Sunday, October 26, 2014

Rattling around in my unfocused brain . . .

I'll have a random thought. I want to blog about it, it's partially formed, but I don't get it down before the next random thought that seems like a possibility replaces it. Random thoughts are hanging out there in space.

Reluctance - For example, it's October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's a month of Think Pink. Women (and men) who are cancer free five years after treatment celebrate with marches and pictures. They are Survivors. The man I knew with breast cancer did not survive, although he went through the surgeries and chemo and all that.

My son refers to me as a Survivor. I'm not sure whether that's a correct calculation. Earlier this year it was 5 years since surgery and radiation, but it was just the end of five years of pills that are somehow called chemo. That aside, I'm reluctant to refer to myself as a Survivor. The bullet point version:

  • The cancer was caught early. I had such an easy time with treatment. I didn't pay the dues that real survivors do. I'm a a poseur.
  • I'm afraid of jinxing myself.  Cancer is sneaky stuff and I don't want to appear to taunt it.

Upshot, I'm grateful that it's gone so well for me and hope it lasts.

TAXES - Yes, all caps for shouting, for the annoying chunk this took out of my week when I wanted to get to other things. Like preparing for Fall Quilt Camp. 

I had to leave off filing my 2013 income taxes about a week before April 15 because I went out of town somewhere, like Spring Quilt Camp. I was missing an important piece of data for the taxes, so filed for an extension. The information to that date indicated that I would owe no taxes (a combo of withholding and estimated taxes covered it). The new due date became October 15. 

I expected that my income for 2013 would be the same or less than 2012, since I'd finally finished paying taxes on an annuity inherited from my parents. (Warning people: annuities aren't all free money.)  That one little piece of missing data gave me a big income surprise: capital gain on stock sold for my room addition. Entering this little piece of data in Turbo Tax wasn't easy, either. I've used it for many years and they've "improved" it to the point of creating a disconnect, a gulf, more like it, between the language in the Step-By-Step method and that in the Forms method. In endeavoring to enter that capital gains stuff in the right place, TT managed to generate a form for each effort, tripling my capital gains tax. Sheesh. I may have to go back to having an accountant. Soooo . . . even with the correction, that means I should also have been paying estimated taxes for 2014 in April, June and September. I sent a good chunk now and may get a penalty as well. My checking account is way too close to zero at the moment.

I have no photo of this endeavor.

Cats - When I left on my trip in June/July, there was a coterie of feral cats visiting my back deck, and another for the front deck. I knew pretty much the relationships and lineage before I left, and the cat rescue ladies had a mission in my absence to catch, neuter and return as many of them as they were able to do. Hot weather was not in full bloom, so the cats still had remnants of winter coats. When I returned, there were many clipped ears (signifying success with a capture) and short coats (except for a couple of truly long-haired cats) and I had difficulty identifying a few of them. But they stuck with their back-deckness and front deckness habits.

Since I've returned from my September trip, except for three cats, they've mixed themselves all up. And I don't know who's who much of the time. There are a lot of striped cats, and I can't remember who has  facial markings, who has crop-sox or knee-highs or bare feet. On any day there may be only the loyal three out back and the rest swarm over to the lady's across the street. (Does she feed them canned food instead of Atta Cat kibble?) 

Relaxing on a fall day Note that Little M on the rail has no white
markings, one has white face markings and three have crop-sox on all feet.

Some feral kitties are missing, sadly I guess, although I try not to get too personally attached to them.

A morning tussle between kitties from across the street.
When I came home from the September trip, my "hot-house flowers" who live strictly indoors, came galloping to greet me when I came through the door. Chloe, my old girl, even galloped up beside her sworn enemy Jean-Luc, with nary an exchanged hiss between them.

I noticed, however, that Chloe was turning away from her canned food, in which I conceal her medication, after eating only a couple of bites. I learned she'd been doing that with the cat sitter as well. Mealtimes became a struggle, and I can't leave her medicated leftovers out within reach of the other cats. I gave up. I could not force her to eat the medication.

We've had a few extra years together due to her medication. She improved for a long time, but age is getting to her. She's 15 now and has declined rapidly since that cheerful greeting. I'm now awakening daily, wondering...


The Thursdays Out  NeedleCrafts ladies have been on a knitting tear. It may have started because Judy decided to de-stash her enormous collection of yarn. This apparently was not the first or the last time that she came in with big boxes of yarn to distribute to the knitters (practically everyone except me). 

Judy's box of yarn

They've done knit hats to donate to cancer patients, preemies, the homeless, and their own grandkids for quite awhile. They decided to do items for sale at the pre-Christmas craft faires and gift shops. One shop asked for knit sets with hat, scarf and gloves. And now there are fancy scarves for the craft faires.

Scarves and . . .

...scarves ...
and more scarves

The non-knitter -- me -- is preparing fabric for a couple of quilt kits to get to work on. This fabric is from a kit called Heat Wave.

I got this fabric at Patchwork Europe. The pattern called Framework, and it's German. There are English instructions enclosed, translated from German, which are not altogether clear. I tried to get a better translation with Google Translate. It appears the translation I received IS by Google Translate.

On Thursdays, in the room next to NeedleCrafts, there's a seniors' exercise group that meets at the same time we do. Their leader came over to have one of our people take photos of them at their Halloween party. I was not the official photographer, but it sounded like a good photo op nevertheless.

Exercise group in costume

Be it known that that is definitely NOT the official photo. Their leader, the cowgirl on the right, was trying to organized them so they all looked at the same photographer at the same time for their picture. And she wanted to make sure the underpants on the gentleman were visible in the photo, a mystery to me. It took several tries. Reminded me of herding cats. 

So I Googled Captain Hunter Spence, as written on the pad, which had references to Captain Underpants and something to do with baseball. My intent was to provide you a link to explain this reference. I learned while watching the World Series game last evening between San Francisco and Kansas City that I'm probably the last person in the world to have heard his name. (I haven't been paying that close attention to baseball in general these days. Not since the last time the Giants were in the World Series.) 

There was another Halloween Party, for the RV club. I'm still a member, even though I haven't had an RV for quite some time. I miss it. A lot. Particularly not being able to camp in Yosemite Valley. I make up for that to a degree by hoteling it there, but it's not the same. 

Costumes were optional, and few opted in. There were at least decorations in the spirit of Halloween.

Living History and Community Airport Days - These are annual events, held on the same day in October. They're a fine opportunity for taking pictures of fun community events. So sister and I sped off to the park in town where a flea market was underway along one perimeter of the parking lot (perused but didn't buy), then strolled to the adjacent library parking lot to visit Living History Day.

Checker buddies

Gold panning

Making rope


Sister and I took lunch home for Brother-in-Law and us, after which we headed for the airport. We had to park a long way away, with a bit of an uphill climb, to get to the action along the runway. We got our chairs set up in the shade of the hangers and I reached into my purse for my camera.

No camera. I'd left it in the car and didn't feel like making the trek to get it.
Ergo, no airplane pictures this year.

There was a nice quilt show at the church yesterday. Lots of pictures, but I'll show those later.

See you soon.


Monday, October 13, 2014

A few days ago . . . at the end of the line

It's a restless night, as I ate too much for dinner. It's my last night in Paris and I want one more Café Liègeois before we leave France. Of course, dining solo, I feel I should have a little meal before dessert. I choose the quiche lorraine. As I recall, it's a "safe" choice here at La Terrasse. I had one recently elsewhere that was stuffed with stomach-rocking greasy ham.

Café Liègeois, very good, above average in taste,
 looks good but presentation unexceptional 

Even so, it's more food than I need to sleep peacefully. Overeating is enough to awaken the GERD that has calmed down as a result of some procedures I had before the trip. I'm looking forward to having a nice bowl of steel-cut oatmeal for dinner when I get home.

Half awake, half asleep I'm having dreams that puzzle me. I know I'm not home, not in my own bed. I know I'm going somewhere today. I try to pull myself conscious enough to think. Where?

Airport. Getting to the airport. Going home. Am I pulling my little luggage train to the metro to catch an airport train? Can I pull the luggage train down the metro stairs to do that? Am I pulling it to the Arc de Triomphe to catch the airport bus? Can I haul it that far? Am I traveling alone, or? The funny little beeps from my mobile phone signal that its alarm is about to start tweeting its wake-up song.

I remember. Our tour leader has arranged a private shuttle to the airport for the four of us who are leaving today. I see the end of my neatly-folded boarding pass sticking out of my nerdy traveler's neck dangle, printed yesterday morning. Fingers crossed. I assume that since Air France invited me to print it, it means the flight is a go.

We've had reason to feel iffy about our flight. All but one husband, who would join his wife on the tour on the final leg in Paris, arrived in Lyon by the start date of September 11. Official end of the tour would be September 24, with departures scheduled to dribble on until September 28. "What could possibly go wrong?"

Yup. The French penchant for striking. In this case, the Air France pilots. Not the first time I've run into this situation, only it was trains and metros, with some air involvement, for the most significant occasion.

Air France pilots on strike
Don't you love the dashing strike attire?

Appears to be a demonstration by Air France 
non-pilots opposing the strike

It is announced as a 10-day strike, ending September 23. Whew! We should be okay. Meanwhile, while we will enjoy Lyon, the husband who is coming over to meet his wife in Paris, is sweating out how he will get here, because his arrival is right into the strike.

Our tour guide in Lyon declares it is the second largest city in France. Funny. I've heard that same claim about Marseille. I've already covered a few of our activities in Lyon (previous four blogs), a bit more to tell. I regret that I run out of steam by the end of a day and make promises to revisit each day which I seldom fulfill. I'll try. I'll try, 'cuz there have been some neat things.

View over Lyon

In Lyon

Negotiations, negotiations, negotiations. I did not read the technicalities of the pilots' strike. There were long treatises in the French papers about the issues, technical enough that I might draw just the opposite conclusion from what was said with my reading in French. BBC and CNN didn't devote much time to it, at least while I was watching.

We move on to Colmar via TGV (the high-speed train) and are picked up by one taxi at the railroad station making three trips. He did not get word that our train is running late, so is a bit cranky. He flies through the streets like a Tijuana taxi driver (a thrill or more a minute). I kinda like speed if I don't have to pay the speeding ticket.

Colmar train station

Night scene. Our hotel on the right.
Colmar will be headquarters for several textile events for this group of quilters. I don't take the first day trip out to the Beauvillé factory and visits to some charming Alsatian villages. I've been there several times in the past, so it seems like the best opportunity for a day of rest, really much needed. The next day it's the DMC factory. Everyone who does embroidery knows who DMC is. I don't embroider (except for the occasional decorative touch to a quilt), so my interest is cursory at first. But then I really get into it. This is an amazing operation and I leave only a sample here, to be revisited in more detail.

100% cotton, undyed
(spellcheck wants to change this to "undead")

Color added. If you bought color #123 for the project you did
20 years ago, you can buy #123 now and it will match
your original.

Examples of retail packets of Perle cotton

And, oh-the-machinery! Yes, I must show you some of that later.

Then there is the quilt show, Carrefour européen du Patchwork 2014 at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and three other villages. We must travel there by bus, as the towns are too small to have accommodations for the international crowds of quilters. We are spending two days there. My dream would be to be able to rent a bedroom in a French house for the whole show -- four days -- and meander through all the venues. I think there are 25 this year.

At the quilt show

At the table, La Maison des Têtes, Colmar

It's time to head for Paris. We take a bus to Strasbourg to catch the TGV there.

On another track. Not our train.

Did I mention I like speed? If I won't get the speeding ticket? Here's speed, 320 kilometers per hour. That's 199 miles per hour. So freakin' cool.

A bus picks us up in Paris at the train station. We have some trouble meeting up with him, so my French cell phone comes into use. He takes us to our hotel via the Paris scenic icons route.

Arriving at the hotel. No bus driver has ever taken us down
this street before, a feat of derring-do.

Hotel lobby

Rainy evening, mud and muck

My favorite breakfast

At almost the deadline, the pilots reject the proposed settlement. The strike is extended until September 30. Word is that despite that, some international flights may resume flying. It's time for us to get really vigilant about flight information.

Our people who leave at the official end of the tour are, in the main, going to destinations other than the U.S., so they are not affected by the Air France strike. We on Air France scramble to its website.

Next to the part where it says CONFIRMED, there is a big red box advising of the strike and notifying us that we can rebook a flight after September 30 at no charge. Make what we will of that advice. 

Negotiations continue. I'm not sure when it was actually settled, but flights begin trickling back on line. I watch They display a chart like the one below for each flight, showing which are flying. This one is for the flight four of us are taking to San Francisco. We see a big list of "scheduled" which fall one by one to "cancelled" as its time approaches.

We sit tight with our reservation paperwork. Meanwhile our tour leader takes a walk to the nearby Air France offices and finds an operation set up to help with arranging options for travelers. We mentally file away this info. She has received an email from AF which doesn't sound encouraging. So far, my inbox is silent on the topic. Our time gets closer, Saturday, Sept 27, and my reservation still says CONFIRMED on the website and "scheduled" on Flight Aware.

Passengers can check-in online 30 hours in advance of the flight to obtain their boarding passes. We figure if they let us get our boarding pass, it will be good. That puts check-in time at Friday morning at 4:40 a.m. I'll do mine when I wake up Friday a.m. That doesn't happen until perhaps 6:00 a.m. and by that time, our leader has sent an email with the subject "Hooray." We're in. I also have an email from Air France inviting me to check in now. So I do. I'm rewarded with a boarding pass, which I transmit to the hotel front desk for printing. All those little hints to change flights for free are gone.

Yesterday's flight was cancelled. How early did those passengers know? I'll only be convinced when we lift off from CDG.

You can see by this excerpt from the Flight Aware page that we did get home as scheduled all along. I've inserted in red cancellation dates since Sept 23. There were a whole lot of cancelled flights before that date. It is a good flight and the trip is over for me. The husband who joined us and his wife are with us on the flight. Four more still in Paris are due to come home on Sunday, three on our flight and the fourth in the afternoon. They pack their bags, take a shuttle to the airport, and find both flights cancelled. They're not into tablets and computers so are taken by surprise. They get hotel vouchers from Air France and make it back home on Monday. The oddest coming home tale I've heard is that a plane headed to SFO had to stop in Oakland to refuel. Say what?