Saturday, December 17, 2011

Relatively Speaking

Imagine that Heather and I had a daughter 20 years ago.  Now imagine that, due to some unknown circumstance, such as living near a nuclear power reactor, or the bite of a radioactive spider, or a mix-up at the hospital resulting in us taking home someone else's baby, our daughter somehow grew up to be close to six feet tall.

For the last couple of months Heather and I have enjoyed having my second cousin over to our house each Sunday.  She is here in San Antonio because she is in her initial training (after basic) at the same base I work at.  We have enjoyed spending time getting to know Andrea, who is sort of like the giant daughter we never had, coming home from college on the weekends.  Except that she isn't in college anymore now that she's in the Air Force, and we never knew her before now.  So imagine that we had a daughter and shipped her off to live with relatives who were more appropriately sized to raise her, but now she comes to visit every weekend.  Our lives have been something like that for the past few weeks.

One of the things we like about Andrea is that she is really laid back.  Andrea also tells it like it is, which makes for some interesting conversation. The other day after going through the gate to get on base and having the gate guard hand me back my id card with a "have a good day Major", I said off-hand to Andrea, "I still can't believe I'm a Major".  As a guy who started out as a Private in the Army, that never seemed to be a rank that I would hold.  Andrea, who finds officers of all ranks to be mean and scary, said "Neither can I!".  At least, I like to think that's why she said it, and not because she is incredulous that the Air Force would promote me to that rank.  That's the kind of thing I tell myself when I lay in bed unable to sleep at night counting chickens hopping over a fence because, in this economy, sheep are just too expensive.  And let me tell you, chickens are much less successful at soothing one to sleep, what with all the clucking and flapping of the wings.  But back to the story.

Unfortunately there's not really a positive spin I can put on Andrea's comment about her thoughts on a movie she had recently seen.  As Heather and I were watching football and talking to her, Andrea suddenly said "I watched Captain America the other day, and he reminded me of you. You know, at the beginning of the movie."

While I would like to think she was somehow referring to the moral strength and selflessness of the character, I knew she was actually drawing the obvious comparison between my diminutive size and the scrawny, pre-scientific magnification of height and muscle, Captain America.  Back when he was just Steve, who gets the crap beat out of him on a regular basis and looks like a skeleton wrapped in skin.  Despite the blows to myself-esteem, Heather and I will really miss Andrea when she's gone.  She's been a little ray of light in our lives, at least on Sundays.  And we didn't even have to do her laundry or pay her school bills.  I can't help but wonder, however, how will we get things off the top shelf once she's gone?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mixing Business With Leisure

Last week the Air Force sent me back to Colorado Springs to attend a conference, which was quite interesting and instructive.  What made the trip especially enjoyable, however, was the fact that I still have friends in town and was able to visit with a couple of them during the short duration of my stay. 

One of the things I enjoy about hanging out with friends, is watching their interactions.  Each family has its own dynamic, molded by an amaglamation of personalities, personal preferences and past experiences.  It is fun to watch this dynamic unfold before your eyes in a somewhat predictable way, although each occasion brings its own unique circumstances and conversations.  It's like putting on your favorite sweatshirt and jeans on a cool Saturday morning.

I made lots of new great memories, and ate probably too many rice crispy treats (if one can eat too many, which I'm not convinced is possible).  I also got some homeade chocolate chip cookies, which were good, and of course snuck in some cookie dough, which was even better.  I know there's some risk of foodborne illness there, but I will always prefer cookie dough to baked cookies.  It's a weakness and I embrace it. 

While in town I got my electricity turned on at one of my rental properties and got the furnace turned on so the pipes wouldn't freeze (thanks property manager for nothing!).  I even got to see a couple of things in town that I hadn't seen before.  A couple of my friends took me to the Sunflower Market, which is similar to a Whole Foods.  Apparently their sale items begin and end on Wednesdays, so if you shop on that day they have two sales going on simultaneously - everything from the previous week is still on sale through the end of the day, and thefollowing week's sale has also begun. 

So after collecting a handful of items while her husband patiently waited with the kids in the car, my friend Frankie and I proceeded to the checkout.  As the cashier was ringing up her two bags of oranges (on sale 2 for $4), she suddenly had second thoughts on whether to buy one or two bags, since she wasn't sure if the kids would like them.  She asked the young man if he could remove the second bag from her purchases, which he did.  Then on second thought she asked if they were on sale from the previous week and would no longer be on sale the following day, or were they just now going on sale, which meant she could buy them at the sales price later in the week after the kids had a chance to try them.

The cashier of course didn't have this information memorized, but he did have the weekly ad on hand, so after a quick perusal of the ad, the oranges were found, and a search was begun for the ad's date, which would reveal whether the oranges must be purchased now in order to get the reduced price or if the purchase could be relegated to later in the week.  Finally, with the line backing up while we did our investigative research, the man found the date - the sale was ending that night.  Upon hearing this, my friend said "Never mind, I still don't want two bags".  I couldn't help but start laughing and gave her grief over making him do all that research for nothing!  I still laugh when I think about it.

I also got to back up her hard drive, which hadn't been backed up since July, which just so happens to be the last time I was there to do it.  I tried the old adage about teaching a man to fish, but somehow I have a feeling I will be redoing this operation the next time I'm at their house.  Oh well, at least it's easy.  I'm already looking forward to going back to Colorado for Christmas, this time with Heather in tow, and hopefully adding some skiing to the mix.  I can't wait!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Tradition

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, which means I will be eating a lot of leftover turkey for the next few days, but the wonderful feast that Heather prepared was totally worth it.  My favorite dish is grandma's homemade stuffing (or as Heather points out, "dressing", since it isn't stuffed in the turkey), which Heather has graciously learned to make and ensures I have ample servings of every Thanksgiving.  This year we had my cousin Andrea over, as she is stationed here for training with the Air Force.  It was pretty cool sharing Thanksgiving dinner with a family member here in Texas, and the three of us had a wonderful time.  We all agreed that it doesn't feel like the Holiday Season when it's over 80 degrees outside, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the annual tradition of stuffing ourselves until we felt ready to explode, then sleeping it off for two hours.

It is interesting what traditions we observe, and to think of what life would be like had they been started differently.  For example, what if Macy's had decided to hold a giant clown show for Thanksgiving?  Would we have professional commentators commenting on a 2 hour show with clowns juggling, making animals out of balloons, and getting chased by rodeo bulls?  As much as I hate clowns, I think that would beat watching a parade with celebrity discussions on TV.  I mean parades aren't exactly pulse-quickening events when you see them live, but at least they are somewhat interesting.  Watching giant floats on my TV, even though it is much larger than the one I grew up with, just isn't the same as being there, which makes for what is in my opinion one of the most boring traditions in America. "Hey look!  It's a giant Sponge Bob balloon!  I can't wait to hear what Katie Couric has to say about this one!!"  "Be quiet, I can't hear the pre-recorded soundtrack of the pop singer who's currently lipsyncing his new hit single!"  Somebody knock me out with an untethered wii remote!

Watching football on Thanksgiving, on the other hand, is a tradition that I didn't appreciate as a child, but enjoy now.   I remember one of my cousins and uncle turning on the tube to watch the game each year, and I would go outside and find something more fun to do.  Now that I'm older, I really enjoy watching football, and apparently don't find as much satisfaction from trying to kick an empty 2 liter soda bottle through a crook in a tree (ready-made uprights) over and over again.  Ahh, the simple joys of life.  Just be glad we're not French.  If we were, there would be no annual presidential pardon of a turkey.  I can just see the turkey sized guillotine being rolled onto the south lawn.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thanks for Making Me Look Good

The other day I was shopping at the Commissary, which is the military version of a grocery store.  I needed some TV dinners for lunch (although since I eat them at work I guess I should refer to them as cubicle dinners) and I saw an elderly gentleman, obviously an old retiree, who somehow made it out of the house without his wife stopping him; or possibly he has no significant other to provide dressing assistance, which was sorely needed.  While I take a bit of pride in my lack of fashion awareness, I don't feel it's to the level of incompetence that this fellow exhibited, which is saying a lot if you've ever seen me out in public.

This gentleman was decked out in gray shorts, ending at the knees, which was also the terminus for his black socks.  I'm not sure where I got the impression that black socks are not to be worn with shorts, or that they shouldn't be pulled up to the top of the calves, unless they are part of a sports uniform, but apparently this guy missed the memo.  The most memoriable piece of his ensemble however was the blue Air Force Physical Training (PT) jacket he was wearing.  Although I can understand the temptation to keep using military gear that hasn't seen the end of it's useful life after retirement, the PT jacket isn't exactly a well-designed piece of apparel to start with, and judging by this guy's age he was retired for at least a decade prior to the PT jacket's debut, which means he actually bought it specifically to wear with his civilian clothes.

All of this made me realize that there comes a point in your life where a person loses all sense of self-respect, or else any ability to make reasonable determinations on what will look absolutely ridiculous in public simply passes away with age, like one's sense of taste and smell.  In fact, perhaps sense of taste is like the other senses, and plaid pants are like using copious amounts of salt and pepper.  Maybe one's fashion sense simply develops cataracts with age.  Perhaps I too will find myself someday wearing gaudy clothing and not even realize it.  I have written a living will that instructs Heather to pull the plug if I ever start wearing Gold chains, pinky rings, a comb-over, or any form of polyester dress clothing.  I guess I'd better add knee-high socks and military uniform items mixed with civilian clothing to the list.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Some Things Never Change

This year I finally bought an e-reader and I absolutely love it.  It's so much more convenient than lugging around multiple books, and it allows me to easily switch between them, which is important, because I often find myself moving from one book to another in order to keep my short attention span from derailing my reading. 

Since I am cheap, and also because I feel my education was lacking in a good solid foundation of classical literature, I have decided to focus my energies mainly upon reading all the classics I never consumed growing up.  I started with some web searches for top 100 lists of books, culled the ones that seemed especially well known or potentially interesting, sprinkled in some well known titles that hadn't made others' cut, and came up with my own list of 100 books to read.  Ok, it's actually about 105, but let's not be anal here.  The great thing about reading these books is that not only are they intellectually stimulating, and serve as a sort of window into the past, but they are totally free!

On the down side, they certainly don't tend to be page-turners like modern books.  While one can read through a well written modern novel in a few days (or possibly even in one sitting), getting through a book written in a completely antiquated style from a bygone era, often using words that have fallen out of the common vernacular, is not a fast process to say the least.  It's still enjoyable, however.  I would compare it to the difference between going to McDonalds and staying at home and creating a home cooked meal.  The one is faster, easier, and more convenient, but the other has its own reward that comes at a slower pace and with more effort, but which can't be compared with mass-produced food eaten in an environment surrounded by screaming kids.

On occasion a classic surprises me with a special treat.  While working my way through Thomas Hobbes' tome on society and government, "Leviathan", I actually found myself laughing out loud at the combination of realizing "wow, some things never change" and the author's unique way of expressing his exasperation.  In the passage, written in old style English of the time of course, he has this to say about elitists who not only think they are smarter than the common man, but who try to demonstrate their superiority by writing a lot of hard to comprehend nonsense that sounds highly educated but doesn't really say anything.  If you have ever taken college courses you have probably come across these folks, either as professors or in your reading assignments.  But Let me share a slice of Hobbes' actual words, where he gives an example from his own day and posts his commentary on it.  You can still hear his aggravation in this piece written over three and a half centuries ago:

"What is the meaning of these words: 'The first cause does not necessarily inflow any thing into the second, by force of the Essential subordination of the second causes, by which it may help it to work'?  They are the translation of the title of the sixth chapter of Suarez' first book, Of the Concourse, Motion, and Help of God.  When men write whole volumes of such stuff, are they not mad, or intend to make others so?"

Remember that line and you can use it the next time someone is trying to dazzle you with their intellectual superiority that translates into undecipherable gobbledy-gook.  "Are you out of your mind, or are you simply trying to drive me out of mine?"  Well said, Hobbes, well said.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

If the Shoe Fits

I'm not what you would call "fashion conscious", which is another way of saying I have no real style, unless jeans and t-shirts are a style, and not just me being lazy and placing comfort above all else in my clothing choices.  I noticed this morning that my t-shirt that I got at Yellowstone a few years ago has a hole in it, which means I apparently need to visit another tourist attraction or run another race - since this is where the majority of my shirts come from. 

I'm regretting a little bit my decision last week to turn down an offer for a free shirt.  I heard that there was a blood drive going on to collect blood to send to Afghanistan for the troops' use there, and they were short of O negative donors.  Since I'm O negative I headed down to the bloodmobile to make my patriotic contribution; unfortunately I was unable to make a donation due to medicine that I am on.  Also unfortunate was the fact that the nurse didn't make this conclusion until after we had gone through the whole rest of the screening process, including pricking my finger (hemoglobin levels were good) and detailing the 16 countries I have visited (nothing disqualifying there).  As a consolation she offered me a free t-shirt, but somehow I just wouldn't feel right wearing a shirt that declares that I gave blood when, in fact, I didn't.  If she had produced a shirt that said "I tried to give blood but was disqualified" I would have taken that, both because it would have been true, and to keep people guessing as to the reason: "Does he have a new eagle tattoo across his back?  A piercing, maybe, or some blood borne illness?"

Fortunately my stock of t-shirts is still sufficiently deep to guarantee a rotation of fresh shirts daily, but my trail shoes are also in need of replacement, and my shoe roster isn't as deep.  So I spent last week performing one of my least favorite  activities - shopping for clothing.  I think I may have finally found some shoes that meet my criteria - comfortable, with decent traction for off road hiking, and not ridiculous looking (at least to me).  Unfortunately the store didn't have my size, so today I have to continue the quest.  I'll be glad when I'm done shopping, and I'm sure my feet will be grateful to slip out of these 2.5 year old shoes and into something a little more comfortable.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Could You Keep it Down? I'm Talking to Myself Over Here

When I was a kid I thought only weird people talked to themselves.  As I grew older, I realized everyone talks to themselves.  Weird people talk to themselves outloud, when other people are around.  That made me feel better, as I talk to myself all the time (as of course all of us do).  The great thing about talking to yourself, I've realized, is that you never lose an argument, you laugh at your own jokes, and you always realize how incredibly insightful you are.  Or at least think you are.

Sometimes I will crack myself up, and I'm sure those around me think I'm really strange, just busting out laughing at nothing, but I don't really care.  Friday on the way to work I was thinking about how it was Thursday, then said to myself, "No dude, I think it's Friday."  A quick glance at my watch confirmed that indeed it was the last work day of the week.  Then I busted out with a "Yeah!  That's what I'm talking about, it's Friday!  Woo-hoo"  Then I started laughing at my own goofiness, both for forgetting what day of the week it was, and for getting so excited when I suddenly remembered.  I don't mind being odd.  At least I'm enjoying my own company.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Basic Marksmanship

Every once in a while being in the military gives one the opportunity to have some fun that other jobs don't offer.  No, I'm not talking about shining boots or dusting wall lockers; I'm talking about real fun.  Like shooting a machine gun, doing an obstacle course, or jumping out of an airplane.  I've found that while the Air Force offers a lot less of the shining boots variety of mundaneness than the Army did, it also has less of the repelling out of a helicopter awesomeness. 

Needless to say, I was quite stoked this week when I got the opportunity to take part in a shooting competition.  While I had no delusions of scoring in the top 10% and getting a medal, it was a great opportunity to get out of work for a couple of hours to shoot an M16, and we didn't even have to clean the rifles when we were done.

After a quick safety brief we went to the range where silouettes were hanging upside down, with four targets in a quad on each silouette, and a smaller target beneath the four to be used for zeroing.  We got to shoot five rounds at the zeroing target, go downrange and inspect it, make adjustments to the sights, then repeat the process once.  Then the competition began.

First up was 60 seconds to shoot 10 rounds at the top left target on your silouette while standing.  I quickly discovered two things.  When there are 34 people shooting in tight quarters it is imperative to make sure you are shooting the target that has your lane's number below it, as there are three targets straight in front of you.  And also, it's really hard to see what you're shooting at when the smoke from 34 rifles fills the 25 meters between you and the targets.

I did slightly better standing than kneeling, which was the second position, this time with only 45 seconds to squeeze off 10 rounds.  The bullseye was worth 10 pts, with successive rings down to 6 pts.  Unfortunately, I had a round land in the 6 pt circle, and those didn't count.  I also realized I was hitting a little high, so I dropped my aim a bit for the next portion - 10 rounds from the sitting position in 45 seconds.  I have never fired a rifle sitting, but with my aim lowered a bit my shots hit closer to center - I got 93 pts compared to 82 standing and 78 kneeling.

Needless to say, I was feeling pretty good about going into the last portion, which was 60 seconds to fire 20 rounds from the prone position.  Unlike the previous three positions, the prone is a position I have actually fired the M16 from before, and it is one I am very comfortable with.  I got into position, waited for the buzzer, and started squeezing off shots, about one every two seconds, until my clip was empty.  As I was shooting I could occasionally see the holes opening up on the target through the haze and they seemed to be centered pretty nicely.

Once the second buzzer went off I put my rifle down and stood up for a better view of my target.  It was at this point that I noticed I couldn't see the holes in my target anymore.  In fact, while the top left, right, and bottom left were holey, the bottom right appeared untouched.  Then I looked over at the bottom right target on my neighbor's silouette to the right of me and noticed that his target seemed full of holes.  40 to be exact.  Yes, I had forgotten point number one above and filled my neighbor's target full of holes.  Unfortunately, although he was allowed to reshoot at a fresh target, I was done for the day.  So I guess the bad news is, if I'm ever in combat and you're next to me, I may inadvertantly shoot the bad guy that you're shooting at.  The good news is, he'll definitely be dead when we're done.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Rocky Carwash

Not long ago I got a sprinkler system installed at our new home.  I'm not looking for a golf-course fairway lawn, but I don't really want all my grass to die either.  Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to move my car out of the driveway when they were installing the water lines, as this required a large cutting tool to dig the trenches - think giant chainsaw - and as the soil here abounds in rocks, there was much dirt and slivers of rock cast onto my car.

I'm not fastidious about keeping my car in showroom condition, but having a coating of dirt all over the car was a bit more than I could take, so I decided it was time to wash the car.  In Colorado Springs there was a great automatic car wash down the road that was only $3, but I wasn't sure where to find a good cheap car wash here, so I figured I would be washing Christine by hand.  Then one day on the way to the library I stopped to get gas, and the pump offered me $1 off a car wash with my fill up.  A quick glance around revealed that there was indeed a car wash co-located, and it was touchless.  Knowing that touchless car washes are closer to $10, and being cheap, I decided to see if I could find a traditional car wash.

A couple of nights later, I awoke to a heavy rain.  Unable to go back to sleep, I figured what the heck, and I threw on some shorts and, having filled a bucket with soapy water, I proceeded to wash the car in the rain.  I figured the rain would give it a good rinse and save me the work.  All went well, to include the rain letting up to a drizzle until right after I finished running around the car in the dark, wiping her down as quickly as possible, before resuming it's downpour as I finished.  I looked over the clean car with satisfaction, took a shower and got on with my day.

The next day I noticed a couple of scratches on my door that hadn't been there before, and realized that some of the fine rock chips had been rubbed into the paint in the dark.  I wasn't going to lose any sleep over a couple of scratches on a car that's past it's prime.  Then I noticed more scratches.  A walk around the car revealed that in the cloak of darkness I had scratched my car all over the place, and especially right on the hood of the car.  All that frantic rubbing to get the invisible in the dark dirt off had also been grinding invisible in the dark rock into the sheet metal.  Every time I walk past the passenger side I have 20 white circles crescending down the hood to remind me I was too cheap to pay for a touchless car wash, even with an extra dollar off!   I hate irony sometimes.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kids These Days

One of the interesting things about being in the military is having total strangers approach you and thank you for your service.  I am always taken aback, and don't really know what to say when someone does this, as "you're welcome" doesn't really capture my feelings of humility in serving along people who make sacrifices far greater than I in service to our country, and appreciation for the support of our fellow citizens that makes what we do possible.  One day while out with one of my military buddies we were tendered this grattitude and my friend replied with "thank you for your support".  I told him I had not heard that reply before but I found it particularly well suited for capturing my feelings and would be plagiarizing it on future occasions.


The other day as I was going for an evening walk through our neighborhood a youngster rode by with his friend on their skateboards, and as he pulled alongside me he asked me how I was doing.  I told him "pretty good", and upon shaking his outstretched hand he asked me if I was in the military.  I told him I was, and as he peeled away he said "thank you for your service!" to which I quickly replied "thank you for your support!"  I couldn't make out what his buddy said to him as they made their way down the hill, but I did hear him reply "I've never had anyone thank me back".  I was glad I was able to remember to reflect back my sincere gratitude for his support, and am encouraged that our nation's youth aren't all as shallow and self-absorbed as some would have us believe.  Who would have thought that a kid on a skateboard would make my night.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Meeting the New Ron

My parents were married over a quarter of a century before getting divorced when I was 20.  My dad was quick to remarry, but mom has been content filling her days with friends and family but no boyfriend.  Recently she met a new Ron (that is also my dad’s name), and romance has blossomed.  I’m old enough that it’s not as disconcerting to see my parents with new significant others as it would have been as a child, although it still takes some getting used to. 
Fortunately Ron is a pretty nice, laid-back guy.  Heather and I enjoyed spending 3 days with mom and Ron exploring San Antonio, chatting about the meaning of life, and playing a lot of Wii sports.  Don’t underestimate the ability of older folks to kick butt at Wii games.  I pretty well dominated at tennis but my mom crushed us all at bowling and Ron was the undisputed champ at golf.  We never did make it to a real bowling alley, where I might have stood a better chance of success.  At least in a real bowling alley they might have fatigued first, but they could play on the Wii all night without slowing down.  I obviously need to log some more time in front of the TV if I want to be competitive next time, or get a heavier controller so my youth might offer me some advantage.

Taking a boat on the river downtown was also an interesting experience, which Ron was kind enough to pay for.  We learned about the history of the downtown area, including the fact that the gargoyles on one of the buildings were used in the film Ghostbusters.  We also learned a little about the history of Texas while at the Alamo.  We learned that if you're ever outnumbered 10 to 1 and totally surrounded and given the chance to surrender, you may want to take your opponent up on that offer and live to fight another day. But if you decide to fight it out, be sure you have chosen a location that will be memorable, preferably with a short name.  "Remember the small hill on the outskirts of Tuskaloosa!" just doesn't have the same ring. 

Finding parking downtown was easier and cheaper than I had figured upon, and lunch was quite enjoyable and affordable as well.  The day went far better than the next one, when I took everyone to a state park a few miles up the road to explore, only to find that it is closed from Tuesday through Thursday.  Who ever heard of such a thing?  Oh well, it leaves something for a future trip I suppose.

Overall it was a great visit, and I’m glad my mom has someone to share her life with again.  As a bonus I don’t have to worry about forgetting his name.  I’m so glad my mom didn’t get a boyfriend named Hubert.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Death by a Salesman

I have a simple rule at my house regarding salesmen.  If I want to buy something, I will do some research, decide on the product, then get it for the best deal available via internet or brick-and-mortar store.  I always initiate the sale.  I will not buy something that I don't want because a salesman comes to my home to convince me that I really need or should want product x.  While I may miss out on a great opportunity or product by refusing others-initiated sales, it saves me a great deal of time and money to simply tell all door-to-door salesman, "thanks but no thanks".

Unfortunately Heather, not I, opened the door to just such a saleswoman on Saturday.  She identified herself as a GE employee here to test our water, and Heather thought that since we have been having issues with our GE dishwasher, and she had called the company a couple of times for tech assistance, they had sent a rep to look at the dishwasher.  If you haven't had the pleasure in a while of watching precious time evaporate before your eyes while someone tries to get you to buy something you really don't want, you may be unaware that salesmen have caught on to the fact that asking people to let them in their home so they can sell them a $1500 vacuum, or a $7000 water purification system, doesn't go too well.  So they disguise  their intentions with some kind of cover story.  They aren't here to sell you a product, they are here because they are in training, and they have to practice their pitch so many times, or in the case of the GE saleslady trying to sell us a household water purifyer (and yes, the price really was $7000), they want to offer you a "free water quality test".

When it comes to these presentations, which always last at least an hour, I always have a hard time with accepting the fact that only one of us is getting paid for this, and it's not me.  I think they are purposely as long and drawn out as possible so that you feel like you have to somehow redeem the time by buying their product at the end.  Whatever the case, I found myself watching some girl I never met mixing my perfectly fine tasting water with chemicals so she could prove to me how much cleaner the water would be after it ran through the GE filter.  I have no doubt the filter removes all particulate matter, but  I really don't have an issue with minerals being in my water, since they are both safe and actually can make the water taste better, in my opinion. 

Of course, if the taste factor was not enough, the sales pitch had other tricks up its sleeve.  The clean water would make my hot water bill lower because it wouldn't have to heat up the minerals in the water.  Somehow taking 30% off my $14 gas bill from last month wasn't impressive enough, so the girl insisted on claiming it would take 30% off my entire utility bill, even though she was unable to explain how having cleaner water would lower my electric bill, which goes mainly towards paying to run my A/C.  Perhaps cleaner water would make me feel cooler and I could turn up the thermostat?

When the woman was finally done using my water with her chemistry set, and trying to convince me that I could save on my detergents, (actually claiming that I would use less shampoo because it would suds easier - a shampoo bottle lasts me 2 months as it is, how much would softer water really save there?) she finally called her co-salesman to come in and try to seal the deal.  He presented the actual cost, which almost caused me to laugh out loud, and let me know that since I am military they would cover the $500 in taxes and $1000 installation fee.  Wow, you really charge $1000 to install an appliance to the water line?  Can I get that job, because even if it took me 4 hours that's $250 an hour.  And you still want me to pay you more than 3 times what I paid for all my kitchen appliances combined for something that holds charcoal and sand and hooks up to my water line, so my water won't have the particulate matter in it that is measured in parts per million and which is tested annually by a third party and found to be perfectly safe for human consumption?

Needless to say, I wasn't going to buy this product, and regretted not stopping the lady at the beginning of her presentation to save us both precious time, but the coup de gras came when the sales team employed two of my least favorite pressure tactics.  The first was the loaded question to give the illusion of a choice between a winning and losing option.  The winning option is of course to buy their product, the loser to do otherwise.  The loaded question is making an untrue assumption, such as, "If you don't buy this product, you don't care about your family's health" or "you really want to drink dirty water".  This ignores other options, such as "my water's perfectly healthy, and I don't want to spend thousands of dollar to prevent hard water accumulation on my shower doors." 

The second tactic was the immediate decision.  Salesmen know that the longer you deliberate a decision, the more likely you are to make a good decision, which means you are less likely to buy their overpriced product.  If the product can sell itself this is not needed.  Ever go into an Apple store and get told "If you buy this ipod now we'll take 10% off, but this offer is only good today!"  Probably not, but I bet you've seen infomercials put out the imperative "buy now, while supplies last!" or "first x customers receive the following free, a $100 value!"  They need you to pull the trigger now and live with the remorse later. 

So when the salesman said "I need you to make a decision before I leave - I can't have you say 'I'll think it over and call you if I'm interested' or something along those lines," I knew this would be an easy kill.  Once he finished his spiel on how I could save installation and taxes, but only if I bought it now, I said "so when do I tell you I'm not interested in your product".  As he tried to backpedal and repackage I reminded him that he said needed a yes or no, and my answer was a simple no.  I also let him know that the presentation was well done, but I'm perfectly satisfied with my water quality as is, and escorted him and the saleslady out the door.  On the way out he let Heather know that her husband had "made the choice to drink dirty water".  I'm not making that up.  The funny thing is that the water here actually tastes good enough that I drink it straight from the fridge, which I wouldn't do in many of the places I have lived before.  I'll just have to hope the calcium and iron in the water don't kill me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Open in Case of Emergency

When I was growing up my mom used to have a wooden plaque on her dresser that said “Open in case of Emergency” on the outside.  When you opened it, a cartoon drawing of a man with an enormous mouth said “Not now, stupid, in case of emergency!”  I always forgot what the inside said, although I knew it was somehow insulting, and every time I opened it I was again chastised for doing so when it wasn’t really an emergency.  Thankfully our house never caught fire, because I would have had nothing to tell me what to do.

I was reminded of my need to be prepared for disaster yesterday, when the news reported a wildfire near the intersection of hwy 211 and Potranco Rd.  This intersection is about 3 miles from my house.  I called Heather, who was grocery shopping, and told her to take an alternate road home, as 211 likely would be un-navigable.  Of course, on the way home I missed the turn at the alternate road that goes north to Potranco, so I had to try the 211, only to be turned around by police officers who were blocking the road.  As I approached my home I could see the billows of smoke from the fire that was moving its way north across the highway.  As I drove I was working through my game plan if the road to my house was also blocked off and my neighborhood evacuated, who to call, where to stay.  I had just finished working out, so a shower was in order, although I would have to buy some clothes to change into first, if I couldn’t get home.  I quickly realized that even though we have only been here a little over a month, I would have no problem finding a place for Heather and us to stay, either with a family from our church or fellow Air Force co-workers.  The fire may cause some disruption in our lives, but wouldn’t be a serious detriment to our well being.

Fortunately, the road wasn’t blocked, and I was able to get home without any issues.  Heather and I discussed what we would pack if we were evacuated - pictures, medicine, some clothes, and our laptops being the main items.  Again, we were fortunate in that the evacuation order never came for us, although the news said some people were evacuated from the residential area where we live, presumably a couple of miles to the south.  The fire is now 100% contained and life is back to mundane.  As we mark the 10th anniversary of 9-11, I am reminded how quickly our lives can turn upside down, and that the most important things are not those which can be purchased at a store, but the people in our lives.  In case of emergency, or in everyday living, they are the ones we turn to for assistance, and I thank God for placing them in my life.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Friendships Through the Fourth Dimension

Back in the 80's Michael W. Smith penned a blockbuster (at least in Christian circles) song on the immortality of friendship.  I actually sang this song along with my junior high choir cohorts at the high school graduation in 1988.  If you were at the performance, I was the short blond-haired kid in the front row that left you wondering how a fourth grader got in the junior high choir.  For those of you who don't remember this particuar gem of syrupy sentiment, the chorus went something like this:

And friends are friends forever,
If the Lord's the Lord of them,
And a friend will not say never
Because the welcome will not end


Though it's hard to let you go,
In the Father's hands we know
A lifetime's not to long
To live as friends


Based upon my own experiences of friendships and the passage of time and distance, I later rewrote the words to better fit my observations:


And Friends are friends forever,
Until they move away
Then they'll never write or call you
No matter what they say


It's so hard to let you go
Because time I'm sure will show
A lifetime's just to long
To live as friends


Over the ensuing years this overly pessimistic view of friendship has unfortunately been too often validated, but I am happy to report that some of my friendships have lasted the trial of separation.  This week was an especially poignant reminder of that fact as two dear friends visited Heather and I from out of town, and I enjoyed a phone conversation with a third, and an email exchange with a fourth.  I am not often so blessed as I have been this week with connecting with long range friends, but this was a great week.  Now if I could just figure out how to prevent that homesick feeling in the pit of my stomach that comes after my friends have departed.  But it's definitely worth it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Living a Life Unplugged (Sort of)

A while ago I thought it would be an interesting experiment to unplug totally from the wired (and wireless) world and then keep notes on the experience, reporting on it at the end of a predetermined span of time, such as 6 months or a year.  I'm not sure I'm ready to take that drastic leap, but moving to a new city has given me an opportunity to try the experiment on a smaller scale.  Since we moved  a couple of weeks ago we have not established internet service at home.  This doesn't mean I haven't been connecting, but it does mean that getting on the web, sending an email, or using any online apps on my iPod Touch requires a committment of at least a half hour and a half tank of gas just to drive somewhere to connect.  Suddenly I'm combining trips like a suburban mom conserving gas during the 70's oil embargo (ok, when I go to Home Depot to shop for shelving I can stop by the McDonalds, get a sundae and get an hour of surfing in). 

It is amazing just how used to being able to connect at any time of the day or night one gets with time.  It's the great thing about the internet.  Want to know what movies are playing at what theaters at what times, read some reviews of them and get directions?  Just log on.  In an argument about how many games are played in a baseball season?  You can prove how right (or wrong) you are in a few seconds.  How much does an adult bull elephant weigh?  All I need to know is whether you want to know African or Asian.

Unfortunately, as useful as the internet is for looking up info, paying bills, reading the news, playing games and a plethora of other things, it is also a time stealer.  Ever spend 2 hours online doing nothing?  How about half a day?  You know you've done it more times than you can remember.  So while not having the convenience of instant connectedness at my fingertips is, to be redundant, very inconvenient, it also makes me more cognizant of how much time I normally spend online, and makes my web use more focused.  I don't know how long this experiment will last until Heather or I finally break down and decide we need internet at home, but it is good to get a detox from the need for constant data download.  And as a bonus, I get to experience things that I wouldn't otherwise, like the kid sitting next to me at Starbucks softly singing over a sheet of music (there's really no better place to do that?), or the guy at the outdoor patio area sitting with a parrot on his shoulder (Did I just unwittingly board a pirate ship?)  Don't worry, it's still my goal to produce a blog entry per week, so you can continue to have a yardstick for mediocrity.  Now go look up the weight difference between African and Asian elephants; you know you're curious now.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Buying Furniture Was Never So Insulting

Heather and I recently decided to buy some bunk beds so that when our friends with kids come visit they have actual beds to sleep on.  Since our household goods haven't arrived yet, I figured this was as good a time as any to make the purchase, since we could sleep on them until our bedroom set comes with the rest of the furniture.  We bought some bedding and it was off to the furniture stores to find a couple of beds.

After hitting a couple of stores we visited a Texas Gallery Furniture on the south end of town, and found the staff to be quite helpful. Unfortunately, they didn't have the beds we wanted in stock, but they told me if I didn't want to wait a few days for one to come I could go to the Texas Gallery Furniture store on the northwest side of town.  Since this was closer to where we live I figured, why not.  The northern store was a totally different experience. When I got there they told us to wait while they got the paperwork faxed from the southern store.  After 15 minutes or so they said we could drive around back to pick it up.  When we pulled up to the loading dock a worker told me they didn't have the bed I wanted but offered me an "upgrade". He couldn't explain how this bed was an upgrade but promised that it was better than the bed I had paid for. "It's like the one you ordered is the phone the phone company gives you, and this is an iphone" he said.  Finally I relented and took the new beds home sight unseen in the box. 

When I opened the box to start assembing my new purchase, I quickly discovered that this was no iphone of furniture.  This was more of a pay-as-you-go model from Korea, and I'm talking North Korea.  This bed was in the Mission style, and you could see a shadow effect where the stain is apparently sprayed on, and the opposite side of the slats is lighter behind the slats than it is between them.  One piece of wood was partially split, others had scuff marks, and the headboards had holes where screws were to go and be left exposed.  I don't normally think of silver screwheads on the top of my headboard as an upgrade.  According to the kid at the loading dock they didn't have any of the model that I had ordered because they were sold out.  On the beds they gave me the bottoms that had been sticking out of the box were dusty from sitting in storage so long.  I'm guessing others also didn't think of this set as an upgrade either.

So I loaded up the bed and took it back to the northern store a couple days later. This is where the tale takes a bizarre turn.  When I told the store owner behind the counter that I had ordered one bed, had been given another, and upon taking it out of the box and laying eyes on it had determined that I would rather have the one I originally picked out, he gruffly asked another employee "will you take care of this...apparently he doesn't understand what an upgrade is". Yes, I do understand what an upgrade is, and it is an item of superior quality or features, not a piece of crap. I also understand when I am being spoken down to, and don't appreciate it.

The 2nd employee asked me to explain to him what it was that I didn't like about the bed they gave me. I didn't realize that it was my job to convince a store employee that the product they gave me was truly inferior to what I had actually paid for, so I told him politely that I preferred the style of the first bed better, which was also true. After going back and forth for a couple of minutes the owner, still sitting back at his desk, finally had lost all patience with a customer having the gall to want what he paid for and shouted at me "You'll have to deal with the other store!  We don't carry that model at this store!"

Needless to say, I was more than happy to deal with the manager at the other branch, who actually treated me like a valued customer, and not the son-in-law who impregnated his daughter then skipped town after burning down his house.  When I called the store manager at the southern store he was very polite, looked to see if they now had the model I wanted (he did) and had it delivered for free. He also let me know he would have his guys assemble the bed for me to make up for my bad experience of the other store not having the bed (I hadn't even told him how the store owner had treated me like trash).  Now I have two bunk beds that I actually want, and I know one store in town where I will never shop again.
This is what I wanted - and finally got

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Ridin' in Style

 
Last year I accidentally destroyed my car and my iPod in one tragic overheated battery incident.  Since I loved my Vibe and had a lot of useful Vibe parts in the now defunct car, I purchased a nearly identical model that had been T-boned and swapped a lot of exterior parts from the original to the new car.  Unfortunately, I did not swap the tires on the cars.  I did not realize this at the time, but one of the rear wheels was bent and needed to be replaced.  I'm guessing that whatever crushed in the sides of the car also damaged this wheel.

I did not realize the wheel was bent until I took the car in recently to get the struts replaced.  The folks at Sears (which was having a sale on strut install) decided to be nice and rotate the tires.  They also decided I needed more car work to complete the strut install.  On the ride home, with my wallet a thousand dollars lighter, I found that once the car exceeded 50 mph the steering wheel began shaking so violently that I feared I was about to be raptured by a UFO hovering overhead.  Needless to say, I returned to Sears and had them put the tire back on the rear axle where the defect wasn't as noticeable.  I would have had them put a new wheel on the car then and there, but after the strut work I was afraid it would cost me $500 for a new wheel.

After driving the car a thousand miles cross country to Texas, I finally figured I should get the wheel replaced.  The Tires Plus guy told me they didn't have any steel wheels that would work with my hubcaps, and that an aluminum wheel, at $78, would only be slightly more than a steel one, which would set me back $70.  Of course, I could always go for a full set of 4 rims, and then the car would look pretty sharp.

Unfortunately, I'm cheap, and I'm driving a 7 year old car with 120K miles on it, so I opted for just replacing the bad wheel.  As you can see by the picture though, I now have a pretty sharp looking rear quarter of a car on the driver's side.  I just hope I never have to park in a bad part of town and get my rim stolen.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Is it Hot Out Here, or Did My Sweat Glands All Just Explode?

Colorado and Texas have many differences.  Like their shape.  Texas has a peculiar easily-recognizable shape.  Colorado's borders seem to point to the fact that as our country expanded westward, governmental officials lost all creativity and just drew large rectangles on the map and designated them states.  There's a reason the four corners are in this part of the country: lack of imagination.
A more important difference lies in the weather.  While west Texas is, like the Front Range of Colorado where I lived, an arid area, the humidity goes up as one travels east towards the Gulf of Mexico.  Incidentally, due to the relative importance of the two countries, shouldn't we rename it the Gulf of America?  Consider that the next time you're munching on some Freedom Fries.

Having been raised in Illinois, I am used to humidity at moderate levels, and in the San Antonio area the humidity seems around the amount that I grew up with, which is great.  As compared with the deep South where even the bugs sweat, I can handle this, although it's much more humid than what I had grown accustomed to among the Rocky Mountains.  The temperatures on the other hand, which have been hitting over 100 degrees daily, is a bit more than I'm used to. 

I didn't really have a problem with the heat until I went for a run yesterday afternoon.  I felt pretty good doing several laps on the track outside, then I stopped running and went into the gym for some pushups and situps.  Suddenly I was extrememly hot, thirsty, and drenched in sweat.  Fortunately the gym was air conditioned, which I know because it was less muggy and nobody else's face was beet red like mine.  Apparently all that heat was building up while I was exercising outside for all of 10 minutes. 

It took me 20 minutes to cool down enough to stop pumping water out of every pore in my body.  The water fountain couldn't dispense water fast enough to satiate my thirst in less than a dozen visits.  Before I could hop on the treadmill for another 1.5 miles I had to make repeated trips to alternately stand in front of one of the industrial fans and the paper towel dispensers trying to dry off between sets of pushups and situps.  There's something wrong with getting up from the mat where you've been doing situps for 30 seconds and needing a squeegee and a mop to clean it up.  I guess I'm going to have to get used to this new climatical paradigm.  There definitely will be no wearing the same shirt to workout in twice without washing it first.  On the bright side if I do my running outside I don't have to wear a hot sweaty shirt, and my body acts as a natural reflective device for safety purposes.  Looks like I will be breaking up my cardio and strength training into separate days.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Travelling to Texas

Heather and I finally said goodbye to Colorado (I'll have to replace John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" with Marty Robbins' "El Paso" on my iPod playlist) and we decided to make the drive from Colorado Springs to San Antonio in two days, with the bulk of the driving on day one.  Along the way we both fought cases of the drowsies on the first day (not enough sleep), and said goodbye to the mountains we have grown to love.  My love/hate relationship with the GPS continued, as it guided us successfully for almost a thousand miles, but caused a couple of missed turns with ambiguous map displays at some intersections.  I really need more than 3 seconds at 70 miles per hour to read two highway signs for competing roads that are both 4 digits long.  Who makes highway numbers in the thousands anyways?  I digress. 

The biggest excitement came as I made a sudden exit from the left lane in Abilene and watched as Heather's CRV floated past in the right lane - unable to follow me.  After pulling off at the next exit I called her and she made her way back to the correct turn and caught up with me.  I wasn't sure if she had come to the exit I took or had gone down the road and got off at the next exit for highay 277, so I went on, and we called out landmarks we were seeing as we went.  Finally we realized she was indeed behind me, and I drove slowly while she caught up.  I was definitely glad we both had cell phones - made possible by Heather's mom buying her a trac phone with 3 month's service.  Thanks Pat!

As we were driving through one of the many small towns that dot the Texas countryside, we passed by a tombstone company, with a headstone out front with the following engraving: "Drive carefully - we can wait".  I got a good chuckle out of that one.  I also enjoyed the fact that many Texas drivers will slide over onto the shoulder and drive there so you can pass them if you are going faster than they are.  That plus the fact that even rural highways have 70 mph speed limits reduces the travel time across this Jupiter of states.  (Ok, technically Alaska would be Jupiter, and Texas would be Saturn, but who associates Saturn with being the 2nd largest planet in our solar system?)

When we got to the Motel 8 in Abilene they only had handicapped accessible rooms left, and the lady at the front desk (who apparently in her spare time was attempting to "leatherize" her skin by tanning, and was succeeding wonderfully) asked if I minded staying in a handicapped accessible room.  I said "sure", and was rewarded with an extra spacious bathroom complete with toilet handle on the right side (who knew?), pull bars in the tub, and a seat in there as well.  I was tempted to test drive the seat but I'm too OCD to put my naked bottom where someone else has placed theirs, and I don't think 3 strips of toilet paper would have held up well in the shower.

After a good night's rest we did the final four hours and found ourselves in San Antonio.  We are staying in the billeting on base, and luckily our phone and internet (landline only - newsflash Air Force - this is the 21st century!  How about some wi-fi?!) didn't work in that room so they had to move us to another one.  I say luckily because we moved from the 3rd floor to the 2nd floor (less stairs to climb - too impatient to wait for the elevator), and we upgraded from 80s era 20 inch tube TVs to 26 inch(ish) LCD tvs.  Yeehaw!  I don't know how long Heather will find my singing "El Paso" to be amusing, but I really need to learn more than just the first and last lines of the song.  I guess I need to make an electronic trek to iTunes tonight.  "...One little kiss and Felina, Goodbye..."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Moving Day

Almost four years after coming to Colorado Springs, the time has finally arrived to move on. The Air Force has determined that Heather and I should make our way to Texas, and so we shall go. The cars are packed with all the things we think we will need (like clothing), don't want the movers to lose (like photos), or the movers won't move (like 2 propane tanks). Today the Mayflower folks get to pack all the rest of our earthly belongings into boxes, and tomorrow they load them on the truck.

Fortunately Heather and I don't have a lot of stuff, so the movers decided to do all the packing in one day. That gave me an extra day - Monday - to clean out a lot of junk that had accumulated in our basement, and get the cars packed. One trip to the dump and another to the Salvation Army later and we were ready for phase two, which commences today. I look around my house wondering what won't arrive, or will arrive damaged? It's just stuff, so I'm not too worried about it. Still, I'll be glad when we get down to Texas, find a house, get our stuff delivered and settle in. I'm just glad the military pays professionals to do this, because I have neither the time, nor the inclination, to spend hours boxing up stuff and packing it onto a truck.

I'm going to miss the Springs, as we have loved it here, but I know I will be back to visit friends and do some more hiking and skiing. My friends Matt and Jenny even let me store my ski/snowboard gear in their basement so I don't have to haul it back this winter when I come back to use it. I'll have to find a new location once they move in a couple of years, but that works for now. I bought rather than rented my equipment, and I have many more days of using it before I break even. Sounds like a great excuse to me to come back here every year!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Day in the Park

I could pen a blog entry, but let's pull another Poem out of the archives for today.  I would like to tell you I wrote this under a majestic oak tree on a beautiful morning, but like most of my poetry, it just came to my head while sitting around.  I don't make this stuff up, I just write it down.

A Day in the Park

A breeze eases its way
Over my face, bringing a trace
Of the scents of the day

The sun's orb glows white
High overhead, while a tree shades my head
And creates a haven less bright

Bees dancing slow
Humming their song as they fly along
And swoop down so low

Birds' melodious choices
Placed in their head by their creator to wed
Our hearts to their voices

The chorus complete
With laughing and giggling, rolling and wiggling
And pattering feet

Perfection’s not here
But the blend of sensations brings contemplations
That divine presence is near

My heart fills with wonder
Reflecting and knowing, its gratefulness growing
Clapping with uproarious thunder

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

To the Top of the World! (Or at Least the Top of Colorado)

One of my favorite unofficial titles is Sherpa.  On Sunday I got the opportunity to take another friend up their first 14er, so I decided we should go for the tallest one around.  This is the tale of our travels. 

The day started early, at 0300.  At least for me.  I'm not sure when Jenny got up, but since I'm the only one who feels compelled to shower before hiking 9 miles up a mountain, I'm guessing it was later.  Regardless, she was ready when I stopped by at 0400 to pick her up.  We did a drive by the Burger King, but to my dismay there would be no Croissanwich today.  Apparently normal people don't eat breakfast at four in the morning.  Fortunately, McDonald's caters to abnormal people, and we were able to get breakfast to go from there.  The kid at the drive through was very confused on our order, but after walking him through an egg McMuffin and sausage McMuffin meal with soda instead of coffee three times, he finally got it and we got our fuel for the morning.

On the down side, Jenny was unable to get much sleep on the drive, and since I didn't want to put her ears through undeserved torture, I was unable to enjoy singing to my tunes like I usually do.  On the plus side, it was nice to have another human being to converse with on the trip.  In the end I think I came out ahead on this one.  Jenny probably not so much, considering she only got about 4 hours of sleep the night before.  But since I paid for breakfast and gas I'm counting it as all good.

Finally we arrived at Mt. Ebert at about 7:00.  The trailhead was easy to find, and we took one final turn at the restrooms, which was literally less than two minutes after Jenny had made me stop at another restroom on the way that might have been 800 yards up the road, and then it was on to the hike.  In her defense I will say that Jenny held it until we got back, which is both impressive and probably terribly unhealthy. My bladder is approximately the size of my thumb, so I will never accomplish that feat.

After crossing a couple of streams we came to where the trail splits.  The trail to the right takes you up 4100 feet of elevation to today's destination.

The first half of the trail pleasantly winds its way through the woods.

As you approach hte treeline you can see the false summit.  This is not the final destination.  But it is close.

This is a closer view.  This is the steepest, roughest parts of the hike, but it doesn't last long.

The views from the top are fabulous.  Of course, I won't be there for your picture, but you probably look better anyway.
Jenny and I traded cameras and took pictures of each other on the hike.  I had to go to her Facebook page to get proof she went with me on this trip.









It took us 3 hours, 45 minutes to get to the top, and after a quick lunch we started back down.  2 hours later we arrived back at the bottom.  We took a wrong turn after re-crossing the streams and ended up a half mile down the road from the parking lot at the Mt. Massive trailhead.  We were too tired to do that one so we headed back to the car and returned home.  This time Jenny did the driving and I got some much appreciated sleep.  Another great climb on the books!

Friday, June 17, 2011

I Bring Home the Bacon and Fry it up in the Pan

Back when my job had me travelling frequently, I took United Airlines up on their offer to exchange a free ticket for a few hours of my life so someone else could travel on my packed airplane.  My idea was for Heather to use this ticket to accompany me on a trip and take some vacation days with it and have a mini-vacay somewhere nice.

Unfortunately, Heather didn't find the allure of going on a trip with me compelling enough to get the ticket cashed in, so finally on the day it was about to expire (exactly 365 days after I had been granted it) we took her to the airport and booked a flight home for her to visit her family.  If you've ever been stuck with me for a couple of hours you know this was a good call on her part.

Had I known then that this trip would coincide with the two weeks preceeding my job transfer from Colorado to Texas I would have had her make the arrangements for another date.  But hindsight's always 20/20, or 20/15 but with halos around stoplights at night if it's anything like my post-Lasik eyes. (Ok, I actually had PRK, but I digress.)

Of course the timing for the trip wouldn't have been so bad had I not decided that rather than purchase a new home in Texas, I would rent a house once I got there, and buy a third investment property here.  Or I should say, had I not bought a property with so much work needing to be done to get it renter-ready.  So while I should have been living it up enjoying a couple of weeks of bachelorhood and all the attendant hours of playstation gaming, reading, and mountain climbing that should have come with that, instead I get home from work, change, and go to work on the house.

Fortunately, my to-do list is getting close to the bottom.  It would be nice to have someone to field calls while I'm at work rather than getting 8 messages when I get home every night, but I have managed.  As a bonus I have even kept myself from starving. I suppose Heather gets to make up for it by taking care of overseeing the moving company pack all our stuff since the Air Force has deemed it imperative for me to move prior to the earliest date Mayflower can get our life's accumulations into cardboard boxes and removed from our house.  And I will be living it up in a hotel in Texas for 2 weeks.  Who knows, I just may get through Angry Birds.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

That's What Friends are For

I recently purchased a foreclosed home to expand my portfolio of rentals prior to leaving Colorado Springs.  One of the great things about buying a foreclosed home is that you tend to get a good deal on the price.  One of the bad things about it is that it tends to need some TLC to get back to its glory days.  Sort of like Tiger Woods - so much promise, but so much baggage to work through first.  Needless to say, it is rare to find a foreclosed home with any kitchen appliances, and they are often missing light fixtures and other hardware.  The missing light fixtures and appliances didn't surprise me.  I'm sure they fetched some much needed money on Craigslist.  Some other items did surprise me.  I have to wonder how much money you can really get for medicine cabinet shelves and toilet paper roll holders.  I'm assuming that was the previous homeowner's way of sticking it to the man, probably with the bank in mind, but now it's my job to fix it.

Buying new TP roll holders was easy - $4.50 at Walmart for three of them.  The shelves will require either a custom job from a glass company in town or installing new cabinets.  I hired out the plumbing and drywall repairs, the need for which I blame on the pathetic winterizing of the home, not the dislocated family that left it behind.  I also hired a couple of youngsters to clean the baseboards, doors and windows.  That has still left me with a plethora of work, from installing fixtures in the ceilings to touching up or repainting most of the rooms in the house.  I even cleared two clogged sinks (I won't soon forget the rancid smell eminating from the pipes or the peach colored gel like goo that came from within, in addition to copious amounts of hair and whatever other substances had decomposed into a black paste that had to be cleaned out.)

This project has reminded me once again how good it is to have friends.  First my friend Shawn, here on vacation from Illinois, helped me put in 3 ceiling fans, a light fixture in the basement and a chandelier in the dining room, as well as helping fix my gate which had fallen off and fallen apart.  My friend Eric graciously let me borrow his new saw to cut the boards, and another friend Jenny helped put the gate back together as well.  Then today Matt and Jenny came over and took me from my work and took me hiking with them and their two boys.  It was a great hike, and after dinner Matt came over and helped me paint.  He pretty much completed one of the bedrooms, in addition to doing touch up on the basement stairs where it is difficult for me to reach.  I still have a lot of work to do, with re-caulking the tubs right below steam cleaning the carpets on my list of how I want to spend my weekends and vacation days, but it's really nice to have friends lend a hand.  Not only because it lightens the load, but more importantly because it makes you feel loved.

Monday, June 6, 2011

An Excellent Staycation

Last week Shawn, my best friend from college, his wife Amy and their 22 year old daughter Brittany (whom I used to babysit) came to visit for 10 days.  We had a great visit, and did some super fun stuff like playing tag with Amy's nieces and nephews at the park and white water rafting, as well as some less fun stuff like going to a the town's "Frontier Days", which involves walking a couple miles up and down the street looking at products that you wouldn't consider buying at a garage sale that are being hawked by a seemingly enless line of vendors.  It was interesting, however, to see how many different styles of clothing, tatoos and piercings there are.  Speaking of which, Shawn and I spotted a place (not at the Frontier Days) that advertised 200 free tatoos, leaving us wondering just how good a free tatoo is, and who would want to put a permanent mark on their body that falls under that category.

We also did some cool stuff like take a train through the Royal Gorge, which is a thousand foot deep canyon, and we ate a lot of Yo-Yogurt.  This restaurant offers the consumer the ability to choose from a variety of flavors of yogurt and multiple toppings and charges by the ounce.  It quickly became Shawn's favorite place to eat.  He was even talking about opening a franchise, until we looked it up online and discovered the suggested capital available to start one is a cool $300K.  After that Shawn was content with just enjoying their excellent product.

Unfortunately Shawn and I never got in our pre-dawn hike up the Incline that we wanted to do, but we did get to watch cliff divers inside a Mexican restaurant in Denver, and eat chicken that was raised and slaughtered in Amy's brother's backyard.  We missed the killing but according to Brittany it was something she won't be able to wash from her mind soon enough.

Finally the time came for my friends to go back home, and I said good bye to them and Amy's family.  I think the youngest three kids (aged 9, 11, and 13) adopted me as their older brother.  We had a lot of fun together, especially on the trampoline and rope swing in the backyard.  Needless to say it was a sad occassion, but a great vacation!  Now if I could just get some rest.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Earning My Keep

This week I was afforded the opportunity to do some manual labor, or what I refer to as "oh yeah, now I remember why I went to college".  At work we volunteered to break down some old furniture and move it to a warehouse to save the government money by precluding the use of contractors (I can feel the gratitude oozing from you, my fellow tax-payer).  This would have been much easier had two issues not arisen.  1. Almost all of the furniture was made of sheet metal.  Apparently composites made of plastic and wood had not been invented in the 80s when this particular set of rooms was furnished, which would have conveniently made the pieces we were hauling weigh less than 40 pounds each.  2. The numerous volunteers that we were promised would show up to help with the project did not, in fact, show up.  Had this ocurred, rather than the lion's share being accomplished by me and 3 other people, the work would have been much faster and my back wouldn't hate me right now.

Apparently a glutton for punishment, after finishing this project I went to a friend's house todayto help him move rocks.  Yes, you heard right.  Although this sounds like an activity that only prisoners would be force to undergo, I voluntarily chose to help my buddy with his home landscaping project.  I must say, I am all for dooing things oneself both to save money and for personal pride, but in the case of xeroscaping, it could be argued this activity should never be undertaken with a set of shovels and a wheelbarrow, but instead should be accomplished by professionals with a bobcat and big burly guys, or possibly a posse of foreign nationals eager to perform manual (or is it "Manuel"?) labor for a farthing.  Of course since this particualar individual spent hours helping me put hardwood floors in my house (and by "helping" I mean he did the majority of the work and I assisted by measuring and cutting boards) I felt I owed what little muscle power I could provide.

I must say that while shoveling, separating, and carting loads of rocks is a particularly enjoyable way to spend one's weekend, the highlight of my day came when my friend's junior high daughter felt it necessary to point out that she is now taller than me.  I let her know that being taller than me is not much to get excited over, sort of like being pumped that you just beat Steven Hawkings in a pickup game of basketball.  But we all have to have our little victories I guess.  At least I could carry more rocks than her.  Probably.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Good Old Days

Today I decided to share some old poetry with you. My mom recently reminded me of this gem, which I wrote when I was a teenager in the Army in 10 minutes between Russian classes.  Like so many poems it just came to me and I jotted it down.  Apparently my mom still has the original, but here it is for you to enjoy.  It is titled Ode to the Womb, and speaks of better times.

Ode to the Womb
Oh to be in the womb again
Life it was so simple then
Just sleeping and eating and sleeping again
Amniotic fluid was my best friend

The umbilical cord was another friend
Always had food which he would lend
And what's more each and every day
He carried all my waste away

The night was dark, and so was day
It was a nice, warm place to stay
I could go for a swim or just hang around
Because that life-sustaining fluid did abound

But as time went by and as I grew
The time would come, and soon, I knew
When I would have to relocate
And this was no cause to celebrate

Then came the day and I did fight
To keep my home, with all my might
But it's hard to win when you're not too stout
And your landlady just wants to get you out

And since that day I have not found
No matter how much I look around
A place with half as good a room
As my safe and cozy rent-free womb!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Regularly Scheduled Maintenance

Recently I noticed that it was a bit diffiecult to shift gears on my motorcycle, so I took her in to the shop.  At my last visit a couple of months ago for my semi-annual oil change, they notified me that my rear brakes were completely gone, and I had warped my rotors because they were braking metal on metal.  In addition to changing the oil they gave me some new brake pads, and I quickly appreciated the stark difference in stopping ability.

This time, although they could find nothing wrong with the shifter, they informed me I needed new front pads and a rear tire.  The tire was no surprise, as they advised me of my need for a new tire the last time I was in.  I was a bit sceptical, as there was still tread along the sides (and isn't that where it's most important, for hugging the curves?).  The middle of the tire was perfectly smooth, but I assumed motorcycle tires are made that way, similar to racing bicycles that don't have any visible grooves for tread, but rely instead upon the rubber compound to grip the road.

Imagine my surprise when I got my bike back with the new rear tire (I decided to go ahead and follow their advice this time) and it was covered in tread all over!  Huh, guess that other tire was really bald.  I also noticed that I don't have to squeeze the right brake lever very hard to engage the brakes, whereas before I had to squeeze it all the way to the hand grip.

So needless to say I feel really fortunate to have not had an accident while riding a bike with limited braking capability and a rear tire probably on the verge of blowing out.  On the bright side, Bessy stops much quicker now.  I'm glad my mechanic is smarter than I am.  I knew there was a reason I paid him so much.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Don't Take it Personal- I'm Just Looking for Business

With close to a year under my belt of being a landlord, and an upcoming move to Texas looming large, I determined it was time to purchase another investment property here in Colorado Springs where the property taxes are crazy low, while interest rates are historically cheap and housing prices are even more depressed than Steve Carell fans.  Besides which, if I'm to earn the coveted title of "Slum Lord", I need more than one property in my portfolio.

This time around I know more what to expect and what I'm looking for, and I found a prospective rental very quickly.  As soon as the folks at HUD and I came to an agreement on a selling price, I called one of the local banks to discuss financing options.  Their rates and terms seemed acceptable to me, but then the rep let me know that 1st Bank likes to build personal relationships with their customers, and therefore expected me to move all my banking with them if they gave me a loan.  Although this may have been the key to success for George Bailey, I let my potential new BFF know that I was quite pleased with my bank which I had been using for close to 20 years.  Besides which, I pointed out, I would be moving soon, and doubted this bank had any branches in Texas.  The kindly rep let me know that my supposition was correct, and that my moving posed an insurmountable barrier, as they really needed me to be in Colorado to do business with me. 

Needless to say I found it odd that they would really have that much interest in my residence, as long as the check for the mortgage came in on time every month.  Apparently it's imperative for the folks at 1st Bank that you regularly come in to their branch so they can shake your hand and give you a sucker.  I'm left wondering if they allow electronic banking at all, or is there a "no-moving clause" you have to sign when you open your checking account?  Whatever the case, I promptly took my business to Ent Credit Union, where they care more about your credit score (785 if you're curious) and ability to repay your loan than whether or not they will be able to have you over for a barbeque for Memorial Day.  But if you need a blind date or someone to be your kids' godmother do I have a bank for you!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Company on Mt Manitou

This week one of my best friends happened to be in town, so we took a trek up the incline; after all, is there a better way to catch up on someone's life than a mutually agreed upon hike up a mile long set of stairs at a 45% grade?  In between water breaks and gasps for air we enjoyed some great conversation and views, as well as a good work-out.

Once we had conquered the beast I took a diversionary tour of the hilltop to relieve one of my constant companions - the full bladder.  I happened to see a large rectangular iron box that seemed to have been built in the 19th century, when societies had uses for such contraptions.  I have no idea what it was originally used for, although I would guess for holding coal or something of that nature, and in my attempt to satisfy my curiosity I peeked inside a circular opening in the top.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered a man inside!  I'm assuming it was a homeless person, who used the box as his shelter, although this raised more unaswered questions.  Why was he sleeping in it during the daytime?  Why did he climb the incline in the first place?  Was this the fittest homeless person in town?  Was this actually a deceased person?

Needless to say, I am a bit tempted to go back in a week and make sure the same person isn't still lying there in the same position.  Or if he is, to make sure he's not bloated and covered in flies.  But that would require hauling myself up the incline again, and let's face it, I'm too lazy for that.  Perhaps someone reading this blog could take a peek and relieve all our minds.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Dog Days of Spring

Recently on a hike I met up with a couple of guys and their black Lab.  As I was petting the dog I was reminded again of the fact that I have been thinking about getting a dog for a while.  Having a reliable hiking partner would be great, and dogs are so loyal that they always want to be with you no matter where you go, or how badly you insult them by telling them "you smell like a dog" or "dude, your breath is like death" or "don't even think about licking my face after licking that!".

Last week I got the opportunity to see if I really am dog material.  While Heather and I have dog-sat before, it has always been for well-trained grown dogs.  In this case we are watching Sadie, an 8 month old Labrador.

Things started off as I am used to.  Sadie's owner left, and Sadie pranced around by the door, wanting her to come back.  At least that's what I thought she wanted, until I let her come out into the garage with me so I could get some work done on the trim I needed to finish prior to installing it in the living room.  Then she promptly popped a squat on a pile of foam and proceeded to urinate.  I realized she had been pacing by the door because she needed to go out and do her duty.  That was my bad, for not figuring out what she needed.  At least she went in the garage, and not in the house.

The next day, I went upstairs to my bedroom to find that she had done the number 2 on my carpet in the master bathroom.  Yes, I know carpeting doesn't belong in a bathroom, but that's beside the point.  Bad dog!  Heather cleaned that one up, which I appreciated, although she was ready at that point to be done having a dog, and I hadn't even told her about the pee in the garage.

Then yesterday while sitting in my office the dog started doing the dry heaves.  I yelled at her to come with me so we could get her outside before she lost her lunch (or more accurately, her pile of leaves and grass), and halfway down the stairs I realized she was no longer behind me.  I made a bee-line for the master bedroom, where I found her wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and feeling much better, having left what was agitating her in a pile by the dresser.  Really?  You couldn't just follow me downstairs and out the door?  I got the honors of cleaning up this one.

Fortunately there have been no more bodily discharges in the house, but I have to admit I miss getting a full night's sleep and not being awakened at 5 in the morning by a dog whining and barking.  I guess it's best to find these things out now, before I've committed to the permanent care of a pet.  One more week and I will be free of this responsibility.  I'm just not cut out for puppies.  Perhaps I could handle a nice plant.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Conquering Monarch

All good things must come to an end; even the Beatles eventually went their separate ways.  Paul to a solo career, John to a premature death at the hand of an assassin, Ringo and that other guy to whatever it is that they did.  My ski season ending may not be as monumental as the Beatles' breakup, but it was still a sad event for me nonetheless.

Fortunately, I was able to end the season on a high note.  After a couple of rough outings complete with post-lift entanglements, icy, near-calamitous runs, and some severe body blows while learning how to board, I was able to get in a wonderful day exploring a new mountain with a nice fresh coat of powder to soften the landings and increase steerability.

All of this would not had been possible if my friend Matt hadn't bought a new car.  Not only did his Toyota Corolla come with a spoiler and that great new car smell, the dealer threw in a couple of tickets to Monarch.  And since Matt's wife took a trip home to visit family, and the tickets are expiring soon, I got to be Matt's back-up date.  Woo-hoo!

Matt and I had a blast, with Matt skiing and me splitting the day between boarding in the morning and skiing in the afternoon.  The most exciting part of the day proved to be riding one of the lifts, which went so fast when it picked you up that it literally lifted you off the ground as it was scooping you up.  (I realize the point of a lift is to lift you, but normally this happens a few seconds after you are seated, and is a linear process, not a sudden shooting up in the air as your posterior is making full contact).  Oddly enough it really didn't travel that quickly up the mountain, it just seemed to speed up right as it approached you from behind.

The weather was bright and sunny, and we had a blast.  I was eyeballing a set of mammoth jumps near the entrance to the park, and had finally decided to make a go at one when Matt announced his legs were done for the day.  Left with just one last trip down the slopes, I decided to take a final high-speed run down the blue that ended at the parking lot, rather than trying to catch some air and stick the landing.  So I have to thank Matt for getting tired, and probably saving me from destroying myself in one exhilarating and obliterating move.  Maybe next season.