31 October 2010

All Hallows Eve

Halloween. All Hallows Eve. Samhain.

We never get any trick-or-treaters. In the five years we've been in this house, not a one. I don't understand it.

We always got a few brave souls at our old house; kids who knew there was a house at the end of that long, dark, scary driveway, even if you couldn't see it from the street.

When we moved here, I figured we'd attract a swarm of little ghosties in ghoulies. OK, the driveway is kind of steep, but it's not very long, and from the street you can see there are two houses once you get up here. And we're not out in the middle of nowhere. It's a normal suburban neighborhood, one that I would once have considered a reasonably target-rich environment. We don't go crazy with Halloween decorations, I admit, but we did put out a jack-o'-lantern for the first year or two. We quit when it didn't seem to make any difference.

This year, it will be different. This year, we will be visited by every trick-or-treater in western Washington state. This year, they will come.

This year, we didn't buy any candy.

On a Halloween-ish note, Scarecrow passed along a video clip of some clogging mummies. It's too good not to share:

Every time I watch it, I find myself thinking there are couple of steps I could steal. Even though that train left the station long ago, I can't seem to help it. I do the same thing when I listen to somebody play banjo. "Oooh, that's cool! I could do that!"

I can't, of course. I probably couldn't then, truth be told. I never was much of a musician. But I played when I could. I danced when I could. That's going to have to be good enough.

That's good enough.

26 October 2010

15 in 15

On Facebook (this is my penance for being one of those creepy moms who lurks on Facebook, spying on my kid) Tuffy tacked me on to a list of friends she challenged to come up with a list of books I've read that stuck with me; 15 books in 15 minutes. I usually hate these chain letter type quizzes, but this sounds like fun.

The rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that stick with you. List the first fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends (or, if you're lazy like me, whichever number seems appropriate), including me, because I'm interested in seeing what books my friends choose. Do yours before you read anyone else's....

OK, here we go...

The Once and Future King, T. H. White
Sociobiology, E.O. Wilson
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie
The Panda's Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould
Horton Hatches the Egg, Dr. Seuss
Emma, Jane Austen
Small Gods, Terry Pratchett
Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
The First Circle, Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Big Red, Jim Kjelgaard
Introduction to Population Genetics Theory, C.C. Li
The Elements of Style, Strunk and White
Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Moby Dick, Herman Melville

I probably spent more than 15 minutes, but not a lot more. I'm kind of surprised at some of the things that bubbled up from my subconscious to wind up on the list. Some are books I haven't thought about in... decades. Big Red? Where did that come from? They're not all books I loved. For example, I had a love/hate relationship with Intro to Population Genetics Theory. And I definitely did not love Moby Dick. It was assigned in one of the few English classes I ever had to take. This was back at the dawn of time, you realize, but it really stuck with me. It really stuck with me. The book and the class about did me in. Tuffy, English major that she is, loved it.

I found it got easier to come up with books as I went along. By the time I got to the end, I was having to choose between books with equally valid claim to a place on the list. For some authors, it was hard to pick one book that stuck with me more than others. Sherman Alexie? Terry Pratchett? Stephen Jay Gould? Toni Morrison? If they wrote it, and I read it, it stuck with me.

Well, that was fun. Comparing my list to Tuffy's, I look like a troglodyte. I haven't even read most of the stuff on her list, and wouldn't be inclined to try. It looks like work.

Maybe that's why I wasn't an English major.

22 October 2010

Murder in Kenmore

I live in Kenmore, a suburb of Seattle at the north end of Lake Washington. About 6:30 the other evening I was sitting in the car while Scarecrow went in to Safeway to pick up a prescription. I was just sitting, not thinking about anything much, when after a while I noticed that crows had been flying overhead for kind of a long time. As I watched, they continued to fly overhead. Sometimes I could see 10 crows, sometimes maybe 50, sometimes only one or two, but for as long as I sat there I could see crows flying northward over the parking lot to their evening roost. I'd say I was there for about 15 minutes. When we left to drive home, they were still flying overhead.

That's a lot of crows. A murder of crows.

Their winter roost is a mile or so from our house. Every evening this time of year American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos) congregate in this area in large numbers. Really large numbers. Tens of thousands. John Marzluff, a guy at UW who studies them, says the local crow population began to expand during '70s and since then has "increased 30-fold."

"It wasn't really a comeback," he says, "it was an invasion."

Crows are not your rare, exotic, or retiring bird. Even I can watch them. You don't have to creep up on them, stealthily, in inaccessible places, using a long-range spotting scope, at the crack of dawn, hoping to catch a fleeting glimpse. If you want to watch crows, toss a couple of Cheetos out there and you'll have more of them than you can keep track of. (Marzluff used Cheetos as bait when he was netting birds for his study. He says they're like crack to crows.)

Nothing bashful about crows. They are raucous and noisy and disputatious. They're smart and social and amazingly adaptable. They can figure out a way to live pretty much anywhere.

I really like them.

I admit, though, that watching them, I can't tell one from another. They have the advantage of me in that regard.

Is That a Caveman or Dick Cheney? Crows Know the Difference

20 October 2010

The "D" in DME

So, about the head array control on my power chair. Because I know you were dying to hear.

The initial speed and acceleration settings were way too energetic for negotiating tight spaces. Or even for negotiating pretty roomy but not entirely wide-open spaces. This is a switch control, remember. It's either on or it's off. Go or don't. I've spent the last couple of days trying really hard not to ram into things. With only moderate success.

The chair I used when I was trying to decide if I wanted to install the head array was much easier to control, so I knew it was possible. On Monday I called Mike the Wheelchair Guy about adjusting the settings. This morning he came and did it. I now have a Granny Gear for getting in and out of the van, or creeping down the hall and turning through the door to the bathroom. Without damage to walls or woodwork. Much better.

The new control uses a micro-switch to turn on, toggle between forward/back, select the speed range, and control seat functions.  The switch emits a rather loud chirp whenever I tap it. That's obtrusive but tolerable, since hitting the switch inadvertently and turning the chair on without realizing it would be bad. If I press the switch and hold it, I can turn the chair off. This causes the switch to scream loudly for 5 seconds.

Five seconds is a lot longer than you'd think, when you're making a really irritating noise and there's no way to shut it off.

I asked Mike the Wheelchair Guy if there was a way to make this stop. He said he didn't think so, but he'd check with the manufacturer. Still, if it turns out to be the worst thing about this new setup, I'm OK with that.

In the course of crashing about over the last few days, I managed to get my new drink holder hung up on the edge of the door when I was getting out of the van. Scarecrow got me loose, but in doing so broke the cupholder. (In situations like this, Scarecrow is not likely to take a tentative approach. As my dad is fond of saying, "Don't force it. Get a bigger hammer.") This made us both very sad.

Scarecrow told TinMan what had happened, admitting that he had subjected the cupholder to serious abuse. TinMan allowed as how that might be the case, but maintained that the D in DME ought to stand for Durable.

He is at work on cupholder v.3.

15 October 2010


Having finally decided to get a head array control installed on my power chair, and given Mike the Wheelchair Guy the go-ahead to get the parts, I was starting to think it had been kind of a long time since I'd heard anything. (I'm bad like that. I take forever to decide what I want, but once I make up my mind, I want it yesterday!) I even put a note on my calendar to call and pester them. Then, on Wednesday, they called to say they had the stuff and wanted to see if Mike could take my chair off to the shop for a while on Thursday, that would be yesterday, to install everything.

You bet, I says.

So that's what happened. He picked up my chair, took it away for a couple of hours, and brought it back with a head array control. I was too tired yesterday afternoon to mess with it much, beyond noticing that I need a speed that's slower than Slow. Unlike the proportional speed control you get with a joystick, the switches in the head array are either on or off. To get moving, the chair starts off with a surge of speed that's a little faster than it's set to go. Even at the slowest speed setting, that's a little too exciting for negotiating tight spaces. Easy fix, but I'll need to get Mike to do it. They don't let me mess with the software, which is probably just as well.

Thus far, I'd say that I do not love it. Navigating menus to control various functions is something I have to think about. I still need to use a couple of micro switches, and can't figure out where to put them. The steering on this buggy is pretty darned touchy. But I can see that all these things will get better with tweaking and practice. And it sure beats having Scarecrow drag me around.

And then there's the Patient Lift. Mike brought that yesterday, too. Yeah, I know we need it. We've been all over that. If something happened to Scarecrow, I couldn't go to the bathroom until he was better. I get it. But it's huge. Huge. When we remodeled the house to make it accessible, we neglected to add a wing for storage of durable medical equipment. There's the power chair. And the charger. And the shower chair. And the passenger seat from the van that we took out so I don't have to sit in the back. When you're not using it, all this stuff has to go someplace. And now this ginormous patient lift. Which is really big. Did I mention that?

Maybe we can leave it in the middle of the living room, and string it up with twinkly lights.

11 October 2010

Inspiration-Free Zone

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money."

-- Samuel Johnson

I'm starting to accumulate partially-written posts that I set aside for one reason or another. Sometimes I didn't know what I wanted to say. Sometimes I knew what I wanted to say, but decided it wasn't interesting enough to write about. This being a typically self-indulgent blog, I don't give a moment's consideration to whether it would be interesting to read, but I need to find the writing at least mildly entertaining. Sometimes I'd be chugging away on something and I'd think, 'Nah. This is starting to feel like work.' And I'd stop. Hey. I can do that.

When I had a regular day job, waiting for inspiration to strike wasn't an option. If I felt inspired (not very likely, considering the subject matter), I would write. If I didn't feel inspired, I would write anyway. That's what writers do.

I don't think I ever would've said I love to write. My situation was better summarized by a quote I took from Linda Ellerbee, which she attributed to her grandmother:

"If you don't read, you can't write, and if you can't write, you must work for a living."
For me, writing always beat working for a living.

I'm not a writer anymore. I'm a retired person. I don't need to write. If I feel like writing, I do. If I'm not inspired, I don't have to. I'm accumulating partially-finished blog posts, but that's OK. I may come back and finish some of them. Others may never see the light of an LCD display, and that's OK too.

While I'm nattering on about inspiration, I should make it clear that I'm talking only about being on the receiving end, myself. If you're looking to be uplifted and inspired, keep looking. This is not the place for you. I'm not good at it. Plenty of bloggers strive to be inspirational, and do it much better than I. If you need inspiration, try one of them.

While I'm writing about what I don't write about, I could add that I don't blog about MS symptoms, either, unless I have them, or MS treatments, unless I'm taking them. There are plenty of websites that do a much better job of that than I would.

At this point, I could go back and try to figure out what I was writing about. But that would start to feel like work.

01 October 2010

Bareit's Busy Day

Jasmine is not really all that fond of squeaky toys. Nylabones are OK. Dental chewies are nice. Scarecrow's knitting bag, however, is irresistible.

This is what we found when we came home the other day:

Bareit was obviously involved in this escapade. He likes to take his toys outside. Through the dining room...

Into the kitchen...

Through the kitchen to the utility room...

Through the utility room...

Out the (narrow) dog door...

Around the corner...

And out into the yard.

Note to whippets: if you want Scarecrow to finish your new sweaters before the weather gets cold, you'll want to stop doing this, even if he forgets to put his knitting bag were you can't reach it. Assuming there is such a place.