Archive for August, 2015

Less for more?

I went to the post office today to mail an international package, and Brian was working.  When I was in a few days ago to mail a domestic package, Connie had been working and she had mentioned that the Rockaway Beach office had a fancy-schmancy “new system.”  I didn’t really process that information fully; I was just in and out with a full list of errands, and although it did seem to take quite a bit longer for their computer to do its thing, the only thing that really stood out to me was that the swipe screen looked different, and it had a much longer than usual list of the things I didn’t want or need.

Such a list has always appeared, although I can’t figure out why.  For example, if I’m mailing a book by media mail and I’ve already applied the necessary $2.72 in stamps and the only reason I even took it to the post office was that it weighed over 13 ounces, then the swipe screen will ask me if I’m mailing anything illegal – DUH!  Do people really press “yes” if they are?!? – and give me a total of something like $37.65 and a detailed price list of about six services that I don’t want or need.  Rather than be alarmed by the list, I have learned to ignore it and just. . . wait.  Eventually, the list goes away, the swipe screen says I owe $2.72, and Brian (or Connie, when Brian’s off) confirms that the package already boasts $2.72 in stamps, scans and affixes three different bar codes, hands me a receipt with a $0.00 balance, tosses my package in the bin near the fireplace, and cheerfully sends me on my way.

So on Monday, as I mentioned, the process was slower than usual and the list was longer than usual.

But today, I was in there for an extended visit, due to the time required to fill out a customs form, and with the new system, Brian was required to ask me a series of questions I hadn’t heard before.  (Usually, I just check the “gift” box, and where I’m asked to list contents, I put “personal effects.”  I never like to put details on a customs form, because how much fun is it to receive a package from home that tells you on the outside everything that’s inside?!?)  So before I even got to the point of filling out the form – which I would have done at home to save time, but this being a padded flat rate mailer instead of the usual “small flat rate box” (which we have proven always takes the small green form) and not knowing which customs form it would require and deeply resenting having to fill out the the big black one after having already filled out the small green one, I decided to wait and just complete at the counter whichever one was required – we had this conversation.

Brian:  Are you shipping anything illegal?

Me:  No.  And I probably wouldn’t tell you if I were!

Brian: Does your package contain any duty-able items?

(I’ve never been asked this before.)

Me:  Ah. . . [trying to figure out if the contents would or wouldn’t be duty-able, why or why not, and how much my daughter might have to pay to receive this very small package, which would cost about two and-a-half times the value of the contents in shipping, any duty fees aside]

Brian:  [noting my hesitation and then quoting his official script] Duty-able items would include items of value, biohazardous liquids, or anything other than correspondence.

Me:  Well. . . hmm. . . [really not wanting to say this] I guess I could just tell you everything that’s in there. . .

Brian:  [with a grin on his face and hands raised in a defensive posture]  I don’t know!

Me:  [understanding that this was his version of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” and grinning too]  I don’t think there’s anything duty-able in that package.

Subsequently, an enormously long list appeared on the swipe screen, each item with its pertinent dollar amount.  A few of the items were over $100, some were in the $50+ range, and lots of them were less.  This, even though I already knew that a padded flat rate envelope would travel overseas (max weight 4 lbs.) for something like $25.

We waited.

I looked at the list and amounts changing on the swipe screen.

We waited.

We waited.

And while we waited, Brian explained the situation.  He told me that the postal service was putting in a new system (that was slower and more expensive) and that it was being tried out first in a select few post offices.  Now, the only reason I could imagine for Rockaway Beach, MO being one of the first places to implement the new system was that maybe they wanted to try it in tiny post offices first.  Actually no.  According to Brian, the much larger Forsyth post office was also slated to get it, but that didn’t happen, because in the meantime, there had been so many bugs and glitches in the system that its nationwide implementation had now been put on hold till February 2016.  But I guess the offices that got it still have it, and so tiny Rockaway Beach has one more thing it doesn’t want and doesn’t need.

The whole time Brian was telling me this story, we were waiting for the system to get to the point that I could swipe my credit card, something I could have done with the old system in about seven seconds, max.

I did finally swipe and sign, and Brian triumphantly and more than a bit sarcastically showed me the receipt.  “Look!  There’s your signature!!!”  Um. . . was I supposed to be impressed?  “Not only can we can print your signature, we can do your whole transaction more slowly than ever before!  THAT’S what we paid $68 million for!”

We laughed together, and I walked out to my car wondering if being able to print my signature while tripling both the customer’s and the postal employee’s wait time really was our government’s best possible use of $68 million.  I am pretty sure that I if I gave it some serious consideration, I could come up with several other ways to spend that kind of money.  Actually, it wouldn’t even require too many brain cycles.

Would Tanora know?

Having decided that I should do more around the house now that I’m no longer a homeschooling mom, today’s major task was making a batch of Tanora’s white chili.  It calls for two teaspoons of garlic powder, and I was out and so substituted squeeze garlic.  The problem was that I had NO IDEA how much to use, and so I just upended the bottle over the pot and squeezed for about a second.  I don’t think anyone will really comment on how garlicky it is, but I suppose I really should look up that substitution for the future.

I now have four three-person meals of white chili in the freezer plus a bag of it to take camping.

Plan for tomorrow:  recycling center, some small laminations at Staples, bank, Wal-Mart, Harter House, loading, unloading, and putting away the groceries on my own, some possible time at the creek, and writing.  = )

A smearing sensation

In doing the breakfast clean up I got a little carried away.  With Andrew gone at school, I now have more time, and since almost EVERYTHING about our house is either cluttered and/or dirty, it seems appropriate to begin to tackle various little projects a few minutes at a time.

So, I cleaned the dish drainer, the counter under it, that portion of the back splash, and the microwave.  I dumped out the toaster crumbs and then went to finish clearing the table and wipe it.  In so doing, I passed the piano, which was, of course, very dusty as always, and I thought, “Hmmm. . . I really should wipe down the piano.”  Which I did after the table.  I thought about using my Swiffer duster, but decided that as bad as it was, I should hit it with my damp dishcloth.

I got on a roll, first clearing and wiping the top, including the lamp and globe, and wiping along all those little wooden edges and ledges, and then I saw all the dust and grime on the keys themselves.  They were pretty yucky, and since I was on a roll, I cleaned my dishcloth, wrung it out really well, and started at the high end, firmly wiping down each key.

Somewhere about an octave above middle C, I noticed that some of the white keys I had cleaned still looked faintly dirty.  They were slightly smeared with some light gray kind of something.  I re-wiped several of them, with the result that the gray smearing seemed even darker, but when I forsook the cloth and just wiped off a white key with my finger, it came completely clean.  I looked at the dishcloth in my hand and had an “Aha!” moment:  Whatever made the black keys black was coming off on the cloth and being re-deposited onto the white keys!

Armed with that knowledge, I cleaned the cloth (which – although I hadn’t noticed a moment ago – now  had what appeared to be many, many black paint stains on it), and carefully re-cleaned the white keys.  Now all is well.

Moral of the Story:  If your piano is not older than the hills, its black keys are probably not made of ebony wood, and so were painted or dyed with something to make them black.  That something may partially come off with water, so wipe at your (dishcloth’s) own risk.

Question(s) O’ Day:  When Andrew sits down to practice tomorrow morning, will he even notice that I cleaned the piano, and if so, will he make any comment about it?

So far, so good!

After his third day of at least semi-normal high school, Andrew said with a huge grin, “I really, really, really love school!”  = )

I think the thing he really likes the most is just getting to be around other kids All. Day. Long.  For him, spending one full day with other kids is a cause for celebration, so getting to do it five days a week is simply above and beyond.  this evening (Friday) he said he wishes it were Monday so he could go back to school.  I’m pretty sure that’s not because of his deep and intimate love of academics!

Trinity Christian Academy is quite small; there are five other 10th graders, three boys and two girls.  But so far, he likes most of his teachers and nearly all the high school kids, and he thinks his classes won’t be too hard.  All students take the same courses, and as a sophomore, his are:

8:15 AM:  Whole school (K-12) assembly

1st hour:  World History

2nd hour:  Spanish – all 3 Spanish levels (grades 7-12) meet together; he’s in Spanish 1

3rd hour:  Biology

4th hour:  Geometry


5th hour:  Music – all high schoolers together

6th hour:  English

7th hour:  Bible – four days a week, all high school males; Wednesdays, whole school chapel

8th hour:  P.E. – two days a week, all high school males (as an athlete, he does basketball for P. E.)

8th hour:  Personal Finance – three days a week, all high school males

Each “hour” is actually 45 minutes long, and following the 8:15 assembly for prayer, pledges, and announcements, classes run from 8:30 to 3:21.  His school day will expand in a few weeks when the basketball team begins daily after-school practices till 4:00 or 5:00.

Big yellow bus

Or little green car.

Today was Andrew’s first day of school.  In fact it was the very first time I have ever sent ANY kid to school, except for college.  Handsome guy, eh?

Andrew's first day of school - 10th grade at TCA, August 19. 2015

Andrew’s first day of school – 10th grade at TCA, August 19. 2015

He’s been living for this day for many years, but ever since the open house two nights ago, he’s been kind of nervous.  Throughout the summer, I’ve tried to give him a few tops and pointers.  Things like, “When you go to school, you probably won’t be able to sit in a recliner and coffee while doing your mapping assignment,” and, “Racing through a test and picking the first multiple choice answer that seems right without reading the all the options carefully may adversely affect your grade point,” and, “In school you can’t suddenly leave a room without permission.”  Stuff like that.  But he never wanted to hear any of it.

Last night he was concerned that all the other kids who have been in school for years will know what to do and where to go and how to act, and he won’t, and it will be obvious that he is inexperienced.  This, of course, is true, but he’s concerned about how he will appear.  I can understand that.

His alarm did go off on time (6:00) but I let him off his two-mile run because it was pouring down rain, so he got to sleep till 6:20.  He showered, dressed, ate (and I wish you could see our sparking clean, totally re-organized fridge and freezer), practiced piano, and tolerated the one pic above and one hug before he headed out the door at 7:50.  He had strict instructions NOT to speed, not to pick up any one for any reason, and to text me when he was in the school parking lot.  He has to be in the gym at 8:15, and he texted me (“at school”) at 8:12.

I did not cry when he left, or any time thereafter.  I told him that departures of a few hours usually don’t generate tears; departures of several months do.  I will see this guy again at 4:00, and I warned him that he would be required to tell me at least a little bit about his day. . . seeing as how it’s kind of “my” first day of school, too.


Teen parenting tip

How to get your newly licensed teen driver to arrive home promptly at the agreed-upon time?

Institute the ACME tried-and-true “Vacation Rental Guest Departure Plan!”

One item on the rental agreement our guests sign says that if they are not out by 10:00 AM, they will be charged a dollar a minute for every minute they are late.  We do this because when it’s a quick turn (one set of guests leaving at 10:00 AM and another set arriving at 4:00 PM), our very capable cleaners – of which Andrew is one – have only six hours to immaculately clean every detail of a five- or six-bedroom luxury home, and they need every possible minute to do that.

Well, when Andrew had an hour and half to shower, get dressed, eat, and arrive at church (six minutes from home) by 9:50 AM, and he showed up at 9:57 AM, I simply told him that since he was late and didn’t call, I’d treat him the way we treat our guests, and he owed me $7.00.  He didn’t argue.  He just said, “OK.”

And when I told him the next day that he needed to be home from work (cleaning one and-a-half vacation rental homes) by 5:20 PM at the latest in order to shower, change, eat, and go to his school’s pre-semester open house, he said he’d be there, and he arrived at exactly 5:18 PM!

I like the ACME plan.  = )

“It’s a bird! It’s a plane!”

Saturday evening I was sitting on the porch reading when I heard a pretty loud motor, like a really noisy lawn mower.  The sound was coming from over toward the creek, and I figured it must be something over at Altom Construction.  I ignore it and kept reading.

The noise continued, gradually increased in volume, and seemed to be moving a bit.  So, maybe not Altom.  I figured it was probably Mr. Gaar over mowing the Casa de Luz.  I ignored it and kept reading.

Very shortly, the mower noise got significantly louder, and I was quite sure it was moving.  It had to be those Lane boys.  Their family lives in our little “neighborhood” at the end of the road and they are very big into motorized vehicles.  Go-carts, four-wheelers, motorcycles of all sizes. . . they have a large collection of such things, so I figured they must be zipping up and down Coffee Road.  Too comfortable to bother getting up to go look, I just kept reading.

But suddenly the noise felt and sounded like it was right over my head!  And VERY loud.  And still moving.  Was it circling?  What the heck was going on?

I dropped my book and went out onto the front walk, and guess what was right above me?  THIS!

(This is it, but I didn't take this picture)

(This is the actual thing, but I didn’t take this picture.)

This thing – whatever you call it – was circling directly over my house and the horse pasture across the road!  It went over and around three or four times, and twice passed just over the tree Scott parks his car under.  The guy sitting in the thing was so close I could see him grinning!  He waved to me as I stood on the front walk, and I waved back.  WOW!  What a thrill it must be to sit up there and fly around!  It looked like he was sitting in a go-cart suspended from a parachute.  I had never seen anything like it, much less a demonstration like that right over my very own front yard!

I couldn’t tell who he was, but because he waved, I figured he must be one of the Lane boys, so I texted their mom:  “Is your son flying over me?!?!?”

She replied, “Ummmm.  I don’t think so… What do you mean???”

“There’s a guy in a thing flying over me.  No, I’m not hallucinating.  It’s like a go-cart in the air suspended from a colorful parachute.  I don’t know what it’s called, but I thought of you because you guys have all those things with motors.  He circled over my house and the horse pasture several times and then headed west along 160.”

Her response:  “Oh, funny.  Yeah, there’s a guy in town that has a couple of those.  Zanescapes Landscaping.  You’re right.  That would be something they would have!”

Absolutely fascinating.  I was hoping the guy would come back so I could get a picture, but I didn’t want to run into the house to get my camera and risk missing him, and [insert embarrassed face] I didn’t know how to take a picture with my phone.  By the time I got that figured out, he had indeed returned, but he was way out over the pasture and creek, just a tiny speck, so you can’t even see him in the pictures I took.

I later looked up Zanescapes online, found the picture above, and learned that this vehicle is called a powered parachute.  I then googled that and located this close-up shot of someone flying in a powered parachute, so you can better see the set-up.  The man flying above me looked just like this, wearing a helmet and tennis shoes, and I could see him almost as closely as the guy in this picture.

Some guy in a powered parachute

Some guy in a powered parachute

I am not an adventurous person, and I don’t know if I’d have the nerve to actually do it, but this surely does look like at lot of fun!


We like to play a word game called Quiddler.  You are dealt several letter cards and use them to make words.  I’m pretty good with words.  I have a fairly large vocabulary.  I am a good natural speller.  I SHOULD WIN THIS GAME!!!  But lately, both Scott and Andrew consistently beat me.  I don’t mind losing a strategic game to Scott.  I don’t mind losing almost any game to Andrew.  But I HATE losing Quiddler, and tonight’s score was my worst ever.

Andrew and I played and he won, 358 to 140.  Sigh.

However, in my defense, even Andrew agreed that I was dealt some really rugged hands.  One of them was F, Q, Qu, U, W, Y, Y, Z.  I double-dog dare you to make any words out of that!!!

“Searching. . .”

“No Service”

So my phone began saying suddenly Friday evening.

I tried again to send the same text.  Same result:  “No Service.”

I went out on the front porch and tried again.  Same result:  “No Service.”

About every 30 seconds it switched back and forth between “Searching. . . ” and “No Service.”

I looked at the phone and wondered.  Wondered why on earth my phone suddenly didn’t work, and wondered, embarrassingly, what it said about me and my priorities that the inconvenience of having a cell phone not work for a few minutes was such a big a deal.

After waxing philosophical, I did the next logical thing.  I turned the phone off and let it sit.  I was planning to turn it back on in a few minutes, but I got busy with other things and didn’t remember to do so until a couple hours later.  Same result:  “No Service.”  I put it on the charger and decided that it would probably work in the morning.

In the morning, it still said, “No Service.”  Or sometimes, for variety, “Searching. . . ”  I took it with me to walk, and over at Blansit Road, lo and behold, I had three dots!  Suhweet!  I assumed either it had fixed itself or Scott had held his mouth right, but not true.  Back at the house, I had “No Service” inside, “No Service” on the porch, “No Service” on the front walk, and “No Service” at the mailbox.  Maybe there was something holy about Blansit Road?

I was advised to take the battery out (and put it back in, duh).  That was a hopeful-sounding suggestion, but I didn’t know how to take the battery out.  Shoot, I didn’t even know where the battery was!  I went online and found a tutorial for taking the battery out of an iPhone S4, but I faced several challenges.  For one thing, the two screws it said I needed to remove were so small I had never even noticed them before because they just looked like pinpoint dots; for another thing, it appeared that in order to do this trick, I would need to use a microscopically small five-point(?!?) screwdriver which I did not have; and for yet another thing, a bold warning stated that removing the battery WOULD void the warranty.  I decided, wisely, as it turns out, to leave the battery right where it was.

Instead, I took the phone to the AT&T store.  Now, these stores are a bit over the top.  I am admittedly overweight, but I am quite capable of walking through one normal-sized door, so I felt a bit like the victim of a used car salesman when TWO friendly AT&T gentlemen simultaneously opened BOTH doors for me.  (Really, I’m not six feet wide!)  The one guy asked what he could do to help me and I told him that my phone had suddenly decided not to work at my house. I didn’t tell him it worked on Blansit Road because we were eight miles from that holy place, and I had no way of proving it still worked there, if, in fact, it did.  He told me that it wasn’t just me; it was “everyone.”  I was greatly relieved!

It seems that some fiber optic line was cut, and a lot of people’s AT&T phone service is out.  It’s a known problem and they are working to restore service, but they don’t have time estimate of when that will be completed.  Wondering if perhaps all the AT&T customers in all of my fair unincorporated area were out, I told him I was in Walnut Shade.  He replied that the problem was in Kansas City(!!!).  The affected area must be GINORMOUS.  He also told me that since it’s such a big problem affecting so many people, he thinks they will get it fixed quickly, maybe by tonight.

Back home, I googled the situation and found this article.

So, I am much happier, although my phone is still “Searching. . .”

Jeopardy question: What is 2.5?

Answer:  The number of hours it takes to fertilize and fully water your veggie containers and your two flower beds, tie up all your tomato vines, pick the ripe tomatoes, and spray all your broad leaf foliage (read:  everything but the marigolds) with Amdro Rose and Plant Care (ARAPC) IF it’s mid-August and you haven’t done squat in your garden for at least a week.

This ARAPC stuff is just plain good.  At least as good as cardboard.  It’s a combination insecticide and anti-fungal concentrate that:

~ keeps the Japanese beetles from making lace of morning glory leaves

~ keeps tomatoes from getting (or at least reduces the severity of ) various diseases like early blight and fusarium wilt

~ keeps those hideous tomato horn worms at bay

~ and does a host of other wonderful things as needed

The only problem is that after several years of using it very successfully in my garden, it has now been discontinued.  AARRGGHH!  But to my great credit, and even without the assistance of Research Consultant, I did manage to find four bottles online, so I won’t have to stress about finding a replacement product for some two or three more years.

Now, the shipment of those bottles (about the size of, but of a flatter shape than, a bottle of vegetable oil) to our house was noteworthy.  One day, I got a call from the Forsyth post office.  Note that although our mailing address is in Walnut Shade and we always trade at the Rockaway Beach post office, our incoming mail actually comes from Forsyth.  Go figure.

The very nice Forsyth postmaster asked me what was in the box addressed to me from some obscure company whose name I don’t now recall.  (I had ordered the ARAPC juice from amazon.)  The company name didn’t ring a bell, but the lady said the box was leaking, and it had leaked over other customers’ mail, so she needed to know what exactly it was that was leaking.  Specifically, she wanted to know if whatever it was was poisonous; if it was a hazardous chemical, she was debating whether or not to close down the post office for the safety of her employees.

Wow!  I guess the postal service still takes biochemical terrorist threats very seriously.

About that time, my brain turned on, and I guessed what could be in the box.  I told her it was probably stuff to spray on my garden to help my tomatoes grow.  Boy, was she relieved.  I asked if she wanted me to come pick up the box, but she said no, they would deliver it.  They just needed to make sure it was safe for our carrier to handle.

When the box arrived on our porch. . . Well, picture this.  Take four bottles of vegetable oil.  Throw them loose, with absolutely no packing material or paperwork whatsoever, into a used cube-shaped box that is approximately 15 inches on a side.  Seal the box with one lonely strip of packing tape, slap on a label with my mailing address, don’t bother to mark out the scribbled “MEDIA ROOM – DOWNSTAIRS” Sharpie marker notation on one side of the box, and mail it to me.

One corner of the box was soaked, but I figured it was no big deal.  It was probably like an old car.  If your car leaks oil onto the garage floor, it looks like a huge puddle, but if you put newspaper down to catch the drip, you find that it’s really only about 13 drops.  All four Amdro bottles still had their foil seals, all the lids were screwed on, and none of the bottles (they have a little clear strip on the side that lets you see the liquid inside) seemed to be low on fluid.  I’m thinking that when the box was thrown around by postal employees – those fine folks who also train airline baggage handlers – a few drops somehow leaked out of one or more of the bottles.  It was enough to soak the box corner ooze onto someone else’s mail, and it was enough to make the the Forsyth postmaster think she might have a terrorism story for Fox News, but given that the merchant was clearly a small-time player, I decided it wasn’t enough to bother trying to get any reimbursement.

I sprayed some ARAPC from one of those bottles on my plants this morning, during my very satisfying 2.5 hours of gardening.

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