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The Qwillery

A blog about books and other things speculative

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Never take the bus when you can take the train

This past weekend I covered New York Comic Con for WiiCommunitii.com. Since I live in Connecticut, there are a variety of ways to get to New York City. I could drive or take the bus or train. There is also the limousine option, but at $175 each way that was not really an option. Driving is out also because I am not taking my convertible into the City.

I usually take the train even though it's a 20 to 30 minute drive to the station with the best service. On Friday though I decided to take the bus because it leaves from the next town. The bus takes a bit longer than the train ride itself. However, if you add in driving to the train station, the trip via train and bus take about the same amount of time.

First thing that was not right - the bus waiting area is permanently closed so I had to wait outside in 12F degree weather. This is because, for some reason known only to the powers that be at the bus company, the bus stops on the side of the building that is furthest away from the parking lot. So I could not wait in my car and dash out to the bus over the unplowed and icy parking lot. There's a Dunkin' Donuts on the parking lot side of the building as well so I would have happily waited there At least at Dunkin' Donuts I could have had a nice hot coffee while waiting. But again that would require running around the entire building on ice to get to the bus after it pulled in. I should not complain too much though. I had considered taking the 7:30 a.m. bus. It was still sitting there broken down when the 9:00 a.m. bus (that I took) left what passes for the terminal.

First thing that I learned - if your bus driver is wearing a short sleeve shirt when it's 12F out, the bus will be incredibly overheated. The bus was so hot, it was nauseating. I removed the clothing I could without being arrested for indecent exposure. In other words I took off my coat. No one was more thankful than I to pull into Port Authority in NYC! I walked in the freezing cold to the Con. I needed the fresh air.

I had an extremely productive day at New York Comic Con. And then the dreaded bus ride home...

Second thing that I learned - if people are told to use their cell phones only for emergency calls, they will use them at will. I was exhausted and all I wanted to do on the ride home was catch some zzzzzzs. So the person behind me gets a call. She tried to be quiet about it but failed. Granted she did not stay on long, but it woke me up. Soon after as I was dozing off again, the person in front of me made a call. He was loud. So loud that the bus driver got on the mic to tell him to get off the phone. Finally I hoped that I might be able to sleep. NO! The woman across from me decided to text up a storm, which would have been fine if her keys were set to make no noise. I know that you can turn that sound off. In her case I believe that she set her keys to make the maximum noise. Sigh. So no sleep.

Third thing that I learned - if your bus driver is wearing a warm coat, the bus will be too cold. I actually had chills on the way home. I needed a blanket. I had not brought one with me.

Fourth thing that I learned - people should not be allowed to eat on buses. The woman behind me brought some sort of salad with her. When she opened the container, the smell was horrid. I've no idea what the meat in that salad was. I do know I never want to encounter it again. Worse however was the lettuce. Iceberg lettuce. She chewed with her mouth open. It was very very noisy. Why not choose a salad with mixed leafy greens? At least those are quiet!

I was ecstatic when the bus trip ended. I couldn't care that I had to walk over ice and snow to get to my quiet car on the other side of the terminal. I will never take the bus again. It's too small a place with no escape, and people are simply too rude. I'm sticking with the train.

Qwill's Qwestion: What's your worst travel experience?

6 More Weeks of Winter so think Pinks

Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow, which means 6 more weeks of winter. I don’t think we needed Phil to tell us that this year. This is the first winter in a long, long time that seems like a “real” New England winter. More snow is expected tomorrow. I would have liked the ice that is still covering parts of the driveway to have melted before it snows tomorrow, but it’s too cold for much melting today. And once again my thoughts turn to Spring and my gardens because the planning starts now. I’ve ordered several plants for Spring delivery including a beautiful new Dianthus deltoides called ‘Cherry Red.’

I love Dianthus or Pinks almost as much as I love Echinacea. Pinks come in a wide variety of colors and patterns. They are perfect edging plants.

Tiny Rubies

Telstar Picotee

Spotty

Siskin Clock

Spangled Star

Fire Witch

Arctic Fire

I can't imagine my gardens without Dianthus. They are little jewels. I'm looking forward to Spring and gardening!

Qwill's Qwestion: What are you most looking forward to when it's Spring?

Happiness is... Spring Plant Catalogues

I love to garden. I really, really love to garden. I have a lot of gardens if seven qualifies as a lot. This is the time of year that the plant and seed catalogues start arriving. So while it’s frigid outside and my gardens are buried under snow, I get to peruse my favorite catalogues, review pictures of my gardens, decide which plants to replace (if any) and which new plants to order. If there is a new variety of Echinacea it’s a must order for me.

Echinacea, as I mentioned here, are more commonly known as Coneflowers. Some Rudbeckia (most commonly known as Black-Eyed Susans) are also referred to as Coneflowers so I prefer the Latin names of plants to cut down on confusion.

These are some of the Echinacea in my gardens:

In addition to Echinacea, I seem to 'collect' Centaurea and Dianthus. There are several species of Centaurea. The most common is Centaurea montana which is commonly known as Bachelor's Buttons. Presently I grow 3 types of Centaurea - montana, dealbata, and macrocephala. I am also a huge fan of Dianthus. While I like large carnations, I prefer the smaller Pinks and similar small Dianthus. Bath’s Pinks are a particularly lovely and easy to grow Dianthus. More about Centaurea and Dianthus in a future posts. But here's a photo of some Bath's Pinks to tide you over:

It’s good that the catalogues (all 20 or so) start showing up now because it also reminds me of my favorite plant suppliers who don’t have catalogues. I usually order my plants from Big Dipper Farm (Grown on the Third Planet from the Sun), Bluestone Perennials and Garden Crossings. Big Dipper Farm and Garden Crossings don't have print catalogues, but do have excellent websites. I also buy locally from one plant grower in town and two in the next town.

So far I’ve managed to read the Bluestone Perennials catalogue. I’ve picked out a few plants that will be finding a new home in my gardens.

Echinacea purpurea Green Jewel. I love green Echinacea and have a few already.

Clematis Rebecca. I have to replace one of my Clematis and liked this bright red one that shares its name with my daughter.

Centaurea Amethyst Dream and Centaurea Amethyst in Snow.

I've also taken a quick look at Garden Crossings' website. I'll more than likely order the two new Echinacea I saw there - Tomato Soup (a beautiful red) and Mac 'n' Cheese. I can't resist a new Echinacea!

Now off to view the Big Dipper Farm’s website.

Qwill’s Qwestion: What is your favorite flower or plant? Do you garden? Do you have a favorite place to buy plants?

Humans Invited to Subscribe to Paranormal Town's Newsletter for the First Time Ever!

Once again I am saved from blogging by a wonderful author! Or is that you are saved from reading my blog by a wonderful author? Michele Bardsley has just announced that The Broken Heart Banner is available to humans. Here is the text of this stunning announcement:

"Humans Invited to Subscribe to Paranormal Town's Newsletter For the First Time Ever.

The Broken Heart Banner, is available to you (and, you know, all the other humans). Get an inside peek at the goings-on in Oklahoma's only paranormal community. With every issue, you'll get interviews with your favorite authors, Old Sass Cafe recipes, and regular columns, including It's Real! with Theodora Monroe, Ask Z with cranky fairy Zerina, and all the undead dish from the Gossip Ghouls. Subscribers will also receive an exclusive Broken Heart short story in every issue!

This is a print newsletter mailed out to paid subscribers every other month. It's not currently available in e-format.

To get more details about The Banner and see a sneak peak of the first issue, go to:http://blog.michelebardsley.net/?page_id=194"

For those of you who are not familiar with the denizens of Broken Heart, Oklahoma, I highly recommended this series. The books are laugh out loud funny and sizzling. In reading order, the books are:

I'm the Vampire, That's Why (September 5, 2006)


Don't Talk Back to Your Vampire (July 3, 2007)

Because Your Vampire Said So (May 6, 2008)


Wait till Your Vampire Gets Home (November 4, 2008)


and the yet to be released

Over My Dead Body (May 5, 2009)


Even paranormal parents have issues! To read more about the Broken Heart Banner just follow the link in the announcement above, and if you subscribe by January 31, 2009, you'll be entered into a special contest to win Broken Heart goodness!

After the holidays... I've got nothing!

I'm still recovering from the end of the year holidays. Hope that everyone enjoyed/survived. I still have to take down the decorations, but will get to that this week... if I have time. We haven't had any snow in a few days. No storms are on the horizon. My kids had a terrific school vacation capped off by sledding on the really big hill in town. Nothing and no one got broken. I'll miss them when they are at school today, but will also enjoy the quiet.

Instead of writing about something, I've decided to share some photos from warmer weather.

I love this photo. I think that this squirrel needs a waistcoat and a pocket watch. I feed birds (15 feeders worth) so I have a lot of squirrels hanging around.

We enjoy watching the life cycles of the birds. In Spring it's always a treat to see the juvenile birds come to the feeders.

This is a juvenile Cardinal that we named Grumpy because he looks grumpy. This is a male. You can see the red starting to cover him. Also note that when he's an adult he'll have a much more flashy orange beak.

This is a juvenile Red-Bellied Woodpecker. She doesn't quite have the hang of the feeder yet.

Here she is 3 months later showing off some adult plumage.

And here she is with her Dad. Looks like they are not getting along at the moment.

This is a Rose Breasted Grosbeak juvenile male. He only hopes that he looks as great as Dad. (see below)

Rose Breasted Grosbeak males are spectacular during mating season.

I'll share more birdie pictures in the future. Oh, and lots of flower pictures especially when I can't think of anything in particular to write about. :)

Here are some cardinals for Ter:

Female cardinal

Male grabbing a seed

Male in Winter Showing Off

Juvenile male getting his colors on

Qwill's Qwestion: What do you think this is? Or do you have a favorite or not so favorite wild bird or backyard critter?

All photos were taken by me around my house.

And here's the answer: it's a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, Hemaris thysbe. The first time that I saw it, I thought it was a baby hummingbird. Well at least until I noticed the antennae! Here's another picture to give you an idea of just how small it is.

Thanks to everyone who guessed and to those who knew what it is!


Mom

My Mom would have been 82 yesterday. She passed away in January 1999, just a few days shy of my parent’s 53rd anniversary. So in honor of her birthday, I’d like to tell you a few random things about her.

My Mom was an amazing person and one of my very best friends.

My Mom was stunning. I wanted to grow up to be an elegant Mom just like her. She looked like a movie star to me.

My Mom’s favorite perfume was Arpège by Lanvin. “Promise her anything, but give her Arpège.” She wore it every day. It was the only fragrance she ever used. When she and Dad would go out for the evening, she’d put a couple of drops on my pillowcase.

My Mom saw the world in terms of black and white. There were no shades of gray. You were wrong or you were right. She liked you or she didn't. She did not keep this information to herself. You knew where you stood. I found this trait both admirable and horrifying.

My Mom was intelligent and very knowledgeable. She always astounded me with the breadth of her knowledge. She would have made an excellent Trivial Pursuit partner.

My Mom was wise. I was born in New Jersey, but we moved to Connecticut when I was 13 months old. I don't remember New Jersey. I complained once to my Mom that I felt uncomfortable saying that I was from New Jersey, since I did not grow up there. Nor was I comfortable saying that I was from Connecticut since I was not born there. In fact, I said, I felt rootless. She told me that I was from her. I never felt rootless again.

My Mom is the reason I wear black almost exclusively. When I was twelve she told me that redheads look good in black. I was not about to disagree with her. She, however, liked to wear bright colors!

My Mom was not perfect, but she was perfect for me.

It’s hard to encapsulate someone like my Mom in a few sentences. There are so many memories that it’s difficult to pick just a few. That said I’m not sure that pages and pages would give you a real sense of my Mom. She has been described by many as “a force of nature.” Simply, my Mom loved me, and I knew it. I loved her, and she knew it. Not a day went by without a phone call or email or ten. I miss her.

So, as 2008 draws to a close, I’d like to wish you a Happy New Year and to ask all of you a favor. Please tell the people you love how much you love them. Give them a hug. Spend a little extra time together. My Mom would want you to!

Merry and/or Happy Whatever You Celebrate

I thought today would be the perfect day to unveil the photo used on this year's holiday card. I did not use any of the photo candidates that I wrote about here. Instead I was lucky enough to snap a snowy scene on the 7th of December. So without further ado, here is the photo used for the holiday card 2008:

These are Echinacea (commonly known as Coneflowers). Echinacea are my favorite perennial. They come in a wide variety of colors and styles. Butterflies love Echinacea. That's an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail taking a sip:

After blooming, birds can eat the seeds from the cones. I haven't yet been quick enough to catch some American Goldfinches feasting, but will one of these days!

Here's an American Goldfinch male in my backyard thinking about eating Echinacea seeds in the Fall.

I hope that whatever you celebrate, and even if you don't celebrate, that you have a joyous holiday season.

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow (as if I have a choice)

Winter descended upon us with full force this past weekend. The first storm on Friday dumped 9 inches of snow, canceled school statewide, and generally made for a beautiful but cold and snowy day with hazardous to impossible driving conditions. I’d shopped for food the day before so didn’t need to leave the house. It lightly snowed off and on most of Saturday. On Sunday we had a repeat performance with slightly less snow and some sleet. I think that Winter announced it’s official arrival (Sunday) with a bit of overkill.

Here is a picture of Mr. Twinkle. He’s actually a 9” ruler that my son made to measure snow. Mr. Twinkle was up to his neck in it on Saturday when we measured the first snowfall. He looks altogether too happy about it!

I don’t generally mind snow. The snow plows come out in force and the roads are usually passable. I live on a side road that is not as well plowed as the main roads are. In addition, I live on the top of a hill. I did run out between storms on Saturday when it was lightly snowing. I took my daughter with me and was talking to her about driving in snow, what to do in a skid, etc. Then I was able to show her how to handle a skid. We were only going 25 mph so it was not a very dramatic skid and the car has traction so it was a piece of cake. Actually it was probably some ice under the snow! Fortunately I am extremely comfortable driving in snow. Better yet I did not encounter one person driving in a manner that indicated that they thought their 4 wheel drive could handle anything. You’ve got to respect the weather conditions when you drive in bad weather.

My kids really love the snow:

I think that this is going to be a very snowy and very cold winter, much more like the New England winters I remember from when I was a kid. I’ve noticed that the squirrels around here are fatter and puffier looking than I’ve seen them in many years. It probably means that they’re well fed and have nice winter coats, but I’m sticking with the idea that it’s a weather predictor.

Children frolicking in the snow (my daughter is making a snow angel and was not knocked down by her brother):

And just to add a little excitement to the frigid weather the furnace decided to get sick on Friday. I nursed it all through Friday night into Saturday morning, pressing the reset button when necessary. We had some very anemic heat. It was probably the absolute minimum to keep the pipes from freezing and bursting, but not enough to actually heat the house. Our furnace also heats our water, so no hot water. On Saturday morning the oil company that maintains our furnace and delivers oil called me even before they opened to let me know that a tech was on the way. The pipe feeding the oil to the furnace was partially obstructed with sludge. The tech cleaned it, and viola – heat and hot water. Yay!

And keeping with today's theme, here are Celtic Woman singing Let It Snow:

The kids and I would like to wish you and yours a joyous holiday season and a New Year filled with all good things. May the most that you wish for be the least that you get! Cheers!

Qwill's Qwestion: What's happening with your Winter weather? Any winter driving pet peeves?

Animal Crossing: City Folk for Nintendo Wii

I spend a lot of time reading about and writing about video games. I read many many press releases every day. I run a small video gaming website devoted to Wii and Nintendo DS games. We're still a new site and still finding our voice. But every now and then I actually find some time to play a video game just for fun. Lately I've been consumed or rather every bit of my available free time (all 3 minutes of it daily) has been consumed by a new Nintendo game - Animal Crossing: City Folk.

Meteor Shower in my town

Nintendo has released 3 Animal Crossing games. The first in the series was Animal Crossing for Nintendo GameCube, which was released in 2002. Next up was Animal Crossing: Wild World for Nintendo DS, released in 2005. The latest, Animal Crossing: City Folk was released on November 16, 2008. I did not play the GameCube version of the game, but still play the DS version daily if just to water my flowers. If you don't water the flowers they will die. The game allows you to breed hybrid plants. I have over 100 hybrid flower plants in my DS version of the game. I've played it for over 2 years and there is absolutely no way I am going to let my hybrids die. And, yes, I know it's a game.

Fishing - someone find some butter and lemon!

Animal Crossing: City Folk is a terrific new addition to the Animal Crossing series. Some people have complained that it's too much like Wild World. I disagree. It's a lot like Wild World, but there are some fun new additions to the game. One of the best innovations is the addition of the Wii Speak microphone. I can play with friends all over the world and talk with them while playing. It beats stopping whatever you are doing in the game (for me usually fishing) to type to chat. Speaking is so much easier. There is also a Wii Speak channel that is independent of any games. You can send voice mails to your Wii friends and chat with them. A friend in England is picking up the Wii Speak microphone so we can chat.

Northern Lights

Another change from prior games is the addition of a City to the game. There is a bus stop in my town so I can catch a bus to the City. The City has a number of interesting businesses to visit - the Auction House, Gracies Grace (high-end furniture and clothing), a theater where you can learn different emotions, Redd's (black market goods), Shampoodle (hairdresser), Katrina (Fortune Teller), and the Happy Room Academy (they rate the interior of your house). In addition there is a shoe shine and you can match your shoes to your clothes. I particularly love this addition. I can't stand the red shoes I'm stuck with in the DS version. Yes, I do know it's just a game.

My town is named Statia after the island of St. Eustatius in the Netherland Antilles. My character is named Qwill (such a surprise). I'm still in the process of planting trees and flowers to achieve perfect town status and get the golden watering can. After that I'll cut down all the excess trees that I had to plant to reach what the game considers perfection. I prefer to concentrate on breeding hybrid flowers!

My House

Basically, you start off with a small one room house, catch fish and bugs to sell in order to raise money to pay off your mortgages as well as donate to your town fund, buy furniture, etc. You interact with your townsfolk, who are all animals. You buy goods at Nook's. The more you buy, the bigger Nook's becomes until you have a Nookington's. You can donate funds to your town to get 1) an additional bridge, 2) a town fountain, and 3) and lastly a windmill or a lighthouse. This barely scratches the surface of this game.

In winter, you can build snowmen and if you do a good job, the snowman will send you a present.

A perfect Snowman

There are lots of holidays and celebrations throughout the year in Animal Crossing: City Folk. The seasons change. You do various things to earn Bells (the unit of currency) so that you can have a bigger house and buy furniture and clothing. It's a lot like real life even though it's just a game. Perhaps that's why I like it so much. Of course, unlike real life I can simply turn it off!

Happy Holidays from Statia to Your Home


Qwill's Qwestion: What's your favorite game for any game system or the PC?

[The photos I've included were taken in the game while I was playing. That's another nice feature, snap the photo and save it to an SD card. Not supplied with the Wii, but it's easy enough to get one and put in the slot in the Wii.]

Contractors - Gone but Not Forgotten

As far as contractor stories go mine are not so awful. All the work was done on the outside of the house. I'm discussing the projects in reverse order though they did overlap at the end.

The second project was re-shingling the house. I am not happy with the roofers even though they are the roofers that originally shingled and later re-shingled this house. They were extremely careless on the ground. I have a fenced Tall Bearded Iris Garden in front of the walkway in front of my house. The garden also includes Mums and New England Asters. The roofers took down the fence and trampled the garden claiming that they did not see the plants. WHAT? There was a FENCE! There are green things (the iris fronds) and dried plants (Mums and Asters). I don’t find it even slightly believable that they did not see the garden. The only way they could have missed the garden is if they were all blind. In that case, they should not have been on my roof!! I had a long discussion with the project director at the company's head office about how much Iris cost, how some of mine are no longer replaceable, etc. They have agreed to reimburse me should the Iris not appear in the Spring. I will be sending a letter to them via certified mail to that affect this week.

This is what my Iris Garden looked like in June 2008:

Some of the Iris



The first project was to rebuild the enclosed deck. This project started on the 1st of September. This was supposed to take 3 weeks, but took a little over 3 months. When my parents had this house built in 1967 there was an open elevated deck on the back of the house. I liked the open deck a lot. My Mom would hang fuchsias every summer. It was beautiful. At some point when I was not living at home, the deck was enclosed. I’m not sure why the deck was enclosed though.

Over the years the deck began to list to the side and became unsafe. This happened because whoever enclosed the deck did not add additional supports to hold the weight of the sides and roof. Apparently when the deck was enclosed my little town had no building code in place covering decks enclosed or otherwise.

I interviewed a number of contractors and since the prices were similar, I chose the contractor I liked. It turned out to be a good choice. While there were many delays – weather, materials not showing up on time, and a family issue that had an impact on his time – the contractor always called and always kept me informed. That isn’t to say I did not get a bit stressed by the delays. Having my porch furniture in the house for 3 months was annoying and made it difficult to clean. And in the end there are a bunch of very small things I need to contact the contractor about that were not done. I won’t list them here because I’ve taken care of all but one of them. I do need to paint the inside roof (white) and the outside posts, etc. (white) in the Spring. It's too cold to paint now.

Some Before and After pictures

Before



After

Before



The inside roof of the old porch had a ceiling, which I'd vetoed for the new porch. When the old ceiling was torn off, it rained mice! Lots and lots and lots of mice. I think I made the correct decision about the ceiling.

After

The porch is screened. One of the delays was waiting for the custom screens to arrive. It was worth the wait.

I like the porch a lot more now. There is lots of light and it's much cooler. I've rearranged the furniture so that I can look out when sitting on the couch. Right now it's 14F here! I'm going to wait for Spring to enjoy my new porch.

Qwill’s Qwestion: 1) do you have any contractor stories or, 2) what part of your house, apartment, etc. would you redo if you could?
6 More Weeks of Winter so think PinksHappiness is... Spring Plant CataloguesHumans Invited to Subscribe to Paranormal Town's Newsletter for the First Time Ever!After the holidays...  I've got nothing!MomMerry and/or Happy Whatever You CelebrateLet It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow (as if I have a choice)Animal Crossing: City Folk for Nintendo WiiContractors - Gone but Not Forgotten

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