Home Improvement

One of the goals during our last trip to Phoenix was to get a few items knocked off our to-do list.  The hope was to keep from having a ton of stuff that needs to get done right after we complete the 2 day drive down at the end of October.  Since the trip was originally planned for nearly 2 weeks, it was a reasonable goal.  When Japan came into the picture and our trip was cut to less than 6 days, it became a little more aggressive.  Some clear priorities emerged – the most important item was getting our tub replaced before the end of the one year warranty.  Why did we need a new tub?  Unfortunately, at some point during construction  a noxious liquid was allowed to sit in the tub for a prolonged period of time, seeping into the cultured marble and leaving an ugly yellow stain around the drain.

Getting a tub replaced in one day is apparently close to impossible.  But the woman in the builder’s office made an extraordinary effort to get it done.  The tear out and replacement was complete by 9 AM.  It scared the hell out of me.  The easiest way to removed a tub is to break it into pieces.  As we sat in our living room, it sounded like World War III was happening over our heads.  Then the new tub had to be carried up to the 3rd floor.  Which also scared the hell out of me, but they managed to pull it off without putting any major dents in the walls.  The first glitch happened at 10 AM, when the person scheduled to replace the surround pieces showed up 2 hours early, before the plumber had arrived.  Okay, can’t expect perfection.  The plumber was late (of course) so by the time the surround was installed and caulked, it was almost 2 PM.  The last person arrived at 3, to patch and paint.  Then we hit glitch #2 – the caulk was still wet, so he couldn’t tape it off to paint.

The company responsible for painting closes their office at 3 PM.  It was Friday, so clearly we hit an impasse for the weekend.  On Monday I was able to get the painting rescheduled for Tuesday morning.  Since our flight was that afternoon, it was cutting it a little close.  When the painter arrived he realized that he didn’t have the right paint color.  This was in spite of my informing both the builder’s office and the painter’s office what paint color was needed.  Funny, because the Friday painter actually saw the area that needed to be painted (white semi-gloss) and he was the person who gave the wrong color (tan flat) to the new painter.  So I wasn’t sure whether to be more annoyed with the person who saw the room and still provided the wrong paint or with the person who accepted the wrong paint color even though he had been told by two other people what the color should be.  Confused yet?

Fortunately, the paint store is very close to our house and he was able to get the correct color and get all of the work done well before we needed to leave.  In addition to our round of musical tubs, we also managed to get all of the cabinet and drawer handles (38 total) installed in our kitchen.   In theory, this should be easy to do.  The DIY shows all seem to do this using a template to drill the holes, which makes it go quickly.  The only problem is that you will end up with handles that are level and square to the cabinet doors, not necessarily to each other.  And our cabinet doors are not all level and square to each other.  Guess what your eye notices more?  It was a painstaking process to get all of the handles level, but they look awesome.  My contribution was primarily handing things to my husband, helping hold the long level and cleaning up the wood shavings after every thing was done.


Still completely euphoric from last night.  I’m planning to ride that feeling as long as possible.  We had booked our return to Minneapolis for Monday, on the chance that it might rain on Saturday and push the race out a day.  So that gave us a full day to blow in Miami.  Sadly, Miami is not really someplace I want to spend a free hour much less a day, so we decided to drive to Key West.  Since my favorite dessert is key lime pie, it just seemed appropriate.

We actually attempted to eat the free breakfast at the hotel today, but found it to be a complete mob scene.  So we settled for the Golden Arches with a follow-up visit to Starbucks.  Have you ever ordered a large orange juice at McDonald’s?  I swear it was Big Gulp sized.  Of course after splitting that with Tim and having a Tall Bold at ‘bucks, the three hour drive to Key West without a bathroom break was not the best idea.  By the time I reached the really urgent stage, we were in a long stretch of bridges and smaller Keys with no gas stations or fast food restaurants in sight.  We stopped at a Shell/Circle K about 7 miles short of our destination.  I knew we were in the Keys because there was a rooster in the parking lot.

Early October is the dead season for south Florida.  A lot of places close down completely the first two weeks of October.  If this is the slow time, you couldn’t pay me to be here during the high season.  Key West was a zoo.  A really, really hot zoo.  With roosters.  The heat just sucked all of our energy.  We walked around listlessly, had lunch (decent but over priced), bought a few souvenirs, and ate the obligatory piece of key lime pie (good but not exceptional).  We stopped at Bahia Honda State Park on the way back to Miami.  It was beautiful, but way too hot to really be enjoyable.  It was only 86 degrees but the humidity was just oppressive.  I can handle it in Phoenix up to 100 or 105, this was much worse.  I guess it’s true what they say about dry heat.  I did get a few decent photos.

We made it back to our hotel at 8 PM.  Dinner was wine, cheese and crackers from the grocery store across the street.  It was better than lunch.

We are the Champions

Is it possible to hold your breathe for 200 laps?

After 6 months and 17 races, it all came to an end tonight.  One for the record books.  We were given the responsibility of transporting the championship hats and the big Target dog in the fire suit to the winner’s circle.  It was hot.  It was humid.  It was victory.

What an amazing experience.  I’m at a loss for words.

Miami (Oct 1)

And I was trying so hard not to get my hopes up.

The first practice session wasn’t until 1:30 today, allowing us to sleep obnoxiously late.  Of course this meant we missed the free breakfast at the hotel.  So we dodged 4 lanes of fast moving Miami traffic to get to the Starbucks across the street.  It was one of the largest Starbucks I’ve ever been in and only one person was working there.  But at least they spoke English.

Miami is a third world country.  Based on our experiences yesterday and today, there is a less than 50-50 chance that any clerk (fast food, convenience store, etc.) will speak passable English.  I guess the ability to count money is the only real job requirement.  Any conversation you overhear in a store or restaurant is more likely to be in Spanish than English.  Obviously there are a lot of native Spanish speakers in Phoenix as well, but it doesn’t seem nearly as pervasive as it does here.

The traffic in Miami pretty much sucks.  Part of this is due to the sheer volume of of cars and part of it is due to the lousy drivers.  There are the usual problems such as cell phone users that seem to permeate every large city now.  Then there are the retirees who drive like they’ve already been embalmed.  Then there seems to be a subset of the population that drives unusually slow for no apparent reason – I secretly suspect they are trying overly hard not to get pulled over because they either have outstanding warrants or lack proper documentation.

The racetrack here is like no other we’ve ever been to.  A long road lined with palm trees leads you to a grandstand painted in Art Deco colors.  Small artificial lakes dot the perimeter.  It’s a little surreal.  It’s also obnoxiously humid.  Walking around outside is like getting hit in the face with a damp towel.  I am having bad flashbacks to Texas in June.

The first practice goes well.  Scott is second fast and Dario is fourth.  Unfortunately, Will Power is first.  Goddammit.  Qualifying starts at 4:45.  We have drawn positions 21 and 23.  Normally, qualifying late is a disadvantage, since the track tends to heat up and get more slick as the session progresses.  Today the late draw is an advantage, as the track should actually start cooling off towards the end.  Ryan Briscoe takes the pole after his run.  He is topped by Will Power.  Double goddammit.  Then it’s Dario’s turn.  He smokes Will’s time, going more than 1/2 mile per hour faster.  In a sport where the first 10 qualifiers are often separate by two tenths of a second, this is huge.  Scott follows Dario.  This is tough, obviously we want Scott to do well but he is out of the championship race at this point, so the pole point means more to Dario.   Scott qualifies second.  No other significant contenders follow, so the order sticks.

This is the best possible qualifying outcome at the most critical point in the season.  Dario gets the pole and the extra point with Scott starting at his side.  As a teammate, Scott can provide a tremendous amount of support in helping Dario achieve a win tomorrow.  He can also lock up second place.  Finishing in the order we start will guarantee the championship.  Any other scenario requires a poor performance from Will Power, something that hasn’t happened too often this year.  Starting first and second also provides a tremendous psychological boost to the Target team and a corresponding deflation of hopes at Penske.  We are the fastest.  Nyah, nyah, nyah.  The head game is an important part of the sport.

So, just as I am trying so hard not to get my hopes up, we pull out an amazing performance in qualifying.   Tomorrow will be elation or heartbreak, there is no more middle ground.

I love this sport.

In the Air Again

We are now safely ensconced in our Miami hotel room.  It’s a very nice Hampton Inn near the airport, about 30 miles from the Homestead-Miami Speedway.  We are not staying closer to the track because the hotels by the track are flea bitten dumps that charge triple their normal rate of $60/night for race weekend.  Sometimes a 30 minute drive each way is well worth it.

We returned (MN) home from (AZ) home on Tuesday night and had one full day before taking off again.  In that day I managed to fit in a haircut, lunch, a massage and a facial.  I really, really did not want to pack last night for this trip.  For some reason I was dreading the thought of getting on another plane and staying at another hotel.  I’m feeling very pessimistic about our chances for winning the championship.  This is probably partially sheer exhaustion from all the travel and partially not wanting to get my hopes up and be disappointed.  I have definitely reached my boundaries on travel.  I guess it’s good to know my limits.

The flight to Miami was one of the emptiest we’ve been on in years.  With the exception of one exit row, there was only one other row on the plane with three people in it – ours.  After they closed the door to the plane, I pointed out to the man at the window that there were several aisle seats nearby that were empty, should he want to move somewhere with more space.  “That’s okay, I’m fine here.”  WHAT??  Who in their right mind wouldn’t move to a row with an empty middle seat?  Just our luck to have an insane person who likes to be packed in like a sardine.  So I ended up moving to the aisle seat across from Tim.

We arrived in Miami a little after 4 PM, so by the time we picked up our luggage and our rental car it was 5 on the dot.  So once again, we were flouting travel rule #2 – never land in a big city at rush hour.  (Refer to my post on Sonoma for our last transgression of this rule)  However, our hotel was literally right next to the airport so it was only a 15 minute drive even with the ridiculous traffic.  We copped out and went to a large mall near the hotel to find dinner, figuring it would offer some decent options.  Sadly, we ended up eating at Buffalo Wild Wings.  My grilled chicken salad was lame compared to what I could get at Culver’s or Wendy’s.  I guess people don’t go to Buffalo Wild Wings for the salad.  When the check came, we found that the tip was already included.  Not sure if this is a common practice in Miami or just a peculiarity of the mall or the restaurant.  It actually just made it more confusing because the included tip was 16% and we always tip at least 20% unless the service is aggressively bad.

Keeping my fingers crossed that tomorrow will be better.

Better to Give

One of the signs of impending old age is that it gets to be more fun to give presents than to receive them.  I don’t remember exactly when this started happening to me, but I definitely became aware of it once I crossed into my forties.  To be fair, part of it is due to being able to buy pretty much anything I want/need for myself.  At least anything that anyone else would ever consider buying and giving to me as gift.  I’m incredibly picky about things like clothing and jewelry, so I’d rather just choose them myself.  My husband and I came to an agreement a few years back (at my suggestion) that we would not give each other anything other than cards and token gifts for the standard occasions.  So for my birthday this year I received a copy of Sh*t My Dad Says and for our anniversary it was a really nice mechanical pencil for doing crossword puzzles.  I loved them both.

Okay, I sense the men in the audience applauding and the women groaning.  But it was just as hard for me to find cool gifts for my husband as it was for him to pick something out for me.  So it made sense to just cease and desist.  It takes the pressure off and we can just enjoy the occasion rather than stressing out about the presents.  And I do stress out about buying gifts.  It’s really important to me to find gifts that suit the recipient and will be appreciated.  I don’t like copping out and giving giftcards either, although I have resorted to it on a few occasions.

I purchase a lot of gifts when we travel.  In some respects it’s risky, because I’m giving something that obviously can’t be returned or exchanged.  But I usually do it for people I know really well and who don’t have the opportunity to travel themselves, like my mom.  I’m pretty good at it, judging by the reactions.  Unless I’m underestimating their acting skills.

I don’t have a lot of people to buy gifts for, so I can afford to be extremely picky about it.  My brother and I agreed many years ago not to exchange gifts.  My mom is really easy to buy for.  My dad is impossible, of course, so I have to get pretty creative there.  My brother has a step daughter and son, with three kids of their own.  I buy Christmas gifts for all the members of the family and birthday gifts for the kids.  (I’ve never been big on buying birthday presents for adults)  The little ones are easy – the four year old (our goddaughter) gets adorable dresses and the baby gets cute baby clothes.

Their oldest son turns 13 in two weeks, which is a really tricky age.  He’s obviously not a child anymore, but he’s not an adult yet either.  When he was younger, I got in the habit of buying clothes for him.  Their grandparents and parents always provided a lot of toys, so I didn’t really want to compete there.  Plus, kids always need new clothes.  Of course, buying clothes for a 13 year old is a lot harder than a 7 year old.  Fortunately, he is really into skate board brands and cool shoes, so I’ve managed to keep finding things he likes.  I gave him his present early this year, since we won’t be back in Phoenix until late Oct or early Nov and I thought early was better than late.

He opened the packages in front of us and almost immediately tried everything on except for the T-shirt.  (black leather Converse high-tops, dark skinny jeans and a funky hoodie that zips all the way up to show a pair of sunglasses and mouth that you can see and breathe through)  Judging by his reaction, everything was a hit.  So my status as the cool aunt is still intact.

Now I just need to start working on Christmas presents.

Spam Spam Spam Spam

Reading through the spam comments posted to my site was starting to irritate me, so about a month ago I installed some software that screens the comments and automatically tags the spam ones.  I still have to go into the spam folder periodically and delete them, but they no longer get mixed in with any real comments.  As I mentioned in a previous post, the spam is either blatant advertising in the body of the comment or a generic comment with a hyperlink in the commenter name.  At first, the bulk of what I received was in the first category.  They always start out something like this:  “Sick of getting low amounts of useless visitors for your site? or Hey guys i wish to share with you a way i make $500 daily and i only spend 5 minuites doing it a day!” Many of the messages are identical, down to the typos and bad grammar.

I checked the spam folder recently in order to delete the latest batch and noticed an interesting shift.  Now I seem to be getting more of the second type of spam.  Still annoying, yes, but quite often inadvertently humorous as well.  So I thought I would share a few before I send them off into oblivion.

Some are vague and innocuous:

“I’m very happy you took the time and wrote that post

Kindest regards,

“Thank you for sharing this! I found a few interesting sites here”

“Hi there this post is very interesting. I’ll use it for my essay. Can you tell me some related articles I could use too?”

Some are cryptic:

“Hey Gale, whatever dude.”

“Callie fail?!?


“Hey Alfonso, I doubt it..”

“I need to know exactly what Johnny will do with this


One even appeared to make sense in response to the post (on Starbucks):

“So, is it true A wonderful, straightforward blend of Latin American coffees.”

But the best ones contain some startling examples of the English language:

“My son was laughing at me when reading one paragraph on your blog “……” it makes me to feel more intelligent after reading it.”

“This can be one of the most authoritative discussions I ever encountered in a long time, I’m talking about this component of your article “……” it also reminded me about the day I ran across my husband.”

“wow I realistically including your current webpage persist in keep approach which are information I definitely should pop in multiple another time to read by means of several approach added thanks.”

And my personal favorite:

“I haped to find out your post by accident in Google. Where by did you got all the entropy from? I intend SCREAM,.you got rocking selective information for your article. I care it genuinely educational. Can’t hold back for your future publishbest. Scholar loan integration companies.”

Having never been the target of Nigerian email scams, this is the first time I have been the recipient of manglish on this scale.  It does have an element of humor to it.  Yes, it’s still incredibly annoying.  This blog is an expression of myself, not some lame recycling of content in an attempt to drive traffic and make a few bucks.  I find it insulting to get comments like “Why have you taken out my post? It was very useful information and i promise atleast one person found it helpful unlike the rest of the comments on this website.” As if I should value spam comments more than real comments from real people who actually read what I write.  Yes, I know they are baiting me in an attempt to get me to respond to them so they can add my email to their collection.  I’m not falling for that.

Instead, I am getting my own little revenge by using their comments for blog fodder without giving them credit or including their links.

Take that, spammers.

Time Passes Slowly Here

Time is a tricky thing.  The busier you are, the more quickly it seems to pass.  The more tasks you have on your to-do list, the faster hours fly by.  The worst day at work is the rare one where your calendar is empty, your in-box is clean and you have no pressing deadlines.  Those days just crawl by.  I became more sensitive to this phenomenon after we bought our house in Phoenix.  My many years as a visitor to Phoenix have firmly imprinted this city in my mind as a vacation spot.  As soon as I step off the plane, my entire body lets out a big sigh and I shift into a lower gear.  Two or three days of just hanging out can feel like a full week.  Perversely, when we try to cram a lot into trip, usually when it’s a week or more long, it feels like a really short stay.

Whenever we are at our home in Minnesota, I always feel like I should be doing something.  Maybe because there’s always something needing to be done.  At our home in Arizona,  I can go for days without doing anything more ambitious than picking up a few groceries or checking out a new restaurant.  When I watch TV here, I actually just sit and watch TV.  In Minneapolis, watching TV is always accompanied by reading, working on my PC and/or eating.  Okay, I do still eat in front of the TV here.  We have beautiful dining room tables in both places that primarily collect dust when they aren’t being used as ad-hoc work spaces.

I don’t know if my lower gear mindset in Phoenix will change when we start spending the majority of our time here this winter.  Will it start to feel more like just being in another home, with all of the nagging tasks that implies?

I hope not.

Busting up a Starbucks

I have a gold card from Starbucks with my name on it.  This is a sign that I spend too much money at Starbucks.  Ironically, it doesn’t really take much to get one.  I had always used cash at Starbucks until I received a re-loadable giftcard last Christmas and for some reason decided to register it online.  Primarily because it allowed me to reload it online.  It’s actually quicker than paying cash and since we started traveling so much, it was handy to just use the card and save my smaller bills for things like cabs and tips.  Once you register and start reloading a card online, you become a much more valuable marketing commodity to Starbucks.  So they enroll you in their little loyalty program and start issuing you “stars.”  After spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $100, which is frighteningly easy to do at Starbucks, they send you a gold card with your name on it.  They also send you postcards for free drinks after you accumulate so many points and you get a free coffee for your birthday, so there is definitely some benefit to the whole thing.

It’s sort of amusing, since I am not a heavy Starbucks user by any means.  I rarely get anything other than a regular coffee and only recently upgraded the size from Tall to Grande.  Mostly because I object to having to order a cup of coffee by saying Grande Bold instead of medium dark roast.  They do really brainwash you about the lingo at Starbucks.  They’ll take your order if you say medium or dark but they will repeat it back as Grande Bold in a tone that suggests you please use the correct terminology next time.  Of course it’s only correct at Starbucks.  So it gets a little confusing when, on the rare occasion I visit a coffee shop other than Starbucks, I need to use normal terms or god forbid some other made-up lingo for that particular establishment.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Starbucks or I wouldn’t spend so much money there.  Their product is reliably good and you just have to admire any retailer that can take a product costing maybe 10 cents wholesale and get people to willingly pay $2 for it.  It sometimes makes you wonder if they put something other than coffee in their coffee.  I am not a coffee snob by any stretch of the imagination.  Other than the basic brew, my order has never been more complicated than a non-fat latte.  (I did learn the hard way never to order a latte in Europe – you will get hot milk)  In New Zealand we drank something called a flat white.  As best as I could tell, it was a no foam latte.

Most days when we are not traveling, we brew our own coffee.  By “we” I mean my husband, who is the designated coffee maker in the family.  We buy 3 pound bags of beans at Costco, paying about $13 per bag.  I haven’t figured out our exact cost per cup, but it can’t be more than about 30 cents.  The coffee tastes just as good as anything at Starbucks and the best part is you get to drink it in front of the TV in your pajamas.  So it was highly amusing to me when I recently received an email (the downside of the whole marketing thing) toting some exclusive new blend of coffee that was available for pre-sale to Starbucks Gold Members.  This was the advertising pitch:

If your love of the bean has you yearning to explore something exquisite and rare, you’ll fall in love with the rich, woodsy herbal complexities of Aged Sulawesi Kalosi. With hints of warm baking spices and a rich mouth-feel, this extraordinary coffee is produced in very small batches on family farms and has been aged five years to gently reveal deep, intricate flavors that play delicately on the tongue.

Just for fun, I clicked on the link to see you much they were charging for this rare treasure.  $18 – for 8 ounces.  About 8 times what we pay for the coffee at Costco.  And get this – it was SOLD OUT.  I have a hard time paying $18 for a really good bottle of wine.  But apparently there are a lot of serious coffee connoisseurs out there.  Or a lot of people who have been brainwashed by Starbucks.  I think I’ll stick to buying from Costco and occasionally enjoying a medium dark, excuse me, Grande Bold from Starbucks.  Purchased with my personal goldcard, of course.

In case you didn’t get the title reference to this blog – it’s a Mike Doughty song.

What Time is it Anyway?

Jet lag sucks.  I’ve never had a huge problem with it on European trips, taking the approach of toughing it out and staying up long enough to sync with local time.  Australia/New Zealand are so far ahead in the time zone that you just sort of shift into the next day without experiencing a lot of issues.  Asia kills me.  The first time we went (in 2005) I kept wanting to fall asleep during dinner.  I never had difficulty falling asleep when we finally did go to bed, rarely before 11 PM, but would consistently wake up around 3 or 4 AM and be unable to get back to sleep.  This lasted for more than half of our 2 week trip, leaving me feeling like a zombie.

When I traveled to India for work in 2007, I resorted to taking sleeping pills.  They didn’t really help me on the flight, I think I managed less than 3 hours on a full dose of Ambien, but they did allow me to fall asleep and stay asleep once I arrived.  I made the mistake of not taking one after about 3 nights, thinking I had to be adjusted to the time zone by then.  Bingo, I woke up at 3 AM the next morning.  At least I’m consistent.  So I went right back to taking sleeping pills for the rest of the trip.

I’ve never been able to sleep on airplanes, even in the relative comfort of a business class seat.  When we took our epic first trip to Australia, spending 46 hours in transit, I only managed a few short cat naps on the plane.  This trip to Japan was no exception.  The coach seats were extraordinarily uncomfortable, with less leg room than a typical domestic Delta flight.  We also experienced a lot of turbulence, which I don’t generally find to be conducive to sleeping.

We stuck with our strategy of toughing it out and staying up until something close to a normal bedtime once we arrived.  We did wake up early (4-5 AM) every day, but since we were able to go to bed by 8 PM it wasn’t bad.  Staying on a super early schedule fit with the buses to the track and seemed to lessen the effect of the jet lag.  At least while we were in Japan.

Our first day home we managed to stay awake until after 8 PM before crashing in what turned out to be an epic (nearly 15 hour) sleeping jag.  Since we had been up for over 30 hours, I assumed this was just catch up sleep.  When we flew to Phoenix the next day, I actually thought it would help us readjust, since the time would be 2 hours earlier.  So we hadn’t really slept until 11 AM, just 9 AM Phoenix time.  No big deal right?

Hah!  We didn’t even try to go to bed until 2 AM, since neither one of us felt tired.  It took at least an hour to fall asleep and by 6 AM we were both awake again.  Now I’m just getting a little annoyed.  We needed to be up early today, so we went to bed at 8 PM last night, hoping for a better night’s sleep.  Now it’s not even noon and I’m tired already.  Maybe I’m getting too old for this.

Jet lag sucks.