On Giants' Shoulders

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Answer Please!

The answer to the burning question asked below is ta da: steel wool. Danielle used steel wool on her shower. I think I'll pass on that one. The comments were fun and some good suggestions were made. I'm glad I didn't try toilet cleaner on mine.

Thanks to Danielle for an amusing post and for my now significantly cleaner than yesterday morning shower (I was experimenting!). I must say this all made an otherwise frustratingly miserable day a little bit amusing anyway.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What Did Danielle Use to Clean Her Shower?

That is the burning question around here today. Danielle Bean has people making guesses at her blog for what the unusual substance was that she used to clean her shower. She's promised a prize to the first person to guess. Since many of us also have showers that suffer from scummy soap build up and gray floors from dirty feet it seems to have inspired a lot of guesses. So, why don't you wander over there before the day is over and offer your own guess. I'm sticking with my last guess, but we'll see if I was right or wrong. By the way I tried toothpaste on the floor of our shower, it doesn't work. Oxi-clean and a scrub brush has done the most good so far on the floor, but the fabric softener sheets sort of worked on the walls, but only sort of there's still water spots etc.

Monday, May 15, 2006

My Other Awesome Niece

Those of you who have checked out the links on my blog have doubtless run into the Xanga sites of my nieces Amanda and Laura, along with my daughter Abby's Xanga site. What you may not know is that in addition to Amanda and Laura we have another niece. She has been in the family for only a few years because she was adopted just before she turned 9 and is now 11. Crystal is from China and spent her life from the time she was under a year until she was 8 in an orphanage. She is also blind.

This past week there was an article in the New York Daily News about the equestrian program for disabled children which Crystal participates in. There was a picture of Crystal riding a horse and an interview with Crystal and her mother Susan. If you'd like to read the article go to Amanda's Xanga site and you can see it.

As Amanda points out,however, there are two other people living at their house, Amanda and her younger brother, Peter. They also don't point out that Crystal's first exposure to horses actually came here in Vermont and she rode my daughter Abby's mare, Eclipse, before she began riding in New York. I might mention that my daughter took Therapeutic Riding as part of her college program, so she was thoroughly qualified to put Crystal on her horse.

Crystal is even more incredible than the article lets on. She goes to the store, in the Bronx, by herself (and as Amanda will tell you, she wasn't even allowed to do that at Crystal's age, although she isn't blind). She rides a scooter, she can run full tilt across a basketball court (it does help that the other people on the court know that she's blind). She can find her way around in a new house within 24 hours. She goes up and down the fairly treachorous stairs at our house (no railing and an open drop on one side) without ever falling. Meanwhile, I have fallen nearly the whole length of those stairs once, and missed a two steps and broke my foot another time. My daughter regularly falls up them, but Crystal merely walks up and down without a problem.

When she came to the U.S. she spoke only a little English and knew no Braille. She now reads Little House Books in Braille and is fluent in English. She's learning geography with Braille type charts, doing math problems at nearly grade level, and learning to cook (she can cook eggs, Ramen Noodles, make butter, and probably some other stuff I haven't heard about yet).

She has a phenomenal memory. She can tell you the plot line of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe with greater detail than I could (despite the number of times I've read it). She loves Adventures in Odyssey and can fill you in on the plot of nearly any episode she's heard.

Meanwhile big sister Amanda composes music, taught herself Chinese (which she now apparently speaks more fluently than Crystal), has won some incredible scholarships, and can play nearly any instrument she puts her hands to. Brother Peter has an incredible singing voice and has performed in an off-Broadway production this year. He also is interested in logic, video games, and medieval weaponery (he and his dad built a trebouchet (I've probably just butchered the spelling of that - but it's a sort of catapult) which is now in our side yard (it was great for flinging frozen pumpkins and cucumbers).

Oh, and by the way, except for Amanda who did Kindergarten and about a month of first grade in a private school, they have all been homeschooled. Amanda is currently heading into her fourth year at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

This Prayer's For You

For all of the mothers out there
Whose babies were in their wombs
But never in their arms
Although they were dearly wanted,

For all the mothers whose babies
Left them with empty arms
After spending far too few hours
In them, and now live in heaven,

For all the sons and daughters
Whose mothers are no longer here
And who wish they had a chance to say
Happy Mother's Day one more time,

For all of the women with empty wombs
Who feel left out today
Because wanting to be mothers
They have not been given this gift,

For all the mothers of little ones
Who feel overwhelmed
And underappreciated
And downright exhasuted,

For all of the mothers
Whose children are far away
In body
Or in spirit,

For all of the women
For whom the words
Happy Mother's Day
Only open old scars,

For anyone who today
Feels left out of
All the celebrations
Of motherhood,

May God comfort your heart,
May He be your consolation and joy,
And may the mother of Jesus
Be a mother to you as well.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Last night I went to a presentation at a nearby bookstore. I had been at the bookstore a couple of days before looking for a book of short stories by Flannery O'Connor (which I happily found!). As I entered the bookstore that day I saw a notice on the door about a presentation called Pathways To Publishing. There wasn't any more information, but I figured that I could use an evening out anyway, and might get some helpful information (I have this children's book sitting around waiting for me to do something with it).

Anyway the presentation was interesting, the speaker, Stephen Morris, has lived in my former neck of the woods since shortly after I left there. He worked with Vermont Castings in Randolph (where I used to live) then for Chelsea Green Press in the town where I taught high school English. That was interesting, but what was more interesting was that he now heads up something called The Public Press. They work with authors to get out what they call author's editions of books. They help you get your book through the printing process, manage the process to have the book available to the book trade and displayed on major electronic book selling sites, manage order fulfillment and split the profits with the author fifty/fifty. The author can purchase unlimited numbers of copies from the initial print run for the printer's invoice plus 20%. They will help you negotiate the best possible contract if another publisher becomes interested. They do some marketing, but encourage authors to "shamelessly promote their own work." Bookstores will handle books that this outfit produces, unlike vanity presses. Because they get your title on the big data bases it is available in the same way that any book published by the big houses would be.

They sound like a bunch of distributists to me. They are attempting to help the little guy with a good idea, or a controversial one, or one on a subject of limited interest to get published without selling the farm to do it. They are small friendly. Anyway it was sort of fun to listen to Mr. Morris talk about his vision of a press that would be the print equivalent of public radio.

What was, I suspect, perhaps an even more fruitful part of the evening is that I met another writer. She has only moved to our area recently and used to be in a writer's group in Connecticut. The group she was in included some fairly well known authors and illustrators, so she has some connections to the publishing world that I don't. S She wants to start a writer's group on that model around here. She also used to own a children's bookstore in New Hampshire so she really knows the children's book market. She lives just a few miles away from me, but I never would have known that if I hadn't gone to this presentation. She, and another woman at the presentation asked me what my book was about. They both thought it was a great idea. So just perhaps I've found some new connections.

Hopefully serendipity (better known as providence) is operating here. At the very least I found out where to buy books on sustainable living in Vermont and where to buy renewable energy resources in California, as well as got a free copy of a magazine on "green living." I got all of this for the cost of the gasoline to drive about 14 miles round trip. Besides I got a relaxing evening out and found out that this bookstore does author presentations once a month. I do believe I may have found a place where book lovers hang out. Considering that some people consider my bibliophile tendencies to be more than slightly unbalanced, it will be nice to perhaps find some kindred spirits out there.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Another Story for Laura

This week I was talking on the phone with my twenty-something friend, Emily (another former student). We were talking about getting creeped out in particular houses, since I'd had a "creeped out" experience recently. I was explaining to her that it didn't happen to me all that often, but that it had a few times when I was a teenager. I then went on to tell her the following story, the end of which she said was the saddest thing she'd ever heard. So here goes, however, this is the story with amplifications.

When I was just turning 14 we moved from the house we'd lived in since I was 3 and the town in which my mother, my sister, and I were all born. Now we didn't move that far away (only about 20 miles) and the town we moved to was one where my father had owned a farm since I was only a little over a year old. We'd spent a lot of time on that farm. I rode on a tractor on my father's lap before I was 3. My uncle taught me how to get milk out of a cow's teat by hand before I was 6. I spent a lot of time playing in the silo or the hay mow. I'd roamed the fields on that farm as I got older. I'd learned to help bring the cows in for milking, I even owned cows of my own.

Now we were living on a farm, not the same farm, but a second farm which my father had purchased the previous year. I sort of felt like I owned part of this farm since my father had borrowed money from my savings account for part of the purchase price. I was actually excited about the prospect of moving there, even though it meant leaving all my friends behind and going to a new school and so on.

This was the first Saturday we were at the farm. My father was still running a Mobil station in Northfield, he had another few weeks to finish out his lease on the place. My mother and my sister were headed off that day for some kind of event, I think it may have been 4-H related, but I'm not sure why I wouldn't have been going if that was the case. Anyway I was being left at home for the day, alone.

I didn't think I minded, but it did feel like a huge responsibility to keep the fires going etc. I was completely clueless about wood stoves, but accepted the instructions my mother gave me for the combination wood electric stove in the kitchen and the box stove in the living room. The furnace was still hooked up for oil at that point, but we weren't supposed to be really keeping the house warm that way.

They took off and I wandered the house by myself. It was pretty quiet because the television was not yet hooked up to an antenna and the reception there was non-existant without an antenna. I started out exploring the house, there were marvelous walk in places under the eaves in the upstairs and one of them had books left behind by the previous owners (including a novel by Upton Sinclair among other treasures). Hanging out upstairs, however, started to make me feel rather creepy. So I went back to the kitchen to make myself some lunch. I opened a can of tomato soup and put it into a sauce pan with milk from the fridge. I was just getting used to drinking milk that didn't come from a bottle from the store, but came from the cows in our own barn. Why we hadn't drunk our own milk until then I'm really not sure, but there's the fact of it, we hadn't. The raw milk still sort of bothered me (just the idea of it I think after all those school lessons on the importance of pasteurization). Anyway, I wasn't eager to drink the milk, but milk in the soup would be ok. I turned the burner on and waited, but not much seemed to happen. The burner got a tiny bit warm, but it wasn't really heating the soup all that much. After awhile the soup managed to achieve tepid and I ate it as was.

Now tepid soup in a creepy house was not a very comfortable combination. I didn't really want to go outside and walk in the pastures because it was raining cats and dogs. Still I was getting more and more nervous in the house. I was starting to hear creepy noises (almost certainly the normal creaks of an old house and the squirrels that used to get in under the eaves and roll acorns around). I tried playing the piano, but somehow that didn't help. Finally, I'd had enough, I put my raincoat on and went to the barn. I stayed in the barn the rest of the afternoon. The barn was fairly warm because the cows were all inside. I even went and sat down and leaned up against one of the cows. I always loved doing that. The cow was warm and her coat was smooth and shiny. I got to know our new barn quite well that afternoon. I petted the bull (very carefully) through his bars. I went and looked at all the young heifers, I checked out the silo. I probably played with the cat. It really wasn't a bad afternoon, and it was a whole lot better than being alone in that creepy house.

Now Emily thought that the fact I was so scared that I went and hid out in the barn was the saddest thing she'd ever heard. At the time, I think I felt a little desperate to get out of the house, and I do believe I was somewhat lonely for people in the barn. Still it didn't seem like all that sad an afternoon for me. I actually liked spending time in the barn all by myself with the cows. It was something that probably never happened again because my father rarely left the farm at all after he finally finished his stint as Mobil station operator. Until the day he retired from farming (the first time), we had a difficult time to get him to go much of anywhere, especially anywhere that wasn't somehow farm related. So that was my solitary afternoon alone with the cows. Odd perhaps, but not all that sad from my perspective.

I wonder why Emily thought it was sad, maybe she just didn't grow up with cows as big cuddly creatures? Any other closet cow lovers out there?

Oh and, by the way, the house only ever creeped me out again one time. That was the night I woke up feeling like screaming and no sound came out of my throat. Now that was pretty scary, but I eventually got back to sleep figuring it was just a nightmare. I actually came to love that old house with all of its strange nooks and crannies. Some of my favorite memories come from that house and it really became home, even though we only actually lived there for six years. When I go back to Randolph I always get nostalgic going by that house. The barn I hid out in is no longer there, it burned down after getting struck by lightening after we sold it. There's a new barn on the same location, but it lacks the charm of that old one and the cows aren't in comfort stalls anymore, they just roam around in free stall housing, so there would be no leaning your back on a lying down cow and smelling hay and silage. The old barn resides only in my memory. It's still a nice memory.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I Hate My Dishwasher

We bought a new dishwasher a couple years ago when our Whirlpool one bit the dust. This is the third new dishwasher we've purchased in 30 years (our first two were very second hand ones). Up until now they've all been pretty decent until the water pump failed or some such thing happened. This one has been a clunker from the beginning. Oh it runs just fine (at least the water goes through it just fine -I'm not sure what anyone else's definition of runs is), it simply doesn't live up to the promises made for it.

This was supposed to be the dishwasher that you didn't need to pre-rinse the dishes beforehand. It has turned out to be the dishwasher that really wants you to wash the dishes before you put them in it. It was supposed to handle pots and particles of food. It doesn't, or at least not consistantly.

Yet again this morning I opened the dishwasher and discovered that all the glasses had crud on them. We aren't talking water spots here, folks, we are talking crusted on food. Ditto for the mugs. I can't even figure out what was in the dishwasher that caused the crud. I had pre-soaked the one pot that went in and there were only a few plates and bowls, most of which had been pre-rinsed. Someone may have put a crud laden serving spoon in when I wasn't looking. I just don't know.

Now the big problem here is that my family has grown accustomed to dishwashers that do the job they are supposed to, not to finicky prima donnas like this one. So they DON'T rinse their dishes and they DO occasionally take food to their bedrooms and then let the resultant dishes sit around for a couple of days before putting them in the dishwasher. This behavior was never a problem for the three Kenmores, and the Whirlpool. Somehow this Bosch finds this behavior unacceptable. Of course it also finds it unacceptable to put unwashed dishes in its racks as well.

We've tried everything we can think of. We've switched dishwasher detergents (we're now using the newest Cascade, with no better results than the Electrosol we'd used for years), we've used Jet Dry regularly, we've cleaned out the screen regularly, I always make sure the water is hot before I turn the dishwasher on. I just don't know what else to do. It wouldn't be so maddening if this one hadn't been sold to us as the highest rated machine on the market and one that didn't require pre-rinsing. The only good thing I can say about it is that it is quiet. I'd settle for more noise and cleaner dishes, however.

I suppose I should be grateful to have a dishwasher at all. I could just use it as a dirty dishes container to keep the dishes off the counter until I wash them (since I seem to end up needing to do that frequently). The frustrating thing here is the inconsistant reward system this prima donna seems to be using. Sometimes the dishes will all come out sparkling (even when they haven't been pre-rinsed) other times there will be cruddy glasses (even when I've soaked stuff beforehand).

So if you are looking at a Bosch, beware, you may be hiring a chamber maid to do scullery work. Since chamber maids don't have to spend much time getting their hands really dirty and scullery maids need to not be allergic to dirty water, you might want to hire someone different, like a Whirlpool or a Kenmore. We seem to have a long term contract here, like until milady finally comes down with the plague i.e. breaks her water pump). In the meantime I guess I continue to pre-soak and my family had better learn to as well.