Saturday, March 29, 2014

A plumber with a sword?

We have a cleaning service that comes every other Friday in the morning. Two very efficient ladies sweep through the house leaving it spotless, it is a huge luxury which I do appreciate. Recently however, we came home after the ladies had finished to find one of the toilets upstairs was not flushing, that is to say it did flush, but the bowl just filled up with water which drained away very slowly. The drain was blocked. It was fine before we went out, so I could only assume that they had dropped something like maybe a sponge or rag into it by accident and flushed it into the drainage system. I attempted to clear it with a plunger but got nowhere. My very useful husband tried with the plunger then, after a lot of work, managed to clear it with a 10 foot snake. We do have home insurance but it was nice to avoid the $70 call out fee.
10 foot snake

see? just filling up, not draining

Less than a week later however, while the dishwasher was running, the kitchen sink started to fill up with water. Two bottles of liquid plumber and almost an hour working with plungers and this time a 20 foot snake, we gave in and called American Home Shield.

bucket full of plungers of various sizes

They gave my husband the name of an approved plumber and rather than wait for them to call us, he called the number. He was not impressed when, to a background chorus of screaming kids, the woman who answered the phone told him her computer was down and she couldn't schedule a call and didn't know when the computer would be back online. He told her to forget it and he called AHS and requested an alternative and was given another number.

The second number was answered by a machine so Larry left a message. It was the following morning before we got a call back, the response was not encouraging, there was a small chance they could come by the following morning which was Saturday, or probably not until Monday. Insurance or no Insurance, we couldn't wait through the weekend, and that coupled with the multiple bad reviews online for that particular plumbing service led us to the decision to pay for a decent plumber of our own choice.

Larry called Excalibur Plumbing who we had used previously and they promised to be there between 3 and 6 p.m. that day, Friday. And, despite a brief hail storm, Chris from Excalibur arrived at the house at 5 p.m.

Twenty minutes later he had cleared the drain and established the cause - yes, wet wipes were wadded up some 25 feet down the pipe, but we have been using wet wipes since we moved in (and before) but the item that had caused them to wad up and block the pipe was a simple piece of plastic. I didn't even notice that it was missing from the toilet when it first started to slow down.

I guess the cleaners knocked it off the bowl when they were cleaning and just flushed it away. What an expensive mistake! I will have to find another way to improve the ambiance in the bathroom.

Luckily Excalibur's charge was not exorbitant - though frustratingly more than the $70 we would have paid going through our Insurance, but that is only assuming the plumbing service AHS gave us did half as good a job as Excalibur.

Not sure where they got their name from.

 "Morte D'Arthur"

...There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o’er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
Of subtlest jewellery....
Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1809-1892

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Two less hammer toes

.. and two more unbending toes. I mentioned some time ago, November I think, that one more toe got hammered (see here) and of course, there are the photos from the original surgery in March of 2013 here.

Well, my plan was to schedule surgery for the week of Spring Break in March of 2014 but that didn't work as my surgeon was not available that week, so instead we went to Shreveport for a couple of days gambling, more fun but also more expensive than foot surgery. I scheduled my surgery for the Friday of the following week and Larry arranged to take the day off as he had comp time due. By the time March came along a second toe was also hammered.

Pre Op visit was supposed to be the week before, but that day my surgeon was called away for an emergency so it was rescheduled for just 3 days before the operation, it was also a formality as I had been through this before, of course it was also an opportunity to pay for the upcoming event. Thank goodness for decent health insurance cover. This appointment is also when I get my prescription for painkillers and final instructions for preparation and recovery and my surgeon agreed with me that I did indeed have two hammer toes.

The day before the operation I got a call from the surgery center, with a list of instructions on preparations and also making sure I understood that I should arrive one hour before the scheduled time, leave all jewellery and piercings at home and the only valuable I could, and must bring was my caregiver. That is the person who was expected to drive me home and be present for the full 24 hours after surgery, that was my husband.

The day after the pre op, I had an unpedicure. It is important that the foot to be sliced up is clean and free of nail polish or any other possible sources of bacteria. Kim at Millennium Nails in Cedar Park has been doing my nails for about 10 years now and she did the unpedicure for me prior to my last foot operation, so she understood what I needed done. They don't have a website, but here is a link to their reviews on Yelp.

Then, the night before, and the morning of the operation, according to instructions, I had a shower and scrubbed my foot with antibacterial soap for 5 minutes. I was allowed no food from midnight and only clear liquids up to 6 a.m. and then nothing to drink prior to the operation.

Below is a photo of my feet after the unpedi, indicating the work done last year and to be done

We arrived at the surgery center early, I am always early for everything, luckily this time my surgeon, Dr Schoen from Texas Orthopedics, was also early and I didn't have to wait long. First I had to sign wads of disclaimers, then a marker was used to indicate the location of the intended surgery and the foot had yet another 5 minute scrub which surprisingly didn't remove the marker ink, vital signs were noted and a very skilled nurse made it look easy to insert a drip into my uncooperative veins.

In quick succession I met the anaesthesiologist, his assistant, the operating room nurse and my surgeon came by to also scribble his name on my foot. I guess that is in case I ended up in the wrong operating theatre, they would quickly establish my surgeon's ownership and avoid unpleasant mistakes. The assistant anaesthesiologist then injected his magic solution into my drip and I was given a shower cap to wear and off I was wheeled to the operating room. I don't remember arriving there and the next thing I do remember is an after care nurse loudly telling me to wake up. I didn't want to, I was having such a great sleep, however I finally cooperated and took the deep breaths she instructed me to. Vital signs were again being monitored, the drip was removed and it wasn't long before I was trundled out to my husband's waiting truck in a wheelchair.

Iodine up to my knee
And I have to wear this on my leg to shower

If you are at all squeamish I recommend that you do not scroll past this point as there are a few photos of my foot that you may not be able to unsee.

pins in two toes

At last the day came to have the dressing changed, OK it was only 5 days after the operation, but they were a long 5 days. I got my first look at the work and was quite impressed. There is a little swelling but really not a huge amount, I might well fit into my ordinary shoes by the time I get the pins out - just another 7 weeks to go.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bright Ideas

surgical shoe
Some people come up with the most amazing solutions to simple problems, or should that be simple solutions to amazing problems.  I know that when a colleague at work told me how she solved the issue of swollen foot post bunionectomy, I was staggered by how simple the solution was. And I was very grateful that Jennifer Lang shared her solution with me.  For most people, recovery from a bunionectomy operation takes approximately 12 months, at least 3 of which are spent wearing either a surgical boot, or a surgical shoe, not much better.

my Dunnes Stores solution
The next 6 months are spent with one foot at least one size bigger than the other, due to swelling, that should give you a clue to the solution, a surgeon's solution is to continue wearing the surgical shoe. Jennifer bought two pairs of identical shoes, in two different sizes, and was able to wear relatively normal shoes, the larger size on the swollen, recovering foot. I was enthralled with the idea and bought myself two pairs of cheap sneakers that worked so well! No one ever knew they were two different sizes, (one being two sizes bigger than the other) not that I would care if they did, at least I had shoes and didn't have to clump around in a surgical shoe. If you look closely at the photo you might notice these were bought in Dunnes Stores in Dublin, hence the sizing is European.

The same solution works for my granddaughter. She was born with a club foot and at almost 4 years of age, she still has a problem with it. The club foot is a full size smaller than the normal foot, and she needs ankle boots to keep it stable. During the summer the poor child can't wear sandals because, unless they are two different sizes, one will be so big as to be dangerous. Luckily we can get her some very fashionable boots to wear that solve all the issues in one go, because they are sturdy ankle boots, they keep her foot stabilized and the fact that they are too big for the club foot doesn't matter. And for the hot summer days, we get her two pairs of identical sandals in two different sizes.

So, on to the other bright idea. Having had a bunionectomy and worn a surgical boot resembling a storm trooper last year, I have now had another foot surgery, necessitating wearing a surgical shoe for 8 weeks. When I was in the recovery stage at the surgical center, the nurse told me that one of her patients had decorated her surgical shoe with 'bling'. I loved the idea; I love bling, and I hate that surgical shoe with a passion. So, I ordered some self adhesive bling from amazon.

This how it arrived

I had no faith when I opened the package. The bling came in sheets of 20 stuck to plastic backing, well supposed to be stuck, in fact almost half had become dislodged from their plastic sheet and had stuck to the inside of the plastic bag, or on top of other sheets or in clumps of 5 or 6 stuck together. I tried a few pieces on my shoe to test the adhesion. It failed - sort of. It failed to stick to my shoe, but I had the hardest time getting the bling up off the hardwood floors, the furniture and my clothes where it ended up after it fell off my surgical shoe.

Next I got out my glue gun and tested that on a few pieces, success! it survived the night - yes, I have to wear the shoe at night at least until the stitches come out, maybe longer. So I stuck a few more pieces on using the glue gun, next task is to clean up the glue spillover. But actually that is not so important is you really only notice that close up, as in the photo.

might need some more, or maybe a few sequins?
 I do hope these don't come off, at least it is not yet shorts weather, so if some of them get attached to my husband's legs during the night, no one will be any the wiser.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Time for some embroidery

Foot surgery on Friday means a nice quite weekend. My foot needs to be elevated most of the time, and I so I need to be seated for the weekend. Also means sometime next week I will be blogging about my surgery. I am waiting for the dressing to come off so I can get a photo of the work done.

But doctors instructions were to be kind to my foot, that means guilt free embroidery indulgence.

I recently bought a few really nice embroidery patterns.  While I am still learning to use my software and create my own patterns, one of the ways to do this, is to buy some good patterns and study how they were created. I also bought an online class in machine embroidery which has proved very good indeed, got that here.

So, as always, I used my trusty old sheet to create samples first. I really love these spirit animals, which Larry found for me on emblibrary here. There is a set of eight.

Below is the bison, a cactus which I also bought, and a bear.

I decided to use the bison, in the colors show, along with an eagle and a lizard, on a purple shirt. I thought the purple against purple with the pink highlight might look good. And it does - in good lighting, if the lighting is not good then all that you can see is the pink and it looks unfinished.

So, my second attempt was a bear, a butterfly and a wolf, in the same gold shown in the sample, on a black

try to ignore the fact that the hoop marks are still visible, a wash will dispose of them, also, in this photo the spirit animals don't look gold, but believe me it is the same thread as the sample bear above.

Finally I decided to try my hand at embroidering my signature, instead of using my custom labels.  Didn't really work as well as I would like, but I will keep playing with that one.

as you can see, the custom label is a lot clearer:

Finally, here are a couple more samples, the shooting star I created in MS publisher then converted to an embroidery format with my PE Design software, the second was a picture of a flowering cactus that I converted in PE Design. I am fairly pleased with both, though they do need some work.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Recently, on my drive home from work, I passed a guy standing on the corner by the traffic lights. He was holding a sign that said "Male model experiencing hard times, please help". Had I been prepared I would have given him some money in return for the chuckle he gave me. I did feel a little unkind that I laughed, and perhaps with a shave, shower, haircut and clean clothes that actually fitted him, he might have looked the part. But without that attention he looked like any other unfortunate homeless panhandler seen on the streets of any city. I resolved to tuck a few dollars in my cup holder in case I ever do see him again.

O'Connell Street Bridge in Dublin
I used to be a very easy touch for the panhandlers in Dublin when I was growing up. Of course, we didn't call them panhandlers, they were beggars, tinkers, knackers, itinerants, travellers or gypsies. Tinkers because once upon a time they worked on tin pots and pans, mending and selling them door to door, traveling from town to town in horse drawn caravans. Knackers dealt in horses, breeding and selling them, the story goes, to be slaughtered for meat. Read more here.

In fact, when I was very young they used to go door to door, I guess that might have been left over from the tinker era. There was one woman who called regularly to our house selling balloons. My mother always brought her into the kitchen and gave her something to eat with a cup of hot tea and bought her balloons. We referred to her as 'Mammy's beggar lady'. And I remember another occasion when a boy (probably about 10 years old) called to the door. It was pouring rain and he was soaking wet and shivering with the cold. My mother brought him in, put him in a hot bath, gave him some of my brother's clothes and a hot meal. I suspect that is where I learned to be compassionate towards beggars.

On one occasions, I was on my way to the bus stop, going home from school, when a beggar asked me for 'a little help' and I have him my bus fare and walked home. My sister assured me that I was not helping him at all because he would more than likely use my bus fare to buy drink. I told her I didn't care, if I was in his position I would want someone to give me money for a drink if that was all it took to make me happy, and he didn't look like he had anything to be happy about.

ready for the tourists

The horsedrawn caravans of the early travellers gave way to more modern trailers pulled by motorized vehicles though many of them still deal in horses. And the colorful wooden caravans I remember the tinkers pulling behind a horse then became tourist attractions as replicas appeared for rent as a vacation alternative (see here for information)

My husband, way back in time, after he graduated school, lived on the streets in San Francisco for a short while, he was being a hippie, and supported himself by panhandling. He told me he made a good living, in fact rarely had to sleep outside, but could afford to get a motel room most nights. He encouraged me not to give to panhandlers, but frequently I give in. And should I see the unfortunate male model again, I will give to him.

Monday, March 10, 2014

To open push here

... or 'To Open Press Here', 'Push Up With Thumbs' - among the instructions to open containers that frustrate me.

For the packages with 'Push here' indicating where to open, usually thick card boxes, I normally end up stabbing them with a sharp knife, as much to vent my frustration as to actually access the product inside.

The packaging that most annoys me, and sometimes almost defeats me, is that thick heat wrapped plastic, with or without a perforated strip. This type of packaging is frequently used on makeup, directly on the container as I guess that is cheaper than putting them in a bubble wrap card - not much easier to open. Surely someone could come up with something a little easier to remove? Though that does defeat the purpose which is to prevent them being opened in the store, prior to purchase.

I do understand the packaging is required by the FDA to prevent tampering, their guidelines (here) state:


Cosmetic liquid oral hygiene products, e.g., mouthwashes and breath fresheners, and any kind of vaginal product introduced into interstate commerce after February 6, 1984, must be packaged in tamper-resistant packages if intended to be accessible to the public while held for retail sale - 21 CFR 700.25...."

I recently spent the best part of 20 minutes removing the plastic from a blemish concealer pen (not intended for internal use), there was no perforated strip, I did search carefully with a magnifying glass, though the perforation rarely helps much . So I got a small, sharp scissors and, after the said 20 minutes, I finally got in. If safes were wrapped in this stuff it would totally defeat any safe cracker, the police would have ample time to reach the scene of the crime.

ready to remove plastic

At least the plastic didn't cling to my hands the way the stuff my embroidery thread is wrapped in does. I guess the thread is wrapped to prevent it from getting dirty or frayed, but a simple strip of thin plastic wrap with scotch tape would suffice, after all I don't think the FDA cares about anyone tampering with embroidery thread, I am sure there are no guidelines anywhere that prescribe thread should be so heavily guarded.

The plastic on the thread is a little easier to remove and I am working on a few ideas to prevent it clinging to my hands with such determination. I have considered using the disposable rubber gloves which I use in the kitchen when preparing food, but I think if I did that I would have to remove the plastic from all of my threads in one sitting, it would give my husband way too much amusement if I put on disposable gloves every time I started embroidery. He already thinks that I am a germaphobe.

First I remove the cap at the top by
cutting into it above the thread line

Once I have managed to get rid of the cap, I peel the rest off,
it doesn't always co-operate as well as this picture shows.
Frequently it comes off in small pieces as the concealer did,
each piece clinging to my fingers, almost impossible to shake off.

Of course, there are more issues with embroidery thread than just getting inside the packaging. That label on the top of the spool is important, the number indicates the color/shade of the thread, and all embroidery patterns list the numbers of the colors required to complete the pattern. You can use whatever color you wish, but it is still important to know the number, without that, if you need to order replacement thread, it isn't always easy to match the color.

The problem is that in order to use the thread it has to be put on the spool pin, which either pops the label off, or pierces it making the number almost impossible to read.

I did consider writing the number below each spool on the thread rack, but I knew that I wouldn't always replace them in the same spot, and what if the rack were to got knocked over? there would be no way to put them back in the correct order.

I got around that issue by using a fine Sharpie paint pen (using the standard Sharpie won't work as the ink wipes off), then after I have finished fighting with the plastic, I remove the label and write the number on the base of the spool, so far that is working really well (thanks to my husband who is my ideas man).

He bought me these nifty grips to use for opening stubborn jars. I had actually used similar to remove the oil filter on my car when doing an oil change, but it never occurred to me to apply them in the kitchen. They really do work well.

There are so many other types of packaging and instructions to open which do not work, it makes me wonder how they come up with them and do they ever actually test their theories to be sure they work? And clearly, for the makeup, they have no idea how to remove the plastic seal and therefore no suggestions are supplied, at least none that I could see.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


I have loved thunderstorms since as far back as I can remember. Is it weird to find the sound of thunder comforting?  I do, no matter where I am, but naturally, most comforting when I am warm and cosy at home.

Wiki describes thunderstorms here. That is if anyone needs a definition. I think we all know what it is. I love the thunderous, powerful noise. I am enthralled by the lightening, which always seems to flash somewhere other than the direction you are looking, and the sound of the pouring rain is just amazing.

When I first came to the US I was staggered to discover that there is such a thing as dry lightening, or, as it was referred to in Northern Michigan where I first saw it, heat lightening.

When I first arrived in Texas, having driven from Northern Michigan with two friends, we crossed the line from Arkansas to Texas in the heat of a late August afternoon, about one hundred miles later the sky turned a grayish green and in the distance thunder rumbled, within minutes I was welcomed to my new home by the a most amazing display of the first fork lightening I had ever seen. Truly I thought that fork lightening only existed in comic books, I had only ever experienced sheet lightening before this. It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.

For the first year after I settled in Texas, every time there was a thunderstorm, no matter what time of night it was and so often it was at night, I would get up, set a chair by the window and raise the blinds and watch in fascination until it moved on.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Update on my book

My husband found a great add-on for Chrome web browser, Invisible Hand (you can get it here), what it does is described on that link :

"Automatically get the lowest price on whatever you’re buying
NEW: InvisibleHand now supports hotels, rental-cars and flights. It will automatically find the lowest price when you search for travel online.

InvisibleHand discreetly notifies you if the product you’re shopping for is available more cheaply from another retailer or travel site. The notification provides a convenient link straight to the relevant page on the competing website."

And it works really well.

Imagine my surprise when I was on and searched for my book, Peeling The Onion - why? I hear you ask, because I wanted to see if it comes up in a search, and if I had any reviews.

I am  happy to see that there actually is a good review
I was somewhat surprised to find so many books with that name, when I came up with it I thought it was quite unique - apparently not. Anyway, back to the point. When I clicked on my book, Invisible Hand popped up its notification informing me I could get it cheaper on eBay! Now, I know that I have not sold many copies, and I would be aware of bulk orders, so I have to assume that (the seller on eBay) have not yet bought the book, but will if anyone decides to buy it from them. However, if you have a prime account with, it will still be cheaper there because are going to charge a hefty postage fee.

Of course, if you have a Kindle, you can get a copy of my book for $2.99 from, have it delivered for free, instantly and not only do you save money and buy a good read, but you are also saving trees! Not to mention, once you buy a Kindle you will wonder why you waited so long to do so. I absolutely love mine.

Even more surprising, when I click on the drop down to compare prices, I see that it is also available on Barnes & Noble and is more expensive there than either or, I can only imagine they are all making it available on the off chance that I suddenly become a famous author.

If you look at the image below (if you can't see it clearly, click on the image to enlarge it),'s cheapest shipping rate is $3.10, less than Barnes & Noble, and as I have a prime account with Amazon, I am not sure what they would charge for shipping, but I am guessing it would be about the same.

This story has a number of morals, first is buy my book - you never know it might become a best seller, second is buy a Kindle, you won't regret it, third is get a Prime account with, and fourth is, buy my book from Finally - if you enjoy it, please write a review - in fact, whether or not you enjoy it, write a review, when I am shopping online I always read the reviews as they can be very  helpful.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Irish sayings and the English language

One of the things I love about Ireland, being Irish, and growing up in Dublin, are the sayings we have. I thought everyone understood them, but apparently not. Actually, I did point out in an earlier blog, that I discovered that there is a major language barrier between Ireland and the US, a slightly lesser one between Ireland and the UK, but an equally large, but different, one between the UK and the US.

I remember moving to London (England) when I graduated school, and being fascinated, once I started to understand the actual words they were saying, by the sentences they put together. For instance: 'Weren't half a laugh' - pronounced (loosely) 'Wern' hawf a lawf' - meaning? isn't it obvious? 'It was very funny'.

One of the incidents that struck a chord with me was when my grandson returned to France after a 6 week stay with us in Texas, 'improving' his English. And in fact, improve it he did. However not only did he return home with a pleasant Texas accent, an unpleasant collection of Texan words not necessarily ideal for an 11 year old, but a very much better grasp of English in general. However, when he returned to school and the English teacher who had obviously only had an academic, UK English, training in the language asked the class what the English equivalent for the French 'Madam' was, he was eager to display his newly learned skills. She allowed him to respond and he immediately said 'Ma'am' - the sad thing is that he was correct, however she didn't know enough English to realize that and told him he was wrong. I am happy to say he had enough confidence to know that he was correct, and enough sense to stop arguing with her fairly quickly. The English do use the term Madam, or the shortened version Ma'am, and it is widely used in the southern states of America, and in particular in Texas. She was looking for the response Mrs, however that is only used in English when coupled with a last name. Except of course in the English spoken in Ireland, particularly in the inner city in Dublin, where any married woman was addressed as 'Mrs' e.g. "Hello Mrs, would you like a lift?" ( a lift meaning to be transported somewhere in one's car) - the more you try to explain the English Language, the more muddled it becomes. I wonder how any none native speaker manages to learn it.

Because of course there is a lift meaning an elevator, and you have to take the entire sentence in context. No elderly person, scuttling down the street is going to offer another elderly woman an elevator, therefore in that context, we know they mean to be transported somewhere in a car, or way back in the 1950s perhaps on the back, or even the crossbar, of a bicycle. Not unheard of, and not necessarily refused.

One saying that came to mind recently was 'One arm longer than the other'. And I hasten to add that the Irish, generally speaking, are like any other race in that their arms are pretty much the same length as each other, that is to say one person has two arms that are approximately the same length -  here again you can see a non native speaker's difficulty. But in the context of this particular saying, apparently when you are going to a party one arm suddenly shrinks and the only way to arrive with both arms the same length (approximately) is to be sure that one hand (that on the shorter arm) is not empty. Mostly the way we manage to achieve that is with a bottle, or if we are certain our hosts are non-drinkers (clearly not Irish) or they are children, flowers or sweets (for my American readers that is candies).

Even to this day, it is a very strong tradition, when visiting someone's home for the first time, for a party, a meal or just a semi formal gathering, we never arrive with one arm shorter than the other.

both arms approximately the same length