Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Some sad cat news

Socks has gone missing.

Socks is one of the many stray cats who hang out in our neighborhood. She first appeared a year or two ago as a juvenile, well past the kitten stage but not quite an adult. She was nimble, agile, and independent. She appeared to be the only cat from her litter. She closely resembled Sugar, a pet cat from across the street who is allowed to roam the neighborhood. (Come to think of it, I haven't seen Sugar in a while, either.)

We tried to catch Socks shortly after she first showed up. We actually did catch her; my mom lured her onto our porch with food, and then trapped her on the porch. But she made it clear that she did not want to stay.

She went away for a while, but then came back - oddly changed in the face, as though her feline sense of wonderment has been replaced with a sly and suspicious attitude towards the world. So much changed that for a while I called her "the cat who looks like Socks." But in the absence of any other cat making a claim on the name, we have decided she is Socks.

We thought Socks was a boy until a few weeks ago, when she had a litter of kittens.

Not many kittens. Four, my mom thinks. Then just two.

Socks was a good mother to her kittens. She kept them in a safe, sheltered location - under an overturned wheelbarrow behind our shed. Socks always made sure she was well-fed, always first to come loping along whenever she heard anyone come onto the porch and in turn nursed her kittens every chance she got. Sometimes Socks would just lounge on our neighbor's sidewalk or under a rosebush while her kittens played nearby.

Socks stopped showing up about two days ago. My mother has observed her kittens making tentative approaches to the food she has been setting out.

I cannot imagine Socks would just abandon her kittens. If something, some predator got her, then her now motherless kittens are in danger, also.

The kittens do not look like Socks. Socks was a tabby calico with white feet and lower legs - hence the name. Her kittens are a solid light gray. They are both female. Future breeders.

This morning when I came home from work I set out the Havahart trap facing the wheelbarrow, baited with the food we've been putting out. If the kittens are in the trap when I head for bed, we'll deal with that. If not, I'll release the catch on the trap so the kittens can get to the food without setting it off while I sleep.

Socks was a good cat. I will miss her. SpookyBear, Dot, Butterfly - I miss them. Perhaps some part of them will live on in the kittens we are rescuing from nature, red in tooth and claw.

UPDATE: Got 'em! Both of them! They were both inside the trap when I went outside. I did an experiment a few weeks ago when I saw Bowie, Thor, and BlueBear playing with the trap when I had them for an outing on the porch. They were all very curious about the trap, and eagerly went inside, but the weight of any one kitten was not sufficient to set it off. It took two of them to spring the trap* - unfortunately, while Thor was half in and half out of the gate, which gently closed on him. This made me concerned that the trap could be defeated by a third kitten or come other obstruction. Fortunately, it worked as hoped.

And now, I have five kittens to care for.

*Wait, this can't be right. I caught BlueBear in the trap by himself. Maybe it's just that there's enough room for a second kitten while the other sets it off.

Monday, June 29, 2009

It could happen to you: random violence and head trauma

Michael Jordan's father was killed on July 23, 1993 while he napped at a rest stop, by two people who subsequently stole his car.

I remember thinking when I heard this bit of news that this was something of an inflection point: random violence was no longer something that just touched the anonymous masses, but now it even touched celebrities and their families. This either said something about random violence, or about the preponderance of celebrities in our society.

Less than four years later, on January 16, 1997, Bill Cosby's son Ennis was murdered. He had stopped to change a flat tire and was accosted by two people who killed him while in the process of robbing him.

At this point I decided that no one was safe.

Natasha Richardson died on March 18, 2009, two days after sustaining an apparently minor head injury in a fall.

Now pitchman Billy Mays has also died, possibly as a consequence of a head trauma sustained during a hard airplane landing in Tampa. Even if the cause of death is not due to a concussion or a brain bleed, it is possible that the trauma was sufficient to dislodge a plaque deposit, and this led to his death.

We all know about deaths from violence, especially random violence. But what about deaths resulting from head trauma? The cases of Natasha Richardson and Billy Mays are well-known. How many people have sustained similar head traumas and died as a result, perhaps days after the incident? I know of at least one - my father. How many other people go to their graves without the true cause of their deaths becoming known?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Clean up the Susquehanna Sewer!

I'm going to be lazy (for the most part) and redirect you to steal content from the latest missive from Mark Cour on Circumlocution for Dummies. In addition to being one of the greatest advocates for developing a sense of community in the city of Wilkes-Barre, Mark has also become a major advocate for cleaning up the Susquehanna River. This has come in part from his association with Kayak Dude of the Susquehanna River Sentinel, but also comes from his own love for this area and its environment.

The city of Wilkes-Barre has just made a major investment in opening a kickass beautiful River Commons that allows users to get up close and personal with a river that serves as an open, untreated sewer for folks upriver (particularly and especially Pittston.) From Mark's post:

When it rains like all hell, the combined sewage outflows are predictably going to discharge untold tens of thousands of gallons of untreated raw sewage directly into the river, and at a dizzying rate. Thereby, this is a public health issue that needs to be addressed by both our county officials, as well as our city officials. The public needs to be educated whereas high water events are concerned.

As a general rule, try this one: If the river has swollen beyond the lowest of the River Common’s concrete barriers, it’s most likely tainted by tens of thousands of gallons, perhaps more, of untreated human excrement. When the river swells to that point, you might want to restrict the children to playing in the pulsating fountain just up the hill a ways.
Treating raw sewage overflow is not a sexy issue for politicians to get involved with. It's not the sort of thing that affords the sort of ceremonies and television coverage that accompanied last week's grand opening of the River Common. But it is a necessary and vital thing to do to ensure not just the health of the Susquehanna River, but the health of the people (read: children) who make use of this new, beautiful, celebrated River Commons, and the river that flows past it.

A letter posted on Mark's blog states this problem starkly:

To all:

Many of the recipients of this e-mail have friends in local/regional government. I'm asking that you forward this e-mail, including pictures, to them ASAP. This is a potentially hazardous situation.As we all know, the Susquehanna River has been rising, and it has begun to flood the lower level of the fishing platform. I stopped by on Sunday evening, only to find ~10 young children playing in the river water that was collecting at the lowest level of the fishing platform. This should absolutely not be happening. There is raw sewage pouring into the river due to recent rains. To my utter disgust, I witnessed thousands of gallons of stormwater mixed with raw sewage pouring out of the CSO in Pittston ( by Cooper's ) on Saturday.

You can get a second confirmation here:

(Another Monkey note: See this post - the third picture down is of the sewage outflow.)

Many of these kids were soaking wet from head to toe.

I could really embarrass some folks by naming who was there on Sunday @ ~5:15 p.m., saw this happening..,.and did nothing. I won't this time. I spoke with every parent I could find and told them what was in the water. They all immediately got their kids out.

There should be signage, or at minimum, someone patrolling the park who understands kids should not be playing in river water when there is a clean fountain for that purpose only a hundred feet away.


So. Now that Wilkes-Barre has a beautiful, new River Common, isn't it about time we get to work cleaning up the open sewer that is the Susquehanna River?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Off to a party

Going to a party. Then it's back to work tomorrow night. Wheee.

I'll write more when I can.

Friday, June 26, 2009

I had plans for today

My plan was pretty simple: Oil change in the morning. Activate my new versions of my ATM and Visa cards. Put the final netting on the blueberry bushes. Take Bowie for her one-month follow-up exam in the afternoon. Buy some comic books and kitty litter.

Unfortunately, I overslept.

This was because I stayed up way too late last night. Despite my best efforts at forcing a reset, my body wants to stay on night shift all the time now. I went to sleep (finally) at 4:30 AM and woke up at 9:45 AM (after a false start at 7:45.)

NOTE ON DREAMS: I had two that I recall. The one was that the comic book store I've been visiting since Free Comic Book Day (which in real life is in danger of having the building the guy is operating out of sold out from under him), in order to stay in business, had to share space with a Fashion Bug. To get to the comics, you had to make your way through racks of women's clothing. The other involved a guy who I know (who in real life I need to hire to do some minor home repairs beyond my abilities) who the mayor of Wilkes-Barre needed to do some electrical work for the city. Oddly, the part of the mayor was played by a former manager about two or three levels above me on the org chart about six years ago.

I bounced out of bed, pulled on some shorts, shoes, and a shirt, brushed my teeth, washed my face, brushed my hair, drank a cup of coffee, and dashed across town for my oil change which I had vaguely scheduled for "the morning." I had been planning to weed-whack while I waited, but it had just rained, and it's a very messy mistake to run a weed-whacker on wet grass. So I sat in a chair, watched TV, dozed a bit, and occasionally read through two books on dinosaurs as the minutes stretched into hours.

By 2:00 I was getting antsy. I had already taken care of some minor housekeeping tasks and was eager to get a move on. I had already scrapped my plan to get Bowie in to the doctor today - the only available appointment was at 3:15, for which I would have to be out of the house by 2:45, and I still needed to do things like have breakfast and take a shower.

At 2:30 I decided to walk across the street to the service station and park myself in the waiting room until my car was ready. My car became ready as I stepped into their lot. Perfect timing, sort of. But by then there was no way I could squeeze in that 3:15 appointment, if it were somehow still available.

When I got back here my mom had released the kittens to run free in the kitchen, with a barrier blocking them off from the rest of the house. They found the barrier - a folding side table three feet wide by six feet long - terribly amusing, and had a great time leaping back and forth over it. (Nimble little kitties, they are.) I spent a preposterously long time activating my new credit card, and less than a minute activating my ATM card. I tarried for a while online. And then all hell broke loose.

"All hell" was actually the sky opening up, the angry red line of three merging storm fronts plowing diagonally across northeastern Pennsylvania. The rain came down, hard. The wind blew, hard. The lighting crashed, hard.

And then the street in front of our house flooded.

This wasn't the first time this had happened, and I knew what I had to do. (Interesting. That link goes to an incident that was three years ago tomorrow.) I put on my hiking boots, grabbed my raincoat and buttoned it up over my T-shirt and shorts, and got my trusty six-foot-long iron pry bar. These are useful things to have for removing large stones, prying out roots, breaking thick ice, and using as makeshift spears. They are also useful for clearing out storm drains that have become clogged with gravel, silt, and debris.

I walked outside looking like some sort of whaler/flasher hybrid. By then the rain had stopped, though the occasional bolt of lightning convinced me that it would be a good idea to carry the six-foot-long iron pry bar horizontally rather than vertically. I noticed that the water had mostly cleared the street. Had the clog-prone storm drain cleared itself? No; the drain was covered with water. But where had all the water in the intersection gone?

The manhole cover lying off to one side by itself gave me a clue.

I wish I had been there when the storm waters had blown the manhole cover right off the manhole leading to the storm sewer. That would have been a sight to see. Fortunately the cover and the open manhole made themselves sufficiently obvious that no cars drove into the open hole, which would have at least been an axle-breaking incident.

There was plenty of traffic on the road, so I decided to focus my effort on clearing the storm drain. Insert bar between grates, push into drain opening as far as it would go, pull back. Try to push debris into the opening, or pull it back out of the opening. Whatever worked, whatever got the water draining. Once a flow was established, it would tend to clear itself out.

But that didn't happen. The water would flow out, then flow back. Over and over again.

Finally a break in the traffic gave me an opportunity to nudge the cover back into place using the pry bar. Ease it over...easy, easy, and there's the manhole, and...OH MY GOD.

The manhole opened up to a circular hatch with a ladder on one side. About two feet below the road surface, a raging torrent flowed by. No wonder the water wasn't flowing out of the drain. It had nowhere to flow to.

I pushed the cover back into place and got back to clearing the drain. A quick stop into the house revealed that the police had already been informed of a manhole cover off in this intersection. I called 911 and brought them up-to-date. I also requested a drain-clearing crew, but I'm pretty sure they never showed up. Besides, I had already dealt with the emergency, so what was the rush?

(I'm impressed that the signal for my portable phone reached from deep inside my house to the storm drain across the street in front of my neighbor's house. I'm also impressed that I was able to juggle the phone, the pry bar, and myself without having anything fall into the storm sewer.)

After that the day was pretty much shot. I felt like I had accomplished enough, like I had earned the right to screw around the rest of the day. I did manage to erect another set of blueberry nets, but that's a story for another time. I also made dinner (fried Tilapia, using a breading made from some dried-up rye bread, oyster crackers, Old Bay seasoning, and Italian seasoning) and hauled out some compost.

I never did get the comic books or kitty litter.

Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

If this can could talk...

...it would say "Hey, kids! Remember, don't leave cans of soda on the front seat of your car in hot weather, because they just might explode! So now you know...and knowing is half the battle!" (G.I. JOOOEE............ )

(Those stains on the seat weren't there yesterday. Seriously.)

Tiger lilies and hostas on the Northern side of my house. Pretty ideal for the hostas, since this is about as much sun as they get all year.

Not sure what these weeds are growing by the wall under my grapevine, but they sure are purty.

If the Black Rot doesn't kill them all, I'm going to have tons of grapes this year.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tree Frog in the garden

I worked all night last night, met an old college professor for breakfast, went on a shopping expedition for comic books, whiskey, and gardening supplies, came home, and mowed the lawn.

My mom came out to prune the Rhododendrons while I was mowing the side yard. Shortly after she started she began to signal to me frantically to come and see something. There was something in the Rhododendron she had never seen before - and neither had I, except in pictures. It was a tree frog.

I plucked the frog from its leaf and ran in the house to get my camera. What was a tree frog doing here in Pennsylvania? I had always assumed these were a tropical sort of species. But it turns out there are several tree frogs among the seventeen species of frogs native to Pennsylvania.

This particular tree frog most closely resembles the description given for Cope's Gray Tree Frog*:

Description 1 1/4-2 3/8" (3.2-6 cm). Skin rough; greenish or brownish to gray, with several large dark blotches on back. Dark-edged light spot beneath eye. Under surfaces of thighs bright yellow-orange. Large toe pads.

Certain aspects of the description do not match up exactly:

Habitat Trees and shrubs growing in or near permanent water.
Hmmm. No permanent water I know of, unless the recent rains have produced some mosquito hatcheries around the property.

Nocturnal; they live high in trees and descend only at night, usually just to chorus and to breed.
Well, in that case, I guess we interrupted the poor thing's sleep.

Cope's Gray Tree Frog*, almost but not quite in its natural habitat.

This picture shows the bumpy skin and the bright yellow-orange underside of the thighs, but note the absence of "several large dark blotches on back." Perhaps this is a juvenile?

Finally, a close-up view of a Cope's Gray Tree Frog's butt*. Note the red belly.

The frog soon jumped out of my hands and back into the Rhododendrons, where it can get along with its tree-froggish business. And I went back to mowing the lawn.

*Or a plain old Gray Tree Frog, which is identical in appearance. They differ only in their calls, and the fact that the Gray Tree Frog has twice as many chromosomes as the Cope's Gray Tree Frog. You would think that would make them heavier or something.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Next research obsession: The Threepenny Opera

This is all Alan Moore's fault. And Kevin O'Neill. And Jess Nevins. And Nellie McKay.

It really started with Nellie McKay, who I had never heard of before her appearance on the radio program Fresh Air back on November 21, 2007. If you don't know who she is, do yourself a favor and follow the link. Scroll halfway down the page and click on "Hear the Original 'Fresh Air' Interview and Performance" and be amazed at her remarkable voice, wit, and talent. She played Polly Peachum in the 2006 production of Bertolt Brecht's "The Threepenny Opera", and sang the song "Pirate Jenny" on the show.

This really served as my introduction to the play, which I only knew previously through the song "Mack the Knife". But I had warning well in advance that the next chapter of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" series, "Century: 1910", would be heavily intertwined with The Threepenny Opera. Last week I picked it up, and did my first read-through in little more than a day.

Anyone familiar with the work of Alan Moore, and the Moore/O'Neill "League" stories in particular, knows that these stories deserve and demand close reading. Jess Nevins has done all the heavy lifting by researching and creating heavily detailed guidebooks for each of the previous Volumes as well as The Black Dossier, and has put one together for Century: 1910 as well. (Note: The comment about the source for "Doctor Van Helsing," page 18 panel 3, is a joke. Jess told me so.)

There are details in the book that Jess hasn't touched on, yet - the noose from which Macheath is to hang, with a metal ring looped around the rope instead of the traditional knots, is of a design I've never seen before. I'm not familiar with the music from The Threepenny Opera, aside from "Pirate Jenny" (which figures significantly in the book) and "Mack the Knife." There's so much more to be extracted from this book, but it will take time, and study. I'm not sure how long it will take to find the time, but I will, somehow.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sleeping through another beautiful day

Well, it looked like a beautiful day, but now there are some dark clouds rolling in. So, like yesterday, I will be sleeping through the day and waking up at 2:00 to get ready to leave for work.

I got tapped for overtime. Thursday night. So I will be off as of Wednesday morning, back to work Thursday night, then off again for Friday and Saturday. Somewhere in there I need to mow two lawns.

Falling asleep here. Need to go now.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Bald Eagle on the highway

As I was driving along Route 29 just outside of Nanticoke on the way home this morning, I spotted a larger-than-usual bird majestically rippling its wings just a few feet above the road surface as it came in for a landing. That's not a turkey vulture. That's not how turkey vulture wings move. Could that be a...?

A flash of white made it all-but certain. Bald Eagle!

It made its landing on the side of the road as I approached. I slowed down to get a better look at the majestic symbol of our nation in all its glory. I was suddenly aware of an overpowering odor.

As I drove past I saw the proud, powerful bird lower its head to begin pecking at the carcass of the dead skunk on the shoulder of the highway.

Hey, we all do what we gotta do to survive.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Now for some nice, relaxing work

My four days off are almost always exhausting of late. Really, when you're on night shift, your days off are nights, so unless you plan on prowling all night the last night before you go back to work, or unless you manage to stay awake on the day of your first night off, you really only get three days off.

Monday night was my last night of work. I went right to bed when I got home Tuesday morning. I was probably asleep by 8:00 in the morning and slept until 2:00 in the afternoon, when I got up to unload my mother's car from grocery shopping.

Wednesday I bounced out of bed at 10:00 in the morning and immediately set to work mowing the lawn. With a break for breakfast at the 2/3 mark, I was done by about 2:00. Then I showered, got dressed, and took my mom to an appointment. When I got home it was time to take out the garbage - and the neighbor's cat.

Thursday was pretty much a free day due to rain. I spent some time with the kittens, and then went out on an epic shopping odyssey. I spent enormous amounts of money making sure I will actually get to eat some of the millions of blueberries ripening on my bushes. (The four foot long wooden stakes at Lowes are labeled 98 cents, but their computer says they are $1.77 apiece. Just so you know. I might have been better off with the equally-expensive plastic stakes or the more-expensive steel ones.) That evening I met some friends for dinner.

Yesterday I took my mom to another appointment. While I waited I stopped at my house across town. I checked the mail, watered my tomato plants on the windowsill, hoed a bit in the garden, picked some radishes and purslane, and made a start at mowing the lawn. After picking up my mom I had a lunch of breaded fried Tilapia (breaded and fried by me) with a purslane, radish, and blue cheese salad. Then I went back across town to finish mowing. I also weed-whacked, used a hedge trimmer on some weeds, planted three of my potted tomato plants (started from seed, of course), celebrated the fact that one of the tomato plants eaten down to the stem by birds is coming back, and then sprayed my grapes in an attempt to stall the Black Rot virus that is already showing up on the leaves. (Dammit, I knew I was supposed to apply this stuff when the vines first started leafing out!) Then back over here to painstakingly attach nets to my wooden stakes with little tiny pound-in staples. (Imagine trying to pound in 1/4" double-point nails with no heads and the points aiming in two different directions. That's what I was doing.) As daylight faded I pounded the stakes into the mulch mountains around my blueberries, trying not to entangle and remove more ripening blueberries than I left attached. (One of the very expensive six-foot stakes snapped in half, leaving me with two very expensive three-foot stakes.)

And now it's back to work for four nights. Time for some nice, relaxing money earning.

Friday, June 19, 2009

In which I reap what I did not sow

Today's my last day off before going back to work tomorrow night. I took my mom to an appointment in town this morning. While she was there I stopped over at my house to water and check on the condition of the tomato plants on my windowsill (huge, probably too huge for birds to eat) and start mowing the lawn. Before I did that, I took a look at my garden, which consists of the single tomato plant that the birds did not pick away at, a few sunflowers, some radishes and some carrots. I pulled the mature radishes to have in a salad, but noticed that the unplanted areas of the garden were getting weedy. I got out my hoe and began to slice away.

That's when I noticed that what I was hoeing was purslane.

You've probably seen purslane in your garden, even if you didn't know what it was. It grows as a weed, but is edible, delicious, and surprisingly nutritious. It also makes a nice cover crop for areas of your garden that you haven't planted yet.

I didn't get very far with mowing the lawn before I had to pick up my mom, but I'll be going back after lunch to finish the job. Lunch will include a salad made with freshly-picked radishes and purslane. At least I'm getting something out of the garden!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More cat adventures

Last night was garbage night. A big (and ever-growing) part of garbage night is the Cleaning of the Litter Boxes. The one on the back porch. The small one tucked away near the back door. The one in the bathroom where the kittens are currently being kept sequestered. And the three in the basement.

I had the kittens on a field trip to the back porch when I decided to start cleaning the litter boxes. I came up with an eyeblink plan: Clean the one in the kitchen and replace the litter with the remnant of the pine litter I brought up in a coffee can last week. Clean the ones down in the basement and haul them out in their own bag. Bring up two coffee cans of pine litter and the freshly-washed kitten bed. Clean and replace the litter in the bathroom. Relocate the kittens from the porch to the bathroom. Clean the litter box on the back porch and haul out all garbage.

The plan changed when, as I was cleaning the litter boxes in the basement, I noticed a strange cat watching me from on top of a clothing rack.

This wasn't a kitten. It was a full-grown adult. Black with white smudges on its muzzle and big, wide eyes. Not Joey, who has tuxedo black-and-white markings. Not Babusz, who is a solid charcoal-gray. Besides, this cat was bigger than either of them.

Who the hell are you and how the hell did you get in our cellar? I wondered.

Then it hit me. Our neighbor's cat ran away a few weeks ago. I was pretty sure he was black with white spots on his muzzle.

I called my mom. I happened to have my cell phone with me, which is pretty unusual, and I used it to call the house I was in. I described the cat to her, and she confirmed it was the neighbor's.

Now I just had to get it down. The cat was not actively afraid of me, but did move away whenever I tried to grab it. I was eventually able to maneuver it into an area where I had access from two sides and it had no other means of retreat. He did not struggle when I finally got a hold of him.

He didn't feel like a cat who had been living in the wild (or our back yard) for three weeks or so. He felt like he was a good weight, soft, dry coat, strong but calm. He didn't even struggle as I carried him up the steps, past the kittens on the porch, out into the rain, and over to his own house. He only began to squirm when he heard his owner's voice.

But how did he get in our basement? There is no longer any opening that a cat of any size can squeeze through anywhere in the house. He didn't walk in through the front door (which has a storm door, so he would have to come in through two doors) or through the back door (which opens onto an enclosed porch - so he'd need to come through three doors.)

The most likely explanation would be through the garage - maybe yesterday, when I was unloading the groceries from my mom's solo grocery shopping trip. As a rule we never leave both the garage door and the door from the basement into the garage open, unattended, at the same time. But the garage door was open for a period of time when I was unloading the car. Did the cat secrete itself in the garage while the door was open, and then surreptitiously enter the basement later when the door from the garage to the basement was open? It seems unlikely, as it would still need to have gotten past me.

Or it could be all this happened Monday, as my sister was packing her car? She does sometimes leave the two doors open simultaneously, or might have left either one open by itself long enough for the cat to make a two-stage entrance. But then what did he eat for the past two days? There's no cat food down there. Did he come upstairs and sneak food while the other cats were asleep? That seems unlikely.

Whatever. My neighbor has her cat back. I guess that's what's important.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The sidebar gets longer

I have finally added a live-updating Blog List to the sidebar. This list includes most (but not all) of the blogs on my two previous blog list, plus a handful of sites (like Snopes and New Scientist) that are not technically blogs. It also adds a bunch of blogs I've been following for the past year or so through the "Follow" function on the Blogger homepage, but have never mentioned here.

This list will constantly re-order itself to display the most recently updated sites at the top, with the title and (approximate) age of the post. Once a post gets more than a year old, funny things start to happen. I currently have several blogs linked that have not updated in more than a year.

Eventually I will remove my old lists, preserving them in posts.

I will be making other changes to the sidebar eventually. For now, this one allows me to keep better track of who is posting what when, who is active and who has dropped off the face of the blogosphere. Sadly, this last group includes both of the people who first inspired me to get into blogging, as well as one of the funniest bloggers I've ever read. More on this later.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Bloomsday!

Yes, it's Bloomsday, the day on which people once again think about getting around to reading James Joyce's Ulysses. Maybe. Someday. Eventually.

...Oh, crap. I'm repeating myself.

An update on yesterday: The traffic jam was all cleared out by the time I hit the road. So I got to work 40 minutes early instead of the usual 20 minutes early. No problem. I hung out in the car and talked on the phone.

Done with work now. Need to file for unemployment for the day I was laid off two weeks ago, which meant I had a 24 hour week. I am very sore and was extremely tired - I went to bed as soon as I got home and didn't get up until 2:00 this afternoon. As I awoke I was dreaming I was watching halftime at the Army-Navy game, and the Naval band was playing the 1812 Overture. The cannons were being triggered by a cadet in full dress uniform cutting ropes with a cutlass. I forced myself to stay asleep until the last cannon fired. Possibly something Freudian going on there, I don't know.

Just arranged to meet a friend for breakfast after my last day of work next rotation. That should be interesting.

Mowing this lawn and taking my mom to an appointment tomorrow. Probably more lawn mowing Thursday or Friday. For some reason I thought I was meeting some friends for dinner Friday, but I've just been reminded that it's actually Thursday. Then it's back to work Saturday!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rain, sun, and traffic jams

Woke up this afternoon to the sound of thunder. It's been raining. Then the sun came out. Now it's nice and cool. Perfect weather for growing grass. Also perfect weather for cutting grass. Unfortunately, I'm heading off to work shortly.

A little more shortly than I would like. Just checked Facebook, and Jen posted this news story from WNEP:

Interstate 81 Traffic Alert

8:54 AM EDT, June 15, 2009

Drivers in part of Luzerne County face delays on Monday.

According to PennDOT, Interstate 81 northbound will be down to one near the Dupont/Pittston exit (174).

Crews will be making bridge repairs after an eight-foot hole opened up.

The work is scheduled to wrap up at 3 p.m.

This is directly along my commute, at the point I hit at 5:15 - 5:20. I have a friend who is on the road there now, coming the opposite way, and he called me to tell me the traffic is backed up on 81 for miles. He then called back to tell me that the latest reports on the radio say that construction will be going on until 4:30 - but I doubt that traffic will clear up anytime soon after that.

I'm going to leave early and take an alternate route. I hope 315 isn't too backed up...

Sunday, June 14, 2009

YouTube Weekend: The Cure, "Catch"

Yeah, I know who you remind me of,
a girl I think I used to know...

For those of you viewing this on Facebook, click here for the video. Otherwise, right click on the image above and open in a new Tab or Window.

If that video doesn't work because the Warner Music Group has had it removed, try here.

If that video doesn't work, try contacting the Warner Music Group and tell them to stop being such dicks about the YouTube thing. The videos cause no loss of revenue for them, and by maintaining interest in less-mainstream artists may actually provide a marginal boost to sales.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Loss of an information resource

Gort mentioned this a while back:
On a side note the Scranton Times recently changed it's online format demanding money to read it's articles more than a day old. Since the same company owns the W-B Citizens Voice we can expect that it will follow shortly. The only work around that I can think of right now is to save an article that interest me on a Word Document or Google Doc then reference it later but that is a lot of work. The Times-Leader has been charging for stories more that 7 days old for a long time. I wonder how many people actually pay them to read old news?
As expected, the Citizens' Voice has followed suit. Articles more than a day, or several days, old are archived and are only available for a price. And the archives are somewhat incomplete. I tried looking up Erin Moody's article about the Stained Glass Project and could not locate it in the archives. Nor could I fined a cached version online. Fortunately (for me), someone copied the entire article onto another website. So now I have an electronic copy for myself.

This is not entirely unexpected. The CD and DVD industry have been devastated by people pirating copyrighted material online. The book industry is suffering in the same way - I understand that an unauthorized copy of the first ten chapters of the next book in the "Twilight" series was released online, and now that book is indefinitely delayed. In a discussion on cookbooks in an NPR Facebook post, several commenters noted that they don't bother to buy cookbooks - they just go into bookstores and use their cell phone cameras to copy any desired recipes from the books.

But all this while, newspapers - many of them, anyway - have been giving away their content online for free. Now they have stopped that. They need to make the hemorrhaging stop somehow, before they are completely out of business.

Still, this is tremendous loss to anyone trying to look up information. Not just ordinary yutzes like me, but students, teachers, researchers - anyone with a genuine need for this information will now need to shell out for it - even just to find if what they're paying for is actually what they're looking for.

It seems that there should be another way that a pay-by-article system. How about a "free to subscribers" system? But this is very easily gamed. How about a system where all articles are free to libraries, schools and other places where people traditionally conduct research?

Unless newspapers adopt some alternative system, I fear we will see the rise of online archivists who copy page after page of copyrighted text and then provide it free of charge after the toll gate has closed on the official source of the information. If the desire is strong enough, people will find a workaround.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kittens, Dinosaurs, and Uggs

(OK, that title is technically incorrect: the footwear linked below are NOT Uggs. My mistake. But since the word "uggs" is part of the link name, I will leave it as-is, in accordance of my "don't screw with the URL" policy. )

Please remember to click on the links in the Silence Is The Enemy post every day in June. It costs you nothing, and it generates revenue for an important cause.

My posting may become irregular over the next few days, as work and a visit from my sister overlap. If I'm not around for a while, I'll leave you with this:

Big and little: Scooter hovering over Bowie.

Three siblings: BlueBear at top, Bowie at bottom left, Thor at bottom right. Note the different patterns on Bowie and Thor. In this picture, Bowie appears to have an "angry face", while Thor appears to have a "happy face".

"We found your camera cable!" The gap between keyboard and monitor is guarded by two dinosaurs. Actually, the Elasmosaurus on the right is technically not a dinosaur. And the Styracosaurus on the left bears a stamp indicating that he is actually a "Styrarus."

I received this e-mail the other day and was immediately inclined to ignore it. But the links checked out, and it looked legitimate. I figured I would ask around to see if anyone else received it:


I just stumbled upon your site anothermonkey.blogspot.com and I’m not sure if you’re interested but we created a gift card for your readers which gives them $30 to spend at our store.

Sorry if I’ve wasted any of your time!

Feel free to shoot me any questions or ideas if your keen...

All your readers need to do is visit our website http://www.whooga.com/ and enter the code ANOTHERMON into the cart. We ship to all countries and there are no conditions.

Kind Regards,


(NOTE: These shoes are NOT Uggs, despite what I wrote in the title.)

Turns our Dr. Isis received a similar (though not identical) letter. She also believes it is legitimate. Now, these aren't exactly the sort of shoes I would wear, and I'm not getting anything out of this offer, but I figured there is no loss (and some benefit) to the Cosmic All by passing this offer along. I mean, if you're inclined to want this sort of thing, you'll probably know whether the prices being offered at the store (less a $30 coupon) are decent. If anyone knows of any scammy aspect of this offer, please let me know.

Well, so much for me! Better start getting ready for work.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Kittens and yard work

Kittens and yard work are rapidly consuming all of my time. Everything else is suffering as a result.

I'm not putting as much into blogging, not writing the posts I want to because I just don't have the energy. (I have, however, made major revisions and additions to NEPA Blogs, and I may incorporate some of those changes into Another Monkey.)

I'm gardening in reverse: I started out with three tomato plants set out and now have one. Stupid birds. Next year I'll use Wall-O-Waters, which also protect the young plants from birds. Actually, it's not too late to use them this year...I'll see if I can find any in my shed. I still have a dozen tomato plants in reserve, but I'm reluctant to have them all get eaten. Maybe by next week they'll be taller.

I have about half a dozen people I need to get in touch with. Some of them contacted me several weeks ago and I'm just being unspeakably rude by not getting back to them.

I've found out via Facebook that two unconnected friends have ended their respective relationships. That makes me sad.

I'm also sad that the cute girl who lived across the street from my house across town has moved. I last saw her the night my mom and I were retrieving Bowie from my house - wow, three and a half weeks ago! - and something seemed amiss. She was dressed differently than usual, though usually when I see her she is dressed up for wherever she works. But she was loading stuff into her car. I glanced at her as I got into my car and asked myself Is she moving out? I wanted to ask her, but something stopped me. Maybe I was just tired. Next time I was over thataway, there was a different car in front of her house. It looked like her car, but was a different color. Did she just get a new car? No. Now there's a FOR RENT sign in the window of her apartment. Oh, well. I guess I should have said goodbye when I had the chance.

My twenty-year class reunion from the University of Scranton is this weekend. I'm not going. A lot of people I know aren't going. But some are. Maybe if my job situation were different - like, say, if I weren't working twelve hours each night of the reunion in a factory production job that has nothing to do with my double-major in Physics and Philosophy, a job where every day I get further and further from any possibility of ever again holding a job that does have anything to do with my degree, or indeed any job that requires skills more advanced than the ones involved in doing factory production work - I would consider going. But for now, no. Maybe next time.

Bowie had her initial vet's visit on May 26, so her follow-up will need to be sometime between June 24 and 26, or July 2 or 3, or July 10 or 13 - by which point Thor and BlueBear will be ready for their follow-ups. And I'm sure the grass will need to be mowed, again, during each of those groups of days off.

Kittens and yard work. That's what my life has come to.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Edith Layton Felber Memorial

Adam Felber's mother Edith Felber, also known as historical romance writer Edith Layton, passed away last Tuesday:

My mother, Edith Felber, also known as the author Edith Layton, died early Tuesday, before dawn. She’d been fighting cancer rather secretly but determinedly for quite some time. And only very recently did the disease gain the upper hand.

You can find a wonderful tribute, with her friends and fans sharing their experiences of her
right here.

Those of us who knew her by her third name, “Mom,” (or as she liked to style it on this site, “Old Mother Felber”) know that we’ve lost a beautifully unique, strong woman whose talent and wit was matched by a fierce, proud, unshakeable love for her children, her late husband, and -of course - her doggies.
Adam announced that a special commemoration of her love of doggies has been set up:

There is an Edith Layton Memorial, Fundraiser, and Giveaway you can get involved in, thanks to the terrific ladies at Dear Author and Smart Bitches.

Click either link to find out more, and by all means, help get the word out there.

Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary: Edith Layton Memorial Auction, Giveaway, and Fundraiser

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books Romance Novel Reviews: Edith Layton Memorial Auction, Giveaway, and Fundraiser

Daily cat post

Please remember to click on the links in the Silence Is The Enemy post every day in June. It costs you nothing, and it generates revenue for an important cause.

Haha, I meant to do this as a supplementary post for Tuesday, but I got wrapped up in another post on NEPA Blogs and by the time I looked up, it was already Wednesday! So does this count as my Wednesday post? You'll just have to stay tuned to see!

The two latest additions to our feral kitten collection went to the vet today and got a clean bill of health. Everyone at the vet's office is telling me how I need to capture the rest of the litter, and the mother, and the other two litters and mothers in our neighborhood, and all the other stray cats in Nanticoke, and bring them in to get checked, and spayed, and neutered. As I handed out $114 per kitten for the initial checkup, which included Feline AIDS and Feline Leukemia tests, de-wormer, and an initial distemper shot, as well as a physical exam - a bargain, since I was expecting something more like $150 per cat - I could only smile, nod, and try to figure out how many days of overtime I will have to work to support these cats, when and if overtime becomes available again.

Bowie was glad to finally get to play with Thor and BlueBear. BlueBear seems to be more traumatized than the other kittens - while Thor and Bowie rolled around and ambushed each other, BlueBear preferred to sleep against my heart while curled up under my shirt for well over an hour, something Bowie outgrew several weeks ago.

Tomorrow I think I will be going over to my house across town to mow the lawn, possibly after mowing the lawn here. I may be taking all three kittens with me, to start getting them used to their future home!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Return of SuperG

SuperG's My Distractions In This Modern Life is back! The subtitle is "Blogging a bit on the lessons learned in life."

Check it out!

Monday, June 08, 2009


Please remember to click on the links in the Silence Is The Enemy post every day in June. It costs you nothing, and it generates revenue for an important cause.

BlueBear is a very shy (or frightened) kitten. While Thor has fully adapted to being around humans, and will play with any toys we give him and will even cry when we leave his presence, BlueBear will always hide when we come onto the porch.

BlueBear's name commemorates another black cat who was born to the same mother several years ago. He had no fear of humans whatsoever. Whenever the other kittens from that litter would see us they would scatter, but one would hold his ground and stare at you as you approached. When you were almost close enough to touch him, he would calmly walk away. We called him "Spooky", but one day a nephew caught a glimpse of him and thought he was a bear - and from then on he was named "SpookyBear." It has been several months since I saw SpookyBear, and the last time I saw him he looked bedraggled and weak, and was behaving deferentially towards the younger cats, the ones who were born last October. I presume he has since died, before reaching his third birthday. I think only one cat from his litter is still alive. Feral cats do not have long life expectancies in the wild.

(The name also commemorates the fact that he had beautiful blue eyes about four or five weeks ago, when I was able to pick him up and get a good look at him. The blue is now gone. Bowie also had bluish eyes when we first got her, two weeks ago, but her eyes are now a yellowish-hazel-gray.)

Thor and BlueBear are both about 50% larger than Bowie. I don't know if this is because they are both males, or because they have been eating a different diet than their sister for the last few weeks, or because being outside forces a kitten to grow up faster. Whatever the case, I expect that tomorrow's visit to the vet will not be as much fun as Bowie's visit was two weeks ago.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

NEPA Blogs update

Please remember to click on the links in the Silence Is The Enemy post every day in June. It costs you nothing, and it generates revenue for an important cause.

I've been neglecting NEPA Blogs a lot lately. Gort and Michelle have been supplying updates and new sites and reviewing the existing list of links for dead sites, but the most effort I could manage recently was to post two sites that had been relayed through the comments. But now I've made two changes:

1. I changed the blog template from Minima to Minima Stretch. This makes better use of the full available width of your screen, not just some arbitrarily narrow section in the middle.

2. I added a section that will display the title of the most recent post for each blog, and the date it was written. I have started with a dozen blogs that I know have been updated recently, but I plan on eventually adding all of the blogs that we have listed on our site that still exist. This feature should make it easier to spot the "dead" blogs.

I'll keep adding sites to this list whenever I get the chance, and have the energy. But right now I have to get to bed. One more night of work, and then I get four days off!

Saturday, June 06, 2009


Please remember to click on the links in the Silence Is The Enemy post every day in June. It costs you nothing, and it generates revenue for an important cause.

And now we have three feral kittens. Well, two ferals plus Bowie.

I had a plan half-made up on the way home today: The kittens love the nets, right? They play in them all the time, in a way that the older cats cannot. So if I were to stuff the opening of the Havahart trap with nets, maybe the kittens would manage to get through. Maybe...

As I pulled up at the house I saw three cats playing in the nets at the bottom of the back porch. Two young adults from the litter from last October, and the black kitten.

I especially wanted to grab the black kitten. Not just for the sake of having her. Not even for the sake of getting her out of the breeding population. No, see, whether you want to believe it or not, there are people out there who get their kicks torturing and killing cats.

There's a group of kids in the local inbred haven of Shickshinny (about ten miles from here) who have been recording themselves doing just that and then posting the videos to YouTube. Prosecutors say there's nothing they can do about it, since the videos could have been altered once they were posted. So these kids are free to do as they please.

Black cats are a particular target for this sort of thing.

The cats scattered as I got out of the car. I checked under the overturned cart, but there were no cats hiding there.

I walked onto the porch, and there was the trap, already loaded with cat food. The adult cat we caught yesterday, who tried to exit our porch via a high-speed leap through the screen, apparently didn't manage to eat very much.

I thought what the hell and placed the trap at the bottom of the steps. I stuffed the entrance with nets - not enough to block the door from closing, just enough to intrigue a kitten. I then went into the house to get Bowie and Thor, who were sleeping in two separate - and separated - pet carriers. We would sit on the porch together and wait to see if anyone took the bait.

As soon as I stepped onto the porch, I heard the SLAM of the trap door closing.

Several cats were gathered around the trap, looking at the black kitten inside.

So now we have Bowie, Thor, and the black kitten I had planned to call BlueBear. Back when his or her eyes were blue. They may still be blue, I don't know. I didn't get a good look at him (or her) as he (or she) ran out of the trap and into hiding somewhere on the porch.

I'm glad we have this kitten. It will mean company for Thor, since he isn't allowed to play with the other cats (including his sister Bowie) until he gets checked out by a vet. But he and the black kitten can play as much as they want to.

For the first day we had him Thor cried for his mommy, for his brothers and sisters, for his lost freedom of the wilds of the back yard. Now he cries for one of us to come out onto the porch to keep him company. I want him to draw out the black kitten, to show it the food bowls, and the kitten milk bowl, and the comfy bed where they can snuggle together. But I also tossed a toy out to him, a clever and simple spinner ball. He is having a great time with it on the porch. Hopefully, before too long the black kitten will come out of hiding and decide to play, too.

Thursday, June 04, 2009


Please remember to click on the links in the Silence Is The Enemy post every day in June. It costs you nothing, and it generates revenue for an important cause.

We have a second feral kitten. Almost had a third and a fourth, but they squirmed away. Have set a trap, and will keep checking it.

This one is a little bruiser, at least twice Bowie's mass and pure muscle. Leather gloves were a good idea. Thinking of calling him Thor, but that was the name of Melissa Auf der Maur's late beloved cat, so...I'll think about it.

No pictures yet, because he's very good at hiding. After we grabbed him, I threw him onto the porch, and we've only had peeks of him since. He'll come around, especially if we get some of his brothers or sisters for him to play with.

UPDATE, 10:00 PM: My mom was able to catch Thor on the porch after he spent the entire day alternately hiding and crying.

You'd be forgiven for thinking he looks exactly like Bowie, at least in the face. He has a Mackerel pattern to his Tabby stripes, while Bowie has a squiggle pattern and a large cross on her back, so it won't be hard to tell them apart.

We made a bed for him out on the porch using two towels and a cardboard box. He seems quite comfortable with it.

Bowie and Thor's brother and sister (that's a guess) play in the bird netting we stretched out in an effort to build a trap. The black one (we think it's a girl) was wrapping herself in the nets, while her brother (also a guess) the Tabby tried to seal her off. Unfortunately, she got loose before I could capture her.

I got photos of two of the Tabbies in this litter back on May 26. To be honest, I can't tell which of these is Thor. The one in the first image and on the left in the second image looks too dark, tough, and mean. The one on the right in the second image doesn't seem to have the Tabby "M" on her forehead like Bowie and Thor. Is Thor a third kitten, not seen in these images?

There is now a Havahart trap baited with cat food under the overturned garden cart. We'll see what the morning brings!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Tomatoes, Blueberries, Roses, Cats, Dogwoods, and Toilets

Please remember to click on the links in the Silence Is The Enemy post every day in June. It costs you nothing, and it generates revenue for an important cause.

I planted my garden yesterday, sort of. Three Chadwick's Cherry tomatoes started from seed and six six store-bought marigolds. I have about a dozen more tomatoes almost big enough to plant. I'll probably only plant three or so more over at my house, plant some at my mom's, and give some to my brother and my cousin. These are semi-perennial (well, technically, "hardy annual") tomatoes, in that they will come up again next year from seeds in fruit that falls to the ground this year, unless they are sterilized by cross-pollinating with a potato-leaf tomato like Brandywine.* (Which is why I needed to finally buy some new seed, after over a decade of harvesting tomatoes that grew from fallen seed.)

My main focus now is protecting my blueberries from birds. After investigating a bunch of possibilities, I may just staple bird netting to stakes to make "cages" around the bushes that don't actually come in contact with the bushes. I'll drape more netting over the top as a lid. If that doesn't work, I'll switch to the chicken wire idea and hope that the birds don't just use it as a convenient perch.

More photoblogging. Here are some pictures of my Royal Highness as it appeared on Monday. I was thinking of this as resembling a bouquet of roses the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Then I realized it was closer in size to a Jeep. It's over six feet high, about ten feet along the east-west axis, and about eight feet along the north-south axis. And covered with roses.

Two of Bowie. First, here she is with one of her favorite toys - or maybe hoping to learn to fly:

And here she is in semi-transparent mode.

I met a friend in Tunkhannock today. We had plans for a hike, but the skies opened up shortly after we met. So we settled for shopping at a hardware store, eating a late lunch, and taking a short walk in the rain around town. While passing an abandoned building of unknown previous function, we spotted a flowering tree of some sort growing near it. My friend went over to investigate, and believes it is some sort of eight-petaled Dogwood. Dogwood flowers normally have four petals, I think, so this one is unusual. (But there are known varieties that do have eight or more petals, so maybe this is just one of those.) Perhaps the building was some sort of secret science facility, full of mutagenic radiation or chemicals?

And on the other side of the building...

...a great many discarded toilets.

I'm laid off tomorrow, and possibly the rest of the rotation. First time since I got bumped to night shift back in mid-March. I'll have to dust off the "how to file for unemployment" instructions. But I also have to call back after 9:00 tomorrow morning (and every morning for the next four) to see if I've been un-laid off for the day. What fun.

*This is really just a guess. But I had good luck with the Chadwick's Cherries reseeding themselves for over ten years, regardless of what other sorts of tomatoes we planted. Then one year I planted some Brandywine tomatoes, and from then on - pfft, no more Chadwick's Cherries.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Silence is the Enemy

I first became aware of this through a post on Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy:

Silence is the Enemy: Bad Astronomy

When you see something that outrages you, do you simply accept it, or do you speak out? One problem is that there are so many outrages in the world today it’s hard to know which ones to rage against.

So let me suggest this one: mass rapings of girls across the globe.

Blunt? Yes. But this is truly horrifying, and bluntness makes the point. And the problem here is lack of awareness; did you know that in war-ravaged places like Liberia, Sudan, and the Congo, mass rape of little girls is common.
Learn about it in this disturbing NYT article, if you can stomach it. Reading that made my heart ache.

But that article must have been far more difficult for my Discover Magazine fellow blogger Sheril Kirshenbaum. She bravely describes her own near-rape experience, and has decided to take action, creating Silence is the Enemy, an effort to raise awareness about this appalling situation. She and other bloggers are also raising money for Doctors without Borders so that they can help take care of the victims.

Then I saw another post with this same title, on Dr. Isis's On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess:

Silence is the Enemy : On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess

A few days ago Sheril Kirshenbaum of The Intersection emailed me a story from the New York Times and wrote, "I wonder if we can collaborate on something related to drawing attention to [this?]."

I read Nicholas Kristof's article on the rape of children in post war Liberia with tears in my eyes. Here's an excerpt from the piece, but I'd encourage you to read the article in its entirety. It is a perfect example of brilliant reporting.
I'm not going to write anymore. Instead I will ask you to please - PLEASE - follow the links to these blog posts. Read them. Follow the enclosed link. Post links to them on your own blogs. Do what you can to bring attention to this issue.

Just one thing more from Dr. Isis:

Finally, for the month if June I will donate all of my blogging revenues to the nonprofit organization Doctors Without Borders. This group taken on the task of caring for the childhood victims. Here are the blogs that will be joining me in the donation:


I'd encourage you to click those blogs and visit often, knowing that every click with not only offer you some of the best scientific content around, but that each click will generate revenue to help aid the victims of this travesty. I'd ask you to tell your friends about our efforts, pass this link on to them, and ask them to click also.
Please help. Even with just the click of a mouse.

Monday, June 01, 2009

My (mostly) unironic Dollar Tree shopping trip

Michelle recently posted a link to the X-Entertainment Blog, where Matt the Blogger went out on an expedition to spend $25 at Dollar Tree, and then posted about his purchases. For the most part he bought entertaining crap, toys and whatnot, but almost all of it useless and good for ironic snarking only. I got to wondering: would it be possible to buy $25 worth of useful stuff at Dollar Tree? This morning I got my chance to find out.

My mom needed to go for a medical procedure scheduled for 8:30 this morning. I drove her to it, and then had an unspecified amount of time to kill. I decided to take a ride to the nearby Dollar Tree and see what I could see.

The first thing I saw was a parking lot with more cars than I would have expected at that hour of the morning. They can't all be working here, I thought as I got out of the car and approached the door. And that's when I noticed the second thing: the store didn't open until 9:00.

OK, fine, I thought. I had come prepared for this, with a copy of Phil Plait's Death From The Skies! I read about how bad things would get if a nearby star were to go supernova. (The answer: very bad. After all, this is a book designed to look at, in a scientifically-grounded manner, the different ways in which the universe could destroy all life on Earth, or at least the human race.) As nine o'clock approached I put down the book and...

...watched a dozen other people come from all directions towards the entrance of the Dollar Tree.

Well, damn, I thought, as I moseyed on in.

I first turned my attention to the remaindered books lined up against the front window. I buy a lot of remaindered books. I should feel bad about this. I went through the titles, found a few I recognized, and decided to think them over and come back to them later.

I was just turning to the toys when my phone rang. It was my mom. She was ready to be picked up.

Naturally I suggested that she go with me to the Dollar Tree and see if there was anything there she might want to get.

In the end we purchased twenty-three items. There were three items we bought in pairs, so that's really twenty different items. I tried to gather them all together for a group shot, but I missed a few items.

Spiraling in clockwise from top:

- Deck mop. I need to repaint my steps this year, and I need a mop to clean the dirt and soot off of them before I begin. I don't want to use a "good" mop for this, so a dollar mop will do.
- Cheese Doodles. My mom had to fast before her procedure, and was hungry afterwards. She wanted Cheese Doodles.
- Cooler. Basically a single-use item. But it may prove useful when we're sending frozen things home with my sister.
- Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program by Stephen Gray. I heard this book's author talk about this on Fresh Air back in 2006, about how the cover of the extraordinary renditions program was blown by Planespotters, people who have nothing better to do than hang around airports and obsessively note the details of the planes that come and go.
- Floral foam brick. My mom recently paid top dollar (minus a discount coupon) for floral foam at an arts and crafts store. This stuff will probably work just as well.
- Floral foam ring. Same basic concept, different application.
- Bungee cords. Remember that battery I just had installed? Well, it's rattling when the car idles. Or maybe it's just the carry handle that's rattling. Either way it's pretty annoying. This might be the solution. Or it might make my car explode. Whatever.
- Hand sanitizer. Got two of these, one for me and one for my mom. Will keep in the car.
- Dustpan by Sterlite. This looks pretty well-designed.
- Wiffle balls, set of five. Or six. Good for when the nephews want to play baseball in the back yard.
- Chiclets, six pack. My mom wanted these.

Moving back near the floral foam:
- Aloe sunburn cream. This stuff is also good on burns in general. This container is for the kitchen.
- Salt and pepper shakers. Or in my case, cocoa and powdered sugar shakers. So often I just want to dust on cocoa or powdered sugar in a small area of something I'm making. This might be just the thing. Or maybe there's a reason cocoa is kept in light-proof sealed containers.
- Mini Coke glass. These make nice juice glasses. We had a bunch, but they've all smashed. We bought two.

Zooming in a bit, we come to the last three items in the picture:

- Measuring glass. Once upon a time I had a Garfield mug from, I think, Burger King. That mug had a capacity of exactly one cup. That Garfield mug served as my measuring cup for all the cooking and baking I did during my exile in Delaware. This is similar: A standard-looking pint glass with markings on it indicating cups and ounces, all brightly colored and easy to see.
- Personal fan. My mom got two of these, probably for my nephews to play with.

- And then the one ironic, useless item that I decided I just had to have: The Fun With Bugs! Fly Launcher, a hand-held catapult that comes with plastic flies (with transparent wings), ready to be launched across the room or onto someone's meal or reading material. Also suitable for launching, say, little rubber pigs, if you happen to have any.

This is fun, but not the most fun fly-based toy I have ever seen - at least, packaging-wise. No, nothing compares to Hateful Flies! I purchased these...wow. Many years ago. Maybe in 2001?

Three items were missing from this photo: Graduation Puppy, a toy dog with a mortarboard, a gift for my cousin's daughter, who is graduating from kindergarten; a Butterfinger bar for my mom; and a thick, full-sized Coke glass with handle. (I must have missed that when I pulled the little Coke glass out of the dishwasher for the photo.)

Twenty-three items. Three pairs - the hand sanitizers, the mini Coke glasses, and the mini fans, so twenty unique items. The mini Coke glasses were fifty cents apiece, so the total before tax only came to $22. I fell short of the $25 mark, but I wasn't really aiming for it.

So: It is possible to shop in Dollar Tree in a non-ironic manner and come out with stuff that isn't all crap. I did.