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Mon, Dec. 31st, 2007, 11:36 pm
new home!

No, not that kind of home. We're still in T-town.

Come join me in my new property in cyberspace. Virtual drinks and cupcakes all around!

Thu, Dec. 27th, 2007, 03:37 pm
question of the day

Q: How many people does it take to trim Seamus's toenails?

A: Four--two veterinary techs, one receptionist, and one extremely embarrassed dog owner.

Sun, Dec. 16th, 2007, 07:58 pm

While I will not say that you shouldn't see "No Country for Old Men", I will say that you shouldn't see it unless you have access to strong alcohol immediately afterwards.

Or puppies.

Sun, Dec. 16th, 2007, 12:35 am
Home Improvement Project #3 almost done

Yes, the end is in sight for painting the bathroom. After staring at the test patches on the wall after about a week (light and dark next to each other), I decided that the darker green wasn't so bad after all, and painted the bathroom. Part of it may have been laziness of not wanting to figure out what other color to use, part of it may have been that I did a good job of matching the shower curtain and the curtain, like any good accessory, really made the walls look good. Or it could have been my weird brand of stinginess that I was not willing to sacrifice $13 on a quart of paint that I would never use. (Yes, I am totally stingy on things that "normal" people think are absolute necessities, like clothing besides jeans, long sleeved T shirts, and hoodies, or electronic gizmos, or digital TV, or a second car. However, by not spending money on that stuff, I can indulge my own stupid luxuries, like yarn, frequent trips to coffeeshops, and dinner out. One of the reasons I work where I do is that I don't need any special clothing for work. I wouldn't be happy about having to wear "business clothes" to work because of the extra time it would take in the morning to get ready, as well as the extra time it would take procuring said outfits, not to mention the cost. Said job would have to be a dream job and pay me a lot more than I earn now for me to consider it.)

About the dark sage green walls and pink/black tile...some of you may have felt a frission of horror, a surge of acid rising in your throat, or felt a throbbing pain in your jaw when it hit the desk after reading these words. Let me clarify...there is indeed pink and black tile surrounding the tub. There was absolutely no question that Oscar and I were going to remove this, but as removing tile also means replacing sheet rock behind shower, which would probably lead to far more extensive remodeling, we decided to let that stay until we were ready to tackle the Serious Bathroom Remodel. I felt I could live with the pink and black tile, but Oscar absolutely could not, so he installed a shower insert over it. That was Home Improvement Project #1. (Home Improvement Project #2 was fixing the crack in the foundation. Oscar had to do that one. I have no problem crawling around under the house; it's just that the opening is really small, and sized for a skinny person.)

Hopefully, I can finish the trim tomorrow. I painted the walls on Friday afternoon, and went to Home Despot that evening for a second quart to do the second coat. (Woo-hoo. Friday evening at a Home Improvement Store. What an exciting life I lead.) I put the second coat on that evening, but decided to wait at least 36 hours before applying painters tape to the freshly painted walls so that I could paint the trim. The bathroom is unheated, so the paint is taking longer to dry in the cool, damp conditions.

In other news, I learned how to knit without looking at my knitting. You know what this means, don't you? It means I can knit and read at the same time. Yay!!! Now I don't have to choose between spending free time knitting or reading.

Fri, Dec. 14th, 2007, 04:49 pm

Twelve days before Giftmas and I actually mailed off all my holiday cards. Amazing. Usually, the process breaks down somewhere between actually getting cards and dropping off stamped, addressed cards in mailbox. Yes, there was a year when I went through the process EXCEPT for dropping off the addressed, stamped cards in the mailbox. How pathetic is that?? Don't answer that. Please.

So, if your name and address were in my address book, then I sent you a card. Unless you live in Bolivia, chances are good that the card will arrive.

I also did something that I swore that I would never, EVER do:

I signed Oscar's name on the card as well.

I always refused to sign his name because it just burned me to give him equal credit (even if it's just "holiday greetings") when I've done all the work. One year I just signed my name and didn't realize that this make people think that we were no longer married. So on all the subsequent years, I presented him with a stack of cards and made him sign. I still did 95% of the work but at least he was somewhat involved in the process. However, this year, I just couldn't be bothered. I just wanted to drop those suckers in the mailbox and be done with it.

Even Oscar was shocked.

Mon, Dec. 10th, 2007, 08:39 pm
Home Improvement--Chapter 47

I'm coming to really believe that there is no such thing as an "easy" home improvement. No matter how small the object or how simple the improvement, it will always require at least four items beyond what you think you need, and at least two of them will be expensive. The project will also take about five times longer than you think. (Replacing a washer on the shower pipe? $2.49 for the kit. $20 for the plumbing tools to actually get to the washer that needed to be replaced, as well as two trips to the hardware store--12 miles each way.)

Painting a bathroom. Really, how difficult is that? Painting is easy, right? Bathrooms are small, right? Since the existing beige paint was cracking off the walls (I'm assuming a hasty paint job done before we moved in) revealing its pink underbelly (quite possibly meant to match the pink and black tile surrounding the tub), and it was starting to get on my nerves, I figured this would be a simple weekend project to paint the bathroom.

First the preparation: I puttied the holes. Sanded down the rough spots. Washed every surface with "TriSodium Phosphate substitute-no rinse formula". (That stuff stank.) Waited for everything to dry. Surface still seemed kind of sticky but the bottle said "no rinse". Okay. Painted bathroom walls and ceiling with Kilz primer. That stuff really, really stank. Realized that paint is liquid and that no matter how careful you think you can be, the stuff will drip.

Next day, another trip to Big Box Home Improvement Store to actually get the colored paint. Since I'm not creating a dream bathroom, I decided to get colors that would coordinate with our shower curtain. (You know, instead of starting from scratch and having every accessory be Perfect. My perfect bathroom will have a claw foot bathtub. Since there is no claw foot tub, matching the shower curtain seemed just fine. It's a nice curtain. Oscar chose it.) Even though I like blue, I thought blue walls would be overpowering, since that's the dominant color in the curtain as well. Yes, I took the curtain to Big Box Home Improvement Store and matched the greens in the curtain. So I bought a quart of light sage-ish green and a quart of darker sage-ish green, a smaller brush for painting the trim, and a drop cloth. I hadn't yet decided whether I was going to paint light walls/dark trim or dark walls/light trim, but I figured that's a pretty small detail. A quart of paint is plenty for a small room, so if I decided I didn't like the way the wall looked with whatever color I chose, I could switch it around.

Now things start going badly.

1) The drop cloth isn't actually cloth. It's really a giant paper towel. And it's way too fracking big to fit over the floor. I would have been better off going to a thrift store and buying a bunch of old towels.

2) Remember the stickiness after washing the walls? Well, I found out today that it certainly is a "no-rinse" wall cleaner, but it is also most definitely "wipe immediately with clean, dry cloth" type of wall cleaner. I only wish that this bit was in printed as large as the "no rinse" bit. Now I'm not sure the primer has bonded properly or not.

3) Decide to paint anyway. I decide on the darker color for the walls. I painted one corner of the ceiling, and the walls above the shower and am not happy with what I am seeing. There are two reasons for this.
a) it took almost one quart of primer to completely cover all the surfaces I am going to paint, so I figured that one quart of paint would be plenty. Very quickly, I realized that I was going to have to do two coats so one quart was not going to be enough for the walls.
b) the color looks an awful lot like my dog's shit when she's sick to her stomach.

Maybe the blue walls won't be so bad after all.

Wed, Nov. 28th, 2007, 07:41 pm
Going postal

As some of you may know, Oscar is Bolivian by nationality and most of his family still lives in that country. Although a poor country with an, ahem, erratic government, the country has many, many good things going for it.

Its postal service is not one of them.

Over the past dozen or so years, I've mailed many, many things to our family there, and could be reasonably sure that items had a pretty good chance of arriving since everything was destined for La Paz. In my experience, international mail to La Paz and intracity domestic mail was pretty secure. The main post office is in La Paz, so the destination was close to the source. Ditto with intracity domestic mail. The country doesn't have home delivery service so all mail is delivered to and stays within the city post office. Intracity domestic mail is thus just shuffled around the room. This isn't to say that things don't ever get lost or misplaced; just that the entropy zone tends to be smaller.

However, over the past few years, I've noticed a real upswing in the number of things that don't arrive. Gusano Medidor (my mother in law) is very meticulous about letting me know what things arrive and also its contents of item in question ("the box with Book A and rooiboos tea", for example). We've communicated mostly by email over the past several years, but I do like to send her things occassionally. She is not a material person, but she does love both books and fine tea. It's more secure to send small packages than large ones, so sometimes I'll mail two or three small boxes or envelopes (with a single book each) on the same day. Yes, it's a bit more postage on my end, but an acceptable cost if it means I only have to buy a book once. (I bought and sent "Persiopolis" three times before I finally gave up.) In the past four years, I think only two packages I've sent have arrived. I got fed up and really frustrated and so finally gave up mailing her anything for a long, long time.

Over the past year, I've tried again. Small things, mostly tea (and first class airmail postage actually exceeds the cost of the tea itself), but with the same spectacular lack of success. (I think only one package out of three has reached her.) Well, I made her a scarf out of some very pretty yarn she chose during her visit last year, and wondered how I could get it to her. (Why didn't I finished it while she was here? Because I was focused on getting her sweater done, that's why. I did. An admirable accomplishment. Thankfully, she is very petite and slim.) While the scarf isn't worth much in terms of its material cost, it's enough of an investment on my part that I would probably cry if it never reached her. (To be honest, I wouldn't feel bad if she got it and then decided she didn't like it. I just want the fracking thing to get there, and have the option of deciding whether she likes it or doesn't.)

They had used a private mail service for several years. This service is based in Miami, and very useful for letters and magazine subscriptions. The clients have a US address, and so can get domestic rates for National Geographic, The Atlantic or whatever other magazine they wish to subscribe to. Once a week or so, the mail is delivered to company's office in the host country. The service used to work really well, but Gusano Medidor mentioned that quality has declined over the years while the rates have gone up, so they didn't use the service very much anymore. But I was so concerned about her scarf/book/tea shipment not arriving that I finally broke down and asked if I could send a package via this courier.

Gusano Medidor agreed and I shipped off my package to Miami. A few weeks ago, she told me that the service notified her that my package had arrived in their Miami office. Cool! I figured she'd have her box within the week. Time passed. She hadn't received her box. She contacted them and they said they would be sending it soon. As I understood it, they were just waiting for some more things to send (I guess to have a bigger courier shipment to Bolivia.) A few days ago, she still hadn't received her box and I started to get really annoyed. My thought was if I were a client paying for this service to deliver mail on a weekly basis, I don't freaking care if my mail is the only thing that's going to Bolivia this week and the other various clients don't have anything. I don't want my mail held up because Juan X's auntie in Houston hasn't gotten around to sending him his birthday card. I wanted them to return the package to me and I'd send it via Express Mail International. This is way more expensive than sending it just regular first class airmail, and way, way more expensive than sending it just domestic priority to Miami, but it's certified and registered and seems to have a pretty good success rate of actually reaching the intended recipient. (It's also half the price of Global Fed Ex and one third the price of DHL, which are my other options.)

So I called the company's Miami office to find out just what the heck was going on. I get a customer service rep whose headset mike was right next to her mouth so she was completely unintelligble. After about 10 minutes or so, and trying to explain patiently to her that I couldn't understand a word she was saying and repeating what I think she is saying, I finally gleaned that she had no account by the name and client number I was giving her. Ok, fine. Not good, but maybe I had written their client number down wrong on my notepad. I knew that the number in my address book was correct, because if it weren't, then they would have never notified G.M. that she had a package from Tacoma waiting for her.

So I checked, called back...and got the same damn CSR I got before. This time, she was able to find the client name. Excellent. Then I finally decipher that the reason the package hasn't been shipped on to Bolivia is because this account is inactive and the account holder needs to reactivate it. (I did mention they didn't use the service very much anymore.)

I asked if they could send the package back to me. The CSR said another unintelligble something and I suddenly found myself on hold (and the on-hold announcements came through perfectly clear, thank you very much). After a few moments, a supervisor answered the phone and I could hear her perfectly. Unfortunately, she didn't speak English very well. (Despite my irritation at this whole situation, my first feeling for her was sympathy. I know from my own experience that speaking on the phone is one of the hardest things to do when you don't speak a language very well.) But she understood me well, and I explained that I wanted the package returned to me. She said it was no problem but she needed a written request, so could I please send her an email? Sure, no problem. She tried to give me her email address and my sympathy for her increased because it became immediately obvious that it was really, really difficult for her to spell her name in English.

She is not stupid. When you learn a language formally, the very first thing you are taught is the alphabet. Book one, lesson one. I've formally studied French, Dutch, German, Spanish, and Swedish and this has held true in every case. (Not in Icelandic because we were focused on reading the sagas.) The thing never touch it again. when I was at the language school in Sweden, one day during coffee break, a group of Level 4 students approached a group of Level 1 students and asked them what the alphabet was. Level 4 students were the highest level, the most advanced, and many of them already spoke with near native fluency. Language study at this level was fine tuning, to learn an absolutely proper and perfect Swedish and grammatical fine points that even many native Swedes don't even get "right". However, on this day, these Advanced Level Swedish students realized that none of them knew how to spell their own names. Or spell anything out loud actually, because they didn't know the Swedish names for the letters of the alphabet.

Eventually, this poor woman finally managed to get out an email address, and even though I repeated it back to her, it isn't correct. My message gets returned as undeliverable. G.M. got the name of the service rep in the La Paz office so I sent my request to her, and it hasn't come back yet so I hope that she received it.

This whole drama does have a real sense of urgency, because according to the company's website, they will only hold undeliverable items for 30 days before the items are destroyed. Not returned to sender. Destroyed. And remember that this box has been sitting in Miami for about three weeks now... Sadly, my father in law, and not G.M., is the account holder and he has to reinstate the account. Amongst G.M.'s many, many talents, her efficiency at tasks and organizational skills rank very, very high and if she were in charge, this wouldn't be an issue. My father in law can not include these attributes amongst his own talents. He does things on his own schedule and according to his own priorities, and not even an act of God--or the imminent destruction of a package sitting in Miami--will make him do things any differently.

Mon, Nov. 26th, 2007, 07:18 pm
Ah...Thanksgiving mini-vacation

Five whole days off. It was very nice. I completely fracked up my sleeping schedule by staying up several nights playing a video game, but I'm not nearly as comatose today as I was afraid I would be. Not any sleepier than I normally am during the afternoons. And I still managed to be marginally productive this weekend, too. I finished up several knitting projects and am 1/3 of the way through a scarf I am making as a friend's Christmas gift. I have to finish this scarf and an afghan before I cast on anything new. I started the afghan before we moved here, and I haven't worked on it since we moved in over a year ago. The afghan is made of granny squares, and I've put it off for so long because I really didn't relish the thought of sewing together 144 squares (I doubt I will ever take up quilting as a hobby). But there comes a time when even I--the Great Procrastinator--gets motivated/ashamed/disgusted with one's self and sets to the task of completing an item. I thought I'd finished crocheting all the squares and just had to sew them together, but it turns out that I still have to make about 20 more squares. I'm sure the afghan will look pretty good when it's done (amateurish sewing excepted) but I'm also pretty sure that I will never make one again. But I do have a schedule--sewing together 12 squares a night. That's not too horrible. It's been so long since I've done any crocheting that I'm going to have to relearn how to make the squares, though.

I also finished up three pairs of socks as well as baby sweater for a friend. I have these really cool buttons I'd intended to put on the sweater, but forgot to knit buttonholes and the buttons don't have long enough posts for "afterthought" buttonholes. Ah well, this gives me a reason to make another sweater (as if the joy and pleasure of knitting for this baby weren't reason enough).

So, I know you are all dying to know which video game has kept me up for several nights running. Before I tell you that I reason I played all through the night is because I couldn't even start playing until 11pm because Oscar is consumed with HIS video game (Super Mario Galaxy) until then. Oscar goes to bed, and then I can play my game. (This works out really well, actually, because he naturally wakes up very early and I don't. Besides, it's entertaining watching him play.) My video game is Assassin's Creed, and it's a really engaging game. The story is framed very cleverly. Like all video games, it has a Heads Up Display (HUD). These are the items on your screen that tell you how much life/energy your character has, what weapon is equipped, etc. These things are necessary for the player but are an artificial construct as far as "realism" in the game is concerned. The game designers developed an unusual twist...during the bulk of the game play you are Altair (a member of the assassin group in the Holy Land on the eve of the 2nd Crusade), but Altair is really a "genetic memory" of a young man named Desmond (I think), Altair's direct descendent. Desmond is undergoing experiments in a device called "The Animus" to unlock these memories, because Altair apparently uncovered some pretty important information during his life that is has value during the 21st century and this information is desperately wanted by the Big Unnamed Corporation that kidnapped Desmond in the first place. Desmond is forced to actively relive these memories in order to unlock the other ones, and it's these memories that you play. The HUD information is therefore the Animus monitoring systems. The "health bar" is called "the memory synchronization status", and the map becomes visible only after Altair sees an area, which is done by scaling a tall building. The scenery in this game is just stunning; it is a real joy just to look at things. Technically, you have only one goal in each "memory"--to assassinate the person your master assigns and to return to the headquarters successfully. (By the way, each of your targets has the name of a real person assassinated during this time). But you increase your chances of success by aiding various citizens in distress. For the most part, your friends and foes are not fixed. Not every Christian is an enemy, and not every Muslim is a friend. The only absolute (so far) is the Templars--they will try to kill you if they see you, but you can run away from them. It makes your life/escape easier to remove the various guards on rooftops, but not necessary. As an assassin, you don't want to call attention to yourself, so you have to do things to blend in or gain friends who will help you. In each area are various citizens being harassed by city guards or soldiers. Rescue them, and a group shows up who will either hinder any soldiers/guards pursuing you or hide you. You can hide in plain sight if you are acting in a "socially acceptable" way. There are certain people in society who go unnoticed--like poor people sitting on a bench. You can escape the guards' notice by sitting on a bench, but only if you enter an area calmly. If you go running in pell mell, chased by angry armed guards, everyone will flee. Also, although Altair is wonderfully athletic and agile, the socially acceptable way to get up to a rooftop is by climbing a ladder. Yes, Altair can scale any building like a rockclimber, but people notice that. Traveling over the rooftops is definitely the most fun part of the game.

But I am stuck in this current memory. I keep getting Altair killed, which results in a "DNA memory desynchronization" and the memory is restarted at the previous important subtask. (Of course Altair can't die...he doesn't have any children yet.) At the beginning of Desmond's "memory resynchronization" , Altair is in serious trouble with his master because he has disregarded the Assassin's Creed. The Master demotes him and strips him of most of his equipment but gives Altair a second chance. After each successful mission, Altair gets some of his equipment back. The first three missions are completed in a specific order, but after that, the Master gives Altair three targets, one each in Damascus, Acre, and Jerusalem, and it's up to Altair to decide how he wants to proceed. Unfortunately, for me as a gamer, I chose Jerusalem (because I think it's the most visually interesting area) but Jerusalem is also the hardest of the three (as I found out by reading a walkthrough). There are guards everywhere, and they are on high alert even before you do something. It's taking me forever to complete this level and as far as I know, I can't exit this memory and start another instead. If I'd done this in "proper" order, I'd have all my weapons restored by this time. I'd have a crossbow as well as a large amount of throwing knives. No crossbow, and only five throwing knives, which means that I have to get fairly close to my target even for a distance kill. Oh, and when Altair runs out of knives? He has to pickpocket them from thugs. And remember, the guards are on high alert, and they can fight better than Altair can (or at least better than I can). I'm almost tempted to start over just to play these levels in the "proper" order. Even so, I really like the game. I think it's intelligent, and rewards strategy and patience, and is as far from a mindless "hack and slash" as you can get.

Wed, Nov. 21st, 2007, 11:43 pm

I haven't been posting because I lead a very humdrum life and am really having a hard time thinking of anything interesting to say. Or even to write about banality in an interesting, witty way.

But in some good news, the foster cats Gracie and Edgar have both found forever homes. A friend adopted Edgar a few weeks ago, and the mother of one of my colleagues adopted Gracie last week. I was really fond of Edgar and missed him after I dropped him off. But I know he's in a good home and I can see him once in awhile. I liked Gracie, too, but Edgar was really special. I think if we hadn't have adopted Maggie we would have adopted Edgar. However, Maggie has managed to wriggle herself back into my good graces by not bringing by any more rats and has also taken to jumping onto my lap and settling down with a very satisfied purr.

In other news, I have to report satisfying progress at using up the enormous quantity of root vegetables that Oscar and I have accumulated. We get a weekly home delivery of organic fruits and veggies and the company does provide local stuff as often as possible, which at this time of year in the Pacific Northwest means root vegetables, squash, and Swiss Chard. Neither of us has been cooking as much as we should have been so our fridge is stuffed with veggies. (The fruit does get eaten up pretty quickly.) Last week I made a squash gratin, and yesterday I made a root vegetable pot pie (without the crust). In my zeal to use up the various veggies, I didn't think of the volume they would take up in the Dutch oven. The pot pie contains kobacha squash, shallots, carrots, parsnips, turnips, golden beets, and potatoes with an herb-seasoned gravy. The mixture completely filled the Dutch oven, and the whole thing must have weighed about 20 lbs. It's tasty, which is good, since I will be eating it for the next few days. Oscar, foodie that he is, refuses to eat the same thing more than twice in a row, and he's not such a big fan of squash to begin with. I will say that I make a fabulous gravy from scratch. No lumps at all!

Speaking of fresh, local produce...does anyone actually like Swiss Chard? I mean actually "like" it. As in getting excited if it's on the menu. I've asked around and everyone is really meh about it. No one hates it, but no one seems to like it either. It seems to fall in the "I don't dislike it" category. It's bland and unoffensive but also doesn't seem to contribute anything to dishes. Oscar made up a chard dish that I did like (as opposed to "not dislike") but it had bacon in it, and bacon makes most things good. In that dish, the chard served as a vehicle to stretch the bacon, not the bacon enhancing the chard. So if anyone has a good chard recipe, pass it along, will you?

Tue, Nov. 20th, 2007, 08:45 pm
oh! new taste!

Ah, julmust--that traditional Swedish holiday beverage (now available at your local IKEA)

A perfect gift for those on your list who love the flavor of Cherry Nyquil cold medicine yet crave carbonation.

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