Published by sylvia on 20 Feb 2011

Kids gone, pets here – what’s wrong with this picture?

When my kids were little, as most kids do, they wanted their own cats. We had a family dog but they wanted their own animals, to be just theirs. We lived on 8 acres in the country, so I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but I knew too many families where the kids had begged for a pet and promised faithfully to take care of it, but “forgot” and the parents wound up doing all the animal care. I was NOT going to have that. I bombarded the kids from birth about responsible pet ownership – neutering, vaccinations, and generally putting the pet’s needs ahead of your own because it can’t fend for itself. They were each responsible for some aspect of dog care, and when I thought they had demonstrated the ability to do that part without being reminded, I talked to my husband about letting them adopt kittens and raise them.

I did want the cats to be good mousers, so I waited until the local “free” column contained an offer of kittens from a barn cat mother, and took the kids over to pick out their kittens. I explained to the kids that how the kittens were raised would strongly affect what kind of cats they became, so the kids needed to spend lots of time playing with and petting the cats, so they would learn to enjoy and value interaction with humans. They smiled and agreed – please, Mama, don’t throw me in that brier patch!

And they did take care of the cats. They fed them, cleaned the litter box, loved on them.

And then the kids grew up.

My daughter went off to college first. She couldn’t have her cat with her in the dorm, of course, so Squeaky lived at home that year. Second and third years, she was living in a house and kept her cat, but for her senior year, she wanted to share an apartment with a cat-allergic friend. Squeaky is a VERY affectionate beast, so I didn’t really mind letting her move back in with us. But now she is planning on staying in the college town, with the same cat-allergic friend, after graduation. Excuse me? Have you forgotten your commitment to your feline friend?

My son, meanwhile, joined the National Guard and was gone for about 6 months doing basic and advanced training. Naturally, Blackie couldn’t go with him. He tried college for one semester but didn’t pay enough attention to do well and moved home (with cat) to job-hunt. He’ll start with the state prison system in a couple of weeks. And he announced that he has found an apartment … that doesn’t allow cats.

Figure out what’s wrong with this picture yet?

Published by sylvia on 03 Feb 2011

RSS to Calibre to Kindle 3

I am totally hooked on getting subscriptions to my Kindle via Calibre now, and it motivated me to tackle something I’ve been eyeing for months: an RSS feed. Since I was able to get Calibre to subscribe to some periodicals and painlessly (and automagically) email them to my Kindle, if Calibre is an RSS reader and I can figure out how to use it, I could subscribe to RSS sites and blogs as well. That motivated me to overcome my fear of RSS and intimidation by Calibre and see if it was possible.

Fortunately for my budget, I bought the WiFi Kindle 3 instead of the 3G version. I had wanted the 3G version, but it was more expensive. The 3G version has wider-ranging Internet access, but with WiFi at my home and in more and more hotels and restaurants, I don’t anticipate I’ll be going anywhere that I would be without WiFi access, and receiving Kindle-formatted documents via WiFi is free. The 3G version charges for most deliveries.

I googled RSS feed and was drowned in hits, but while I finally figured out that RSS is just a standard so different readers can use the same material, I didn’t find anything about using Calibre as an RSS reader. So I posted my question on the Amazon Kindle discussion board. As often happens, some helpful people with more experience with Calibre jumped in and told me just what to do. It turned out to be fairly straightforward, once I was told that the important part was to copy the RSS link into the URL box under “Add custom news source” and I could “name” it whatever I wanted.

The next entry contains detailed instructions for those who need straightforward “click here and type this” instructions like I did!

Published by sylvia on 03 Feb 2011

RSS/periodicals to Calibre to Kindle 3 Instructions

Following are the “RSS/Periodicals to Calibre to Kindle 3” instructions for dummies we found to work. Thanks so much to “Tegan” on the Amazon discussion board for her contribution!

First, download and install Calibre for your operating system. The following instructions assume Calibre for Windows; if you use a different OS, I hope you’ll be able to find the corresponding buttons.

Click on “Preferences.” Under “Behavior,” CHECK the box by “Automatically send downloaded news to ebook reader.” For the time being, do NOT click on the next “delete news” box. Once your system is functioning correctly, you can come back and check this box if you don’t want to keep a copy of your downloads on your computer. Set the “preferred output format” to whatever your ebook reader needs. For the Kindle, it’s .mobi format. The “preferred input format” doesn’t really matter, Calibre will figure it out any time you run a conversion. Click the green “Apply” button in the top left corner.

Click on “Common Options” and then “Output Profile” and select “Kindle.” Click “Apply.”

Click on “Sharing books by email” and then “Add email.” Enter the @free.kindle.com email of your Kindle and select .MOBI as the format. Check the “Auto Send” box. If you have a gmail or hotmail account, you can easily use that to send files to your Kindle. Click on “Use Gmail” or “Use Hotmail” at the right and enter your email address and password. Leave the Mail Server settings alone. If you want to use another email account, you will need to either figure out the server settings and enter them, or set up a gmail or hotmail account and use it. There is a “Test email” button but I can’t figure out how it is supposed to work. Click “Apply” and then “Close.”

Go to your “Manage Your Kindle” at amazon.com and page down to the “Your Kindle Approved E-mail List” section. Under “Enter an approved e-mail address,” type the email you told Calibre to use to send files to the Kindle and then click “Add Address.” Unless you want to spend money having Amazon convert documents for you, also go to the next section, “Your Personal Document Charge Limit,” and enter 0.00 as the most you authorize spending on sending documents to the Kindle.

Now you are ready to send something to your Kindle! Click on “Fetch News” and then click on the triangle to the left of the language in which you want to see available periodicals. Select something that doesn’t require a User ID and password but is fairly static, such as Anchorage Daily News or Business Week. Do NOT click the “Schedule for download” button, just click on the “Download now” bar near the bottom right corner, then “Save.” You should see “Jobs: 1” and a whirling black circle in the bottom right corner of the main Calibre page. When the black circle stops whirling and you see “Jobs: 0” then you should also see the name of the publication at the top of the list of “books.”

Wait a few minutes and then turn on your Kindle and turn on WiFi, or go somewhere that has WiFi. Within a few minutes, you should have the periodical on your Kindle! If you don’t, go back and check the above settings, especially the Kindle email address and the “sender” email address you typed into Calibre – make sure they are correct and match the ones in your Manage My Kindle page.

Now you can set up the publications you really want to get delivered regularly. Click on “Fetch News” and then click on the triangle to the left of the language in which you want to see available periodicals. Select the first periodical. If it requires a UserID and password, you’ll have to go to the site and subscribe before you can set Calibre to get it automatically. If not, click on the “Schedule for download” box and select how often you want to get it, either every certain number of days or a certain day of the week. Weekly or monthly magazines you will probably check for less often than a daily paper. Once you have set frequencies for the desired periodicals, click “Save” and you are done. But you will need to leave Calibre open and connected to the Internet for it to get the periodicals on the schedule you want.

There may also be periodicals and/or blogs that you want to collect regularly but that are not on Calibre’s list. You can add them as a custom source. Click on the little down-pointing triangle to the right of the “Fetch News” button, then click on “Add a custom news source.” This is where the built-in Calibre instructions left me totally baffled. Ignore everything on the left side for the moment. On the right, look for the “recipe title” field and enter the name you want the generated book to show up as. The Oldest Article and Max. number of articles can stay the way they are for the moment.

Go to the site of the blog or periodical you want to add. If there is an RSS button, click on it and copy the http address given. If there is no RSS button, copy the COMPLETE http line at the top of the browser. In Firefox the RSS feed shows up in the URL bar automatically if it can find a feed for the website. At the bottom, where it says, “Add Feed to Recipe” type in the title of your feed (the blog or periodical name) and then paste the URL you copied into the second box. Then click “Add Feed.” You can add multiple blogs to the same one (although I prefer to have a recipe for each blog), so you have a book of blogs. When all your blogs are in the feed list, go to the left side and click “Add/Update Recipe.” The new recipe should show up in the list on the left. Now, go back to the main window, click on Fetch News, and look under “Custom.” You should see your new recipe there. Click on “Download Now” at the bottom of the right side, and see what comes up in Calibre. When you have it working, you can set it for automatic download just like the preregistered periodicals above.

Please feel free to leave comments on whether this worked for you, or if you think something should be added or changed!

Published by sylvia on 02 Feb 2011

Thoroughly hooked on my new Kindle 3

I’ve really wanted a Kindle for months, but I didn’t *need* one. I am able to read tons of free eBooks from Gutenberg.org on my PDA, an old Toshiba e800 running Vade Mecum. I wanted the Kindle in addition for two reasons: first, so when my DH and I go somewhere together, I could take along something for him to read so he doesn’t get cranky; and second, to be able to take along a ton of books in a very small space when travelling (Amazon says Kindle’s capacity is 3500 average books; my PDA can only store 2-3 before impacting the rest of its functions). Many people rave about Kindle’s e-Ink technology being incredibly easy to read. I never had a problem reading my backlighted, color PDA, so that aspect didn’t influence me. After getting my Kindle, I found a lot of free or very-low-priced eBooks for the Kindle on Amazon.com itself, but nothing so compelling that it made the Kindle a must-have. I don’t have a problem reading the Kindle, but I don’t find it better or worse than my PDA. (Its battery use is sure more efficient, though. The instructions say it can go a month without needing a charge if you leave the WiFi off!)

Now, however, I’ve discovered periodical subscriptions, and the Kindle may have to join the PDA in my purse whenever leaving the house. I like reading magazines and newspapers, but I don’t need more paper piling up in my house, and newspapers are messy and awkward to get folded as I read through them.

I started with four subs through Amazon.com: Home Business, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, and the Denver Post. I actually live 100 miles north of Denver, but our local paper is a bad joke. Amazon starts all Kindle subscriptions with a 14-day free trial, which I thought was a great idea, and I was curious to see what was included and how easy or difficult it was to read through a periodical on a small eReader.

I also started a thread on Amazon’s Kindle discussion board, asking what other users had thought about the subscription option. One responder mentioned getting subscriptions free through Calibre, a program I was already using to convert eBooks in other formats to Kindle format. But Calibre is a much fancier program than I am used to using, and frankly it intimidates me. So I hesitantly poked around it and I was able to find its capability to grab publications and send them to my Kindle. I actually knew my Kindle’s free.kindle.com email address, so I entered that, and used my gmail.com address for Calibre to send the files from. I cancelled my Amazon.com trials for Denver Post, Reader’s Digest, and Newsweek, and set them up to come via Calibre instead.

This morning, I got some lovely email messages from Amazon that there were files ready to download onto my Kindle, and the names are the ones I set up on Calibre. I’m going to skim the Amazon.com subscription files before downloading the Calibre files, since they may overwrite the Amazon files and I want to compare apples to apples. Stay tuned for further developments!

Note: comments have to be approved because this site gets way too much spam each day. I’m eager for comments pro or con, but please Email me at mamasylvia at mamasylvia dot com to tell me you left a real comment, otherwise it will probably get deleted with the unread spam.

Published by sylvia on 22 Dec 2010

Building credit in college

When my homeschooled daughter started college, she started receiving tons of credit-card offers. She’s always had an unusual ability to learn from other people’s problems, so she happily announced she was throwing them in the trash. But when I explained that a credit score is, like it or not, a requirement of being a functioning adult, and if she was smart she could start building good credit now, she was willing to learn. We read the CC offers together, and I showed her how to look for critical information like annual fee, whether it was a “preapproved” offer or just an invitation to apply for credit, and the offered line of credit and interest rate. I explained that even though she had income since she was on a full academic scholarship, she did NOT want to be carrying a credit card balance as a student (or ever, other than to pay off large unexpected expenses like car repairs). So interest rate was mostly unimportant, as when she used the card, she’s be paying it off before any interest was applied. First, all the “you are invited to apply” offers went in the trash. She didn’t *need* any credit cards. Next, of the “you are preapproved” offers, everything with an annual fee went in the trash. That left a few “preapproved” no-annual-fee offers to compare.

At my suggestion, she accepted a credit card from Capital One. It had a pretty high interest rate and a fairly low line of credit (less than $500 IIRC), but I’d had a CO card for years, it’s manageable online and I knew they follow through with their commitments AND report to the credit bureaus. I told her she should use the card occasionally, but only when she had the money in the bank ready to pay for what she charged as soon as the bill came in. She listened to me, used the card occasionally, paid it off, and continued to throw credit card offers in the trash.

After a year or so of building her credit with the Capital One card, the offers changed a little. She still got too many invitations-to-apply and offers for cards with annual fees, but she started to also get preapproved offers with higher limits from fussier credit companies. Again at my suggestion, she accepted a card from Chase. She wanted to know why she needed another card, since she had one in good standing. I pointed out the higher credit limit and slightly lower interest rate and said that Chase would look better on a credit report than Capital One, who will give a card to just about anyone.

So now this college senior has two credit cards in good standing, that she uses occasionally and promptly pays off, and several years’ worth of green “as agreed” reports to credit bureaus. Her credit score is apparently better than mine, because she is now receiving “preapproved” offers from Discover and American Express. I suggested she take the Discover card, because of its low rate and cash back program, but I don’t think she has. I told her AmEx has lots of benefits, and that my father used one for years because working for ABC-Television, he could be sent across the globe at an hour’s notice or suddenly need to take 50 people out for dinner, and AmEx with its no-credit-limit is unsurpassed for that kind of travel. But I also told her if she is ever in a job where she needs AmEx, she won’t need me to tell her that she does.

Naturally, at this point she doesn’t realize how valuable her good credit report will be later. She won’t realize it until she has graduated and wants to rent an apartment or buy a car or house or has to set up accounts with utility companies. Even then, she may not realize how smart she was to listen to me, until she hears co-workers or friends moan about being turned down for an apartment lease or having to pay a higher interest rate for an auto loan. But at some point, I’m pretty confident she’ll come give me a hug and say “thanks for telling me how to build a good credit rating!” And I’ll just smile and thank God for blessing me with a daughter who was smart enough to listen.

Note: comments have to be approved because this site gets way too much spam each day. I’m eager for comments pro or con, but please Email me at mamasylvia at mamasylvia dot com to tell me you left a real comment, otherwise it will probably get deleted with the unread spam.

Published by sylvia on 25 Aug 2010

Know your rights before having a baby

I got involved in a Facebook discussion on home-vs-hospital childbirth that made me want to share my own stories in more detail.

I became pregnant with my first child in 1988 at age 34. I was a registered nurse working in chemotherapy research and very familiar with reading research studies in medical journals. My first OB was selected on the recommendation of a friend who was an OB nurse and was a terrible mismatch. She was a fine OB for high-risk births, but although I was classified as “advanced maternal age” there was nothing else to make me high risk. Yet she was stuck in the rut of wanting all the tests that would be indicated for a high-risk pregnancy and that I didn’t want, many because they were just too new to know if there would be long-term effects for the baby. At 7 months I went looking for another OB.

I’d done quite a bit of research by then and took it and my list to interview the prospective new OB. I explained why I wanted to change OBs that late in my pregnancy and gave him my list of interventions I wanted avoided, including no episiotomy and no internal fetal monitoring. I briefly reviewed the research I had found, published in reputable medical journals, showing those interventions did NOT lead to better outcomes for mother or baby, only to increased complication and/or C-section rate. The OB agreed with me on the research but explained he couldn’t promise to not use those interventions because they were “standard of care” and IF something went wrong and IF he hadn’t used those interventions and IF there was a lawsuit, he would be crucified. And, he pointed out, I couldn’t even promise there wouldn’t be a lawsuit, if the absolute worst happened and I wasn’t around any more and my husband was guided/pressured into filing suit. And I knew the OB was right about that. But I liked his honesty and switched to him for the duration of that pregnancy.

Labor was … interesting. Peter and I had attended Bradley method classes and I’d delivered four babies myself when I worked on an ambulance, so I thought I knew what to expect. And I knew the statistics about laboring more than a few hours in the hospital leading to panicky OBs laying on the pitocin to “speed up” the normal process, so I determined to labor at home until I thought I was in transition. So labor started … and went on … and went on. After about 24 hours, I thought the pains were bad enough that I must be getting close to transition, so we went to the hospital. Turned out I was only 2 cm dilated! And I had a nurse who was totally supportive of my stated desire (BEFORE I actually experienced labor pains) to have a natural childbirth. When I actually decided I needed something for pain, the nurse tried to talk me out of it, telling me it was just natural doubt! I couldn’t convince her it was natural PAIN and that I was a wimp. She finally called the anesthesiologist to give me an epidural, but by the time he arrived, he said it sounded like I was in transition, which the nurse confirmed, AND THEN HE LEFT! Without doing anything for me! I was livid and in agony. Dadgum nurse told me pushing would feel good. She lied. It took another two hours before I could convince them that I didn’t have any energy reserves left, and I couldn’t fight the pain AND push. Anesthesiologist came back and FINALLY set up a great epidural – I could feel the contractions so I could push at the right times but it wasn’t hurting. Irene came out about 20 minutes later, with me yelling “No episiotomy!” and the stupid doctor-on-call letting me tear. Then the fun started.

During the pre-delivery tour, the nurse giving the tour had said that the baby would be monitored for 6 hours after delivery, either in the recovery room or in the nursery. I didn’t say anything but I was determined I would NOT be separated from my baby. So we had about 20 minutes together, and then the nurse cheerily announced I would be going to my room and Irene would be going to the nursery. I said “no, she’s not. We are staying together.” The nurse was floored. (That’s what happens when you know what they can and cannot do – and I knew they could not do anything to Irene without my permission.) She said they didn’t have the staff to monitor me in the recovery room; I said that was fine, I was an RN and would monitor her closely. She said “do I have to call a supervisor?” (The velvet glove didn’t work, now here comes the iron fist.) I said to call whoever she wanted, but Irene was not leaving me.  So they left me on a less-than-totally-comfortable recovery room bed for the six hours, but I didn’t care; I had my little daughter and we talked and I watched her sleep. It was wonderful.

The day-and-a-half we stayed was interesting, too. Peter was there most of the time and both days, at midnight, someone came and took Irene to the nursery “to check on her.” I gave them 10 minutes and then went down to the nursery to get her back. Peter asked why they had to take her and the nurse hemmed and hawed. I explained that they had to justify the nursery charge that would be on my hospital bill, and Peter (poor innocent) asked “why didn’t they just say so?”

Things went differently with Daniel. I was 37 and NOT classified as advanced maternal age – the definition had changed. I had realized that I am not a good candidate for natural childbirth and discussed with my OB when I should go to the hospital to be able to have an epidural when I was ready for it. I still refused routine ultrasounds, although I made it clear to the OB that I would certainly agree if there was a clinical reason for the ultrasound and that just having a feeling that one was needed would be an adequate reason – she was very experienced and good clinicians can’t always point to specifics that make them suspect something is going on. So when I was a week post-due, I had an ultrasound showing there was very little amniotic fluid. OB scheduled me for induction, and I’d researched inductions and found there really was evidence that going over 42 weeks produced bad outcomes for the baby. I finally went into labor 36 hours before my scheduled induction, but he was stuck at station +5 and I could NOT get him out. Every time the OB urged me to have a C-section, I begged for more time to push. Finally, I heard the nurse tell the OB that the baby’s heart was showing early decelerations. Late decelerations are normal; early decelerations are not. OB didn’t even have to say anything, she just looked at me. I sighed and said “I know, we do the C-section.” Five minutes later, I had a big gaping hole in my belly and Daniel was on the way to an oxygen tent with a spontaneous pneumothorax (which no one except me seemed particularly concerned about, the pediatrician said it would probably heal without further intervention in a day or two, and that is what happened). I didn’t get to have him room in with me, obviously, so I went to the nursery as much as I could. They were worried because his breathing rate was too fast, but when I held him, it slowed to normal. Maybe that’s because a newborn baby is SUPPOSED to be in Mama’s arms? Anyway, we both went home at the end of the usual three days.

While I have to admit I like the idea of home births, my children and I could have died from either of my deliveries. I couldn’t get Irene out because of the pain and I couldn’t get Daniel out because the amniotic fluid cushion was gone. If I hadn’t been in the hospital, I wouldn’t even have known that Daniel was in danger, and I don’t know if I would have had time to get to the hospital and get an epidural with Irene.

I was in an unusual position because I was already an experienced registered nurse before I started having kids. I’d worked in hospitals (although not OB) so I knew what the hospital could legally do. I also knew enough to recognize was was really for the baby’s safety and what was just for the hospital’s convenience, and I was prepared to fight intimidation if necessary while actively advocating for my baby’s best interest. But any woman can shop around; babies are revenue-producers for the hospital and hospitals woo pregnant women. Never mind which hospital has the best steak dinner, look for which has a bath to labor in or works to keep mama and baby together or whatever is most important to you. If you have a feisty nurse friend who is willing to advise you, take him/her along when you go into labor. Don’t fight with the hospital ahead of time, it just wastes your energy and alerts them that you may be an uncooperative (i.e., not willing to do whatever they say) patient. Remember, they cannot do anything to you or your baby without your permission, but they WILL assume your permission is implied if you don’t specifically refuse something.

Note: comments have to be approved because this site gets way too much spam each day. I’m eager for comments pro or con, but please Email me at mamasylvia at mamasylvia dot com to tell me you left a real comment, otherwise it will probably get deleted with the unread spam.

Published by sylvia on 13 Aug 2010

Vade Mecum on my Toshiba e800 redux

I definitely like this eBook reader, and I’ve been able to download many titles from Gutenberg to use with it. But I have a few books that I like to re-read enough to fuss with getting them into a readable eBook format, so I tried that tonight. I’m not sure how, but I found a Plucker site that included what sounded like files to convert .html files into Plucker-readable files. I found the descriptions seriously unclear but downloaded the “Plucker Desktop Installer Package” and installed it on my Windows 7 laptop. But from there on, I was stumped. I started reading the help file and got as far as running Python to parse the file and gave up. I don’t know what Python is or how to install it or what I needed the “Plucker Desktop Installer Package” for if Python was going to “parse” it. The download page had mentioned what sounded like an easier-to-use program, SunriseXP, so I downloaded and installed that. (Unsurprisingly, the SunriseXP page included a warning that “This product has reached the end of its lifespan and will no longer be updated” but I didn’t care as long as it worked.) The original download page included a link to a SunriseXP tutorial that I started working through. And I was able to convert one web page with some old detective stories into what I hoped was a Plucker-readable file. But when I copied it onto my PDA, Vade Mecum didn’t recognize it as a Plucker file. I edited the filename to the same format as the Gutenberg files that it *has* recognized but still no go.

Since Vade Mecum does recognize the Gutenberg files, it’s not like I will lack reading material for this program. But I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to create my own.

Note: comments have to be approved because this site gets way too much spam each day. I’m eager for comments pro or con, but please Email me at mamasylvia at mamasylvia dot com to tell me you left a real comment, otherwise it will probably get deleted with the unread spam.

Published by sylvia on 11 Aug 2010

Welcome back to Yuppieville

I guess we have rejoined the Yuppies.

Last year at this time, we had 4 drivers and 1 car. My daughter was off at college and my son was at basic Army National Guard training. My husband telecommutes, so we were able to manage just fine with one car, and had for a number of years.

Yuppies? Not us.

Today, we have 4 drivers and 4 cars. My son came home with a bonus burning a hole in his pocket and immediately bought a car. He was also determined to volunteer to go someplace interesting like Iraq or Afghanistan, and got orders to deploy August 7, so he left his car to his college-student sister. She was enjoying the freedom of being able to drive to her job or anywhere else she wanted when the Army doctors decided my son’s shoulder had not healed enough for deployment. He’d have to stay home.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t jump for joy that he wasn’t going to head for someplace dangerous. But I felt bad for his disappointment. Naturally, he wanted his car back, so I also felt bad that my daughter had tasted freedom (there is no feeling like your first car!) and had it yanked away. So I discussed it with my husband and decided to watch for something reliable that we could afford.

So I saw a local classified for a 1986 Saab for $700. I could afford that, but did it run? We took it for a test drive and while it’s definitely an old car, it seemed to run fine. It had a standard shift, which made my husband drool but which my daughter doesn’t know how to drive, so my husband volunteered to teach her. He has wanted a standard-shift car for the entire 22 years we have been married. It wasn’t my ideal car for her; I know from experience that driving a standard on winter roads is not fun, and I would rather have seen my daughter driving a tank. But I sure liked the price.

Parked right behind the Saab was another vehicle with a “For Sale” sign, a 1984 Ford Bronco. Now that was a tank! It had a lot of rust and the owner was asking $1500, which I thought was a little high, but it was an automatic and DH agreed we should at least call the owner, who said it had been his grandmother’s. (A variation on the “little old lady who only drove it on Sundays” sales pitch?) So we did another test drive. It had trouble starting but ran fine once it started. It also had 4-wheel drive, a definite plus on Laramie roads that can stay snow- and ice-covered for weeks at a time in winter. But the seller and I couldn’t agree on a price, so we bought the Saab and DH planned to teach my daughter how to drive a standard.

I waited a couple of days and called the Bronco owner again. I figured the car had been sitting there for months, so it’s not like people were beating down his door to buy it, and he might be willing to come down a little. And it worked; we agreed on a price and met at the bank yesterday. My daughter even made time in her busy schedule to come with me to get the Bronco, so I was able to get it in her name and she won’t have to worry about anyone yanking it away from her (again!)

So here we are, 4 drivers with a car each. My husband is looking forward to being able to participate in more activities without leaving me car-less. I still have our original vehicle, a 2005 Toyota Matrix which is just the right height for me to get in and out with severe arthritis. My son has his 2002 Oldsmobile Alero back and is hopefully job-hunting. And my daughter is crowing on her Facebook page about having her own wheels.

Oh well. Yuppieville isn’t so bad.

Note: comments have to be approved because this site gets way too much spam each day. I’m eager for comments pro or con, but please Email me at mamasylvia at mamasylvia dot com to tell me you left a real comment, otherwise it will probably get deleted with the unread spam.

Published by sylvia on 08 Aug 2010

The Revenge of the GPS

Last year, at Wal-Mart’s Black Friday sale, I picked up a TomTom GPS for about $60. I’d wanted one for years and I couldn’t pass up that price. And it has definitely been a help finding places I haven’t been to before, with an occasional spectacular exception such as the time it took us along a railroad right-of-way and directed me to turn left onto a railroad track 50 feet overhead. And while the routes it plans do get me to where I want to go, they often are not the optimal routes.

But my husband and family have all relentlessly made fun of it, ignoring all the times it worked just fine and harping on the occasional exception. My 18-year-old son, in particular, laughed hysterically when he was going to Denver and I suggested he ask to take the GPS along – he’d rather call us whenever he gets lost and have us puzzle out from Google Maps where he should go. So when my husband and I planned a trip to Denver to take my son to a parkour event, I knew they would have fun razzing me about the GPS once again. Meanwhile, the little TomTom got me from my favorite dim sum place to the park and then across town to pick up some composting worms and back to the park … where my son announced I was going to lead a caravan to a parkour gym that no one knew where it was. Apparently after quite a bit of discussion about how to find it, my son said “My mom has a GPS” and volunteered me to get them there. Yes, this is the same son who has been making fun of it for almost a year … I pointed out that I at least need an address to plug into the GPS, but he did have an address, and I led two other cars through Denver roads to the gym. (There was a third car, but when I had to pull out of an exit ramp rather quickly, the third car didn’t keep up with me.) The GPS saves the day!

I also used the GPS to get to a restaurant for dinner, and then back onto I-25 heading home. And for some reason, no one made fun of it.

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Published by sylvia on 02 Jul 2010

Still trying to read ebooks …

Well, here I am again, still trying to find an eBook reader that will work on my Toshiba e800 running Windows Mobile 2003 SE. I found a humongous list of eBook readers, broken down by OS but not by price/free or if they are still supported or even which version of the OS they run under. I also found several links to .chm readers which I didn’t pursue because I haven’t found any free .chm format books, and Palm eReader. However, the Palm eReader turned out to be the same zip file as the eReader I couldn’t get to work yesterday. I ran all the following installs with the PDA powered on and connected via USB to my PC running Windows 7 Home Premium, and with .txt, .epub, .mobi, .plucker.pdb, and .qioo.jar files in an eBooks subfolder of the My Documents folder on the PDA. I also added the biggest ebook file I had, an almost-2-mb file of Bleak House in .txt, .mobi, and .plucker.pdb formats, to that ebook directory to see how the programs handled very large ebook files.

iSilo says it reads its own format as well as .txt and some .pdb files. I downloaded a .cab file for Pocket PC that said it required an ARM processor, which apparently my e800 has because it installed fine. It started and told me I was on day 1 of a 30-day trial period. However, even when I had it look in my ebooks directory, it did not see any of the text files, only the .plucker file which it couldn’t actually read. So I didn’t need 30 days to decide it wasn’t going to work for me and removed it.

Mobipocket Reader looked very customizable and I know Gutenberg offers many of its titles in their format. I downloaded the “Old Windows Mobile” .cab file for ARM processors and installed it without problems. But it doesn’t customize the items I would like to set. I don’t really care about the colors, which I can set, but I’d like to be able to permanently set which directory to look in and to list all the files in that directory, and I can’t. I have to manually change those choices every time I click on “Library.” It also takes a LONG time to load. The standard version is free, the Pro version is for purchase (I couldn’t find for how much) and includes the capability to scroll or switch to landscape mode. It automatically found the .plucker.pdb files (the “type of file” defaults to .prc) but couldn’t open them (error message was that they were corrupted, all three of them – right). Interestingly, Mobipocket couldn’t open any of the three .mobi files I downloaded from Gutenberg. Mobipocket was able to open the big Bleak House .txt file, but it took several minutes to load and there was another delay when I tried to do anything but simple page-down. But I like being able to read using the scroll button or the down-arrow button (which it treats as a page-down button) so this one stays, at least for the time being.

Tiny eBook Reader ($34.23 but with a free trial version) says it can read books of any size in txt (and zipped), html, and lit formats. I clicked on the .exe file and the information said I could add ebooks to the library by moving them into the My Documents folder or onto the CF card. It installed on my PC but the “finish” screen gave me the option of installing it to my “connected Windows Mobile with touchscreen” which I selected. It showed up on the PDA under “Programs” and started just fine, giving me a choice of folders to look in for ebooks. I clicked on my ebooks folder and it found the .txt files but none of the others. It opened Bleak House with no delay and I was able to move around in it with no problems. It did leave several .tbr files in the ebook folder, though. This one stays to be tested further.

I couldn’t resist a program named Tome Raider although it costs 15 British pounds (I got the free trial version) and appeared from the documentation to only read its own proprietary file format. It installed painlessly from a zip file and opened on the PDA, but I was right about it only reading its own format; it saw no ebooks until I downloaded a “trial” book from the TR website, then it opened the one I had just downloaded but every other page was “please register” so I uninstalled it. Too bad, I still love the name!

uBook ($15 with a free demo) claims to read .txt, .html, .rtf, .pdb, and .prc files as well as zipped files of any of these. Knowing now that I have an ARM processor, I downloaded the .cab file for Pocket PC ARM with Toshiba listed in parentheses. It installed, but gave me an error message that it might not have installed correctly because it was for an earlier version of Windows Mobile. But it opened okay and went directly to a 43-page User Guide. There is a nice clear (if tiny) page number at the top of the screen with forward and back arrows to either side. But there are also arrows pointing in different directions in the corners that are not obvious what they do, the type size is miniscule, and the program defaults to covering up the Start menu button – not a good thing as there is no quick way to exit the program. I finally found an Options section by clicking on the unlabelled buttons at the bottom left, but most of them were disabled, including the type size adjustment, presumably because this was the demo version. I paged down and the program locked up, I had to do a soft reset to get out of it – NOTHING worked. I still wanted to see what files it could read, so after the soft reset I clicked on the program again and found myself directly in the options section again and unable to get out AGAIN – had to do another soft reset and removed the program. It may be a great program, but if I can’t navigate around in it I’ll never know.

Vade Mecum is an open-source free program, although I couldn’t originally tell whether it supports Windows Mobile 2003 – since it hasn’t been updated since 2006, I thought it was worth trying. This is the Windows Mobile program to read Plucker files. The .cab installed but gave me the same “designed for a previous version of Windows Mobile” error message I encountered with uBook. But it not only opened, it found the Plucker files without further prompting and had a nice clear “settings” button at the bottom of the screen to let me adjust items like the directory where the ebooks are stored and what size typeface to use. It also defaulted to full-screen mode but it was easy to find the pull-down screen to turn full-screen off. It opened Bleak House in sections but remained pretty fast when I navigated both within the section and to the next section. It also let me use the scroll button on my Toshiba. I like this program! Even though it apparently *only* reads plucker files and I’ll have to go see which of the books I’ve already downloaded in .txt format are available in plucker format. It did create some small files of its own but they are safely tucked in a VadeMecum folder, not cluttering up my ebooks folder. Definitely on the short list.

Free Zulu Reader can read .epub and .rtf files. The .cab installed fine but didn’t actually run, which wasn’t a big surprise as the wiki listing claimed it would run under Windows Mobile 2003 but the download page didn’t list it. Removed from PDA but this was another one that I couldn’d get the icon out of the Programs folder.

There is still a brisk market on ebay in these older devices, and plenty of people like me who want the convenience of a PDA but can’t justify (or afford) spending hundreds of dollars on the newest one. That is why I’m going into such detail here, because everything I found on Google was several years old – I’m supplying info on what is available *now*.

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Published by sylvia on 01 Jul 2010

Wanna read ebooks!

I’m still working on getting my new (to me) Toshiba e800 configured to suit me, and one reason I bought it was to be able to always have something to read with me: ebooks. Project Gutenberg has thousands of free ebooks in various formats. Other sites such as Amazon also offer ebooks, but since Gutenberg is free, I started there. However, the e800 did not come with an ebook reader! So the first task was to find an ebook reader, preferably free, that would work with my Windows 2003SE mobile device.

Thanks to Google, I found and downloaded three: Microsoft Reader (which did NOT come already installed), eReader (which is affiliated with Barnes & Noble and of course markets their ebooks, but also has some freebies, and comes in a wide variety of OS flavors), and Freda. (I also picked up a free PocketPC PDF reader from Adobe – don’t know if it will work as an ebook reader, but it will be nice to be able to read pdf files like the user manual on my mobile.) I tried all of them with my PDA on and connected to my computer, and Windows Mobile Device Center running, which (besides keeping calendar/contacts/tasks synced) syncs the PDA with whatever I put in my My Documents\Documents on Sylvia’s PDA folder – very convenient both as a backup of my critical document files and as a way to painlessly get files onto the PDA.

Freda was the easiest to install. It came as a .cab file so I just moved the file to the CF card on my PDA, then clicked on the file from the PDA and it magically did its thing. The only problem was that the program didn’t work. I clicked on Freda on the program list and NOTHING HAPPENED. I found the exe file using File Explorer and clicked on that. Nothing happened. Okay, I thought, maybe it only activates when you click on an ebook file, so I clicked on one in my ebook directory. It opened fine – with Pocket Word. Still no Freda. I went back online to read the manual, and apparently Freda is supposed to go to a “main menu” when it is started. So apparently it doesn’t work with Windows 2003SE after all and I deleted it from my PDA (which was a minor pain and I had to find and use Remove Program). So much for Freda.

The next on the list was Microsoft’s Reader. It was an .exe file so I just clicked on it, on my main computer, in Windows Explorer. It ran an install program and although it wanted me to let it install in the default directory, when I clicked “no” it let me choose between regular memory, the flash ROM, or the CF card. I decided to put it on the CF card with my ebooks. When it finished, it told me to check my PDA to see if additional steps were necessary, which I thought was smart. But the message on the PDA was to “reset your device according to the device manufacturer’s documentation.” Huh? The user guide PDF says nothing about resetting after installing a program, and I don’t know if the instructions mean a soft or hard reset. So I did neither and went into Programs to start it up (and was annoyed to find the Freda icon still there). It started fine but told me the program was “not yet activated.” Huh? What do I need to do to activate it? I was able to open the help file that came with it, but it took me a minute to figure out that the page number was the number between the “3” and “4” at the bottom of the screen. Maybe this was one of the fonts that the PDA needed to be reset to use properly? So I tried a soft reset. Sure enough, after restarting the program, the page number at the bottom is now bracketed by left and right arrows instead of 3 and 4. The program has adjustable type size, which was nice, and the capability to add bookmarks, which is necessary. But I still couldn’t get it to see any other ebooks, so I started wandering through the help file and discovered it was looking in the My Documents folders. So I moved my eBooks folder into the My Documents folder. I also accidentally found out how to “activate” Reader, and it requires logging on with a Passport ID (using Internet Explorer, it told me Firefox doesn’t support activation), but the help file says any Hotmail, MSN, or Passport account will do. Of course, I don’t have ANY of those. This is turning into a major pain. (Gee, what a surprise with a Microsoft product.) However, the login page also said I could use a Windows Live ID, and I had to get one of those a few days ago to download Windows Mobile Device Center, and fortunately I long ago set up a “login” folder and filed the confirmation email for my Windows Live account in that folder so I can actually find it now! So I login and now I get ANOTHER error message. “You must install the Activation ActiveX control before you can activate.” And I can’t go any further without allowing Microsoft to install ANOTHER program on my computer. Reader is looking less and less attractive now. Before giving up completely, I checked to see if Reader would recognize and read any of my free Gutenberg .txt files. No matter where I put them in the My Documents folder, they failed to appear in the Library. I also tried a book in epub, Plucker, QiOO mobile, and Mobipocket formats, moving them all to the Personal folder to make sure it was somewhere Reader could find it. It didn’t recognize any of them. Does anyone actually jump through all of Microsoft’s hoops in order to use their “free” reader?

eReader was the last one I tried because it came in a zip file and I hate dealing with zip files. But Microsoft has made it too hard to use Reader so I guess I’ll try eReader now. I right-clicked on the zip file, told it to “extract all,” had to wade down through two levels of folders to get to the extracted files, and clicked on BookInstaller.exe – at least they made the title obvious. Install was not so obvious. There are three choices on the screen and none of them are to install a reader. I selected “install books” and it prompted me to tell it where to look for the books to install. It didn’t find any of my .txt books so I moved all the odd-format files (that I tried with Reader) into the ebooks folder and it recognized one of them. Wish I knew which one, but I guess it doesn’t matter because I got the dreaded “this program may not have installed correctly” message and there is no new reader in Programs. (Turned out to have been the Plucker file, I found it on my CF card later.)

So my choices are: (a) buy an ebook reader (which may just saddle me with another program that doesn’t work); (b) let Microsoft install another program on my computer and see what other ridiculous hoops it makes me jump through to get Reader to work; (c) keep using Pocket Word as my ebook reader, which doesn’t let me insert bookmarks on txt files; or (d) give up on reading ebooks on my PDA (which is a major reason I bought it in the first place). But I’ve had enough trauma for one day. Tomorrow is another day.

Oh, and the Freda icon is STILL in the Programs folder. Guess it’s time for a hard reset after all.

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Published by sylvia on 28 Jun 2010

Trying to get my Toshiba e800 working

Tired of dragging multiple pieces of paper wherever I go, I decided I was overdue for another PDA. (My previous PDA, a Phillips Velo 1, worked great but I couldn’t sync it using anything newer than Win95.) I’m running Win7 64-bit on my laptop (which is my main computer) and just bought an e800 with Windows2003SE to use as a PDA since the Windows 7 compatibility page said it is compatible without additional software. That was untrue, when I tried I got a message something like Windows was unable to install my device.

There are several links to sites on old messages (around 2005) but unsurprisingly, most of them were no longer valid. The link to the manual on PocketPCAddict did work, thank heavens. I also found a UK Toshiba link still active (select Archived Files as product type and PocketPC as family) and it steered me to the Microsoft site that told me I needed to use Mobile Device Center rather than ActiveSync. However, when I went back to see if it had any other useful files, when I tried to search all I could get was an error message that “Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.” I tried with several different OSs and they all got the same error message, so I don’t know how I got useful info from the site earlier. I went looking for ActiveSync and found a message that for Win7 64-bit I had to download Mobile Device Center 6.1 drvupdate-amd64.exe and before I could get the file I had to download and install a couple of programs to establish I had a legal copy of Windows 7 (like I would have it installed if it hadn’t come with the laptop!), but the site walked me through installing them with no problem. I installed Mobile Device Center and that worked well for communicating between laptop and PDA, but it said Outlook was not installed. Outlook2000 *is* installed, but I had to update to Office2007 before Mobile Device Center recognized it and synced with the e800. But I now have my appointments and tasks on my PDA! Hooray! I also copied a game .cab file onto the PDA and got it running – very straightforward, I just clicked on the .cab file and Windows Mobile 2003 SE installed it.

The hard-reset button is neat (kills everything except what is in FlashROM). It’s unlabelled and hidden on the bottom by the WiFi on/off switch, but it completely shuts off all power to the device and let me do a hard reset quick and easy when I first locked it up by not knowing what I was doing.

I found all kinds of info by working my way through the manual. The device on/off switch is terribly anti-intuitive. It’s at the top of the PDA and labelled with the usual icon, but you can either press-and-hold or press-quickly to turn the PDA on, but you can only press-quickly to turn it off! Sheesh! The transcriber works surprisingly well, I used it to add a task and it correctly read my handwriting first try.

I also like that if the e800 is on and connected to the laptop, when I make a change in Outlook on either, it immediately syncs with the other. That will be a huge help to me, as often I have to leave the house with a minute’s warning, and I won’t have to worry about not having a shopping list or phone # with me. It will even keep a directory on my laptop synced with a directory on the PDA, although it wouldn’t let me decide which directories to sync, I had to move all my current & active files into the directory it would sync with, and the directory on the PDA is volatile, not the flashROM or the CF disk. Still, it’s pretty unlikely that both my laptop and PDA would crash at the same time, and I can still do manual backups onto a more stable storage device.

I’m posting my trials here so anyone else looking for e800 info will find something more recent than 2005 and hopefully have information and other links to share!

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Published by sylvia on 13 May 2010

My first home-grown salad! and upside-down tomato update

Here in Wyoming, the growing season is about three days long, so I’ve been trying to grow vegetables inside (without success) for several years. My latest attempt, the Patio Garden sold for growing tomatoes upside-down, has actually been moderately successful. I bought some Buttercrunch lettuce starts at Wal-Mart a few weeks ago and planted them in the top of the Patio Garden, and they have grown enough that I was able to cut leaves yesterday to make a nice Caesar salad!

Meanwhile, the upside-down tomato saga continues. Of the two heirloom plants I put in last month, one died and one is thriving, still trying to grow UP. No flowers yet, though. Yesterday, I transplanted another tomato plant into the empty hole where the other plant died, so I’ll see how that one does.

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Published by sylvia on 14 Apr 2010

Upside-down tomato planter

Have you seen any of the variations on this? The theory is that you don’t have to stake the tomato plant because the growing weight of the fruit will simply hang down. It looks intriguing, but does it actually work?

I asked some garden people. They agreed it looked interesting but they hadn’t tried it. They did, however, urge me to tell them how it went if I tried it.

Then I went to a “localfoods” seminar earlier this week, in Laramie WY. Great, I thought, here is my chance to ask some experts. So I did. None of them had tried it, but they too wanted me to let them know how it went if I tried it! One audience member said she had a friend who had tried it, but the tomato plant grew upright anyway. Well, if you think about it, that makes sense. Plants *do* try to grow upwards. But as the plant set fruit, the weight should have gradually pulled it down. Naturally, this didn’t occur to me until later, so I don’t know if the friend gave up the experiment or if something else happened.

Being a perpetual optimist when it comes to gardening (in spite of the historical record of my black thumb – I have actually killed a mint plant), I decided I would be the one to try it. With no place to hang a planter, but with both kitchen and living room windows having a great southeast exposure, I bought the upside-down patio garden at good ol’ Wal-Mart. This gives me a little over a square foot of conventional growing area on the top of the patio garden, as well as two holes on  the bottom to set tomato plants through.

So I set to work. First challenge was to get a couple of tomato plants ready to transplant upside down. I have a tomato plant growing from seed, but it really isn’t ready to transplant. Someone at the localfoods seminar was giving away unlabelled heirloom tomato plants, and I took two. But I managed to knock them over travelling home, and although I carefully replanted them ASAP, only one looks like it’s going to recover. What the heck, I decided to plant both of them and see what happened.

Next challenge was to keep the plant and dirt from falling out of the holes! This is in my living room, and I can guarantee my DH will not be happy if I leave dirt around there. So, while the plant was still upright, I took a half-sheet of damp paper towel, folded it in half, tore a little hole and pushed the tomato plant through, then carefully pushed the leafy part of the plant through the garden hole. The damp paper towel should keep dirt and roots up in the garden for a while, and hopefully by the time it decomposes, the dirt will be packed enough to not fall out and the roots will have spread to keep the plant from falling out. I thought about using pieces of cardboard, but I couldn’t find anything suitable around the house and I didn’t want to wait any longer. I wouldn’t use anything non-compostable, though, otherwise as the tomato stem grows thicker it might get choked.

So they are both planted. The healthy plant started trying to grow upright almost immediately (less than 10 minutes after planting). The other poor plant is just lying there. I have lettuce and spinach starts that I bought and really need to get planted, so they will go in the top part. (Does anyone besides me buy too much in the gardening department?) Watch this space for future developments!

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Published by sylvia on 26 Jan 2010

Some things just make me laugh

I like Outback restaurants. They have great steaks, overall good food, and are a pleasant place to spend restaurant dollars. The Australia theme – well, it’s their gimmick, and it doesn’t make the food taste any less good.

So I was surprised, last night, when my waiter was obviously using an Aussie accent. I finally asked him if he was really from Oz or was he trying to win a bet by sounding like it. He assured me he was really from Australia, and I asked him some questions about his country. I can’t remember when I didn’t want to visit Australia, and he seemed happy to talk about his homeland. And he agreed that an Aussie working at an Aussie-themed restaurant in the U.S. was a nice irony. (Like he was going to disagree with a customer …)

But can’t you just picture the manager’s face when this guy with an Aussie accent and passport came in to apply for a job?

Published by sylvia on 29 Aug 2009

Free Freecycle!

First, I’d like to make it clear I did not start Freecycle. I just heard about it, thought “what a great idea!” and jumped on the bandwagon by joining CheyenneFreecycle http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CheyenneFreecycle/ in 2004, as part of Freecycle.org. When the group owner left town a few months later, she asked me to take it over, and I have run CheyenneFreecycle ever since. Somewhere around January 2006, Freecycle.org established New Group Approvers (NGAs) in each state, and I took on that job, screening potential group owners for time and Internet access, willingness to commit the energy to run a group, and then helped them through setting up a Yahoogroup and official policies according to Freecycle.org requirements. Those requirements became fussier every year, and I’m not sure why. But I gamely struggled along until a few months ago.

When I came under attack by the Freecycle.org organization, I went hunting on the Internet for other dissatisfied or unaffiliated groups. I was astonished at what I learned. The three board members required to establish a nonprofit foundation are founder Deron Beal, his wife, and a close family friend (although on http://www.freecycle.org/about/board, they committed no later than 2007 to expand the number of board members “in the coming year”). The only outside financial reporting is that their annual Form 990 is available on their website at http://www.freecycle.org/about/funds. There is no way for ordinary members to have input into official policies. While I will always admire Deron for the brilliant idea that is Freecycle, I certainly don’t respect someone who runs what is supposed to be a nonprofit organization as a private fief.

The idea remains brilliant. Keep usable stuff out of the landfills and help your neighbors save money. I’ve given away a ton of stuff and picked up many items I needed, even including an electric scooter chair that literally makes the difference to me between being housebound and being able to go places like the library. (The giver said the batteries were bad and she didn’t want to sell it enough to get it into sellable condition.) It is an outstanding way to pick up and pass on items that don’t get worn out before they get outgrown, such as children’s clothes and toys.

Just remember, not all the freecycle groups are listed on the official website. The best way to find your local freecycle group is to search Yahoogroups for freecycle (yourtown) (yourstate) and see what comes up.

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Published by sylvia on 26 Mar 2009

Romance vs. reality

Picture this: You are a woman who has chosen to stay home with your baby and toddler.  After a bad day of whiny children, telemarketers, and dropping a container of eggs on the floor, your husband walks in the door. Immediately aware of your stress, his handsome eyes crinkle in concern, he drops his briefcase, picks up a child in each arm, and tells you to go relax; in face, he suggests a long hot bath and a glass of your favorite white wine (which he happened to pick up on the way home).

Or picture this: you are a woman who is balancing both children and a career. Your husband drops the little ones off at a good daycare in the morning, and you pick them up on the way home.  Late one afternoon, your office phone rings. You’ve been bawled out by your boss and found out your favorite co-worker is leaving, so when Caller ID shows your husband, you wonder what is up. As soon as you say hello, he asks what is wrong; you tell him. He admits he was calling to say he had a late meeting, but you are more important. He’ll cancel the meeting, pick up the kids and the babysitter (who will be available on no notice – this IS a fantasy, after all) and then take you out to a nice relaxing dinner. You know you will be the envy of every woman at the restaurant, with such a gorgeous, attentive husband.

Ever had something like this happen to you? Me neither. Yet this is the “hero” of hundreds of books every year in the most popular genre in bookselling: romance novels.

Frankly, I blame them (partially) for the spiraling divorce rate. When a woman has spent a few hours with an incredibly handsome man watching for her every whim (and, in imagination, she is utterly beautiful as well), and comes back to an average-looking man who wants his dinner and is eager to complain about HIS day, it’s a shock. If he has the bad taste to complain about the kids as well as fail to notice her stress, you have a recipe for disaster.

But few husbands are mind-readers. I happen to have chosen a pretty good one. He likes to come home to his family, proudly introduces me as his wife (and I’m no raving beauty either), brags on our children but takes on his share of the work. He believes in fidelity, trusts as well as remains trustworthy. I had a shopping list of characteristics I HAD to have in a husband, and he had all of them. But he can be totally oblivious of my feelings. Once he did something on a trip that left me fuming, but he didn’t hear my anger in a long 10-minute phone call. My father happened to call a few minutes later, and as soon as I said hello he asked what was wrong.

The answer, of course, is communication. Both partners need to discuss their feelings and desires, and not just in bed. But women who have absorbed the idea of the man who mysteriously detects their feelings are offended by a real man who is focused on his own.

My daughter is almost 20 and has never dated, and I’m glad. We agree that dating is to find your potential husband, and she is not even interested in marriage at this point in her life. Meanwhile, I’ve tried to point out her father as an example of a good husband, and discussed the unreality of romance novels. (She seems to prefer fantasy, anyway.) She’s sensible, and I hope when she starts to think about marriage, she’ll remember not the handsome, hunky hero of a romantic fairy tale, but a real man who took care of me when I was sick and remembered to buy my third-favorite chocolate truffles for Valentine’s Day. (My favorite chocolates are Teuscher, $60/box. My second favorite are Godiva, still too expensive for our budget. My third favorite are Lindt, about $3.50 at Wal-Mart so I can enjoy them with a clear conscience.) And I hope she’ll find as devoted a husband as I have been blessed with. And I hope she’ll appreciate him, while less sensible women wistfully remember dashing, mind-reading men who never existed.

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Published by sylvia on 05 Mar 2009

I’ve joined the MP3 fanatics

For years, I’ve looked askance at people wearing earplugs in their ears. While it is certainly more considerate than boomboxes playing at full volume, I didn’t understand the attraction. It didn’t help that when I bought an MP3 player, I chose one with lots of features (4 gig, voice dictation, raw data storage capability, uses a standard AAA battery so I could use rechargeables) so it was more of a challenge to use, and an absolutely unintelligible manual. (It’s a Sly SL034G, if anyone cares.)

Now that I’ve figured it out, I’m a fanatic too. It’s WONDERFUL, and I’m so glad I bought the model with the most storage. I can listen to the type of music I like. Or I can listen to a book or two, great during long waits. If something occurs to me, I can dictate a quick note to myself. And I still have plenty of room on it to backup the working directories of my laptop so if worst came to worst, I wouldn’t be without my data.

All this in a package about the size of two of my fingers held together, that easily fits into a little zippered camera case (player, USB cable, ear buds, manual, and spare AAA batteries – and it holds my place when I need to change batteries). This is technology at its best: enjoyable, flexible, and enabling me to make the most of my time. I *am* glad I waited until there were models with larger storage, however.

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Published by sylvia on 11 Feb 2009

Baking with plastic

My DH (H is Husband, D is sometimes Dear and sometimes something else) is a major pizza fanatic. Eat-in, takeout, grocery store, or homemade, he loves it all. What none of us likes is cleaning off the fixings that always seem to burn onto the pan. Yuck!

So for Christmas, I got him a silicone pizza baking sheet. It’s really pretty weird, there is some kind of rigid wire running around the edge to keep it flat but the silicone itself is quite soft and flexible. He insisted that you can’t put plastic in the oven, and I had difficulty persuading him that this plastic was MEANT to go in the oven.

He finally tried it, confident that we would have melted plastic stuck all over the oven and he could say “I told you so.” Of course, any of you who have baked with silicone know what happened. The pizza cooked perfectly and slid off the (intact) pizza sheet,  not leaving any burned bits behind.

DH is now a silicone fan and uses his pizza sheets to bake anything that will fit, including biscuits. But he still gives them a leery look whenever he realizes (again) that he is baking with plastic.

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Published by sylvia on 01 Feb 2009

It’s not an accident

I’ve been reading Is There a Problem, Officer? by Steve Pomper, who wrote:

“It is a collision, not an accident … I can’t recall one offhand that was a true accident – where neither party was guilty of having done something wrong. In the vast majority of cases, one party or the other (or both) has done something wrong, whether intentionally or inadvertently, to cause the collision. Bottom line: They just weren’t careful enough.” (page 193)

Hooray! I have said that for YEARS. Our avoid-responsibility-at-any-cost society cherishes the term. “Of course you didn’t do anything wrong, honey – it was just an accident.” Never mind that he was talking on his cell phone, she hadn’t gotten around to having the brakes fixed, he cut across three lanes of traffic to make his exit, she was applying makeup or reaching around to adjust her kid’s carseat when the collision occurred; the blessed term “accident” means it wasn’t their fault. It just happened.

That is so dangerous for responsible drivers that it terrifies me, and I raised my kids to never call it an “accident.” I used the term “wreck” but Officer Pomper’s term “collision” is much more precise, and I hereby happily adopt it. (Thank you, Officer.) When you get behind the wheel of a vehicle, you are responsible for what it does. The car doesn’t have a mind of its own. When my new-driver son had a collision, it was because he didn’t turn his head to check before changing lanes. (Even after my years of drumming in to ALWAYS, ALWAYS turn your head to check, and telling both kids that saves me from about 2-3 collisions per year.) When my husband suffered a collision early in our marriage, he was minding his own business waiting to make a left turn, while someone not paying attention barrelled down on him — but he wasn’t watching his rear-view mirror and he had his wheels already turned, which meant when the idiot hit him, he was pushed across oncoming traffic and the collision became much worse. (The car was totaled, he was knocked out and had to stay overnight in the hospital.) And don’t even get me started on the drivers who think that because they are in a vehicle with 4-wheel drive, they can fly along snowy/icy roads at normal speed. There is nothing accidental about them ending up on the side of the road, upside down and/or facing the wrong way.

So whatever it is when inattention or carelessness or anger results in damage to a motor vehicle (and possibly people as well), it’s not an accident.

BTW, the book is worth reading. Check out my “book reviews” page in the left-hand column to see my review of it.

Note: comments have to be approved because this site gets TONS of spam each day. If you leave a comment, please Email me at mama dot sylvia at steigerfamily dot com to tell me you left a real comment, otherwise it will probably get deleted with the unread spam.

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