and friends to enjoy? It's especially great when guests are coming to visit and you can let them know how special they are.

Good things to bake and wonderful recipes to prepare keep calling me, but there's only one of me, and I'm already busy being the Writer, Musician and Crafter. Yes, there's only one of me. I can dream of being four people, but so far I haven't worked it out. We share one body, wearing each other out. We work in rotating shifts, share the same computer, and try to get each other to finish her project quickly and please not to start another...

Monday, March 23, 2009

My New Writing Group

Tomorrow morning I get to meet some of the people who belong to my new writer's group. The group is called the Northern Colorado Writers, and they have a studio in Fort Collins, roughly forty minutes from our home. I'm going to one of their morning meetings tomorrow, and I'll be getting some information and getting to know some of the writer members. The best is yet to come.

On April 3rd and 4th, I'll be attending their annual writer's conference. That's great, since I believe we'll still be in Holland when the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer's conference is held in September, so it looks like I'll be missing that one. This one is much closer to home, as well, and I can commute, which makes the cost much less. Actually, the cost is lower anyway. Northern Colorado Writers also sponsors critique groups and workshops, available in their studio. 

Since I'm deeply involved with editing my manuscript, I'm thrilled to have this new support group so close to home. Having my new laptop computer to work with will sure make a difference when it comes to traveling back and forth to workshops and conferences, too. That's right—I'm still counting my blessings.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ringling 5 Lyrics

Less than three weeks ago, I signed up for a thirty-day free trial to some software that tells me some interesting things about my blog. Where are visitors coming from? How do they find me? Do they come back? All of this is immensely interesting to me. I'm not quite sure why.

I've been delighted to note that four people in less than three weeks have found my blog by searching for the lyrics to one of my favorite songs, the Ringling 5's wonderful song, "If Jesus Had Been a Norwegian." I mentioned it on one of my blogs, but never wrote down the lyrics. Let me explain that the Ringling 5 is a group of seven guys from Montana. I know, they might be math challenged, but they're very funny. They also have some wonderful songs that are not funny at all, like "Grandpa's Barn." I did quote the lyrics for that in an earlier blog entry. It's worth a read, a think. They're very talented. My wonderful pastor from our pre-retirement life gifted us with copies of all their CDs, and they're wonderful additions to my insane music collection.

So for those of you who continue looking for those lyrics, I'm typing them out here. And those of you who have never heard of the Ringling 5, I suggest you might read the lyrics and check out their website. You can, of course, buy their music there. Meanwhile, here's that song, so you can quit searching...

If Jesus Had Been A Norwegian

If Jesus had been a Norwegian, 
Things would be so different today.
Instead of Matthew, Mark and Luke and John,
We'd have Sven and Lars and Oleg.
Walking on the water 
Would be no special trick,
'Cause all over Norway, 
The ice is awful thick.

If Jesus was a Norsky, 
We'd all eat lutefisk.
We'd have lefse for Communion, 
And there'd be no Methodists.
If you wanted to say Amen, 
We're not gonna let ya.
At the end of every prayer we'd shout,
"Ya, sure, you betcha!"

There'd be no December birthday.
You'd be frozen where you lie.
If Jesus was born in Norway, 
Christmas would be in July.
Feeding all the multitude 
Would be an easy task.
With one big bucket of lutefisk, 
"Please no more," they'd ask.

But Jesus was no Norsky.
It could not be done.
Jews are much more serious.
'Wegians too much fun.
But the deciding factor 
When God searched around,
He scanned all of Norway, 
Three wise men were not found.

Ya, sure, you betcha!


If your curiosity is killing you, lefse is a Norwegian flat bread, and I understand flat refers to taste as well as shape. Lutefisk, is defined as cod soaked in plutonium (yum), and dates back to the Viking era. I guess that's why there are so many fast food restaurants in the world.

Now, if I start having people look for other songs, like "I'll be Mellow When I'm Dead," I might consider putting up lyrics occasionally. My daddy sang some songs I've never heard anywhere else. Every time I sing one, people look at me really strangely, but they do laugh. Too bad I can't put up a song as easily as lyrics, but there you have it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Chicken Tacos with Paprika Sour Cream

Last month John found a recipe for Chicken Tacos in the Sunday newspaper and handed it to me, asking if I'd try it for him. In the last month, we've had them six times. That's probably overdoing it, but I've made them three times, plus we've had leftovers each time, so I'll count it as six meals. Each time it was a treat. I decided tonight to put it down on my blog for all my friends.

I was thinking about my sister Ellen when I made it tonight, since there's cumin in the recipe and she's allergic to that. I've added cilantro to the original recipe, though, and I don't think she'll miss the cumin if she uses the cilantro. It adds such a wonderful flavor. I have made some changes to the original recipe, so I'm putting it down as I make it, not as the original calls for, so I hope any of you who try it will enjoy it as much as John and I do.

Smoked Paprika Sour Cream Sauce
1-2 limes (1/4 Cup lime juice)
1 cup Sour Cream
1 tsp. Smoked Paprika (regular is fine, if that's what you have)
1/2 tsp. Salt

1 Medium onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups Grape or Cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped coarsely
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 tsp. Chili Powder
2 tsp. Dried Oregano
1 tsp. Ground Cumin
1 tsp. Garlic Powder
1 to 1 1/2 Pounds Ground Chicken
1/2 cup Water
± 8 Soft white corn tortillas, lightly grilled, or cooked however you like your tacos.

Paprika Sour Cream Sauce:
Squeeze juice from limes into a medium bowl and add the sour cream, paprika and salt, stirring until mixed. Refrigerate until ready for use.

For the Tacos:
Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned.
Add chili powder, oregano, cumin and garlic powder, mixing to coat the onion evenly.

Add the ground chicken, breaking it up into small pieces at it goes into skillet. Stir to combine, then add the water, tomatoes and cilantro breaking up the chicken further with a wooden spoon as it cooks.

Reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Use the spoon to break any large clumps that might remain. Taste and season with salt as needed.

Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Cook tortillas as you prefer. I like to lightly grill in a sauté pan with a combination of butter and grapeseed oil (to prevent butter from burning) then blot well on paper towels. We like them to be not quite crisp, still flexible.

Put about 1/2 Cup of the Filling Mixture, plus about 2 Tbsp of the Sour Cream Sauce on each taco shell. Makes about 8-12 tacos.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

How Sweet It Is

Having been told to call the Apple Store at eleven o'clock today to see if any of the Mac Pro notebooks had come in, I was fairly proud of myself for holding off until ten thirty. Within five minutes I was racing down the stairs. Mom would have been amazed that I didn't kill myself, I was going so fast. I knocked on John's office door, yelling, "They're in, honey. They're putting our name on one of the boxes!" He swiveled his chair around and gazed at me blankly. "Huh?"

So I guess he wasn't quite as single-minded in watching the clock and thinking about his decision to buy me that computer as I was. Once he figured out what I was talking about, however, he was really great about getting his radios and computer shut down and heading out to the car for the hour plus drive to the Apple Store in Broomfield. 

Getting a new computer was always exciting, but it was also a chore, since it took a couple of days to get everything ported over and all the settings fixed the way you want. Then software would have to be reinstalled, passwords reentered. Drivers downloaded and set up. So much to do. When Apple introduced the Time Machine, though, things changed. I never think about backups, but always have one now. I just have a drive that sits quietly on the desk, and every once in awhile, the time machine feature automatically sends all my changes to the drive. If I've done a lot of work, I'll just go into my menu bar and select the "Backup Now" option. If anything ever goes wrong on your computer, it really comes in handy. That's the purpose. 

Even better, though, is when you get a new computer and find out that you can get it all set up, just the way you like it, software and settings, passwords and drivers and everything, in about fifteen minutes, just by selecting "Migrate from Time Machine" when it first turns on. So cool. I spent that fifteen minutes peeling potatoes and carrots for dinner. That, of course, made John happy. It also gave some company to the corned beef and cabbage in the pot.

Writing my blog entry is my first real task on the new computer. It's sure easier to be able to see, since I can get closer to the screen. Thank you, John. There will be chicken tacos for you tomorrow night.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Unbelievable. First, imagine traveling with a desktop computer—even a small one. Remember the monitor and keyboard have to be packed along with the CPU. Even though it's a Mac Mini, there are still parts that have to come along. The mini has a tiny hard drive, so that means taking along a peripheral drive with my files on it. What good is a writer without files? And what good is my iPod if I can't update it with new audio books?

The obvious reason for this prologue is that I've been dreaming about getting a laptop for quite awhile. The days I spent in the Apple Store over the past three weeks "allowed" me plenty of time to look at and play with the new Macintosh laptops. Wow. It was pretty difficult not to come home without a huge case of the covets. John kept asking me if I'd picked out my new laptop, and I'd laugh and say, "Sure, I want the middle sized pro." Then he let me know, after the taxes were done, that the large pro wasn't that much more, and that's what I should get, with my poor eyesight. He also wants to spring for the anti-glare screen, an extra $50. 

"I don't need that." 
"Sure you do."

We've had a good time discussing it. Today we decided (he decided, after looking at the budget really carefully) that it was now or never, and it was important enough to do it now. Here comes the funny part. Prepare to laugh.

Apple is sold out. There isn't one for sale in the entire State of Colorado. We could order it online, but can't get his "I work as a military consultant" discount. We want that discount. I figure that, since we're already paying our own transportation, food and hotel when he works for them, getting a discount on a laptop is a nice recompense, and doesn't cost the government anything. It's something Apple does for military and government workers. Now that's patriotic. No pinheads there. I should tell Bill O'Reilly. 

Maybe they'll get some more of those sweet machines in tomorrow in the eleven o'clock delivery. If not, they will probably be on Monday's truck. Meanwhile, I logged on to eBags and ordered a carrying case. Next time I travel, I'm going in style. It was a great deal, too, and even cheaper for being purchased on St. Patrick's Day. Cool. I love a deal.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some Days Are Like That

Some days I'm home all day and the phone never rings. In fact, I call people and they're not home. I leave messages and they don't call me back. It happens. I know they're busy. I don't sit around worrying about it. The only reason I mention it is that we went for a drive today and ended up being gone for several hours. While we were gone, two of our sons called (and didn't leave messages) and one of my dearest friends called and did. She said that that she sure felt bad that she finally had time to call and I wasn't home.

Guilt. I guess we didn't need to go anywhere today. It was a matter of wanting to get out and doing it. I spent a really long day yesterday working on the taxes, and then this morning I was up at about four, finishing them. We left the house around ten o'clock, and didn't get back home until almost four in the afternoon. Up until then, I'd only had one piece of toast with peanut butter, so we actually came home to eat. Of course, John had a better breakfast than that, but I was busy. 

The good news of the whole day was the outcome of our taxes. We did really good this year. We'll get back a good portion of our travel expenses for John's work at the missile base, and that helps our bottom line—big time. Some questions about unpublished writers I wasn't able to answer, so I just didn't deduct my stuff. Hopefully it won't matter next year. Perhaps you'll get a kick out of this next thing, perhaps not.

Remember the big upset about some of the comments made in the critique group I was attending? The leader of that critique group is a tax consultant. I know she's busy, but I figured she could give me a quick yes/no answer. Here's the email thread:

Me: Can an unpublished author deduct the cost of writing expenses, particularly writing seminars, from income taxes?

Her:  My hourly fee for tax consultations is $100 an hour. Let me know if you would like to make an appointment.

Me:  I'm retired, not retarded. I just thought you'd know. Thanks anyway. Blessings, Kathleen.

No wonder I stopped attending the group. We did fine without the deductions. I should pay $100 an hour to deduct a $400 seminar? I think she would have been kinder to ignore my email, but that's just me. The really good news is that we'll be getting enough back to pay the State and buy the laptop I've been drooling over, and that's what John wants to do. We're still talking about it. We'll decide this week, but I think it's going to happen. Apple Store, here we come.

Monday, March 16, 2009

I'm the "Tax Man"

Crawling out of bed before 4:30 this morning, I brewed a pot of coffee and sat down at the computer to get our taxes done. Normally, I have them done before most people even know it's "that time of year." I've been doing it on the computer for years, and it's not much of a problem, since everything is downloaded from previous years' taxes, and all I have to do is add this year's numbers and answer the online questions. 

We have a PC that's not been used for much of anything but the taxes. At least, it's not supposed to be used for anything else. For some reason, this year John decided to see if he could give it an overall checkup. He decided it wasn't really running fast enough. He started by adding some spyware (which logic would tell me wouldn't make it run faster) and running some utilities on it. I laughingly told him something to the effect of, "If you screw up the tax files, you're going to be sorry you were ever born." He probably was for a day or two. Now it's got a new operating system, and no tax files.

Of course, I had to start from scratch, and they're more complicated than ever this year, since John's doing consulting work out of state now, but paying his own transportation and per diem. He's been hiding in his HAM room downstairs today, but did run out to A&W for our dinner. At least I'm doing it on the Mac now, which he touches at his peril. He's definitely not a Macintosh person. 

I finally closed up shop about 6:30 tonight, although I'm not quite done. I still have questions. There are things I just don't know and answers I can't seem to find. For example: can a writer who has never been published deduct the expenses of a Writer's Conference and Workshop from Income Taxes? Who knows? If it's in the tax codes, I can't find it. Apparently I can deduct mileage to and from the conference, and the computer I do the writing on. I think.   

I'm so brain dead at this point, I almost wish we had just paid to have someone else do it. Then, of course, we'd be in the same spot next year. I hate having to pay somebody else to do something I can do myself, but it's been a very long day. Like I told John, if you can't help me, just stay out of my way and pray for me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Middle Child

Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes, so I've gathered a lot of seemingly useless information. Many of them stick in my head and pop back out at odd moments. I was just sitting here remembering something I read years ago. People can often use nightly news programs to demonstrate the different tendencies children manifest due to their birth orders. That sounds absurd at first glance, but it made sense in the article. 

The anchor or interviewer was generally a middle child. They would ask the questions, get the facts. They would try to keep everything in order and make sure that fairness was observed. (Obviously they didn't work for today's NBC.) The person being interviewed was most often an oldest child, the leader of the pack. They blazed trails, made the news, set the limits. It was their position that rated the most coverage in any conversation. The weatherman was the baby of the family. Can you spell "comic relief?" I thought you could. 

I was the middle child. Worse than that, I was the second middle child. Or maybe I was the only middle child, and my sister Ellen was the second oldest child. I guess that would be more true, as she was the oldest daughter. She was also the first child Dad got to know as a baby, since he was off in World War II when Pat was born. So that's it. I was the only middle child, and Kenny was the baby. I can be forgiven for trying to flush him down the toilet. I didn't understand comic relief.

I understood fairness, and it didn't seem fair that everybody who used to run in and look at me suddenly went running in to look at him. He wasn't that cute. I really was in the middle. Ellen was seventeen months older than me. Kenny was seventeen months younger than me. Ellen was beautiful. Kenny was cute. I turned into a great student.

So if you're a middle child, I'll bet you've learned to do a lot of things. Maybe you play a couple of instruments, like the guitar and accordion. Those are fun. Perhaps you like to craft. Crochet and knitting are fun and handy. Leather tooling and bead work are also really cool. You could have been up there in the top of your class. Maybe not—I got a B once. (Stupid teacher.) But however you handled being in the middle, I'll bet you had some fun—probably more than the others.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I'm Smiling

I sat at the counter with my knitting needles going, keeping an eye on the monitor and making oddball remarks with the Apple Genius Bar staff who kept checking the progress on the latest iPod loading endeavor. Will it work this time? After a couple of hours into the new day, it had been determined that, once again, a new iPod should be brought into play. It was the last one on the shelf. I'm trying to remember if it was the 5th or 6th we'd gone through trying to solve this series of disasters. I was thinking of repapering the powder room with the paperwork.

Occasionally I'd dip into the cookies. They were a big hit, and I'm glad. It was quite an experience, spending so much time on that stool at the Genius Bar. If I were going to do it often, I think I'd forget cookies and donate a decent stool—one with padding. One of the guys there said he thought we should have a name plate put on "my" stool. I still think one with a cushion would be a better idea. 

When we first got the new iPod out, one of the first screens to greet us was the "New iTunes Update Available" screen. Levi thought we should do that later, but I voted no. One thing I was sure of was that the problems had started shortly after the last time iTunes had been updated. It might not sound like much, but maybe there's something in the 160 Gig iPod Classic that disagrees with that particular version of iTunes, so I wanted to do the update first. 

I utilize a strange kind of logic. Isn't it Occam's Razor that says that you knock off everything that's most unlikely, and what's left, even if unproven, is your most probable answer? You're not supposed to start adding in assumptions. Anyway, we started downloading the new iPod with the same library we've been attempting to load for the last three weeks. We used the new iTunes software on an untouched iPod, and added the library by Playlists. It was a slow way to do it, but I wasn't taking any unnecessary chances. We ejected and checked the unit at the end of each segment download, and never had a single failure. 

We were in and out of there in about five and a half hours. I put my headphones on and listened to the end of Ann McCaffrey's White Dragon on the way home. I'm still smiling. 

I got a lot of knitting done during my visits to the Apple store, met some really great people, and was treated wonderfully. Maybe in a week or two, I'll stop by just to say "hi." I wonder if they'll duck and run when they see me coming through the door... Probably not—unless I've got my knitting bag with me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

On Karma, Hope, and a Cookie Recipe

I made cookies tonight to take into the Apple Store with me tomorrow morning. It's to thank them for all their help in getting the iPod problem resolved. I'm cautiously optimistic, even excited perhaps, that I'll be getting my little audio friend back by the time we come home tomorrow.

I made our family's favorite cookies, too. Mama's pecan rolled Rich Sugar Cookies. They have to be the most addictive little things I've ever eaten—very short life expectancy. So does this mean I believe in Karma? Good cookies come out of my home and a good iPod will come back into it? Maybe I should plead the 5th on that one. The jury is still out. Part of me believes in Karma. All of me believes in it part of the time. That's probably more accurate.

I don't think any of us get what we deserve all the time. I know I don't. I'm sure glad of that. Imagine if we always got what we deserved? I don't think any of us would be amused. Tomorrow, though, I'll bring the cookies. I don't really believe they'll help fix the iPod, but it's the thought that counts. Actually, in cookies, it's the taste, so here's the recipe. Mama wouldn't mind. She's always happy to share.

Mama's Rich Sugar Cookie

1/2 Cup Butter
1/2 Cup Margarine
2 Eggs
1 Cup Oil
1 Cup Powdered Sugar
1 Cup White Sugar

Mix together and add in small batches to creamed mixture:
4 Cups Flour
1 tsp. Baking Soda
1 tsp. Cream of Tartar
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Vanilla

Chill thoroughly (several hours or overnight), well sealed.

Roll walnut-sized balls of cookie dough in finely chopped pecans.
Press with fork or fingers on cookie sheet.
Bake at 375° for 10-12 minutes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Great iPod Caper Continues

Yesterday morning at 8:30 a.m., after packing up the misbehaving iPod, the computer and the two drives that contained duplicates of my iTunes library (the original one on the USB drive, and the newly copied files on the Firewire II drive) we drove to the Flatiron Crossing Apple Store. John and I arrived just in time for our 9:45 a.m. arrival time. When you have a ten o'clock appointment, they let you in the door before the store actually opens.

I'm going to skip ahead right now and admit that we walked out of the store at 8:15 last night—without the iPod, which had been replaced yet again, or the Firewire drive with its library files. The marvelous men from the Genius Bar are going to continue trying to solve the riddle of the iPod that wouldn't until my next appointment, which will be Thursday morning at the same time as yesterday. Now I'll talk a bit about my day at the Apple Store.

During the day, I don't think there was a single store employee who didn't ask me if I was okay, or apologize for the length of time it was taking to diagnose and correct the problem. Since I was there for just short of the entire time the store was open that day, I saw how busy these people were. It's amazing to me that those not directly involved with my issues even had time to realize I was there. 

Matt was the first to tackle the problem. He had worked with me on one of my other visits, so was aware that this was not a first time problem. I had printed out the blog I'd written, hitting both the highlights of the saga and what we had done, both at the store and at home to overcome the problems. He read the entire blog with diligence and attention. I had expected him to skim it. I don't know why, but that's what I thought would happen. Then he looked me in the eye and said, "This really helps. Thank you." Wow. If we're going to erect a big chalk board to tally points, that gives him several.

Soon the equipment was up and humming, and Matt let me know the meaning of multitasking, as he helped an assortment of people without stopping his work on my problem. When my iPod was busy with a check, or trying to download, he was treating another customer to the same gracious and respectful expertise as he gave me during that long day. His lunch hour was covered by another young man who, unfortunately, didn't wear a name tag. He was great, though, and kept at it until Matt returned.

It was finally determined, after multiple changes, checks, and attempts failed, to again replace the iPod. By this time, Aaron came on the scene. Matt began ensuring that he knew what had been done and what still needed to be done before we could call this a success. 

Aaron and Matt continued mothering my equipment while helping a horde of customers with questions and problems. Some of them were quick fixes. Many of the questions I could have answered myself. A good majority of the questions could have been answered by the people with ten minutes on Apple's web site. Their tech notes are great, but I guess most of these people don't live an hour from the Apple Store. I asked Matt at one point, after he so politely answered the same (dumb) question for about the third time in two hours, if they had a "scream" room in the back somewhere. He laughed and admitted that there was a room, though not soundproof, that was far enough back from the sales floor that he'd heard a bit of screaming in on occasion. 

I'm just so impressed with the quality of customer relations I've seen in that store, and I've been there enough lately that I should almost earn a bedroll. They are never condescending. No question is treated lightly, and no customer that I've seen has been treated anything but pleasantly and respectfully. Whoever hires these gems deserves praise indeed. They wear shirts that say, "Not All Heroes Wear Capes." They earn those shirts.

By the end of the day, the new iPod was rolling right along, downloading the files. We had a countdown going in the store. It was getting late, and everyone was thinking that success was imminent. Matt's shift had ended, and he'd gone home to his family. Aaron stood there, helping someone else, but peeking at the screen repeatedly to see. John had come in from the car, where he'd spent the day with his HAM radio (of course) and was standing behind me. When we did the final "five - four - three - two - one" it seemed like the whole store burst into cheers. I was thrilled. Then the iPod crashed.

We ejected it and it said it was empty. How can that be? A moment before, it had all the files on it. Aaron was all mine again. He reattached it to the computer, and the files were there. He ejected it and it said it was empty. What? He connected it to another computer. Yes, the files were there. He ejected it. It said it was empty. He did a soft reset. It still said it was empty. Again. Still empty. He tried a third computer. One thing the Apple Store has is plenty of computers to try. Yep. The iPod is full of all my tunes, all my audio books. Unfortunately, when you eject it, it thinks it's empty.

Aaron looked at me and admitted he'd never seen anything like it before. I told him I wanted to go home, and could he please make me an appointment for Thursday? He suggested we leave the iPod and Library behind so they could work on it while we didn't have to sit there waiting. That was a great idea. Even with my knitting, it was a very long day. Their stools are not padded—or comfortable. On Thursday, I think I'll bring a cushion. 

Before I left, Aaron said something that really touched me. "Thank you for being so patient. I'm really sorry we haven't gotten it straightened out yet." I was pretty surprised. From my point of view, they're the ones who have been patiently going through every possible angle. All I've had to do was sit with my knitting or my book, keeping an eye on the progress when they were busy. I told him something I honestly believe. "When I raised my three sons, I always told them to do their very best, and then if it isn't good enough for someone, then it's that person's problem. You guys have done your very best here, and I know you haven't give up. That's good enough for me."

I'll be back on Thursday, and I believe I'll come home with the situation resolved. How could I not with this type of help behind me? And I did get a reward: an unexpected snowfall started during the night, and is falling gently. We have about an inch on the ground, and the pines are frosted. It's a beautiful day up here in the foothills. I know I wouldn't choose to live in the suburbs... not even to be closer to the Apple Store.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sudden iPod Loading Disasters

After years of enjoying my iPod without a single incident, loading it with Gigs of music and multiple volumes of audio books, I had a disaster a week ago when the drive finally gave up the ghost. Because of a seizure disorder, it's been recommended by my neurologist that I listen to audio books. It helps keep the synapses connected, and makes the brain function more smoothly. They're also quite amazing, as you can do a multitude of things while listening to a novel that you can't do while reading a book.

We live just over an hour from the Apple Store, and I didn't know what was wrong with the iPod, so we drove to the Genius Bar and they treated me the way a customer always hopes to be treated in any store. I left with a "remanufactured" iPod, the same size (160 Gigs) as mine, that has never been owned. I was thrilled. I got it home, charged it and tried to download my library. I had about 130 Gigs to download, so I didn't expect it to be quick. After about six hours, it crashed. It was almost through with the download. I was devastated when I got the message that said I would have to reset the iPod and begin again.

I reset, and after about ten gigs, I got the same error. We went back to the Apple Store and they were very nice, and gave me another iPod, but first attached it to his machine to make sure he could put some stuff on it. He put about 650 MBs on it, and we said thank you and took it home. Again, we were treated to professionalism and courtesy. They really are nice in there, and knowledgeable. He told me that if we had problems again, to bring in the computer as well as the iPod.

The same thing happened. Five hours of download time passed, then the iPod crashed and demanded a reset.
After about four hours of sleep, I got back up and decided to start again. When no progress had been made by 8:30 a.m., John packed up the computer (not a laptop) and the USB Drive that has the iTunes Library on it, and we drove back to the Apple Store. They sure are nice in there. I didn't have an appointment, which you're sure supposed to have, but I had logged on to get one and found out they were booked solid. I was too frustrated to care. I figured I'd take my chances. They only made me wait about fifteen minutes. Like I said, they're extremely nice. It was our third day in a row going there. Each day we spent a total of about 2 1/2 hours on the road. John was very patient, but I could tell he would rather be doing just about anything else. By the time we left, it appeared to be working. Appeared is the operational word here.

Unfortunately, I had an mounting/ejecting problem for about two hours. Every time I attached the iPod, I'd get the message saying, "Connected" followed immediately by another message saying "Ejecting." I kept doing the soft manual reset on the iPod itself. I looked up the message thread on the Apple web site, and finally found one little message that suggested switching the iTunes connection to "Disc Mode." Great idea. It must be connected to switch it to disc mode, though, so it took me over an hour to get it to stay connected long enough to get it switched to disc mode. Once there, it stayed connected.

The genius bar guy at Apple had told me to try downloading in segments, by Playlist, so that I don't have parts of the computer, like the drive the music library is on, suddenly going into sleep mode. He thought that might be the problem. I put five gigs on with no problem. Then I made a playlist with another five gigs and put that on. I was pleased. After getting the fourth five gig playlist copied, I decided to go to bed for the night. It was well past midnight. I ejected the little thing and went to scroll through what I had copied. Obviously, I expected 20 Gigs to be on it. Nope. Five gigs. The last five gigs. Nobody told me that if it was in Disc Mode it would erase everything already on it whenever you put something new on it.

Congratulate me. I didn't throw it, and I didn't cry. I went to bed.

One suggestion they made at the Apple Store was that our iTunes Library is on a removable USB drive, which isn't a very fast drive. They said it would have been better to have it on a Firewire drive, since they're faster and made for bigger jobs. OK. John went out to Best Buy, about forty minutes from home, and bought me a 500 Gig Firewire 400/800 drive. That's the good kind. We took five hours to transfer my entire library, 180 Gigs, from Air Supply to ZZ Top, from the USB Drive to the Firewire Drive. Of course, not all of that goes on the iPod. Then I tried again to download. I've been at it for three straight days. This last time, I managed to get only 45 Gigs on it before it crashed, demanding a reset. That took me nearly eight hours.

Guess where I'm going Monday morning? I have a ten o'clock appointment. I don't expect to be home quickly.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Knitting and the Fake Baby

While on my friend Schmath's blog last night, I burst into uncontrollable laughter. She had posted a photo of her new baby daughter sleeping on the closet shelf. She admitted to having posed the photo, but that didn't detract from the humor at all. 

On the shelf of my closet I have a newborn sized baby doll that I use when I knit or crochet baby clothes for gifts. When my first granddaughter was born, I bought an identical replica of the baby doll and made two layettes. I dressed the baby in one layette and wrapped her in the matching blanket and laid her gently in the bottom of the box. Then I put down several layers of tissue and the next blanket, followed by more tissue and the next pieces of the layette, each wrapped in thin layers of tissue paper.

My son Benjamin, youngest of our three sons, told me at the time that when his wife Ruth got to the bottom and pulled that realistic appearing baby doll out of the box, he wished I could have seen the look of shock on her face before she realized it was just a doll.

I hadn't thought about that in over two years, but when I saw the photo on Schmath's blog, I just had to share this, with a couple of photos of my "baby model."

Sunday, March 1, 2009

How Did You Find Me?

One of the most interesting aspects of writing a blog, for me at least, is to see where my visitors come from. I wasn't always able to tell, but a few months ago I installed the MapLoco Visitor Map. I find myself looking in a couple times a day to see where my visitors came from. I've been really surprised. 

I seem to have a fairly regular reader in Brazil. I watch the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) and see how good the Brazilian riders do, and wonder if my reader in Brazil is watching as well, cheering on their country's riders. Did they watch when Helio Castroneves, the Brazilian NASCAR champion won the title on Dancing With the Stars? 

I've had visitors from Spain and Canada quite frequently. I wonder if it's the same people revisiting, or just a coincidence that they're from the same countries. Canada is special to me because I lived in Churchill, Canada as a small kid, and we also travelled and camped extensively throughout Canada. 

Spain has a special connection for me because of a wonderful friend from high school who was a foreign exchange student. Of course, that was back in the sixties, and her name refuses to surface right now. I'll think of it in a day or two and add it to the comments. (ABS—Absent Brain Syndrome)

Some of the other interesting countries that have shown up on my visitors map were Russia, India, the Netherlands, Finland, and Norway. I wish they would all leave me comments. I'd love to know who these people are and how they found me. Blogs actually make the world seem smaller and more neighborly. I really love that.