Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January Garden Awards: And the Winner is...

Before digital cameras, blogs or social networking sites I used to keep a garden journal. I kept track of various things at different times. But one regular feature was a write-up of the "best in bloom" at that particular moment.

The "best" changed depending on what caught my eye in the garden. Sometimes it was the best plant--with awards sometimes given to the best bulb, annual, perennial, shrub and/or tree in bloom. Instead of or in addition to one or more of these I might also give an award for best combo or for most improved or whatever else strikes me. As the only judge, I make up the rules as I go.

There isn't much competition at the moment. Other than a few pansies and violas planted last fall, only the wild grape hollies are blooming in my garden. They are in the foreground of the picture with Nandina berries in the background. That makes them the "best in bloom" for January by default.

Usually I have daffodils, dwarf iris, hellebores and more in bloom. Not this year. Thanks to an extended period of freezing temperatures earlier, the flowers in my yard are behind schedule. With more than 500 varieties randomly scattered across our one acre lot, there is much more to come.

Daffodils are up everywhere and will likely begin to bloom soon. I noticed crocus, hyacinths, dwarf iris, and other winter bloomers coming up, too. Most bulbs like a cold dormant season. Unless they rot from all the rain or the squirrels and chipmunks ate them, it should be a good year for bulbs.

Perennials are mostly still dormant or reduced to small clumps of foliage for the winter. The hellebores look great but show no sign of blooming. Normally the entire clump is covered with blooms by now. The rosemary has a few buds but isn't blooming yet either.

On walks with the dogs I see a front yard featuring an enormous clump of dark red camellias in bloom that gets my award for most beautiful front yard. This early I give honorable mentions to anything blooming. I've seen pink blooms on trees with bark like cherry trees that I suspect are either plums or almonds, and shrubby clumps of canes covered with yellow flowers that I thought was forsythia when I first moved here.

I'll keep you posted throughout the coming year on the "best of" our garden. Hope you enjoy it. If you plan to be in the area, talk with me about guest judge opportunities. I know someone who could make it happen...

The Crotchety Old Man

Monday, January 25, 2010

Evolution of a Blog

Thank you for reading my blog. I know your time is valuable and appreciate your willingness to spend a few minutes reading even one post. That you come back for more is a great complement. Thank you.

I started blogging accidentally and without any particular goals or objectives after stumbling upon blogspot.com. A few minutes later I had my own blog. An hour later I published my first post and was officially a blogger. It was that easy.

I've come to appreciate the challenge of telling a story in a few paragraphs. My partner will tell you I spend two and three hours or more on a post. To me each one is a work of art and must be perfect before I'll share it with you.

If I didn't have a purpose when I started, sixteen months and more than 150 posts later, I do. Now I know you are the reason I blog. My objective? To keep you coming back for more.

There's ample evidence more than a few of you don't necessarily share my political views--you know who you are. And yet, you come back. To you I owe a particular debt of gratitude. I know on occasion you needed to grit your teeth to make it through a post.

It's not my political views and fascinating opinions that keep you coming back. You're not here to catch up on current events or to gather information for a term paper or report for work, either. Nope. You come back because something I wrote made you smile or maybe laugh out loud.

A very special thank you to the followers of this blog (Linda, Deb, Brew, Starsky, Gladys, Mikael, Mark & Marcia) for being willing to admit they read the blog.  Much appreciation to Cathy B, Dennis and Reporter Cub for listing me as a favorite on their blogs and for sending people my way.

Thanks for giving me a reason to keep writing. You make it fun for me. I just wanted to let you know how very much I appreciate you.

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Organic Fitness Regimen

No gym work-outs or sports for me. Nope. My fitness regimen is entirely organic. I get all my exercise through normal day-to-day activities. Always have. You can judge the effectiveness of my program for yourself.

After I got my first job dipping ice cream, my activity level dropped and my caloric intake exploded. Suddenly I was big boned. By high school big boned had morphed into husky.

I got drafted into the high school musical after a casting call failed to attract a sufficient number of guys. Having established my inability to act or sing, the drama teacher proclaimed I would dance. By showtime I could kick my legs as high as any Rockette and the extra pounds were gone.

Husky returned in college. Salvation came in the form of an aerobics course I took for credit in summer school. Eight weeks later I was in great shape. Near nightly trips to dance clubs, an active job waiting tables, and the pocketbook diet kept the weight off through my 20s.

Work and an endless stream of home and garden projects kept me active enough in my 30s and into my 40s to maintain a reasonable weight. Sure I gained a few pounds over the winter. Doesn't everyone? That extra pound or two a year adds up. By 45 I was 50 pounds overweight.

Inspired by teen-aged girls who lost tons of weight playing Dance Dance Revolution, we bought a video game system so we could play at home. Took a while to get good enough to burn calories, but eventually we did. Had a blast showing off at arcades because bystanders didn't expect a middle-aged man to be any good at it.

Motivated by a coworker who lost more than 100 pounds riding a bicycle, I ran over to Walmart and bought a nice red one for less than $100. It fell apart a few months later. But I rode it often enough to feel comfortable replacing it with a more expensive model.

The truth is I don't like to get hot. I sweat like crazy when I ride my bike, but at least I go fast enough most of the time to generate a nice breeze. Dance Dance Revolution was fun, and I could take breaks between songs to cool off.

I was doing great. Between yard work, Dance Dance Revolution and long bike rides my weight dropped a couple of pounds a week. Instead of 50 pounds, only six pounds stood between me and my goal.

Fate intervened. A series of minor health issues kept me off my bicycle. Guitar Hero came out. Instead of playing Dance Dance Revolution, I spent hours on the sofa honing my fake guitar-playing skills. Since then I've started two blogs, joined Facebook, and watched every single episode of dozens of reality shows.

Now I'm 30 pounds away from my original goal. Because of the dogs, I'm walking more. Not enough, just more. Hard to find a time when it's not too hot, too cold, too dark, or raining. I should go shopping for another video game. Something from Jillian Michaels might be just what the doctor ordered for...

The Crotchety Old Man

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Cascading Nature of Home Remodeling Projects

We've talked about moving closer to campus for several years. More recently we decided on projects to complete to put the house on the market next spring. It's an ambitious list for a couple of couch potatoes.

The once white carpet has to go. We move about a dozen giant plants outside in the spring and back inside every fall. You know those clear plastic bottoms you buy at Lowe's or Home Depot to protect your floor? Turns out they leak under heavy pots. Ooops.

Other than flooring and a new light fixture here and there, it's mostly painting. The dark colors throughout the house work well with the big windows and high ceilings. Knowing a potential buyer has to like them, too, we're taking everything back to white.

We sat down during the Christmas break and mapped out a schedule around home gymnastics meets and work commitments for projects to complete before our annual Derby Party. Our goal is to remodel both bathrooms and all three bedrooms before a mid-April installation of new flooring.

We mean it. To prove it we tackled the guest bathroom New Year's weekend. We stripped wallpaper, painted and switched out face plates, knobs and the light fixture. Took us three days. Might have gone faster but the room was too small for both of us to work in at the same time.

That was the last wallpaper in the house. I started to say I hate wallpaper. The truth is I hate fooling with it. A keen awareness of my limitations keeps me from even trying. Picking a paint color is hard enough. Selecting exactly the right wallpaper is just beyond me.

This weekend is devoted to the master bedroom. The nice furniture in the guest room will replace the existing 20th century yard sale stuff left behind by my ex. Before we paint we have to deal with a massive pile shift across two rooms involving four dressers, three regular closets and two walk-ins with ripple effects throughout the house.

We use the third bedroom as an office/dump. The removal of the almost new elliptical freed up space for more stuff we don't use. We'll squeeze the old bedroom furniture between the weight machine, two desks and two desktop computer set-ups we haven't used since we got wireless.

And here I sit writing my blog. I better stop, before my wonderful partner turns into...

The Crotchety Old Man

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Top Television News Stories at My House

After proclaiming the failure of Jay Leno's 10:00 show as the television story of the year, an NPR television critic dismissed a question about day time television with a snippy who cares? Well, I'm inclined to agree. Only I'm talking about the Leno story. Who cares? You couldn't even pay me to care.

Ditto Sarah Palin's new job at Fox. Who cares? She won't bring in a single new viewer. Her fans already watch Fox. They deserve this opportunity to get to know her better.

The best new face on television is Jeannie Mai, the new host for How Do I Look on the Style Network. Love her! Her reactions to the "before" attire of the makeover targets is priceless. You get the feeling they would wallop anyone else. But she's so cute and bubbly they not only take it, but are ultimately transformed.  I think we'll see a lot more of her.

Jersey Shores is the surprise hit of the off season. When have so few fought so hard...with so many? Hitting a woman is wrong--just wrong but it was publicity and we all know even bad publicity has been good for a lot of people. After Snooki tried to open a can of whoopass on two female guests to the house in a later episode, I confess to feeling just the tiniest little bit less sorry for her.

With the exception of Vinny (my pick for most likely to go to HGTV to do an Italian cooking show with his mother), we'll probably see the entire cast of Jersey Shores on other MTV/VH1 reality shows.  Mike aka "The Situation," is one of the most unlikable people on television. I bet he shows up on Tool Academy.

After him, the most unlikable person on television is the entire cast of Launch My Line. Dandy my ass. Deranged is more like it. Until I learn to tell the hosts apart, it remains to be seen whether identical twin Dean or Dan gets my vote for most unlikeable person on television. Geez. Man up a little.

The big television story in my world is the head-to-head competition between Biggest Loser on NBC and American Idol on FOX.  Maybe it's finally time to look into that TiVo thingamajig.  We need another modern convenience around here I won't know how to use.

Just another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Stop Password Abuse Now!

The closest thing to a password anyone needed when I was growing up was the combination for a locker at school. It was just three numbers between one and 40 that stayed the same all year. If you forgot, you could go to the office and they would look it up for you. I know because I was in there all the time.

I had to get my Social Security Number when I was 14 and got my first job. By high school I needed a Personal Identification Number (PIN) to withdraw money using the fancy new ATMs. In college my Social Security Number appeared on my personal checks, student ID, driver's license, time cards, and grade lists posted on bulletin boards all over campus.

When we got e-mail at work I needed my first password. We were strongly encouraged to pick something we would easily remember, like the name of a pet or a child. Your password could not exceed eight characters. Special characters, punctuation and spaces were expressly prohibited. You wrote it down because unlike your locker combination, nobody could look it up if you forgot.

The need for passwords increased gradually. Mostly you could use the same username and password for everything. But every now and then you'd run into a weird requirement that forced you to come up with something new. Hence the birth of usernames and passwords written on post-it notes stuck all over the monitor.

Now usernames and/or passwords are required every time you turn around. Shop online and you'll need a username and password for every retailer you use. Want to keep up with investments and bank accounts or pay bills online? You'll need a password for each account. Throw in passwords needed for e-mail, social networking and recreation and I have more passwords than the CIA and the FBI combined.

Along came strong passwords requiring the use of upper case, lower case, special characters and numbers. The passwords on post-its around the monitor became an open invitation to identity thieves. Now we're advised to keep passwords in a secure location, like Fort Knox or the nearest Federal Reserve Bank. Most of us just moved the post-it notes to the top desk drawer.

My employer and a few sites now make me change my password every six months. At work I can switch back and forth between two different passwords. Another site prohibits re-use of the last SIX passwords and, just to keep it interesting, blocks you after two failed attempts. Damn!

I understand the need for security and appreciate the effort to protect my personal information from prying eyes. But enough is enough. The government needs to step in with some rules to protect consumers from password abuse. I should be able to use the same username and strong password for every site. Then I wouldn't have to keep track of 152 different combos of usernames and passwords.

Probably wouldn't work. We'll never know because it will never happen. Just another reason I remain...

The Crotchety Old Man

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's Resolution 2010: No More Resolutions

I've had the last week of the year off for more than 20 years. The university closes and the state provides holiday pay for the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. This year the Governor added two extra days (without pay). I took two vacation days resulting in two full weeks off. Merry Christmas to me!

The year-end holiday is a much-anticipated break from normal routines during an already busy time of year. The time off always goes faster than expected. I learned long ago not to set too ambitious an agenda. Going into the new year with unfinished projects leftover from the holiday break makes me feel behind right out of the gate. The whole year is shot before it even gets started.

The year-end break allows me to wrap up loose ends, get organized and otherwise prepare for the new year. The desk gets cleared off at home and at work. The house gets cleaned a bit more thoroughly than is possible the rest of the year. Closets and drawers are thinned to make room for holiday gifts.  Holiday decorations are taken down and stored for next year.  This year we even had time to paint a room.

The year-end break is also a time to reflect on the past with an eye toward the future.  It's a time to look at where I am in relation to where I want to be to make sure I keep moving forward.  The objectives and goals may change but the push for improvement never ends. Sometimes I think it's a curse.

The annual review always points to a number of New Year's resolutions. A resolution is something I should do because someone, somewhere told me it would make me a better person. Finding resolution-worthy things for me to tackle is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Keeping resolutions, alas, has never been my forte. I finally wised up and decided to quit making them. I felt better about myself immediately.

Happy New Year...

The Crotchety Old Man
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