2006 Notes

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Jan. 2006 Catchup April 2006 August 2006 October 2006 November 2006 Thanksgiving


 I have not been doing a very good job of getting update letters off to people.  I look at the return addresses on the Christmas cards we got this year and am embarrassed at how long it has been since I have written.

Jan. 2006 This last year has been one of changes.  I retired on Social Security at 62 in November 2004 as my feet got worse.  Gigi followed me mid-summer 2005, but on disability when imbalance and hearing problems began making her work risky and non-functional.  The processing has just been completed and the money started arriving.  As that was coming to a peak last summer, Dolly, Gigiís black lab Seeing Eye dog suddenly died from an embolism, appearing healthy at 6:15 am and dead by 6:45.  Gigi had to go without a dog from July into October because of the usual summer rush at the Eye, coming home with Elana, a yellow lab/golden mix that looks mostly like a lab. (pictures on the web site firthm/1019.htm#ELANA ) who seems a very good dog.

 On a much less human level, the microwave suddenly decided to not cook and the CD player pooped out.  The weather has been quite weird.  It got very cold early then has set record highs in December and January.  Last year was the 5th driest on record and we have had a fraction of an inch of rain since mid-November.

  My ongoing project to locate paintings by my great aunt Louise Kelly and to pin down her birth date made some interesting progress on my trip to the upper Midwest last summer and in reading microfilms of newspapers of Carrington, ND, where she lived through WWI.  I have gotten her birthday down to the last half of June 1876 and additional images of paintings and progress reports can be found on louise.htm   The newspapers have extensive personals that are partly submitted by the people involved, but it turns out her husband was prominent enough that the editor probably threw in bits on his own.  Among other tidbits, he was head of the North Dakota delegation at the Republican convention in 1920 and gave the seconding speech for the V.P., Calvin Coolidge. 

  Gigi, having no longer to go to work every day, has taken up her knitting from over 20 years ago and begun polishing her skills.  She walks to the library (1 mile) every Tuesday for a Knit Wits knitting group that gives advice and works on a project to make little knitted caps for newborns at Parkland, the county hospital, 1600 last year.  She has also make scarves, balaclavas, sweaters and other items.  Got written up in Morning News and on Channel 8.

  Other days she goes over to Mt. Auburn Elementary, around the corner and across the street and volunteers in a classroom of pre-kinders.  They like her enough that they have proposed she take over an aide job through May.  She has to be careful how much she earns.   She is taking the certification classes for proofreading Braille in Garland, on Tuesday morning for nine months.  She has dropped out of the NFB.  She is being a volunteer receptionist with Blind Ambitions Groups which creates small support groups for the blind and does job training.  I am maintaining their web site for a while.

  I have just started (1/6) as volunteer editor for the Radio Reading Resource Newspaper of the Air, in which I take apart the two local papers for Friday and assemble the articles according to rough pattern I am given so four guys/gals can read them alternately over two hours.  Took me five hours the first time.  I have plenty to do otherwise including shopping, house care - cleaning, maintenance and painting, digging through the accumulated stuff and selling some and many projects more or less related to using the shop/garage and blowing glass.  I am continuing work on my massive (250+ pages) glass website.  My donations to Empty Bowls this year after all fused bowls, mostly from broken glass soda bottles with a couple of small pieces of glass from broken window glass.

  2006-04-01 A week ago, I took my bicycle to Ft. Worth on bus and train to tour the museums over there, something I do once a month or so because they have three very nice ones within a few but I now find I can not walk the blocks and the museums before my les go out.  So I planned to bike between.  That got spoiled by the locations where I had to fasten down the bike and walking from them, but the trip ended with an accident that was totally my stupidity Ė I pitched over the handlebars going down a ramp and wrenched my left knee and bruised several places.  When I found I could stand without pain if I was very careful how I used my leg, I used the bike as a walker and slowly made it to the bus stop (after convincing museum security I was an idiot and assuring them I had a cell phone if I went down) and thence to train and bus home rather than get involved in emergency services in Ft. Worth and getting home from there.  The remains of the day, plus Sunday and Monday were spent with ice packs and leftover Darvoset and plenty of sleep.  Monday was spent discovering my and Gigiís knee surgeon no longer takes our insurance and finding a new one and getting an appointment, on Wednesday.  That showed that the steady improvement I had seen was a good test and nothing was broken or torn.  I have been thinking of getting something small and motorized because of limits on walking, now I am thinking of mobility scooter because of acceptability on buses and in museums.

  My computer has been really bugging me because it has become very, verrrrrrry, verrrrry, slowwwwwww when several programs are loaded, which is the way I work.  The final straw was getting Visual BASIC Express, which is free and which will supposedly run in 128 Meg, which I have, but not with anything else loaded, taking minutes to switch between programs.  So I looked into getting more memory.  Now, several years ago,  I spent several hundred dollars to upgrade a new machine from 1 Meg to 4 so I was gritting my teeth as I called Dell.  An upgrade adding 512 Meg is under $60!  So I got it.   And installed it.  And the difference is astounding.  My first test was loading VBEx and then getting e-mail, not only was there no delay switching programs, but downloading e-mail began instantly instead of the long delay for the first message I had become used to.   If you are running Windows XP on a machine with only 128M, strongly recommend the addition if you find anything happening slowly.


12 August 2006  Itís been a while since I wrote. Iíll include the general notes from earlier that I may have already sent you.

  We got DSL two weeks ago and have found it astonishingly helpful.  We expected a speed increase from dialup but the decreased tension from having only one phone line and the convenience of being able to jump on, get e-mail without waiting for dialing or download time was unexpected.  Our habits have changed.   To get DSL, being just beyond the 12000 foot limit by a few hundred feet in the middle of Dallas, I had to rattle cages by suggesting that AT&T/SBC was not planning on extending service because it was a minority neighborhood.  It didnít solve connections for the neighborhood, but they sent a tech to test the signal level and with new direct wiring across the house, instead of a compromised speed which I was told to expect because of the distance, test programs and experience are showing full DSL speed.

  After almost two months, my knee recovered to a comfort level, but I had gained 20 pounds from inactivity and was over 300 some days.  The bike not having worked as a transport mechanism, I asked my doctors for a mobility scooter for use on trips when I had to travel a distance then walk a bunch, like my beloved museum trips where I have to walk between museums (even if I take a car) and within them.  After jumping through hoops for the medical and insurance people with documentation, I finally got the scooter a couple of weeks back. So far an expedition across Fair Park after getting off the bus to see an exhibit on Einstein and traveling across downtown to the three close together Dallas museums.  I also took a long bus and train ride to far south Dallas to check out routing for Suzanne Whalen, a blind woman in a wheelchair with a guide dog, who had been told there was no route to her physical therapy.

  By the way, I had come to the conclusion that there had to be a wheelchair route partly from experience in the area a couple of years back, but mostly because of the detail offered by Google Earth and a local city database.   Of course, with DSL, Google Earth is much faster, but it was acceptable even on dialup.  To see what I mean, if you have access to Google Earth, fly to York & Bolton Boone, Dallas, TX and zoom to about 1600 feet altitude.  Depending on sun angle and shadows, you can actually tell which corners have curbs and where ramps are.  If you zoom up to 2500 ft., Suzanne wanted to go from the hospital on the right to the last building on the left north of York.  Bolton Boone divides Dallas (right) from Desoto (left).  DART Handirides for the handicapped will deliver to the hospital, but Desoto is not a member of DART.   For more on the story of Suzanne and her Seeing Eye dog Caddo retrained, if you have internet look at my page firthm/suzcaddo.htm

  Gigi has continued her knitting, the group being up to 1600 baby caps through July, but she is spending long hours as volunteer Treasurer and office manager for Blind Ambitions Groups for which I am doing web and office computer management. www.blindambitionsgroups.org   The group got way behind on paperwork processing and while their leader is a terrific people person (sample the radio shows linked off Sounds of Sight on the home page), he needs organization help.  Her dog is doing very good work.

  It has been incredibly dry here. Reservoirs are way down. 31 days without rain, then 0.9 inches softly over a day.  Storms, when they happen, are very localized.   The day after we got the 0.9, a cell about a mile or two across moved along a parallel path to ours but down the other side of downtown and water was curb deep in the streets, but we got not a drop.  Although the average temp is supposed to be 96F, we are getting day after day of 101-103F.  Grass is crackling dry when walking on it and watering restrictions in effect all over area, mostly to not sprinkle during hottest part of day Ė 10-6 Ė but hand watering and soaking still okay as long as no runoff in street.  But you still have to pay for water.  I have done a grey water arrangement so I can use drain water from tub to keep features like pecan tree and roses alive.  Water front about once a week to save roots and wash off results of visiting and local dogs..

1 October 2006  Well, September saw a number of changes. Regular rain was good.  In the first week 3 kittens showed up in the back yard, apparently looking for water at the bird feeder, but ran off when I approached them.  On Labor Day it rained and I was cooking brisket outdoors under shelter when I noticed the three of them huddled up together soaking wet on a plastic water valve cover.  So I gathered them up, took them inside and began working on them.  A bath in hand soap in the kitchen sink took off the gunk and most of the fleas and each of three blind women on hand for dinner took a towel and dried them out while socializing them.  A call to the Emergency Animal Clinic and a miscall on their age, suggested Kitten Formula and not milk and I spent the time after mid-day supper tracking it down and getting some via bus.   It turned out that when a vet saw them the next day, he said they were about 4 weeks old and moist canned food and dry kitten kibble should be fine, which it was.  The kittens weighed 10 or 11 ounces at the vet.  They put on half a pound a week and today the person who said she would take two of them came and got 2 pound kittens.




The three kittens looked like this. I chose names while I was out getting formula: Ebony, Amber, and Marble.  The two black and white ones are female while the orange one is male.  The new owner of the two on the right has dubbed them Punch and Judy, which seems very appropriate to their rough and tumble play.  They were much more assertive than the one on the left which we kept, which I renamed Spots for fairly obvious reasons and also attitude.  Spots seemed to fit much better than Marble. Three young kittens relaxed

These pictures, taken mid-month, show the most common activity of the three, especially that of the two to the right -- wrestling.


Young kittens tussling
  Young kittens playing
We were concerned that Spots might pine for her missing siblings, but when I opened the bedroom door this evening, this is the scene I found.  The kitten certainly having taken possession of place.  When I laid down, she began playing on me and with me and when I turned off the light, curled up tight against me. Spots kitten alone on bed with Gigi asleep


November 5, 2006
Spots is up to 3# 10oz plus.  We spent two days in each of the last two weeks taking and recovering Suzanne's Caddo suzcaddo.htm at the Texas A&M vet school to try to diagnose bowel and weight loss problems.  The result  is a special diet that may be a solution but it will take time to find out.  Spots stayed home alone for both trips without problems.
Spots kitten on monitor playing with previous picture of Spots kitten playing with monitor and mouse cursor and just sitting.
Kitten on monitor playing with image of kitten on monitor playing with screen Kitten on monitor sitting over image of kitten playing with screen

Having worked a lot of hours for Blind Ambitions Groups we have stopped being involved following dissatisfaction with organization of the group.  Gigi had been treasurer and I had been doing onsite computer related stuff.  I am still doing website www.blindambitionsgroups.org  maintenance, which I took on as a volunteer.

Beginning in January 2006, I began volunteering at Radio Reading and Recording, by editing the Friday Newspaper of the Air which involves cutting up the Dallas and Ft. Worth daily newspapers and arranging the stories for four other people to read in pairs for an hour each.  It takes me 3-4 hours to do the job.  Picture taken in March.  . 2006-04-26 Mike Firth at Radio Reading Resource


Spots the kitten and Elana the Seeing Eye Dog and Gigi and I traveled to Dry Prong, Louisiana (north of Alexandria) for Thanksgiving with my in-laws, staying with my mother-in-law, who I like a lot.  Also along was an afghan Gigi is knitting as a gift for an eye vet that has examined for free for years hers and other Seeing Eye Dogs.  The multi-panel quilt-like thing is almost another guest as it grew in size.  Each smaller panel features a puppy paw print and it certainly attracted positive comments as she worked on it.  This was the first long car trip for Spots and for Gigi with a cat and she was concerned about keeping it under control.  I had traveled in RV and car with my previous cats and was less concerned and by the time the trip was over, Spots was dozing or playing without problems in the car.  As you can see at right, a totally relaxed cat next to Gigi's leg and above Elana's head is almost ready to slide off the seat (and while using a cell phone while driving is obviously dangerous, few people take pictures while driving so the risk has not been analyzed .... 2006-11-27
And to be fair to the other travelers, here is a nice picture of Gigi and Elana on their way to church.  The weather for our visit was brisk and felt more like New England on our first days when frost killed off some of the more delicate flowers and plants.
Like Thanksgiving, we spent Christmas with Gigi's mother, all her brothers and sisters making it into town.
  After the originally planned week, Spots the cat and I drove back from Louisiana.  As you can see she was intensely interested in helping me drive.  She also wandered around the car and on the dashboard, but "safety" considerations prevented me from trying for those pictures (yah, really, but they weren't that cute.) 
  After the first stop, she realized that getting off the expressway meant she was going into the carrier, so at the next one she abandoned my lap and went under the back seat.  Staying there till I got back in the car, took my nap and started on the interstate again, when she promptly climbed back into my lap.  The dog stayed with Gigi, of course, and I think Spots misses her as she is being much more attentive to me as I work. 2006-12-28
Spots cat, "What do you mean taking my picture?" during drive back from Louisiana
Spots cat dozing during drive back from Louisiana Spots cat helping during drive back from Louisiana
Spots cat dozing during drive back from Louisiana Spots cat helping during drive back from Louisiana
When I returned to Reading and Radio Resource, Betsy was waiting with a recent picture of Punch and Judy, which looks like this.


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