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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Termite Vacation

Over here, we are eating up the last bits of food in the fridge and making a list of valuables to pack in the car and getting ready for our big termite vacation.  That's right, our building is being tented for termites.  We don't have them, but our front and back neighbors do, and this was deemed necessary by our HOA.  So, we've decided to go to my parents' house, lounge at the pool, do a little San Diego beach time, and relax.  Oh, and I'm going to be bringing all of my laptops, so will be working as well.  Wish me luck getting the motivation for that!

We've had to lug all of our plants from the patio to the back yard, where some of them will probably not make it through the week (and others might decide they love the shade back there!).  We made copies of our key for the termite people and cleaning crew, and we signed all of the contracts releasing them from liability if we return home and drop dead.

We can't have any food at all in the fridge or freezer, and can't have anything else unless it's in a can, or placed inside special double bags.  I made a big trip to the food pantry, tossed a bunch of stuff, and gave my mother-in-law a lot of frozen veggies.  Then we've been cobbling together strange combinations of food for our last few meals.  Such as, tonight I had oatmeal with fresh mangoes for dinner, and Lauren & Ryan had spaghetti and sauce, along with crackers and Brie cheese.  And that was one of the more normal ones.

After the fumigation, we're having the place deep-cleaned before I take my pregnant self back into the poison-residue-laden environment.  Then I will have the vents cleaned and next the carpets.  So it's turning into an expensive "vacation", even without the hotel costs!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Guest Post from my Dad: The Clerk

Here is another true story about life in Alpine, CA

In case you wonder why I collect blonde clerk stories...

One Saturday afternoon, as we were about to grill a nice steak, we ran out of propane.

I took off the tank and went to the Shell station where Crystal, a little blonde kid of about 18 or maybe 16, was waiting on the counter. It has automated pumps which did not require her human interaction with the customers except maybe to hand out the key to the bathroom.

But I had other plans for Crystal. I walked in and asked if she would fill up my propane tank.

"Did you bring your little thingee?" she asked.

"Yup, I got my little thingee out in the truck," I said. (She wasn't going to trip me up with that one.)

"Well, you need to wait until my manager gets back. He's at lunch." she said in delay tactic #2.

"I'm really afraid of those thingees."

"When did he go to lunch?" I asked.

"Before."

"Before what"

"Before it was lunch time," she said.

"And now is it still lunch time?" I said, using my best blonde logic.

"No, and here he comes," she said.

Turns out that her manager, Ricardo, wasn't much older than Crystal and was about as useless. He did manage to get a guy from the adjoining car wash and he filled my 5-gallon tank.

The sign said that propane was $3.98 a gallon.

When I went back to the counter, Crystal said Ricardo was the only one who could ring up Propane.

I didn't ask why.

I knew why.

Well, I thought I knew why...

"That will be $54.20," Ricardo said.

I may not be the brightest star in the sky, but I'm pretty sure that 5 gallons times $4 can only be about $20.

"It can't be much more than $20," I said.

"Well there's tax," he said.

"Where's the car wash guy?" I asked and had him go find the guy. Gumisendo confirmed that, indeed, $4 X 5 gallons was $20 and went back to work.

I finally got back in my truck to leave and found out that Old Alpine Days was going on and included a parade that closed the Main Street for a half hour. I stood there in the Shell driveway watching the horses defecate on the street and looked down at the person next to me. It was Crystal. There was a Shell Station full of people behind her because they were also stuck. But there was no clerk, she was out watching the parade.

"Crystal," I said. "Where's Ricardo."

"Oh, he went on his break," she said.

I finally waited out the parade and went home. My lovely wife, who has a propensity for stating the obvious, was waiting by the grill the steak in hand.

"How long can it possibly take to fill one little propane tank?" she asked. Obviously...

it was a rhetorical question.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Baby Gear

When I think back on Lauren's babyhood, these are some of the items I really liked and either kept or will buy again:

Baby Wrap
Baby Einstein Exersaucer
Ergo Baby Carrier
Boppy Pillow
Bum Genius diapers

I'm sure there are others I liked, but there were a lot of completely forgettable items, too, that I could just as well have done without.  Babies come with a lot of gear!

Today, I was lucky enough to win tickets to "She's Having a Baby", Jayneoni Moore's baby shower event.  I really wanted to go, so I entered several contests and ended up winning 1 ticket on Bizzie Mommy and 2 tickets on Rockin' Mama.  I took Danielle and Vejune, two of my friends who are not yet parents and but both very interested in baby things and contemplating their own impending parenthood. (I'm not saying they're pregnant!  Just that one day in the next year or two...)

We had such a great time!  I bought a little outfit for $5 for Wrigley for coming home from the hospital.  We sampled cupcakes and PopChips and sipped iced tea.  We left with gift bags filled with all kinds of baby gear, samples of baby sunscreen, diapers, bottles, wipes, pacifiers, things like that.  Some of the vendors just didn't apply to me.  Wish they did, but I'm not going to be hiring an interior decorator to design my nursery.  (I'm going to be cramming Wrigley into Lauren's room and he'll have to deal with the pink and purpleness of it all! ) But some of the new products that have come out since Lauren was an infant are really intriguing.  Everything now is BPA free, and I'd gotten rid of the plastic things she had, not knowing if there was BPA in them.  So I have to start over again with bottles, pacifiers, feeding stuff, teeth toys.

This Fisher Price Newborn Rock and Play Sleeper looks great for how small and portable it is.  I have a co-sleeper I was going to use, and Lauren's old Laura Ashley bassinet but if they take up too much space, I might buy this:




The funny thing is that I bought a $20 raffle ticket on the way in, for some baby gear from the sponsors.  Of all the products I wandered around and looked at, the one thing I saw that I was most excited about and all set to actually buy ASAP when I got home, was a cute plastic ladybug toy caddy with a scoop that mounts on the shower wall, for bathtub toys.  Lauren needs something like this because her bathtub toys are a hot mess!


So the funny thing is, of all things, I won this item! 

But by far the coolest exhibit, V & D & I agreed, that we saw all day was the teething bling necklaces & bracelets from SmartMomJewelery.com.  They look nice and are safe for babies to chew on.  The owner gave me one, and I chose a pink one for Lauren to wear while she's holding Wrigley.

Disclaimer: I received no compensation for any of these product reviews, but I did receive a free teething necklace anbd Bug Pod, and free tickets to the "She's Having a Baby" event.

Wrigley

It occured to me that now that I have been telling people in person and on Facebook, I haven't ever updated the blog to announce that we are expecting a brother for Lauren in early November!  So now some of the hints or comments or remarks about being tired, etc.  will make more sense!

We had an early scare with his heart skipping beats at the first ultrasound, which could have been a symptom of a genetic heart disease, or could have just been that it was developing a little bit late, but still healthy.  So, I transfered care to the high risk OB temporarily, I had another ultrasound a week later, it was fine, and then they did a CVS test to be sure it was not a genetic problem, and the test results came back-normal healthy male chromosomes.  Which the doctors were thrilled about because once in awhile CVS tests accidentally grab DNA from the mother, so if it says XX, they can never really be sure it's the baby's DNA.

Lauren figured out about the pregnancy early on.  She looked at me and said "hey, you've got my baby sister in your tummy!".  Then she insisted it was a girl and got very insulted when anyone would say it was really her brother.  Now that she's had a month to get used to the idea, she wants to name him "Charlie" (which is already the name of my grandfather, uncle, and cousin, so we won't be using it, even though I love them, the name feels "taken"!).  I have been calling him "Wrigley" as a joke because he is so wriggly and squirmy in there.  The ultrasound tech had quite a time doing the nuchal fold test because he would not hold still, and would much rather demonstrate his backflip technique than to be observed.  She did enough of a look to confirm the gender.  I was going to ask her to guess to see if she could tell yet and she could already clearly see it at the 14 week ultrasound.

Lauren vacilates between being excited about the baby and being jealous, which is all normal.  She's also mourning for the sister she won't get.  (Most likely-we only want to have 2 children so this is it, is the plan.)  She says she is going to pick out her brother's wardrobe and she's going to give him kisses and teach him to laugh.  That is, when she is not saying she wants to give him back to the hospital and get a sister instead!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Guest Post from my Dad: Names

Another guest post from my Dad.  He's on a roll!
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Names.
 
Never really thought much about them until our daughter said she was pregnant with our second grandchild...a boy.
 
Now they rattle around in my head day and night.
 
"How about Abel?" I blurted out the other day at dinner.
 
"She isn't due until November.  Besides they aren't going to take any of your suggestions for names." I was told rather tersely.
 
I came up with the perfect one on Tuesday...Rocquefort.  No one else liked it.
 
I have noticed that when friends send pictures of their grandchildren, the kids are usually named "Brooklyn,"
Alison or some trendy name.  It seems like the names go in streaks.
For example, have you noticed that most of the little blonde convenient store clerks are named Tiffany and they can't count.  When they were born, how did the parents know enough to name them?  And most of the convenient
store owners are Achmed of Mohammed.   It's uncanny.
 
I remember the story about the woman who had so many children that she ran out of names. She went to the courthouse to find a famous name on an office door.  Sure enough, she found one on a double door and named
her kid "Nosmo King."  Try closing the doors.
 
The current trend seems to be naming your kid with some geographic name. I think this is very unfair so some of the cities in the country which don't stand a chance...like Biloxi and Bellingham and Cleveland.
 
You can only use Brooklyn so many times.
 
Instead, I propose that each kid be named after the place they were conceived.  You know, like Back Seat Boston and Drive-In Denver, Park Bench Pittsburgh, Artificial Insemination Albany.  This would add some definition and information to the naming convention.  
 
Historically, last names were derived from ancestors' occupations.  Such as Cooper, Shoemaker, Fisher, etc.
This would be a really informative concept to bring back.  I can see it now..."Back Seat Boston Bus Boy,"
"Drive-In Denver Domino Delivery Driver"  (or just "D" for short).
 
I'm not sure what they plan on naming this kid.  But I do know that my suggestions don't stand a chance.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Guest post from my dad: Dentist Pants

Another guest post from Daddles.  Again, please comment if you want to see more.  I've got a few more in the in-box waiting to post!
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 Today I am wearing my dentist pants.
    That's what my family and friends call them.
They look like any other pair of khaki slacks with those pleated fronts, but this pair has no little tab to pull the zipper.
    I knew it was about to break off when I put them on to go to the dentist's office, but who would think that it almost got me arrested.
    They gave me an early-morning appointment.  It was before most humans even get up.  So Ihad a few cups of java to get the day going.  The dentist gave me three shots of pain killer and told me to wait in the chair until it took affect.  Well, you know what happens when you drink coffee...an hour or so later you need to pee like a race horse... and I did (need to pee).
   I got up and looked around for the bathroom.  Then I remembered that it was in another part of the office...the
part that was seldom used anymore but still had all the equipment...kinda like me.
    I did my business, but the little tab came off in my fingers when I tried to tug the zipper up.  Well, I couldn't go trapesing through the office with my fly down, so I found a little tray of those sharp pickers next to a vacant chair and went to work on getting the zipper up.
    Just my luck that a little dental assistant happened by, stopped and stared at me in horror. 
    "What are you doing with that dental pick?"  she asked.
     I really couldn't talk coherently because, by now, the pain killer numbed every nerve in my mouth, throat, nose and ears.
  
    "Ahm fishing mah zippa.  Tryin ta get it up with da 'lil pick..." I mumbled quite honestly.
    "Oh my God, that may have to go in someone's mouth today," she said. 
    I wasn't sure at first what she meant, then I realized she was talking about the dental pick.
    "Ahlll wath it off, but ah hadda get it fished...." I said and headed back to my side of the building and the safety of my chair.
    " I oughta call security," she yelled at my back.
    "Go ahead, you don have thecurity!" I said over my shoulder.  Then I began to think about whether that guy in the blue uniform did the whole mall or just Sears and gee, did he have a gun?
     When I got back to my cubicle (I know which one it was because of the Ansel Adams photo on the wall "Shades of Light"), a lady was sitting in my chair. 
     "Wha are yoo doing in mah thair?" I asked.  She look horrified, but answered anyway.  "Ahm theposed to git
a fillin' fished."  They got her with the same pain killer, I fear.
      Anyway they finally found another chair for me.  It wasn't quite the same because it had a cheap Monet print on the wall. God, how I hate impressionists.
      They got the security guy from Sears, but by then I had blended into rest of the prone patients with the sucking tube hanging out of their jaws and the green striped bibs chained around their throats...
     I can't bear to throw out those pants

Friday, May 14, 2010

Guest post from my dad: Shoe Shopping

My dad (who used to be a journalist) sends me hilarious emails that he writes himself, and he said I could post this one from his shoe-shopping outing with my mom today.  If you like his guest posts and want to see more, leave a supportive comment, please! :)
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I guess this could only happen in California.
 
I made the mistake of going shoe shopping with my Mary Ann yesterday.
 
I say mistake, because I have a firm and fast rule against such madness.  But
she had me at a disadvantage.  I had my pupils dilated for some eye tests
and couldn't drive...so I was a captive shopper. I knew I was in for it when
she told me that "this could take a while." 
 
 Usually, she is just going to "run right in and be right back."
 
We drove to an industrial strip mall near the city landfill.  I couldn't see
very well, but I know the sweet aroma of a dump when I smell it.
 
The place was called Road Runner Sports.  When we entered, a greeter
took us by the hand to introduce us to our Personal
Fit Expert (everything is personal in CA)...in my case it was George.
My wife asked specifically for a woman and was taken off to another part of the store. 
 
We weaved around a bunch of young people in jogging shorts and
sneakers to what looked like a mini gym.
 
George, my PFE and a kid young enough to be my grandson, has a routine called "Shoe Dog."
 
Here's how it works:
 
You take off your shoes and socks and roll up your pants (unless, of course you came
attired in jogging shorts or a bathing suit). 
You stand on what feels like a small pool of gel for 15 seconds.  The have a screen
showing two feet with various parts in red, yellow and green.  This is called a "paw reading'
and supposedly shows them the 3-D peak pressure of your feet.  Mine were "balanced."
 
You then jog on a treadmill for 20 seconds at about 2 mph and they take a video of your
ankles from behind.  This is the "Trot & Analyze" part and supposedly shows your foot flexibility.
Mine was rigid or "neutral."
 
I would find out later that these scientific tests were to determine what type of little inserts they
would sell you for the sneakers you bought.  Mine were "neutral" ...because, after all, everything
about my feet and stride was "neutral."
 
Then they slid my feet into a measuring stick and George proudly announced that
I took a size 11 1/2 E.  I had been wearing a 10D for 50 years, but I didn't say anything
because I was there for the experience and maybe I could learn something.
 
I was then seated in front of a display showing sneakers in various degrees of flex.  I sat patiently in front
of the "neutral" section. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see George trying to convince a young
lady to wait on me.  She seemed reluctant or so I thought.  Maybe it was because she kept looking at
me and rolling her eyes back in her head.  Eventually, she came over with a sheet of paper the results of my "Shoe Dog" testing and sighed that she would "be right back with your selection." 
 
I waited about 20 minutes and finally decided I better look at the display and see a) how much sneakers cost these days and b) where they were made.  Sorry I got up.
 
The sneakers ranged from $124 to $159 and were made either in China or Vietnam.
 
I sat back down dejectedly.  I hadn't paid more than $12  for sneakers in my life...OK, that was also 50 years ago. In fact,  the last pair I got were Tony Lima tennis sneakers I won in a golf tournament because that's all they had left in the pro shop. $19.99.
 
I finally saw a guy two rows over who was about my age.  So I went over and asked him.  "What are the best sneakers to buy?"  "Well,  I have been wearing Nike Air for years, but today I thought I would try these..." he said, holding up a
pair of black sneakers with while bone-like skeletal designs on them.
 
"Kinky," I said and sat back down.
 
Eventually, the sales person returned, dropped three boxes down next to me and left.  I may not be the
sharpest knife in the drawer, but I figured that these must be my "selection."
 
I got a pair of Nike, something called New Balance or something and Basics.  The Basics looked like those skeletal
wanabees the guy had.  The others were fancy sneakers with all kinds of tread patterns under them.  Each said "neutral." 
 
I never saw the salesperson again...mostly because I left. 
 
But first I wandered over to the women's "Shoe Dog" testing center where I found my wife standing in some blue pillows while another woman shaped some inserts around her feet.  She looked happy, so I figured I wouldn't whine at her just yet.
Instead, I just said I couldn't find anything in my size and I would be in the car... but certainly take your time
(I think there is a novel or two in the trunk).
 
Instead, I shielded my sensitive eyes against the bright Southern California sun and walked around the corner
There were racks of sneakers out in the parking lot, under a sign that clearly said "Clearance."  I had to ask someone.
These were sneakers that people bought from the store out front and returned after wearing them once.
No really...it even said so on the racks.
 
I found those Nike Air in the 10D section and tried them on. They fit perfectly.  I began to wonder about my
"neutral" inserts so I asked.  The clerk snickered and said simply "Why would you need neutral inserts if you
your feet are already neutral?"  Wow, good point...I never thought of that.
 
The price tag on these used sneakers was $49.99.. a steal compared to the original MSRP of $159.99.
And whomever wore them once to jog in, never even sweated in them or puked on them.
 
Reality struck, however, and I thought of my $12 sneakers at home.  I walked away from the deal.
 
I found my wife at the cash register in the real store. She was buying some $129 sneakers with $80 inserts...
but she got a really good deal.  If you spend $20 on a VIP membership, you get a discount on your purchase.
I hope the discount added up to more than $20, but I was afraid to ask.  Why start trouble?  Besides,
the VIP card was good for any member of the family.  Let's see...there is only she and I and the cat.
 
Today I am wearing a pair of 9 1/2D Brockport walking shoes that were given to me by a friend whose uncle
bought them a day or two before he died.  They feel really, really good even if they are light gray and look like
some thing a nurse would wear in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Saturday, May 01, 2010

The laptop

This is one of the things I've been busy dealing with, which I knew would take some space and distance to write about, without wanting to reach out and ring the necks of some far-away "customer service" people.

When I started telecommuting, my boss bought me a nice, new IBM Thinkpad laptop. It had a two year warranty, which I used several times. I can't even remember now what for. A few times, it was keyboard buttons or the left mouse (probably from overuse!). One time, I got into a dispute with them because there was a very small display problem (one or two pixels not lit) and they didn't want to fix it, arguing that I probably broke it in some "voiding the warranty way". I didn't hat time,(ahem, they never asked about the keyboard keys that a toddler pulled off!) and finally got someone to agree to take it apart, where they determined that specific damage could not have been caused by an accident, it was a faulty display. So, they fixed it.

After the two years was up, it was working fine, but not covered under warranty anymore so hence, not reliable. I asked my boss for a new one. This time, I got a Sony Vaio, which I found on clearance at the bookstore for $925.  We pay for it with a purchase order (these two facts will become more important later.)  I wanted a nice display so I could have many windows open at once, and Sony is supposed to have excellent graphics/display quality. For an extra $169, we got the 3 year "accidental insurance" so that supposedly, everything was covered, so I wouldn't even have to deal with them questioning repairs and how they happened, they would just fix it.

So about 6 months in, the little plastic piece by the power supply cracked. In other words, the round button on the side that you push to turn it off and on, was surrounded by a gray plastic tube.  That plastic tube cracked.  Now, I know how it happened, but it doesn't matter.  The thing juts out and gets caught on my zipper every time I am putting it inside my laptop bag, and all of that wear and tear eventually broke it.  Anyway, they repaired it and the left mouse, which was sticking by then.   They sent it back with a nice note about how they hoped I had been satisfied with the Sony Service, and a free cleaning cloth. 

Fastword to March, when the EXACT same piece breaks agin.  I delay sending it in, because it still works,  it is just hanging on by a thread, and I have deadlines and web pages to get up, can't be without it for a week or I won't be paid that week.  Eventually, though, it severs one of now-exposed wires.  So now the laptop will not charge a battery, however, it runs just fine from the battery power (until, of course, the battery gives out and now there's no place to charge it).  So, I call Sony again to send me a box to ship it off for repairs.

This time, they will not even send the box, and they inform me that there is a lifetime allowance of the value of the laptop, and that since I have used $750 in repairs the first time, there is only $175 left.  WHAT? !  $750 TO REPAIR A BROKEN PLASTIC PIECE AND SWAP OUT A MOUSE?!  This is the first I have heard of this exhorbitant supposed cost.  My two points are that 1) Since I've had this exact same problem  before, perhaps the repair was faulty if it only lasted 6 months and 2) How do they know the repair cost will exceed $175 without even looking at it?

Their response was that they contract out to a repair company who does all of their hardware repairs for a flat $750 fee.  You can imagine my outrage and questioning of this fee.  If I had only broken the space bar, as I did with the ThinkPad, would that have cost $750?  Yes.  And then I would have used up the entire allowance for the 3 years in one repair.  Without any knowledge that they would later deny subsequent repair claims. 

I could go on here about the subsequent efforts to call them back, get a supervisor on the phone, be put on hold, etc. Bottom line, they are refusing any kind of negotiation, and are only going to give my boss a check for $175, the amount of money left in their "allowance", and closing out their further obligations to us, leaving us with a broken laptop. 

I may edit this post later and include the legal clause about the "up to the limit of the laptop minus the lifetime value of any repairs" which seems so vague and misleading, but is what they are going by. 

Anyway, at this point I am using the old workhorse ThinkPad.  We are looking for a local electronics repair place to sodder the wire back together--I'm confident it will cost far less than $750! In talking with friends and the computer support guys in our office, the reputation seems to be that Dell has good customer service, and that Sonys are known to be overpriced pieces of crap.   But I warn all of you away from Sony Vaios!

Also, had I only purchased this with my Visa Platinum or AmEx, I could have reaped the warranty extension benefits.  But we did a purchase order because we didn't think we had to worry about that, we thought we had 3 years of "anything" warranty.  So much for that!