Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Horny little buggers

So I noticed my poor rose bush in the side yard the other day...nearly eaten bare by Japanese beetles. They seem to be particularly bad this year. So today, I went to the hardware store and bought a beetle trap. The kind with the hormones.

Put it out and three minutes later was amazed and had to go get my camera. Can you believe this?

Summertime and the Painting's Easy

I've been doing some side jobs. Here's the porch I stained (finished). My little helper, Sparky, and the windows I've been painting (before and after).

A Bright Spot in a Turbulant time

According to the Federal Highway Administration: "In April, Americans drove 245.9 billion miles — 1.8 percent less than a year ago. "

"April marks the sixth month in a row that we have seen a decline in vehicle miles traveled across the country," says Jim Ray, the FHA's acting administrator. "We're seeing Americans drive less across the board."

"Americans drove 9.6 billion fewer miles in May compared with the same period last year, a 3.7 percent decline and the biggest-ever drop at that time of year, the Transportation Department said on Monday."

"The agency has been collecting data since 1942. Ray says vehicle miles traveled have risen steadily from one year to the next. Driving did taper off during the energy crisis of the 1970s and early 1980s when gas prices were high. At that time, drivers cut back by 500 million miles. But highway officials liken that to a plateau — and this to a cliff."

"It is the steepest decline in vehicle miles traveled ever recorded," Ray says. "What we're estimating now for the 2007-2008 figures are 30 billion miles. So we're seeing a difference of 60-fold." See full article here.

The NY Times reports here that there is hope that gas prices will continue to drop throughout the end of the year, baring any geopolitical problems or a hurricane on the Gulf Coast that wipes out a refinery again. Equally as encouraging, they say that food commodities may have overshot the mark and drop somewhat as well.

I am most encouraged by our collective response by cutting back on driving. As I mentioned in an earlier post, in the post-$4/gal world, my butt and that gas-guzzling pimpmobile are parked at home.

It also occurred to me that the Olympics start on August 8 (I think). I think that when the world gets to Bejing and sees that gas prices are so low they are not going to say "oh, those lucky Chinese". I think they are going to be appalled by the government subsidizing gas prices. Also from the NY Times:

"From Mexico to India to China, governments fearful of inflation and street protests are heavily subsidizing energy prices, particularly for diesel fuel. But the subsidies — estimated at $40 billion this year in China alone — are also removing much of the incentive to conserve fuel."

Sure, the US still uses most of the world's gas, but if wasteful Americans can temper their gas consumption, there is no reason that emerging markets can't grow responsibly as well. We have to be smarter these days. I think we are capable of it.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Why I Read Blogs

I read blogs because I get links to unbelievable information that would otherwise elude my detection. To wit:

Were you aware that Halliburton, one of the United States' largest defense contractors announced that is was moving it's headquarters to DUBAI? Yes Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. Yes, Halliburton, the same one run by Dick Cheney. Something stinks in Denmark.

Here's some food for thought for all those die-hard Hillary fans who staunchly refuse to consider voting for Barack.,9171,1821662,00.html

And for those who think it is cute and smart to elect dumb leaders, consider that McCain graduated 5th from the bottom (of 899 students) in his class at the Naval Academy. If you have the stomach, you can hear his flippant remarks about his stellar academic career here....

Given this level of academic achievement, we can hardly be surprised that McCain thinks that Pakistan and Iraq share a border, or when he repeatedly refers to Czechoslovakia, a country that hasn't existed since 1993. If nothing else, the fact that Bush was a C student as a HISTORY major should tell us something about the wisdom of electing intellectually stunted leaders.

I can't make this crap up. Enjoy the campaign.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

More Garden Visitors

So while hanging the laundry, I got quite a display of butterflies in my garden. There were two black butterflies more interested in mating than feeding. A monarch has been spending time out there. The butterflies were difficult to photograph; they are very wary this time of year.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Standing Alone

Perhaps I'm hormonal. At this point, I hope that's the case. But I have spent the better part of three days in a virtual standstill due to the gravity of my situation being made abundantly apparent to me from several fronts:
  • A friend upon who I was counting made clear an intent to leave me hanging, not with an apology, but rather with a statement that made clear we were supposed to pretend no commitment had ever been made.
  • A man whose interest I sought and thought I had has failed to call, which led me to realize that I haven't been asked out on a date by a man who was genuinely interested in me since my divorce.
  • A trip that was supposed to cost me nothing, is now going to cost me nearly $250 that I don't have.
  • Despite assurances from all my committee members that my project is fundable, my project has failed to garner funding. I am now having to work side jobs to pay for my research.
  • I realized that I have no friends my own age. I have no idea what 45-year-old people, soon to be 46, do because I'm the only one I know. I have more in common with my professors than my student peers and yet I am prevented by that difference in status from pursuing friendships with the people I would feel more comfortable with. Thus, I am uncomfortable and alone most of the time.
  • A family member either knowingly or unknowingly belittled my life, and thought it appropriate to tell me in a quite paternalistic manner how I should be spending my money.
  • A friend whose gentle ear I sought in this time of discomfort thought it more appropriate to make fun of me and give me greater grief to add that which I had already received in heaping doses from others.

I tackled the bookcase project yesterday as a means of taking myself out of my head and into the moment. But the isolation I have felt at having no one's loyalty has left me empty. I find it difficult to garner much enthusiasm for anything. My house is a wreck and I can't seem to get off the couch.

I don't mind the poverty. I don't mind the hard work to earn a degree. I have learned over time to cope with the loneliness. I do mind the piling on by everyone at once. I feel acutely being taken advantage of and taken for granted and treated like I am stupid because people who are doing better than me presume to think I am a failure. I do mind the lack of any meaningful friendships and male companionship. I mind not having anyone my age around. These things, I mind very much. There is nothing worse than feeling you are standing alone, especially when things are not going well. And I am tired of being judged for reacting like I do when I have no one to help me cope. If I hear one more person say to me "you always overreact" I am going to show them what overreacting really is.

I hope this is just hormones. Really I do. Because if things are really this bad and I am really this alone, I really have reason to wonder what the hell I'm doing here. I am really starting to doubt whether I am PhD material. I should have all my data in hand by this point in my program. I am still trying desperately to get money to get the data. I honestly thought by this time, one of the many, many grants I had written would have hit pay dirt. None has. This is no longer a 5-year project. This is a 7-year project and I don't have that kind of time. My desperation is complete. The only meaningful thing I have done all week is stop to move a turtle out of the road.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday Half-Day Project

So I stopped by Lowe's today to pick up some odds and ends and they were having a "contractor's day" and I got a free knife (an in-store promotion for the contractors). Anyway, I got this idea for what I thought would be a quick project. After getting rid of the computer desk I had been using on my front porch as a plant stand, I needed something to get those plants off the floor.The desk was never optimal as a plant stand. I put it on the front porch because Mandy said she wanted it once and she never came and got it. So it just began to collect plants. In my house, any flat surface has a tendency to do that. Now, with the desk gone, the plant issue had become paramount. I decided on a built in. I bought three 1x8x8' pine boards and a 1x8x8' cedar board, came home and got busy.

Here is the result....

Click on the pics for a bigger image.

The whole thing is flush with the ledge that has always perplexed me about this porch. What's behind that ledge? Why is it there? It really makes no sense. In any event, the top board is cedar, so I figure if I overflow the water now and again, no big whoop. However, I used untreated pine for the rest of the bookcase and there are definite issues with warping, so the thing isn't even close to square. I had to buy a couple of L brackets and secure it to the wall lest it fall over with all my botanical treasures.

Total project cost $30 and a free knife. Total project time, about 4 hours. Although I still haven't rolled up the extension cord in the driveway. Still, not bad for a half day project, and I get a wicked bunch of room back in my porch area. It's almost pleasant to sit out here now.

Although, I have been sitting here thinking that this room would look a lot brighter if I painted it a lighter color. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Welcome Sparky

So Bek drug me over to Petco today to buy new chew toys for her new dog, Moo Moo. Ok, so it's name isn't really Moo Moo, it's Dixie, but I still like Moo Moo. Anyway, after caring for Tammy's various critters for a week now, I noticed that her beta fish requires virtually no care. I like that sort of thing in a pet. (I am also warming up to her reptiles....maybe one day when Jake has gone to the great tennis court in the sky....*deep sigh*)

So, Petco has a virtual cornucopia of beta fish to pick from, but I'm partial to red. By the way, this is probably as close as my camera will ever get to water.

He's Sparky because he's on fire.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Flutter by visitors

A frequent visitor to one of my many coneflower patches these days are swallowtails. The few I've seen in the past few days are remarkably large and just in fantastic shape. Take a look at this specimen.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Who Knew Botany was This Interesting?

This week, I've been looking at the fruits of my labor. Literally. Abronia have fruits, called anthocarps, which contain the seed. It's not a fleshy fruit, more like the pod of a legume like an acacia. Each fruit contains a single seed, although twins aren't unheard of.

They are interesting because even species that grow in very close proximity, and possibly hybridize have very different anthocarps. The three pictured here are A. latifolia x A. maritima hybrid, A. maratima, and A. latifolia. The hybrid anthocarp is larger by half than either species from which it is derived. Hybrid vigor, I suppose.

I've been photographing them and looking at them under the light microscope, and I have found that all are very hairy. Almost all the hairs are composed of three cells, and the hairs are tipped by a flat-topped disc. The hairs seem to entrap the sand. Some species have lots of hair, others have less. Some are very sticky, others less so. I believe the hairs themselves exude the viscous exudate that causes everything to cling to the anthocarp. I hope to get better microscopy photos so that I can really show the detail in this genus. It's very interesting least to me.

My charges

Dog sitting can be fun. These are my charges for the week. I don't know the cats names so I call them Bossy and Meow. The dogs are Gus and Sadie. Gus is submissive and loving; Sadie is boisterous and chases the tabby a lot. The tabby nearly always gets the better of Sadie, and Meow just stays out of the line of fire.

They aren't nearly as much trouble to take care of as the swimming pool.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Dark Knight

Saw the bat movie tonight. Heath Ledger was really good as the joker. Possibly the best work, albeit the last work, of his career. The special effects were amazing, the story moved along at a decent pace. All in all, if the movie had been about 30 minutes shorter, I would have really thought it was fantastic. But it milked it until the very end.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New Camera: Olympus 790 SW

OK, this gives some idea of the detail, color, and quality of photos in natural sunlight. I'm looking forward to working with this camera. I'm favorably impressed with everything given the low, low price. (Under $200.) This is a waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof model, albeit with only 7.1 megapixels, but I couldn't walk away from the deal. Besides, this is still better than the Sony.

The photos are full images, and crops at 100%. Click on photos to get them at actual size. As I said, I'm favorably impressed with the detail given this price. Reviews are less than complimentary about the reliability as an underwater camera. Luckily, I'm not much on underwater photography.

Trash & Treasure

Today Bek and I held our garage sale. All went pretty smoothly, the weather was fine although somewhat hot and humid, but what do you expect for mid-July. Bek made about $25, I made about $45. All in all, not a bad haul for junk that was just taking up space.

My car is packed to the gills with things to be dropped off at the Goodwill. What we couldn't sell, we're giving away.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Nothing Beats Hard Work

Ok, not much happened to me today, but I did get to spend my day hanging out on a pseudo-farm with 4 dogs, 3 cats, and a fairly talented mockingbird. I've been staining a deck of one of our professors and her four pooches provide entertainment to say the least. Frankie, the older akita likes to get out in the tomato patch and rub his behind against the tomato stakes. Sparky is a short-legged, ice blue-eyed cattle dog mutt with enough personality to light up a room. Maybe that's why he's called Sparky. Daisy is a mopsy little dog that stays to herself mostly. She is sweet though and her tail thumps whenever you get nearby. Finally, there's Sam. At least I think it's Sam. Sam is a lab mix, smaller than my other lab mix friend, Jack.

I also pulled the John Deere out of the barn and ran some circles around the front lawn. The grass was getting knee high. I have three railings left to go on the porch, a lot of window trim to paint, and 1/4 of a garden to complete weeding in the next five days. It's gonna be a horse race to finish.

There is a satisfying tired that comes with a day of hard work. I'm just glad I got to spend my day in the company of canine friends.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Wall E, the new ET

Saw Wall E today. Excellent movie. Go to see it. Take a kid. Take your mom. Magnificent animation. Cute story. Enjoy the popcorn.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The $37.50 chest

Today Bek and I took a pilgrimage to Missouri to go "antiquing", which is to say, we went to St. Mary, MO to the antique mall. Yes, this is the same antique mall where I got my walnut dresser for a mere $130. But today, I beat even that deal. I have been lamenting here how I sold my dining room suite but still needed somewhere compact to store what came out of the buffet. Well, now I have it.

I found a chest of drawers for a mere $37.50. It is sitting at Bek's awaiting our garage sale when she is going to bring the truck down to bring other furniture for the sale. I am very excited about this purchase. What a find! Pictures when I can.

Frogs under my Couch

This morning, I woke up to a leopard frog in my living room. When it saw me, it high-tailed it under the couch. It took much rearrangement of furniture to convince this little one that outside was a better option.

Considering the frequency with which I vacuum, not many would volunteer to live under my couch. Got to give it to the little fella. Then again, it does beg the question....just exactly how wet is it under there?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Are Socks a Substitute for Sex?

Ok, so I used to be relatively sane. Happy childhood. Normal issues. Normal life. I don't know if it is the stress of school, or some genetic predispoisition but as I get older, weird behaviors have started to emerge. I'm slowly going crazy.

Three years ago, I had a disruptive episode with compulsive behavior. My compulsion was creative to say the least. I read emails over and over again. No amount of telling myself to stop could make me stop. Not the realization that it was a useless behavior. I had to make deals with myself that I wouldn't allow this compulsion to make me miss work, miss class, or interact with friends. It did however cost me a lot of sleep. Ok, I admit that is weird. But I recognized it as a problem and tried to get some help. What I learned is that I must have been getting some stress relief from that behavior and when the stress went away, so did the behavior. Problem solved.

Now, apparently, I have a sock issue. I realize that women are supposed to go ga-ga for shoes. With me, it's socks. I have more socks than anyone you know. I have so many socks that I had to clean them out and put some in the garage sale. Some of those socks had never been worn. I purchased an organizer for the sock drawer. It holds 32 pairs of socks. I select my 32 favorite pairs and they get to stay. Everything else is up for sale. For a week, my dresser is sane and organized. But can I let it go? Hell to the no. Cause I'm crazy. I have purchased 3 new pairs of socks. They are nice socks. They were on sale. But come on. How many pairs of socks do you really need?

And...umm.....HELLO. It's SUMMERTIME. I haven't worn socks and shoes for a month now. I've got the Chacos now.

My question is, what possible benefit could I have for having so many pairs of socks? Did I have to wear hand-me-down socks as a child? Did I feel denied because my socks never matched my pants? What is UP with this behavior? I just don't get it. For now, I'm going to have to add socks to the growing list of things I have to deny myself permission to buy. Shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and now socks. Crazy is hella inconvenient.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Have you changed YOUR behavior?

How has $4/gal gas prices affected your life? I've started to think about this recently.

Since gas tipped over the edge at $4.00/gal, my life has changed drastically. I don't drive anywhere that isn't an absolute necessity. I don't go into school unless I have something to do. If I can do it at home, I do it from home. Of course, I miss everyone. My already abysmal social life has gone from merely pathetic to absolutely non-existent. I cannot drive to Carbondale for parties, for dinners or movies with friends, for special shopping trips, or anything else.

Riding a bicycle to do random errands isn't an option for me. Highway 51 is not bicycle friendly. So, whereas I used to go to the grocery 4-5 times a week. I go once a week now. There are only two products that will drive me to the store if I run out: toilet paper and dog food. Otherwise, if I don't have it, I do without it. No soy milk but plenty of cereal? I eat eggs or oatmeal. I do a lot of shopping on the computer. It is often cheaper and more efficient for me to pay shipping charges than to drive to Carbondale to purchase things in local stores.

I drove to pick up my dog at my sister's in Richmond, KY. Just about 600 miles round trip. The trip that cost me $65.00 when I dropped her off 2 months ago, cost me $90.00 to pick her up. From now on, I'll be looking very hard at the pros and cons of kenneling dogs rather than having friends or family care for them--especially if that "favor" entails me driving or paying for other's gas. (I used to pay graduate students $10/day to care for Nevada and Jake. Now, volunteer caretakers would use half of that $10 in gasoline to get to and from my house.) While I am sure that they do a much better job of caring for my dogs in my home, I have to consider whether the job is worth THEIR time and effort. $10/day is an easy bit of money. My house is comfortable and well stocked with amenities. But $5/day? Hardly worth it.

I'm not sure how much our student fees are increasing in the fall, but I'm sure they are increasing. We are supposed to get (I believe) a 6% raise this year, but as we all know, the increases in fees ate that up two years ago. Coupled with getting squeezed at the gas pumps, and the increase in food, gas, and electric rates, and being forced to pay for my own research, things for me are as bad as they have ever been in my life.

It is very nice to say I should buy local fruits and vegetables to save money, but to drive to the Carbondale farmer's market would cost me another trip (add $5.52 to the cost of any produce I purchase right off the bat) and that more than makes up for the increase in food prices at Kroger. I am growing beans, tomatoes and peppers this year. I won't be giving any away. I have a feeling I'll be eating a LOT of tomato sandwiches this summer.

I expected graduate school to require some sacrifice. I didn't expect to have to devote so much thought and effort to keeping afloat. Having to worry about money every single day depresses me in ways that I can't even express. And perhaps more depressing is the knowledge that this is going to get worse before it gets better. The only way it is going to get better for me is if I finish or quit school and get a real job.

So I wonder, how have $4/gal gas prices affected your life? And do you have any $$ saving tips for our readers?


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Recycling for Research

OK, they laughed when I sent around an email saying that I would come by and collect pop cans for research money. However, I earned $27 toward my last research trip just by saving my pop cans since last fall. I figure I can quadruple that amount by collecting cans from others. Now, I'm not going so far as to scrounge out of my neighbors recycling bins (hmmmmmmm, now there's an idea!), but I will pick it up from my co-workers! I have NO shame! And say what you will, but I have already received 2 offers of work doing odd jobs for faculty!

I have to say, though. There was a moment there when I was in my driveway crushing those cans that I suddenly felt like a big ol' homeless person. Anyone who says I haven't paid my dues is owed a great big PFffffffffffffffffffffffftttttttttttttttttttttttttt.