Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Got jokes?

 My eight year old buddy Little P. loves to tell jokes. He comes by my desk every afternoon after the school bus drops him off and we talk for a few minutes. As often as not, he has a couple of new jokes to tell me. One of today's was a corker:

Q: What do you call a cow with no legs?

A: Ground Beef.


That made me laugh so much I texted it to my husband. I also encouraged P. to tell it to our principal, who (himself the father of two small boys) laughed pretty hard, too. Then he told P. a joke in return that was just edgy enough to delight a little boy. Here it is:

Q: What do you call a cross between an elephant and a rhinoceros?

A: 'Elifino.

Read the answer aloud slowly a couple of times if you don't immediately get it. :)

Our principal is a bit of a prankster and enjoys a good (harmless) practical joke. I'll never forget the April Fool's Day when he set up a microphone from the band room by the computer that teachers and staff used to clock in. He printed out instructions that said, "NEW VOICE ACTIVATED CLOCK IN SYSTEM. PLEASE SPEAK INTO THE MICROPHONE SLOWLY AND CLEARLY, AND STATE YOUR NAME AND POSITION AT SNEED MIDDLE SCHOOL. WAIT FOR CONFIRMATION." and then he sat in his office and watched on the security cameras as 90% of his staff fell for it and attempted to clock in that way! Hahahaha! I'll admit it....I was one of the April Fools that day. 

I'm thankful every single day for my job. I don't make much money, but I have lots of job security, excellent benefits, and I get to have a good laugh almost every day. Sometimes multiple times a day. How lucky is that?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Starting a garden

I'm so excited! Yesterday I planted my first little garden at this house. It doesn't look like much at the moment, but I have high hopes.

I prepared the bed around the back porch on Friday by hoeing and digging out all of the grass and weeds. I texted my husband halfway through that task and said, "Hoeing is HARD WORK" to which he replied, "So I've heard.......!" Hahaha. All joking aside, though, it really was hard work for someone like me who's unaccustomed to such labor and out of shape to boot. I have three blisters on my hands to prove it. 

That afternoon, once I'd showered and cleaned up, I went out to Lowe's and bought seedlings. Their selection was somewhat small, but I got five indeterminate tomato plants, all heirlooms, and three determinates, all hybrids. The indeterminates:  Mr. Stripey, German Queen, San Marzano, Red Beefsteak, and Pink Brandywine. The determinates: two Celebrity seedlings and one Bonnie's Centennial. 

In addition to the tomatoes, I picked up a 6 pack of small jalapeno plants, and two little containers with 5 cucumber seedlings in them. I separated the cucumbers so I'll eventually have five separate plants. They have to grow some before I plant them, since they barely have true leaves at this point. I also bought some marigold plants and two little pots of Italian flat leaf parsley which you can see in the foreground of the photo. I also picked up some extra marigold and nasturtium seeds to sow to fill out the empty spaces some. I want the beds to be pretty as well as productive!

I did all the work of actually planting yesterday morning. All of that bending, kneeling, digging, and crawling around has left me sore today (especially in the legs). It seems to have been a really good workout! Hopefully I'll strengthen up some this summer as I work to maintain everything.

My garden bed extends around the corner of the porch into an L shape. Five of the jalapenos are planted around the corner, and further along, I set out the banana plants that overwintered on the back porch in pots.

The pomegranate tree (the lower half of it) is visible at the end of the bed, by the windows. Maybe this year we'll get a few pomegranates. I dare not hope for bananas, but that would be nice! My fig tree is doing well, too, but it will probably be another year or two before we get any figs. Patience is a big part of gardening.

 I hope my garden can grow and expand in the coming years, and one of these days I'm going to build nice raised beds out in the yard. Another ongoing homeowner process, but one that I think I'll enjoy more than most!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Homeowner headaches

As many of you long time readers know, I was thrilled when I was finally able to buy my first home a couple of years ago. We waited and rented so long that I was beginning to be afraid we'd never be able to manage it. The first few years after we got married we were almost ready; we had a decent nest egg saved up, good credit scores, and I had a job making double my current income. Then cancer struck, which wiped out our savings, ruined my husband's credit score (the medical bills were obscene, even with good health insurance) and put any plans for the future strictly on hold for a long time. 

When we were finally able to buy this house, I was so grateful. It's been a bittersweet thing, because what made it possible was a generous inheritance we got when my dear mother-in-law passed away. She would have loved this place!  I get sad sometimes when I think about all the fun we could have had, sitting on my screened porch, drinking wine and watching the bird feeders. I wish we could have bought this place before she died, but such is life. 

Since becoming homeowners, we've been very preoccupied with proper care and maintenance of the house. Our last rental home had grown so shabby (thanks to our cheap ass landlord) that I was embarrassed to have people over by the last year we were there. Things wear out and break down over time, and he always, always found the cheapest possible option to repair and/or replace things. We swore that we would never look for the cheap option over the quality one in a home we own, and not only that, we're looking to improve the place. Not for resale, because we hope to live here forever, but for our own comfort and happiness.

Still, I've discovered the one downside of homeownership: there's never any end to the maintaining/repairing/replacing one must do, especially with an older house like ours. 

We've done pretty well so far, though. First off, we had to replace the 36 year old HVAC that was here when we bought the place. It kept breaking our first summer here, and in a place as hot as South Carolina that's a ticket to misery. Of course, it took a large chunk out of our savings but it's been so worth it. Not only are we super comfortable, but our power bill has gone down dramatically thanks to the new, much more energy efficient unit. We added a door to the half bathroom off the master bedroom. The previous owners only had a curtain up, which was just bizarre. Along with a few other small repairs, that was all we did the first year. 

In the last month we came into some extra money (an actual tax return for the first time in years and then our stimulus payments) and decided to save part of it, but to put the rest into the house. First I called an HVAC company and paid a yearly fee that includes twice a year servicing of our new unit. They came out on Monday morning and did their pre-summer maintenance, and they'll be back in 6 months to do the same thing to prepare for the winter. I paid for the year all at once, in advance. Hopefully this will make our new unit work better and last longer than it would otherwise, so I consider it protecting the investment we made. Money well spent.

Then we had decided we needed some plumbing work done. The shower drain clogged regularly and putting chemicals into it was making me nervous and wasn't resolving the issue. There was a tiny, intermittent leak under the kitchen sink. Most importantly, we have a tankless hot water heater and had heard that they need periodic flushing and maintenance to continue working properly. I looked around online and contacted a combination plumbing and electrical company that has years' worth of excellent customer reviews. They came out Tuesday morning, looked at those three things, and quoted us a price....

Over $800!!!!  We were aghast.

It was $300 to service the tankless water heater....$200 to add a new drain to the bathroom tub that would work better....and the tiny, almost insignificant leak under the kitchen sink was the result of a poor, "rigged together" piece of plumbing that wasn't "up to code" and had to be redone...another $250. Also the initial assessment of the issues involved a $65 service fee. 

We went ahead and had the work done, but weren't happy about it. I'll admit that the technicians were very professional, prompt, and thorough. But they should have been for the $870 we ended up spending after taxes were added in! If any of you reading this are homeowners and live in the states, do you think that's excessive? It seemed so to me, but what do I know? I do know this, however: whenever we go to have plumbing or electrical work done in the future, we'll try a different company to see if we can get better rates!

At the end of the day, though, we've had some nagging worries put to rest and that's a little more peace of mind. Our a/c is getting regular service now, our tub drains, our kitchen sink is "up to code" and won't be leaking anymore, and our tankless water heater has had really important maintenance done. 

Time to move on down the list and onto the next soon as our bank account recovers!

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Easter weekend photos

 I took a few pictures the other night when my friends came over for our little belated birthday/vaccination party. 

First, the table with my china rabbits, the birthday cake, and the punchbowl full of Sparkling Strawberry Margarita punch.

Did I mention that Marla, Martina, and I made plans to dye Easter eggs? We thought it would be a fun activity for the day before Easter. They both brought over a dozen boiled eggs (I'd prepared my own dozen the night before) and I supplied the cups of dye. We really had fun with this! Martina said she hadn't dyed Easter eggs since she was a kid. Marla planned to go home afterwards and dye more with little Carsen, since she's finally old enough to appreciate the activity.

Speaking of Carsen....she's just as fascinated with the big aquarium as she's been since infancy. She spent the whole 30 minutes or so she was at our house looking into it.

Except, of course, when the two toddlers were finally reunited!


It was certainly good to see my friends again, but I must admit it felt a little awkward at times. There would be sudden silences when no one could seem to think of anything to say next. Halfway through the party, I had to go sit on the porch by myself for five minutes or so. I was feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed. (Marla and Martina were inside having a spirited conversation about something so I don't think they noticed). They both went home a little earlier than normal, and I think we were all tired. Everyone acknowledged that we've gotten out of the habit of socializing in person and it just feels a bit strange. Who knows how long it will take before seeing friends will feel normal and comfortable again? Still, we had a good time and hopefully this is the start of more ordinary life again!

My neighbor Luella is back in the hospital. I woke up early Easter morning to the sight of an ambulance taking her away and we've been really worried about her. Today I texted her just on the off chance she or her daughter might see it and respond and let us know how things were going. Well, Miss Luella herself texted me back! She says she's very weak and will be in the hospital for a few days, but despite all that she seems to be in good spirits. I texted her back and told her how pretty her yard looks today, and she asked if I could snap some pictures and send them to her. Could I?!

The 50+ year old magnolia that had all the gorgeous pink flowers this spring now has the nicest green leafy shade.

She was so happy to get these photos! I told her to hurry up and get well and come back, her little house misses her! :) 

I hope you all had a nice Easter (if you celebrate it) or a nice spring weekend!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

The cake!

 Just a quick post this morning, as I'm finishing up the last few small things I need to do before my friends come over this afternoon. I commissioned a birthday cake from a talented woman I know who's a self-taught baker and trying to establish her own small business. I decided I wanted a yellow layer cake with chocolate icing, and as for decorations, I told her to "make it a nature theme, maybe with flowers, bugs, grass, etc., and just be creative and surprise me". This is what she came up with......

Isn't it gorgeous?!?! I think she did a fantastic job! It's almost too pretty to cut. :)

Here's a link to Jess's Instagram with some more examples of her work if you're interested.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Last of March, first of April

 Gregg finally suggested a birthday present for me that I was excited about--a new hammock to replace the one that wore out years ago. We still had the big metal hammock stand to hang it on stored in the garage. I picked out a red quilted one and we brought it home on Sunday. I've been relaxing in it every afternoon since!

It takes up half of the back porch, but I love it. With the screens keeping mosquitoes and bugs out and the ceiling fan to keep a cool breeze circulating, the porch is that much more comfortable and fun. My porch is my happy place.

This hasn't been an altogether happy week so far. A woman who works in our school library got devastating news about her beloved dog over the weekend and they had to have her put to sleep on Monday. The family is heartbroken, and I feel terrible for them. Then I embarrass myself by starting to cry every time I talk to Robin (the coworker) about it. I guess the loss of Ginger is still too fresh for me to interact with others experiencing pet bereavement right now. It seems to have triggered a load of fresh grief for me. It's strange. And hard.

Something else is happening that's bothering me. My 83 year old neighbor has been very, very ill all of a sudden. Her birthday was the Friday before mine, and we noticed lots of her family's cars at her house over the weekend. Since her kids, grandkids, and even some young great-grandchildren all live locally and come over a lot, we didn't think much of it at first....but then this week started and there were still cars there, and one of her daughters was spending the night. I finally sent her a text, just checking in, and found out that she had been in the hospital for 8 days and wasn't released until her birthday! We had no idea. Her daughter is staying there at night for the time being to keep an eye on things. Apparently Miss Luella had pancreatitis first, then a preexisting heart arrhythmia starting acting up, and then she caught pneumonia. Eight days in the hospital! At her age, that's scary stuff. She said that she's very, very weak and is having a hard time eating and drinking enough and can't seem to get any energy back. No wonder! I've been trying to think of something we can do for her, but all I can come up with is maybe fruit and flowers? I don't know what she can or can't eat, but a small basket of fruit seems harmless and some bright flowers might be cheering. If anyone reading has any suggestions I'd love to hear them! Of course I've told her that we're right next door, day or night, and to please call if she needed anything at all. I also offered to run any errands she might have. We've tried to think of other stuff that might help, but her family seems to be taking excellent care of her. Gregg did roll her garbage can back under her carport the other morning. We can't think of much else at the moment. I imagine her recovery is going to be long and hard, and once her family isn't there day and night maybe we can do more for her. But again, any suggestions are welcome.

On a happier note, Marla and Martina are coming over Saturday! And Marla will bring little Carsen over for the first hour or so (her daddy will come pick her up after a little while so the party can continue baby-less)! I haven't hugged that baby in over a year. She's about to turn three, so that's over a third of her life so far.

This was back in January. See? She's a little girl now!

It's going to be a fun time. I'm looking forward to seeing my friends again, and there will be birthday cake, and so my birthday celebration continues. Today is a half day at work, and after that we're on spring break. I'm looking forward to it.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Spring progress

It's so beautiful outside these days. This time of year is truly a feast for the eyes when you live in South Carolina and if you take the time to notice. All of nature has erupted in gentle pastel colors. Pink sunrises, white drifts of barely-open dogwood blossoms, the first heavenly scented purple wisteria flowers opening (if pale purple had a smell, it would be of wisteria), yellow Carolina jessamine growing wild in the woods and along fences, red and pink and green buds in the trees. Speaking of green, there are thousands of shades of it this time of year. On our early morning walks with George these days I like to be quiet, soaking in the beauty and peace of it all. I would defy anyone to find a more beautiful place on earth than the Carolinas in early spring. It's my favorite season.

Here are some pictures I took of some of my gardening projects. As you can see, there's been progress.

The fig tree has new leaves!

So does the pomegranate!

My little potted ornamental pomegranate has new leaves, too.

And my miniature rosebush has the first flower of the year.

This is the oregano that I was just sure I'd killed last summer. I forgot to water it until it seemed totally dead, but I watered the dirt and dry sticks through the winter and it has re-sprouted. Yay!

Then onto the house "Christmas cactus" is more like an Easter cactus!

The biggest orchid is still blooming, and in fact, there's a new flower spike shooting off the main one.

I hope you're all enjoying the signs of spring, no matter where you are! Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, March 25, 2021


Tuesday was a nice day. Thank you all for the birthday wishes. 

Little P. had loads of fun. He's a favorite of the staff and several other people had presents for him. His mom took a giant piece of red construction paper and made him a birthday banner that dozens of us signed. There were cupcakes, ice cream, and balloons, and this was after his elementary school class had had a little party for him. His father lives in Atlanta and he'll be going to see him this weekend, so I imagine there's more fun in store for the little guy. He's going to end up spoiled rotten! :)

After work on Tuesday Gregg and I went shopping. I had decided I wanted to buy some camellias for our backyard as my birthday present but I was out of luck. The big box store that had dozens of them for sale all winter didn't have a single one in stock. Could it be the wrong time of year to plant them? So Gregg said, let's find you something else, but I couldn't find anything I liked or wanted. Why is it so hard to find something you want when you have money to spend? Or is it just me? If I were broke right now I'd see everything I ever wanted while out shopping! There's a big flower and plant sale coming up at the farmer's market next month, maybe I'll find something there.

Last night I met two friends for dinner at my favorite restaurant, Tubbs Seafood. I got fried flounder and shrimp, and it was delicious as always. And it was great to see a couple of my friends now that we've all been vaccinated!

The fun will continue next weekend when Marla and Martina will be vaccinated and they're coming over to my house for a little cocktail party with birthday cake! It's been a long time since we've been able to get together and I'm really looking forward to seeing them!

Also coming up in April is my book club's first in person meeting in over a year. So that's exciting, too! Life is slowly returning to something like normal. 

                   Pretty Birthday Flowers

Saturday, March 20, 2021



A photo taken recently in Beaufort, South Carolina. I stole it off Facebook. Photo credit goes to Doug Noll.

It's the Vernal Equinox! I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm especially happy to see the arrival of spring this year. It's been a long, unpleasant winter. 

Just look at the tender new leaf buds coming out on the little baby fig tree! Just two weeks ago I was hoping it had survived its first winter in the ground. As of this morning, it would appear so!

Since I'm over a week out from my second shot, I picked today to go out and do some shopping. I needed new sneakers and jeans and for obvious reasons I'm hesitant to order either online. I also needed to get a birthday gift for little P. I hate hate hate the mall with a fiery passion but it's the best place to get a bunch of different shopping done in one centralized location. So that's where I headed. You wouldn't believe the hordes of people there, half of whom weren't wearing masks. I nearly had a panic attack just trying to navigate around the parking lots looking for a space to park the car. It's obvious stimulus money and tax refunds are hitting simultaneously. Ugh. I was uneasy the whole time!

Lots of businesses are gone since the last time I was there, including the Game Stop where I had intended to buy little P. a gift card to put towards the video game he wants. No big loss there; I don't like the idea of giving kids electronics or video games in the first place. I certainly wasn't going to drive across town to the other Game Stop, either. So I got him an alternate gift that was on one of his wish lists that his mom shared with me. It makes me much happier: a nice Lego kit. Apparently little P. is crazy for Legos.

He specifically requested Minecraft Legos, and when I texted his mom she confirmed that he doesn't have this one already. Legos are so much better for creative play! Of course I looked for books, and P. likes to read, but when it comes to his favorite series I don't know which he has already and which he doesn't. I think he'll be pleased with this--I hope so, anyway. I'll let you know Tuesday.

As for me, I looked and looked and couldn't find any shoes or jeans at the mall. I ended up driving to a shoe store close by and getting a new pair of Saucony sneakers. I love this brand! Not only are they very comfortable to walk in, but they hold up well. My last pair is pretty beaten up and well worn, but still perfectly useable. They just don't look nice for wearing when I'm out and about or meeting friends. I'm happy to have a new pair. Then I came home and did something that's a first for me: I bought a pair of jeans online. I searched for a pair that had great reviews, so we'll see. If they don't work I'll return them, but if they do then that will be a game changer. I hate trying on clothes in store dressing rooms, especially now in the age of Covid. If this pair works out well I'll order two more in different shades/colors.

That's been my big day so far. I stopped at one last place, a butcher shop, and picked up Santa Fe stuffed chicken breasts and baking potatoes for our dinner tonight. The spuds are baking, and in a few minutes I'll add the chicken breasts to the hot oven and make a nice salad. Gregg will be home from work in about an hour, and since he works late on Saturdays I try to time Saturday night dinner to be ready (or close to it) when he walks in. 

I hope you've all had a pleasant "first day" of spring! Happy Equinox, everyone!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

St. Patrick's Day (and spider junk)

 Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

My day at work was fun. Little P.'s mom (one of our Guidance Counselors) goes all out on holidays to think of fun activities and treats for the entire school. Today she brought green iced cookies for the staff, arranged for candy and green bead necklaces to be hidden around the school for the students to find, served "leprechaun juice" (green Hawaiian Punch) during all four lunches, and encouraged everyone to dress up in green today to celebrate. No one can beat her for dressing up for special occasions! Here's a photo of her I shared on the school's FB page this morning.

Don't you just love it? It's obvious where little P. gets his quirky sense of humor and outgoing personality!

It being St. Pat's Day made the morning go by quickly, as I kept getting called to take pictures to share on social media of staff wearing green as well as all the treats. The cafeteria staff cooked an Irish themed lunch today: shepherds pie, roasted potatoes, and cabbage! There were even fresh strawberries for dessert. Everyone was in a good mood. The new band director, Mr. Cribb, greeted me first thing this morning with a  hearty "Top o' the mornin' to ya!" and made me laugh. 

So, speaking of little P....he's been coming to my desk the past couple of afternoons and Googling photos of spiders. I have no idea why he's so obsessed with spiders all of a sudden but that's all he's wanted to talk about. Today after we looked at some pictures of different types he turned to me and asked (giggling up a storm), "Mrs. spiders have penises?"  Hahahahaha!

After I quit laughing I had to admit that I have no idea whether or not spiders have penises. When I saw him reach for my keyboard to start typing into the search bar, I said, "Don't you Google that on my work computer!" I know him well enough now that I knew that's what he was about to do! Of course, then I had to explain why he couldn't look up the answer. Our district office can and probably does monitor our searches and online activity. It might look a little weird if my bosses saw me looking for spider penises on my work computer! The thought of that really made him giggle, the little imp.

There's never a dull moment with that boy around! 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sweet vs. Salty

Georgie P. Barlow is a total love bug these days. This was his disappointed face last weekend when he thought (mistakenly) that he heard his dad's car in the driveway.

George is so spoiled now that he's the only dog. He gets sweeter and more attached to us by the day.

Marco T. Barlow, on the other hand, doesn't give a flying f**k about any of the niceties of domestication. He wants what he wants, when he wants it, no exceptions. He does life his way. And if you don't like it, well, that's just too bad for you!

Here's the feathered terrorist defying me the other morning when I was attempting to catch him and put him in his cage for the day. He flew away from me every time I got close enough to try to make him climb onto my hand. He very nearly made me late for work with that foolishness! 

And before anyone feels sorry for him, being in a cage all day, please remember that he comes out first thing in the morning....showers with me.....perches on the sink and watches me blow dry my hair and apply makeup....prances around on the kitchen countertops while I cook breakfast.....and then eats his share of oatmeal or cheese toast or eggs while the rest of the family has breakfast...only then is he required to go into his cage because I have to leave for work. He comes out as soon as we get home, and now that the weather is warming up we've been taking him out to the screened porch in the afternoons to get some sunshine and fresh air. Marco lives the life of Riley. 

But does he appreciate it? Look at that defiant feathered face and tell me what you think!

I love both my boys to bits, though. Even when one of them drives me crazy on the regular.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

One whole year

Yesterday afternoon Gregg and I received our second doses of the Covid-19 vaccination. What a relief to know that in two more weeks we'll be fully protected from this dread virus.

It's been almost exactly one year since all this began. I'm glad I didn't know at the time exactly how long the pandemic was going to drag out; I distinctly remember thinking that in a few weeks it would be under control and life would get back to normal. Haha!

I'm thankful for science and the worldwide effort it took to get effective vaccines developed and distributed in such a short amount of time. Well, short is relative but you know what I mean. With all the loss of life and all the suffering, I'm also grateful that neither we nor anyone we're close to and love have gotten seriously ill or died. (I should qualify that and add the word yet so as not to tempt fate). 

So far the side effects from the second shot have been mild. My arm started to hurt sooner this time and was (and is) terribly sore. I had crazy dreams all night and when I woke up this morning I felt jittery and weak and out of sorts, kind of like when you're recovering from a bout of the flu. A good dose of Motrin helped a lot and as I sit here typing this, I feel mostly fine. Maybe a little tired. Gregg felt totally normal this morning and went to work as usual. His arm didn't even get sore this time.

It's strange to think about being able to do social things again soon. I feel a bit gun shy about it, to be honest. The first few times I meet up with other vaccinated friends without masks and without social distancing, I think I'm going to be uncomfortable. After a full year of forced vigilance and fear of getting sick, I can't imagine being able to immediately turn off the anxiety. And some things are probably over forever, like blowing out candles on birthday cakes. It's definitely going to be a "new" normal. I wonder what that will look like?

Still, the President has said that he wants vaccines offered to all adults without exceptions by May 1st, and we're on track to be able to celebrate a normal Independence Day holiday. That sounds good to me! The fourth of July seems like a reasonable target for a return to normalcy if everyone has a chance to get vaccinated starting in May. 

Friday, March 5, 2021

Friday morning pictures

 I just couldn't resist: here are two more photos of the beautiful magnolia tree next door. 

According to Luella, my 82 year old neighbor who lives here, the tree was already there when she and her late husband bought the house in 1972. That means this tree is well over fifty years old! Luella says that it's been a joy to her every spring for all these years and that her children and grandchildren grew up playing under it. How wonderful is that? 

Speaking of trees, I'm eagerly awaiting new leaf buds on the little fig tree I grew from cuttings and planted in the back yard last October. So far, not much seems to be happening. 

Nothing but bare sticks... 

Then again, the pomegranate tree is still completely bare and I know it's doing well. I planted it in the ground on March 10, 2019 (our first spring in this house) after keeping it in a pot for almost a decade. In the two years since it's grown really fast, maybe to make up for all that lost time it spent confined to a pot!  It's early yet; I think it typically starts to leaf out at the end of March. The Crepe Myrtle trees will be even later than that. So it's probably too soon to expect to see leaves and new growth on the fig--I'm just anxious know if it survived the winter! I think it probably did, but we'll see.

All of a sudden our seemingly never-ending rain and cloudy days have given way to bright blue skies and lots of sunshine. It's still chilly and gets down close to freezing some nights, but the air seems to have a mild edge to it. Spring has definitely begun in this part of South Carolina. Even George has been enjoying hanging out in the yard lately, and he's the most inside-loving dog I've ever had. Here he was a few minutes ago, just standing there soaking up some rays. Doggy bliss.

Have a good weekend, friends!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021



As March rolled in, my next door neighbor's tulip magnolia began to burst into bloom. Only about half of the flower buds have opened so far, so there's still a lot of loveliness left to come. This picture doesn't do this glorious tree justice! It's the largest, most shapely specimen of a tulip magnolia I've ever seen, and it blooms its heart out every year. A nice beginning to the month of March.

Hello, blog friends! How have you been? I've been reading your blogs but have had very little time to comment in the past week, much less write my own posts. I've been on a mission for a few weeks now to get healthier which has included cooking and eating a healthy breakfast each morning, packing well-thought out lunches for work each day, and going for longer and more frequent walks with the boys. All of these things soak up extra time, but it's worth it.

I'm really looking forward to my second shot on the twelfth of this month. More than anything, I'm hoping to resume some normal activities afterwards. Just yesterday our state opened up the next tier of vaccine eligibility, and the school district immediately made plans for a huge vaccination event for employees on Friday! It's so big that the entire district is having an all virtual class day so everyone that wants the vaccine can go get it. How awesome is that?! So far over 1000 people are signed up. Of course, I didn't need to take advantage of it but I'm so happy for all the people that do. Also, I get the day (mostly) off since I'll be staying home and answering the phones from here. Now that South Carolina is on phase 1B, people 55 and older, people with pre-existing conditions, and essential workers can all get vaccinated. 

And the President has said that by the end of May, all American adults who want a vaccine will be able to get one. How wonderful to think that by the summer we might have this virus pretty well under control. I want to hug all of my friends again.

It's nice to feel hopeful again and to have stuff to look forward to. What are you looking forward to in the next few months?

Wednesday, February 24, 2021


Since I don't have any one particular topic to write about today, I thought I'd do a blogpost of some random stuff that's on my mind today.

  • It's been a good couple of days for wildlife sightings in the neighborhood. Yesterday morning while out walking the dog we saw an owl being chased and harassed by several tiny songbirds. After moving from one pine tree to another, he (or she) finally gave up and flew away into the woods to escape the little tormentors. Then last night when we went out for our after-dinner walk, there were 4 deer standing in the yard across the street, calmly watching us walk past. They never run away as long as we stay quiet and move on after looking at them for a minute. George doesn't even bark at them these days! Then this morning we saw a pair of Cooper's hawks flying from tree to tree and calling to each other. None of these animals seem particularly afraid of us--obviously they see us twice a day, every day, and know that we mean them no harm.
  • Around lunchtime at work today both sides of my stomach started to itch. I went to the bathroom and had a look, and small red bumps had broken out on both sides. The shirt I was wearing had some scratchy stitching on the inside, which was just irritating it even more. I went to the nurse, who raised the possibility that it could be a vaccine side effect. I hadn't considered that! She said she's heard of some mild rashes developing (in a very small number of people) several days after a shot, but that it's not considered too serious and isn't a reason to pass on the second shot. She said that if it gets worse to see the doctor, but in the meantime she gave me some cortisone cream to rub on it, a Benadryl to take, a soft school tee shirt to change into. All that made it feel much better, but the Benadryl made me terribly sleepy for the rest of the afternoon! It seems better now, though, so maybe it was just the scratchy shirt and not the vaccine at all. Who knows? And unless something dramatic happens I'll be getting my second shot bright and early on March 12.
  • Speaking of the vaccine, I found out yesterday that a friend's dad had died of Covid last week. His mother is still in the hospital (she got sick too) but is expected to recover. He wrote a moving post about his dad for Facebook and added this to the end of it: And to everyone, I know we hear this all the time, but please wear a mask. My Dad took so many precautions and this terrible disease still touched our lives. If we all pitch in, some family out there can avoid going through the same pain ours is in right now. Thank you guys, and love to all our family and friends. I'm so sad for this guy. We used to work together, and he's among one of the best men I know. Seeing so many people out and about in our town without masks feels like a slap in the face after getting this news about a friend's family. I have nothing but contempt for them.
  • And on a lighter note...let me tell you the latest about my buddy Little P. Yesterday when he arrived at the school I asked him what he wants for his birthday. If you remember, we share a birthday and it's coming up in March. Well, he immediately told me that he got a Nintendo Switch for Christmas but he only has one game for it and he wants the Mario Kart (??) game. Since I don't know the first thing about video games (and feel slightly opposed to buying them for kids on principle) I said, "What else would you like?" but he wouldn't name anything else he wants. So I said, "Well, we'll see." Fast forward to this morning, and Little P.'s mom said that all he talked about last night was "Mrs. Barlow is going to get me a birthday present and it's going to be Mario Kart!!" Ummmm.....that is certainly NOT what I said! Haha. So when I saw him this afternoon (like the sucker I am) I asked him to tell me more about these games he wants. Sigh. And then that spoiled little boy had the nerve to ask me, "Mrs. Barlow, can I have my birthday present early? Can you get it for me tonight and give it to me tomorrow?" Of course I told him "NO WAY! You'll have to wait!" and refused to budge. I know I indulge him too much, but I do have some limits. Some.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Mixed feelings

 It's a beautiful sunny day here, the nicest we've had in ages. I love seeing blue sky after so much rain and all the dreary gray days. Although it's still cold out, today's the first day it's felt like spring is on the way. I'm so ready for it this year!

Late last night my left arm started to hurt from the vaccine shot. I couldn't sleep on my left side because of it and every time I rolled over in my sleep it woke me up. I also had a couple of nightmares which is unusual for me. Stress dreams, yes, but not nightmares. It may have been a result of the painful arm, or maybe it was a side effect from the vaccine itself. Either way, it's  a small price to pay for getting protection from Covid. I feel fine today aside from the sore arm.

I'm feeling a bit embarrassed by getting vaccinated so soon when so many people are still waiting for a chance. I want to tell friends about it (because it's exciting!) but I have this vague nagging feeling that I've somehow done something wrong. So many people who by rights should be ahead of me in line are still weeks or even months out, and I feel guilty about that. I've been assured that I'm being silly to feel this way. Here's how it worked out. 

A friend of Gregg's works in a large medical building here in town, and they're offering eligible people (patients and employees) the vaccine. They have to thaw out enough each day to meet likely demand. Some people fail to show for appointments, and (this blew me away) over half of the employees haven't had their first shots yet and are hesitating out of fear. So rather than risking having to throw away precious doses, the administration has quietly encouraged staff to bring in family members late in the afternoon to use up whatever's left. Of course, this is a friend, not family, but he knows about Gregg having had lung cancer and only having one lung. He's seen the devastation Covid can inflict on healthy people with no underlying issues, and he was quite adamant in inviting Gregg to come get his shot. Then he was kind enough to insist that it was perfectly okay for me to come, too. So I wasn't getting in line ahead of anyone, simply using a shot that might have ended up in the trash. 

Still, I'm very conscious of what a privilege it is to be getting the shots so early. I probably won't be shouting it from the rooftops, even though it made me want to jump for joy just out of sheer relief! I wish all my friends and all my family could get their first shots today (I include all you reading here when I say that) but as every person gets their turn we're one step closer to protection for us all. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

First of two


I got my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine this afternoon. I barely felt the needle, my arm is only very slightly sore, and so far there haven't been any other side effects. Oh, and we got these cute purple wrist bands!

Shot number two is set for March 12. I'm very, very grateful for the friend who made this happen. 

Thursday, February 18, 2021


 Guess what?! Gregg and I both have appointments to get our first jabs tomorrow! The friend offered to get me in, too, and I was thrilled to accept! 

My principal was happy to let me have tomorrow afternoon off for such an important event. We have a 2:30 appointment. 

I'm so excited and grateful! I'll have to bake the friend a cake or cookies or something as a thank you. I feel incredibly fortunate! 

I'll check in tomorrow and let you know how it went.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021


 It's already the midpoint of the work week, thanks to having Monday off. I'm glad. My job is really slow and boring these days thanks to the pandemic. Our in-person student enrollment is way down and we strictly limit visitors allowed in the front office. I can't wait until next year when things are expected to be almost back to normal. They've released the calendar for 2021/2022 and are planning to have all the students back in person five days a week. They're planning to get us all vaccinated well before then to make it safe. We'll see if it actually works out, but I do hope so.

Speaking of vaccines, Gregg texted me this afternoon to tell me that a friend of his who works at one of the hospitals has offered to get him in for his first jab on Friday! I'm really happy about that. It will be a load off my mind to see him vaccinated and safe. 

After a solid week of cold, gray, rainy weather, we finally had a sunny day yesterday (our first day back at work after the long weekend, because of course). Today started off clear but by lunchtime the dark clouds had rolled back in and we're in for more rain and gloom for the rest of the week. I won't complain, because my friend Meg in Texas just went three days without power or water thanks to a snow/ice storm hammering the state. She has a husband and three young children, and they've been really roughing it out there. It was 43F in her house when their power finally came back on a little while ago, and they're still boiling snow for washing and using bottled water for drinking. Several days of cold rain is nothing compared to that!

There was one ray of sunshine this afternoon, though: Little P.! He had a new trick to show me that he had learned in school. He lifted his shirt, stuck his right cupped hand under his left armpit, and proceeded to make farting sounds by cranking his arm up and down. He thought it was the FUNNIEST THING EVER. He had to demonstrate it to me several times, and he even tried to play "Old McDonald Had a Farm" with fart noises. (!!!) At some point he informed me "If you don't wear deodorant it's even more real!!!"  

All I could do was laugh and laugh. That boy is something else.

That's all I've got for now. Happy Humpday, everybody!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Soggy Saturday odds and ends

 This is life around here at the moment.

According to our local weather guy, Ed Piotrowski, out of 44 days in this year so far, our area has had at least some rain on 29 of them. It's pouring today and the forecast doesn't call for any dry weather until next Wednesday or Thursday! Ed says that we're above average in actual rainfall but nowhere near records, so for the moment at least we're not having any substantial flooding problems. Everyone is longing to see some sunshine, though. A couple hours' drive to the north and you'd run into a lot of snow and ice. I suppose you could say that we're lucky in just having cold rain to contend with, but it's disappointing to not even get a little bit of snow with all this precipitation. At least snow is a pretty novelty in these parts, whereas rain is just messy and cold and yuck. 

I've also noticed that nothing is blooming early this year. Normally if we have lots of sun and plenty of rain in February trees will start to flower prematurely, and then we worry about a hard freeze ruining them. There are buds swelling, but no signs of blooming yet. (That's a good thing). I'm looking forward to my next door neighbor's magnificent tulip magnolia coming into flower, and the redbuds off in the woods turning pink. At this point I'd just be satisfied to see a little sun, though!

Poor George. He hates going out in the rain to pee and poop. For that matter, he hates going out when the ground is wet even if it's stopped raining for a while. He'll hold it and hold it until I get worried and put a leash on him and make him go out. Such a prissy way for a big giant half pit bull to act! Ginger never was that finicky, but then she spent her first three years living the life of a carefree country dog. She loved being outdoors in all kinds of weather. George came straight from the shelter to a suburban neighborhood home and he definitely wants to be an inside dog. 

                                                               Rain is for suckers.

There's nothing much to blog about today. 

Oh, wait, I remember something I wanted to tell you about from last night! It's pretty gross and it made me so mad! On Wednesday I bought a pre-seasoned pork roast that is meant to be made into pulled pork. You put this brand of roast in the crockpot on high heat for 4 hours and then shred it up when it's done. We've had one before and it was yummy. So I bought one on Wednesday to be cooked Friday afternoon. I got off work early yesterday (and it's a long weekend, yay!) so I dashed home and put it on to cook so we could eat at a reasonable time. When the roast slid out of the packaging I noticed it had a kind of  odd, almost slimy texture. I thought that was probably because of all the spices and sauce rubbed into the meat, and again, I was hurrying to get the 4 hour cooking time started so I didn't stop to look closely. Mistake. At 7:30, when it was time to eat, I shredded the meat and noted it had a kind of weird smell. So I sampled a small bite. And it was most definitely off. It tasted kind of sour, and not in a good vinegar-based sauce kind of way. By now alarm bells were ringing in my head, so I dug in the trash.....

Then I flipped the package over and had a look at the expiration date. 

I nearly threw up. I had swallowed a small bite of pork that had been expired for a month.

I'll be going to the Food Lion down the road and finding the manager today to complain. This particular store has been going downhill lately but this is a bit too much. A person could get seriously ill from expired pork! Last week I was in the other Food Lion a couple miles away (the one I shopped at before we moved to this house) and I was stunned at how much cleaner, brighter, and well stocked it was compared to the one I've been using. After I go complain today, I think I resume shopping at the other location even though it's a tiny bit less convenient to get to. And you can bet I'll be checking dates on food a lot more closely from now on.

I didn't realize it was a long weekend until late last week. Monday is President's Day. I wish there was somewhere to go, or something different to do, but there just isn't. It's wet, it's February, and there's still a pandemic. Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, but I don't imagine many people are feeling very romantic this year. It's never a big deal in this house, but I'll be glad for the chance to buy discounted chocolates on Monday. And for the extra day off, of course, even if I spend it at home, sitting inside...again. 

What about you, dear reader? What's going on in your world this weekend? I hope you all find small ways to treat yourself to something you enjoy over the next couple of days. Goodness knows we all can use it right now!

Wednesday, February 10, 2021


I've mentioned before how much I love all the animals we see in our neighborhood. The proximity to portions of Jeffries Creek makes this a great part of the county to live in if you want to see many varied mammal, bird, amphibian, and reptile species. We didn't realize it would be that way when we bought this house, because we're right off busy Hwy 76 and less than a mile from the center of the city. What a lucky break! When we lived way out in the country back in 2007-2010, we reveled in the wildlife and the quiet, but the 40 minute commute to work (which we couldn't share because we had very different schedules) got to be too much. It was a pretty place, though, and we were sorry to leave.

When we first found this house and bought it we liked the fact that even though it was off a main highway, it was tucked away and had no through-access. It's a half mile loop that's tucked away with woods and creek bottoms on one side. We've seen all kinds of animals, from large turtles to owls to foxes. Then there's the deer. We see two or three deer several times a week on our early morning/late evening walks with George. One neighbor, we discovered, was feeding some at her back fence early, early in the mornings late last fall. We would always stop and look for a minute, then move on. But we hadn't seen them lately.

Then yesterday morning as we walked past this neighbor's house, her dog was in the back yard for a change and barking loudly at us as we passed. Just as we both were about to say "So much for seeing the deer today..." we realized two does were standing at the fence, behind the fiercely barking dog, completely unfazed and apparently waiting for their breakfast! The dog obviously didn't mind the deer and vice versa. We couldn't believe our eyes! Then the woman walked out, saw us looking, and waved. All the while the two does stood there patiently, looking back at us. How cool is that?

We see two and sometimes three deer at night in other parts of the neighborhood, too. I'm sure it's the same ones. When we see them, we always stop for a minute and look and then slowly move on. They never seem afraid, nor do they bolt. They just look back at us and watch us pass. It's almost like we have neighborhood pet deer and I love it so much! A close encounter with them always gives me a few moments of pure joy. Those are few and far between these days, so I savor them.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Saturday ramble

Well, the weekend has rolled around again and once again, we have a gray, chilly, wet day. We've had a lot of rain this year, and consistently cold temperatures. I don't mind the cold but the endless gloom is getting old. On the rare afternoons when it's not totally overcast it's been heartening to see the extra minutes of daylight we've gained so far. 

An email went out at work last week that the district is making plans for our vaccine rollout. They've been partnering with one of the local hospitals to make sure that as soon as the shots are available to school employees we'll be able to get them. That was nice, but then later that same day I heard on the news that our lovely Guh-vuh-nuh (Ol' Foghorn Leghorn, as I like to call him, the bastard) is balking at the state department's insistence that educators need to be cleared for the vaccines. This is after he's pushed and pushed for schools to remain open, no matter what. So who knows when it will happen, but I'm hopeful that by the beginning of March our turn will come. The school nurse had her second shot on Thursday, lucky thing, as all school nurses and some types of therapists were already given the green light. What a relief it must be for her! I can't wait for my turn.

Saturdays have been long and lonely for me lately. Gregg works until 7pm or a bit later on Saturdays these days in exchange for an extra day off each week (Sundays). Pre-pandemic I treasured time at home by myself, but now that that's my only option on Saturdays I'm growing tired of it. Hopefully by the summer most of our friends and family will have had the vaccine and we can relax a little about socializing.

I was thinking that I'd like to host a small cookout this summer--Marla and Martina along with their husbands, Toyo and Will, as long as we're all vaccinated by then. It would be so good to have a small gathering of friends, mask free, when we can all be together and talk and eat and laugh and feel like normal human beings again. It's nice to look ahead to that time and plan for a party (or two) to celebrate. It's something I've been thinking about all day today.

I did go out and run a few errands after lunch. I picked up a prescription for Gregg at the drugstore, went by the bank to make an ATM deposit, then to the grocery store for a big (much needed) shop. I even went by the butcher shop and restocked our freezer with meats, since we've almost finished what I stocked up on back in the fall. I've also started making a "spring cleaning" list for the house. If we're going to be able to finally invite people over by the start of summer, I'd like to give the whole house a good deep cleaning between now and then. 

Are you making any plans for your post-jab year? What are you looking forward to most by the time summer gets here?

Oh, and just for fun....I thought this might make you smile. It made me smile. Have a good weekend, everyone.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021


A few minutes after I got to work this morning I was nearly overcome with the nastiest, most nauseating smell you can imagine. It kept getting worse and worse, and when I went to the little kitchenette in the office area to put my lunch in the refrigerator, I nearly puked. There's a microwave in there and it was obvious that's where the smell was originating. It was so strong it permeated the hallway and the main office and the whole general area. Gag, gag, gag!!!

 "What is that awful smell?!?! I started asking everyone. It just seemed to get stronger and stronger! The bookkeeper finally got an answer. Prepare yourselves for the scenario I'm about to describe to you. And a warning: if you have a weak stomach, don't read any further!

One of our coworkers had stopped by a local deli that serves breakfast, and had picked up a "to go" box which she brought in and reheated in our common microwave. What could it possibly be, you might ask. What breakfast food could she possibly have heated up, the smell of which had several people gagging and nearly throwing up their breakfasts? Breakfast food is usually fairly benign! Friends, she had eaten.........

Salmon and grits.

You read that right. Salmon and grits! For the love of God, why..............just WHY..........would anyone eat that in the first place, let alone heat it up in a shared microwave at work?!?!?! And the woman who did it thought it was funny. She says she enjoyed every bite and loves eating fish with grits at breakfast.

I was so mad. The bookkeeper jokingly yelled, "Mrs. Barlow can't work under these conditions!" but the truth was I didn't think it was funny. Not at all. How inconsiderate can people be? I was so mad I texted Gregg about it and even said (and this was unkind of me) "no wonder her husband left her!" It turned my stomach to the point I wasn't even over it by lunchtime even though the smell had dissipated by then. I threw most of my lunch away. I still felt queasy and just couldn't eat. 

If I could think of some way to retaliate I'd totally go for it, but clearly anyone who can reheat fish in a microwave at 8:00 in the morning and eat it for breakfast has a cast-iron stomach that no smell could deter. Holy moly. What a way to start the day!

And it is pretty funny to :)

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Got snow?

No? Do you want it to snow? If so, I have good news!

My 7 year old friend Little P. shared a method for summoning snow with me this afternoon and it's sure to work!

Step 1: Flush ice cubes down the toilet. 

Step 2: Put your pajamas on backwards.

Step 3: Put a spoon under your pillow, then go to sleep.

And voila! Here comes a snow day!

So says a little boy who's longing to see some snow for the first time. I hope he gets his wish.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Just sad

February is here, and this morning dawned gray and wet and cold. Unfortunately we won't be getting any of the snow that's blanketing the northeast. Just dull, cold, wet weather that makes you want to stay home and hibernate. 

No chance of that here. I'm typing this on my phone, at work. It's so quiet here today. Half of the office staff are out for one reason or another, and I hear we have lots of absent teachers. One of the absent teachers actually showed up at work today after her husband tested positive for Covid because she "needed to pick up some items".  Seriously. It makes you wonder how some people manage to finish college and get teaching jobs when they're so lacking in common sense. Of course, she was sent back home immediately, hopefully before she had a chance to spread her germs around. I'm glad I come in to work at 8:30, after she'd already left. 

I'm feeling so down in the dumps today. Saturday was a long lonely day at home (Gregg was working all day) and I couldn't shake my feeling of sadness. Late in the afternoon a friend from my book club called to give me the news that two of our members are in the process of moving away. That made me even sadder. Who knows if I'll get to see them again before they go--probably not. For that matter, who knows if we'll ever be able to resume meeting up when this virus is under control. Life doesn't stay static as the months continue to pass. People go on with their lives. I'm beginning to think nothing will ever be the same again.

It's unusual for me to feel sad for days on end like this. I try hard not to complain about Covid restrictions because I recognize how lucky I am in a lot of ways. But I'm missing my friends and my family (the ones I still have a relationship with, anyway) and most of all I still miss Ginger terribly. Things just seem like shit at the moment, to be honest. 

Sorry about the negativity. That's all I've got today.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


 This morning I asked our school nurse how she felt about us coming back to work and the kids coming back to school (in person) while the pandemic continues to rage through our community. We were discussing how bad our county's numbers still are, how many people we knew of that are seriously ill, how many people have died. Just yesterday the son of a friend of ours stopped by the pet store to tell Gregg that his dad had just died of Covid. The nicest man you'd ever want to meet, with three kids (two of whom are in their late teens), gone. Our school resource officer, listening to our conversation, told us his 47 year old brother just died from Covid over the Christmas break. These stories are everywhere at the moment. The nurse told me she's torn on the issue. She said her feelings about whether to come back are pretty much a 50/50 split between whether or not it's the right thing to do. I certainly understand where she's coming from.

Part of me thinks that a year or so of lost schooling, bad grades, and truancy (all serious problems since last March) can be made up, but a life can never be replaced. And so many people in our community are still being so very irresponsible. A large group of well-to-do parents at the high school our middle school feeds into took it upon themselves to host a large dance at the local country club last weekend, and then filled up social media with pictures of their two dozen or so kids dancing, posing for photos, and having a grand old time---with no masks, no social distancing, and no mention of any safety protocols. They were upset that the school wasn't hosting the dance this year and decided that their precious teenagers shouldn't have to "miss out". The district office even shared these photos on Facebook, then quickly deleted those posts when there was a huge community outcry. That was last weekend--right before we all came back to school face-to-face. 

The sheer callousness and entitlement made me furious. Just furious. These people have zero respect for the lives or well being of others. I wish there was some way to make all those parents and their bratty kids stay home and quarantine until we can be sure they're not carriers, but of course we can't. And besides, what good would it do? If they'll be so blatant about an expensive social event as to put it all over Facebook, what kind of precautions must they be taking on ordinary days? Probably next to none. 

But then there's another angle to our schools being out that I can't stop thinking about. There's a sweet little boy in our disabled class who lives in foster care. He's non verbal and sometimes has to use a wheelchair. A couple of months ago when he arrived at school for the day and the classroom staff went to change his diaper, they saw visible evidence that he had been abused. They called the school nurse down to have a look and to get her opinion, and she immediately said, "Call DSS. And this child needs to go to the hospital." What a blessing that this poor boy had the school staff to look out for signs of abuse and to help him! And if we'd not been at school that week, no one would have known. I shudder to think of all the things that can slip through the cracks more easily when kids aren't at school. Then, of course, we have so many kids that depend on us for things like two full meals a day. They have drive-through meal pickups every day while we're out on virtual learning, but how many poor folks lack transportation to come and get it? Despite all best efforts to provide services to poor kids, they're definitely at a disadvantage when we're forced to stay home. Also, for lots of our students school is a safe place where they get emotional support, too, and I'm sure schools closing are damaging to their mental health. (Another reason why I get so mad when I hear the wealthy parents of the popular kids whining about their little snowflakes "missing out" on parties and sporting events and dances!)

So I'm kind of like the school nurse: split 50/50 on whether it's a good idea for us to be back at school in person. What do you think? Do the risks outweigh the benefits, or vice versa?

 Georgie feels the same way I do about returning to an early wake up time this week. (I'm back at work).