Sunday, April 30, 2006

Fact or fiction?

One of my regular readers had the NERVE to ask in an email if yesterday's story about the trash cans was real or something I made up! Can you imagine!?

Yes, I do write fiction. And yes, I HAVE been known to use hyperbole on occasion. But, come on! Did that story sound like it was made up? Would anyone make up a story like that about themselves and then publish it for the world to laugh at?

Well, okay, some might. But here's the proof!

There! You can see the offending metal cans. The two intact ones are hiding the chipped bricks in the house wall (don't tell Carol!) The squashed, pounded and folded one that so damaged my ego is sitting in the foreground. What? You say you can't see it clearly?

Well, okay. Here's another shot of it by itself.

I could have included the sledge hammer in the picture along with the cans, but I really didn't want to handle that thing again for a while until the blister and the bruises heal.

Fiction, indeed!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

How do you throw away a garbage can?

In our continuing zeal to clean away some of the clutter we’ve accumulated in the 20 years we’ve lived here, we’ve found items we didn’t know we had. We’ve also learned a few things.

The latest lesson I’ve learned is that it’s difficult to get rid of rusted-out galvanized metal garbage cans. We have three of them. We’ve kept them in our garage for years and used them to collect aluminum cans for recycling. (See? I’m environmentally aware. It’s totally beside the fact that a local center will pay me 50 cents per pound for those crushed cans!) And we use Rubbermaid plastic containers to haul our trash to the curb on garbage days.

We decided to toss the rusty metal cans, so put them out with the rest of the trash. The garbage men left them behind. I tried putting one of them inside the larger Rubbermaid container, but it was still left behind.

This morning I had the bright idea that if I crushed the metal container like an aluminum can, folded it up and THEN put it inside a plastic trash container, SURELY the garbage men would haul it away. You think?

Well, let’s see. First I have to crush it. Now remember; the bottom is rusty and full of holes, so this thing can’t be very strong, right? (I’m talking about the garbage can here, not me!)

I laid it down, put one foot on the top rim (where the lid goes) and put my weight on it. The rim sagged in a satisfying fashion, but sprang back when I removed my weight. I put my foot BACK on the rim, put a hand on the garage wall for balance, and STOOD on the rim. It sagged further, but did not flatten.

No problem. I then bounced my weight on the rim... and the can promptly rolled away depositing me on my keister on the concrete floor.

What's that? You want to know what I said? Well, I have a theory about that. Just as calories don’t count if no one knows you ate the candy, cursing doesn’t count if no one else hears you. And I’m pretty sure Carol was in the other end of the house. With the vacuum running. So nothing I might have said counts.

I pulled myself to my feet and checked the offending can. The rim was now bent so that the opening was more an ellipse than a circle. Ah, progress!

I realized that I wasn’t heavy enough to do this job without special help or tools, so I pulled out my long-handled 16-pound sledge hammer. Now our garage has a relatively low ceiling, so I moved outside onto the concrete driveway for the next part of the flattening procedure. (See? I TOLD you I’ve learned a few things!)

Like a man at the county fair trying to ring the bell and win his sweetie a kewpie doll, I heaved the mallet up over my head in a wide arc and slammed it down on the rim. No, it DIDN’T bounce off! The hammer mashed the rim flat in three strokes. Now we’re cookin’!

No way that can was going to roll now, not with one end flat. So I jumped up and down on the side to complete the process. But darned if the rusty bottom didn’t refuse to flatten! I pushed the flat top rim up against the outside brick wall of the house and swung the sledge at the top edge of the round bottom rim. Missed completely. Well, not exactly completely. I missed the can completely, but not the brick wall. Carol came out to see if I’d driven the car into the side of the house. She’d heard the noise all the way from the other end of the house. With the vacuum running. I told her everything was OK. The bricks weren’t actually broken, just chipped a bit. If you don’t look closely, you hardly notice.

After a few more swings of the mallet (that connected) I moved the can away from the brick wall and used my weight to finish folding the bottom down flat over one side. Then, by propping the can up against the wall at a 45 degree angle and hitting it with the sledge, I started one final fold so that the can would be flat and folded in thirds. Then, with the bend started, I moved it away from the wall to finish the job with the sledge.

Although the morning wasn’t particularly warm, I was now dripping with sweat. I had a blister on one thumb, and my back was threatening to start aching if I kept swinging that hammer. I tried ONE MORE blow to finish the job. The mallet struck but bounced, thrusting the end of the handle hard into the bony inside of my right knee.

I dropped the mallet and hopped around like a clown on a pogo stick, trying to see through the fog of pain and KNOWING I was surely crippled for life. For your information, I did NOT curse this time. I was thinking a few choice words, but I couldn’t inhale because of the pain, so no words came out.

Now that I have recovered sufficiently to type out this story for you, I can assert that I have one nearly flat metal trash can, plus two more that, with no further exertion on my part, will tomorrow be hauled off to a trash dumpster somewhere near here and tossed in. (Hauled off and “bunged into a skip,” for RobotJam.)

Another lesson learned.

Friday, April 28, 2006

More Agent Frustration

Don’t worry; this is only a mild rant. Actually it’s more of a sigh of “Oh, well. More conflicting information,” than a frustrated outburst.

What’s my problem THIS time, you ask?

In late 2004 I signed with a literary agent for representation. One of his requirements before he would present my manuscript to publishers was that I maintain a blog. It had to have daily posts that were well-written, and I was to build readership as quickly as possible. He wanted to see at least several months’ worth of it before he would start pitching my book.

His explanation, based (he said) on several personal experiences with publishers, was that if a publisher liked an author’s work, he (or she—I’ll use “he”) would want to read the author’s blog to determine several things. Is this author a “compulsive writer?” Can this author write about diverse topics and maintain a reader’s interest. Does this author understand the importance of having a web presence so when people Google his name they’ll find lots of information? Does this author know that readers like for authors to come across as “real, regular people,” and not as celebrity snobs?

(That gives you the general idea.)

So I, dutiful newbie that I am to the publishing world, set up “Romantic Ramblings” and posted all kinds of things. I wrote in very informal “down home” style, and I wrote in sophisticated language with $2 words. I posted something just about every day. I read other blogs and commented, which generated return visits from other bloggers and an active blogroll. I have grown to really enjoy putting some kind of post up here on most days, and browsing other blogs and commenting.

I’ve learned a lot and made new friends.

And, since a REAL LITERARY AGENT told me it was important to have a blog, I’ve put my blog URL on all correspondence, author’s business cards, etc.

... SIGH ...

Well, as you regulars know I’ve been querying agents for new representation. One source of information about agents who list themselves as “actively seeking clients” (which is a joke in some cases, but that’s another rant), is a web site called very recently put out an article on the Top Five Reasons for being an Immediate Reject (when querying an agent). Guess what reason number 5 is.

Give up? Okay, I’ll share it with you:

Immediate Reject #5: Listing your blog or author website on your query.

Writers' blogs are so ubiquitous nowadays that it's kinda eerie. Like the internet is turning into a literary-voyeuristic-twilightzone-reality-internet-freak-fest. And there seems to be this strange idea percolating out there in cyberland that navel-gazing blogs and self-stitched author websites are synonymous with having a "web presence.”

First of all, web presence is sorely overrated. What "web presence" means to you—a few hundred daily visitors—means spit to Random House, and agents know this. Second of all, it’s a fact that it takes the average web user less than 5 seconds to judge the merit of a website. It's also a fact that web users are very unforgiving, including writers. We often judge an agent's legitimacy by the professional "look" (or lack thereof) conveyed through her website. So what's stopping agents from judging us in the same way? Why would agents be any less forgiving when they visit our authors' blogs or websites to judge the writer behind the writing?

Guess what? They’re not. So if you want agents to judge the merits of your writing, not the merits of you as a writer as conveyed by your website or blog, then don't give them extra reasons for an immediate reject.

WELL, o-KAY then. I guess all those published authors who maintain a web site of their own (and some write blogs!) established their web presence after they signed with an agent and had a publishing contract, huh?

**Pounds head on desk**

Well, at least now I know (or at least have a good excuse) WHY I’ve received consistent replies from agents that my book is “not right for their lists.” It’s my BLOG, of course. DUH!

(Or the fact that I list its URL on every query.)

... SIGH ...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Reprise of last May's poem.

So many of you asked (just look at the comments from yesterday's post!) if you'd soon be treated to more poetry that I have to do this.

(Besides, today was REALLY busy and I didn't have time to write anything else to entertain you -- or myself.)

I wrote and posted this last May 22.

Here you go, fans. It's one of my favorites -- a classic that needs to be re-posted from time to time since readers change over the months.

Title of post: "How Hot IS It?"

"Unseasonably warm." - The Victoria (TX) Advocate
"Heat index -- 105 deg., Hades Index -- 102%"

The sun is hot as blazes. It’s summer here, for sure.
The air felt like a furnace blast when I walked out the door.
I’ve put this off for far too long, I need to mow the grass.
The neighbors look and shake their heads, sure that I’m low-class.

The grass and weeds are climbing high, obscuring now the house.
I see the yards on either side, and feel just like a louse.
The folks around here keep their lawns all manicured and neat.
Makes my place look abandoned, it’s the worst lot on this street.

All week the sun’s been shining, hot, since Monday’s heavy rains.
I would have (should have) mowed on Thursday, if I’d had the brains.
On Thursday after work the air was cooler with some breeze,
But now I see no movement in the branches on the trees.

I mount my trusty mower—(at least I get to sit!
I used to push a walk-behind, until it finally quit.
But then we bought the riding kind, much better when it’s hot.
‘Cause, after all, my house sits on a two-thirds-acre lot!)

With sweat already trickling down I move to the attack,
I wonder; should I start out in the front, or in the back?
The trees out front provide more shade; I think I’ll start out there.
A wimp, you say? Well, maybe so, but that’s not really fair.

I mean, it REALLY HOT out here, the grass is really high.
In fact, I’m not sure where I am; can hardly see the sky.
I’d started out across the lawn; by now I should have crossed it.
I wonder if I’m riding round in circles. Have I lost it?

It’s getting dark. I wonder if we’re going to have a storm.
The air seems full of smoke and dust, this surely ain’t the norm.
I smell a smell like rotten eggs, but keep the mower mowing.
I’ve GOT to reach the street out front if I just keep on going

Ah wait! What’s that? I think I see a figure just ahead.
Looks like a man. But why’s he dressed from head to toe in red?
Could it be Santa Claus, the elf, the jolly Christmas giver?
But then I noticed horns and tail! I realized (with a shiver,)

That this could be none other than Beelzebub, old Ned!
I wondered if, in all this heat, I’d passed out and was dead!
But surely I’d not be in Hell! By Jesus I’ve been saved!
Just then the devil turned to me. He stared and then he raved.

“I wanted a vacation from my home down under ground.
I’d heard that up in Texas, many pleasures could be found.
But here I am, and all I find is weather just like there.
I wanted someplace cooler, and this just isn’t fair!

“It’s only May in Texas, and the summer ain’t till June!
That’s why I didn’t come up later; why I came so soon.
I thought it would be diff’rent, but as only I can tell,
I’m going back right now because it’s hotter here than Hell!

A clap of thunder shook the ground. The devil disappeared.
The sun was out, the smoke was gone. T’was not, as I had feared,
The end of Earth, the end of me; but rather the finale
Of a Saturday night nightmare! T’was morning—time to rally!

I looked outside and saw the grass was only inches high.
The sun shone pale through morning mist, low in the eastern sky.
I didn’t read the forecast or the almanac to see,
For I knew on good authority just how hot it would be!

Yeah, I mowed today. Yeah, it was hot.Thus inspired, I wrote this post.

Yes, I've got plenty more where this came from. And thanks for asking.

(Btw, I thought my creation of the "Hades Index" measuring the temperature as a percentage of the temperature in Hell was mighty clever. But nobody else seemed to be impressed. Go figure.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Blogger’s Block

I sat today to write a post to publish on my blog.
But nothing came. I found my brain enveloped in a fog.
I thought of past events at work; but those are mostly boring.
I wouldn’t want the folks who visit here to end up snoring.

Well, how ’bout tales of funny things that happen while commuting?
Or, better yet, more stories about Jay and his computing?
I tried to think of recent times when household items failed,
With those I’ve managed oft of late to keep you all regaled.

My mind still blank, I scanned the blogs of others on my list.
I searched for some idea or rant. A joke you might have missed.
I found much anguished writing ’bout the rising cost of oil,
(The idea of three dollar gas can cause one’s blood to boil!)

I thought about the agents who have all, as one, rejected,
My magnum opus novel (which now leaves me quite dejected),
And tried to put together then some kind of righteous rant.
Hard though I’ve tried, my brain is fried, and somehow I just can’t.

Well, maybe humor is the thing. I’ll come up with some joke!
Make fun of something RobotJam might say, that British Bloke!
But nothing came to mind; and soon the struggle was quite taxing.
I need a tale like Michelle’s sister’s email about waxing!

The challenge grew more fearsome, as the day was almost gone.
Perhaps some pictures! Cute wildlife! Like squirrels, or a fawn!
Or maybe shots of Trevor. Baby pics are always fun.
And everybody thinks this kid is cute. (He’s my grandson!)

But though I’ve posted pictures in the past from time to time,
Today just seemed to need a written theme. Or... maybe... RHYME!
Hey! That’s the ticket! I’ll put up a poem that I write.
I’ll pick a topic and the words will flow! (Well, hell, they might!)

So, nothing on the weather here. On that I think I’ll pass.
No thought-provoking diatribe about the price of gas.
No tales of the conspiracy attacking house and home.
Today you’re treated (ALL of you!) to just this simple poem.

(Hey, when nothing else flows, sometimes a poem will.)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Interesting timing.

The April edition of Writers’ Digest (and thanks, Christina, for the gift subscription!) tells in their “Book Buzz” section about a novel that’s presented as fiction, but is really more memoir.

Their comments include this sentence:

"Who could blame a writer for opting to write her memoir in a roman a clef style—taking the essence of the story, dressing up the details and changing the names just enough to call it a novel?”

It’s also described as “a stunning success,” as would any debut novel that was named one of The New York Times Book Review’s 10 best books of the year.

Well, gee. Guess what MY debut novel is! Ooooo, right! It’s a memoir dressed up a bit and presented as fiction!

Any chance I can climb on that bandwagon and ride?

On the off chance that lightning might strike twice, I found out who the author’s (Curtis Sittenfeld) agent is and just queried her, making a point of the Writer’s Digest article and the (I hope) similarities. Oh, by the way, Ms. Sittenfeld’s novel is titled simply Prep.

I can see lightning in the distance tonight, off to the west of here. You never know.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I married a perfectionist!

And boy, am I glad!

What am I babbling about today? Cappuccino!

Many decades ago, back when I was a pilot on the Forrestal, the Navy sent that ship to join the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. We had liberty in ports including Athens, Barcelona, Naples, Malta, Palma de Majorca, and (my favorite) Cannes. Carol, along with other squadron wives, flew to Europe and met the ship in many of those ports.

One of the things we most enjoyed was the French and Italian continental breakfasts—especially the croissants and cappuccino!

Twenty-plus years later, when our older daughter graduated from college, we took our two girls on a month-long trip through Europe, visiting some of the same places Carol and I had seen years earlier. (We traveled on “Eurail passes” —unlimited rail travel for 30 days. And we introduced them to those wonderful continental breakfasts and coffees.)

We raved so much about how good the cappuccino was that our girls gave us for Christmas one year a Mr. Coffee two-cup espresso machine. We enjoyed that for many years, and a Sunday morning tradition became croissants and cappuccino. The coffee was good, but just not quite the same as that smooth, rich European “real” cappuccino.

Oh, and Victoria, TX, still does not have a Starbucks where we can buy their version of the real thing.

Carol, my perfectionist wife, did her research. She learned that the REAL cappuccino requires burr-ground coffee beans, not blade-ground. Who knew? And of course, the beans themselves and the roast are important. She read up on the perfect tamping pressure required to compress the ground coffee just enough so that the steam and water will barely penetrate it, producing that thick, creamy black liquid called espresso. She learned about steaming and frothing the milk to achieve just the right temperature to change the enzymes in the milk without scalding it.

Then she researched and bought an Italian-made machine that will do all those things. It was delivered last week.

Yesterday morning we had croissants and some of the best cappuccino I’ve tasted in the last 20 years!

Carol doesn’t even drink coffee. She says it always smells so good that the watered-down, slightly bitter taste is disappointing. But espresso—properly made—tastes as good as coffee smells. THAT, she will drink!


Yeah, perfectionism can be annoying sometimes to a guy like me. You know, for me “good enough” is usually, uh... good enough. But there are times when being married to a perfectionist is... well, perfect!

Hey, she married ME, didn’t she? What does THAT tell you?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Boy, did I get emails!

Yesterday’s little “postscript” about my literary agent querying adventures generated quite a bit of interest, only SOME of which showed up in comments. Allow me to share a few thoughts.

Rule # 1: Publishing is all about money. Please forget any thoughts you might have had about “literary excellence” and/or “literary artistry.” If a book won't generate enough sales to make profits for the publisher, the publisher doesn’t want to publish it.

Likewise, literary agents are in business for one reason only. And what might that be? If you said, “To make money,” go to the head of the class!

Many (not all) publishers refuse submissions from un-agented authors, so an author who wants to sell his/her work almost HAS to be represented by a literary agent. Why are publishers so narrow-minded? (Remember the first rule; “It’s all about money!”) It’s cheaper for publishers to force authors to go through agents, than for the publisher to have to hire extra people to review all those darned bad submissions.

OK, so agents have to screen out all the schlock for the publishers, then go pitch the stuff they think will sell. If the agent makes a sale, then (and ONLY then) he/she gets paid 15% of what the publisher offers for the rights to the book. If he often pitches stuff to publishers they think is schlock, they won’t listen to him any more and he makes no money.

In defense of agents, they do a lot more than just act as a salesperson. Once the publisher is interested and offers to buy the rights for a book, the agent negotiates all the details of the contract (and most authors know NOTHING about these contracts). My opinion is that if I did NOT have an agent and yet got an offer from a publisher to print my book, I would immediately go HIRE an agent to negotiate for me the best deal possible.

Oh, and one thing agents are NOT in business to do is to offer a critique of an author’s submission or query. The vast majority of responses I’ve received from agents have been simple form letters. They are polite, bland, and tell me nothing except, “No, thanks.” My interpretation (remembering the first rule above), is that this agent has at least glanced at what I’ve sent and formed an opinion that he/she would likely NOT be able to sell that book to a publisher.

And that’s fine! If they feel they can’t sell it, they probably can’t!

I’d love a personal response with their reasons, but they don’t owe me that. And there are thousands and thousands of people out there like me who have written a novel and want to sell it. Most of them will never get published, unless they self-publish. They all are sending queries to agents every day.

I was lucky in that the agent I signed with (Lantz Powell) DID actually read and critique my early versions. He eventually thought I made it good enough that he could sell it. He signed me, and tried to pitch the book to several publishers. Four actually read the manuscript, said nice things about it, but passed.

I came THAT CLOSE!! *Gnashes teeth!*

Anyway, actual personal comments from agents who are declining a query are so rare that when I DO get one, it’s frustrating when I don’t understand it. And that agent has no email address (that I can find) to use to ask for clarification.

I assume (yes, I know what that means!) she meant the story was presented as fiction but sounded like a memoir. If that’s what she meant, she’s right! It’s autobiographical! But it is fiction in that about 15% was made up for added conflict and to keep interest.

Ah, well, doesn’t matter. Whatever her reasons were, she doesn’t think she can sell this to a publisher, so she passes.

Remember Rule # 1! (There IS no #2.)

Friday, April 21, 2006

Short post

I do not like political comments on blogs. Even humorous ones, because they're guaranteed to alienate a significant percentage or the readers who will, inevitably, have a different opinion.


I got an email today from one of my old (literally) Navy buddies with several humorous aviation-related anecdotes, and one of them made me laugh out loud. Some of you may well be offended, but I'm going to take that chance and repeat it.

(For those of you who didn't know, I'm a former Navy jet fighter pilot. I flew F-4 Phantoms off the USS Forrestal. Please don't hold that against me. That was a LONG time ago. I was young, ten feet tall and bullet proof, and KNEW I was the "best of the best!" I've since learned that there MAY be a (very) few who are better than I am at some things.)

(That's why my buddy sent me aviation-related stuff.)

Okay, enough lead-in. Here it is:

"When Hillary Clinton visited Iraq last month the Army Blackhawk helicopter used to transport the Senator was given the call sign "broomstick one." And they say the Army has no sense of humor!"

There. See? Some of you found that offensive. I apologize. I consider myself a political independent. I tend to vote for an individual, not a party. My beliefs lean towards libertarian. (Now ALL of you are likely offended! Sorry again.)


I'm still querying agents for representation of my first novel, CHERISH IS THE WORD. The current score is:

Queries sent -- 120
Requests for partials or more info -- 0
Level of interest -- minus 10

Well, dang. A lesser author might begin to get discouraged. Especially when a recent note from an agent read (verbatim, I swear, including punctuation and underlining):

Sorry! This seems like fiction writing to me — but not a novel. I'll pass.

Well, it's not a poem. And at 85,000 words, it's a bit long for a short story. Hmmmm.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Another great idea!

Well, leave it to RobotJam to come up with a simple, elegant solution to our (his and my) lawn problems! How ingenious. Kinda like the camouflage paint idea. I just LOVE creative people, don't you?

In case you missed his comment yesterday to my complaint about mowing in drought conditions, here it is:

“Extreme drought! My garden is swamp-like at the moment. My mower would actually sink if I went into the garden.

“This gives me an idea. I will box up some garden wetness and export it to you, in return if you could send me a mild drought (not an extreme drought please) we could solve both of our problems.”

But... uh... how does one box up and ship off a mild drought? I wonder what kind of container to use. And how much will the shipping charges be? The drought ought to be cheaper to ship than the “garden wetness,” because everybody knows that wet stuff is heavier than dry.

And mightn't Mother Nature be offended if we start messing with her grand scheme? I mean, if a Texas drought showed up in the U.K., do you think the “big picture” would get a little skewed? Not to mention some English wetness in South Texas!

I wonder if there’s some way around that. I mean, what a concept! We could start shipping blizzards to the ski areas in September and extend their season. We could send tropical weather to Canada in February, and Canadian cold fronts (they have plenty!) to the desert Southwest in August. Or maybe I should be thinking more globally. Why should one hemisphere have summer while the other has winter?

A plan like that would help the balance of trade. And there’s always demand for a change in the weather! Well, with a few exceptions. Like Hawaii most of the year. But even Hawaii gets an occasional typhoon, and the Hawaiians could export some of that wind and rain to hot, dry areas like parts of East Africa.

Just think! Golf courses could ship in some rain at night to keep the grass green, but always have sunny weather for daylight playing. We could all have a white Christmas every year. If we plan an outing at the beach we could ship in some warm sunny weather to be sure to get a great tan.

But I tend to get into trouble when I try to find a way around the natural order of things. I’ve always heard that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, or to mess around with her.

You know the old saying, right? ”If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t NOBODY Happy!” Well, that goes in spades for Mother Nature!

There just might be a backlash that would make my resistential conspiracy seem like small potatoes. (“Potatoes” DOES have an “e” in spite of Dan Quayle, doesn’t it?)

I mean, what if FedEx messed up and sent a flood to, say, New Orleans, and sunshine to the Sahara? What if everybody wanted a white Christmas and suddenly, on December 25, all the oceans froze.

Maybe I’d better leave well enough alone and file away this idea along with the one for camouflage paint for my house. It sounded good for a while, but...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

To mow or not?

This part of Texas is considered to be in an “extreme drought” condition. The fairways at the local golf course are brown, and the cracks in the ground in some spots are almost wide enough to swallow a golf ball.

So why would I even be THINKING about mowing? Well, the reason is the weeds — mainly thistles — that keep sticking up in random places well above the level of the dead, dying or dormant grass. And that looks tacky.

Besides, since we’ve cleaned out the attic and part of the garage, cleaned the mildew off the underside of the patio cover (but not the rest of the house... yet!), and are in a mode of “Let’s make this place look nice,” having a tacky-looking yard just doesn’t seem to fit.

The ground is SO dry that the mower throws up clouds of dust. Carol started watering the yard yesterday so I could cut the grass without blinding all the neighbors, but I had a small problem.

You see, I mow with a riding mower. (Yes, I’m a wimp. Especially in the kind of heat we had yesterday. But my excuse is that it’s a big yard and when I used to walk behind a mower it took hours more than it does now.) Fine, you say, so what was my problem?

Well, I told you my air compressor failed, remember? I needed to pump up the tires on my riding mower, and I don’t have a hand pump. And the old compressor never gave any indication of coming back to life. So we went to Sears and bought a new compressor and tank. After I had assembled the compressor and allowed it to run the requisite 15 minutes with the drain valve open to “break in,” I tried to air up the tires.

The darned valves were leaking so badly that the tires wouldn’t hold pressure, so I went to WalMart and bought two new valves. They helped a lot.

Once the tires were aired up I couldn’t start the mower because the battery was dead and there is no pull cord. I tried to jump-start it from my car battery, but one of the battery cables on the mower had corroded so badly that the end fell off.

I bought a new cable and installed a new battery. Then I remembered that I intended to sharpen the blade before the next time I mowed, so I got out my bench grinder, hooked it up and tried it out. To my surprise, it worked! But by this time it was too late to mow on Monday anyway, so I put everything away until today.

This evening, with a sharp blade, a new battery and cable, tires that hold air and a new compressor to air them up, I finally got the back yard mowed. Well, I mowed down the thistles and other weeds that were sticking up. And thanks to Carol’s watering I didn’t start a dust storm.

So between the cost of the compressor, valves, battery, cable, and the gasoline to run the mower, I spent a lot of money to mow a yard that didn’t really need to be mowed.

And now that Carol has started watering during the day, I’ll probably be mowing once a week until next fall.

I’m beginning to prefer thistles and weeds!

Monday, April 17, 2006

By popular demand

Well, Valkyrie demanded it — and she’s popular, right?

So, here’s Trevor:

C'mon, Valkyrie, tell me he's cute, because he's CUTE!! He's studying hard there, trying to figure out how to open his birthday presents.

Here he's enjoying his favorite gift:

THE WRAPPING PAPER! (Which his Mom, my daughter, tells me, he managed to get enough of in his mouth that he later gagged on the paper and threw up!)

And here he is in the tee shirt that Grammy Carol made for him:

There! Those are the pictures of my grandson that were demanded of me.


(Shhhh! I may have discovered something important!)

Remember last week how two different electrical appliances just suddenly stopped working on the same day? And I pretended indifference and just basically walked away whistling?

Well, today, the battery-powered appliance started working again! Same batteries, nothing different. It just started working. Now, what's up with that?

My compressor still doesn't work, though! And of course, of the two it is BY FAR the more expensive.

I'll give it a few more days. Maybe...

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Carol’s Wizardry

As many of you regulars know, I have a grandson who just celebrated his first birthday.

I have to say that I have exercised GREAT restraint in terms of posting baby pictures on this blog for all of you to Oooo and Ahhh over. I’m sure you’ll agree. Oh, there were a few. And I had a bunch posted on the web from our ski trip with a link to them from this blog, but that’s not the same.

Well, today is no different. I am NOT posting a picture of Trevor. But I HAVE to show you what Carol has done.

First, some background. Trevor isn’t talking yet, but his parents have noticed that he just loves the Geico Gecko. Whenever it comes on television, Trevor just smiles and cackles. He even recognizes its voice. One day he wasn’t looking at the screen when the commercial came on. The gecko started speaking in its Aussie accent, and Trevor stopped what he was doing and whipped his head around to see, then he started laughing.

So, given that, Carol went to the Geico web site and found a picture of the gecko lounging on top of the word “GEICO.” Using Adobe Photoshop she replaced the word “GEICO” with “TREVOR,” and...

Well here, let me show you.

And then, the inside of the card:

And of course, in true Grandma fashion, Carol ALSO printed an iron-on image of the gecko lounging on the word "Trevor" (as shown above) and transferred it to the front of a tee shirt.

According to a report from Trevor's parents, THEIR favorite gift for him was the tee shirt. However, in true one-year-old fashion, HIS favorite gift (the one he played with the most) was...

...Yeah, the wrapping paper.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Quick update…

Weather is great. Cool (almost cold) at night and warm (almost hot) during the days.

Golf was very good on Friday (Good Friday, right? Right!) but not so good today. Well, for me anyway. Carol did quite well as usual.

The camper and the car are both performing completely as we hoped they would (no problems at all), which makes us wonder what indeed may be going on at our house back in Victoria. Guess we’ll find out tomorrow.

Oh! Free Wi-Fi at the campground here, which is nice.

Hope all of you are having a wonderful weekend! More in a day or two.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Get outta town!

I have exercised great restraint for the past week or so. Back in March I told you that Carol and I were planning an Easter weekend getaway in our camper-trailer. But since then you’ve not heard (read?) a word from me about it.

Oh yes, the preparations have continued, and we are just about ready to go. But I’m beginning to have misgivings.

About the trip? Oh, no! The trip ought to be wonderful, and we have tee times at two different golf courses we like to play in the Texas hill country. My misgivings concern the resisitential conspiracy.

This evening I was doing some last-minute (since we’re leaving tomorrow after work) prep chores. One of those was to check the air pressure in the trailer tires. I have an old air compressor hooked up to an electric motor, so I powered it up and made sure the tire pressure was at 60 p.s.i.

That task complete, I disconnected the compressor and thought I was done for the day. But a doubt arose. Was the correct pressure 60, or 65? I looked it up. Ah, it was 65.

Back to the compressor. I flipped on the power switch and...nothing. Was there power to the outlet? Yes. Was everything connected properly? Yes. But the motor just sat there, still and silent.

I checked for a fuse or circuit breaker. I checked the cord and the connections.


Then I thought, “Resistentialism! It’s back!”

I immediately calmed, not wanting to give this conspiracy any sense of power through a furious reaction on my part. I whistled a tune as I coiled up the cord and put the air hose away. Having decided that 60 p.s.i. was close enough, I went back inside the house feigning satisfaction.

I told Carol (quietly) about what happened, and THEN she told me that one of HER electrical appliances mysteriously stopped working today! The thing is battery powered, so the problem is NOT in the wiring or electric supply. She replaced the batteries with brand new ones, but the device is just dead.

So, we’ll see how the camping trip goes.

(I wonder if the car will start tomorrow.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

No text today -- just pictures.

I thought you might enjoy these.

Click HERE to see them, then hit your "Back" button to return.

Monday, April 10, 2006

NOT a good idea.

If you’ve followed the discussion (posts and comments) on this blog about the mildew problems on various outside surfaces of my house, you’ll know that my U.K. friend RobotJam has proposed an elegant solution.

Well, actually I mentioned it in passing first. You know — the idea about camouflage paint? My thought was that since mildew is splotchy and multi-hued by nature, the best way to prevent folks from noticing it is to paint the offending surfaces with a color on which it won’t show up. Then the mildew can form and grow to its heart’s content, and I wouldn’t have to clean the house!

(Does mildew have a heart? One doubts that very much.)

It seemed like an easier job to paint the house once rather than clean the outside once or twice a year. And then RobotJam’s extensive research revealed that camouflage paint is available in gallon containers and even in spray cans.

Spray cans? Isn’t that like the old joke about, “Go fetch me a can of striped paint?” How can you spray on a mottled, camouflage pattern of colors?

I went back to the web site (link) RJ provided and read the fine print. It says, “...when blended to U.S. military color patterns.”

OOOOHHHH! It doesn’t just come out of the can in various colors in a camouflage pattern. It must be applied as some kind of blend. Gee, maybe this won’t be such an easy solution after all. And then I started thinking (a rare experience for me, according to Carol) about the possible outcomes of applying this proper blend of colors and patterns to my house.

First, my mail delivery would stop. I mean, if the house were camouflaged, the mail-lady wouldn’t be able to see it any more as it blended into the trees, shrubbery and other background. Clearly she wouldn’t deliver mail to an address where there’s no house.

Next our utilities would be turned off (for the same reason). The electric company would notice that their wires just ended at the edge of a black roof suspended somehow above an apparent jungle. I’m sure they would disconnect those wires at the pole.

Since the house would become essentially invisible, I’d probably have to defend against lawsuits filed by people who cut across what looked like a vacant lot and ran smack into a brick wall they couldn’t see.

I might even find a car or a truck in my living room for the same reason. After all; I live on a corner lot and people do occasionally cut across the corner to take the turn faster. Especially on weekend nights when the alcohol has been flowing.

No, after some serious consideration, I think I’ll just buy some stock in Clorox and wash the mildew off once or twice a year.

But thanks anyway, RJ, for what seemed like a good idea at the time.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

"A trouble shared is a trouble doubled"

The quote above was sent to me in a comment by RobotJam. He was referencing my post of a few days ago about a couple of lessons I learned this week.

That post seemed to resonate with a lot of my wonderful readers. I get a number of direct emails in addition to the comments that all can see. In fact, there was so much interest that I feel I need to make a few more points that I left out of the original post in the interest of brevity.

(Yes, I understand the appeal of brevity, even though some of my posts can be wordy as heck.)

(Is heck wordy? One wonders.)

As several of you pointed out, he really needs legal advice. Early in our conversation I asked him if he had consulted with a lawyer. He was non-committal. So later (about an hour into it) I suggested that he talk to a lawyer right away!

He had just told me about one retail store account that his wife had opened, and that had now been turned over to a collection agency for non-payment. The agency was dunning her (of course), but had also called him at home. He asked them if, should he pay off the balance for her, he could then close the account to prevent it from starting all over again. He was told no. The account was not in his name, so he could not close it.

He asked them, “If it’s not in my name, why should I pay for any of the charges?” They told him that as her husband, he can be held legally liable for (at least part of) her debts.

And though I’m NOT a lawyer, my understanding is that in Texas that is true. We are what is called a “community property” state, and generally, barring a contract (like a pre-nuptial agreement) to the contrary, all property and debts are deemed to belong jointly to both parties in a marriage. Even if they are separated!

I’ve also heard that there are ways to limit one’s liability. But yes, my employee needs to speak to a lawyer about this post haste!

Some of you also pointed out the damage this whole episode is doing to their four children. Very true. He told me of the oldest boy’s straight A grades last year, while this year he is failing two (high school) subjects. According to my employee, the wife seems unconcerned about this. (Again, I’m only hearing ONE SIDE of a complex situation.) He thinks she has compulsive spending problems, similar to an addiction to drugs, alcohol or gambling. Maybe so.

In any case, be assured that I DID recommend strongly to him to seek legal advice ASAP before she wipes out all of his retirement savings and the accounts he has for the boys’ college. Assuming they can get INTO college if their grades continue to suffer from their parents’ split.

What a mess!

Anyway, many of YOU have also taken on this family’s troubles as I did, doubling them many times over.

I have big-hearted readers.

(Oh, and Rob? I WOULD paint my house green if the mildew were all green, but some of it is black and various shares of dirty gray. Maybe the “camouflage” look is what I need.)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Who cares about my weather?

Nobody. I know that.

“Everybody talks about the weather, but” (and yeah, I know, you’ve heard this...So has everybody else) “nobody does anything about it.”

(Education time: That quote is attributed to Mark Twain, although it doesn’t appear in any of his books.) (That was free.)

That said, it’s supposed to be 90 here today (a record for this date) with partly cloudy skies. And tomorrow, after a weak cool front blows through, it’s supposed to be 82 with bright sunshine.

Hint: You’ll probably find Carol and yours truly out on the golf course in the early to mid afternoon. These days in the 80s with some breeze blowing are great for golf.

But first there’ll be some projects to work on for the rest of the day. We live in a mild, humid climate that’s perfect for the growth of mildew on many outside surfaces around the house. Examples include the bricks (ours are white, and the mildew gives them a sickly green tinge), the fascia boards around the edge of the roof, the white-painted soffit boards under the roof overhang, and the underside of our back patio cover.

At least once a year Carol decides that the mildew is winning and it’s time for us to fight back. So we break out the Clorox and detergent, spray the offending off-colored surfaces, scrub them with some kind of brush, and rinse off the residue. It’s not unlike washing the car, except the house is MUCH bigger than the car and takes a LOT longer to get clean.

In Carol’s defense, I WILL say that the house looks much better when the white surfaces are white than it does when they are green or black. And mildew never produces a solid covering of one color. If it did we could always pretend that we intended the fascia boards to be dark grey in some areas. But no, mildew has to create streaks and splotches that vary in size, shape and hue so much that nobody thinks them to be anything other than what they are: the result of a lazy homeowner.

Even though Forest Gump said, “Lazy is as lazy does,” (...or was that “stupid?” Ah, same difference) nobody wants their neighbors to cluck their tongues as they pass, point at the offending house, and say (or think), “What lazy people must live there.”

So, although we won’t get even close to the entire exterior of the house clean tomorrow, at least we’ll make a start at it. And then we’ll play golf.

Weather permitting.

But you don’t care about our weather. So forget I mentioned it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

So little time

Busy at work, projects at home.

Lame blog post today. I had good intentions, but no time to write one of my brilliant, witty posts. Not even enough to throw together one of my boring work-related ones.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a poem for the blog, but that’s for a day when I’ve got PLENTY of time.

So, what do you get today? How about a LAST picture of the yucca, now that the bloom is history?

It was really pretty when it was starting to put out its white flowers, and quite impressive when the entire stalk was covered with them. But beauty fades, and charm is deceitful. Time’s tyranny overcomes just about everything, it seems.

Thus also a yucca bloom. Here’s the current status:

It was pretty for a week or two.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I learned a couple of lessons

Yesterday an employee stopped by my office and asked for 5 minutes of my time. I smiled, put down my pencil, turned off the calculator (I’d been figuring up the total cost increase on our benefits plan for the next 12 months), and said, “Sure! C’mon in and have a seat.”

90 minutes later he left, and I wasn’t smiling.

He told me he and his wife had separated, leaving him with their four boys. She’d given him no reason other than, “I’m not happy, and I need some space.” Without his knowledge she had signed a lease on an apartment. She moved out of their house and into the apartment the same day she told him about it.

Ah, but meanwhile she had been spending (mainly on credit cards) a LOT of money on outfits, furnishings for the apartment, pots and pans, and just “stuff.”

He managed to get her to agree to go to counseling, but after two visits during which she refused to discuss any issues of substance, she stopped going. She’ll stop in every now and then to see the boys, but that’s it. And she’s still spending (with credit cards) way more than she makes.

(At this point I reminded myself that I was only hearing ONE side of a complex story, and I knew there was a lot he WASN’T telling me. I figured he just needed somebody to confide in and talk to. That happens occasionally in HR. So I tried to be empathetic, but not actually take on any of his problems.)

He told me that they were both getting calls from collection folks on past due balances and non-payment of bills. I asked if he knew how much she owed (knowing that in Texas, he likely has a legal responsibility for at least half of any debts she incurs while they’re still married). He told me she owes $140 on one card and about $300 on another.

I thought, “That’s not so bad.”

Lesson number 1: What he meant was; those amounts were not her balance, but her current minimum monthly payment! And he told me that since she can’t pay that much, there are late payment fees added every month on TOP of the outrageous interest they charge. OUCH! (And those weren’t the only two credit cards she was using.)

Then he asked me for help finding a financial counselor he could talk to and maybe take his wife to go see. I told him I would think about it and try to come up with someone. He left.

I began to go through the resources I had, including our EAP counseling service (which includes legal and financial help), local church-related or other non-profit agencies that might help, the local United Way office for a referral, and more.

I made some calls. I thought about it overnight. I worried about it on the way to work this morning. In spite of myself, I had taken on HIS problem and made it partly MY problem.

Today I got back together with him at lunch time and began to review my list of possible sources of help. After just a few sentences he cut me off, and said, “That’s okay, last night I found a service listed on a web site that I think will help. They have an office in Victoria. I’m going to go see them.”

Oh... Okay... Good. (I shut up.)

Lesson number 2: As I KNEW, all he’d really wanted was for somebody to listen. He didn’t really want advice or help, just a sympathetic ear. But even though I KNEW that, I still took on his problems and worried (a little) about them.

Maybe next time I won’t have to re-learn these lessons.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

“Break a leg?”

Christina just called. That’s my daughter who lives in Tampa.

Last week her husband Johnny was riding his Honda motor scooter, slid on some gravel, put his foot down to avoid a fall and sprained his ankle. His left foot swelled up to twice the size of the right one, and hurt like the dickens.

(I wonder just exactly how much the “dickens” hurts. Probably a lot.)

That was on Wednesday. He went to the doctor on Thursday, who prodded around and pronounced it sprained. He wanted some x-rays to be sure, but it was too late that day so Johnny went back on Friday for the radiology.

He called on Friday afternoon for the results, but the doctor wasn’t available to talk to him and the nurse said she wasn’t allowed to “read” the x-rays and discuss them with him.

The doc had prescribed some non-narcotic pain pills, and they weren’t cutting the pain at all. (Yeah, that proves that the “dickens” really DOES hurt.)

By Monday (yesterday) Johnny was seriously unhappy. When he called the doctor’s office he got the same run-around about nobody could read his x-rays but the doctor, and the doctor wasn’t available.

He demanded some stronger pain pills, and someone there called in a script for some percocet. The told him they’d call him back about the x-rays later.

This morning (Tuesday), Johnny called again, very unhappy. Nobody had called about his x-rays. At this point a “nurse practitioner” came on the line and told him she couldn’t believe that nobody had called him because the x-rays clearly showed that his ankle was broken!

Johnny was NOT a happy camper. Neither is Christina, who thought all weekend that he was whining an awful lot about a sprained ankle.

They then told him they’d get him in to see an orthopedist to set the ankle on Thursday, and he had a fit. “It will have been broken for over a week by then!” he reminded them. By now I’d say he was MAD as the dickens! (And I’m sure that’s pretty mad!)

The point was made, however, because they were able to make arrangements for him to see an orthopedist tomorrow (Wednesday).

Oh, and did I mention that they are planning to move into a new, larger apartment this weekend? Christina is trying to make arrangements for someone to help them move. She may have to hire some people if all else fails, because Johnny probably won’t be able to carry much from the truck into the new place. Even though it’s on the ground floor.

And no, in case you’re wondering about the title of this post, Johnny was NOT on his way to an audition or a performance.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Are we soft yet?

No, that was NOT a personal question. It was rhetorical.

(If you don’t know what a “rhetorical” question is, look it up. It’s a very good word. I ask a lot of rhetorical questions.)

So, back to “soft.” I’m referring, as I’m sure all of you know, to the “softening up” process that the resistentialism conspiracy is putting us through.

If the resisitential forces are “smart” enough to know, I guess the answer is that I, at least, am NOT soft enough by their standards. Which is good, because that means the really bad, expensive problems and failures are still around the corner.

This weekend it was our icemaker. The little arm that goes up and down to stop the device from filling up the entire freezer with ice, wouldn’t go all the way down. Now right there you can see that this is a MINOR problem. Why? Because that meant that the icemaker would not make any ice.

(If the arm is UP, that stops ice production. You knew that, right? If not, take my word for it.)

You see, if the arm would not go UP the device WOULD have jammed every rack and shelf with so much ice it would take me half the Texas summer to defrost the appliance. As it was, it just stopped dumping the ice it made until I pushed the arm down the last half-inch.

Now the apparent problem is that the spring pulling the arm down has weakened with age. But we all know the spring is fine, right? It’s the conspiracy again, no doubt. I could have tried to find a replacement spring, but getting to that darned little piece of coiled steel is a real challenge.

Not to mention finding a small part for anything at all these days. All appliances are made so that when the smallest part fails you have to replace the whole “assembly.” That guarantees the manufacturer more profit. Yeah, it’s wasteful. But profit trumps everything else today, it seems.

So what did I do? I took a two-ounce lead fishing sinker (minus the hook and line) and duct-taped it to the little arm. Thus weighted, the arm drops all the way down despite the weak spring. Problem solved. Total repair time, about two minutes. Most of that was spent finding a utility knife to cut a strip of duct tape the proper width.

So now the ice maker is happily making ice again.

I just hope the duct tape doesn’t spring a loose end that sticks the arm down so the machine fills up the freezer with ice. If that happens, Carol will likely ask some questions that will NOT be rhetorical.

She might even throw in a little extra rhetoric, just to get her point across.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Mother Nature’s April Fools joke

Here in South Texas we’re having record high temperatures.

Well, they’re in the upper 80s, so they’re not exactly scorching, but it’s still pretty warm. Carol and I walked 18 holes at the golf course this afternoon, and our clothes were damp when we got home.

And no, it didn’t rain on us! It was just warm and humid.

But what got me thinking about an April fools joke is the fact that the June Bugs are out in force right now. Not quite swarming, but in significant numbers.

June bugs? In April? Isn’t that a month early... or maybe two? Or is it the fact that April and June both have 30 days, and we just turned all the clocks an hour ahead, so the bugs are confused?

THAT makes sense. Or does it? Now I’M confused. But I confuse pretty easily sometimes.

Last night I asked Carol, “Do we fall forward, and spring back? Or is it spring forward and fall back?” We looked in the local paper, and the article there assured us to spring forward. But the VERY NEXT article warned us to beware of April fools jokes, so we weren’t sure.

This morning we checked the Weather Channel on TV, and it appears that we were correct to move our clocks forward. Unless the Weather Channel is ALSO playing an April fools joke on us.

In any case, as I write this, my computer, my watch, and my cell phone ALL tell me it’s 6:00 P.M. But I don’t know if I should believe ANY of them, given what I know about the ongoing conspiracy.

Well, tomorrow morning when I get to work I’ll either be on time or an hour early. Then I’ll know. Unless the others in the office are all playing April fools jokes on me. And they would! They’re like that.

But back to Mother Nature. I fear that she is sending us this unseasonably warm weather to soften us up for Easter weekend when Carol and I plan to go out of town in our camper to golf in the Texas hill country.

Then we’ll probably have frost! Or snow.

That would be a REAL April fools joke. (They need to schedule the time change for some day other than April 1!)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Enough comments

Okay, I’ve had 4 comments and an email. I consider that to be a decent number, so here we go. (Plus several of you had sen this before. Oh, well.)

The rest of the email, after you scroll down, was as follows:

Answer: She was hoping that the guy would appear at the funeral again.

If you answered this correctly, you think like a psychopath. This was a test by a famous American Psychologist used to test if one has the same mentality as a killer. Many arrested serial killers took part in the test and answered the question correctly.

If you didn't answer the question correctly good for you. If you got the answer correct, please let me know so I can take you off of my blogroll list... Unless that will tick you off, in which case I'll just be extra nice to you from now on.

My problem with that? I got the “right” answer! So did Carol. So did my daughter in Chicago. Christina won't tell me.

(Hmmm. Maybe YOU better be extra nice to US!)

Wait a minute. I KNOW we’re not a family of psychopaths!
(And yes, Robot Jam, that's the spelling. In the UK it may be different though.)
I re-read the paragraphs above and thought, “famous American Psychologist...?” Uhhh... That sounded hokey to me.

So I looked it up on Sure enough it’s just an old hoax. Here’s the link.

So, NOW if you want to comment and tell me your answer and defend it, fine. If not, well, I CAN find out where you live, you know!