photo by Sheri Dixon

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Vexation, Thy Name is Hewlett Packard 4620

So I had to buy a new printer at work.

My old printer was making tortured "electric violin in a blender" noises but that's not why I replaced it.

I replaced it because I may or may not have snapped something off during a black ink cartridge change that may or may not have caused a puddle of ink to accumulate on the floor of said printer instead of on the paper even tho the printer said, "Genuine Hewlett Packard cartridge successfully installed" as the black ink congealed on the floor of the printer, like spider blood.

I printed a test page. No black ink.

I tried to make a copy of a colorful card with black writing on it. Just a colorful card. No black writing on it.

I declared the printer dead and respectfully added it to the Dead Technology RIP closet.

An hour later I was unboxing my NEW printer/scanner/copier/faxer. This was exciting. I'd never had a fax machine in my office before. I set it up without incident and printed off board meeting notes.

Then things went awry.

I opened Quickbooks and tried to print some checks, including paychecks. No dice. Something about the font being wrong on the new printer and I needed to change it from 'settings', or 'setup', or some such. What difference does it make...really?

I opened every single screen having to do with a printer and found nothing anywhere to change the font size.

So I did what any normal, sane person would've done. I said, "Screw it" and put the checks into Quickbooks while hand writing them out, putting off any further messing with it till I got home from vacation.

I started getting disgruntled texts while on the road. Something about our main fax machine now acting all squidgy. That's the technical term. Squidgy.

Hindsightedly, it occurred to me that perhaps hooking up two fax machines to one phone line was a bad idea, but I had no conclusive facts on that idea because I hadn't actually looked in the installation guide.

It's wrapped in clear plastic and everyone knows that's hella hard to open. Hermetically sealed and whatnot. Why risk a possibly-fatal saran wrap cut?

So there was truly nothing I could do about it except commiserate with a genuinely sincere, "Wow. Really? That sucks. I'm sure I have no idea how that happened or how to fix it- have you tried plugging it into a different socket?" because I was 2,000 miles away from the clinic and the only key to my personal office was in my purse and my new fax machine was locked inside my personal office. Luckily there were fresh blueberries, and grilled chicken, and glorious company, and gentle foggy mountain scenery and a lovely white wine to distract me from my employees' misery. Life is good sometimes.

It was sort of a drag to hand write payroll, so I knew once I got home I'd have to have a Come to Jesus Meeting with the printer.

I was supposed to work yesterday from 1ish till 9ish, but stuff happened. I decided on our trip to sell out of one of the breeds of guinea pigs I've been raising for almost 20 years, posted it online two days ago and was swamped with replies. I currently have exactly four of them unsold...out of over 60. So I had people coming to the house to pick up pigs yesterday morning, and yesterday late afternoon. In between I took Edna to the eye doctor, which was a whole nuther level of stress.


"Ms. Hoskins? Are you having any trouble with your eyes?"
"Yes. They move around and I have to stop every few lines when I'm reading to get them back on track".
"Oh- you mean they seem cloudy? If you use your Systane before reading that will help".
"Well, yes- they are also a little cloudy".
"Good. The systane will help if you put it in before reading".


"Ah. I see that now. Lets run some tests".

There's almost nothing I hate more than doctors who don't freaking listen, assume they know what you're trying to tell them, phrase their response to fit the diagnosis they want to give, and move on. That shit don't fly with me.

So by 8pm I was ready and primed.

The fucking printer was next.

"You're going into work NOW???"
"Yes. The fucking printer is next".
"Oh, boy". *nervous laughter of relief that he'd be 20 miles away from the scene of the crime*

I started by removing the installation disk from my computer, uninstalling all programs having to do with the HP4620 and restarting the computer.

Cold and calculating. Exceedingly calm.

I chose "add a printer" and it asked me to insert the disk. I inserted the disk. It told me installation would be easier and faster using the online guide and since I'd used the disk before I thought I'd give this a shot.

I aborted the mission once it started asking me all sorts of non-printer-related questions and went back to "No, thanks- just use standard disk installation".

It sorta skipped and snorted and twitched, but ended up by saying "Printer successfully installed- would you like to print a test page?"

Why, yes. That would be lovely. *send*





Nothing. Lets check the little 'help' option up top of the screen.

"Are you having trouble printing?"

Yes. Yes, I am.

"Would you like to troubleshoot your printer?"

That would be freaking awesome, thanks.

--------------------- ---------------------- ---------------------------

"Your chosen printer is not set as the default printer. Would you like us to set it as your default printer?"

What do you think, computer?

--------------------- ---------------------- ---------------------------

"Could not set selected printer as default printer. Go online to troubleshoot further?"

Why the hell not?

------------------- --------------------- ---------------------------

"Can not fix this problem. We suggest the following steps-
-contact the manufacturer of the printer
-contact the manufacturer of your computer
-call a computer repair person
-ask a friend"

Are they serious??? ASK A FRIEND??? That's the most fabulously generic-yet-sincere bullshit suggestion I've ever seen in my life.

*Ask a friend*

Anyone who considers themselves my friend wouldn't have been within striking distance at that moment. I mean, they're my friends, but they all have superb survival instincts.

So I went to uninstall the program...again.

But I couldn't.

Because it was nowhere on the computer. I shit you not.

The HP4620 printer icon was in 'available printers'. It had told me, "printer successfully installed- would you like to run a test page?" So where the Sam Hell was the program???

I restarted the computer after removing the disk.

Under 'trouble shooting printers' it gave me the option of doing a 'system restore' to right before everything went to shit.

I restored said system.

Inserted the disk.

Chose "No thanks- I'll install from disk".

This time it asked me relevant questions like "Do you want to activate the fax feature at this time?" NO- NO I DON'T.

and "Do you want to make this your default printer?" FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT'S HOLY---YES!!!

"Printer installed successfully. Would you like to run a test page?"


*deep breath*



Why, yes. Yes that is a Microsoft Test page in a frame on my office wall where there used to be a photo of my family.

Why do you ask?

I was on a roll. It was 10:30pm, but I had to conquer the other side of the printer issue, which was the Quickbooks check writing font debacle issue.

I tried to open Quickbooks.

Quickbooks did not open.

I tried to open Quickbooks.

Quickbooks did not open.



I restarted the computer.

Quickbooks opened.

"Quickbooks would like to install an update that will greatly enhance your Quickbooks experience. Would you like to install update now?"


Thirty minutes later Quickbooks re-opened.

I wrote a test check.

It printed flawlessly.

Before it had time to realize what it had done, I exited the application(s) and turned off my computer.

Not restarted it. Turned it blessedly off.

The split second before the printer's display light flickered off I noticed that the black ink is already low.

I need to change the black ink cartridge.

I got home about midnight and my dreams last night were filled with puddles of congealed spider blood.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Subtle But Important Difference

Now that the George Zimmerman trial is over, there is still so much rawness from both sides.

Over and over again I hear about the 'real' Martin- even though in a court of law (like the court room Zimmerman was tried in) the only things you are to look at are what happened right then- right when the incident occurred. Whether or not Martin was a 'good kid' or a 'thug' is irrelevant and not germaine to the issue at hand. Ditto for Zimmerman's background and inclinations in the entire rest of his life up until that. very. moment.

I never said Martin was an angel. He was a teenaged boy and they are notoriously long on attitude and short on common sense no matter their race.

I never said Zimmerman was Satan. I do question the reasoning behind a neighborhood WATCH person being armed. It's not a Neighborhood Shoot program, it's Neighborhood WATCH- which is detailed here in a statement from the NSA-

"Alexandria, VA – For nearly four decades, the Neighborhood Watch Program (housed within the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA)) has worked to unite law enforcement agencies, private organizations, and individual citizens in a nation-wide effort to reduce crime and improve local communities.

The purpose of the Neighborhood Watch Program is to enable citizens to act as the “eyes and ears” within their community and alert law enforcement immediately when they notice suspicious activity. However, the Neighborhood Watch Program does not in any way, shape, or form advocate citizens to take the law in their own hands.

The success of the program has established Neighborhood Watch as the nation’s premier crime prevention and community mobilization program. Visible signs of the program are seen throughout America on street signs, window decals, community block parties and service projects.

"The alleged action of a “self-appointed neighborhood watchman” last month in Sanford, FL significantly contradicts the principles of the Neighborhood Watch Program,” stated NSA Executive Director Aaron D. Kennard, Sheriff (ret.). “NSA has no information indicating the community where the incident occurred has ever even registered with the NSA Neighborhood Watch program.”

“The Neighborhood Watch Program fosters collaboration and cooperation with the community and local law enforcement by encouraging citizens to be aware of what is going on in their communities and contact law enforcement if they suspect something – NOT take the law in their own hands,” continued Executive Director Kennard.

“The alleged participant ignored everything the Neighborhood Watch Program stands for and it resulted in a young man losing his life. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Trayvon Martin during this terrible time.”

I get a lot of "How about this horrible story about black people killing white people? Where is that in the lamestream media??? Of course the libtard-owned media downplays this- nothing new about this dimocrap agenda and the stupid sheeple will bleat and follow right along...PASS THIS ON IF YOU AGREE" usually along with some news item relating a horrible crime.

First of all, shut up.

If these stories are 'nowhere in the lamestream media' where did the original emailer get it? Are you and the other gabazillion others who are spreading this around the interwebs the secret holy club of those who know the truth while the rest of us are blind?

Second of all- anytime you use a word like 'lamestream', 'dimocrap', 'libtard' or 'sheeple' you effectively negate anything else you may have to say. State your case, use real words; even real cuss words will do to add spice and emphasis- but once you stray into the realm of supposedly clever denigration? That's just fucking sorry.

Now- lets look at one of these stories. Here's one-

You know what's so sad about this?

Victoria Jackson is a funny lady and I used to enjoy her on SNL. Now she and Dennis Miller are just batshit crazy. So very sad.

No- OBVIOUSLY it's a horrible story about totally innocent people who are dead at the hands of others; others who happen to be of a different race than they were.

Now- pay attention...right here. Lookit here. Stop and listen. Try to focus.

The men who committed those horrible crimes were tried and convicted and are now awaiting their own deaths.

They caused the deaths of 2 people and will be punished. They had their day in a court of law- something their victims did not get; a chance to tell their side of the story no matter how obvious the outcome of the trial should have been. Two people are dead who didn't have to die and that's a horrible awful thing.

In the Zimmerman/Martin case the person who killed another person is free. Not only free, but will most likely get his GUN BACK.

Evidence is sketchy at best- nothing like the horrific case Victoria held up to say "Look how evil black people are".

Martin was not allowed the luxury of telling his side and the person who caused his death is free without consequences- not 'reckless endangerment', not 'involuntary manslaughter'...nothing.

The race card is not even in this deck, as far as I'm concerned.

The situation and circumstance are what makes it newsworthy- not the race(s) of the characters.

The FACT that one person was killed while not doing anything wrong at the time of his death is a huge deal to me. Don't gimme 'evidence'- there is almost zero hard factual confirmed and verified evidence of the actual chain of events the night Zimmermen left the scene alive and Martin left it dead. Who started what, who did or said anything at all will never be known because yanno- one is dead.

That's what matters to me.

Although the race card is apparently a huge part of the outcome here-

Apparently, in America- blacks can shoot blacks, whites can shoot whites, it's almost a badge of damn honor for whites to shoot blacks but an immediate death sentence if blacks shoot whites.

We like to think we've come a long way in the human rights arena, but we really truly haven't, have we?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Clickety Clack Part One

The sun is setting out of the left side of the train and the clouds reflect it on the right.

We're crossing Holmes Lake, a tiny little blue splat between Marshall and Jefferson TX. Looks funny to see the moving blue orb that is my phone blinking on the iPhone map out in the middle of nowhere- no highway, no road, nothing a car could drive on.

Train tracks are like that sometimes.

Sparky And Gomez are across the aisle- both surfing the web on their phones although Sparky is taking photos with his more than surfing.

We've been to the snack car via the observation car and are pretty well settled into the coach seats for the night- grandmother, mom and very excited 3-ish year old boy in front of us and several young adults in various stages of napping and/or movie watching behind us. The observation car was a melange of older folks playing dominoes at the tables and little kids draped over the lounge chairs.

Other than the train being about an hour late, which is actually pretty on-time for Amtrak, the only snag in our vacation plans thus far was the rental car company calling us while we were eating dinner in Mineola before the train already about 60 miles from home.

They wanted to confirm our reservation and that we needed pick up/drop off at the train station in Sturtevant tomorrow.

Oh. And to be sure I knew that if I want to use my debit card I'll need my most recent pay stub and 2 paid utility bills.

What the hell?

You're telling me this NOW? Less than 24 hours from when I need the car and when I'm 60 miles from home with no way to get that stuff?

Why yes. Yes they are.

Of course I don't need any of that mess if I pay with a credit card instead.

I don't have a credit card.

Joe had taken us to Mineola and started handing me his credit card but she said that as long as the credit card name matches the name of the primary driver, all would be well. He put it back in his wallet in disgust.

I said no worries, we'll just go to an ATM and get cash.

"I'm sorry- we don't accept cash".

What the fuck.

The boys started looking concerned.

"Never fear", I said. "I'll fix it once we get on the train".

Here's what I found out.

Yes, it IS Enterprise's policy but boy they sure are sorry whoever booked the car didn't mention that to me. Too bad they can't help with that. The funny part is that we've rented from Enterprise- recently- and paid with this self-same debit card without issue. Weird, but ultimately unhelpful.

According to the websites, both Avis and Hertz WILL accept my debit card without the bullshit idiocy restrictive rules of Enterprise.

Both open up at 7:30 tomorrow morning and by 8am I should have us a car.

So just a minor glitch. Nothing to fret about.

I know the world is going to hell. My heart is heavy with the current events of the last few days here in Texas and in Florida.

But right now the train is clacking and creaking, rocking along gently; the world's largest cradle. The scenery outside has gone from dusky to navy to turned off for the night. The whistle's blowing and the boys are settling in. I got 4 hours sleep last night and the reclining seat sure is comfortable.

I'll fix our rental car situation tomorrow. Sometimes all I can fix is what's right in front of me.

Sometimes that's all anyone can do.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

I'm Just Not Funny Anymore

"I don't understand. You used to be so funny! Now you just seem...angry and sarcastic".

I've heard that from more than one person in the last few years, and I'd like to apologize for being a big ol' Debbie Downer but JEEBUS have you SEEN what we've been through, survived, clawed our way out of this last decade?


It was easy, so very easy to write 'funny' when my family was all healthy and well and I had nothing better (or worse) to think about than the antics of chickens or what a gawdawful gardener I am.

Then Cancer.

Then the financial (what's a word like 'burden' but a million times more depressing?) that goes along with cancer even WITH insurance coverage.

Then the eye-opening trauma of finding out the REAL things that happen to real people when in medical crisis in this country followed by looking at other shit that was/is going on and HOLY CRAP I'LL NEVER LAUGH AGAIN.

I remember sitting at Neil and Olya's dinner table the very first time we visited them in Missouri. Probably half a dozen years ago or so, and Neil asked me when I'd be getting another article to him for the website. A valid question as I was supposed to provide him with one a month and it'd been...more than that.

I couldn't. I just looked at him and said, "I'm so sorry, Boss- but I don't feel so funny anymore".

Well, once you start looking at something like the fractured infected wound of the health care system in America you can't help but look to either side of it- things like the rest of the social safety net and how we treat old people and children and our infrastructure. How we treat employees and teachers and policemen and soldiers.

And the short answer is, as a culture and society we clearly suck.

The bullies are taking over. The selfish are squashing everyone else. Corporations and special interest groups *cough* NRA *cough* and some lunatic fringe of Christianity *I* never encountered up in Wisconsin where I grew up Lutheran and was taught that evolution is real and to respect ALL other beliefs and oh by the way this country is NOT a Christian Nation- all those are running roughshod over everyone else and crying foul and persecution if anyone even politely and quietly asks them why they are shredding the Constitution to bits and pissing on the Founding Fathers' graves.

There's not a damn thing funny about that.

In fact, I'm not only angry and sarcastic, but I'm also scared- which usually manifests with me as looking like sarcastic anger.

I'm scared silly about my son- where are we heading as a society, the society he'll have to deal with and live in?

I understand the whole "rugged American individualist" thing, but honestly how is that mindset going to bring anything but more of the mess we're now in? There's no compassion, no forgiveness, no acceptance of anything other than what looks back at you in the HUMANITY for the society as a whole, not just private little pockets of it.

Corporations and banks can do whatever they want to because CAPITALISM

Christians can force their beliefs into our laws because THE BIBLE

Gun owners can have whatever the hell they WANT (not NEED- WANT...and freely admit that) because SECOND AMENDMENT

What the hell happened to "all men being created equal"? That is a very simple phrase and it's pretty straightforward.

If everyone is equal, everyone matters. But every day in every direction I see and hear people being pushed out of the way, shamed and criticized and berated because they don't think the 'right' way (pun intended) or they don't 'deserve' something that they're getting. Whatever happened to 'judge not lest ye be judged'?

Don't get me wrong. I don't walk around in tears or with a black cloud over my head all day.

I smile and shake my head at our black cat Fred, who thinks stalking birds means climbing to 20ft above the feeder then letting go and dropping like a furred rock to the earth below. We're assuming he figures he'll nab one as it rolls on the ground laughing. The farm is full of characters.

Both Ward and Alec have razor sharp and dry wits and are funny as can be and they both make me laugh out loud on a regular basis. Even when I'm just watching them, I smile inside- they're so very precious to me.

I inhale the good clean air of a cool Texas morning and breathe in the molten sap aroma of a midsummer midafternoon and it calms me.

I see beauty almost everywhere, and am surrounded by love.

But when I sit down to put words on virtual paper, I'm just not funny anymore.

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Very Short and Specific History of Fireworks

9:30pm on the nosie the first muffled "boom" from the football stadium caused us to pause in our conversation and glance up.

Over the treetops, to the left of the very tall light pole and the right of the shorter light pole and under the the electrical wires the sky glittered and sparkled; the first of 30 minutes-worth of fireworks.

The little file in my brain labled "Fireworks Displays" shook itself off and gently opened on the untidy desk of my mind and I thumbed through it- over half a century of fireworks.

Every year from tiny tot-hood through my teens 4th of July fireworks meant a trek down to either North Beach or Zoo Beach in Racine Wisconsin- the fireworks were shot off from the long cement piers and out over Lake Michigan. Flashlights and fireflies on the beach and bluffs were overpowered by the fireworks brilliantly and sinuously reflected in the incoming waves lapping at the shore while out beyond the harbor entrance the twinkling lights of the boats watching from 'the other side' mimicked those onshore.

After dark in Southern Wisconsin meant one of two things- either ridiculously cold for July, which people muttered under their breath while donning another layer, another flannel shirt or sweatshirt; or hot, muggy and swarming with mosquitoes- causing everyone to wistfully remember previous years when it had been "delightfully crisp- sweatshirt weather, and not a bug in sight".

One year (I was about 12 or so) we took our family vacation to Washington DC, which my mother planned and organized so we had a high-up floor in a hotel that faced the fireworks display over the Washington Monument. The only hereditary thing I proudly claim from my mom is her "awesome vacation planning gene".

As half of a young couple with small kids, we were members of our local Jaycees/Jaycettes and one of the other couples lived directly across the field of their small town fireworks staging area. It was great- we had a superb view of the fireworks, access to a house (and bathroom), food, drinks, and the musical accompaniment of Lance's "only on the 4th of July mix" tape.

Then I moved to Texas.

The kids were older and amazed (in a good way) that the laws regarding dangerous explosives in the hands of children were fairly non-existent here. In the years between, "This is GREAT!" and "Ummm...ya- mom? We'd rather stay here and be with our friends and our part-time jobs" they purchased horrifying arrays at Pop's Firework Stand and set them off in the meadow between our house and the neighbors' house. The dogs were traumatized for days.

Then along came Alec.

The first year he was interested in fireworks we sat outside and in back of the big display Tyler puts on- no crowds and not quite so noisy.

We went over to Edom a few years- small town display, local bands playing music, friends with other small kids to "oooh" and "ahhh" with.

Then Alec was big enough to appreciate the laxness of the fireworks laws in Texas and there were a few years of "You and your son go blow shit up- I'm not looking".

One year (not on the 4th of July, on a New Year's Eve- also a big 'blow shit up' holiday in Texas) the boys convinced me to go outside to watch them blow shit up.

I stood away back from the meadow, under the huge oak tree that comprised the entire front yard of that house.

The first artillery shell hissed out of the stand, shot into the air and exploded into a lovely display as I heard "rustle rustle rustle thump" behind me.

What the?

My guineahens! My guineahens roosting in the tree! Somehow, had the boys HIT one of the guineahens???

Appalled, I turned around and looked at the ground behind me. There was a guineahen, wandering around clearly disoriented and absolutely pissed off but also clearly not physically injured. She'd been sound asleep and the loud noise had startled her...right off of the branch.

The next year (three years ago) we were on a trip north- way north to Montana and back. I planned it so we hit Mt. Rushmore on theh 4th of July. What could be more incredible than fireworks going off behind those big heads?

We got to the hotel in Rapid City mid-afternoon in a hellacious thunderstorm that showed no sign of letting up. I called the park and was told that they hadn't cancelled the fireworks...yet, but that the park was already full and if we were to come up there to plan on at least a mile + hike the rain. It irked every bone in my body but I resigned myself to our family watching the Mt. Rushmore fireworks on the hotel room TV.

It was so cloudy and misty and foggy that the entire show was big heads backlit by different colors- not a sparkle in sight. Afterwards they cruelly re-ran the previous year's show which was outstandingly breathtaking.

By then it was almost midnight and the sky had cleared and we wandered outside the hotel...the hotel perched away high up on the side of a mountain overlooking Rapid City and there it was- just one at first like a firefly. *poof*

Then another *poof* and another and we sat down on a bench overlooking the city to watch the citizens of Rapid City blow shit up in their own backyards from left to right and as far as we could see and it was outstandingly breathtaking, even without the Big Heads in the foreground.

Two years ago I decided that Alec needed to see both a kickass 4th of July parade and the fireworks over Lake Michigan. We watched both with my parents and my brother, giving Alec time with family he never gets to see and it was good.

Last year we had friends over and blew shit up in our meadow with a bonfire going and it was good.

So you would think that this year's view was actually a pretty crappy one compared to over Lake Michigan or above the reflecting pool in DC or from the bluffs above Rapid City or the unobstructed comfort of our own place but you'd be wrong.

Because I wasn't watching the fireworks.

I was watching my son- tall as most adults (taller than some, including his mother) and his friends- his 'herd', who were watching the fireworks and farting around and laughing and doing what teens do with and to each other, these social almost-adult humans.

They're a funny, brilliant, independent and quirky lot and if these are the minds who will be running our country, we'll be A-OK.

Well, maybe not today- today Alec is covered with fire ant bites from sitting in them last night.

All in good time.