Archive for ‘The Great Adventure’

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Cocytus

August 6th, 2013
The names are not changed; there are no innocent parties.

A few months ago, our water heater died. We called our home warranty people and they dispatched Street Plumbing to take care of us. They were prompt and courteous, and we were planning to ask them to convert our plumbing from plastic to copper.

Last week our new water heater started making funny noises. When the burner was on it would hum a deep bass note that would vibrate the whole house. It was as if a big truck were rumbling past, only it didn’t stop. It happened once after I got home from work, then never again. We weren’t feeling great about the events, but we went on with our lives.

Until the heater went kaput completely. Naturally this was on Saturday morning. The heater was practically brand new, so presumably under manufacturer’s warranty. We called our home warranty people (alert readers will note at this point that there are two warranties interacting). The folks at First American Home Warranty sent out a repair guy from Street Plumbing, the same company that had installed the heater, and he showed up Saturday afternoon. He replaced a hose, then couldn’t get the heater to light again.

“You need to get a new heater,” he said. He provided the specific information about our heater that the manufacturer would want when I called, then left. I called the manufacturer, and spoke to a very nice lady who was baffled. It seems everyone who installs water heaters should know that they just need to go back through their wholesaler to take care of warranties.

So I called the Street Plumbing back. No answer. I left a message. I went back to the home warranty company to see if they had a secret insider’s emergency contact number. It is not easy to contact First American; wait times are routinely over an hour. Finally I got through to someone and she said she’d contact Street Plumbing with proper authorizations first thing Monday morning, but that I should call as well.

There would be no hot water until Monday, it seemed. No washing dishes. Very unpleasant showers.

Monday morning I called Street Plumbing. I talked to the receptionist and she said that the technician would call me back. He did not. All further attempts to contact Street Plumbing failed. To the warranty company, all they said was, “we already told those guys they have to call the manufacturer.” Because Street never called us back, they didn’t know that we had already dealt with the manufacturer multiple times. But they never called us, and so never did anything to make the situation better. We had no hot water, and no one was doing anything.

Finally a key piece of the puzzle was resolved. First American Home Warranty had made the purchase of the replacement heater, so they were the ones who had to contact the manufacturer and get the warranty managed. The right person at the First American was contacted, and he said he was taking personal responsibility for seeing this through. Hooray!

By this point my dearest sweetie was handling communications from our frigid base camp. It was a task I was happy to relinquish, but I felt bad for the light of my life. Things were going into a spiral, you see. Mr. Personal Responsibility vanished. He didn’t answer messages (left at a time cost of more than an hour). Sweetie was getting annoyed, frustrated, and downright pissed off.

Another day passed. Another person at First American took “personal responsibility”. With my best gal waiting on the line, she called each of the parties involved and worked through all the shit. She was awesome. Understandings were reached. Let there be light. A manufacturer’s rep would be right out to sort things out. Except…

Another day passed. No water heater.

My sweetie called the home warranty people late the next afternoon. Had to explain the situation all over again. Discovered that HOURS EARLIER the home warranty folks had learned that the manufacturer’s rep would not be coming that day. But they never bothered to tell us that. The rep on the phone started to give the same promises as usual, and my sweetie tore her throat out, using the power of her voice alone. We’re getting off this merry-go-round, thank you very much.

Shortly thereafter, we got a call from a different plumber, Water Quality Plumbing, who is somehow more closely connected with the manufacturer of the water heater. The scheduler said there was no one available until the next day. “have you been without hot water all day?” she asked. “We haven’t had hot water since Saturday,” the brightest star in my constellation told her.

“Saturday? No one told me that!” Sarah at Water Quality Plumbing took that seriously; Jeff was at our house half an hour later, working overtime, and he fixed our water heater.

Let me repeat that. Jeff fixed our water heater. In about thirty minutes. We didn’t need a new one. Days lost while the various entities pointed fingers at each other, hours spent on the phone trying to get someone to do something, were all completely unnecessary. If the first guy to come to the house had been competent, none of the rest would have happened, and we’d still be buying a bunch of copper pipe from Street.

So while there are plenty of bad things to say about First American Home Warranty, Street Plumbing earns the goat award for this one, for not fixing the (apparently) simple problem in the first place, and compounding the problem by not providing a simple piece of information that would have accelerated the ridiculous process by a couple of days.

Lesson to all in the service industry: even if you haven’t made progress on the case, pick up the fucking telephone and answer your messages.

Thursday, I think I had the best non-camping-related shower of my life.

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Welcome, Lady Byng!

July 13th, 2013

Yesterday evening we arrived home from the nearby animal shelter with a new friend.

Lady Byng

She is named for the hockey trophy that is awarded each year to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” Yes, it’s hockey’s Miss Congeniality award. Fitting to her name, she is a very well-behaved little dog, who doesn’t need to be told more than twice where she is not allowed to go (though the subtleties of sofa-with-blanket vs. sofa-without-blanket are still confusing to her after 24 hours).

She is also very quiet. Last night, as we put her into her bed in the laundry room she cried for a while, with some really odd-sounding vocalizations, but nary a bark. Once she figured out that we were still nearby she settled down to sleep.

So, welcome to the pack, Lady Byng.

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Tweaking the Health Regimen

March 17th, 2013
Combining science and the proper motivation to reverse a decades-long trend.

The light of my life and I bought a fancy elliptical trainer a couple of years ago. She has been very consistent with it, while I’ve been, well, streaky. There are times I come home from work and I’m just too wiped out to contemplate getting on the thing. (On days I do manage to get up on it, I’m glad I did, but that lesson is soon forgotten.) I’m definitely healthier, but I’m no skinnier. In fact, I’m bigger than ever.

The obvious answer, of course, is to climb up on that bad boy first thing in the morning, before I’ve had time to start making excuses. Alarm goes off (dreadfully early), I drag my sorry ass out of bed and grind out my time. So far, I’ve been very consistent with this approach, and I think I arrive at work more alert and cheerful. And hungry. Gotta love the oatmeal bar at the little coffee place in the building. More on the hunger shortly.

One thing I have observed about working out first thing in the morning: It’s much harder to meet my goals. I’m going into max energy burn after fasting for a few hours, and I hit the proverbial bottom of the tank way sooner that I do when I work out in the evening. I’ve had to adjust my expectations accordingly.

I did some research to see if there was some food I could eat only moments before exercising that could help me power through. Turns out, not so much. But I did learn another interesting thing: What I eat right after I exercise can make a big difference next time. There is a window after exercise in which the body grabs all the energy it can out of the blood stream to convert to store in muscles as glycogen. Get the carbs (and some protein) rolling during that window and things will be better the next day. Pretty sweet!

I started comparing different foods for the right carb-protein balance (nonfat chocolate milk apparently is about perfect and has nutrients the commercial sports recovery drinks lack). I was about three days into this process when I started to wonder:

Isn’t it good when I run out of gas while working out? Isn’t that kind of the goal of all this?

All the advice I’d read, you see, was targeted at athletes. For them, high output while exercising is the goal. Not so much for me. I want to create conditions where my body (reluctantly) chooses to break down some of that stored energy in my fat cells and use that to restore the glycogen in my muscles. This process is far less efficient, and the human body really is loath to give up its precious fat, but during that same window where the body will suck every carb out of the bloodstream, if there aren’t enough carbs, it will convert just enough fat to keep things running.

My muscles aren’t replenished as much, and the next morning’s workout will be tougher. But ideally the energy is coming from the right place.

By the time I get to work, that window has closed, and my insides have returned to business as usual. And I’m about ready to eat an entire pizza. Hooray for oatmeal! It’s carb-heavy, but low-fat and sticks to the ribs and by lunchtime I’m able to make more sensible choices as well.

So, with such a sensible system, the pounds must be flying off, right?

Well, not so much. Not yet, anyway. I’m absolutely certain that I’m on the right track, and like any long-term project, it’s best to keep expectations of instant and dramatic success tempered. But I have recently made one more change, a dramatic, desperate gesture of good health beyond all reason.

I have a target weight this month. Next month, the target weight goes down. Each morning as I prepare to exercise, I step on the scales. If I’m above the target, no alcohol that day. No beer after work, no wine with dinner. I like beer and wine. While cutting alcohol will definitely reduce my caloric intake, there is a second, even more powerful, indirect effect. When the alarm clock goes off in the morning and I just want to stay in bed, I remind myself that shirking on my exercise will only delay my next sip of sweet beer. On days I don’t bring lunch from home I think about the consequences of eating the wrong thing: Another meal with my sweetie, with no wine for me.

A coworker laughed when I told him this story, imagining me on a treadmill running full-speed for a beer hanging just out of reach. That’s not far from the truth. But if it works, that’s all right with me.

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Our Kitchen, Filled With Treats

December 24th, 2012
As the best kitchens are.

Our kitchen, filled with treats.

Our kitchen, filled with treats.


Here’s a panoramic view of our newly-reconstructed kitchen. It’s awesome! It’s kind of hard to tell when it’s wee small (click to biggerize it), but there’s about ten different kinds of yummy holiday goodies piled up in there.

Yeah, life is good.

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Happy Holidays!

December 15th, 2012

Why yes, that is six pounds of butter sitting on our kitchen counter.

That should be enough to get us through the day.

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The Two Lines of Commitment

November 22nd, 2012
Soft goals with hard boundaries.

I’ve been on the exercise machine regularly again, and that feels great. I read much of the time (currently enjoying Kipling’s Jungle Book), but toward the end when I’m huffin’ and blowin’ it’s just too difficult to concentrate. So as I’m grinding out the last few minutes of my regimen I’m watching numbers. Minutes and seconds ticking down as estimated calories burned increases. I increase the resistance at the end, to make sure the final push takes all I have.

Watching the numbers as I slog along leads to negotiation. Make no mistake, during that last five-minute burn I want to quit. Two things keep me going: the line of shame and the line of pride.

If you quit before the line of shame, you are a lazy bum who half-assed his workout. If you exercise beyond the line of pride, you can high-five yourself as you collapse to the floor in a quivering mass. As you lie there you can’t help but smile, and dream of the day when today’s line of pride becomes tomorrow’s line of shame. Crossing that line makes anything seem possible. Between the two lines is the “that was an OK workout” range.

Recently I upped both lines. I did it in the middle of a workout. The line of shame went by so easily I had to push it up, and the line of pride as well. That was a good day.

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A Simple Home Improvement

October 29th, 2012
Seriously, it doesn't get much simpler than this.

Soon after we moved into our spacious new abode, the light of my life asked if I would install a peephole in the front door. Of course I could, I assured her; I’d even done it once before, long ago. Had I only heard the chorus laughing!

Here are the steps for installing a peephole:

  1. Go to the hardware store and buy a peephole.
  2. Drill a hole in your door.
  3. Insert the peephole halves from each side and screw them together.

Step one only took me about two weeks, if memory serves. That was a long time ago; facts may be blurred. I got the brass tube with a lens at one end out of its package and perused the instructions. This model required a 9/16″ hole. My tools are still in storage, but my sweetie has the basics, including not one, but two sets of drills*. Alas, the largest in the home measures 1/2″. Almost but not quite.

No worries, a short walk away lives Father of Sweetie, and there are few tools he does not possess. All we had to do was remember on one of the many occasions we were over there that we needed to borrow the thing.

That took two months, give or take.

Finally, finally, the stars aligned and we had in our possession a yellow plastic sleeve with the needed drill.

That’s about the time the pipe broke in the kitchen. That was, I can tell by traipsing through the archives of this august site, in late August. Two solid months ago, plus change. Repairs continue, but that’s another story. A couple of weeks ago I resolved to take part of the home repair back and to install the dang peephole.

Only… Where had the thing got to? With half the house piled into the other half of the house, there was just no telling. This weekend we decided to just buy another one. Off to the local downtown-killing mega-home-improvement store I went. Living in an area where the mall is about the closest thing to a downtown we’ll ever have, I don’t feel too bad about that.

Home I came, with fake logs for the fireplace (the hippie brand), a fire extinguisher, light bulbs, oven cleaner, and a new peephole. Nothing was going to stop me now! I installed our new doorbell first, then turned to the peephole. 9/16″ bore, just like the other. I’d made sure of that while still at the store. I got out the drill motor and the extension cord and repaired to the front of the house.

The drill was the wrong size. Way too small. I should have noticed that two months ago. But there I was, almost ready to install the damn peephole after all this time, and I still couldn’t drill the hole. Exactly where I was months ago.

This time, I strolled over to the home of Father of Sweetie, exchanged the 19/64″ drill for the 9/16″ one (he is a precise guy and was mortified at the mistake), and walked back. As swiftly as the next day, the peephole was installed and ready for peeping. Because I’m a Guy Who Gets Shit Done.

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* Peeves, like curly red hair, are inherited. The light of my life inherited both an appreciation of precise language and a peeve about about the use of the noun “drill” from her father. The drill is the piece of metal with corkscrew cutting edges running up the sides. [edit upon reflection - actually, that's a twist drill. There are other pieces of metal designed to make holes in things that are also drills. See also: mining.]

The thing that powers the drill is the drill motor. My sweetie reacts to misuse of “drill bit” much the way gun enthusiasts (including her father and me, though I don’t own a gun) take exception to people calling a magazine a clip.

I could argue that language is a plastic thing, and words mean what everyone agrees they mean, but then I’d have to give up on several of my own favorite peeves, and that’s not going to happen.

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More about Things that Splash

August 29th, 2012
Trying to get back to where the words are.

I’ve been figuratively swamped at work lately, and literally swamped at home, and that hasn’t left much energy for other pursuits, like adding to this big heap o’ words.

Currently part of our living room is sealed off with plastic and tape. It would be cool if it were quarantine for some sort of exotic alien life form, but it’s not. There’s no floor in that part of the house. You can see right down to the dirt beneath our stylish home.

The kitchen is soon to follow, but there’s a wrinkle. The floorboards are ruined, but the cabinets that sit on top of them are still OK. Alas, removing the cabinets might damage them. The contractor and the insurance adjustor are currently working things out. They have both been very reasonable so far (they even offered to put us up in a hotel during construction), but this has to be worked out before anyone can proceed.

I am categorically NOT thinking about what happens if the insurance says they won’t pay to replace cabinets that are still good, and then the cabinets get damaged. What would you do if you were the adjustor? Saying OK pretty much gives the demolition crew the green light to ruin the existing cabinets.

We turned down the hotel; we didn’t try to squeeze new carpet out of the deal. We don’t need that stuff and when my sweetie is under stress home is where she wants to be. I don’t blame her. Now her kitchen is about to be torn apart and that means the greatest hardship of all for me: no cupcakes until this is all over.

Meanwhile, I’ve been pretty worthless, creativity-wise. Looks like I’d best just get used to the situation and find a way to produce.

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Things That Go Splash in the Night

August 22nd, 2012
There's a rule, written by capricious gods, that says that pipes always break at night.

Long-time readers will remember my story of being awakened in the night to the pounding on my door by guys who didn’t speak English, only to set my foot on the floor with a splash. They lived downstairs, and the charming waterfall cascading down the stairs was already filling up the basement.

On that occasion I found myself standing in water, wanting nothing more than a nice hot cup of tea. There was none to be had.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. After one more snooze-button hit than usual I crawled out of bed and cracked open my eyes just enough to find my mug, the one that would soon hold tea. I staggered toward the kitchen and heard the sound of running water. “Holy crap,” I thought, “did we leave the kitchen faucet on all night?”

In fact we had not. Yet sometime in the night a hose below the floor beneath the kitchen sink had decided to succumb to pressure and just let water flow where it might. “Where it might,” it turns out, was just about everywhere. Beneath our floor is a nice thick layer of insulation. That space filled with water and carried the flood through the house, unimpeded by walls.

It took me a while to get the water turned off (there were two valves on the water line, one camoflaged between two pipes, and the setup looked like a gas line to boot), but it was clear that the deluge had been under way for a good long time already.

I was on the phone with People Who Can Do Something About Things Like This when the lights in the kitchen went out. Oh, happy day. One thing about living in a home that was delivered on wheels: you can get a warranty, much like one for a car. We got one to protect us against just such surprises during the first year in our new abode. The warranty covered a plumber visit to fix the pipe. The warranty did NOT cover “access”. The plumber came out, discovered that he couldn’t get to the leak, and left again. Had I been there at the time (my sweetie has done the lion’s share of the work on this issue) I would have provided him access, no matter how big a hammer I needed. Instead, Father of Sweetie came over and tore the bottom out of the cabinet under the sink, revealing the original floor, and enough of the pipe to reveal the leak. Another plumber arrived promptly.

Tearing out the cabinet floor also revealed the valve to turn off the hot water to the sink. Good thing we never needed it. The previous owner was a handyman of sorts; he installed a lot of upgrades and generally kept the place in great shape. The thing is, when you look close you can find a lot of questionable work. A fence latch that doesn’t line up right. Concrete poured so water pools up. A screen-door pneumatic closer-thingie installed… creatively. Sprinkler heads that don’t work in the right geometry. Add to that list the water purifier in the kitchen and the cabinetry (which he might not have done). Before we moved in the inspector found nails through the unsheltered ends of shingles. A lot of energy put into home improvement but undermined by… I’m not even sure what to call it. Ignorance? Sloth? For all his energy, he took the easy answer often enough.

The ideal home maintenance guy: someone with his motivation and my penchant for getting things right. One reason I don’t do as many fixit jobs as I should is that it takes me forever to get things right. I’m the slowest handyman out there.

Back to the flood. One difference this time around: I live with a good Californian who keeps reserves of drinking water. After the first crisis was past, I had tea. Man it was good.

Now we have a maze of insurance and warranties to figure out. (The good news: insurance covers it. The bad news: we can’t get anything done until the adjuster comes out. The good news: He’ll be here tomorrow.) Meanwhile, the light of my life continues to sop up the flood as the water in the insulation wicks back up into our house.

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Almost Had It

July 22nd, 2012

It was about 35 miles west of Ely, on a section where highway 50 gets curvy. The caffeine hit and “Addiction” by 4gasm erupted from the speakers. I felt it then, that old road feel, wind and sun, and the smell of the desert after a rain.

Than I hacked and shuddered and my cold reasserted itself, and I was glad I’d already booked a room in Reno.

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Doggles!

July 17th, 2012

Here’s a picture of the Round Mound of Hound getting ready for our big road trip.

The Round Mound of Hound preparing for some top-down cruising.

It’s kind of a cop-out, I know, just slapping up a picture after all this time. I plan to get back to blogging soon; right now I’m deep into Munchies (the novel you will be hearing more about presently) and it’s taking up all my head space. There’s also the fact that the tale of my last road trip with Chiquita might just come out well enough that I try to flog it in creative nonfiction markets rather than post here. (Creative nonfiction is the new fiction.) But probably I’ll just put it here.

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Things We Take for Granted

June 22nd, 2012
A shout-out to modern engineering, and Dad.

I drove several miles today, and none of my wheels fell off. No bearings seized. Around the world, billions of miles were covered by automobiles, and I’m willing to bet that damn few wheels came off those vehicles. That just doesn’t happen anymore.

Think about what that means. Up until 100 years ago, wheels came off vehicles all the time. Now such an event would be freakish (or terribly negligent on the part of the owner of the vehicle — I do have a story or two).

But I’ve had the same car for well over a decade and while I’ve had to attend to a few issues, by my rough estimate each wheel has turned about 85 million times. And that’s nothing. It’s something that doesn’t even occur to us to worry about anymore. Wheels last longer than we do.

The only actual failure of a wheel in my lifetime that I know about (other than alluded stories of negligence above): One evening my dad and I replaced the bearing in the front right wheel of “my” Opel Kadett. I called it “the heap”, but it was a mighty little car. How that front right bearing came to be cracked is a story I’ve only told to select audiences. Until now.

I grew up in a small town in steep territory, seven thousand feet above the sea. One day I had an hour to kill before I was expected at the pizzeria where I worked. I got an idea. Drive this gutless little car up into the mountains as fast as I could for thirty minutes, and take a relaxing thirty back down to work.

Brief aside: The 1967 Opel Kadett was a vehicle far ahead of its time. It was a practical, economical car produced when American factories were vomiting up land yachts. Don’t tell mom that I once got ten people home in that car.

Speaking of don’t tell Mom, off I went up the hill. There are motorcycles with larger engines than the 1.1 liters boasted by the Kadett, and the bikes are better-tuned for power. But that day I wasn’t competing against any of those other vehicles. It was me and the road.

Another quick aside here: I love driving. Always have. I love hitting the curve just right and feeling my suspension flex perfectly. Maybe my tail drifts and I bring it back in line and hit the next curve perfectly.

The above is actually pretty funny, if you picture me in a 1967 Opel Kadett.

That day, I was pretty surprised by how far I got in 30 mins. There was a dicey moment, though. I was roaring up (as much as the heap could roar) on a horseshoe corner, and looming ahead was a cement truck.

It might have appeared to an outside observer that I had two options:

1) back off, and pass the cement truck on the other side of the curve
2) pass the sumbitch

I chose the latter. Pedal flat to the floor I swung out around the cement truck (who the f needs cement out there anyway?), dove back in to my lane and hit the hairpin with gusto. I’m pretty sure that’s when I cracked the bearing on my front right wheel. High five to the tires able to exert that force!

Later, back in the real world, Dad ordered a new bearing (can you even do that now?) and we installed it into the heap. That was a good night. It didn’t go smoothly; the old bearing resisted all our entreaties, until the entreaties involved a hammer. Finally it let go.

It’s not like we were rebuilding the transmission or anything, but that night we touched one of the most fundamental parts of the machine. One of the parts that simply doesn’t break anymore. I was deeper in the machine than most people get, into the parts that we take for granted, and my tour guide was my father.

A little late for Father’s day, but thanks, dad. Sorry about breaking the car.

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The Suburban Dream

May 26th, 2012
Livin' it!

Three Home Depot visits into home ownership finds me on the back patio, a dog at my side, a fine beer next to my laptop on the glass-topped patio “dining table”. The umbrella is deployed for the first time and is doing its job admirably; my laptop screen is plenty bright enough and WiFi signal is strong. Across from me is my fancy new grill, just waiting for propane. To my left I see the new little push-mower and other garden tools.

My sweetie is around front right now; she spent yesterday pulling out some of the old landscaping to replace it with stuff more our style. Today’s Home Depot visit was to pick out the first wave of colorful flora for the front bed.

The Round Mound of Hound has forsaken my side to find a sunny patch of grass to lounge in. She seems pretty content.

This is pretty good.

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Round Mound of Hound… Rebound

May 24th, 2012
They didn't even ask to meet her.

Sad news for fans of the Official Muddled Dog: We’ve been busted. You see, the ol’ gal is substantially larger than the nominal limit for our neighborhood. Even at her ideal weight she would be quite a bit too big.

The rule is very inconsistently enforced, however; so as long as no one complains, management is willing to not see the big dog. Well, we’re getting new neighbors and before they moved in they complained. Management has notified us that our quiet, gentle, well-behaved dog must go.

Looking for a home, once again.

To my new neighbors I say, “The next time your &*$#^*@ fence is on fire, there won’t be a dog around to alert people to the trouble.” (True fact: OMD raised the alarm a few days ago when a fence was burning. Just like in Reader’s Digest.) But, I remind myself, we were the ones breaking a rule, we knew we were breaking it, and the neighbors have every right to be jerks and rat on our dog before talking to us. They don’t know us, they don’t know how we would react. The era of neighborliness is sadly over. How long ago was it that when something bothered a neighbor they just went and knocked on the door before calling in higher authority?

Now there’s someone who’s bed is maybe thirty feet from mine, whom I’ve never met, that has pissed me off. Part of me wants to get a new dog that fits the regulations and barks nonstop.

But that’s not constructive. What is constructive is helping to find this fine animal her permanent home. Apparently our role in her life is an interim stop between old and new homes, so we can make sure she lands in a good place.

Please, especially if you’re in the Bay Area, put the word out that there’s eighty pounds of unconditional love just looking for someone who needs her.

It’s going to be really tough to say goodbye.

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Pop Quiz

May 21st, 2012

You have a pile of chips and a bowl of guacamole. You’re hungry. Life is pretty good.

Except… there are about three times as many chips as the bowl of guac can support at ideal dip levels. Don’t forget, you’re hungry. Do you:

  • Enjoy chips with ideal guacamole levels while it lasts, then eat the rest of the chips dry
  • OR
  • Stretch the guacamole to make every bite a little better than a dry chip

No going Kobayashi Maru here and ordering more guacamole.