Friday, July 31, 2009

How to use chopsticks

The Internet is an incredible educational tool. You can learn anything from how to repair/build engines - as our son learned in high school - to something as simple as how to use chopsticks.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Insomnia: one advantage

The advantage of insomnia is the ability to visit these two Internet sites - right after midnight. You never know what will be the bargain of the day and the free items go fast. Check out WOOT and

For the gadget lover, today's free offering at is an adapter that fits on the faucet and lights up the water red or blue (hot or cold). Hey, the price was right...

Monday, July 27, 2009

A real gardener would know the difference!

Did you know there is a difference between bags of compost and bags of soil? It took two experiences for me to learn this. Obviously, I know nothing of gardening and am a slow learner.

The first hint came in Las Vegas. We were staying at a condo for a week and my dog, Bailey, was with us. Since it was 116 degrees outside with mostly pavement and cement, I thought it would be a good idea to fix a relief box for her in the shade of the patio so she wouldn't burn her paws. We went to Home Depot, purchased a bag of compost (it was less expensive than soil). The clerk even gave us a top to a refrigerator box. We turned the cardboard lid upside down and poured in a layer of compost. Perfect - or so I thought.

Bailey used the box exactly once and refused to use it again. The next morning, we opened the slider to a patio swarming with hundreds of gnats. At first we were not sure where they were coming from -were they trying to get water or stay in the shade? A couple of days later there was no question they were coming from the bag of compost and the relief box. We found the nearest dumpster and threw it all away.

Fast forward 6 weeks. I decide to try again to grow tomatoes in a container. I dumped the dead plant, washed and bleached the container, bought a bag of compost (I did mention it was cheaper than soil) refilled the container and potted the new tomato plant in the compost.

My houseplants have been in the same pots forever, so I thought it would be a good idea to add some soil to the pots and replant a couple. I felt smug as I used the leftover compost for the houseplants -I hate to waste anything.

The next day, we notice a few gnats in the house. Did we leave a door or window ajar? Are they so small they are getting through the screen? A mystery. More and more gnats appeared in the house. I tried desperately to kill them and find the source.

A few days pass and it's time to water the houseplants. EUREKA, I found it, they're coming from the plants. Only then did I remember the patio scene in Las Vegas.
At least I know the source and can be more effective in eliminating them. I feel so sheepish, next time,I will spend the couple extra dollars for potting SOIL.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Oh how I wish it was a Vespa scooter

Like other people who have been caretakers all their life, it is very hard for me to accept help.
It used to be so frustrating as a medical social worker to see patients struggle, risk falls or limit their activities because they would not use a handrail, cane, walker, or wheelchair.
I understand now the huge psychological impact of having physical limitations. It is devastating. Then to add insult to injury, an assistive device identifies you as different to the whole world. I am 55 years old. I don't want to have to use a cane, walker, wheelchair or scooter. I don't want to be considered old, I want my body and mind to function like everyone else.

For Jim, who sees everyday how painful it is for me to walk, it is difficult to understand my reluctance to use a mobility scooter. Heck, I am already publicly identified as "handicap" as I have my service dog, Bailey, and a permanent handicap parking placard. So what is the big deal to add a scooter?

We rented a scooter for a week in Las Vegas. It came apart and fit in the trunk of the car. Jim and Jeff had it apart and in the trunk before I could get my seat belt fastened. It was amazing the difference in my quality of life. Not only could I go to see Jeff in the World Series of Poker, we could go through a casino to a restaurant located in the back, we went to museums and stores all in the same day! Usually, if I walk for more than 100 yards, that's all I could do for the entire day - due to lack of stamina and pain. It was eye opener to me to realize how restricted my world had become. It had continued to close in bit by bit without me realizing how much I have been missing.

This week, my scooter came. We took it to the Crocker Museum in Sacramento - a place we have wanted to visit since moving to Elk Grove a year ago. It was wonderful being able to stop in front a painting, read about it and take as much time as I wanted enjoying it.
Why did I wait so long? I don't know, I am excited about the new possibilities; but it still makes me cry to think that is where I am today.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I'd rather be up all night

There are some things worse than the staying up all night.
One of them is waking up in the morning after taking a "PM" tablet and feeling like I have a hangover. I would rather stay up all night, at least I could be productive.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

River Cats

I went to my first River Cats baseball game this last week. I loved the stadium by the River. It happened to be the hottest day of the year. When the Delta breeze came up, there was a audible sigh that roll through like the raised-hand stadium "wave."

If I had the opportunity to make a suggestion to the River Cat organization, I would suggest they do not need to fill every second with noise. Do they think that makes the game more exciting? It did seem to make people restless, maybe they sell more food and beer that way.

As a stroke survivor, I am very sensitive to stimulus. It was unbelievable how much stimuli can be thrown at you during a baseball game. By he 7th inning stretch, I was feeling anxious and had a headache. There was music blaring constantly, a bazillion vendors walking up and down the stairs - yelling out whatever it was they were selling. Beer sold beer for $2.00; water was $4.00 -guess which sold more. Lots of beer equals lots of bathroom breaks. Even Jim commented on the constant parade of people up and down the stairs - often the same folks over and over.

If the player stepped out of the batter's box, they had to blast music, if there was a foul ball - sound effects. Changing a pitcher , end of inning, or calling a time out resulted in local radio stations taking the field for gags.

"Kid, would you like a free hot dog or $50.00 to hit your dad in the face with a pie?" The boy smeared pie all over his dad's face for the $50.00, visible to all on big screen - ah yes, America, baseball and apple pie.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Pissing on Fences

This quote of Will Rogers was sent to me by a friend:
"There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves."

It made me think of "wet paint" signs and servers telling customers their plate is hot only to have 9 out of 10 touch it to verify the temperature. Laura just reminds mom by saying psst, ow, psst ow, as in touching a hot stove over and over.

I wish I could always learn by observing and reading -but I fear there is a lot of electric fence staring at me for this battle.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hoover Dam - 30+ years ago and now

I was NOT looking forward to going to Hoover Dam. I had been there many years ago. I figured since it was completed in 1936, not much had changed. Once again I was wrong. I am not going to cover the facts of the dam - there is plenty of information online. This blog is rather my reflections on a visit to the same place only 30+ years apart.

We had just graduated college and were starting our cross country "hippie" trip. It seemed like we had been in the isolated desert for hours before our first glimpse of the dam and the two towers that seemed to rise from the waters. We stopped to take the free dam tour. I remember it being very informal with only one other tourist and the guide.

Fast forward to July 2009. The line of cars was stop and go for miles before seeing the dam. Looking out the window, we could see major highway construction on a straight, wide new interstate that ran parallel to the curvy road we were traveling.

Suddenly, I think, are we lost? What the heck is that? It looks like the St. Louis Arch in the middle of nowhere.
OMG, it is the bridge for the new highway to bypass the dam. We are looking at it from high up the canyon wall and it still towers above the mountain side. That will be a tourist attraction in itself!

I point out to Jim and Jeff an engineer must have made made a mistake, the two halves do not meet in the middle. Of course, that gets them started on the torque, size of wires, wind velocity, etc. -yawn.

No longer can cars stop on the dam so people can look over. Security was tight with cars being stopped, some even searched, before being allowed to drive over the dam. But before we even get to the dam, there is a HUGE parking structure.
At the entrance was a large bronze statue of a dam worker scaling the rock. We park, take the elevator down to the smooth, flat, rock pathways that lead to the "new" Visitor Center.

There, signs say you can only take what will fit in a marked area (about 14"x14"). We enter the building and are greeted by security lines much like the airports. We have to empty pockets, put all belongings on the conveyor belt and pass through the metal detectors.
It was 116 degrees and I brought a tote bag with bottled water and my medications. Jim was carrying it for me and they told him he would have to put it back in the car. (Just my guess, but he might have been able to take it through had he not had the small pocket knife on him).
I do have to praise the security officer's knowledge of service dog laws. He asked the appropriate questions and followed correct procedures. A first!
Now we are waiting in the 'box office' lines. Tickets to tour the Dam are $30! I look at the families and feel bad that it cost so much to see a public works project. We get our tickets and move on to the Disneyland-type lines.

Taking the cue from amusement parks, they try to have interesting things to view while we snake through the rope barriers. The walls display movie posters, looking more like the local Cinemark than a visitor center. I suggest to Jim that the movies must have scenes of Hoover Dam in them and he confirms it while reading a brochure.

Yes, we are almost there, oh no, the line is divided right in front of us and we have to wait another 10 minutes for the next elevator.

Finally our elevator arrives and we cram at least 25 people into it. It is hot, people are grumpy and stinky (including me) and I am wishing for the tour of 30 years ago.

Once down to the turbine room, it looks the same; in fact, we are told they are the original turbines from 1935. The Dam is the same, only the surroundings have changed. Jeff points out it would have been more efficient if the inlet pipes had been straight instead of angled - the guys start in again on doing calculations.

We finally complete the tour (and the calculations) and are headed back to the parking lot. Most people pass a bronze plaque embedded in a rock wall. I stop to read the memorial marker for a dog that was a mascot for the dam workers. He was hit by a truck and was entombed there that same day. I found it touching that workers marked his passing and with all the new buildings it has remained his respected resting place.

I don't ever want to go back to Hoover Dam. I am sure given time, there will be a roller coaster and bungee jumping available - for the price of additional 'E' tickets. (sheesh, ask someone over fifty what an E ticket is).

Monday, July 6, 2009

Shelby - the car and the man behind it

Las Vegas is the home of Shelby Automobiles and Museum. Jeff and I love fast cars and the Shelby certainly qualifies as fast. Appropriately, the museum is located near the Las Vegas speedway.
It felt like walking through a dealership showroom except it held Shelbys from 1966 to present production models. From the Cobra CSx2000 to the Terlingua, and GTE00KR, the dozens of cars (and 1 Shelby truck) they were all in mint condition. We were told the exhibits change frequently.
Behind the walls of the museum is the production facility. Both the museum and production facility tour are free. We made it in time for the 10:30am tour; as did about 35 others. One man had brought his Shelby from Arkansas to have additional modifications made.

Don't expect a large production plant. The Shelby is produced by about 8 people and they roll out 2 cars per week. There have been exceptions, such as when Ford partnered with Hertz for a special 'Rent a Shelby' program. Ford then sent Shelby 4,500 Mustangs to be modified.

Of course the cars were beautiful, but I was more moved by the stories of the man that started it all, Carroll Shelby.
Mr. Shelby is now 86 years old and goes to work every day at his foundation in Gardena. Shelby cars branded with the number 85 are tribute to Mr. Shelby's 85th birthday. Carroll Shelby has had two heart transplants and a liver transplant. He is the oldest surviving heart transplant recipient and had his second heart for 15 years now.

While waiting for his first heart transplant in the hospital, Mr. Shelby saw several children die before finding a organ match. Heartbroken, he felt he needed to help in some way and the Carroll Shelby Children's Foundation was born to help seriously ill children. Just recently, the Foundation changed it's name to the The Carroll Shelby Foundation in order to broaden service to include young adults. Both the museum gift store and the store at the foundation contribute to the fundraising efforts.

One of the most successful fundraisers of the Foundation is the Carroll Shelby Signature program. It helped the foundation raise over $450,000 last year. For a donation, Carroll Shelby will autograph anything from pictures to car parts. One of the most coveted is to have a Shelby dashboard autographed by Carroll Shelby. All items are sent to the Foundation - including many car parts. They are autographed and shipped back to the donor.
On a side note, when we walked into the production facility, the walls looked like they had colorful wallpaper. It was actually thousands of signatures in different colored permanent markers. At the end of the tour, the guide told us that people want Carroll Shelby's autograph all the time, but that Mr. Shelby would like to have ours. He asked everyone to take a different colored pen and sign the walls. (pictures were not allowed to be taken inside the production facility -except for the walls).

Carroll Shelby is a fascinating man, not only for his contribution to the automotive and racing industry, but for his social contributions.
As we were leaving the production facility, I saw this bench outside. It made me smile.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Things I did not know about Las Vegas - Part 1

Las Vegas is the home of Atomic testing museum - right next to the Desert Research Institute. For the cost of admission, $12.00, we had several hours of blissful air conditioned comfort and access to a surprising number of exhibits. The Nevada Proving grounds was established in 1951 for the testing of atomic “devices” - its name later changed to Nevada Testing Grounds.

In early atomic bomb testing, pilots flew through the radioactive mushroom clouds. Jeff said he wondered about the volunteers for those missions - it was probably whoever didn’t take two steps backwards.

One mistake was testing in clay soil. It resulted in plumes of radioactive dust sent 10,000 feet into the sky. They had to evacuate whole towns. Another time, they advised the 4,500 residents of St. George, Utah to stay inside when winds unexpectedly changed directions.

In the early days, the tourist industry was very concerned about testing so close to Las Vegas. The fear was it would keep gamblers away from the area. In fact, testing gave the industry a boost, when thousands of people came out to watch the atomic explosions. People booked rooms in upper floors of the casinos so they could watch the mushroom clouds from their windows.

Jim and Jeff were interested in reading about the engineering and the technical stuff - I preferred the interactive displays.

In one such exhibit cameras, used to record explosions, had extremely high shutter speeds. This was demonstrated by using a drop of milk to form mushroom patterns and ripple effects that could be isolated in each frame shot.

There was an interactive display where I passed a Geiger Counter over a number of items. It was surprising how much radiation was given off by a wind up clock with green luminous numbers. However, the largest radioactive numbers were registered when I passed the Geiger Counter over a red Fiesta ware plate. I learned that red color was made by adding uranium oxide to the glaze. During WWII, Fiesta red was discontinued when the US government confiscated the company’s stocks of uranium.

A display of a sparse family bomb shelter represented many such shelters installed in backyards during the 1950’s. The supplies that people were urged to stock were not that much different from emergency supplies everyone should have in case of a disaster - sealed water, medications, blankets, and food.
Some of the items in the display I would not have thought of – stacks of comic books, 45-semi automatic weapon, and a red round tin of “Commie mints.”

Upon leaving, there was the requisite donation box. We noticed a large number of currency from foreign countries. Jim dropped in 25,000 Vietnamese Dong (worth a little over a dollar) he had left from his bicycling trip in Vietnam.

Ah, the things I learn when traveling with my two analytical guys.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

He's in the Money

Jeff got knocked out of the World Series of Poker - event 54 on Tuesday afternoon.

There were 2,818 entries in the Texas hold 'em tournament and Jeff made it up to 282 place - which was in the money. What a great experience it was for him. I am so thankful he let Jim and I tag along for the ride.

It was heartwarming to read messages of encouragement from family, friends and even strangers. Doni and Kelly were so sweet to mention the tournament ion and Facebook. As his family, of course we were excited and proud - but it was surprising how much interest and support came from the community.

Jeff does have the option of entering the WSOP Main Event, starting July 3rd. That is the tournament televised by ESPN.
Jeff won the $10,000 entry fee in a online tournament (plus they gave him $2,000 for travel expenses). The question asked most often was, "is Jeff going to 'go for it' and enter the Main Event or will pocket the money?"

Jeff decided to keep the money. Combined with his winnings from event 54, , he won just under $15,000. For a recent college graduate without a job - especially in this economy - it seems like a responsible decision.

I will always treasure him sharing this experience with us. I love seeing him excited and hearing him discuss analytically the various plays and probabilities with his dad.

No longer being tied to the Rio poker pavilion in Las Vegas, we are now going to play tourist. We enjoyed dinner, a show and the observation deck of the Stratosphere Tuesday night. We will take in another show Wednesday and travel to Hoover Dam for a tour.

I am looking forward to Jeff and Jim discussing how many gallons of water are released from the Dam and how much concrete it took to build. I have no doubt that at some point paper and pencils will materialize to figure out various formulas to find the answer to obscure questions.
Just like they used to do at the dinner table.