Anxiety, Travel, a Horse Named Drake, PO 128 and Zipping

I can’t much dispense advice about sticking to things, being persistent, overcoming anxiety and then not post for five days at a time.

But I have a good reason.  Here I am on June 26th of the Year A.D. 2017 taking my seventh vacation day of the year.

Am I lying on a beach in Hawaii?  Traveling through California?  Taking a short getaway to Vegas or visiting relatives in D.C.?

Not exactly.

I am at my house, in my den at the PC.  But I did get to spend some quality time with the wife and kids for four consecutive days, which is both rare and nice.

Since posting about Paying Ourselves First, my life has run the gamut of still trying to cope with work-related anxiety, three consecutive nights of only four hours of sleep, visiting horticultural domes in Milwaukee, visiting the Starved Rock area in my home state, spending a good amount of money in the $1,000 range even though we did not go anywhere exotic, and generally enjoying five days off in a row.


Although I try to avoid thinking about it, I am trying to come up with a coping strategy for dealing with a new supervisor who should truly be an underling rather than somebody in charge of me.Image result for sour grapes

I realize that sounds like sour grapes, but it is one hundred percent accurate.  This guy knows little to nothing about how to handle or inspire others, so the Powers That Be figured that they might as well put him in charge of Yours Truly middle aged Middle Class Guy.

Oh, and he knows nothing about economic development, which is what I do.

I have continued logging my sleep hours, which have diminished by an average of an hour or more per night since I was informed of the transfer, which will be happening when I return to work tomorrow through the first week of July.


Last Thursday, I took the wife and kids to the Mitchell Park Conservatory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin AKA “The Domes.”

These are three domes with three distinctive assortments of plants and flowers.

Image result for the milwaukee domes

One dome is filled with desert plants, one is a show dome filled with flowers and my favorite of the three is a tropical dome.

Image result for mitchell park conservatory tropical dome

From the Domes’ website, Tropical rainforests, covering five continents but less than 7% of the Earth’s land surface, are home to over 15 million species of plants and animals. It is Earth’s most productive and diverse ecosystem.

In our microcosm of the rainforest, you’ll encounter over 1,200 species of tropical plants as well as some tropical birds. Rainforest products you’ll see in the Tropical Dome include so much more than ourfavorite houseplants!

Food & Beverages  
banana Musa
chocolate/cocoa Theobroma cacao
coffee Coffee arabica
grapefruit Citrus x Paradisi
guava Psidium guajava
Macadamia nuts Macadamia integrifolia
star fruit Averrhoa
Spices & Flavorings 
all spice Pimenta dioica
black pepper Piper nigrum
cardamom Elettaria cardamomum
vanilla Vanilla planifolia
ebony Diospyros ebenum
mahoghany Swietenia and Khaya
Insecticides & Poisons
curare Chondrodendron tomentosum
neem Azadirachta indica

Perhaps the most familiar plants of the rainforest are those we have incorporated into our homes and offices for decorating — plants such as philodendrons, peperomias, bromeliads, orchids, ferns, marantas and calatheas. Other flowering plants that provide vibrant color to the tropical exhibit include amaryllis, hibiscus, anthurium, calliandra, clerodendron, crinum and heliconia.

We took many photos, including a few of just me and my wife in the same spot where we were married all those years ago in the Domes.

When I was younger, my parents took me and my siblings to Puerto Rico twice.  On the first trip, we went on a tour of a tropical rainforest, and visiting the tropical dome last week made me want to return there with my own wife and children very much.

The tropical dome is nice, but nothing in comparison to visiting a real rainforest.

On our way home, we stopped at the iconic Mars Cheese Castle, which has been completely re-done and the inside more resembles a Whole Foods than the sketchy roadside stop that my family stopped at many a time since the 70’s when returning from Wisconsin or Michigan’s U.P.Image result for mars cheese castle

We were all fairly hungry and it was around 6:00 p.m. when we were returning, so we ate our dinners there.

Let me be clear about this – do not order a burger at this place!  My wife and daughter order burgers more than half the time we dine out, and the burgers here were made from thin frozen patties and theirs were not cooked well at all by the teenagers in the kitchen.

We did not complain like we should have, but our daughter threw out about three-quarters of the burger, while my wife ate about three-quarters of hers.

The Rosemary fries that were $4.50 were not very good, either.

My son and I ordered Reubens, which were pretty good.  The kids ordered Sprecher’s sodas and my wife and I had bottled waters.  This fast-food quality dinner cost over $40, which I mention because a McDonald’s meal for half the price would have been just about as good.

We loaded up on specialty items on the way out, like Sprecher’s root beer mustard, some candy items that our daughter chose, some very highly priced chopped cherry jam, and one of those corn chowder mixes with all the stuff piled together in a bag that we like to eat on a cold day.

Image result for frontier soups corn chowder

We rang up another $50 or so on the way out of there, making our stop at Mars about a hundred dollar stop.  Oh well, we were middle class tourists stopping at a tourist trap, so that is the price we paid.

I should mention that we rented a car for that day trip, which was great considering that it was hot and we got caught in a lot of traffic, so the working air conditioning (which none of our three cars have had for years) was an extra bonus.

Price for the new Nissan Altima for one day was $74.12.  We drove it 212 miles and I think that it was well worth it, although it sucks to have to rent a car to enjoy air conditioning on a hot summer day in the Midwest.

On Friday, we headed to the Starved Rock area, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Illinois.  We had taken our son to stay at the Starved Rock Lodge about seventeen years ago when he was a baby, but he certainly could not remember that (neither could I) and our daughter had never been there.

We could not get a room at the Lodge, because you have to book a summer stay there nearly a year in advance.  So we packed up our stuff, including our dog, and made our way to the Hampton Inn in Ottowa, Illinois.  It was pretty nice there, although they will not provide a cot for you like they used to, telling us that the Fire Marshall forbids them in double queen bed rooms because the room cannot safely be evacuated.

So our son took one for the team the first night and slept in the chair and ottoman, and our daughter did that the second night.  I, for one, would not be able to fall asleep for one minute while reclining in a chair in a hotel room with my other three family members, and our dog, in the beds.

The trip was great.  We ate at some pretty good places including a Cajun restaurant called the Cajun Connection in Utica.

Image result for the cajun connection utica il

Being in a small town, I thought that the prices there would reflect that, but it was not to be.  The dinner for me and my two children came out to $68, I tipped another $12, and that did not include my wife, who stayed behind with our dog.  We picked up Culver’s for her, the place where we ate several times on our recent travels.

The second night, my wife took our children to the Cracker Barrel right in front of our hotel.  Again, our daughter had never been to one, and our son had not been to one in at least twelve years or so since we last ate at one.  I stayed behind with the dog, but my wife brought back a country fried steak dinner with sides of broccoli, mac n’ cheese and candied apples.

I do not know what it cost, but it all came out to nearly the same price as the Cajun meal.

It was not all about the food.

My daughter and I went horse riding on Saturday morning at Cedar Creek Ranch and Stables.   Our daughter rides horses quite a bit, taking lessons a few times per month which, incidentally, is far too infrequently for her tastes.  Her taste, of course, would include owning her own horse or horses, but we are not in that tax bracket.

Image result for cedar creek ranch and stables

She now knows that if we lived in a rural area, we would most likely buy her a horse, but as suburbanites in the northwest burbs of Chicago, only wealthy people who can afford to board them or own multi-acre properties in the Barrington area have their own horses.

The last time I rode on a horse was back in the eighties, so it sure was an experience for me riding the three miles on the trail.  Plus, they stuck me in front of the group so every time that I had a hard time motivating my horse, Drake, there were over a dozen other people who knew about it.

Overall, it was a great time that I will never forget.

Later that day, the four of us and our dog drove to Matthiessen State Park and hiked for several hours, covering at least five miles.  Some of us made it all the way down to the bottom of the canyon.

Again, it was a great time that won’t soon be forgotten, and was well worth whatever expenses we incurred.  Our son, who has been in somewhat of a funk lately, even seemed to enjoy himself.

Believe it or not, when I was getting ready to lecture my children about not going to close to the many cliffs and steep bluffs along the trail, several emergency vehicles arrived on the scene and when I asked someone what was happening, a man told me that he had just witnessed a teenager fall at least fifteen feet.  Luckily, he was okay and just had some broken bones but I can report here that witnessing the guy get carried off was worth more than my verbal warning.


After checking out of the Hampton Inn (two nights, $326.86 including tax), we made our way over to Zip Chicago.  Our daughter had originally located this attraction when I first told everyone that I had booked us into a hotel in the Starved Rock area.

Image result for on a zipline

She kept asking me for days if I had called and due to a number of reasons, mostly work-related stress, I kept telling her that I would soon.  Well, all the way on Saturday morning I had still not called, but at her urging, called during that day.

I was able to book them for the short tour at Noon yesterday at about $45 a pop.  I also paid the $5 fee per kid for them to shoot photos, which was well worth it considering that they took about ten action photos of each kid zipping around.  I caught their first zip on video with my new camera, which was a gift for Father’s Day.

Payment Details
Total Amount: 103.78
Paid: 103.78
Balance: 0.00
Transaction Summary:

Card Number
****XXXX 93.78
****XXXX 10.00

Again, this was well worth it.  Both of our children enjoyed it thoroughly and traded some stories about their adventure.

I would love to share photos of them zipping here, but wish to remain anonymous in order to maintain my honesty and not rock the boat at my conservative place of employment.

We ate lunch at Culver’s after zipping and made our way back to suburbia yesterday.

PO 128

About ninety miles south of here, just a few minutes after finishing our lunch at Culver’s yesterday and driving on I-80, our lemon of a minivan’s check engine light went on.

My exact quote was “Shit!”

When my wife asked what was wrong, I told her that the check engine light just went on again.

Image result for check engine light

Now, I have driven years with check engine lights on, not giving a shit as long as the car would start and drive me from Point A to Point B, and then back again.

My old, trusty Nissan (my first car, not the crappy one that I am now donating) had the light on for several years.  At one point, I had our local mechanic disengage the light because I did not care what the problem was and did not want to see it.

However, with our minivan, we just got it repaired about a month ago so it could pass emissions and we now plan to keep it through next April, now that we have renewed the license plate until that time.  It has about 93,000 miles on it and I want it to make one hundred.

BTW, I plan on leasing or buying a new Subaru Outback next spring so long as I remain gainfully employed.

Image result for subaru outback

Even though I had my own To-Do list that I was chipping away at today, including making several phone calls in an attempt to have my inoperable Nissan Maxima, which I have already donated the the American Cancer Society, towed away (it will be on Saturday, July 1st) and other more minor things, my wife insisted that I take the van over to get scanned to find out what is wrong with it now.

I Googled where you can take a car for a free engine scan and found that Pep Boys does it.  They wanted to do a more comprehensive analysis for $89, which must be the real reason that they offer this free service, but I told them that I did not want to spend that and I did not have a spare hour to sit around and wait.  I told them that I am taking a vacation day and had other things to do.

They scanned the engine and found Code PO 128.  According to

P0128 code definition

Coolant Thermostat (Coolant Temperature Below Thermostat Regulating Temperature)

What the P0128 code means

The P0128 code means that the engine coolant is not getting warm enough, fast enough. In other words, there is a problem with the engine operating temperature not being reached within a certain amount of time. The Engine Control Module (ECM) determines this length of time based on ambient temperature.

What causes the P0128 code?

There are two main causes for P0128:

  1. The most common cause is an engine coolant thermostat that has stuck open or is opening prematurely.
  2. The next cause is a problem with the engine coolant temperature sensor or the wiring associated with the sensor.

Interestingly enough, this comes just days after I took the van to Jiffy Lube for an oil change and to top off the fluids in preparation of our short trip.

This is not the first time that our engine has thrown off a code related to something that we just had done at our local Jiffy Lube, which makes me wonder if some bozo who works there instead of at a “real mechanic” did something to the coolant thermostat which caused it to stick open or open prematurely.

Since I am the real bozo who does not know the difference, I will probably have to take it back there to have them take a look at it.

Whatever I do or do not do about it, our check engine light is back on and the never-ending series of car repairs seems as if it will continue.

Enjoy Tonight, Dread Tomorrow

I do not want to spend the rest of my vacation day writing, and I have some more tasks to accomplish.  I shopped at Mariano’s for dinner items after getting the van checked out at Pep Boys, and have corn to shuck, sweet potatoes to bake, three burgers to grill, two marinated salmon steaks to cook and one bratwurst to grill.

Many summers, I only get one or two bratwursts and I figured that today is as good a day as any to make one.

It is a cool, breezy day and although I should be mowing today, I am not. Mowing our one-third acre lot is a major task for me, and I simply do not want to work on it now although I should at least mow the front.

I do not want to even contemplate the mountain of emails, voice mails and tasks that await me upon my return to work tomorrow.

Sometimes I think that it is easier to never take a day off and to keep up with my work than to take days off and then spend stressful days upon my return catching up.

I have read several articles and studies that show employees who take more vacation time are often more productive than those who do not.  The gist of it is that I am supposed to have recharged over these past three vacation days and should return to work tomorrow with a sharp focus and can-do attitude.

I do not know if that is what will actually happen, but I will certainly report back soon.

So for now, I am going to enjoy the rest of my day off, will probably have to take a Tylenol PM later to be able to relax, and will deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.




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