Friday, September 11, 2009

A niche that needs filling

The visitor statistics for this blog indicate that a large number of people who find themselves here actually want to learn about the invention of dog food. When it was invented, who invented it. Apparently somebody totally needs to write a Wikipedia article about that.

There are also quite a few people who come here wanting answers to a question that somehow combines dogs, shellfish, and travel to Canada. You'd be surprised how many people have such a question. Can you take dogs to Canada? Or import shellfish from Canada? Can dogs eat shellfish? In Canada? Are there any Canadian shellfish named after dogs? What role did shellfish played in the invention of Canadian dog food? etc etc

Alas, I know they are all leaving disappointed. I'm sorry people, I cannot help you. And now I realize by writing this post I've simply reinforced Miscellaneous Shellfish as the leading Google contender for these various search terms. So sorry.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I could watch this all day

Boyfriend with Health Benefits

Thank heavens someone still has a sense of humor on this topic.

Friday, September 04, 2009

One last adventure

This weekend is many things, including Enrico's birthday today (Happy Birthday!), and Girls Weekend, the annual outing with my two childhood friends who live nearby. It will also be one last camping outing for Eva before we put her up for sale.

Girls Weekend always happens in August or September. We make a weekend of some lovely northwest destination, and this year it will be Victoria (because it's just been way too long since I've been to Canada!). Since the birth of Julie's daughter Sophie, girls weekend now includes her too. We are teaching her The Way of the Girlfriend, and we take that solemn duty very seriously.

So tonight Enrico, Monica, the dogs and I will head out to the Kitsap peninsula, where our household pack will get one more night together in Eva, sleeping under the stars at Julie and Dan's beautiful wooded property. Then The Girls will head off to Victoria, on the ferry via Port Angeles. Enrico plans to hang with the Boys for a while, before finding himself a nice little campsite somewhere with Eva and the dogs.

I've started loading up the van, so the dogs know something's up, and they are So! Very! Excited!

It should all be great fun.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

More treasures!

Enrico is starting to wonder about my sanity, I think. In the throes of a pretty intense consulting project and repeated complaints about how I'm losing my mind from coordinating umpteen contractors and building inspectors and repair people, not to mention the dogs' medication schedule, and we're leaving town again this weekend which will be fun but GOOD LORD I have no more mental capacity for travel planning, wah wah WAAH - In short, while whining about how overwhelmed and fragmented I feel, I persist in buying weird castoff stuff from the Boeing Company.

Is there any urgency to buying this stuff? No. Our storage crunch has been with us for a year, and thus demonstrably doesn't need to be fixed immediately. Boeing will always have more castoffs. So why do I insist on adding one more thing to my list, shoehorning in the time to drive the van down to Boeing and pick up dirty old crap?

It's a mystery.

But tomorrow I'll make second trip down to Boeing to get this wooden storage chest. With a coat of fresh paint and a padlock, it'll be perfect for storing our tools and camp stove and some of our emergency supplies.

My nemesis did not show up online to sabotage my bid this time, so I acquired this little gem for a mere $30!

I've already picked up my Six Wood Boxes (as Lot #2357612 is known), and I stand behind my assessment that they are a find. Beautifully crafted for storing highly delicate and expensive machine tools, the hardware alone is worth a couple hundred bucks.

The three large boxes will be used for storage, but the three little ones are definitely a craft project in the making. I have big plans for them, oh yes I do.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Oh for heaven's sake, this ain't Ebay

Amidst my flurry of Freecycling unwanted stuff away - yes, the generic Zantac was gone within 12 hours, my friends! - I have, on the other side of the coin, been fixatedly scanning the Boeing Surplus online auctions for an answer to our storage needs.

A couple months ago, we got invited to a housewarming party at the home of a younger, hipper couple. They had purchased these awesome rolling tool containers from Boeing surplus, painted them bright colors, and arranged them around their back deck as storage containers, benches, and raised planter beds. It was a masterpiece of repurposed industrial chic.

I've been looking for, oh, forever for a solution to our outdoor storage needs. We have no garage, no basement, and we tore down our nasty rat-infested shed last summer. I have extensively researched cheap modular sheds, custom-built sheds, eco-friendly modular buildings, custom designed cabinetry for under the carport, storage chests made from recycled plastic, a small add-on off our back door, and adding flooring and a fold-down staircase for our unfinished attic. I have created spreadsheets comparing the cost, cubic footage, and eco-friendliness of each option. The ones I like best are outrageously expensive.

And so, inspired by our younger hipper friends, I wondered if perhaps some Boeing cast-offs could meet my needs. Have you ever visited Boeing surplus? It's pretty well known among local nonprofits as a source of cheap office furniture. But they have all kinds of things. Hydraulic lifts, rolling aircraft stairs, power tools, engine parts, wires and cables, fire hoses, insulation, work tables, bicycles, cafeteria equipment, flame-resistant storage cabinets. There are mysterious gizmos like fluke multimeters and gaussmeters. There are grab-bag items like "a trove of shop tools" or "miscellaneous casters." Not to mention the many full hides of fine Scottish leather.

But most saliently, there are storage carts, cabinets and boxes of all sizes and descriptions.

I rejected the 32-foot long office trailer even though the starting bid was only $500; no way I could pick that up in Eva. I bid on two things, both beaten up but with, I thought, a certain charm. I could envision painting them bright colors. The auction for the first item expired this evening, and with five minutes left I checked to verify that I was still the top bidder, at a whopping $35. Enrico shook his head. I know, I said; as if somebody is sitting out there waiting to pounce with a last-minute bid.

Being neurotic, I refreshed it with 2 minutes to go. Somebody had upped the bid by $5.

Stunned, I nonetheless regained my wits and submitted a new bid. They countered. In the last 90 seconds of the auction, my invisible opponent and I furious lodged 6 more bids. Up, up up it went, $50, $60, $70! But lo! Victory was mine.

Can't you just visualize them repainted bright colors, a masterpiece of repurposed industrial chic? Enrico can't. But I can.

So I still have a bid out on one more item, which is actually a much more practical answer to our storage need. But I'm not going to tell you which one it is, now that I know how cut-throat these auctions are. At five minutes before the deadline I'll be waiting, fingers poised above the keyboard to protect my find.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Before & after


Our laundry area is more or less back in order now, with a new floor, coat of paint, and shelving. There is still some drywall and trim repair to do here and there, but it's tidy enough. And now that we've painted that end of the kitchen, we'll have to paint the rest. Yesterday was a three-hardware-store-trip day, but we have our washing machine back, and a place to put all the stuff that was dumped all over the house for the past two weeks. And the hellmouth to our crawlspace is once again closed.

So meanwhile, I am trying to get rid of some stuff that we don't need, and my new favorite thing is Freecycle. The Freecycle Network™ is "made up of 4,799 groups with 7,192,000 members across the globe. It's a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (& getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It's all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills."

Seattle's group has about 20,000 members. Here's how it works: You post either "Offered" or "Wanted," with a description of the item and your neighborhood. It must be free, the receiver picks it up, and you must make individual arrangements to have your item picked up (not just "it's on the front porch, y'all come and may the first one win!"). Once the deal is done, you post an updated "Taken" or "Received" notice. Volume is probably 50 notices a day, but sent in 2-4 aggregated digests.

I appreciate that people come pick my stuff up, which makes it way easy. But mostly I love the emphasis on redistributing our crap to where it will get used - keeping things out of landfills, reducing the natural resources used to produce new items, helping people live frugally. And it appears that nearly any piece of crap will get used by somebody. Oh the obvious stuff, like futons and dining room tables, baby clothes and moving boxes, bicycles and textbooks - that goes in about ten minutes. But some of the things definitely have more niche appeal: two dozen egg cartons, multiple broken vacuum cleaners, antique fiddle cases, half-used containers of everything from cat litter to over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.

I've unloaded three things so far: an ergonomic exercise ball, The Structure from our recent Canadian trip (even with full disclosure about the tear in the mesh, caused by dog lunging at elk), and the seven planks of discontinued-color marmoleum which we bought and then could not use after all on our kitchen floor. All claimed (by email at least, not picked up) within an hour. The couple of times I've tried to claim something, I've never been the winning non-bidder. Stuff moves fast in the freecycle community.

So I'm getting bolder and planning to list some more esoteric stuff. The unopened bottle of extra-strength Zantac generic that I accidentally bought at Costco. Unused paint. Who knows how much of my crap would be a delightful find to somebody else?

I've heard that the IRS is unsure what to do about this increasing movement towards freecycling and the related practice of time/skill bartering. In theory, there should be tax implications to all this, but how could they ever police it? That kind of tickles me too.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The need for Freedom

No, this post probably isn't about what you think.

When we got back from our vacation, I was all ready to tear into my various jobs with all the laser-like focus and high-charged enthusiasm of one who had been recharging for a month. Alas, as I have amply documented here, various life dramas arose which, while all completely manageable, turned my life into a herky-jerky existence in which I was constantly erasing things from my calendar and replacing them with "vet" or "contractor" or "take VW in AGAIN." I just could not get into a groove.

Yesterday, at the part-time job that I never talk about here because I can't find a way to do so with the appropriate degree of discretion, the internet actually went out for two hours. Two whole hours! And you know? I think I got more done in those two hours than I have in the whole two weeks that we've been home.

So maybe my heavily interrupted life cannot be entirely blamed for my lack of productivity. Perhaps, just perhaps, I am also my own biggest interrupter, too easily lured by the distractions of the internet. Sure, I've turned off those instantaneous email alerts. But still. Especially now that I have recently and reluctantly joined my friends in Facebook. And for the job-that-shall-not-be-named, I think I may have to break down and learn about this whole Twitter thing. Dangerous interruption territory.

So at least at home, I think I need to resort to a little program that I downloaded several months ago, when I was trying to put in some focused effort on my book project and discovered that Writing is Hard. Freedom for Mac allows you to disable Internet access for a set a period of time. Once you activate Freedom, and tell it how many minutes of Freedom you would like, the only way to get the Internet back is to reboot your computer. Which is doable, of course, but is enough of a barrier to pretty much eliminate the urge to cheat. Once Freedom is activated, it does not even allow you to open Freedom again until your Freedom time is up.

Sad, I know, that intelligent and hardworking people should have to resort to this kind of externally imposed willpower. It's easy to find numerous testimonials professing that Freedom has saved someone's personal, professional or creative lives. "To say that it's changed my life is an understatement!" "I would never have finished my [book, album, article for prestigious publication] without Freedom."

Much as I love it, this is what the Internet has done to us. We've had to invent our own Internet Mom who can force us to turn that damn thing off and finish your homework.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My latest mantra

A quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, courtesy of a recent guest preacher at church. It's taped to my bathroom mirror because man, I really need to read it every evening and morning.

"Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense."

If anyone knows the specific source of this quote, I'd love to know it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Stupid parasites

Nelly's gut is rife with a parasite that doesn't normally affect healthy adult dogs. So no, the vet said, we shouldn't have to worry about Toby getting sick too.

Ha! Within four hours, that assessment was proven oh so wrong. We spent all night letting Toby out. He was one uncomfortable puppy.

So after a second trip to the vet, our kitchen resembles a pharmacy:

And I am once again home-bound for the day. With neither dog able to go more than 2 hours without a bathroom break, and two dogs...well, you do the math. Until the meds kick in, somebody is always poopin' around here.

Unfortunately, this particular parasite never leaves their system. It's a nasty little single-cell bugger, and if I understand correctly, it gets inside the cells that line the intestines and literally causes them to explode. My poor dogs' intestines are being dynamited from within. It's often present in dogs, but usually only makes them sick if some other illness or stress weakens their system. Their bodies need to learn how to keep it under control on their own, once the meds help fight back this onslaught, and for the rest of their lives, we'll have to pay attention to the health of their digestive flora and immune systems. So in a weird way, it's good news to have Toby sick too, because that indicates an unusually virulent form of the bug, not an undetected immune system problem in Nelly, which would have been more worrisome. Silver linings!

We also got a chuckle out of the chart notes from Nelly's ER visit. The emergency vets are awesome, but you can tell they're working fast, and this leads to the occasional unintentional humor in the chart notes:

Pertinent History: Nelly presented for evaluation after having diarrhea for the past 2 days. She had multiple episodes of diarrhea in the house today. She traveled to Canada for a month of camping recently. The other dog in the house is not having diarrhea. Nelly is otherwise an apparently healthy cat.

Who knew! She's been a cat all along. It sure explains a few things.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sometimes, three is NOT a magic number

Today I got home from work to find that Nelly had [warning: discomfiting material] splattered the house with explosive diarrhea. We know it was Nelly because she'd had some symptoms yesterday. This morning I left the house with a nagging feeling that she might be sicker than we thought, but I just couldn't bring myself to up-end yet another day of work for a personal emergency. There was the whole water heater thing. I was scheduled to take Eva in for service today (an amusing anecdote on THAT follows), after blowing off the garage twice at the last minute already: once because I had to drain my leaking water heater, and then a few days later when I just completely spaced it. I couldn't face making a last-minute cancellation call to them AGAIN, because I hate looking like a ditz. I know, pride goeth before a fall (or in this case, before a house full of poo).

Anyhoo, that turned out to be a poor choice.

So Enrico has bundled her off to the emergency vet, which is clear across town, and most likely a three-hour excursion, minimum. He immediately volunteered to do it, because by the time he got home I had, as he put it, done the worst task (namely, the cleaning of poo - our hardwoods will never be the same). So it seemed only fair. And I have to say, karmically speaking, he kind of owes me on this one, after that one time that I had to take Nelly to the emergency vet in the dead of night while he was out of town, oh, and, let's not forget THAT OTHER time when I again had to take BOTH dogs to the emergency vet while he was out of town, on the same day our car broke down and the house across the street burned in a massive middle-of-the-night conflagration. You see the trend here?

The other trend? Is the whole trouble-comes-in-threes thing. There was the aforementioned veterinary emergency/car trouble/arson day. And then a couple years ago there was the broken finger/car accident/house burglary combo. So my question is: Does the water heater/van repair/veterinary emergency count as three? Because the van repair wasn't really an emergency, it was pretty much expected. The price tag was much higher than anticipated, so maybe that counts; but it's not entirely clear, and now I'm on edge, waiting for the third shoe to drop.

I'm sure Nelly is fine, by the way, in case you are fretting about her. She probably has giardia or something. Dogs eat stupid shit; sometimes they get sick. It's only a big deal because they are (relatively) small and dehydrate quickly. I'm just glad it didn't happen while we were on the road.

Speaking of which (I know, this is too long and rather rambling, and I should probably break this out into two separate entries, or perhaps just shut up, but such is my state of mind at the moment), I did indeed take Eva in for a check-up today. As expected, she needed an oil change, air filters (engine and internal) and replacement of pretty much all her fluids. That wasn't a surprise, though just as everyone has warned us, it's crazy expensive to do anything to a Volkswagen. The special fairy-dust VW transmission fluid? Literally costs seven times as much as any other kind of transmission fluid. And they have to do this whole elaborate thing to change it. So it costs $350 fracking dollars. But since the transmission is kinda important, and we know it's a weak spot on this model, we gritted our teeth and told them to go ahead and do the work.

An hour later, the shop called me back.

"We just got your van up on the lift," he said, "and the underside is completely caked with, like, an inch of mud. The wheel wells, struts, underside, everything. Totally coated."

"That doesn't surprise me at all," I said calmly. "Like I explained, we spent a lot of time on gravel roads."

"Seriously, it's totally encased in mud. I'm surprised you didn't have any alignment problems. Where exactly did you go, anyway?"

I explained where we went. He thought that sounded cool. He expounded a bit more on the unbelievable extent of the mud.

"So, can you clean it off?"

"Well, yeah, we have a power washer that can do the job. But we think it's going to take about an hour, so we're going to have to charge you for labor."

"That's fine, I understand."

This was followed by a bit more of [Dude! the mud, THE MUD!], and when I hung up the phone, I cracked up. I envisioned every single mechanic in the shop - and this was a large place, not the two-man hole-in-the-wall we took it to before; Volkswagon Guru Man was on vacation - anyway, I envisioned every guy in the shop standing underneath the lift, gazing up in awe at Eva's belly. You ever seen that much mud? Not me. No way, me neither. Man, that's the most mud I have frickin' EVER seen underneath a car.

When I picked her her, I asked if this impression was correct, that this was indeed The Muddiest Vehicle they had collectively ever seen. The guy chuckled, and didn't really answer. But then he leaned forward conspiratorially, and said in hushed tones, "You ought to see the guy who did the work. He is filthy."

So I guess I made up for the fact that I blew them off twice, by providing them with a tale that they can relate for years to their spellbound children and grandchildren. The mud, THE MUD!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What I want to hear from the president

Today I'm supposed to be on a "conference call" on health care reform with the President - and tens of thousands of other people. I have opinions on many of the details of health care reform, of course, having worked in that field for many years. The current state of the debate makes me inexpressibly depressed. But here's what I yearn to hear.

"More than sixty years ago, Americans decided that people have the right, after 50 years of labor, to lay down our work; and to do so with dignity and some measure of security. In making that commitment to ourselves and each other, we lessened the human suffering and nagging fears that haunted our forebears: the fear of ending our days in destitution; the prospect of unending labor beyond the time when bodies can endure it; the economic need for women to bear as many children as possible to ensure caretakers during old age.

"And thus, we created the concept of retirement. Certainly the systems we established along with it are not perfect; they must be adapted as times change, and are on shaky ground right now, requiring our attention. Moreover the promise of retirement does not absolve us from the duty to contribute our own part to that security, to save and plan and take responsibility for our circumstances. But the underlying promise, that of the right to lay down one's burden in old age with dignity and peace of mind, is now enshrined in our culture, and we are better for it.

"We have before us the opportunity to make a similar leap, a collective covenant of equally momentous import. We can create a life for our children and grandchildren that is free of many of the fears that haunt us: fear that our illnesses and injuries will go untreated; knowledge that we live ever on the edge disaster, should our health coverage disappear due to unemployment, illness, divorce, widowhood; dread of the next unexpected jump in our health care premiums, and the associated painful financial choices; terror that we will be bankrupted and become a burden to our families simply because we got sick.

"We have the opportunity to create the concept of health care as a right - not without our own responsibilities and duties, to share the cost, to care for our bodies, to plan for our future and take responsibility for our circumstances. But a right nonetheless, and one enjoyed already by people around the world. We can walk away from the fear and instead embrace the idea that people should be cared for when they require it, with dignity and some measure of security. We, and the generations that follow us, will be better for it."

Why isn't this what the debate is about?