31 December 2011

This time last year I was fighting some pretty serious pain in my lower back, looking at beginning one year in as much pain as I was ending the other. This year...I'm ending 2011 fighting back pain, looking at ending it the same way I began.

Last year I also had issues with my shoulder and having torn the bejeezuz out of it, though. It's 99% better...I just hope this round with my back isn't an omen as to how I'm going to spend the last week of every year from here on out.

This was a pretty good year, all in all. I had fun training for the SGK 3 Day Walks, even if I did grumble about it; I turned 50, even if I did grumble about it; stepped way outside of my comfort zone and went to Atlanta to walk with friends and had a blast, even if I did grumble about it...

Yep, I grumbled a lot. I felt like crap a lot, fought pain a lot, let a few people irritate the crap out of me, but overall it was an awesome year. We spent a lot of time walking around San Francisco, which is probably my favorite place to wander, we walked around Six Flags a lot, I went pink in a major way, and we capped it off with a trip to Disneyland. We had a lot of fun, and had it together.

The Spouse Thingy and I have been together more than 30 years (counting dating) and there's still no one else I'd rather kick back and have fun with.

Here's to hoping next year is just as good.

But, you know, without the back pain and stuff...


29 December 2011

I woke up this morning feeling a little off; I’ve been sick the last three days and my back decided to chime in on the fun, so initially I thought that was it. But after convincing Max to get off of me and sitting up, I realized that wasn’t it. Physically, I felt better. My back still hurt, but that wasn’t it.

It took me a few minutes to come to grips that the feeling didn’t have anything to do with whatever minor bug has been making me feel like crap since the day after Christmas, and it had nothing to do with the pain radiating from my back.

It was sadness, just sadness.

And with that came the cold slap that today marks the tenth anniversary since the wonderful Moe Brennan passed away. I still miss her, and I’m still angry that she died, because she didn’t have to. Her husband should not be making his way through life without her, and the world is still a little dimmer without her.

Moe used to sign off on message boards and email with “Half Full, Half M.T.” But she was never half of anything. She was All That, and then some.

Ten years.

I don’t think I’ll ever not miss her. And I don’t think I’ll ever be not angry about how she died. I don’t think I’ll ever not be at least a little sad on this day every year.

But I’ll also suck it up and shake it off by tomorrow, because as formidable as she was, I’m pretty sure she’d find a way to kick my ass even now.


22 December 2011

We weren't planning on putting up a tree this year, but with a spastic black kitty finally calm and lounging by it while he stares with a This is all mine, right? look, I think getting a small one was pretty much worth it.


20 December 2011

Does it look like we had a good time? We did, we had a really good time. We also did it the right way, because it turned out I really did need to just stop and go back to the room periodically, and for an extended time on Day 2; we went to California Great Adventure on the second day, and I was feeling fairly crappy, overly tired and pretty achy, with my back and feet fighting for Most Awful Feeling, so we headed back and I was able to rest up. We intended to go back to Disneyland to be in the park for the fireworks, but that never happened, mostly because right about the time we were thinking about heading back, it started to rain...which didn't really matter because our room had a perfect view of them.

The nice thing about going to Disney without little kids? You don't have to get up at the buttcrack of dawn because they're pinging off the walls and wanting to get there already. You get to sleep in and take care of all the aches and pains and medication issues, and wander over when you feel like it.

On Day Three I don't think we hit the park until after 11 a.m. and the first thing we did was hit Space Mountain to get a Fast Pass, and then we wandered for a bit, mostly so I could get a feel for how I was really feeling. By the time we could go back and bypass most of the line I was feeling pretty good, and man, that is my absolutely favorite ride.

We rode it on Day One, of course, and decided to go back to it later again on Day Three, because I must have my Space Mountain! And while we waited, the Spouse Thingy mused about how he would really like to see Space Mountain with the lights on.

So we really shouldn't have been surprised at what happened less than a minute into the ride.

Mike broke Space Mountain.

Right before we should have gone into a wicked turn, the ride stopped and the lights popped on, and there was an announcement that a ride attendant would be right with us. This was actually kind of cool, getting to see what it really looks like, and getting to watch as other cars were released manually and then pushed down the track. One good shove by this girl I probably could have snapped in two with my thumbs literally shoved each car along, let go, and we watched as one by one they picked up speed and headed to the and of the line.

Since we were so high up, we were the last car to be released and had the longest ride in the light, which was pretty trippy. In the light Space Mountain is kind of a lame roller coaster, just a couple notches above the kind you see in the little-kid areas of theme parks. But it was still fun, and when we got to the end, they left us all on and let us ride through again.

It's definitely a trip I want to take again. Or maybe try Disney World in FL. But next time I think we'll fly...the drive kicked my ass, and on the way home we got a screw in one of the back tires, and ya know what? There are no full-service stations along I-5. It took a few places, but Mike finally tried a truck stop with semi service, and while they couldn't plug the tire for us--because they just didn't have a plug kit--the kid there jacked the car up and put the spare on so that Mike didn't have to, and pointed us to Bakersfield.

For free.

We headed to Bakersfield about 35 miles from where we were at, very slowly, to an America's Tire, where we waited nearly 3 hours all in all (9 cars ahead of us...but what we were going to do?) and they plugged the tire, put the spare back in the well in the trunk, mounted the good tire, reloaded our luggage back into the car and got it all arranged for us so that we didn't have to worry about it.

For free.

Seriously. For free.

We got home 3 hours later than we expected, but hey... in a warped way it was worth it to experience just how nice people really can be.

More pictures up at Flickr. I don't have them organized well or descriptions on most of them yet, but they are there for your perusal if you so choose ;)

And yanno, Disney is a lot like a SGK 3 Day. People stop what they're doing when they see you taking a picture, and offer to take a couple so you can be in it together.

Very cool.


12 December 2011

Tomorrow, we're heading out for the first real vacation either of us can remember, and because we're all grown up and chit, we're heading to Disneyland.

We went to Disneyland 21-22 years ago, when the Boy was little. We knew we would be leaving CA and didn't know if we'd ever get another chance to take him, so we whipped out the credit card and willingly took on a little debt in hopes that we'd give him a few happy memories. I think it took us 3 years to pay it off (yeah, minimum monthly payments, not such a bargain) but it was worth it.

He's been back a few times, but we haven't. And since the Spouse Thingy actually is getting some time off close to Christmas, when the park will be lit up, we want to go back and have some fun and enjoy the decorations. I'm not sure how many rides we'll get on--unfortunately my back just doesn't do well on a lot of them now--but for the 3 or 4 days we'll be there I'm betting there will be a lot to see.

And instead of the CheepAss Motel a couple miles down the road, we're staying at the Disneyland Hotel. We'll be able to walk to the park or hop on the Monorail, which means if we need or want to, we can take an extended break during the day and not feel like we're missing anything.

And yeah, I know I'll probably need breaks. Sure, I can do the 3 day and walk the 20 miles a day, but when you do that you're not standing in lines for freakishly long stretches of time, and standing kills my back. Plus, I've been babying my foot in order to be able to make this trip, but that also means I haven't been walking, and my endurance tends to evaporate pretty fast these days.

I was also reminded when I went to Atlanta how exhausting traveling is for me. That first day I was floored; since we're staying right there, if I'm too wiped out, it's not a big deal. Hell, if he wants to, while I splay myself out on a bed and drool, the Spouse Thingy can wander around the park by himself for a while.

And something else I feel like I have to explain... I know there are several people in the area that mentioned wanting to get together while we're down there but I haven't yet made plans. Please don't be offended. I really don't know what we'll be doing and when, and I don't know if I'll suddenly need to stop in the middle of the day. I still have health issues that might get in the way; that's not going to change, but because this really is the first vacation we've taken in forever, we're going to be selfish and do what we want to do when we want to do it, with no restrictions on the clock.

Basically, we want to spend some time alone.

Old people still do that, you know ;)


10 December 2011

I needed a few things from Walmart so I headed over there, and was happy to see that it wasn't crowded and I would be able to zip in and then zip out.

While I gathered up the few things I needed, a thought ran through my head, something like, "Well, they never have it here so I'll go over to Safeway."

Five minutes later I was in Safeway.

Five minutes, five seconds later, I realized I could not remember what it was I was there for.

Googled "My Memory Sucks" and got this. Eh?
I wandered up and down the aisles, hoping to trigger my brain, but no. I did pick up two cans of cat food, flavors Walmart never seems to carry. But after aimlessly wandering around the store for ten minutes, I decided it must not have been that important, so I paid for the cat food and left.

Once I got home I realized I needed to do laundry, so that I would have some clean clothes to take to Disneyland next week. That included the pants I was wearing. So I put some shorts on, shoved the two pair of jeans I have that actually fit into the washer, and decided to sit down for a few minutes before diving into all the things I need to get done this weekend.

And then I remembered...I needed to pick the Spouse Thingy's meds up from the pharmacy.

At Walmart.

If this is how my brain works at 50, I dread 60.

And now I have to wait for my pants to finish washing and then drying, so I can go back to Walmart and get his meds.

Maybe I'll get lucky and remember what I needed so badly from Safeway...


8 December 2011

It doesn't look bad, but it stings like a farker. And you can only see about half of it...those scratches are actually teeth marks and there are two puncture wounds above them from his upper teeth, and a couple of other punctures higher on my arm from his back claws.

Buddah bites.

Seriously. Buddah.

There are times I think that cat is--at the risk of being offensive, though it's definitive in his case--slightly retarded. While I often make jokes about Max eating my face off, if it ever happens Buddah will be the more likely culprit, and it will be because he wanted to be picked up and held, and then without warning decided 2.4 minutes of it was .0001 minute too long, but instead of meowing and wiggling to get down, he attacked.

Tonight he wanted to be cuddled. I obliged. He loved it--until he didn't--and then went apeshit crazy on me. He bit hard, I put him down on the counter, he started meowing like HE was the one who had been wronged and kept moving towards me... I thought he was going to leap and rip my throat out.

I actually took a step or two back, just in case.

He does this; it's not the first time. He acts sweet and cuddly, then goes nuts, and then howls when he's being told No. We don't hit the cats, but that index finger being pointed at him and waggled while telling him'd think we were beating him, he gets so upset.

If he's sitting on top of the fake fireplace and you walk by and try to pet him, you need to be prepared to pull back a bloody stump.

If you're wearing shoes he's never seen before, he freaks out. Most of the time he runs, but once in a while he'll go after your feet.

But if you're sitting here in the chair with the computer on your lap, he'll jump up, plop down between the keyboard and your torso, and get head and chin skritches until your hand is ready to fall off. Then he's sweet and gentle...but that could change on a whim.

So yeah, if my face gets eaten off by a ticked off kitty, dont just assume it was Max.

Max bites, but he does the very soft warning bite, and if he's told no he either slinks off or he sits there and gives you this "You're a dork" look. He's a grump, but I'm not afraid of anything he'll do.

But in all honesty, sometimes?

Buddah scares the shit out of me.

I guarantee, though, once he's gotten the little freak out of his system he'll be his dorky sweet self again. Until the next time, which could be ten minutes from now or ten days.

He's either got mental issues, or he's a farking genius.


7 December 2011

Apparently I was part of a class action lawsuit against eBay, something about listing fees for the selling of vehicles. Not really sure what. I listed two cars on eBay in the past, one sold and one listing was pulled because I mentioned the word "cash." That one ticked me off because the bids on it had reached my minimum price point, and it was a giant WTF moment. I didn't ASK for cash, it was more like, "...if you're a local buyer and want to pay cash..."

I don't even remember the point I was trying to make in the listing. Just that eBay pulled it right before the auction was supposed to end.

But the other day I got this thing in the mail because I was part of a class actions suit I didn't even know about. I almost tossed it because the envelope looked like another You have a VA loan on your house and we want your business and even though you've never heard of us, we're going to offer you a killer interest rate that's actually 1% more than you're currently paying! letter. But I opened it, and there was this!

A check!

For thirty five cents!


So tell me...what should I spend it on? I have to cash it before the 22nd of December. WHAT TO BUY??!?!?


5 December 2011

Random Memory Monday:

Pets are family; I don’t care if you think it’s nuts, but for us, they are. So they’ve always been a consideration in the places we’ve lived, the way furniture is arranged, and the purchasing of vehicles. Face it, when you have a 120 pound Golden Retriever, you might be able to haul them to the vet in the back seat of a Mazda Protégé, but cross country? No.

With just two years left to retirement, the Spouse Thingy got orders moving us from California to Ohio; not too long before those orders popped up we’d traded in a station wagon on a Protégé. It was a four door, so we were able to get Hank the Dog in and out, though he was less than thrilled about it and his arthritic hips hated it. The station wagon had to go, though, because the transmission was on its way out and we just didn’t want to deal with it anymore.  We thought we were staying in California for the rest of the Spouse Thingy’s military career, but one dickwad who started playing chess with the nurse anesthetists changed that.

Hank might have been able to ride around town every now and then in the back seat of the Mazda, but it seemed cruel to even think about hauling him 1800 miles in it. So the Boy sold his car, we gave him the Mazda, and we bought a pickup truck. That way Hank had most of the bed of the truck to travel in (harnessed in place in case of accident…) and we would even be able to shove his bed back there.

The problem, we discovered quickly, was that Hank was an older Golden and with his bad hip, he couldn’t just jump into the back of the truck. He could get his front paws on the gate, and one of us could then lift his back end up, but that hurt him. He never whelped or whined, but it was there on his face: this hurts.

We bought a pet ramp, and with a little work, he figured out how to walk up it and get into the truck, and with a little more work he was able to walk down. He needed more help than the average dog even with that—for whatever reason Hank was terrified of stairs and to him this was just a weird staircase—but with reassuring hands on him, he would suck up the fear and brave it.

We also had a pass through window installed between the cab and the bed, and bought a topper, so that Hank was not only protected from the elements while riding back there, but he could also stick his head through the window and be with his people.  So off we went, heading to Ohio with a geriatric Golden Retriever who drooled through the pass through window and a pissed off Psychokitty who howled for 6 solid hours the first day.

Somewhere along the way, probably on day two, we stopped at a rest area and unfolded the ramp so that Hank could get out and pee, then stretch his legs and walk for a bit. Across the large parking lot was a guy standing in front of his van, watching. As Hank tentatively made his way down the ramp, the guy started walking towards us; I didn’t think anything about it. For all I knew he was heading for the restroom.

But when he was about five feet from us, he said—almost a little choked up—“Thank you for that.”

We both looked up from Hank.

“I had a dog just like him, and I miss him so much. Thank you for thinking about that ramp for yours. It’s special.”

That was my random thought this morning; I saw a picture online of a trailer-hitch step-up platform for dogs, and I heard that guy’s voice in my head.

We never thought it was special; it’s what you do when a family member needs something. Hank needed help getting in and out of the truck, and that was no different than the Spouse Thingy walking me back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the house six days after I’d had surgery. I needed to move, but I needed help.

On the surface, it doesn’t seem special; it’s just what you do.

Still…I saw that step-up and I could  perfectly see Hank carefully inching his way down that ramp in a rest area parking lot, and how some random stranger was reminded of his own long-gone friend, and how to him, it was special.

And right now, I really miss Hank.

A lot.


4 December 2011

I record Doctor Oz throughout the week, and watch episodes when there's nothing else worth bothering with on TV. If I don't get to them during the week, I watch (sort of, I mostly have it on for noise while I play online) during the weekend, presuming I don't have HGTV on while I ignore it in favor of JigZone or Bookworm.

Today I decided to watch an episode while I had lunch. And dammit if the whole thing wasn't on hunger in America, and I sat there with my chicken salad sandwich while listening to people talk about the realities of being broke and trying to feed kids... yeah, I had to choke the sandwich down. I wanted to grab those kids through the screen and cut them loose in my kitchen. There are some less than stellar choices in my pantry right now, but's food. And I have a phone. Order pizza! I just wanted to feed every last one of them.

We've been broke. When the boy was a baby we measured anything we considered purchasing against how much formula the cost of that would buy. That book? No, not gonna get it. That would pay for two cans of Similac. Pack of new underwear? Three cans. Let's go commando instead. He needs vaccinations? Cripes, the one shot would buy 5 cans of formula. What to do? Sell the coveted 12 string guitar, for one. That'll cover shots AND a lot of food.

We ate a lot of generic macaroni and cheese because it was only 10 cents a box, bought generic canned vegetables by the case when they were on sale, and had weeks on end of peas or corn or green beans. Every now and then the Spouse Thingy's mom sent care packages that included blueberry muffin mix, we were thrilled.Sometimes we made the mac and cheese without butter and cut the milk needed, but the muffins? They got every drop of the 1/3 cup the mix required. MUFFINS!

A night with mac and cheese, peas AND muffins? That was a farking feast.

Meat? When we were lucky, we'd catch tubes of 70% ground beef on sale. Seriously, hamburger in a tube. It sliced into freezable patties nicely, and with some creativity was pretty freaking good. It took a jar of generic spaghetti sauce that would usually only be enough for 1 meal into 3, AND we got to have hamburgers every now and then.

We had parental help here and there, so we never truly suffered. We didn't go to bed without having had dinner. Our son always had food, even though he refused to eat it half the time. Those parents I watched while I tried to swallow past some chicken-laden guilt, they're suffering. Their kids are hungry, and they're doing everything they can to put food on the table for them, but today's realities mean that sometimes they go without.

Kids are going hungry. These kids are so hungry that if given food they hate, they'll choke it down.

And it's unconscionable that this happens in the U.S. It sucks that it happens anywhere, but in a land of abundance, no one should go hungry.

Ever wonder why so many people who are on food stamps, who stand on street corners holding signs asking for change, who seem to skip lunch every damned day are overweight?

The food they can afford, when they can afford it, is packed with simple carbs. Pasta is cheap. Ramen noodles are cheap. They're also calorie dense. So yeah, you can be very, very hungry and gain weight. During the years I ate the least amount of food overall, I gained the most weight. Living on mac and cheese and spaghetti will do that to you.

But we never went hungry. We probably qualified for food stamps but never pursued it, because we had food. I doubt we even realized it was horrible food. But we had it, and it wasn't until much later--when the Spouse Thingy was in the USAF and we notched up from Tube Meat to slightly better hamburger--that the realization of our likely malnutrition occurred to us.

We're more aware of it now. It doesn't escape me that we can go out for dinner on a whim and spend more on one meal than we did in an entire month nearly 30 years ago.

We've done the donate-the-canned-goods thing; a couple of times a year someone sticks a notice on our door saying they'll be in the area in a day or two collecting canned goods, usually the Boy Scouts. If we have enough notice--we don't always--we stick a few cans out. That's painless.

It's easy during the holidays to do something because grocery stores run their Buy-a-Bag food drives. For $20 right there at the cash register you can buy a bag of food that will be donated. That's painless, too.

I know you can make cash donations, but I wasn't sure exactly to where, so I engaged my Google-Fu and looked for local food banks, and actually let out a Duh when it coughed up the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano County. I see that name on the food donation bins in Safeway all the time. I've seen their ads more than once. Hell, I've written them checks the last couple of years.

I don't know why I didn't immediately think of them...but there you have it. I doubt I'm the only person who kind of shoves the uncomfortable things in life into the recesses of the brain.

They make it easy to help, too. A direct link right there on the website. Hell, they make it easy to have a monthly donation automatically charged to your credit card, if you so choose. But one of the more unique ways to donate to them surprised me.

Like, BART tickets.

Every time you ride the BART train into the city, you buy a ticket based on distance, and there's always a few cents left over at the end of the day. If other people are like we are, they toss the tickets because hell, it's a nickle. Or a dime. We went into San Francisco several times this year, and the grand total left on all the accumulated tickets was probably $5. Tossed 'em.

But ya know what? Five bucks can buy 10 meals. And the CCS food bank can take those tickets and get cash for them. I wish I'd known that. Sending them our used tickets with the pennies left over? Painless.

You can bet I'll be saving them throughout next year.

And you can bet if they had something like the 3 Day, I'd be walking in it.

I've eaten crap because crap was what we could afford, but I've never been truly hungry, and I hate the idea that I could throw a baseball in any direction and hit a neighbor who might be. And today, that's entirely possible. Someone might have the house, might have a car in the driveway, but they might also be so very, very close to losing it all, and they may be going hungry to make sure they keep a roof over their heads.

It sucks.

Depressing blog entry to read? Maybe. But there's something we can all do. Find out where the local food bank is, and if you do nothing else, pop $5 their way.

Look at their website. See if there's anything different you can do, like saving subway tickets to send in.

It doesn't mean you have to get deeply involved and volunteer to bag food and stack boxes, though that would be nice, too. Just a few bucks here and there.

Me...I'll do something because that chicken salad sandwich is sitting like a lead weight in my stomach.

I'm allowed to be selfishly motivated.

Whatever works, right?


2 December 2011

Today, I had aspirations of taking my iPad and a notepad and heading out to Panera for lunch and to get some work done. I'm delusional like that, always harboring the beleif that if I go sit someplace with free WiFi that I'll actually get anything done.

Technically, I wrote two sentences while I sat there, so I suppose that counts.

And I did write three sentences on Facebook. So there. Writing was accomplished.

Before I went into Panera, though, I decided to wander around the Nut Tree (think giant strip mall with major stores like Best Buy and Old Navy) and hope for holiday gift inspiration. Because, you know, people will want to buy me chitloads of stuff and I need to know what to tell them to get for me. Since I have no clue, I need to do a little window shopping.

Plus, I've been babying my foot since the walk in Atlanta, and it's time to test it out a little more. I did some deliberate walking at faster than shopping-speed to see how it would feel. It felt fine, so I'll start building on that so that the first time I'm on my feet for any length of time isn't the first day at Disneyland.

While I was wandering around, not finding anything worth telling people to buy me (it really is hard to find crap when you're on the outside of the stores. Who knew?) I decided I was thirsty, but I wasn't ready to go plop myself down in Panera with a salad and some chili, so I wandered into BevMo.

You know. Booze Heaven. They sell single bottles of cold soda, so I grabbed a Diet Whatever and got in line. Ahead of me was a grungy kind of guy, wind-shipped hair, red flannel shirt, and jeans about 3 sizes too big held up with a belt fastened with something from the scientific family Buckles Gigantes. He put his giant bottle of Jack and tiny bottle of vodka (or gin. I dunno. It was clear.) on the counter, and after the cashier rang him up and he made no move toward the card swiper thingy, she asked him a pretty straightforward question: "Ist das alles?"

He blanched. The dude took a tentative step back and looked at me and practically spit, "Fuckin' foreigners. Can't even learn the damned language."

I shrugged. "Sounded like English to me." Ok, so no it didn't. But I understood. I'd have to be half brain dead to not grasp it.

"What fuck?"

Seriously? Complaining about the language and you can't even remember an article? "She asked if that was all. Is that all?"

I don't think he comprehended.

"Like, do you need anything else?" I gestured to the card swiper thingy (don't judge me. I can't think of its name right now.) "You can pay now."

Hey, I wasn't even snotty about it.

He paid and left in a hurry, I think still confused and still not sure what he'd heard.

In a very thick German accent the cashier apologized to me and added, "I have to think still to speak English."

Me: "I can count to ten in German."

Fine. It was stupid, but it made her laugh.