Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Burned out

I think I've broken something.

I've only worked five hours of scheduled overtime in the last seven days. It was on Saturday, from 10:00 to 3:00 (which actually lasted to something like 3:18.) After that, I went to 4:00 Mass, and after that, I went shopping at two different grocery stores. I got home, unloaded the groceries (in two trips), put everything away, sat down for supper, got my lunch together for the next day, wrote my blog post, surfed the internet, and went to bed, to wake up bright and early for my regularly-scheduled 8:30 AM - 7:00 PM Sunday workday.

Monday - yesterday - I had off. I used this time to do long-neglected yard and garden stuff: tied up my sprawling tomatoes, chopped down some black walnut trees and pokeberry bushes and one large oak sapling that had sprung up, and mowed the lawn. Even though the weather was cool - relatively cool, only about 79 F (about 26 C) - I had to take several lengthy breaks. When all was done, I scrubbed myself down and threw together supper, some fake chicken parmigiana (chicken tenders I had pan-sauteed two weeks ago and frozen, bathed in spaghetti sauce and topped with strips of American cheese dusted with Parmesan cheese from a shaker, served over spaghetti) and when that was done I made some oven-fried chicken thighs, my lunch for the next two weeks.

This morning I didn't want to get up, and I started off my work week exhausted.

And that's where I am now. There are things I should do before bed. I've actually half-done them already, and the harder half is behind me. But the rest feels big, too big.

Still, all the overtime I have done over the past month has paid off. I was able to pay many daunting annual bills that are coming due, and I have some more money coming to help cover some others that are on their way. I can't quite cover everything through the end of the year, and certainly can't cover the county and municipal bills that will show up in January, but I still have time to work and put stuff away.

Which is a good thing, since in sixty days, I will be without a job.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Whipvine (Wild Hops)

My tomatoes are a bit of a mess right now. I've neglected them for nearly three weeks, and in that time they've grown like weeds, set fruit, flopped over above the points where I had them tied, hit the ground, and grown some more. I picked them up off the ground as carefully as I could and tried my best to tie them up without breaking the stems. I was mostly successful.

I realized I had forgotten about the two tomato plants next to the composter. (At least one of them, it turns out, is a Roma.) In working to get those vines tied up, I realized I had also forgotten about an old nemesis from last year: wild hops. Whipvine.

Wild hops is an aggressive weed that filled the space next to my composter this time last year. It is a climbing vine covered with tiny hooks. It feels like sandpaper, but if it rubs against exposed skin it leaves angry, burning, itching marks that look like whip lashes and grow more irritated over time. I first encountered it last August 1. I pulled out a large quantity of it by hand. I wore leather gloves that kept my hands protected, but my forearms were exposed. Shortly after I finished removing all the wild hops, the effects started to set in.

A few hours after removing wild hops last August 1.

But the worst was yet to come...
Later that evening, secondary effects kicked in: nausea and a feeling of dread. It wasn't pleasant. Fortunately, it didn't last. The feelings subsided within an hour. The itching went away overnight. The red lash marks lasted for well over a week.

This time wasn't nearly as bad. I wasn't wearing gloves as I worked on tying up my tomatoes, but I only brushed against the vines with the back of my left arm. It's covered with burning, itching red marks now, and the feelings of nausea and dread have come and gone. I pulled the offending vine - just a single vine, not the dozens I removed last year - and covered the place that it grew out of with several inches of fresh grass clippings. I'll keep an eye out for any additional wild hops vines that pop up near the tomatoes.

NOTE: There are several different plants known as "wild hops." These are Japanese wild hops, Humulus japonicus.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Mars at opposition, July 29, 2018

Mars is currently at opposition. That means - well, for simplicity's sake, imagine that the Earth is the center of the solar system, and the Sun and planets go around it. At opposition the Sun and the thing in opposition - in this case, Mars - are directly opposite each other in Earth's sky. From a practical point of view, this means we are as close (or nearly as close, orbital mechanics can be complicated) to Mars as we will be during our current orbit around the Sun. This isn't a record-close opposition, so Mars isn't as big or as bright as it has been at other times, and certainly isn't the size of the Full Moon, despite what internet hoaxes passed along by pranksters and well-meaning dupes will tell you. Actually, the just-past-Full Moon dims the light of Mars a bit, as it lights up haze in the atmosphere and makes the sky brighter than it would be otherwise. Still, it's worth going out to view, now and for the next few nights. Mars will be the bright red thing in the south, not quite halfway up the sky. It will fade rapidly as we leave it behind in our own trip around the sun. So catch it while you can!

Mars showing true color. Bigger than actual size due to brightness.

Mars, actual size at 42x magnification. (Dim in upper center. You may need to click to see the full-sized version to actually see it.) Compare to these images of the Moon and Jupiter at the same magnification.

Same image, brightness and contrast enhanced.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Gardening maintenance required

Weather permitting, I need to do quite a bit of work with my tomatoes on Monday. NOTE TO SELF: Tomatoes should be tied and retied once a week during the growing season. Letting them go for several weeks without tying them up is an invitation to sprawl. None of the fruits have touched the ground, as far as I can tell, but some of the vines have, and have sent up new shoots that are covered with new blossoms. Today I bought some sisal - or is it jute? - because there just aren't enough scrap strips of cloth in the house to tie up everything that needs tying up.

I may still be on pace with 2016, when I harvested my first tomatoes mid-August. I'm hoping to make and pack away lots of sauce this year.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Summer on the downswing

It's been a weird summer, and the weirdness isn't showing any signs of ending. But the summer is.

When I was a kid, my grandmother's birthday was always the point where it became obvious that summer was coming to an end. We would gather at her house, all the family that lived in the area, and have a coconut-iced cake and ice cream that always tasted strangely off and we would sing "Sto Lat," a traditional Polish birthday song that means "May you live 100 years." (She only made it to 88, three years older than my mother will be in a few weeks.) The following weekend - the final weekend of July - was the weekend of the St.Mary's church bazaar, another milepost in the ending of the season.

From that point on it was probably the same as for most kids growing up then. August was one last chance to squeeze some fun out of the summer, and to hell with the back-to-school sales. Despite the last-minute family trips, and no matter how fast we rode our bikes up and down the street, soon the smell of new school supplies, crayons and pencils and tablets and binders, would let us know that summer was ending for good.

The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon was the end of the ending. Staying up late to see current celebrities and bands, mixed in with lots of people we didn't know and didn't care about, was our last gasp. In a day or two we would be back in school, sitting through classes, feeling like it was all a bad joke, like if we wished for it hard enough, we could be outside again and free to play all day.

So this is it. Not the end, but the beginning of the end.

Are we prepared for what comes next?

Thursday, July 26, 2018


My seventeen day stretch of working is over. Eleven ten-hour days, two five-hour days, three three-hour days, and one two-hour day, plus a little extra most days. Tomorrow is payday, so I get to reap some of the benefits of what I just did.

First thing tomorrow, I plan on paying a stack of bills, recharging a few credit cards, and squirreling away some stuff for upcoming major bills. Then I'll take my mom to a few appointments, then go shopping. If it's not raining, I may hang more laundry on the line. Maybe I'll make a few more weeks worth of lunches and pack them away.

Some new flowers have bloomed. Phlox and butterfly bush, among others. One of the Rose of Sharon I assumed was pink has turned lavender. I may get a few shots of that. There's a lot of weeding to do. If it's dry enough, I may mow the lawn.

Saturday I do another five hours of overtime.

UPDATE, FRIDAY, JULY 27, 10:00 AM: Already mostly spent.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018


Tomorrow is my last consecutive day of work. I'm allowing myself Friday off - it's one of my regularly scheduled days off - but I will go in for another five hours of overtime on Saturday. Still, the day off will break the streak at seventeen consecutive days of being at work, at least part of the time.

Coincidentally, my friend will have been in the hospital for all or part of those seventeen days. She was located and hospitalized on the day this streak started. She's getting released tomorrow.

I hope she's ready to come out. I thought she was ready last time, but now it's clear she wasn't. She made a series of bad decisions that contributed to putting her back in the hospital after just three weeks. Now I worry that she's being released into the care - or at least company - of someone who actively participated in some of those bad decisions, someone who has lately been trying to separate her from her longtime friends, threatening them if they try to get in touch with her.

I may get to see her on Monday afternoon. That's another regularly scheduled day off. It's also the last day I could earn the big bonus money, though I would have to put in more than four hours of overtime to do that. From a practical point of view, that would mean working from 9:30 to 2:00. I don't see myself doing that. I hope I get to see her. It would be the first time since I picked her up after her release from the hospital on June 18.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

There's a story about that...

I just went through a list of synopses of stories I plan on writing, stories that have been kicking around for a while. Halfway through I thought,"Damn, I'd really like to read these stories." Then I remembered I have to write them first.

I have - well, I haven't had in a while, but let me go on - recurring dreams of flying. It's a common enough theme, and I believe is supposed to indicate some sexual frustration or something like that. In my dreams, though, I'm not really flying, more sort of slowly and gently floating. Like, I can kick off, from a standing position, and float to the ceiling, and then navigate to the other side of the room. Sometimes in dreams I use this as a way to cross the street. It takes more time than the usual way of crossing, but it is a bit more fun and surprising.

I had a notion to incorporate this into a short story: an everyday schlub leads a frustratingly uninteresting life, full of demands and expectation and low on fulfillment. But into the humdrum routine of his life he introduces a newfound ability to fly - well, float - that he mainly does only when no one is looking. (Except when he does it to battle bad guys and save the day, but they're usually too unconscious when he's done with them to say anything.) The old demands and expectations are still there, and are increasingly not being met, but he is feeling a new sense of fulfillment from his fantasies of flying.

Then I realized I was just reimagining O. Henry's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, mixed with the character played by Christopher Walken in the "Weapon of Choice" video. Realizing how unoriginal my idea was was totally a "Simpsons Did It" moment.

A while back science fiction author David Brin announced an idea for effectively weaponizing this. TASAT - "There's a Story about That" - is an organization devoted to calling on the collective brainpower of readers everywhere to approach novel problems and situations by recalling analogous stories and sharing relevant approaches and resolutions. Basically, whatever weirdness the universe and society throw at us, odds are someone has already written a story that addresses similar problems and solutions. Ironically, or at least recursively, when he posted about this effort I had just finished re-reading "The Alien Way" by Gordon R. Dickson, in which a naturalist with a specialization in the behavior of bears is able to recall and painstakingly track down a relevant scholarly article that helps him to understand the social psychology of an alien race and avert an invasion. There are millions of stories out there, filled with tens of millions of ideas, and hundreds of millions of people who have read these stories. How many problems will we face in the future that have already been described and dealt with in stories, some so old and obscure that only a few people have read them? We may be glad to learn that the problem we are facing is nothing new under the sun, that someone already imagined it, and a solution to it - and someone else remembers that problem and how it was dealt with. When the time comes, will the voices of those people be heard?

Monday, July 23, 2018

Rainy Monday

Today was a three hour work day for me. Naturally, it turned into a three-and-a-half hour day, plus a bit more. On the way home I stopped to put fifteen dollars in the gas tank - just over five gallons at $2.959/gallon - ran in the house to brush my teeth, and then stopped at the dentist for a quick touch-up on the cap I had put in last week.

It rained off and on throughout the day, in brief but very heavy storms that have caused flash floods throughout the state. Both Knoebel's and Hershey Park have sustained some flooding, and Hershey Park will be closed indefinitely.

My tomatoes have shot up tremendously. How tall they are, I'm not sure, since most have started to flop over under their own weight, and one has uprooted its stake. I think most are now over six feet tall. I believe I'm still a week or two from ripe tomatoes.

My friend gets released from the hospital on Thursday. Here's to third chances.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Day 13

I have worked every day since July 9. Not all of these were my full ten-hour days; one was two hours, two were three hours, and two were five hours - plus overage from being stuck on calls, which happened about 3/4 of the time. Tomorrow is another three hour day, then I have three ten-hour days, and then, this Friday, after seventeen consecutive days, I am allowing myself a day off to mow the lawn, tend to the gardens, and take my mom to an appointment, followed by another five-hour day on Saturday. After that, who knows? If the company continues to offer the incentive they've been offering with the guarantee they've been offering, I may just keep this up for as long as it lasts - and as long as I last.

Friday, my selected day off, is also payday. We'll see how well this plan has worked out.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

On the line

This Summer I have been line-drying clothes whenever possible. It's the first time I have done this in - well, forever, really. My mom used to hang laundry on the clothesline quite a bit, but that was long ago, and she isn't able to do that sort of thing anymore. But I can, and the weather has been quite agreeable this year, so I've been taking advantage of our "solar powered clothes dryer." The method has some disadvantages - mechanical drying is better at removing lint, and if the wind isn't in your favor, many clothes come out stiff unless you use fabric softener - but you can't beat the smell of clothes that have been dried on a line!

Friday, July 20, 2018

Moon and Jupiter, July 20, 2018

I missed the Moon's close encounter with Venus the other day. Here it is getting relatively close to Jupiter tonight.

First, an in-context shot: The Moon and Jupiter hang low in the West, a few hours before setting.

Next, a tight shot of the Moon and Jupiter.The Moon is badly overexposed, while Jupiter is little more than a small white dot.

The Moon at maximum magnification - 42x, I believe - with the brightness cranked down.

Jupiter at the same magnification, now overexposed due to the shutter staying open longer to image Jupiter's moons. Note that the moons are stretched out, indicating the distance they moved across the sky while the shutter stayed open.

Javascript Jupiter helpfully illustrates the positions of the moons of Jupiter at any given time.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

In reality

If someone says to you something regarding a current situation and a plan for the future, and you know that every element of this statement is untrue, it seems to me that there are three possibilities:

1. They are lying. They are deliberately making a statement to you that they know is false.

2. They are delusional. They believe that the statement they are making is true, even though you know it is not, and you know that they should be aware that it is not.

(Which opens up possibility 2a: They are mistaken. Their false statement is based on sincerely held beliefs - even if they should be aware that these beliefs are incorrect.)

3. They are telling the truth. It is you who have been lying to yourself, or deluded, or simply mistaken in your assumptions about reality.

I'm not sure which of these is the scariest option.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The sky on garbage night

The last time my friend was hospitalized - about five weeks ago - I happened to be on vacation. I had managed to get nearly an entire continuous week off. I had plans of all sorts, plans that had mostly gone out the window even before I became aware of her situation. But once I knew about it I rearranged my entire schedule. I made time to visit her every day during the permitted visiting hour, except for the one day I had a scheduled commitment from months earlier. I spent my days half-waiting for calls from her, for requests to look up addresses and phone numbers for things that she would need to take care of once she was out. When the big day came for her to get out, I had already resumed my work schedule, but by sheer coincidence her release was on my day off. I was the one who picked her up when she was released from the hospital and drove her off into a world of freedom and second chances.

Three weeks after she was released, when her second breakdown occurred, things were different. I didn't have any vacation scheduled, so the possibility of overtime loomed large, overtime I needed to start working for reasons I'll disclose sometime. A massive overtime incentive - a huge hourly bonus on top of time and a half pay - made it impossible to pass up. So I've been working overtime every day that I can. The last day off I had was the day of her breakdown, when I spent most of the day communicating with the one person she regularly talks to anymore, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. When I went to work the next day she was still missing, and I was steeling myself for the possibility that she was dead of exposure in a field or drowned in a pond in a small town on the other side of the state. I was overjoyed to hear when she was found later that day, even though it meant she was probably going back into a hospital for a long, long time.

But this time the hospital she's in is on the other side of the state, not just a quick ride away. I haven't talked to her since she went in, but I'm trying to get in touch. I won't be able to visit her every day, or drive her out whenever they decide she's ready to come out. I have no idea what a third chance will look like for her.

So I'm losing myself in work. Neglecting other things I cared about. Work helps keep my mind off things, and there's all that money. So much money.

I don't remember the last time I went outside and looked at the night sky. Summer is a rough time for this: it doesn't get dark until late, and the sky is usually thick with haze. But tonight is garbage night, and while I tried to get that tedious task done early, the outside cats had other ideas, showing up for their dinner just was I was walking out with the second bag of garbage. So I had to wait, and wait, and wait. By the time I judged it safe enough to take the garbage out without scaring the cats as they ate, it was nearly 10:30.

I stepped off the porch with cans and bottles for recycling and glanced up at the night sky. It had a strangely mottled appearance, like it was covered with clouds. But stars were clearly visible, even dim ones. As I took out the bags of garbage, I realized the sky was not cloudy, but extremely clear. The mottling I was seeing was actually the Milky Way Galaxy stretching across the summer sky.

I switched off the outside lights to get a clearer look. The sky was quite bright with light pollution from artificial sources and the first-quarter Moon. Still, I could easily see constellations and asterisms that I hadn't seen in a long time. Soon I saw more: wee dim satellites crossing the sky in every direction, and one immense, bloated, deep-red object glowing low in the south. At first I thought it was an approaching plane, or a slow-moving Chinese Lantern. But after I had carried the garbage and recyclables to the curb I realized the red object had barely moved at all. A quick check showed that it was Mars, just nine days from Opposition, the point where it will be directly opposite the Sun from the point of view of Earth, and appear largest and brightest in our sky.

Last time my friend was in the hospital, we had a stretch of incredibly beautiful and comfortable weather, punctuated by a single horrible storm and massively damaging tornado. This time, the weather will not be as nice, but she will be missing other things just as rare and beautiful.

Cherish your freedom, and your sanity. You could easily and quickly lose both.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The dream of cats and dogs

I overslept this morning. I'm wearing myself out. Things seem to be getting worse and worse for my friend - or, at least, she's slipping farther and farther away from the person any of her friends thought they knew. The crisis with the Traitor Trump is escalating. And I had a dream.

There were Jehovah's Witnesses in the neighborhood. This isn't so unusual, in reality; they have a Kingdom Hall just a few blocks from here. Heck, I think my neighbors are Jehovah's Witnesses. But it's unusual to see them going door to door, proselytizing, and when they do, word spreads around the neighborhood fast. I think that's what was happening in this dream. I decided to chase them away - something I wouldn't do in real life - and somehow that involved opening our garage door. When I closed it a few hours later, I discovered that I had accidentally let in about a dozen cats.

I found myself standing in the garage, looking at a dozen cats who had arranged themselves into a semicircle. They were all staring at me, and each one had an empty bowl next to it. I looked at the cats closest to me and realized that at least two of them were not cats at all, but dogs, tiny, cat-sized dogs, with comically distorted features - one of them had a huge nose that covered much of its muzzle. But they had empty bowls, too, and I began going through the house looking for a dozen cans of cat food and a couple of cans of dog food. (We haven't bought dog food in a while, since Hershey died, and I tried to give away all the leftover cans of dog food to a local veterinary hospital, but I still find cans from time to time.)

And then the dream ended. Maybe that's when I woke up. I wonder where it would have gone from there.

Monday, July 16, 2018


Three hours of overtime today. Left on time, for once. Regular work week begins tomorrow.

On the way home I stopped at the drugstore for my mom. Took the laundry that I had hung up before heading to work off the line, because it looked (briefly) like it might rain. (It didn't. It will possibly rain tonight.) Went to the dentist to get a cap put on a tooth. Went grocery shopping after that. Came home, put away the groceries, and worried about my friend. (I have heard nothing from her since she was hospitalized. Last time she called me five times a day. This time, nothing.)  Made a week and a half of lunches, then made a week's worth of dinners. Washed the dishes. Emptied and changed the litter boxes. Watched some commentary on Putin's puppet's performance in Helsinki. Got my stuff ready for tomorrow.

The work week begins again tomorrow. Three ten-hour (minimum) days, followed by two days off during which I will work at least two more hours of overtime, and possibly a lot more, followed by another ten-hour day, another day off possibly spent working overtime, and then the cycle begins again. I'm not just sucking up the overtime for the money. This is also helping keep my mind off my friend, since there isn't a damned thing I can do for her. But it's mostly about the money.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Day 7 of whatever

Today was my seventh sixth consecutive day of work, and tomorrow will be my eighth seventh.

I worked my usual ten-hour shift on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I worked two hours of overtime on Friday and five hours of overtime on Saturday. I worked another regularly-scheduled ten-hour day today, and tomorrow I will work another three hours of overtime. Nearly every one of these days has been extended by fifteen minutes to an hour. My regular schedule begins again on Tuesday, and I'll work at least one but probably three hours of overtime on Friday. After that, who knows.

I'm doing this because I need the money, and there's a huge incentive being paid for overtime right now. I'm also doing it to occupy my mind and my time, to keep me from worrying all the time about my lost, sick friend for whom I can do nothing right now. Will the person I knew ever come back? Or is this the new normal, the way things are going to be? (At least, until they get worse.)

CORRECTION, 7/16/2018: Yesterday was my sixth consecutive day of work. Today is the seventh. I have corrected this in the post, but left the title as-is. Maybe I'm overdoing this a bit. Then again, I used to work four consecutive twelve-hour shifts at the DVD factory, with an hour (or up to an hour) commute at either end, and routinely tacked on a fifth or sixth twelve-hour day of overtime. I should be able to do this easily. Maybe I'm just getting old.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Trumpet vine

My two hours of overtime yesterday became two-and-a-half. My five hours of overtime today became six. Tomorrow I go in for a regularly scheduled ten hour day, and then on Monday I have another three hours of overtime and a dental appointment.

It helps me not think about a friend who has made an utter mess of her life, a friend I'd like to help but can't do a damned thing to help.

Here are some more flowers. I planted a single Trumpet Vine (or Hummingbird Vine) in 1997 because I like hummingbirds. The vine quickly became "vines" and spread all over the yard, faster than I could fight them back, but didn't put out any flowers for a good ten years. Now, they flower in profusion - sometimes the first sign that the vines have moved into an area is the appearance of flowers that look like the Rolling Stones lips logo.

This was on July 4 in the upper (south) side of the yard, near the mulberry tree. I'm not sure if these were just budding or had not yet opened for the day.

July 13. This is the location of the original vine, to the left of the driveway on the north side of the house.

Close-up in color. These flowers are not wet - it hasn't rained in a while. 

In high contrast monochrome. The surface texture of the flower is more obvious here.

Twenty-one years since I planted them, eleven years since they began to flower profusely, and I have yet to see a hummingbird attracted to one.

UPDATE: Shortly after I posted this, we had a brief but heavy downpour.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Rose of Sharon

There are several different flowers known as "Rose of Sharon," but in the U.S. the term is most often applied to Hibiscus syriacus, native to India and many parts of Asia and the national flower of South Korea. In my yard it is practically a weed, reproducing like mad from the half-dozen plants we were gifted by a neighbor about fifteen years ago.

Multiple colors of Rose of Sharon have taken up residence throughout our yard:

This is one of the few pure white specimens in our yard. I thought I had some lavender ones somewhere, but it's possible I cut them down while trying to open up space for a rosebush that they were crowding out.

The high-contrast monochrome version doesn't reveal much, except to make it clear that the flower is actually a very pale cream color.

This is the most common color variation I have seen, white with a deep red center.

This pink one with a red center holds its blossoms high. While most of my flower photos were taken in close-up mode, this one had to be photographed with a zoom. Note that this one has a bumblebee visitor!

This is another pink-and-red version, with blossoms held much lower. The flowers seem to be shaped differently from the ones in the previous photo. The red center is much lighter than the one on the white-and-red version.

Rose of Sharon started to bloom shortly after the Fourth of July, though today was the first time that I noticed so many different varieties in bloom. I think there are a few more that have yet to open. We'll see if other color variations appear.

UPDATE, August 6, 2018: It took a few weeks, but lavender varieties started to bloom in late July. All of the Rose of Sharon - bushes? trees? some are well over twelve feet tall - are still in full bloom, and there's a broad variety of colors on display simultaneously.

Thursday, July 12, 2018


Thoughts of homunculi and hibiscus dance through my head, pushed aside by worry over the damage a friend has done to her life and herself. Where does brain chemistry end and the person begin? Is there even a distinction? To what extent are we responsible for our own actions, and not puppets of our hardwiring and coding errors in our wetware?

The days are growing shorter. Working the shift I'm on, I can see that clearly. I wanted to take pictures of the numerous varieties of Hibiscus syriaca - Rose of Sharon - that have been blooming in our yard since shortly after the Fourth of July, but the light is fading almost as soon as I get home. Granted, each of my work days has been pushed out an extra fifteen minutes to a half hour lately. Not that I'm complaining - more overtime putting cash in my account. Tomorrow is my day off, but I have signed up for two hours of overtime, so I should have a chance to get some photos in the garden.

(Or not. Today I had a call that lasted 4 hours 17 minutes 23 seconds - quite possibly a personal record. I did manage to talk someone down from doing something ridiculous with her reservations, and saved her many thousands of dollars in the process.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


I'm done with vacations and holidays for the foreseeable future. There's a very generous overtime incentive being offered right now. My current schedule has me working four ten-hour days with three days off this week. This week I will be working overtime for part of each of those days: two hours the first day, five the second, and three the third (which is technically part of next week.) Not so bad.

We'll see how long I can keep up this pace.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018


My friend has been found, and is now in a position, I hope, to get the treatment she needs.

Things were rough the last time through. We had amazingly beautiful weather, and she was locked up. We had a tornado, and she was locked up. Every day I wanted to see her get out. When the time came for her to be released, I was the one who drove the getaway car. It was a hot and humid but otherwise gorgeous day - June 18.

Three weeks later she was having another breakdown. I have no idea where she slept last night, or even if she slept. But she's been found, and she's going to get help. She'll probably be inside for a lot more than ten days this time, and I don't have any idea what things will be like when she's released.

One day a time.

Monday, July 09, 2018

From bad to worse

I have a friend who is in a great deal of trouble right now. The things that led to her being institutionalized almost exactly a month ago have led to another breakdown. This time she has done some things in public and to strangers, and currently can't be located. Authorities - lots of people - are looking for her, and when they have found her, I am hopeful that she will get the treatment necessary to heal her mind. Whatever was done last time simply didn't work.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Resurrection rose, July 6, 2018

My mom has always wanted a yellow rosebush. The roses her father planted many decades ago were bright red Blaze roses. I planted rose-pink Royal Highness roses about twenty years ago, and then the white-and-red Double Delight a few years later.

Other roses have been attempted, but most have failed. Roses are tough to get started. They usually need a year or two in a large pot, during which they get accustomed to outside weather conditions. Only then should they be planted directly in the garden, and even after that they should be mulched heavily and given protection their first few Winters. (I used a thick layer of leaves and some burlap on my Royal Highness the first few Winters.)

This rose got none of that. Bought late in the season on sale at a deep discount, kept in the packaging too long, hastily planted directly into the garden, lightly covered with some leaves that blew away sometime before the end of the year. Some growth came up that first year, and a little more in the following years. Only last year did we finally get some yellow roses. At the end of the season I pruned the rosebush and hoped for the best.

This Spring the rosebush looked dead.

When the tulips first came out, the other rosebushes were already mostly leafed out and some had swelling buds. This one looked like a dead, dried-out stump. In late May, as I was weeding around the Gas Light Garden so I could plant the petunias and impatiens from my brother's family's Mother's Day gift planter, I contemplated pulling out the dead stump to make room for other flowers.

It was then that I noticed that the stump wasn't entirely dead. Out of the middle some tiny green fingers edged in red were pushing up. Barely worth noting, but the red edging told me that this was actual rosebush growth, not some plant growing through the rosebush.

Last week I noticed a single shoot growing up out of the stump. At the end of the shoot was a single bud. Small, but the promise of new roses couldn't be ignored.

This week the bud opened up into the full-sized rose seen above, photographed Friday, July 6. Not sure if it will turn fully yellow or retain the pink and cream color it has now. I'll keep an eye on it.

One thing is for sure: this Autumn I'm covering this rosebush in a thick layer of leaves and wrapping it with burlap.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Back to work

The Fourth of July was my last scheduled vacation day off through the end of September. Overtime has opened up through the end of July, and bonus payments make this a very attractive offer. I intend to work at least four hours of overtime each week. This will be exhausting, but I expect to make rather a lot of money.

I mowed the lawns both at my mom's house and my house across town yesterday and today. Well, 90% of my mom's - there's a small patch, not visible from anywhere except in our yard, but I just plain ran out of time. And steam.

Bedtime now.

Friday, July 06, 2018

Tomato progress

My tomatoes are growing like weeds. Which makes sense, considering where I planted them.

I started my tomatoes on St. Patrick's Day, Saturday, March 17. A bit early, in retrospect, and maybe too early. I started Roma plum tomatoes, Early Boys, and Better Boys. Maybe some of the seeds I used from two years ago had lost their potency. A lot of things could have gone wrong. In the end, more than half of the seedlings died before I transplanted them to the first window planter. After several weeks in an East-facing window, I transplanted the survivors again in early May to hardening-off pots on the front porch, where they received plenty of sun and got used to the fluctuations of outside weather. After several weeks of growing big and strong, I deemed four plants big enough to be transplanted into the garden.

The Weed Garden

The first four went into the Weed Garden on June 2. This is a place I first had tremendous success with two years ago. It's in a shady spot on the edge of our yard, behind a garden swing, a rose bush, and a lilac tree. It is bordered on the East by the neighbor's solid plastic fence, is open on the North, and is shaded on the other two sides. It receives full direct sunlight when the sun is high overhead, receives dappled sunlight some of the time, and is in shade some of the time. Before I began planting there, the spot was overrun with fast-growing weeds, which seemed to come up even faster once the fence was put in. I reasoned that the fence reflected the sunlight impinging on it, giving a boost to anything growing there. Last Autumn I had laid down a thick layer of mulch, most of which broke down into the soil over the Winter and Spring. I loosened the soil where I wanted to plant the tomato plants in four spots about eighteen inches apart. I buried each plant, which stood eight to twelve inches tall, to about half of its height and then surrounded them with a mulch of straw left over from when it provided Winter insulation to the outside cats.

June 2

Shortly after transplanting, some of the plants began to droop with "transplant shock." This is normal and to be expected. After a good, deep drink of water, the drooping tomatoes perked up again.

June 2

June 4, two days after transplanting

I took another set of photos on June 26. By then the straw mulch had started to sprout, so I covered it with a layer of grass clippings to suppress that growth. I had supplied the plants with eight foot plastic-coated steel stakes. Each plant was now about three feet tall.

June 26

June 26

Before heading out on July 4, I took another set of photos. By now the plants were all about four feet tall.

July 4

July 4

Note the supplemental six foot wooden stake propping up the secondary growth (with developing tomatoes) on the first plant.

The Composter Garden

Three of the hardening-off seedlings needed some extra time on the front porch nursery. Two of these were destined for another weed-rich patch of unused garden: the space next to the composter. Hidden in a shady corner of the yard, the composter (a twenty year old Toro model) spends most of its time quietly digesting the fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, peanut shells, and occasional shrimp or lobster shells from our house. I will occasionally remove a few shovels of finished compost from the bottom for use in the gardens or to serve as a starter for a new compost batch. I have noticed that the soil around the composter is as rich and crumbly as the stuff that comes out of the composter. Which stands to reason: the same bacteria, fungi, and worms that digest and break down the stuff in the composter find their way in and out through the soil around it. After all these years the soil is rich with worm castings left by satiated worms as they exit the smorgasbord within the plastic walls of the composter. Weeds like to grow there, enjoying  the rich soil and occasional sunlight. For years I have been laying down a suppressing cover of grass clippings, smothering the weeds and contributing to soil fertility. I decided to see if this, like the Weed Garden, would be a good spot for tomatoes.

June 26

June 26, about a week after I had planted this pair of tomatoes and surrounded them with grass clippings. Each is a little over a foot tall. 

July 4

July 4. The plant in the back is nearly three feet tall, the one in the front over two feet.

The Cellar Window Garden

This was a long shot I took two years ago that paid off. Working again on the principle that where weeds will grow, tomatoes will grow, I experimented with one tomato plant in the north-facing garden under the cellar window. This location gets direct sunlight only for a few hours at the end of the day in the middle of the Summer, and is in shade for the rest of the day and the rest of the year. Despite all that, the lone tomato plant grew tall and strong and was very productive. This year I decided to give it another shot. Once again, I had to tear out a bunch of established weeds, including more than a few Rose of Sharon, to make way for the tomato plant. 

June 26

June 26, about a week after transplanting. Coming along nicely.

July 4

July 4. About double in size.

Each of these tomatoes is covered in blossoms, and one already has developing fruit. I think most of the survivors are Romas, but I suspect the one with fruit is an Early Boy. We will see what develops!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Battle of Wyoming Commemoration, 2018

The Battle of Wyoming, also known as the Wyoming Massacre, took place on July 3, 1778 in what is now Exeter, Pennsylvania.

At that time, the Wyoming Valley was the northwestern frontier of the American Colonies. It was an agricultural region, and supplied grains and other provisions for the fledgling Continental Army. It was largely undefended, since the bulk of the fighting was taking place on other fronts, such as Philadelphia. So when a coalition of loyalists led by Butler's Rangers, a seasoned fighting force from Canada, in the company of Native Americans from the Iroquois Confederacy (who had previously been encouraged to stay neutral by both sides, a policy that broke down with the death of the chief architect for this policy on the part of the British), loyalist forces from the region, and a handful of freed slaves, began a series of raids and harassment attacks on the Wyoming Valley, the locals - mostly old men and young boys too young to join the army, women, and children - became understandably concerned, and sent word to the Continental Army that aid was needed. But word came back that no troops could be spared. A few local soldiers essentially deserted their posts to go home and defend their homes as best they could.

A ragtag militia formed of old men, young boys, and the few soldiers recently returned from the front. After much debate, and over the objections of the soldiers, the decision was made for the militia to leave the protection of the local fort - known as Forty Fort, a name that is still in use - to meet the enemy in the field. And so the doomed march began, a long, slow, four-mile march  along the Susquehanna river. Debate raged on, and some of the militia turned back, but the rest encountered skirmishers along their march, telling them the bulk of the enemy force was near.

They marched into a trap.

We like to think that the Colonial Army had an advantage over the British because they knew the terrain. They knew how to melt into the forest, and how to attack by surprise. But these weren't heavily regimented Redcoats or imported Hessian mercenaries. These were Rangers, a skilled frontier fighting force, clad in green  and knowing all the tricks of forest fighting. And their Native American allies knew all these things and more. When the militia was in a vulnerable spot, they found themselves confronted by concealed Rangers - and then set upon from the left flank by the Native American troops that melted out of the woods. The Colonial irregulars found themselves outnumbered, outmaneuvered, and, within forty-five minutes, routed. They beat as best a retreat as they could, but it wasn't good enough.

Many of them fell in battle. Some were captured and slain. Others escaped. The first sign for the settlers in the protection of Forty Fort that the battle had gone badly was the sight of bodies of their relatives, friends, and neighbors floating down the Susquehanna.

For the settlers in Forty Fort, a grim choice was presented: stay and die, or leave with nothing but the clothes on their backs and live. The soldiers would be paroled - allowed to live upon taking a vow not to fight again - a vow most of them quickly renounced. The rest were allowed to leave in peace. But their possessions were to be left behind as spoils of war, or destroyed along with the stores of grain intended to supply the Colonial Army.

Survivors escaped through the forests and mountains. Not all of them made it to the safety of Colonial territory, but those who did told the tale of the battle and their defeat. Poets and newspapermen embellished the tale slightly into the Wyoming Massacre. Survivors were likely surprised to hear that they had been brutally slaughtered by the murderous British forces, their villainous Loyalist neighbors, and bloodthirsty Indian savages. But it made good copy, and it sold the handbills.

The humiliating defeat turned into a propaganda victory. The tale of the Wyoming Massacre helped persuade fencesitters in the Colonies who were uncertain of whether to throw in with the Rebellion or stay loyal to the Crown. It turned international opinion against the British, and helped galvanize French assistance to the Colonial cause.

The bodies of those who died in the Battle of Wyoming and its aftermath lay where they fell for the rest of the summer, and the fall, and the following winter, and into the next rear. Eventually the bones were gathered and buried in a common grave. The bones were eventually moved to the community of Exeter, near the site of the battle itself. A sixty-three foot obelisk marks the location of these bones.

Floral tributes from the descendants of the men who marched in the Battle of Wyoming and various civic and historical organizations await presentation as people gather for the commemoration ceremony

UPDATE: From the Wyoming Commemorative Association, more complete lists of the dead. Over three hundred defenders died, with just a handful of casualties on the other side. This was no small skirmish, but a battle that involved thousands of fighters.

Reenactors of the 24th Connecticut Militia. I wonder how many of the Colonial irregulars even had this much of a uniform?

A volley tribute with flintlocks.

Clark Sweitzer of the History Department of Wyoming Seminary presents "That's the Rest of the Story," adding flesh to the bones of the history of the Wyoming Valley. 

Floral tributes around the Wyoming Monument.

For years I have wanted to go to this ceremony, but usually found out about it after the fact, or was working that day. This year I happened to have the day off, and a Facebook post this morning alerted me to today's event with enough time for me to get ready. I'm glad I got to go, and hope to go again sometime.

July 3, 1778