Thursday, May 31, 2007

July in May

I slept late today. Even though I didn't do all that much yesterday - more of the day was devoted to a shopping trip to get the window glaze, a caulking gun, some new keys, and some decorations for the front windows, and then to redecorating the front windows, than it was to actually doing stuff that I consider work - I still felt like I had been hit by a truck. But I slept in, knowing that there would be no bumblebee taskmasters hovering over me today, reminding me that I should have done more when the weather was cool. For the moment I am done with doing things at the house. For the moment.

I need to keep this brief. The forecast is for July-like temperatures today, and I expect that this computer will spend much of the day masquerading as a brick. I need to figure out how much I can spend on a new computer in the next few weeks. I have about a 2-to-1 ratio of time spent trying to make this computer work to time actually spent using it. That doesn't really work for me if I want to be doing an internet-based job search.

I didn't want to believe the things I heard about sites like Careerbuilder and, but it turns out that they're true. The special e-mail account I created for my job search is filling up with spam and scam e-mails. There may be a few legitimate job opportunities hidden in there, too, but that signal (if it's there at all) is being drowned out by the noise.

So, better sign off now while I still can. I've got the temperature down to 77.8 degrees Fahrenheit in here, and it's not even 10:30 AM. The computer has already crashed three times. I hope I find a job soon.

Title reference: It's a comment on the weather forecast for today and a play on the name of one of my favorite authors, Julian May.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Done and done

I finished the windows. Once again, they're not pretty and they're not perfect, but they're done, and a hell of a lot better than they were before. All of my insurance-company-required tasks are completed, with one day to spare.

I also finished planting the plants that arrived last week. In the past two days I put in two dwarf cherry trees (CompacStella and Lapins), two new grapevines (Canadice), and six blueberry bushes (Ivanhoe, Atlantic, Bluecrop, Herbert, Jersey, and Blueray, in that order.) I will still do a bit more planting, but that will mostly involve transplanting things from here to there.

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of me buying the house, and I finally feel like it's mine.

I also finally redecorated my front windows. The snowflake, shamrock, and leprechaun window clings surrounding the anthropomorphic bunny rabbits were a bit out of date. Now my windows are full of tropical fish of all sizes, giving the appearance that my house is a giant aquarium. Maybe tomorrow I'll get pictures.

Now that all this is done, I suppose I don't have any excuses left for not throwing all of my energy into finding a new job.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Glazier's putty and masking tape

If you haven't read "Gather 'Round All You Home Renovators" from Anne's Almost Quintessence, please do so now. It was one of the first posts I ever read by her, and since at that time I was already planning to buy and renovate (well, "restore", really) my grandmother's old house, I paid special attention to it. Plus it's damned funny. And completely true.

Today I put the finishing touches on the last of my required tasks - I think. The grapevine wall is repaired, the cracked pavement in the grapevine sidewalk has been smoothed over and filled in, and the garage is completely painted. The last bit I had to do was paint the recesses of the windows and the window frames themselves. The recesses are white and the frames are dark green, so this required a bit of masking tape. I didn't mask the frames when I did the recesses, because I figured that any white could easily be painted over with green, but I did mask the panes of glass themselves - it would be easy enough to scrape any drips or splashes off of the glass, but I decided to avoid the issue entirely. After the white was completely dry, I masked that off and painted the frames green. After that was dry, I began to remove the masking tape...

...and discovered that much of the putty around the window glass had begun to crumble and fall off, and at this point the masking tape was pretty much the only thing holding the windows in the frames.

OK. New problem, new skill to learn. Tomorrow I will buy glazier's putty and use one of my putty knives for its intended purpose. Yay team me. And I hope none of the windows decides to tumble out of its frame and shatter on my head. Maybe I'd better wear goggles.

(Oh dear. I found this on Anne's site, too...but she was trying to do this in the cold of early December...)

In other news, I planted my two cherry trees and two grapevines today, leaving only the six blueberries to be planted. My eightysomething neighbor is looking forward to tasting the grapes and cherries! Given his stamina, I wouldn't be surprised if he's around a few years down the road when these things actually begin to bear fruit.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Or all the dead unburied

Walking a dog can be boring business. Down this street, over this one, cross here, when are they gonna get that curb fixed? oh wait she stopped, is she pooping or just sniffing? how are we doing for time? what should I have for breakfast? is that a skunk? oh she stopped again... You get a lot of exercise, it's true, and you get to spend a lot of time with your best friend, and you get to do a lot of observing of nature and the pre-dawn existence of your hometown, but...well, it can also be, as I said, downright boring.

So you think about things. Things that you've read, things that you've written, things that you'd like to write. You listen to songs in your head, because you're too smart to walk in the morning twilight with headphones blotting out your hearing. (Wang Chung's "Dance Hall Days" was a good song to play to myself. The beat really made me pick up the pace.) I wrote a background for a TV series in my head once, and revised it on subsequent walks, and I still might actually do something with it so I won't give details here. I also wrote short stories and came up with ideas for several essays while Haley and I walked around Nanticoke. This is one of them.

I can tell you exactly where we were when I had the idea. We were a few blocks into our walk, in front of my brother's old house across the street from the library, heading West. It was a Monday, I think, because one of the seeds of the thought was (of all things) a Family Circus cartoon from that Sunday. In it some of the kids were walking through the woods with their father, and one of them said something like "Wow! I bet we're the first people to ever walk here!", and all around them were the ghosts of everyone who had walked there before: American Indians, European colonists, kids from all ages.

Then another thought came into my mind, words from Abraham Lincoln's beautiful Gettysburg address:

...we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.

And then the two thoughts came together: What if the body of every person who had ever died in a conflict were to remain forever at the spot where they had died, unchanging, undecomposing, an eternal monument to their deaths and the conflict that had brought them to pass? I saw the world suddenly as a histogram of war, of conflict, of hate, the bodies piled high at Manassas and Normandy and throughout the Middle East and anywhere else there had ever been deaths that resulted from conflicts. Bodies everywhere: Before me there lies some nameless Indian who died in some conflict on the banks of the Susquehanna hundreds of years before Europeans came to this land. The seas are choked with the unbloated corpses of sailors. Some three thousand office workers and firefighters and police and airline passengers stand on a relatively small piece of land in New York City. Everywhere an eternal testimony to violence and the death that comes from it. And what changes? What do we learn?

Nothing changes. We learn nothing. The dead are buried, if they can be found, tucked away in little memorial parks with granite or marble monuments and pretty trees, or burned to ashes and stored on mantelpieces or tossed to the four winds. Perhaps we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. Perhaps their struggle has consecrated it above our power to add and detract. But we still have the power to forget.

The vision passed, and I was glad of it. Haley and I walked on, breathing in the pre-dawn air. And I tried not to forget.

Title reference: I have no idea where this title came from. It arrived at the same time as the original thought some early morning back in 2004. It may be from the Hugo-winning Science Fiction short story "Or All the Seas with Oysters."

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Heat, heroes, and cowards

It's not too hot right now, but the day is still young. Soon the temperature in this room will exceed the maximum stable operating temperature for this computer, and it will be impossible to use it. Like it was last night.

This is a bit of an obstacle when you're trying to do internet-based job searches, or just want to do regular computer activities like writing blog entries, checking mail, reading other people's blogs, and chatting online with friends. I also need to remember to file for my Unemployment check today, or sometime within the next week. Unfortunately I took all of my necessary information over to my other house in anticipation of my sister's visit. Maybe I'll file by phone later today.

I've got a Memorial Day entry in mind, something I actually thought of years ago, but it's pretty long and I cant imagine the computer holding up for the whole thing. Blogger has recently introduced once-a-minute blog entry autosaving, which works much better than the spotty "Recover Post" feature. So maybe I'll actually be better off writing it online, since WordPad doesn't autosave, and Word is kaput on this computer.

I also need to say one other thing, something I don't want to besmirch my actual Memorial Day post with. And that's the sense of outrage I feel when I think about all the dead that we remember on Memorial Day, all the sacrifices that have been made by men and women who have fought and died not to "defend our freedom" (as the local newsreaders like to say), not for some noble cause or abstract concept, but because they made a promise to their nation that they would serve and fight and die wherever and whenever they were told to go, and they chose to honor that promise and serve and fight and die. And then I look at the coward who sits in the White House, a coward who made that same promise but who then did everything in his power and his rich daddy's power to avoid serving, a coward who decided that working on the political campaign of a family friend was the functional equivalent of the service he had promised to his nation, a coward for whom there are barely enough records to prove he was alive during that term of duty, and I think about how he and his co-conspirators slandered and sullied the reputations of people like Al Gore and John Kerry and John McCain, people who did keep their promise and who did serve their country in time of war, and I think about all the brave and honorable men and women George W. Bush has sent to fight and die who have obeyed his orders because that's what they promised to do. And I am filled with rage.

Memorial Day. Remember those who have served and fought and died. And hang your head in shame if you voted for the coward George W. Bush.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Busy busy busy

Yes, I've been pretty busy lately. So busy that I failed to mention the sixth anniversary of Douglas Adams' death on May 11, or the second anniversary of Haley's death on May 23. Sorry about that.

Now, I have to get busy again. No rest for the unemployed...

Friday, May 25, 2007


Painting: Done. Except for around the window recesses, and the threshold of the doorway. Must get green paint. And I managed to not get stung by the bumblebees, even though I was actually painting a location where I had seen them entering and exiting the garage.

Wall: Done. It ain't pretty and it ain't perfect, but I don't believe either of those were requirements by my insurance company.

Sidewalk: Nearly done. This will be a hodgepodge of materials when I am done. Where pieces were in good shape, I left them alone. Loose pieces I removed and replaced with fresh concrete, which is light gray. Uneven spots I filled in with dark gray Sand Mix, which finished up much nicer than I expected. Cracks I filled in with yellow-orange sand, which I then swept in and wet down. One end of the sidewalk - where, frankly, I didn't have enough concrete to go all the way out to where the grass started - I filled in with dark gray gravel. I still have a few more uneven spots to level out with sand mix. I sprayed all of the cracks down with weed killer - it goes against everything I believe in to use this poison, but it's something I had to do. I expect to be able to finish this up after this weekend's rains have passed.

I still need to put a little Bondo patch on the wrought iron in front.

I managed to mow about a third of the lawn here, and used a weed-whacker on the tall weeds that the reel mower won't touch. I need to finish mowing here and take this mower over to my house tomorrow, since the one I have there is worn out. I bought a new, wider-cut one for this house.

I also need to buy some peat moss for the cherry trees and soil acidifier for the blueberries. I also have to take my digging tools over there, as well as the spray that is supposed to stop Black Rot on the grapes. Plus I need to clean up this room, which used to be my sister's bedroom - she's coming in tomorrow and will want to use it.

And then, at some point, I need to find a job.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Seven days to go

Today I finished painting two more sides of the garage. One more to go and it's done. I had the worst time with the bumblebees today - this time there were four of them, and they would sometimes come at me two at a time. But I don't have the luxury of waiting for cool weather, so I'll have to take my chances.

New thing learned: Sand Mix does not cling to vertical surfaces. At all. It works pretty well for what it's supposed to do, which is level out uneven spots in concrete between 1/4" and two inches (that's something like 6 mm to 5 cm for you European metric hippies.) But I may need to use more Mortar mix to finish off the wall. I think I also need more concrete for one end of the sidewalk - one last 80-lb bag should do it.

I also learned that while old, junky T-shirts are fine as work shirts, there comes a point where they will simply fall apart. My T-shirt did that yesterday. I had to put a different one on underneath and then throw the junky one on top as a sort of apron, to absorb the paint and dust. That worked out pretty well.

My trees and plants arrived today. I ordered two cherry trees (CompacStella and Lapins), one blueberry collection (six plants of different varieties), and two Canadice grapes (red, sweet, and spicy, to replace the now-absent Spice grapes that used to be in the grapevine) from Miller Nurseries. Unfortunately, they were sold out of Shademaster Locusts, which I intended to use to shade the house from the Summer sun - oh, well, I'll order them next year. Fortunately, the plants were shipped dormant and will keep for up to three weeks in their packaging. I expect to get them planted in a few days.

My right shoulder hurts. My legs hurt. I am fairly well sunburned on my forearms and the back of my neck. My hair feels like it's full of cement dust. I need a shower. Then some sleep. Then it's back off nice and early tomorrow morning to see if I can finish this up. Then I have to spray my grapevines, and plant my trees and other plants, and assemble the new lawnmower, and mow two lawns, and...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Home stretch

Today I learned that scraping, sanding, and painting while standing on a ladder is a lot different from scraping, sanding, and painting while standing on the ground. It also takes a lot longer. For an added challenge, painting around a window while standing on a ladder creates the very real possibility that you and/or the ladder will go through the window.

I got one wall completely finished today. And by "completely finished" I mean "painted white." Sure, it could probably use a second coat, And I need to paint the inside edge of the window recesses, and I need to paint the window frames and sills a shade of green that closely matches the faded paint that is flaking off the window, but those are all things I'll save for later.

The bumblebees are back, so we can all stop worrying about them. Today they seemed more curious than threatening, though I'm not sure what the "curiosity" function is for a bumblebee for things that are not flowers and may be enemies. Tomorrow I'll try to get an earlier start and try to do the "easy" wall, which is unbroken by windows or doors - just two boards and a strip of molding that need painting. Bumblebees permitting, I'll also take a stab at the "door" wall - maybe I should just paint the door first thing regardless, so it will be dry when I close up for the day.

I'm nearly done with the concrete, which means that I've bought and/or used nearly every concrete product made by Quikrete. These include:

- Mortar mix
- Concrete adhesive (for helping concrete bond to existing concrete)
- Concrete mix
- Sand mix (for thin-layer topping and evening out of uneven spots)
- Acrylic bonding agent (for Sand mix under 1" in thickness)
- Vinyl patch (same idea as the Sand mix with Acrylic bonding agent)
- Concrete resurfacing mix (a very expensive product that I probably won't end up using)

So far I've used the first three products. Tomorrow I will probably use the next two, and possibly the Vinyl patch as well. I'll need to keep track of what I used where so I can judge how well each item holds up.

While taking breaks from the garage-painting I also strung wire across the places where the grapevine boards had collapsed or been removed and pruned out all the dead wood from the grapevines. The grapes have had 100% crop losses for the past ten years or so due to a condition that makes the grapes turn bronze before they even begin to ripen and then shrivel up into dry black raisins on the vine. This is something I've meant to try to rectify with some stuff called Bordeaux Mixture. Unfortunately, this mixture is very toxic and must be washed off the grapes before they can be eaten. Until last year there were tenants living on the other side of the house, and I didn't want to risk any liability, especially since I didn't yet own the house. Still, even now I'm having qualms about using the mixture to fight this condition. Maybe we'll let things go one more season.

Yesterday I ordered two dwarf cherry trees, five blueberry bushes, and two red grapevines. They should arrive within a week or so, delivered to my new house, and then it will be time to get planting. By then I should have all the insurance company-mandated repairs done to the house, and I will be able to start focusing on making this house a home!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

And now, Saturn

The Moon continued its romp along the ecliptic tonight, passing by Saturn. Saturn is not especially bright right now, so tonight's unspectacular conjunction served mainly to help locate Saturn in the sky. And here it is:
The Moon and Saturn, May 22, 2007 9:14 PM EDT
This picture was taken from the parking lot of the Wilkes-Barre Lowe's. Lowe's doesn't have sharpening kits for reel lawn mowers. Neither do Home Depot or Sears. Sears closes at 9:00. Lowe's and Home Depot close at 10:00. I may have to mail order one from Lee Valley.

The rest of these photos have been contrast-enhanced to preserve detail.
The Moon, Saturn, and Venus, May 22 2007, 9:15 PM EDT
The Moon is now nearly too far away from Venus to capture them both in the same field.
Ecliptic portrait, May 22 2007, 9:56 PM EDT
Here's a fun shot. I could see two bright stars above the Moon, and I knew that the two bright stars above Venus were Pollux and Castor (in that order) in Gemini. The star chart on Heavens Above indicated that the Moon is in Leo tonight, nestled right in the Sickle, the backwards question mark that makes up Leo's head, mane, and chest. It took some digging, and an extremely contrast-enhanced image... reveal that these two stars are Alpha Leonis (Regulus) and Gamma Leonis (Algieba).

(UPDATE, 5/23/07, 9:03 AM: Here's an image I should have put together last night:
It's a detail of my super-contrast-enhanced image overlaid with the constellation chart for Leo stolen from Heavens Above. You can see how the stars on the chart overlay the stars in the photo, and how Saturn's blue circle on the chart fits over the red dot of Saturn in the photo. The big difference is the position of the Moon: the photo was taken at 9:56 last night, while the chart shows the location of the Moon at 8:40 or so this morning, a difference of nearly eleven hours. Visual interpolation suggests that the Moon will pass closest to Regulus in about two or three hours from now.)

If you happen to live in Europe or points East, keep an eye on the Moon tomorrow night; it may have a close encounter with Regulus, though you'll have to check your local listings for exact time and channel. The Moon also looks to be having a close encounter with Antares, the Heart of the Scorpion and the Rival of Mars, on the 31st. Sometime, somewhere, on the night of the 1st, the Moon will pass by Jupiter as it makes its rounds.

Check out Heavens Above's All-Sky Chart for precise predictions for your location - enter either your location or your latitude and longitude, then select the date and time you want to see, and you'll get a customized map of the sky for that time, date, and location.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Moon, Venus, and Mercury!

I saw Mercury tonight! Got some pictures, too. Now if I can just convince this computer to upload them...
The Moon and Venus, May 21 2007, 8:32 PM EDT
Started out again tonight trying to pluck Venus out of a bright blue sky. As the Moon pulls away from Venus this will become a more and more difficult task. Again, Venus is in the lower right-hand corner. Compare to yesterday's photos.
The Western sky after sunset, May 21 2007, 8:35 PM
Thanks to a comment on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy blog, I remembered that Mercury would be visible below Venus and low in the sky - it is at its greatest elongation from the Sun (I think) and is best positioned for observing. Clouds on the Western horizon made it seem unlikely that I would see Mercury. Only after carefully reviewing this photo did I notice...
Venus and Mercury, May 21 2007, 8:35 PM EDT
...the smallish bright point in the lower right-hand corner of this image. Could it be Mercury? Not many things can show up in the early twilight when even Venus is having a hard time showing through...but Mercury can!
Mercury above the rooftops, May 21 2007, 9:03 PM EDT
It was only after another half-our of scanning the horizon with my bare eyes that I noticed a bright pinpoint low on the horizon, about to disappear behind the rooftop of a neighbor. I got myself in position, stabilized the camera, and took the shot.
Venus and Mercury. May 21 2007, 9:04 PM EDT
With a minute or so to spare, I got this family portrait of Venus and Mercury. Again, Mercury is barely visible just above the rooftop in the lower right.
The Moon and Venus, May 21 2007, 9:05 EDT
Finally, I decided to wrap up the night with one more shot of the Moon and Venus. I love the color gradations brought on by twilight and the clouds in this picture (somewhat exaggerated by the jpeg compression.)

Tomorrow the Moon will probably be too far from Venus to get any meaningful images. But next month there's an occultation of Venus by the Moon on June 18th! It's a daytime event, so better sharpen up those daytime Moon-finding skills!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Moon & Venus & Castor & Pollux

Well, I may have missed one of the most beautiful conjunctions of the Moon and Venus last night, but that doesn't mean I couldn't see where they were tonight. First I decided to try to see both Venus and the Moon in daylight. This photo is from 7:54 PM, shortly before sunset. I had to punch up the brightness a bit, otherwise the jpegification of the large-format photo would render Venus invisible.
The Moon and Venus, 7:54 PM May 20, 2007

Venus is already pretty hard to see here - it's tucked into the extreme lower right corner. You may have to go to the enlarged version to see.

The Moon, Venus, Castor, and Pollux, 9:35 PM May 20, 2007

Here is the scene a little more than an hour and a half later. Now Venus is a lot more obvious, and the Moon is joined by Castor and Pollux*, the Gemini Twins! (Again, you may need to go to the large version to see them.) On June 1st and 2nd Venus will be in a line with these two bright stars.

Thanks to whim for the link to this blog which has an excellent photo of last night's conjunction!

*Not in that order. Pollux is on the left, near the top center of the image, and Castor is on the right.

Rained out

Sigh. The best conjunction of the Moon and Venus in a long time, and my skies were so thick with rainclouds that not even the slightest glimmer of light shone through. I hope some of you got to see it.

I know a few people did, because I've gotten a bunch of hits from people searching for terms like "venus next to moon", "conjunction of the moon and", "what's happening with the celestial stars", and (my favorite) "what planet is out with the moon tonight 4-19-2007". (Even if you don't know what month it is, you can find the information you're looking for on Another Monkey!...actually, this worked because the Moon was actually near to Venus on April 19, too, though not as close as May 19.) These searches were probably conducted by people who saw this conjunction without knowing about it in advance. They noticed it on their own and took the trouble to look it up on the Internet! That's pretty cool.

Anyway. Some other, less cool stuff coming up: conjunction of the Moon and Saturn on the 22nd, Mercury sliding into Venus' neighborhood in the next week or so, Venus and Saturn eventually coming within 2/3 of a degree on June 30th. It looks like folks in Australia and thereabouts (anybody on the opposite side of the world from the U.S.) will see a conjunction of the Moon and Venus on the night of June 18 (I think, I'm interpolating from the positions of the Moon and Venus given for U.S. observers on the nights of June 17 and 18, and then I'm hoping I'm not getting the Australian date wrong, what with the International Date Line and the wallabies and Foster's and all that.)

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Help send Rose to Russia!

I got this e-mail from my friend Rose (of 3 Brix Shy and Blue Sundaze fame) more than two weeks ago, and my only thought was that I would love to help, but given my current lack of a job there's not much I can do. Well, today an article about Rose's mission appeared in the local paper, and I realized that there is something I could do - I could repost Rose's request for help to my blog!

Please hear her out, and contribute if you can. Rose is a very good person, and her mission is for a good cause!

Hey everyone!

This email may seem like its coming slightly out of the blue, and for that I apologize. But I need your help! This July I am going to be pursuing a project that I have been passionate about for some time- I will be traveling to Yaroslavl, Russia to work in a children's orphanage for 3 weeks, and I am trying to fund part or all of the trip with your help.

Let me first say that, of course, no one is under any pressure to participate! I fully understand that not everyone will consider this an important endeavor, so please dont feel obligated to contribute. But, if you ARE interested (and of course I hope you are! :o) please continue reading!

I will be working through a non-profit program called Cross Cultural Solutions which sends volunteers all over the world to work in various countries and for various causes. The program in Russia involves more than one placement- during my stay I will be working mostly with orphaned children, some of which are disabled or come from severely abusive homes, but may also be placed working part-time in a shelter for elderly women.

Why do I want to go to Russia to volunteer with children? Because the situation with orphaned children in Russia is becoming a crisis. The first problem is the number of children. In January of 2003, the number of orphaned children in Russia was recorded to be 867,800, and this number is slowly increasing. There is not nearly enough funding within the country to adequately take care of these children, and this leads to the second problem. Many of these children, in addition to not having enough food and/or clothing, are lacking sufficient education, so, if they are not adopted, their lives upon leaving the orphanages are far from accommodating. Every year at least 5,000 of them end up in court, another 3,000 end up living on the street, and 1,500 commit suicide. The rate of drug use, alcoholism, and prostitution among these young adults is horrific. Most simply do not have the skills needed to find work and earn a living.

I know I cannot change much of this in the three short weeks of my stay. My position as a volunteer this summer will include helping the children with their English skills, which will give them a major advantage in life. In addition I will be assisting the orphanage or hospital staff in any way that will be needed, including helping the kids with their school work as needed and giving them attention, which they sorely need, by playing games with them, helping them with arts and crafts, etc. I am a musician, and will hopefully have a chance to introduce some of the children to music, whether it is to teach them the basics of playing an instrument or just helping them to read music. Giving any one of these kids a passion for something like music, and helping them along in anyway, could potentially be the edge that that child will need in order to be able to make a living and survive when he or she leaves the orphanage.

Why I need your help with fundraising: Many people are shocked that I need to pay so much in order to do volunteer work. The reason is so that I do not burden the people I am trying to help. Again, the program I have enrolled in is completely non-profit, and the cost of my program covers only what I will need for food, housing, and in-country orientation. Any help you can provide would be amazing and so appreciated - you would be directly helping these children with your contribution.

I have given much thought to how I could adequately thank anyone who helps with this project. So, since I have been told I should have some internet access from places in Yaroslavl, I've decided to send periodic emails and pictures from Russia to anyone who decides to contribute. This will hopefully help you to feel more involved in how your contribution is directly helping some of these children. If you decide to contribute and are interested in receiving emails, email me at, subject heading "Russia," so that I can add you to the email list.

If you decide that you would like to help fund this work, you can either go to where you will click on "find your volunteer," enter my last name (Alaimo) and then follow the instructions from there. Since this organization is a non-profit, any contribution you make is 100% tax deductible. Or, if you prefer, you can send your contribution to my home address* and make all checks payable to “Cross-Cultural Solutions.”

Thank you so much for reading this and for any help you decide you can give. PLEASE forward this to anyone you know- friends, family, coworkers- who might be interested. Also, of course, if you have any questions, please let me know!! Thanks guys, I hope you all have a great summer!!! :o)

Rose Alaimo
Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine, Class of 2009

*Contact me for this - databoy142 (at) hotmail (dot) com

Tonight's the night! Conjunction of Venus and the Moon!

Tonight Venus and the Moon will snuggle up together in the night sky. At their very closest they will be 3/4 of a degree apart at 10:30 E.D.T., but they will be close throughout the night. Go out and see them!

I am wondering how "old" the Moon has to be before you can see it in full daylight. I will see the Moon at night, or in the darkness of Winter mornings; I will see the gibbous Moon high opposite the sun in the morning or evening hours, and will watch the full Moon set at sunrise or rise at sunset. I've seen a half ("first quarter") Moon in full daylight, and even the "Cylon Moon". But there must be an absolute limit as to how far the Moon needs to be from the sun in the sky before you can see it in full daylight without any sort of aid. I will make a point to look for it today - and if I can manage that, then I will also be able to see Venus in full daylight! This is something I did regularly when I was a kid; the trick is to know exactly where in the sky to look, to have something (like a building) block the light of the sun, and ideally to have an object (like a cloud, or a tree branch, or a church steeple) near to the object in your field of vision. (Stephen James O'Meara recently did a column all about this trick for whichever astronomy magazine he's writing for these days - I think it's Astronomy.)

But all that's beside the point. Go out tonight and see this really beautiful conjunction. And share it with someone else, if you can!

Go here to see what Jack Horkheimer, Star Hustler has to say about this conjunction!

Friday, May 18, 2007

O bumblebee, where art thou?

The plan for today was that I would sleep over at the house, get up, scrape and sand the garage for as long as the bumblebees permitted (last time that was until 10:30 AM), and then switch to finishing off the mortar work. After this I would then head home, finish using the weed-whacker on the dandelions and tall weeds, and then mow the lawn. (Reel mowers tend to just push over tall weeds, so I had to find some other way to remove them. I should really just use my weed-popper on them.)

Last night the weather forecast changed the plans: rain, definitely in the morning and then throughout the day. I decided to stay at home for the night.

When I spontaneously woke up at 5:30 this morning it was to discover that the weather system expected to bring rain had shifted to the East. It was not raining and probably would not rain throughout the day. (I have noticed that even short-range weather forecasts are becoming less and less reliable. Another consequence of climate change?)

So after a hearty breakfast of yogurt, cereal, and fruit and several cups of coffee, and after a few quick stops on the Internet, I was on my way. I set myself up at the garage behind the house with a wary eye for bees. I was glad that it was cold, but knew that that would buy me only so much time. Eventually, the bumblebees would rouse themselves and come out with their "hey you kids get off my lawn" message. I laid out my tarp and resumed scraping from where I had ended on Tuesday when a bumblebee shooed me away.

I started on the loose paint with my putty-knife scraper. I scraped, and scraped, and kept on scraping until there wasn't any scraping left to be done. No bees. I pulled out a different scraper and stripped the boards down to bare wood. Still no bees. I pulled out a wire brush and dug into the grain of the wood and between the boards - the bees hate that, but none of then came out to let me know. I got out my sandpaper and sanding pad and did a quick pore-opening sand on the wood. The bumblebees continued to ignore me. Finally, I got out a broom and began to sweep all the residue of the stuff I had just scraped and sanded off the sides of the building - this, more than anything else, really pisses off the bees. But none of them showed up.

So. Surprisingly, I had finished the entire door-side of the garage. (Aside from trim and parts that I will need a ladder to attack, and the parts that I will need to do while laying on the ground - I plan to do these all at once.) I checked the weather, saw that there was no rain expected within the next few hours, and decided it was time to paint.

As I painted the garage doors with several coats of white Barn & Fence paint (I've almost emptied my five gallon bucket, I'll need to pick up one or two more gallons to finish the garage off) the sun came out. Soon things were warming up. Now, for sure, the bumblebees would come after me. But no, still no bumblebees.

I finished painting the garage (with the exceptions noted above). I really didn't expect to get all this done. And the bees had left me alone for once.

Got my mortar work done, too - well, not done done, sculpting with mortar is more delicate than I expected. so I had to leave some empty chunks for later. Plus I was pretty worn out by this point. But I did make sure that I watered my concrete before I left.

Got back here and ran the weed whacker, but didn't mow. Screw it, that's for later. Tomorrow, unless it rains.

Now I'm wondering if whatever has been affecting honeybees has started affecting bumblebees as well. The few honeybees I have seen in the past few weeks have all seemed stunted, weak, and sluggish. I'll have to keep an eye out for my bumblebees the next time it's warm out. I still have some work left on the garage, so I suppose they'll have an opportunity to attack me next time...if they're still around.

Title reference: One of my favorite movies, O Brother Where Art Thou?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What I learned today

Today was the second half of a two-day course sponsored by my former employer. Frankly, I expected that it would be a waste of time - my friend and I have been taking courses and workshops at Career Link for the past month, and I expected that all this would be covering old ground. Some of it was - most amusingly, some of the things that we were told to always do in the other courses we were told to never do here, and vice versa. But some of the techniques we were taught were new to me, and very helpful, even though the course material was quite old - the copyright on the instructional videos was 2001 (I suspected they were pre-9/11 when the narrator stated that you should "never mention military service, unless it was your full-time occupation"), and the copyright on the workbooks was 1994. (I had been working at my old employer for two years back in 1994. A lot of things have changed since then.)

But the most important thing I learned was about myself and my friend: we are both intensely detail-oriented people who excelled at highly complicated and technical jobs that we loved and that are almost utterly incomprehensible to people from outside of the technical realm. This is a bit of a problem. I am realizing that unless I am looking for another job in a similarly detail-oriented technical field (as I described what we did today, "we cared about nine billion* bytes of data one byte at a time"), I will have to essentially "dumb down" my work history for the benefit of anyone who is interviewing me.

Most people are generalists of one sort or another. Someone who works in a warehouse or a distribution facility can pretty much transfer those skills to any other warehouse or distribution facility. An electronics engineer who works in field A can easily transfer those skills to field B or field C, even if A, B, and C are totally different fields that have nothing in common except for the need for a top-notch electronics engineer. But someone who can take a DVD from concept to actualization, someone who can make nine gigabytes of data dance and pirouette and do backflips as I see fit, someone who can simultaneously solve multiple equations in such a way that every part of your DVD viewing experience is as good as it can possibly get - how do you just pick those skills up and transfer them somewhere else?

The short answer is, you don't. You step back a level and determine what transferable skills you do have. Continuous Improvement, Statistical Process Control, teaching, analyzing, assessing, deciding, managing...and a fanatical attention to detail doesn't hurt, really.

The shorter answer is, I probably won't be mucking around too much with companies where they are not conversant with or appreciative of technical qualifications. At least, not until I get really desperate. And hopefully it won't come to that.

Another thing that I learned is to have a "summary statement" in your résumé. This was not something covered in my previous résumé writing course, although that one did suggest having a summary statement included in a follow-up note that would serve as a mini-résumé, a reminder of who you are and why you should be considered for the job. The summary statement is the up-front ad, the hook that catches the attention of the person who is deciding within ten seconds whether to put your résumé on the "keep" or "toss" pile. The similarities to a personal ad are not entirely coincidental . So anyway, here's mine:
B.S. in Physics with over 15 years experience in industry, including Continuous Improvement and Statistical Process Control. Analytical, intuitive, resourceful, and detail-oriented.
And that's me in a nutshell. If you're interested, contact me at databoy142 at hotmail (dot) com.

*Yes, I know, 9 GB of data doesn't translate exactly into 9,000,000,000 bytes. Don't you get all technical on me, pal.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

More progress

I spent the night over at my new house last night. The plan was to get up and at 'em bright and early - say, 7:00 or so - and start scraping away at the garage doors before the bumblebees had warmed themselves up to flying temperature. Then I would scrape and sand until they came out to let me know that they wanted me to stop, and then I would shift my activities to concrete. It almost worked out that way.

I overslept. I'd like to say that this is because the bed is just so damned comfortable, but that wasn't why. I had a hell of a time getting to sleep last night - it probably would have been easier if I had opened a window, but I didn't think of that until this morning. I slept fitfully, woke up too early a few times, and finally dragged myself out of bed by 8:00. Maybe later. Add in morning ablutions and a breakfast of hard-boiled eggs, an apple, and tea (in my Margo! Saturn! Boxcar! mug from The Comics Curmudgeon) and I didn't get outside to do scraping until 9:00. I was able to get a lot done - pretty much the entire area of one door accessible from the ground - before the bees showed up.

There were four of them this time. For the life of me they seemed to be having a meeting in the air. All of them were facing each other, hovering, dipping up and down a bit. Then something happened that I've noticed before: one of them flew full-speed into another, crashed right into it, and the bee that had been crashed into shifted down to a position just above and behind my head. Is this the way they select the bee that may very well have to sacrifice itself by using its stinger? It didn't need to. I got the message, packed up my stuff and left.

And then it began to rain.

I expected that it would rain. I wanted it to rain. I didn't plan on doing any painting, but I did want to pour some concrete. If I covered the fresh concrete up in time, the rain would work to my advantage by keeping everything cool and moist and helping the concrete to dry slowly. If it rained before I poured the concrete I wouldn't have to worry about wetting anything down first. But having it rain while I wanted to pour the concrete wouldn't do anything but delay me.

I did manage to get some done during a brief interlude between raindrops, about 50 lbs. - again, a mortar box is probably the most wonderful invention ever. I covered it up, and the sky broke open. Actually, while I was working with the concrete the wind picked up to the point that I began thinking that there might be a tornado in the neighborhood, but that passed pretty quickly.

I still had another 80 lb. sack of concrete in the car that I wanted to use. I waited out the storm by making a few phone calls, assembling a rocking bench for my front porch that I bought a few weeks ago, partially disassembling it again when I realized I couldn't get it out of the door and onto the porch, and then hanging out on my rocking bench on my front porch while drinking diet lemon-lime soda from my Margo! Boxcar! Saturn! mug.

Eventually the rain stopped, and I lugged the sack of concrete out of the trunk of my car as quickly as I could, which isn't all that quickly when you're dealing with an 80 lb. sack of anything. Even before I got a chance to mix the concrete with water the rain started again. But that didn't stop me - dammit, I was almost there, I had almost accomplished my goals for the day. I hurriedly did what I had to do, covered it up with plastic, and had a very late lunch.

Tomorrow after my class I will water it for the first time. Then we'll see where we go from there.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

And now he knows

Today, Jerry Falwell found out whether he was right or wrong all this while. My money is on "he was wrong", though there are several different ways in which this could be true. I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Another Monkey is three years old!

Another Monkey is three years old today!

If someone were to randomly ask me to evaluate the past three years of my life, I would probably say "Eh, nothing special." But this blog reminds me of just how wrong that assessment is. By serving as a record of events both trivial and large in my life, it reminds me...well, that life is made up of events both trivial and large, and unless you're paying attention they might not sink in on you.

Some of the events that have happened since I started this blog:

- I lost two uncles, my Father, a dog (Haley) and two cats (Ashes and Minnie.)
- I traveled to Ireland for the third time, and to London for the first time.
- I bought a house that used to be my grandmother's house.
- I lost one of my oldest friends, possibly because of something I wrote on this blog...or possibly because of something this person thought I wrote on this blog.
- I started several other blogs...most of them are pretty much inactive, though NEPA Blogs still gets updated from time to time.
- I made several new friends online, and met some of them in real life.
- I made at least one enemy online.
- I lost my job, and began the search for a new one.

Those are just some of the events from the last three years. It's really been quite a roller coaster ride. (For more information, you can begin reading this blog starting with the May 14, 2004 entry and work your way forward!)

Once again, all my thanks are to you, my readers, without whom I would just be talking to myself. Thanks for reading! I hope to keep providing you with amusing or interesting stuff for years to come!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Support the Harry H. Baker Boys & Girls Club

In case you missed this mention in my "Three things" post the other day, friend of the blog Rima has asked me to pass along a request to you, my readers:

I would love for you to feature the Online Auction I am running for your huge reader-base! You don't have to be in Oakhurst, CA to shop for a good cause!

To learn more about our plight, visit

(I had that second link messed up in the original post.)

Please do what you can to support this worthy cause!

In other news...

Today was Mother's Day - hope you didn't forget! It was also my cousin's daughter's First Holy Communion, an event that took up nearly the whole day - we were at the church by 11:10 for an 11:30 Mass which ran until nearly 1:00 and was followed by pictures at the church for another half-hour, then a party that lasted until nearly 4:00. After that we stopped at my house so I could water my concrete (it's looking less crappy as days go by, though I may still ice everything over with a layer of thin-set mortar), and then it was off to the cemetery to put flowers on the graves. (A lot of other people were doing the same thing. I always noticed that holidays like Mother's Day were big visiting days at the nursing homes. Hey, kids, nice of you to visit, but don't you think your parents and grandparents would appreciate those visits all year round, not just on the days when society decides to guilt you into going?)

By the time we got home it was too late to start any projects that would require extensive prep and clean-up, especially since I have to be out of the house by 7:30 tomorrow for an all-day class in Scranton!

Tomorrow is also the three-year anniversary of this blog. We'll see if I have anything to say about that.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Major conjunction of the Moon and Venus next Saturday

Conjunctions don't mean anything, astronomically speaking. With an occultation, when one object passes in front of another, you can glean all sorts of information from optical effects. But in a conjunction, objects in the sky just appear to be close to each other. No real information can be derived. It's just pretty. And maybe that means that more people will look up at the sky on that night.

Next Saturday, May 19, a very young, thin crescent Moon will snuggle up close to Venus, the third-brightest object in the sky (after the Sun and the Moon) - much closer than last month. They will be visible in the Western sky (the direction where the sun sets) just after sunset. If you're a determined observer, you'll be able to see them before sunset. The crescent Moon should be easy to find, and Venus will be right near it.

As the sky begins to darken, look for another fascinating sight: the dark parts of the Moon will take on a faint, ghostly glow. This is called "Earthshine", and it is caused by sunlight being reflected off of Earth's atmosphere illuminating the parts of the Moon that are facing away from the Sun. (See this post from last month or this post from March for illustrations of Earthshine. Remember, the phases of the Earth as seen from the Moon are the opposite of the phases of the Moon as seen from the Earth. While we are looking at a mostly-darkened Moon with a thin crescent illuminated, an observer on the Moon would see a mostly-illuminated Earth with a thin crescent of darkness. The sunlight reflected from the Earth lights up the Moon much like a bright Moon will light up an otherwise unlit landscape at night.)

So, if you have clear skies next Saturday, May 19, try to see this conjunction. It should be beautiful!

Friday, May 11, 2007

What it's like

You might think that being unemployed is all sitting around, collecting checks, eating candy and watching the Jerry Springer show. Believe me, that's not what it's been like at all.

In the past month I've taken at least a dozen classes and workshops at Pennsylvania Career Link offices in both Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. Next Monday and Thursday I have all-day sessions at the Scranton Chamber of Commerce. I've been to a job fair in the middle of a Springtime blizzard. I've written and rewritten and polished and repolished my résumé. I've bought special résumé paper and special résumé envelopes. I've put out job applications - not too many, because the rule is that if you are offered a job that you have applied for and you turn it down, your unemployment benefits may be immediately terminated. I've signed up with and

And life goes on. Lawns still need mowing, weeds need whacking, my garage needs painting (when the bumblebees permit), my grapevine wall needs mortaring, my grapevine sidewalk needs repair. Let me tell you a story.

I was at the house yesterday pulling out loose chunks of concrete from the sidewalk so I could replace them with new concrete. (The new concrete looks awful, by the way, so now I have to figure out next steps here.) I decided to take a break, so I made some lemonade and put in a call to the Domestic Zookeeper to see how she and her baby are doing. While I was talking to her my mom stopped over to see the progress, and she asked me what had happened to one of the decorative aluminum shutters on the front of my house - one of them on the second floor on the "vacant" side of the house was missing.

While we were looking into this my cell phone rang. It was the friend that I have been going to classes with, calling to tell me about the all-day sessions scheduled for next week - we were only just informed of them yesterday. While I was on this call my mom, who was by then headed back across town, called to tell me that she had spotted the shutter. It wasn't missing, exactly, and was in fact still attached, but by the bottom screws only, and the entire thing had flopped forward onto the porch roof.

So while trying to process this information, I ended all the phone calls and let myself into the other side of the house to see if I could do something. I found the window that would give me access to the shutter and opened it - only to find that this was one of the many windows in the house where the sash weights that would hold the window open are no longer attached. OK, I'd have to try to find a way to hold it open. But first, I removed the screen, not too difficult. Then the storm window - also pretty simple. Now I had to find something to hold the window open.

The first thing I grabbed - a compression rod that could serve as a drapery rod or shower rod - didn't work; it was designed to stay open horizontally, and quickly spun itself to the fully-compressed position when held vertically. After some trial and error I noticed a push pin inexplicably sitting on a radiator. This had been the bedroom for one of the tenants' teenage kids, so there were probably posters tacked up everywhere. A push pin will do it, I thought. I opened the window and pushed it into the track. Yep, that held the window open.

The shutter was completely flopped over. One of the upper screws was still through the shutter, but the other was missing. The two bottom screws were in place, though neither looked to be fully screwed in. I decided my best bet was just to remove the bottom screws and remove the shutter until I could figure out what to do next. Now, how was I gonna do that?

I used to maintain a decent toolbox here at home, but somewhere along the way most of its contents got scattered, including the adjustable wrench and most of the screwdrivers. Fortunately, one of the items left in the toolbox - which is now over at that house - was a right-angle screwdriver, a thing like a steel pencil shaft bent at right angles at the two ends, with a flat-head screwdriver head aligned perpendicular to the shaft on one end, and parallel on the other.

So there I was, hanging halfway out of a second-story window, using one of the few tools I happened to have in the house, removing an aluminum shutter hanging off the front of my house while mentally trying to sort out how I would ever get this thing replaced, and just what I was going to do about my concrete sidewalk, and how I was going to finish my grapevine wall, and whether or not the bumblebees would allow me to finish painting my garage, and how soon the thunderstorms would be rolling in, and when I would get a chance to mow the lawns at both houses, and whether or not my company had processed my COBRA payment yet so I could actually keep my Saturday dental appointment, and how I was going to work all my tasks around my Monday and Thursday all-day sessions in Scranton, and on top of it all wondering if I will be able to get a new job that would pay anything like my old job and wouldn't require me to relocate.

Yep, you might think that being unemployed is all sitting around, collecting checks, eating candy and watching the Jerry Springer show. But believe me, that's not what it's been like at all. For me, anyway.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Happy second blogiversary, Ashley!

Today is the second blogiversary of Ashley's Ink On Paper! Go on over and check it out!

I've been reading Ashley for some time now. She can be funny and she can be serious; her interests include writing, comic books, RENT, Harry Potter, and AIDS activism. She has a big dog named Kreeg, hates hot weather, and is working on co-authoring a book called Behind the Naugahyde - I've read some of the early chapters and it reminds me of a combination of Clerks, Office Space, and the Griffin and Sabine books; it's the story of two women who work at a shoe store and the wacky people they work with, work for, and deal with on a daily basis, told through a combination of e-mails, IMs, logbook entries, and third-person narrative. Plus she's cute as can be and is super super nice. You should visit her site every day! Go over there right now!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Three things

1. At the request of Skullturf Q. Beavispants from The Comics Curmudgeon, here is a Don Martin bit from MAD Magazine issue 150, April 1972 that has some parallels to today's They'll Do It Every Time comic.
Again, I encourage and exhort you to get a copy of Absolutely MAD, the complete (so far) MAD Magazine archives on a single DVD-ROM!

2. Tomorrow is the second blogiversary of Ashley's Ink On Paper. My computer is a little crazy from the heat right now, so there's no guarantee I'll be able to do a proper post congratulating her. Go over and see what she's all about!

3. Rima, and old friend from the early days of this blog, has asked me to direct you, my wonderful, generous, and sanitary readers, to her online auction benefiting the Boys and Girls Clubs of Oakhurst, California.

I would love for you to feature the Online Auction I am running for your huge reader-base! You don't have to be in Oakhurst, CA to shop for a good cause!

To learn more about our plight, visit

Snuffy Smith vs. Rex Morgan, M.D.

For the folks over at The Comics Curmudgeon, here are two panels from "The MAD 'Comic' Opera", Issue 56, July 1960, stolen once again from my Completely MAD discs.

There's so much to love here: the beautiful, shadowed renderings of the characters, the guy taking a direct hit in the back from one of Dick Tracy's stray bullets that went through the window, Rex Morgan's gruesome demise...I particularly love his dying words: "My abdominal cavity has been laterally incised, and all them funny little things in there ain't workin no more!"

I urge you to go out and buy the new, single-DVD version of the MAD archives called Absolutely MAD. Every issue of MAD Magazine at your fingertips! The historical value alone is immense!

Not going fully fluorescent

My family has used household fluorescent lights since long before it was the "green" thing to do. Our kitchen light when I was young was a large circular fixture, and some utility lights in the basement were replaced with "circlelight" lights (six or eight inch fluorescent circles that plugged into a ballast that screwed into a standard socket.) We bought "compact fluorescents" as soon as they hit the market, and paid premium prices for them until economies of scale brought them down to current levels. In my mom's house I would say at least 75% of the lights are compact fluorescent. Even my grandmother's house (now my house) features vintage fluorescent fixtures in the kitchen and the bathroom.

However, there's one set of lights that will stay incandescent, because apparently Jesus wants it that way.

Those are the flood lights in our back yard. These are security lights that are kept on all night long, illuminating the approach to our back door. Over the years I have taken steps to use lower-wattage bulbs to reduce energy consumption, and to switch from "flood" to "spot" patterns to reduce light pollution. This week I decided to take this a step further and replace the 45 Watt incandescent bulbs with 14 Watt fluorescents.

Alas, it was not to be.

The first set that I bought were small indoor/outdoor floodlight bulbs. These were shaped differently from the incandescent flood light bulbs, something more like a standard light bulb with a flattened front. I pulled out my trusty array of attachments for my light-bulb-changing pole, and chose the one designed for standard incandescents. After removing the old bulb, I carefully hoisted the new bulb into position, and turned, and turned, and...nothing.

OK. Must be doing something wrong that the threads were not engaging. I decided that maybe the changing head didn't have the right grip on the bulb. I switched to a suction-cup head with a string release and tried that. Still nothing.

I went over to the other flood light and had the same series of failures.

Giving up, I took one of the fluorescents and one of the incandescents and compared bases. There was a subtle but important difference that gave the incandescent bulb slightly more depth of thread. This, I decided, was what was making the difference.

Today I was in a different store and found a different sort of fluorescent flood light. This one consisted of a standard compact fluorescent within a weatherproof housing. I checked the base and saw that it had the proper base depth. This time, it should work.

I will spare you the details. It did not work, and the attempt ended with not one but two broken fluorescent floodlights under the Rhododendron that is beneath this fixture. Only the protective housings shattered, not the bulbs within, so I don't think I've released any toxic Mercury into the environment. Maybe. I hope.

So now the low-wattage incandescents are back in place, protecting the house from intruders or helping them to see what they are doing, I'm not sure which. Perhaps someday someone will outlaw incandescent bulbs and we'll be forced to deal with this. But for now, I think I've invested enough money in attempting to replace these bulbs. The world will have to try to get by with them as they are.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Putting myself out there

Today I signed up on and (I know, I know...what the hell was I waiting for?) I've had my résumé (those two "é"s look so pretentious) on Pennsylvania Career Link for a while now, and I'm getting tired of the message "Your resume has been viewed 0 times." The demand for people with degrees in Physics and 15 years of experience in industry just isn't that great around here. But here I am, and here I remain, as Leto Atreides said shortly before he was betrayed by a trusted advisor and handed over to his enemies. When I bought my grandmother's house last year it was a decision I vowed not to regret. (Hell, I read that line for the first time in that house, over 23 years ago.) I will commute - I will commute long distances, for the right price - but I will not relocate.

When I started to write this it was to bemoan the fact that neither Careerbuilder nor Monster showed any potential matches for me when I first signed up. (Rather like in that respect.) But as I was writing the opening lines I was also checking the special Gmail account I set up just for the purpose of receiving information related to my job search - and, lo and behold, there were two e-mails from Careerbuilder. One was a laundry list of potential jobs in the area, though many of them stretch the concept of "the area" a bit - my 33 mile commute was 40 minutes on a good day; a 50 mile commute could easily be two hours or more on a bad day. The other was a vague-sounding job offer from a familiar-sounding company with a ridiculously vague "About Us" description. Why the hell would they want me? Is this just a "y'all come" e-mail? I'm still doing some digging and research there.

Tomorrow I'm off to a mandatory two-hour session at the Career Link in Wilkes-Barre. I've been taking classes at the Scranton Career Link for the better part of the last month - ten or eleven classes so far, I think, with one last one scheduled for Friday . I have a feeling of dread going into this that they will want me to begin the process all over again; I equally dread that they will somehow require me to go to another class that will screw up my Friday session. Grrr.

As far as house work goes, I am now at the mercy of the elements. For too long I couldn't do anything because it was too cold - much of this area had measurable snow just three weeks ago. Then I discovered that my ability to scrape, sand, and paint my garage was going to be dictated by some bumblebees. Bumblebees are less active when it is cold, so this needs to be an early morning activity, at least as long as the nights stay cool. (After that I may just get some spray paint and call it good.) Now we are expecting some rainy days, and these are the days when I need to do my concrete work - concrete that dries out too fast will crack and crumble, so you need to add water while it is setting, and if you can finagle some rainy days to keep the temperatures cool and the air damp, so much the better. Rain is expected on Thursday and Friday. I have a class on Friday, so I will need to work as fast as I can all day Thursday to get done what I need to do.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Mother's Day is this Sunday

I'm just sayin', is all. Don't want y'all to forget or somethin'.

(This is true in the U.S. "Mothering Sunday" was some time ago in the U.K., and I believe it was on a different Sunday in Ireland. When I was in Ireland Mothering Sunday seemed to be treated with all the commercial exploitation that we in the U.S. reserve for Christmas.)

My mom is out of town right now, so I bought her Mother's Day presents today. Used one of them, too. Our old Bissel carpet shampooer finally gave up the ghost entirely today - the handle flops around, held together only by the duct tape I wrapped it with yesterday, and now the dispenser button doesn't work anymore. (Also, it turns out I shampooed half the carpet yesterday using only water. Silly me.) I bought her a new carpet shampooer, and since I promised to clean the carpets while she was away I broke it out of its box, assembled it, and took it on its maiden voyage. (Bissel has resolved the handle issue by replacing the plastic assembly with one made primarily of steel tube.)

What? Don't look at me like that. It's not the only thing I got her for Mother's Day. I also got her a new ironing board. (The old one, which I bought her for Mother's Day several years ago, was starting to bend, so she needed a new one.)

I think I am sick. Whether I am having an allergic reaction to the crap I am pulling out of the carpets (carpets = evil) or whether I picked up strep throat while visiting my cousin yesterday, I do not feel so great. Mopey, which is not unusual for the past few - many - weeks, but also a little feverish. And I'm making lots of typos, which is something I do more often than usual when I'm sick. Oh, well, we'll see where this goes.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Hints on mortar work

I learned today that mortar work goes a lot faster if you use a mortar box and a hoe to do the mixing. (The mortar box was $4.98, the hoe was a "cheap hoe" from a discount store for $3.50.) I used a bit more water than was recommended, mixed the mortar to the consistency of thick buttercream icing and then proceeded to use it like putty, patching plaster, or modeling clay.

(I don't like Tim McGraw Toby Keith*, but I have to admit that I like the video he does where he tries to brick up his wife or girlfriend Cask of Amontillado-style in his basement, only to discover that he was standing on the wrong side of his brick wall and has trapped himself. However, even with my limited experience I believe that his mortar mix was too dry and crumbly and would never have had the strength to hold against a good kick or a fairly casual lean.)

So I think in one more session I should be done with the wall. Then it's time to think about the sidewalk. I think I'm going to start by removing any broken pieces that are loose, uneven, or just sticking out, and then pry out any other pieces that seem like they should be removed. (All these will be saved as genealogical artifacts and will be incorporated into other settings.) Then I'll mix up some concrete and use it to patch and fill in the missing sections, topping it with sand. Does that sound even remotely right? We'll find out if it works soon...

*Corrected 7/31/07, thanks to a reminder from an Anonymous commenter.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

I saw a honeybee today

I spent much of the early part of the day today shampooing the carpets in this house. I haven't done this in a while, and I believe that will be the last time I use this carpet shampooer. It is quite old, but considering the number of times I have actually used it its cost-per-use is surprisingly high. In any event, it is breaking at several points - something made of plastic is only designed to last for so long.

I headed over to the house later to continue my mortar work. I used the remnants from a 10 lb. two-year-old bag of mortar to mix up a base layer for a large-ish section of wall that is missing. Unfortunately, when I went to open my second 60 lb. sack of mortar - I used the first one yesterday - I discovered that I didn't have a second 60 lb. sack of mortar; what I had was an 80 lb. sack of cement that I am going to use for the sidewalk repair. So. No more mortar. Need to slide a new module into the "mortar the wall" spot. But what?

Well, this time I had come armed to mow the lawn and whack the weeds. But it felt early - too early to start on that. I decided to give scraping, sanding, and painting the garage doors a shot.

This was not something I should have tried. I have received some, shall we say, complaints - threats, even - from certain neighbors regarding my sanding, scraping, and painting activities around the garage. I need to tread carefully because these are neighbors I do not want to irritate and annoy too much. I think that the best way to avoid this issue is to restrict these activities to the early morning, when temperatures are cooler. Bumblebees are cold-blooded, like all insects, and are less likely to attack when the temperature is cool.

But I tried anyway. It didn't seem so hot this afternoon, but there were still two bumblebee scouts hovering outside the garage, keeping a cautious compound eye on me and my activities. As I set myself up to begin scraping they hovered directly overhead, as if to say Are you sure you want to be doing this? The sun was to my back, and it cast the shadow of my head on the weatherbeaten doors. I watched the plump shadows of the bumblebee guards drop down to just a foot over my head. Ahem. Perhaps you did not hear us the first time. Are you sure you want to be doing this?

(A week ago one of the bumblebee guards that was monitoring my activity did in fact attack me. Fortunately for both of us, I was wearing a thick canvas hat at the time and it bounced off without leaving its stinger embedded in my head, which would have been painful for me and lethal for the bee.)

No, I thought. No, I don't. I quickly packed up my stuff and put it back in the garage.

So now what? Only one option. Mow.

I pulled my mower off the back porch and got ready to begin as the opening music of "A Prairie Home Companion" began to play from my open kitchen window. Hmmm, 6:00, I thought. Later than I thought it was.

And that was when I saw it.

A single honeybee was alighting on the Violets* under my grapevine.

Something is happening to honeybees worldwide, and nobody knows what exactly. Hives are being found empty. Bees are not showing up where and when they're expected. From the reports I have read, this is something which has only been noticed since last November.

Mass bee deaths have happened before. Respiratory parasites have taken out large portions of the U.S. honeybee population in the past. Again, from what I have read, this one seems different. Honeybee bodies are not being found, as if they are being spirited away by alien abductors who have grown bored with cows and humans. Speculations as to the cause are rife, but most of them do not fit the observed timeframe.

There is quite a bit of concern here. Bees are the major pollinators of most fruit crops. Without them we can expect fruit yields to plummet. Without them our whole agricultural system could very well collapse.

According to this month's National Geographic, the native Powhatan people who lived in the vicinity of Jamestown came to look upon what we now know as the common honeybee as a harbinger of doom. These are actually European Honeybees, far more profligate pollinators than their native American counterparts; they were introduced intentionally as part of the colony-establishment project. To the natives, the appearance of European honeybees meant one thing: more damned European colonists. And that usually meant trouble. More trouble than the natives realized: honeybees and earthworms, which were also a European import, were responsible for much of the ecological transformation of the American landscape from the one which the native inhabitants knew to the very different one that quickly took its place.

For me, the appearance of a single honeybee among the wildflowers and weeds under my grapevine was a cheering sight. So small, so much smaller than its big bruiser bumblebee cousins. A single stray step could end its life. But there it was, kissing each Violet in its turn, collecting some of its pollen, inadvertently transferring some to the next flower, and the next. And all alone. None of its sisters were there by its side. Are you the last one in this area?, I thought.

It moved on, and so did I. I had a lawn to mow, and weeds to whack. But not under the grapevine. I would leave those untouched.

*OK, maybe it was on the Dandelions. I'm not sure. But the Violets sound more poetic, don't they? Truth is beauty, beauty truth, right? And I'm pretty sure it was the Violets. It probably was. I think.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Mortar boy

Woke up nice and early today. My alarm clock is a CD player that plays Lauren's song "45"...which is then followed by t.A.T.u. singing "All the Things She Said." After that we switch to Courtney Love, and things go from there.

Breakfast: microwaved salmon, my favorite. Fed the cats, too, though not my salmon.

Out of the house by 8:20 and headed to Career Link in Scranton for a 9:30 class - which turned out to be a retitled version of a class we took last week. Since we were there already, and were the only two people there for the class, we had a nice little conversation with the instructor about job-hunting strategies.

Then I headed to my brother's to pick up his dog. He and his family went to Hersheypark today and he asked me to take her out for a walk. But since it's about 20 miles from his house to mine, and since the dog was just going to be cooped up all day anyway, I told him that I would take her to my house with me.

She's a yappy little dog and she jumped around the car a lot until I opened her window a crack to let her feel the breeze. Once we got to the house I realized that the one thing I really wanted to do was take a nap. Yesterday's activities really did a number on me. Unfortunately, my brother's dog was not in the mood for sleeping - every chance she got she would kiss my face. Eventually I realized I wasn't about to get much rest, so I may as well get some work done.

But what to do? I thought about starting on scraping, sanding, and painting the garage doors, but realized I was still too sore from yesterday to repeat those motions. So that left: mow the lawn - well, that would include the weeds that are springing up in places the mower won't reach, I didn't have my weed whacker, and wasn't about to run home for it; begin repairing the grapevine wall; or begin repairing the sidewalk in front of the grapevine. I decided to start on the wall.

Now keep in mind that my home-improvement-and-repair skills are basically non-existent. I can garden, but that's about it. I've done some plumbing in the past, but my last adventure in that area didn't turn out so well. I don't play with electricity. Painting - well, I can do that, but time will tell how good of a job I've done. I've used mortar once, to repair a cracked stone step, and that's held out for two years.

The wall I am trying to repair is old. How old, I can't tell, but it was old when I was a little boy, and may be as old as the house, more than 90 years. It's been patched numerous times in the past, but now chunks of it are missing. Still, I'm not prepared to rip it down and replace it. So what I'm doing is basically an extensive patch job.

I'm not sure mortar is supposed to be used like this. It's mainly meant for holding stones or bricks together. But that's what I see it doing here: holding together big sections of my wall.

I spent four or five hours out there, mixing mortar from a 60 lb. bag in a plastic Folger's coffee can using a sawed-off tomato stake as a stirring rod, my brother's dog resting happily a safe distance away in the shade. I kept working until I finished the bag, and I got more than half of the wall finished. (While I was doing this my brother came to pick up his dog. He was wondering why I wasn't answering my cell phone. We discovered it was because he was calling my work cell phone, which is apparently still active.) I cleaned out the mixing container by adding a little more water to make a thin slurry that I then used as a crack-filler. By seven o'clock some of the mortar had already dried and set, and the wall was looking good.

It's not perfect by any means, and it's certainly not the way this would be done by a professional, or simply by someone who knew what they were doing, might do it. But I'm hoping it will be good enough for my insurance company.