Saturday, April 29, 2017

Car Shopping

There comes a time in every car's life when the repairs cost more than the car is worth. And when it's not safe to drive because you just know the transmission is going to fail at any minute, even though the two different shops you took it to can't seem to repeat the symptoms you're describing to them. Well, that just happened to one of our cars. Thus, we recently went through the dreaded process of shopping for and buying a new car. And during this process, we encountered some of the worst and the best people in the business.

We started to visit dealerships after we had narrowed our choices of what we wanted. At the dealerships, we were approached by a sales person as we walked in the door. I think they take shifts on who is on front-line duty as we were only approached by one person in each place. We saw the cars, asked our questions, and took the person's card because we wanted to honor the time they spent with us since they work on commission.

In between these onsite visits, we registered with Costco and True Car program through our credit union. Dealers have agreed to honor set prices for those participating in these programs.. After your online registration, sale people start contacting you either by email or phone or both. What all this means is that we had several dealers contacting us about buying a car, some we had seen in person, and some we hadn't. Whatever the case was, we tried to honor the first point of contact.

And here's where it gets interesting.  At one dealership, we had only spoken on the phone and exchanged emails with Kevin, so we asked for him when we visited. The person who approached us as our front-line contact said Kevin wasn't there that day and proceeded to wait on us. We listened, took his card, and left. Something didn't feel right, so we sat in the parking lot and called Kevin. And guess what? Kevin was at work that day.

On the other side of town at another dealership, our first contact was in person with a very nice young man, Mike. Later we got a call from Barry, who represented the Costco program there. So when we went back, we weren't sure who to talk to. Barry stepped up and started to work with us. However, do you do you know what Barry did? He called over Mike and showed him how to handle the paper work. Also, Barry said that Mike could have all of the commission on this sale. They were both so nice and such a contrast from our earlier encounter, we wanted to buy a car from each one of them.

But alas, we didn't. And we didn't buy from Kevin or his dishonest co-worker, either. We bought from a third dealership where we dealt with a low pressure, friendly, knowledgeable salesman. Turns out he had the best car and the best deal.

So there you have it. How we got our shiny, new car that doesn't surge every time the transmission changes gears. And how we learned there are a lot of nice, honest people out there, but you have to keep your radar on just in case.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

A Second Look--April 25, 2017

We've had mostly warm days with plenty of rain and things are growing fast and furious these days. I don't think we've been below freezing for a few weeks now. The grass is especially happy in this kind of weather and we had to cut it twice last week.

All of this rapid growth is interesting to watch along with the various perennials that are emerging--some of which I recognize and some of which I don't. There are a few I'm still on the fence about as to whether they are are weeds or not. I have a lot of learning to do in this area. Unfortunately, the poison ivy and other invasive plants are starting to leaf out, too. I learned my lesson in my old yard and know it's best to spend a year or two trying to eliminate the vines and invasives before doing much else. Otherwise, we'll end up with more problems than we started with. I have so many ideas that will just have to wait.

While all of this is exciting to discover, the most exciting thing is what I discovered a couple of days ago. I found a nest being built in one of our nest boxes. It looks like a bluebird's nest although I haven't seen any bluebirds around. Time will tell.

Here are a few pictures of things I've seen during the past week. Some of them don't show exactly what I want, but it's been raining for a few days now and that has prevented me from venturing out to take other shots.

Except for the dogwoods, most of the trees are done blooming and are now leafing out.

However, you can still find a few lingering blossoms like the one on this apple tree.

Several bushes are in full bloom like these azaleas.

And the 4 or 5 lilacs that are in the yard. I really need to count sometime. I haven't seen many bees. Mostly carpenter bees like the one on these lilac blooms.

This back corner bed looks like it was a very nice bed at one point. Right now the ground covers have totally taken over, but I see various things popping up. Earlier there were a few daffodils blooming here. Now I also see day lily and iris leaves.

I uncovered this plant in the corner bed which looks like it could be a dianthus.

Nearby, were some coral bells.

The yellow lamium in the corner is pretty, but very vigorous as most ground covers are.

Outside of the formal flower beds, I found a few of these volunteer purple flowers from the neighbor's yard. 

And a nice patch of violets.

As I've been digging around in various places, I've found the soil is rocky with both big and small rocks.

We cleaned this corner out and then I planted grass seed. This is an attempt to have something competing with the weeds that will try to take back over.  We may add flower beds here sometime in the future.

The grass is coming up, but I don't know how well it is going to compete with the hardy weeds.

This looks just like the pine needle bluebird nests we got at our old house.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thankful Sunday, April 23, 2017

I am thankful for small surprises.

Last week, I was chatting with a coworker about how her Passover and my Easter went. During the course of the conversation, we talked about Easter Candy that was on sale. I hadn't gotten any and she had brought in a bag of chocolates to share. I mentioned how I liked the large candy coated, marshmallow filled Easter eggs but don't always see them in the stores. Most people don't like them because they are so sweet, but I do.

The next morning, there was a bag of these eggs on my desk. What a nice surprise to start the day. For this totally unexpected gesture of kindness, I am thankful.

Also, I'm thankful that you can only find them once a year because I don't need to be eating these things very often.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A Trip Across the Mountains

We took a long drive across the Allegheny Mountains to visit my mother for Easter. We got back last night and, as usual, my emotions are a jumble. Some of them are:

I am thinking about how happy I was that my whole family got to spend Easter together and that my sons got to see their grandmother on this trip.

I am reflecting on who I was when I left my hometown decades ago and who I am now after I visited with a classmate I haven't seen since high school. He and his wife put on a concert at the nursing home one evening.  He hasn't changed and he said that I haven't changed except I have a shorter haircut. That must be why I had to tell him who I was. :)

I am thinking about how my town has changed. Because of hard times and high unemployment, much of the area around my childhood house is pretty run down. I keep telling my kids that it wasn't like that when I was growing up there. It was still a modest area, but had well kept houses.

I am grieving for the mother I once knew. As time goes on, it is getting harder and harder for her to communicate.

I am smiling as I think about how the other residents faces lit up with just a smile or a wave from me.

I am thanking God about the good care all are getting at the nursing home where my mother is.

I am singing old time gospel songs in my head. There were three concert/sing-alongs I attended with my mother during this visit. While the singing was fun, the focus on the after life has my thoughts landing on this topic often. Especially since I just spent the last several days around people who are near the end of their life.

I am thinking about where I am in my life and where my mother was in her life at the same age.

I am remembering all of the beautiful scenery we saw on our drive. The woods are full now of blooming redbud and dogwood trees reaffirming the circle of life and new beginnings.

And amongst all of these meaning-of-life thoughts, I am thinking I should get some laundry started and more things unpacked before I head off to work.

Yes, my thoughts are all a jumble as they always are after these visits. And that's a good thing. Even if it's uncomfortable, we all need to spend time then and again thinking about how we are living our life.

Here are a few pictures from our trip across the mountains. (Two qualifiers. It's hard to capture just how beautiful the scenery was from a moving car and I'm not showing many faces to protect everyone's privacy. I wish I could because the faces really tell the story.)

There was abundant redbud along most of the trip. It was only when we were in the higher elevations that we didn't see any. 

Along with the redbud, wild mustard was lining the roadside.

My classmate setting up for his concert. He is somewhat of a local celebrity and has several CD's. The residents love him and they know most of his songs. 

They have a nice walking path next to the nursing home.
We took my mother out several times a day for a walk on this. Here's Theo with her now.

The Easter Bunny was quite good to my mother.

Vegetables no longer grow in these barrels at my parents house, but I found them with some very pretty violets.

We usually stop on the drive back and take a short hike to this scenic overlook.

We were welcomed home by dogwoods that bloomed while we were gone. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Second Look--April 12, 2017

Spring officially delivered us our first hot day yesterday when the temperatures reached low 80's. Fortunately, cooler temperatures have returned today with a little rain. Most of the trees are in some stage of bloom right now and it's very pretty outside. I can only imagine how beautiful they will look next year when they haven't just had a severe pruning.

Here are some things I saw this week 
during a Second Look.

Another couple of daffodils bloomed. Because I am not seeing them en mass. I get a chance to appreciate the individual blooms. 

Feed them and they will come. Compared to our old yard, I've seen very few squirrels here. However, it was only a matter of time until we started waging our battle against them at the bird feeders. That war began this week. But so far, we're only mildly discouraging them as they are providing a lot of entertainment for us and the cats.

Grape hyacinths and periwinkle are blooming together for a nice splash of purple color.

In the same bed, I've counted at least 6 different kinds of invasive plants. I'm going to spend this season seeing what I can get under control as far as these weeds go.

There are two crab apple trees in bloom now. Or that's what I think. I know one of them is a crab apple and think that's what the other one is. Time will tell.

Two regular apple trees are starting to bloom, also. Since we pruned the trees up so we could mow under them, I'm not tall enough to take very good pictures of their blossoms. However, this tree obliged with a stray bloom down low.

The lilac blooms are budding and should be in full bloom soon.

We haven't gotten a chance to thin this shrub yet, but it starting to bloom. I'm not sure what it is. There's not good perspective on this picture, but it's about 5 feet tall if that helps anyone identity it.

We have a large ornamental pear tree in the front yard that is also starting to bloom.

And the cherry tree is finally blooming this week, also,

We've had some very windy days recently. Enough so that the weather vane got totally blown off the top of the house. Wally came by for a visit, and he and Ward redesigned the whole thing and reinstalled it. My favorite part is they took a compass on the roof with them and oriented it correctly. :)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Thankful Sunday--April 9, 2017

I'm still working on more regular posting here, but in the meantime, if I can only manage one post a week, I'm glad it's Thankful Sunday. It makes me slow down and appreciate things around me.

I am thankful for good, cooked food.

If you've known me very long, you know that cooking is not my favorite thing. If there's any other distraction around like another project, a migraine, etc., I struggle to prepare a meal. It's been like this forever. Which is okay. Not everyone has to like spending time in the kitchen. What is not okay is the anguish I cause myself over this. 

Well, relief has come in this area. Hurray! No, I didn't find the magic pill that made me like cooking any better, I found my son. When we moved into our new house, Theo set himself and his workshop up in our basement. When we invited him to do this, we told him part of his rent was cooking dinner for us during the week. When Ward had surgery last year, Theo came and did some cooking to help out. That worked out so well that we wanted to try it again.
Theo cooked beans in the slow cooker overnight to go
with the ribs we're having today.

He has totally embraced his responsibilities. He prepares a healthful dinner for us every night. He even does it on the weekends even though he doesn't have to. He reads the supermarket ads (Aldi's) and plans the meals around what's on sale. He makes an effort to add extra vegetables to every dish. He keeps track of what's in the fridge that needs to be used up before it goes bad. He's doing his job just the way I would like without prompting. I'm in seventh heaven.

And meal prep has become a bonding experience, also. He bounces dish ideas off me and sometimes I'm his helper. Occasionally, he asks me about cooking methods or techniques. (I may not like being in the kitchen, but I am skilled there.) We make grocery lists together. He often does the shopping and sometimes we do it together.

Theo asks for feedback on every dish he cooks as he is honing his skills because he sometimes consults recipes but rarely follows them. Presently, he's trying to prefect his fruit crisp with different fruits. Ward and I particularly like these tests. :) But most of the time, everything is darn good.

When he goes away to spend the weekend with his brother, he makes sure that we have food cooked for when he's gone. We didn't ask him to do this, he just does. One week, when he was sick and I didn't want him in the kitchen, he left written instructions for dinner with both menu suggestions and cooking methods to use. 

If you can't tell, I could gush on and on about this. This is the biggest improvement that has happened in my daily life in a long time. 

For all of you out there who do just what Theo does day in and day out, remember that you are doing a wonderful thing. Your efforts may be taken for granted because that's just what you do. And have always done. But let me tell you, you are doing an invaluable service. I know because I'm on the receiving end of it now and it's great.

So for Theo and everyone else who fixes dinner for their family, roommates, or whoever, I am thankful.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Thankful Monday, April 3, 2017

I am thankful for music.

Music is such a big topic that volumes and volumes have been written about it. But somewhere among all the things of what it is and what it can do is a very basic truth. Music can make you happy. Here are a couple of small examples where this has been true for me recently.
Image result for singing in the shower clipart

I like to sing. And if I do say so myself, I have a pretty good voice. Or at least it sounds that way to me when I sing in the shower.  The acoustics are especially good in our new shower, so I belt away sometimes and imagine myself performing for one sort of an audience or another. And it always makes me happy. (However these "audiences" often ask me for another song and I end up spending too long in the shower. I should learn to say no to my demanding "public".)

The other morning I was singing "I Can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash as I washed my hair. This is a song I've always liked for its catchy tune and positive lyrics. However, like most songs, I don't know all the words. That evening, I decided it was time to learn them, so I went to YouTube. Do you know that there have been a lot of people who have covered that song? I listened to each version and sang along while I was in the kitchen baking a cake. And the whole time, I had a big smile on my face. There was really nothing very special going on, but I was very happy. However, I will say that after about the fourth version of the song, Ward asked if I had learned the lyrics yet. Actually, the answer was no. I still sing my version of them and am not sure what the correct ones are. What do they say? Old habits die hard.

The other example involves singing hymns. The first time was in the nursing home when I was visiting my mother. A local church came in and did a hymn sing-along for the residents. I sat beside my mother in her wheelchair holding the hymnal as we sang together. This was very special because as time goes on, it's harder to connect with my mother the way I used to. However, this time, we connected through the music. It was the highlight of my visit.

A week or so later, I was spending Sunday morning with my buddy, Sarah. We were with the youth Sunday School gathering where they eat breakfast, make announcements, and sing a few songs. The songs are usually accompanied by kids on guitars and drums. However, this morning most of the them weren't there, so the choir director led the youth in singing songs from the hymn book a capella. It took a song or two before the kids quieted down and stopped looking at their cell phones. But when they gave their full attention to the songs, it was beautiful. The room was filled with strong voices and good harmonies, and there was a connection among all who were there. I was teary eyed as I thought about the two very different groups singing hymns. On the surface they seemed different, but underneath, they were the same. They were connecting through music.

My stories could go on forever, and I'm sure everyone has stories of their own.

So for music and the happiness it brings, I am thankful.