Monday, May 29, 2017

List Killing

My wife and I have never been yard people. We do not enjoy "getting our hands dirty," planting or growing things, we do not have a vegetable garden, and most of our flowers are potted annuals that come from Aldi. 

The reason I bring this up is, we have a graduation party looming on June 10th. It is outdoors, for the most part. This means we have been spending the bulk of the past few weekends busting our tails to get the yard and the house in shape.

It's enough to push a person to small condo shopping.

If you're anything like us, you get comfortable in your home with things not working quite right. And there's nothing like 40-60 people coming into your house to make you see every one of those things. This turned the righting of the neglected into an obsession for both of us. Lists were made, tasks were assigned, weekends became a thing of dread (for the work involved) and trips were made to Steins, Home Depot, and Piala's Nursery.

Faucets, kitchen islands, light fixtures, drawer organization, closet cleaning, new furniture purchases, bushes, dirt, mulch, flowers, and general deep cleaning and tidiness. Whew! Are we there yet?

We're knocking the projects out one at a time, and I have to say, it feels pretty good. It gives a person a certain peace of mind to know that several projects that have been in the back of one's head are finally checked off. 

One of the bigger projects is the back patio. It is a 10' x 12' area and will be actually a kind of nice area to sit once it's done. 

And I think I'll sit there every night for a week and just catch my breath after the whole graduation is over. 

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Rio Not-So-Grande

For some unknown reason, I have always liked small cars. This probably sounds strange coming from a man who is 6'4", but it is a fact. I think it is the frugal person in me. I hate spending money on gas, so an economical car just seems too good to pass up.

My first couple of cars were compacts. Out of college, I bought an '83 escort with power nothing, AM radio and a 4 speed squirrel-fed 1.6 liter engine. It was as weak as it sounds, but at the time was all I needed. I'd like to say it served me well for the 5 years or so I had it, but it really didn't. Back then the American car market wasn't what it is today, so it seemed it was forever failing me in one way or another. When she started blowing white smoke, usually a sign that your head gasket is gone, I knew it was time to upgrade to my dream car.

A 1989 Honda civic hatchback.

Dream car, you say? Yep, I always wanted a Honda, so I got one. It was much more reliable than my escort. I loved the civic. I only got rid of it because we had our first child, and suddenly a two door hatchback seemed about as inconvenient as it was.

So recently we purchased a Kia Rio with the intention of selling it to Sarah after she uses it up north for her internship this summer. It is another small compact and I guess I have driven vans and SUV's for quite a while, because driving this is a TRIP!

For starters, you feel every bump and crack in the road. Part of this is because you are literally sitting about 8 inches from the pavement.

Plus, you feel every MPH as you work up to the speed limit. If you treat the squirrels nicely, you can get up to 60 by the end of the merge ramp. 70 and 75 MPH require emptying your pockets and a nice tailwind, not to mention holding on to the wheel for dear life.

Add to all of this the plebeian manual locks which makes for a circus-like exercise anytime you're getting groceries or packing the car.

Did I mention it has no cruise control? Oh yeah. It's a lot like my Escort that way. At least it has A/C which my escort did not.

At the same time the car is a perfect first car for a college student like Sarah.

  1. You can fill the tank for $18.00 and make it to northern Mexico on that tank.
  2. You can park the thing anywhere. Heck, you could probably park two in one spot if you tried hard enough.
  3. It turns on a dime. You can scoot through intersections effortlessly and turn a u-banger without even leaving your lane practically. 
  4. It has only 38,000 miles on it, so it'll go a while. 
As I packed it last night for her internship, I was doubting I'd have enough room, It surprised me again with how much it could hold. It reminds me of our post-wedding trip home from New York in Donna's Chevette. Packed to the gills, and happy to be on the road.

That'll be us today in our Rio. 

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

A Plumber's Helper Of A Different Sort

The view from below, minus my head.
With Ben's high school graduation coming in a little less than three weeks, we have been catching up on many badly-needed house projects, both indoors and out. There's nothing quite like having 50 people come to your house to get you to take a look around and see what needs work. As a result, we both have mental lists in our heads and whittle away at projects as we can.

Today we tackled our kitchen faucet, a project we've been putting off for about a year now. Our old faucet had built up so many mineral deposits that it didn't even pivot to the second sink. Like so many aspects of home ownership,
we just kind of lived with it thinking...someday. Besides, who uses that second sink anyway, right? Well, just the rest of the world, that's all.

I have said many, many times on this blog that I don't consider myself "handy". On the other hand, I've said equally as many times that I don't give myself enough credit. I said it when I put the dishwasher in, I said it when I fixed our dryer belt, and I said it when I replaced our oven ignitor. It goes along hand in hand with my fear that I will try fixing something and end up messing it up worse - sometimes even requiring getting some professional to fix my fix.

The thing I dreaded about this job was the cramped space. I'm a large man with large limbs, so fitting my upper torso under a sink is no easy feat. Never mind that you are laying in gunk that is all of questionable nature - chemicals and sprays, food particles and other unidentifiable crumbs. Add to that trying to manipulate stuck bolts, washers and fittings in dim light and, well. you have all the trappings of a curse fest.

So I set upon my task with fear and trepidation. After I shut the water valves off, and unhooked the water supplies, I went about taking off what I thought were the only two screws holding the faucet.

Hey, this ain't so bad, these things come off easy!

Once they were off, I got out from under the sink and pulled the faucet. It didn't move. As it turns out there was a lock washer on a long, threaded brass inlet.

This is where the cursing started.

Because it was such a tight space and the nut was locked by deposits I couldn't budge the thing. Eventually, I told Donna to look at it. Now, she is much smaller than I so was able to get a wrench around the nut and while I twisted from above, she twisted from below.

After a bit, lo and behold she said she'd loosened it. This is the beauty of a good marriage. Teamwork kicks in when one or the other is struggling.

Well, after she got that loose things went much smoother. There were still some terse words at a couple of junctures, but overall, it was a piece of cake compared to what we'd just been through.

When it was finished, my wife asked me why we always wait so long to do things like this that are so simple. Then we joked about how nice the new faucet was and said "This is how the rich people live!"

And so it goes. I will continue to consider myself "not handy" and I will likely continue to surprise myself with projects that I successfully complete.

And I will also continue to procrastinate and gripe about them for 12-18 months before I do any of them.

Because that's how we roll around here on College Avenue.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Out Of Service

Some places are better than others with customer service. It seems in this day and age that you have fundamentally three levels of service.

  1. Overly friendly, generally great service.
  2. Meh-I'm-just-making-a-buck-for-a-living service
  3. Dreadful, awful never-shopping-here-again service.
Today I had the misfortune of a number three experience. It was the local Office Depot, where I had placed an order for bookmarks, a placard and some color copies. The service was bad when I placed the order - the clerk had to ask me twice for the flash drive with the files on it because he never saved them to the computer's hard drive. 

This was followed up the next day by a phone call saying he needed one of the files on the flash drive and could I email it to him?

But he left no email address on the voice mail, of course.

I emailed the file back and yesterday later I got an email telling me my order was done. So today I went to pick it up. 

And...they couldn't find the order.

It seems that clerk Jarrett had put 2/3 of the order somewhere and despite being an area the size of my living room, none of the three clerks could find it. Meanwhile, they took turns punting my problem between themselves while one or the other:

  1. Helped another customer
  2. Called Jarrett (No answer)
  3. Looked in the same places the clerk before them had just looked
Of course when I was eight miles away, I checked my phone and there was a message that they had found my order and I could turn around and come get it if I wanted. 

Um, no.

It was up there as one of the more disorganized operations I've worked with. I've worked with them in the past, because they're one of the few print services that do things that I need for my book promotion. They're much cheaper than buying those kinds of things on the web via Vista Print or other such places. 

The downside to this is you get what you pay for. 

Another example of crappy service was the other night when we took my mom out to a favorite old steak place of ours in St, Paul, Mancini's Char House. We used to always love going there with mom and it's been eight years since we went, so we thought we'd try it.

When I checked with one of the hosts, he was short with me and pointed me in the direction of another. She was rude also and told me to go wait in the lounge and they'd call our name because they were "backed up."

In the lounge the waiter (a young kid) didn't offer to clean off our table and was short with us too. 

The waitress was a bit better, but the mood had been set. We probably won't go back. When you spend the kind of money we spent to eat, you expect a level of service more like #1. 

My wife and I get that #1 service every Saturday when we go to coffee at the Steaming Cup. Friendly clerks, friendly waitstaff and people who seem to enjoy their jobs.

In this day and age, with so many businesses competing for consumer dollars, customer service is critical. People need to be aware of that. I am quick to write a good review, but will do the same for crappy service. I think it's only fair that businesses know how they're doing.

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Lifetime Commitment

Typically, in the past I've always written about my mother on Mother's Day. But today I wanted to touch upon a different mother, namely, the mother of our children.

I do this in large part because she's earned every accolade she gets. She keeps the ship running tight and while we are still a team, still a village, she is what keeps the village from burning down.

Early into motherhood, we tried the whole day care thing with Sarah. At first Donna took Sarah to work and tried to work that scenario out. It wasn't long before that didn't work any longer and we set Sarah up with a babysitter. When that broke down, we determined that we were better off having her take a part-time night job and stay at home with Sarah and later, Benjamin.

I remember those days well. When I got in the door I was often met with a mother who needed adult stimulation and conversation. Often times it was "tag you're it," as she passed the kids off to me while she got things done that having two kids doesn't permit. (Things like showering, reading more than a paragraph at a time, etc.)

All it took was a couple of Pampered Chef conferences where I was left with the kids, to understand what her day was like. Diapers, formula, play time, meals, trips to the park, naps, more play time, bath time, more meals, story time and collapse in a blubbering heap time.

I quickly realized that, despite the pressures of a nine-to-five job, I was the one with the easy job, not her. I got to go to a (relatively) quiet office with my own space, uninhabited by extremely short people toting sippee cups full of milk and interact with real live adults. It doesn't sound that great until you've changed your third diaper of the day, stepped on a few Legos and answered thirty seven questions about where something is, or how come this, or can we go here?

It's enough to make email look appealing.

And she did it well. I think the best gauge of parents is how your kids turn out. And we've been blessed with a couple of smart, empathetic, funny kids. I am confident that we had a role in some of that. And I am even more confident that they would not have come out as good as they have had she not stayed at home during those early years. This is not to say day care is bad - everyone has different situations - I guess it is to say that I am glad we were able to work our situation out on one and a half incomes. I think it paid dividends.

So, now the kids are both almost off to college, and she's still rallying the troops. She has about three more weeks of shouting Ben's name upstairs every morning to wake him for school. Then, four more years of FAFSA (Student Aid), college registration dates, requirements, move ins, move outs, and finally launching them into the world.

And while yes, we're working as a team, she's up in the booth, calling the plays.

But there's three of us who are trying to drown out the crowd noise and execute. And we know the play will work, because she's the best in the business.

Happy Mother's Day, Donna!

We love you completely!

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Strange Ways Of The 70's

I've taken to listening and watching YouTube videos of bands from the seventies and eighties. Because YouTube's algorithm actually puts similar videos as recommendations in the suggestion panel, it makes it easy to roll back through the hits of the day.

And no matter what age you are, the music of your teen years seems to always stay with you. It's such a formative time of life, that the music of the era seems to be life's soundtrack.

On top of remembering the songs, the words and the tunes, you associate the songs with certain situations or time frames - music is really cool that way. A few examples.

Firefall's song "Strange Way", puts me right back in my 68 Cutlass driving to Afton Alps skiing with some high school friends. I don't know if it played on my radio that night, but it was certainly a huge hit at the time. Because Top 40 was all there was for rock n roll radio choices, it was frequently played.

The Seekers "Georgy Girl", brings me back to the house we rented on Hubbard Avenue in Saint Paul after Dad was killed. It was kind of a dump, but was a marked step up from the housing projects we were living in before that. For some reason, I remember Mom telling me that dad always liked that song.

Vanity Fair's "Hitchin' a Ride" and Blues Image's "Ride Captain Ride" both take me back to the beach at Bayport in the early 70's. There was a beach house where you could play pinball, buy chips and a frozen Charleston Chew, (Crack 'em up!). Hooked up above the door of the place was a big speaker that blasted music for all the beach goers. These were a couple of the songs.

Shocking Blues "Venus" was a song that I absolutely loved as an 8th grader, So, when a classmate's band got up in the gym and played it along with a few other songs, I was floored. Furthermore, it was a super quiet girl who is the last person I would have ever suspected playing in a band, and there she was playing the bass - all cool like.

Badfinger's "Baby Blue" takes me back to my buddy Ross's apartment where we drank many cheap beers and listened to his kicking stereo. Ross had a thing for Badfinger. They were never my favorite, but I could appreciate them. And when you're at someone else's place, they have DJ trump over you.

There are so many more and believe me it can be a big time-suck for me once I've fallen into the pit of YouTube classic videos of these songs. But it sure is fun some times.

Music is magical to me in the way it can take me back to an allegedly simpler time. The music of the 70's will always be part of my story.

What were your memorable teenage songs?

Blogging off...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Spring Sprint

Well, spring is fully upon us and that means many things.

It seems everywhere I turn I am blown away with a budding tree or bush. I can tell I'm over 50 because every year I am more awestruck by the beauty that each season brings, especially spring and fall - birth and death. Having a phone in my pocket makes passing these up without a photo nearly impossible. Why is that? Now I have a phone full of flowering crab trees. What good is that? I don't know, but I can't help it. It's a strange affliction.

My yard beckons to be tended to - a pastime I loathe deep to my core. We're hosting a small party for Ben's graduation in about a month, so something needed to happen. As a result, yesterday and today I spent some time tilling soil, picking rocks, picking weeds and even planting some bushes. It actually made me feel better - like progress was being made. Don't get me wrong, I still hate it to great depths, but at least I feel better.

Kids are approaching year end. This coming weekend my daughter will be done with school in Minnesota, so we will be taking that 5 hour trek to fetch her. We will only have her home for two weeks before she heads up to her internship job in northern Wisconsin, but it means our family will be back to whole again. At the same time, my son is finishing up his final exams and his Advanced Placement exams which count for college credit (almost always). There is just a whole lot of logistics that goes with all of this as well as the preparation for this fall. And don't even get me started about the financial stress. Yikes.

Fishing season opened this weekend, and I didn't wet a line. As I mentioned, the house takes priority at the moment, but I will be going when we take Sarah up north for her internship in a few weeks, so I will be fishing soon enough. It will serve as my reward for busting tail on the gardens/yard.

With all the nice weather, my bike beckons as well. I managed to get 22 miles in this weekend on three different outings. I'm one of those weirdos that, if I don't get a chance to stretch my legs and work out the stress of my day, I get crabby. So, being able to bike most days of the week keeps me sane.

So, while I love the season, I feel a little like I'm running in front of the train with only one shoe and the other one is not properly laced. It should slow down a little after Ben graduates, but it'll heat up again in the fall. This is called the cycle of life, I believe. And as crazy as it is, we'll get through it.

I hope your spring season brings hope and happiness after our long winter.

Blogging off...

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Book Wrasslin'

Well, I finished the second complete edit of my book-in-progress. (Still untitled)

The good news is I don't completely hate it. In fact I'm sorta falling back in love with it. It's like the girlfriend you've been around for 5 years and recently broke up with, but then you realize she has some really redeeming qualities, so you call her up again.

And you say, "Hey, wanna get Chinese?"

So, I guess I'm at the Chinese stage of birthing a book.

We're dating again.

Talking civil again.

It is really amazing what a good thorough edit can reveal. Several times I fixed repetitive words of the week. Sometimes there times where I fixed things like times, like, multiple times, times two.
From the Porch of 1121 Portland.

Finding these "words of the week" as we call them in my writing workshop, has become a skill after correcting myself from them over a period of years. Yet I still do it. I guess the important thing is that they get caught before it goes to final edit. But still, you would think after doing this for eight years or so this kind of pen hacking would cease.

But that is the nature of writing. It is an ongoing struggle to master the English language and form cohesive streams of thought.

Now, I started my third edit last night and came across another annoyance. In the first paragraph of the book where I start by talking about our porch, for some unknown reason I end the paragraph talking about our solid maple doors.

On the porch? I think not!

What the heck, man. Have you ever written before?

While the talk of doors might have fit somewhere else in the book, it certainly had no place where it lay. The question is, how did I miss it the first time through? And how did my workshop colleagues miss it?

What the heck, man. Haven't they ever written before?

There were a hundred other little annoyances in edit #2 as well. Paragraphs that were too short. Sentences that were too long. Subject changes mid paragraph and repeating an event that was mentioned earlier in the book.

All of this stuff makes reading more arduous for the readers. Authors should look at their readers' time as precious and not beat them up with writing that reads like a seventh grader.

And so I'll go through it a third time, hopefully with considerably more ease than the second time. From there I will pass it on to my friend and editor in Michigan. She will go through it essentially a fourth time.

From there, we should be good to go. Overall, I'm keeping on track, despite occasionally sounding like I'm writing while knocking off a bottle of Scotch.

Stay tuned.

Blogging off,,,