Sunday, September 25, 2011

So many books, so little time.

I went to Borders the first weekend after I learned they were closing. I'm an avid book reader and knew there would be good sales. But the first weekend proved to be too soon. The place was packed and most of the books were only 20% off.  So I waited another month before venturing back into store. Most of the books were still 20% off, but the 30% off discount had appeared. I bought a few books at one location and headed to another borders and bought a few more.

I felt like I was playing a waiting game with Borders. I wanted to time it so that I went one last time right before the stores closed because I knew the books would be crazy cheap. Obviously the trick was not waiting too long when the stores closed for good.

A few weeks ago Borders published a list of closing dates on their locations and the 2 stores closest to my house were closing within 5 days. I made a dash to each store and yes indeed, the prices were cheap...most, if not all, of the books were $1. Both stores were nearly empty of their merchandise but I managed to find 3 hardbacks and a handful of books for that crazy price of a dollar a piece.

And now looking at all the books that I bought, I'm wondering what in the world I was thinking.

In addition to the books I bought at Borders, I have dozens and dozens of books waiting to be read. I'm on the email list of  Amazon's daily book blog "Omnivoracious", NPR's book list, Good Reads and I'm in a monthly book club. The websites provide most of my reading material in addition to anything that I may hear on NPR.  Sometimes when I'm in Barnes and Noble, I will happen across a book that looks interesting and I add that title to my growing list. When we go on vacation, a book on the natural history of, or the environmental history of the city or state we're visiting is a MUST. I can't tell you how many books I bought on vacation that I have yet to read. Did I mention I also have a Nook?

I know I'm obsessed with books. I may even be a book hoarder. But there's nothing better to occupy your time while waiting at the doctor's office, the garage or dentist's office than a good book. Reading while waiting for a flight and during the flight helps curb my impatience. Yes I am one of those "Are we there yet?" kind of people.  Reading gives my brain something to do and enables me to wind down at night before bed.

And I love a good series. I like watching characters develop and how they react to unfolding events in their fictitious lives. The Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews and the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs are my favorite urban fantasy series. A new series I've grown attached to are the Noble Dead by Barb and JC Hendee.  Other favorite series include The Dragonlance Chronicles, The Dark Disciple Series and The War of Souls, all by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. I enjoy the Rogue Angel series by Alex Archer (The main character is a she-Macgyver! How can I not love those books?)

So many books and not enough time. At the rate I continue to buy and borrow books, I'm not sure I'll ever get them all read.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Week One of the Diet

Last Wednesday I started the Weight Watchers Diet. I had been thinking about dieting for some time, but joining Weight Watchers (WW) last week was kind of spontaneous. I jumped on the scale and found that I had again gained weight and in a fit of anger and sadness, I googled Weight Watchers, and signed up.

I weighed myself this morning and am happy to report I lost 3 pounds! The website says to expect to lose 1-2 pounds a week. I know it will be a slow process and 3 pounds may not seem like much, but it's a step in the right direction.

This is my first experience with a diet and the first 2-3 days were pretty hard. I was hungry almost the entire day. It wasn't a rumble in your tummy, shaky kind of hungry, but that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach. And sometimes it seemed I was more hungry AFTER I ate. WW is based on a point system and the amount of carbohydrates, fat, fiber and protein determine how many points a food item is. For example, a Skinny Cow ice cream bar is worth 3 points and the Chicken Teriyaki Broccoli thing I made one night was 5 points. The good thing about WW is that you can have an unlimited number of fresh fruits and vegetables because they are worth 0 points. So anytime the hunger was hard to deal with, I usually grabbed an apple or a banana. I ate A LOT of fruits and vegetables last week. I don't think I've ever had that much fresh produce. EVER.

The first few days were difficult with planning meals but it is getting easier. I spent a lot of time researching and printing recipes from the WW website and calculating points from the ingredients in the recipes in my cookbooks. I'm still a little worried about planning lunches and snacks. I know at some point I'm going to get bored with eating produce when the snack monster attacks.

I'm learning what foods keep me fuller longer (or less hungry) and figuring out how to manage my points so that I can squeeze in a sweet treat. I know that the all-or-nothing approach to any change in habits usually ends in failure and really, dieting is about moderation. I'm not going to completely give up my chocolate.

I'll continue to take it one day at a time. Rome wasn't built in a day.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Homes of the things that sting

I'll begin this post with a warning. This entry is not for those who are squeamish at the mere mention of bees and wasps. This isn't going to be a gory entry by any means, but I am going to delve into the life histories of the things that sting.

This entry was inspired by the sight of this house on a house.

This is the home of a Paper Organ Mud Dauber Wasp (Trypoxylon politum).  These non-aggressive, solitary wasps belong to the Crabronidae family and this includes digger wasps and sand wasps, all considered "hunter wasps". The female wasp gathers mud and builds her nest, where she deposits an egg in each nest cell. The male wasp will guard the nest and mate with the female each time she returns to the nest to feed the larvae. Spiders are the primary food for the growing larvae.

Danno and I rarely use the front door as we enter the house through the garage. At some point (probably last summer, from the looks of the nest) a paper wasp created a nest on the frame of our front door. Yikes!
Paper Wasps are in the Vespidae family and the Hymenoptera order. (Bees and ants also belong in this order.) There are several species of paper wasps and all are social. An overwintering paper wasp  emerges in spring and begins building a nest. A queen gathers fibers from dead limbs, exposed boards, paper litter and plant stems. In the next phase of building the female will gather water from puddles, bird baths or other shallow water sources. Then she will regurgitate that water to connect the paper fibers of the nest and create a waterproof coating on top.  It's not long before the nest is buzzing with activity. The eggs hatch into larvae, which remain in this stage for about 2 weeks before entering the pupal stage. The queen then covers the developing pupae with more paper. The queen continues to build nest cells and lay eggs. Meanwhile, sterile females emerge 3 weeks later from the covered cells and finish building the other nest cells that the queen started, and assist in feeding the larvae and pupae while the queen continually lays eggs. Later in the summer, the queen will lay eggs from which fertile males and females will develop. Once this happens, the queen stops laying eggs, the sterile females stop working and the males and females mate and depart the nest. The males will die during the winter but the females survive to begin the cycle again in the spring.

Did you know that you can make a Bee Box?

The Ecology Center has scattered several bee boxes across the property. These boxes consist of blocks of wood with holes of varying sizes to attract a diversity of bees. These are made to attract solitary bees, who, unlike the society-minded bumblebees and honeybees, prefer to live alone. The Andrenidae and Halicitidae families are the largest solitary bee families. There are some minor behavioral differences between these families, but both nest in underground burrows. You can often find these nests in bare earth or sand. The entrances are usually the diameter of a pencil and it is not unusual to find the excavated earth piled up around the entrance.  There are many types of bee boxes you can make and some are made to place either on or in the ground.

The houses from which these insects are raised are just one aspect of their fascinating stories. There are several books and websites to learn about our wasp and bee friends. I'm still a bit squeamish around the stingers, but the more I read, the less afraid I become and the more my respect grows for  these insects. At the very least, I can tolerate their present and not freak out when they buzz in my direction.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why I love small businesses

I ran some errands yesterday afternoon and hit mostly the small businesses in town. I try my best to shop at the smaller stores but it's getting increasingly difficult to find those mom-and-pop places because they are getting swallowed up by the giant cookie-cutter retail chains. But yesterday reminded me why it's worth the extra effort.

First stop was the pharmacy. I ditched Walgreens a few years ago because it sometimes took them DAYS (despite the fact I was calling the pharmacy daily) to call my doctor when approval was needed for a refill and after this happened at least 3 times too many, I opted for the smaller pharmacy about a mile down the road. Initially I was hesitant to make the switch. I had never gone to another pharmacy other  than Walgreens. Were smaller pharmacies more prone to drug mistakes or charged more for medicine? But I found the prices cheaper and the customer service hard to beat.

I went in and found the technician pulling my prescription (I don't even have to tell  them my name anymore. They recognize me) and as she rang me up, she asked how my old lady cat was feeling these days. (My oldest cat is in congestive heart failure and has arthritis and she too, gets medicine from this place)  The pharmacy staff is always pleasant.Once I had a drug mix up and I called the pharmacist in a panic. She went above and beyond the call of duty to calm me down and looked up interactions and what not and told me my mistake wasn't the end of the world but to call my doctor regardless. Then she ordered me to call her back when I was finished talking to him for  the follow up. The next time I went in I thanked her profusely and got a hug. I don't  think I would have received that kind of service at Walgreens.

The next stop was the animal clinic to pick up food and more medication for the old lady cat. I've taken my animals to both the big and small clinics over the years and the small clinics win hands down. Granted, the small clinics do not treat the big emergencies or complicated illnesses like the one I had with the old lady cat, but they referred us to a state-of-the-art clinic. When I walked in the door I was greeted with the sight of the receptionists holding kittens. Evidently Thursday evenings are "ladies night" at the clinic, as there is no male staff after 3pm so the receptionists have been bringing their kittens in to work with them. How cute is that?

The veterinarian who sees old lady cat has become a friend and was there during that crisis where my vet friend was not only taking care of old lady cat, but me as well (She probably didn't realize she was going to be a little bit of a therapist during that time). She has loaned me her dog crate to use as a hospital room and now, a handicap zone for old lady cat. There is a litter box and cat bed in the crate so she doesn't have to go downstairs to use the box. Steps are hard on old lady cat legs. I've also become good friends with one of the receptionists and I look forward to going in and chatting with her, even if she is mean to me ;)

Next stop was the local hardware store. I'm not sure why the existence of the Lowe's and Home Depots of the retail world really bother me. I go out of my way to avoid the retail giants because I think the mom-and-pop hardware stores are the greatest. They offer a little bit of everything, including those odds and ends that don't quite fit the hardware store category.  I'm willing to pay the bit of extra money for my merchandise because I see the same staff who are usually friendly and helpful. I haven't had many positive experiences within the walls of the chain hardware stores. No one has walked me to the aisle where my item was located and I'm met with indifference at the register.

I'm a sucker for family owned restaurants, small grocery stores, gift shops, independent book stores and coffee shops. I love the small buildings (or houses), the merchandise not always found in a retail giant, the decor, the regulars who frequent these places. I think that's why I love small towns so much. You find more of the mom-and-pop stores and restaurants in these places versus the big cities. You get a feel for the town in these small businesses and more personalization and interaction as well.

It's not everywhere you frequent where there's a Thursday Ladies Night complete with kittens.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I  am not a happy camper right now. I've been hungry all day and have had food on my brain. Obsessed you might say. If you haven't guessed by now, today is the first day of my diet. I joined Weight Watchers because I've been steadily gaining weight and haven't been able to shake it off.  Years of Starbucks, sweets, and fast food have taken their toll. I exercised for over a year and did not lose one pound, although I did not alter my diet to lose the weight. That fact was discouraging, but I really enjoyed the class and I felt good about myself. My endurance increased and my muscles gained definition. I loved it. But unfortunately, my knees did not. Despite the precautions and modifications, my knees were in agony, forcing me to quit the class. I have taken a lengthy break from the class, and with my doctor's permission and the teacher's blessing, I hope to return after the first of the year.

I will also say that the antidepressants I've been on are also partially responsible for my weight gain. It's no secret I'm on medication. Most of my friends know I struggle with depression. I'm not ashamed of it. But the side effects of being taken off this medicine to try that medicine have taken their toll and I AM ashamed of the weight gain. I hate it. I hate the way I look.

So I joined Weight Watchers and today was the first day of dieting. I don't know how Weight Watchers can be complicated and easy at the same time, but it is. The IDEA of points is easy, the website is awesome in helping you add up food points. There is even a little box where you can put in the calories, protein, fiber and carbohydrate numbers of  the food item in question and the website will spit back how many points to add to your day. If you don't know the numbers of the food you are about to partake in, there's a good chance it is in the Weight Watchers website. You type in the food description under the search engine and PRESTO, there are the points! What seems complicated to me is all the planning and organization of your meals and snacks. I was planning on making a mexican lasagna and figured it would have a moderate number of points, but there were a lot of vegetables (0 points! You can pretty much eat as many fruits and veggies as you want because they are all 0 points).  WRONG! The spices were 3-4 points A PIECE and the points for the black beans made me cry. My seemingly healthy recipe was a whopping 42 points. I'm allowed 29 points a day and I have 42 extra points I can dip into each week.

Organization is not my strength. I can be organized to a point, but the organization needed for  this diet is going to be a challenge. I rarely plan my meals ahead of time. Lunch and Dinner are more of a daily spur-of-the-moment, "oh this sounds good to me!" type of deal. Apparently I need to change my ways.

I'm also worried this isn't going to work. I mean, I know I should have changed my diet while I exercised, but I still can't believe I did not lose one pound.  I'm not a terrible terrible eater. I don't eat a steady diet of junk. I hope that when I start bike riding (I've heard riding and swimming are easy on the knees) and walking that little bit will be the kick needed to lose the weight. I was also warned that it can be difficult to lose weight while on antidepressants. The medication is a necessity and stopping the drugs is not an option. And of course, weight gain is another side effect of stopping antidepressants. So I'm damned either way.

I will remain optimistic and try my best to keep the whining to a minimum.

But dang I'm hungry.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Repels animals AND humans!

The smell showed up sometime in July. It was an odd odor, a little like dog poo, but it also had that bitter acidic smell reminiscent of cat urine.  The smell seemed to be concentrated in the dining room, which really isn't the dining room, but a catch all room. The table essentially catches the daily mail and anything we purchase from an errand. In the corner of the dining room (next to the door that goes to the garage) sits all our shoes on a mat.

The first day I noticed the smell, I crawled around on the floor and looked for poo or wet spots. When nothing was found, I went to the table but still nothing. No wet mail, magazines or bags. My purse was dry as well. I mentioned the smell to Danno and told him to keep his eye open for the cause behind the unexplained smell.

All through July and August the odor persisted. Periodically during those months I would stick my nose on the table or a chair and even my purse and inhale to see if one of the cats had peed on that object. I lifted shoes to look for remnants of dog feces. I vacuumed the dining room carpet and washed the table. I even dusted, but the smell remained.

Then this last Friday I noticed a plastic bag in the corner of the mat where all the shoes sat. Why had I not ever looked in THAT bag? I probably looked at that bag almost every day when I put on a pair of shoes. I opened the bag and the smell nearly knocked me over. Yup. THIS was the source of the smell. Inside the bag was a bottle of REPELS ALL that had tipped over and leaked about a tablespoon's worth of its contents.

It all came back to me as I looked at that bottle. Back in May Toadputty and I planted a bunch of plants in front of HF only to have a family of squirrels and probably a rabbit or two make lunch out of most of those beautiful flowers a few weeks later. I went to the hardware store in search of an animal repellent and decided REPELS ALL was the best product to buy to punish those critters and hopefully keep them away from what few plants remained alive. But the bottle never made it to HF because the summer drought fried the rest of the flowering plants.

REPELS ALL claimed to deter Armadillos, Beavers, Birds, Cats, Crows, Chipmunks, Deer, Groundhogs, Mice, Porcupines, Rabbits, Raccoons, Rats, Skunks, Shrews and Voles. Technically, the only birds in North America that have a sense of smell are the vultures (Black Vultures, Turkey Vultures and the California Condor). Other birds, such as CROWS and the like, DO NOT have a sense of smell, but I digress. The list did not include squirrels, but I figured if the animal had a sense of smell, it would avoid the spray.  The ingredients of REPELS ALL were Dried Blood, Putrescent Whole Egg Solids and Garlic Oil.

I carried the bag at arm's length and deposited it outside near my flowers. When Danno returned home from work, I told him I discovered the source of that persistent strange odor. He told me that he too kept picking up our shoes to look for dog poo cling ons. 

The odor has mostly dissipated from the dining room although every now and then I get a whiff of that terrible smell. The area around our patio where I placed the bottle now smells like dog poo and cat pee, or putrescent whole egg solids and dried blood I suppose.

The bottle should add humans to the list of living things it repels because the odor certainly kept Danno and I out of the dining room.