Thursday, February 27, 2014

Apple: Fine Purveyor of First World Problems…

On Tuesday, I was happily sitting at my computer working on editing some photos and listening to The Cuckoo’s Calling on my iPod when I glanced at the clock.  It was time for me to go downstairs to start dinner.  So I shut down my computer and went to turn off my iPod.  The computer shut down, but my iPod stubbornly refused to do so.  “Eek!” I thought, “What’s wrong with this thing??”  Panic set in.  In normal circumstances, I would just try to fix it, but we are going to be getting on a plane on Sunday to go to St. John, USVI, with good friends and I can’t imagine myself on a plane these days without the distraction my iPod gives me.

After quite a few minutes searching on the interweb for clues and fixes, I had to just give up.  My iPod was irrevocably broken, the on/off toggle was caput and there was nothing I could do about it.  Then the panic really did set in.  What was I going to do on a plane for four hours without the comfort of Bach’s cello concertos streaming into my skull?

Greg, who is much calmer about such things, said that we should go out to eat that night and we would go to Best Buy on Wednesday and pick up a new iPod.  And that’s what we did, even though I wasn’t too happy about it.

Well, my first two iPods were green so I decided that if I went with a blue one this time, maybe my luck would change.  I got the new blue one home, sat down at my computer to put my stuff on it and my computer wouldn’t recognize it.  I picked it up and looked at it.  The screen was stuck on the Apple logo screen and wouldn’t budge.  “I can’t frickin’ believe this,” I thought.  “What is it with me and Apple??”

Just about then, our son Evan got home from work and informed us that his iPhone wasn’t charging.  So we repeated the steps of looking to the interweb for clues and fixes.  Long story short, his iPhone seemed to be irrevocably broken.  Now, I could actually live without my iPod if I had to, but Evan really does need his phone.  So he decided the best thing to do was to let the Geniuses take a look at it.

So off we went.  I retraced the 20 miles back to the Best Buy and Evan went off to the nearest Apple Store 40 miles in the opposite direction.

The nice young Geek at Best Buy thought it would be an easy fix, but after about twenty minutes, he admitted defeat and called someone over to get me a new iPod.  I stuck with the blue.  Geek said, with a sly grin on his face, that maybe now I should consider getting the extended warranty.  I told him that the other iPods lasted me four and three years respectively.  Again with the grin, he said, “Yeah, but this one only lasted you two hours.”  Well, I didn’t bite, but maybe I should have.  My times with my iPods keep getting narrower and narrower.

Evan got home a couple of hours later with the bad news that there was no way to resuscitate his iPhone.  The Geniuses were stumped.  Will wonders never cease?  He does have a “spare” with a broken screen that actually works so he may be able to limp along until we can figure out how to get him one that won’t break the bank.

Well, by then, it was pretty late, so we went out to dinner yet again and I had a little whine with mine.

It’s funny these days that we have become so dependent on these little electronic devices.  Heck, as much as I complained about my last iPod – it was too small, too hard to control, etc.—I took good care of it because I didn’t want to be without it.  I used it often.  I love the fact that I can listen to my books and to music anywhere and everywhere.  It’s a good thing….really.  But, you know, when I decided to write this today, I wanted to take some pictures of the three devices together, green iPod 1, green iPod 2, and blue iPod No. 2 in two hours, which I’m hoping will be my last for many years.  But, after an exhaustive search, green iPod2 had taken a powder and I can’t find it.  It’s on the lam.  So, it was a bad Apple after all.

Monday, February 24, 2014

All kinds of music…

When I was a kid, it seems like every house I went into had a piano in the living room.  We certainly did.  Ours was an old upright of indeterminable pedigree.  At some point in my teens or early twenties, that big upright got replaced by a nice compact spinet that still sits in the living room of my mother’s house. I took lessons on that old, big upright, but they never took on me.  I just don’t have a feel for the workings of musical notes.

I love this photo of my sister Susan playing the piano in 1960.
My Aunt Judy (right) with my sister Judy (left), her namesake.  Aunt Judy gave us piano lessons when we were young.

My mother’s family is very musical.  Of the eight of the siblings, almost all have had a relationship with music in some form or other.  But that music thing didn’t get handed down to me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like music, but I really prefer the written and spoken word.

This great old photo of my grandfather Oscar, center, and his twin brothers is one of my very favorites.  A copy of it sits on our piano.

We have a piano in our living room now.  It’s a spinet that was Greg’s mother’s piano so we are emotionally attached to it and it does make a nice focal point in the room, but there really isn’t any reason for it to be there otherwise.  It never gets touched except when I feel like dusting it.  But looking at it sometimes takes me back to my youth and a time when it seems like everyone had a piano in their living room.

I’m not really sure what made me think of this today.  Could be that a neighbor of ours recently posted on Facebook that they want to get rid of their piano together with the fact that I’m reading a really fantastic book right now, A Dance with Dragons by George R. R. Martin and listening to Robert Galbraith’s (aka J.K. Rowling) The Cuckoo’s Calling and the way those two can put words together is simply music to my ears.

Friday, February 21, 2014


1)  There are many things I like about winter in New England.  We get snow, but we also get a lot of sunny days here.  Today is a notable exception, however.  It’s foggy and drizzly.  But on those days that are sunny, the sky is BLUE.  It is bluer in the winter than it ever is in the summer and that blue may just be my favorite color.

2)  The icicles this year have been really amazing.  I managed to catch a few photos of them before they began to drip out of existence.  While I’ve seen larger ones that I didn’t manage to capture, I think a one-story icicle is still pretty impressive.

I titled this "Sick of Winter."  This is the public library in Brookfield, Massachusetts.

3)  I’ve seen a lot of American Robins around in our yard this winter.  To me, that seems like a new phenomenon, but I have a friend who claims that Robins have always been around in the winter, they just change their habits and spend more time in the woods where they have more natural shelter and food and spend less time out in the open.  I truly believe Dianne because she tends to know about such things, but it still seems strange to me to see them wandering around the yard throughout the winter.  I grew up thinking of them as harbingers of spring.  These days they don’t really bring any good news with them.  Still, I must admit, they are nice little flashes of color when they are around.

4)  Yep.  It’s a foggy, drizzly and generally ugly day today in Central Massachusetts...a reminder that we aren’t really that far away from Mud Season.

5)  I am an exceptionally messy cook.  I definitely need an apron.  I used to have one.  What the heck ever happened to that thing??  Anyhow, I was perusing Crate and Barrel the other day and they happened to have one on sale.  I bit and ordered it.  Here it is.  I love it.  The fabric is a Vera design.  I think it might make me want to cook more vegetables and even if it doesn't, it will help save my clothes.



Monday, February 17, 2014

The Difference between Capital and Capitol…

Ahhh, which to use where?  What exactly is the difference between capital and capitol anyway?  Well, I have to say I never gave it too much thought in recent years because in Massachusetts we call it the Statehouse.   But on our recent trip to Texas, our route took us through six different state capitals. And when I decided to write something about it, I decided the best thing to do was to make sure I knew the difference.

Here’s what has to say on the subject:  The word capitol is used to refer to the building where a legislature (such as the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives) meets while the word capital refers to the city which serves as the seat of government.

You can remember the difference by thinking of the "o" in the word capitol as a dome, like the dome of the U.S. Capitol in the capital Washington D.C.

That’s good advice unless you think of the capitol building of Tennessee that really doesn’t really have a dome.  It has more of a big, round column that sticks up.  But it’s still the capitol.

Capital, on the other hand, has many meanings.  As a noun, it means:

1a. a town or city that is the official seat of government; 
b. a city that is the center of a specific activity or industry, e.g. the financial capital of the world.
2a. wealth in the form of money or property; 
b. material wealth used or available for use in the production of more wealth; 
c. human resources considered in terms of their contributions to an economy
3. an asset or advantage
4. a capital letter, meaning C but not c.

As an adjective it means:

1. first and foremost; principal, which means main or key (as opposed to principle, which means rule, belief, tenet and theory)
2. first-rate; excellent
3. relating to or being a seat of government.
4. involving death or calling for the death penalty, e.g. a capital offense
5. of or relating to financial assets.

Phew!  Capital really runs the gamut from a pile of bricks to a pile of money, from being the most important and the greatest to being the absolute. Capital is one capital word.

So now that I’ve got it straightened out, here are the capitols of the capitals we passed through on our trip to and from Texas.

Montgomery, Alabama

Austin, Texas

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Little Rock, Arkansas

Nashville, Tennessee

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Friday, February 14, 2014

Random Five Friday: Snow Days…

1)  We got around 10 to 12 inches of snow in this last round of wild winter weather.  But we were very glad that it was all snow and not the dreaded wintry mix.  Snow is much easier to deal with.

2)  The weather has caused us to have a couple of unusual visitors to our birdfeeders.  Yesterday and today, I saw what I think is a Carolina Wren.  I am not positive of the identification though so if you know, I would appreciate it if you could tell me.  We also had a crow who was slumming under our feeder but he wouldn’t turn around so I could get a good picture.

3)  Here’s what it looks like at the end of our driveway.  I feel sort of like I’m living in a shopping mall with that big pile, but my trip to the grocery today made me realize that there are much bigger piles of the white stuff around town.

4)  I like snow and winter but I find it rather amazing that there is such a HUGE difference in comfort level between 15 degrees and 30 degrees.  Today felt rather balmy around here and seeing the sun is almost always good.  I guess that shouldn't really be a surprise.  After all, there's a HUGE difference in comfort level between 72 and 85, too.

5)  So today is Valentine’s Day.  Do you celebrate it?  Early on in our relationship, Greg made it clear that he wasn’t one to celebrate “Hallmark” holidays, so it’s just another day to us.  I minded a bit at first, but it also lets me off the hook, so these days I am okay with it.

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Random 5 Friday!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Life and Times of Olive the Pug: Traveling with your best friend…

Our trip to Texas wouldn’t have been the same if Olive the pug hadn’t been along.  I wanted to share some tips about how easy it is to take a dog (at least a small dog) along with you when you go on a car trip.

First of all, the dog needs luggage.  Olive’s bag is a medium-sized canvas bag with a zipper top.  In it is a small bag of dog food with a scoop, two dog bowls, a few treats and extra poop bags because we think it is just proper to pick up after the dog if she does her business in a place where humans might stray.  We also include an extra leash of the plain old nylon variety and a change of underwear.

Just kidding about the underwear.  The nylon leash comes in very handy if you want to tether your dog to a picnic table.  It’s much easier to maneuver than a retractable leash for this purpose.

A few years ago, we purchased this device that goes on a water bottle with a sports top.  It is very handy for a quick drink for a small pooch.  But if you are trying to get away from using disposable plastics like we are, then you may want to consider something like this or this instead.

It is also a very good idea to take along evidence of rabies and bordetella (kennel cough) vaccinations.  If you need to leave your best friend in doggie daycare and the facility is reputable, they will ask for these.  We did leave Olive the pug for a day in doggie daycare on our trip and did bring along our rabies certificate, but had to call our vet’s office to fax the other to the facility.  Fortunately, it was during the week when our vet’s office was open.   So we learned something on this trip and will try to remember take a certificate for both the next time.

Whenever we humans get into the car, we automatically buckle our seatbelts.  A few years ago, we decided that it’s a good idea to buckle the dog in, too.  So we purchased a dog harness that attaches to the car’s seat belt.  There are many good ones around.  This keeps the dog from becoming a projectile in case of an accident and also keeps her from roaming around in the car and being a distraction.  The system we have does give her the freedom to move from one side of the seat to the other like when she needs to get out of the sun.  We have decided that on our next trip, we will purchase a window shade for her side of the car though because sometimes she is just too lazy to move and she tends to overheat.

Then there is always the question of where does one stay when one has a dog along.  We have found that there are quite a few hotel chains that are dog-friendly.  However, there is dog-friendly like “your dog is welcome here and it is free (or a nominal charge)” for him to stay and there is dog-friendly like “this facility charges a non-refundable $150 deep cleaning fee” if you bring your dog along.  Well, we happen to think that any charge over $25 is not all that “dog-friendly” so that drives where we tend to stay.  Some facilities also  have weight limits and will only accept pets that weigh less than 25 pounds.

  Here are some chains that we have found to be reasonably dog-friendly:  La Quinta, Best Western, Holiday Inn, Country Inn and Suites, Drury Inn, Sleep Inn and Baymont Inn.  If you want to splurge, Kimpton Hotels are a luxurious pet-friendly boutique chain.  BUT, we have found that not only is it always a good policy to check on line to see what the pet policy is in each hotel before you book, it is also good to confirm it with a phone call.  Things can vary within a franchise and who needs a surprise after driving 600 miles in a day?  If you use TripAdvisor, you can use a pet-friendly filter when you search for a place to stay and that can give you a good start when you are in the planning stage.  We have learned over the years that not all camp grounds are pet-friendly so it’s a good idea to check on those sites, too.  Most sites that advertise for rental houses also have pet-friendly filters to help narrow the search down.

When staying in a hotel a princess like Olive always enjoys luxury bedding.

It is special when you can take your best friend out for dinner and there are many places that allow Fido to be along when you dine IF they have outside seating that is accessible without going through the building.  But there are always exceptions and it is a good idea to check first.  Olive ate breakfast, lunch and dinner out with us on several occasions on this trip when the weather cooperated and now and then she met the nicest dogs.

You don't have to leave your best friend at home or in a kennel when you travel.  Next time, take her along.  She could use a vacation, too.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Random Five Friday: Thoughts on Travel…

1)  Greg and I love the desert so we found the landscapes in West Texas fascinating and dramatic.  I will post a couple photos.  What do you think?   I know people who believe that if there isn’t water (preferably the ocean) within driving distance, it’s not a place worth going to.  I agree that the ocean is beautiful, but I think the desert has its own grandeur and grace.

2)  Being away from home for nearly a month is kind of weird. Coming home, it’s almost like coming back to a place that has been frozen in time.  Here’s what I mean.  I set the alarm clock on the phone last night because I had to get up this morning at eight and the phone is reliable whereas my actual alarm clock is not.  The phone asks for the date first, then the time, and then what catchy tune you want to wake up to.  I entered in the relevant information.  This morning, I woke up (thankfully!) and looked at the clock.  I had set the phone alarm for 8 am, but it was 8:06 am according to my clock that is precisely 6 minutes slow.  So I’m lying there at 8:12am trying to figure out why the darn phone didn’t sing.  What the heck??  Who needs a problem like that before they’ve had their coffee??  Well, long story short, when I checked to see why the phone alarm didn’t go off, it was because I set it for January 7 not February 7.   For me, it was like January hadn’t happened yet since we spent it on the road.  I have to get over that…and soon!

3)  Sometimes while traveling, you happen to have conversations with random strangers.  My favorite of this trip was when I ran into a young man at an overlook on the Rio Grande.  The view was spectacular and he was taking pictures.  He turned to me with a big smile on his face and I said, “It sure is beautiful!”  He grinned and told me that he was 28 years old and it was his first time there.  Up to then, he had spent his whole life in  Odessa, Texas, where it is very flat and he had never seen anything as beautiful as what we were looking at.  His enthusiasm for the natural beauty around us simply made my day.  This is what we were looking at:

4)  We did pass through Odessa on our way home and now I understand where he was coming from.  The Odessa area is not the most beautiful area of Texas.  But it does have its charms.  Like, did you know that there is a scaled-down version of Stonehenge on the campus of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa?  No?  Well, there is.  Odessa is also the home of the World’s Largest Jack Rabbit.  No lie.  I just love coming across that kind of stuff when we travel.

Stonehenge, Texas style.

The World's Largest Jack Rabbit lookin' pretty smug.
5)  Here’s a packing tip if you are going on a long trip:  Always take a couple of fashionable, colorful scarves along.  I didn’t and found myself wishing I had on numerous occasions.  They take up no space in a duffle bag and they can really spark up a t-shirt and jeans if you find that you want to go to a “business casual” as opposed to a plain old “casual” restaurant.  Doesn’t that sound like something you might read in Vogue or Elle?  I'm not sure since I don't read either.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Scratching the Marfa itch...

I read the Travel Section in the Boston Sunday Globe religiously.  That’s how I found out about Marfa, Texas.  The article I read about Marfa was published in 2009.  And Marfa has been in the back of my mind since.  So when Greg and I were talking about a warm weather vacation for this winter, I said that I wanted to go there.  It was like giving a dog a bone.  Greg should have a PhD in Travel Planning and once he got started, he mapped out the whole trip that culminated in six nights in the itch I wanted to scratch.

I will say this with undeniable certainty.  Marfa is darn cool.  While it’s stuck pretty much out there on its own, about three hours from El Paso and about six hours from San Antonio, it is a little jewel of a town in the Chihuahuan Desert with a thriving art scene and great places to eat.  It’s also a great base for exploring the surrounding desert, but more about that later.

Without further ado, here’s a short photo tour of Marfa, Texas.

This is the courtyard of El Paisano Hotel.  If you are familiar with the 1956 movie Giant with James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, some of it was filmed in Marfa and in the hotel there are nice displays about the movie and t-shirts for sale with James Dean emblazoned on them.

Here’s an interior shot:

If you look closely, you might recognize James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor in the window behind the chairs.
Marfa is also known for its vibrant food scene, particularly the food trucks.  We got to try Fat Lyle’s and I have to say OMG!  I had the best lunch there.  I had the Crispy Fried Brussels Sprout Haystack. It might look like a heck of a mess but here's what it is: Crispy fried Brussels sprouts, caramelized onions, blue cheese and spicy mayo and a hot sauce over a bed of hand cut fries. I am seriously thinking of trying to duplicate this for Christmas dinner next year.  It was just that good.

All around town, you see old cars with FOOD SHARK on them.  They are advertising another food truck that is very popular there.  We didn’t get a chance to try it.  They were closed on the day we wanted to go because it was cold.  Damn!  But here’s one of the cool cars we saw roaming around.

This is a 1977 AMC Matador (Barcelona Edition).  Not a car you see every day outside of Marfa.

Art is important there.  The Ayn Foundation is now exhibiting Andy Warhol's "The Last Supper" and Maria Zerres' "September Eleven" in Marfa.  Olive the pug was even allowed to go in to view these works, but I was not allowed to photograph them.  Oh, well…  But we did make it out of town (about 40 miles northwest of Marfa near Valentine, Texas) to view an art installation called “Prada Marfa.”  Here it is.  What do you think?

Here’s a friend we made while staying in Marfa.  He is a Curved-bill Thrasher.  He was very curious about us and let me sit on the couch in the sitting room of the house we rented and snap away.  Seems Texans are friendly…even the feathered ones.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Getting out of town…

Galveston, Austin, San Antonio…it was time for us to leave town literally and get ourselves out into the country.  Our next goal in Texas was Big Bend National Park.  According to park literature:  “The region was named Big Bend for the drastic change in course of the river from a southeastern to a northeastern flow. As the Rio Grande flows through the Chihuahuan Desert, it carves not only majestic canyons, but also a political boundary. Big Bend’s location on the United States/Mexico border has always provided a mystique to the park.”

On the way, we over-nighted in Fort Stockton, Texas, home of the World’s Largest Road Runner.

His name is Paisano Pete.
Here's the real thing that we encountered later that day.
In the morning, we picked up some sandwiches in Marathon where we met this handsome pooch.

Then we proceeded to take the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive through the park.  Here is some of what we saw.

I was fairly awestruck by the beautiful scenery and am still wondering why the Rio Grande is so green.  My attempts to look to Google for the answer to that question have failed so far. I imagine that it has something to do with the mineral makeup of the area.  But, even if I never find out, I will never regret the time we spent in that beautiful place.

We got home yesterday evening around 5:30p.m.  Round trip from Central Massachusetts to Marfa, Texas and back:  6,716.1 miles in 25 days with over 5,000 photos stored on my laptop...most of which will be dumped into my virtual garbage can.  But I have to say, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.