Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I just started a new exercise routine. Actually, it's more like I just started a lifestyle revolution. I guess if a revolution fails to take hold, it goes down in history books as a revolt, huh? We'll see how this goes. I'm holding out hope for revolution, but that won't be clear for a while yet. I'm revolting against the steady increase in the size of my butt. I've gone up two pants sizes since I started this job three years ago. At this rate, long before I would be eligible to retire, I will not be able to do my job because I won't be able to travel by commercial airliner. I'm not about a number on the scale, and I'm not dieting myself dangerously thin, I'm just trying to get my body back to the proportions it has when I'm being active and mindful of my diet. Lately, I've been doing neither of those things.

Anyway, I'm taking a triathlon training class. And "class" makes it kinda sound like we sit around with clipboards and learn how to train for triathlons. But it's more like hiring a personal trainer with 9 strangers and all agreeing that you'll work out together for the next 2 months. Some of these strangers are FAST, y'all! I'm the pokey little puppy at the back of the class. One of my very dear friends is also in the class, and she and I together comprise "Group 2" in most of the workouts. All the skinny fast kids who've done this before are "Group 1."

So far, though, I haven't had a single asthma attack. My coach gave me a great piece of advice tonight, and I think it's going to make this my favorite sport of all time, ever: Any problem you encounter in a workout or a race can be solved by slowing down. So, if anything ever goes awry, like my lungs seize up and I start sounding like a hurdy-gurdy, I just slow down. Even stop for a minute. I won't ever be the fastest girl on the course that way, but frankly, that's never been my goal. I just want to finish one of these things. I want to be able to work out without having an asthma attack every fucking time. So far, at least, this "slow down to fix your problems" sport sounds like the sort of thing that will accommodate my goal.

I might never be good at this, but if it can keep me from having to upsize my pants again, and I'm having fun, I don't even care. Viva la revolucion!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

send in the clowns

Pair of Clownfish And by clowns, I do NOT mean another round of plumbers or bathroom renovators. In this case, I actually mean clownfish. Like these little guys pictured here. I bought a tank recently off a friend of mine who was getting out of the hobby. I bought it, put his freshwater fish into my livebearer tank, and converted his lovely acrylic 55 gallon tank to saltwater. I've had it up and running with nothing but rocks and sand in it for a month now, to allow all the right kinds of bacteria to dig in to the rocks and start converting nasty fish pee into harmless fertilizer. Did you know that fish tanks are basically composting toilets? I betcha didn't know that. Next time you meet an aquarium hobbyist, or even a conservative with a goldfish bowl, you can mock them for being freaky environmentalist tree-lickers with composting toilets. Because I know that's the sort of thing you all like to do.

Tonight, I put my first fish into my new saltwater tank: the two clownfish pictured here. They're supposed to be pretty hardy, so they ought to survive my learning curve. As a trained environmental engineer I know a thing or two about water chemistry, and so I always sound like I know what I'm talking about. I needed to bring up the pH of my tank water a little bit, and I seriously considered using baking soda, but then I remembered that I have no idea how much would be required and I didn't know if it would leaven my fish so I went and bought a pH buffer from the fish store. I still laugh about the bottles of "pH reducer" that pool stores sell for $25 each, when you can get a jug four times the size for $5 at the grocery store if you're willing to carry around something labeled Muriatic Acid. The contents of the two bottles are the same, but there's something scarier about toting a jug-handled plastic container with a skull and bones symbol and the word ACID in large letters on the front. Anyway, for all I like to adjust the pH myself with real acids and bases, I wound up with a very expensive little bottle of powder that looks precisely like baking soda tonight. My inner geek is probably going to compute the molarity and molality of baking soda solutions tonight while I sleep so that I can be freed from the tyranny of pet shop chemistry supplies.
Coral Banded Shrimp
I also got a little shrimp to keep the rocks and sand clean. If I can keep him safe from my shrimp-gobbling family, he should fit in nicely. His picture is a little blurry, but you get the idea. I'm something of a giant Amazon, being the size of the average dude, basically. So when I say that without the shrimp in my diet as a kid on the Texas coast, I'd have stopped growing at five feet tall, that's saying something. This particular shrimp has giant freaky claws that make him look a little more like a crawfish than a shrimp, so maybe he could defend himself if my dad came over to visit and got peckish. I dunno.

Last but not least, since I spent the last two posts blah-ing on and on about my bathroom renovation project, I figured I'd post a picture of the finished product. Hooloovoo Bathroom Here is my shiny new bathroom! Rose just noticed that I didn't pick on her at all in this post (since I read it to her on her way out of the office). In fact, I owe her credit for all the photography here. She picked that blue in the bathroom, and I have to say I like it a lot, even though I always want to refer to it as a "hyper intelligent shade of the color blue" just to see who remembers their Douglas Adams.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Eight years' bad luck...

... or the continuing drama of the mirror that committed suicide and the earthworks and plumbing boggles that ensued.

Right, so ... wallpaper scraped, paint applied, carpet removed, wood floor laid, sink installed, poof! Right? Wrong. The plumbing in the original sink was large and messy and didn't fit behind the slim, attractive sink cabinet we'd chosen. No problem! There was a replacement plumbing kit with the cabinet, in anticipation of just this situation. Except you have to turn off the water to the house in order to make such a repair. I know this is possible, because a plumber did it a year ago when fixing the non-overflow drain to the same bathtub that precipitated this mess. He mentioned to me when he was leaving that I might want to dig out the plumbing box in front of the house because the valve was broken and hard to reach. About a week later, I dutifully opened the box, trowel in hand, and saw a perfectly good valve handle, high and dry above the mud. "Huh," says I, because I'm profound like that, "he must've fixed it." I closed the box and thought of it no more until Paul the Carpenter was trying to turn off the water so he could swap out the plumbing and install my new sink.
The high-and-dry valve handle previously witnessed by yours truly was, in fact, a red herring. It basically allows me to bleed all the water out of the pipes in my house, after I've shut the water off with the valve that is (at this point) totally buried in the mud. Now, I know that's really useful in vacation homes, particularly in frosty climates that are likely to freeze and burst pipes during unoccupied seasons. But when, I ask you, am I going to need to drain my water pipes for fear of a hard freeze? The answer, in case you didn't know is, "Not during the life a 70s townhouse," regardless of what trends global warming brings. Paul and I both did a little digging, barehanded, until I hollered "OUCH!!!" and then again "OUCH, DAMMIT!!!" and pulled my hand out of the muddy box dripping blood from two of my fingers. Mud and blood without beer is really, really, really not all it's cracked up to be. It turned out there was a large hunk of broken glass down in the box, which was probably the universe's way of reminding me that this whole project revolved around a shattered mirror. Anyway, Paul finally found the cutoff valve, but as you can see from the accompanying photo here, there's no HANDLE on it. No KNOB. No LEVER. There is NO WAY TO TURN THE VALVE. Paul is a resourceful dude, so he grabbed some Vise-Grip Irwin Vise-Grip Locking Pliers pliers and improvised a handle. You may have also noticed that the hole is rather deep. The pile of mud in my front yard was alarming.

Yea! Our problem was solved! Paul installed the plumbing and it was all peachy keen after that. Or not, because I still haven't explained the manhole cover in my yard and the mud running down the gutter, have I? No, I have not.

It turned out that Paul's improvised handle only had the power to CLOSE the valve. It did not have the power to OPEN the valve, thus restoring water to my 70s townhome. What good is a brand new shiny bathroom, all freshly renovated, if you cannot use it? None whatsoever, I'm here to say. You can photograph it. For getting-on-with-my-life purposes, however, it's worthless. And since the cost of that shiny new bathroom included seven years bad luck, blood, mud, (no beer!), two room renovations, and disabling all hydraulically-enabled rooms in my home, I was none too pleased over it, no matter how shiny.

I'll spare you the blow-by-blow, but suffice it to say there was some trickery (on our part) of the city water department, whose shutoff valve to my house was also not functional. They averred that it would take 10 days to put in a work order to fix their valve, but they could come out and turn off the water to our house in short order and then turn it back on later in the day. So we asked them kindly to do so, knowing that they could not shut off the water without also fixing the valve. Ten days, hah! So, when the fellow turned up and claimed he'd cut the water off, we asked him to prove it, which he gamely attempted to do by turning on a faucet and showing us how it didn't run. Except that it did. And kept on running long after it should've dribbled off. The look on his face at that point was your classic dictionary example of the word "glum". The only way for him to fix the valve in dry fashion was to cut water for our entire block, which he didn't have time or authorization to do. The only way for him to comply with the city's Prime Directive of "cut off the customer's water on demand so they can fix broken stuff" was to fix the valve. That meant wet work, and that meant a muddy mess. He was liberal with the mud and the mess, too. There were cat-sized chunks of Texas Blackland Prairie Clay strewn everywhere.

I didn't want to tweak him any more than I already had, so I held off photographing the thing until he was done and gone. Besides, he had shovels, rakes, and implements of destruction at his fingertips. But that's the shiny, new city cutoff valve down in the valve box, still awash with the muddy water that the city guy worked in to replace it, that matches the shiny new bathroom.

In addition, we had a plumber come out to fix the broken house cutoff valve, and that was a minor drama in itself. Not quite enough to write an opera over, but at least as much as selecting the sink cabinet. There were multiple trips, delays, lots more digging, cursing, and backwards gaskets, of course. But then, we had WATER! In our HOUSE!! Modern indoor plumbing is something you cannot appreciate fully until you've gone a couple of nights without a shower and only flushed the commode when you could borrow a pitcher of water from a neighbor to refill the tank.

It made our sink look like this, however. Muddy Sink Now, those who know my wife well may argue that this is pretty much how any sink looks after she's been at it. However, she hasn't been doing any motorcycle work lately, and I'm fairly certain there was more mud on my knuckles this week than on hers. Either way, it was unacceptable for our house pipes to be producing mud, which they produced in large volumes after the four rounds of plumbing work, in spite of me standing over them sternly stating how very unacceptable this whole mess was.

Blessings upon blessings, the plumbers knew just how to fix the problem. There is some magic tool supplied with some of these modern faucets so that you can remove the aerator. I'd never heard of it, but when the plumber described approximately what it might look like, I found it in the pile of sink parts and paperwork left behind by the well-organized Paul the Carpenter, I was pleasantly surprised, given my experience with my wife's installation jobs. Given the vast service to hygiene and sanity performed by my plumber, I'd have given him the mint. He charged a modest sum and apologized for it having been so high. We parted company a happy band. And now, I have a shiny new bathroom, freshly renovated, that I can actually use! Which all started with a broken mirror... You can thank Jill over at Twipply Skwood for requesting photo documentation of the whole episode. Unlike my usual stuff, these are actually photos I took, not Rose's work. Perhaps now you see why I leave the photography to her?

Seven Years' Bad Luck, or Seven Thousand Dollars.

A mirror fell off a wall in my house and shattered into a hundred thousand pieces. I came home from a nice weekend out riding motorcycles with friends and found a wreckage of shattered glass all up and down the stairs. I was so grateful my dogs weren't home! It wasn't a lone mirror, however. That mirror was but one panel on a wall that was covered floor to (very high) ceiling in mirrors. Muddy Hole In The Yard They were all about the size of a full-height mirror that you would find in a dressing room, or hanging on your closet door. They had been custom cut to fit and hung very neatly, probably about the time I was born. Maybe about the time my baby sister was born, but certainly before parachute pants and jelly shoes. So this particular mirror had probably seen all of the fashion changes it could stand, and before someone dragged the indignity of Ugg boots before it, the poor thing just jumped off the wall, smashed its flat face against the banister, and dissolved into slivers. Next thing I knew, there were plumbers in my yard and a whole new earthscape of mud in two different places out front. There is, I assure you, a logical progression here. Things are not as surreal as they seem. So follow the white rabbit, down the drainpipe and into my very expensive mirror repair...

The only safe and sane response here was to climb a ladder and poke and tug on the neighboring mirrors, to see if they could be encouraged to follow suit. It turns out that they were frighteningly willing to do so, and mostly were dangling, like a kid's loose tooth that hangs on by just one root before finally letting go in the middle of Thanksgiving Dinner. Loose teeth often come out with a gushing of blood and a weird popping sound, and since we wanted to avoid that in the mirrored wall department, we had Paul the Carpenter come take all the mirrors off our wall. Whereupon, Paul notified me that we had (*DUN DUN DUNNNNNN*) water damage on the wall. (See, I told you it wasn't as surreal as banana guacamole.)

We had good reason to suspect that the water damage was coming from the bathtub in our master bath on the second floor. So we called out a plumber who had to cut a hole in the ceiling of the first floor bathroom to get a look at the underside of the tub and diagnose the suspected leak. He found the leak coming from the overflow drain, but couldn't get to it through the hole he had already cut. So he had to cut a hole in the wall behind the bathtub to fix the backwards gasket that was causing the leak. Who knew gaskets could be installed backwards? I thought they were about as complicated as rubber washers! Anyway, I've been walking around muttering "backwards gasket!" to nobody in particular lately, because it sounds like the sort of thing a very perturbed and very crazy person would say. I want it to just roll off my tongue should I ever need to express myself in the most insane way possible.

Now, if you're keeping track, there are now TWO holes cut in my walls. One is through a ceiling covered with that popcorn texture that was so popular just before parachute pants and jelly shoes. The other is through a wall that was papered contemporaneously with lace gloves and the moonwalk. (RIP, MJ.) And if you've ever done this sort of thing, you know that you can't simply patch big rectangular holes in your drywall when there is wallpaper involved. It's one of the classic blunders, right after "Never go in against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line! Hahahahahahahahahaha *plop*"

I previously mentioned that I was having the wallpaper scraped and paint applied in my bathrooms, and this whole mirror-cascade was what started the project. The main impetus for the wall recovering was that the paper in both bathrooms was hideous to the point of being nauseating. But since the sink in that bathroom looked basically like this Seashell Sink and we all know how I feel about nautical bathroom themes, we decided to follow up with a general renovation of the whole tootin' thing.

There was a minor saga involved in the selection of the replacement sink and cabinet, involving no fewer than four trips to Ikea and three to Home Depot. There were purchases, returns, backorders, and backwards gaskets, but we finally secured a sink/cabinet combination that we like and it only cost about four times what we'd budgeted. This brings us to the plumbing installation, but since the downstairs bathroom was carpeted (another indignity that I'm sure contributed to the mirror's tragic end) in a badly stained seafoam green, we decided to have wood floor laid to replace it. Paul the Carpenter to the rescue! This was the only cheap part of the project, really, since we already had all the flooring materials left over from our living/dining room renovation a few years back.

This is already too long, so I'm going to continue it in another installment tomorrow. Stay tuned, gentle readers!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

alphabet soup

today a friend posted on his blog about the fact that the media-standard acronym LGBT (or GLBT, or GBLT - which can amusingly be pronounced giblet - and maybe isn't as standard as it seems after all) is morphing into the longer, more inclusive, but totally unpronounceable LGBTQQIA. and before you ask, because i know you're going to, it stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Ally community.

it prompted an unusually long and thoughtful response that has been percolating all day, so i'm elaborating here:

i thought there were two A's, one for asexual and one for ally. hrmmm... another friend has said he thinks the term asexual is wrong because it has a defined biological meaning, and that is not what you think it is. most people use asexual to describe humans who seem to be devoid of sexual impulse or sexual feelings, just not interested in sex at all and confused as to why the rest of us are so fascinated with it. however, in biological terms, it refers to critters that reproduce without the need of male and female partners, or without the need of partners at all. you know, critters that simply bud off or divide or something. i don't think that is going to stop the asexual community from using the term, though, so i guess they'll just have to brush up on their understandings of mitosis v. meiosis and keep on explaining that they're capable, but not interested, in the majority's favorite sport.

the guy who posted this was generally intimating that the longer acronym is silly when the shorter one is well-accepted and well-understood. personally, i disagree with him. i don't mind stringing bunches of letters together. it's no more awkward than the "colored people," "black people," "african american people" rigamarole that the media have marched through over the past 60-odd years. we've all survived, and we all knew who was being referenced by the terms, it just made the members of the community feel somewhat better to be referred to in respectful ways. the thing is, when the label on a racial community changes, there is no doubt that all the members of the race were and are still included. with the queer community, there have been a number of names and labels that were NOT so inclusive. every time we've changed the label, we've made the umbrella bigger, going from "gay community" to "gay and lesbian community" to "GLBT community" and now to "GLBTQQIA(A?)" i can't see that as a bad thing, but i figure that ultimately we'll be "the sexual and gender minority community" because that covers it all accurately and includes every imaginable group. further, i like "sexual and gender minority community" because it draws the very important distinction that not all the minorities under our umbrella feel themselves to be of a queer sexual orientation. for example, transgender and intersex individuals may not embrace the roles society expects them to play based on their biology, but it does not automatically follow that their sexual orientations are queer.

now this one i'm going to pose as a question, because i frankly don't know the answer. it seems to me that biracial folk are one of the few racial minorities that experience the queer labeling struggle in parallel. people are usually pretty clearly in or out of a racial or ethnic minority group, unless they are multiracial. sometimes they feel (and are treated) like outsiders in all the racial communities they try to straddle. sometimes their identity claims are rejected because they're not [insert identity] enough, as a half-[insert other identity here] person. i think any members of the GBLT community not covered by the acronym GBLT probably feel the same way. and that feeling has to suck. we read our children the story of the ugly duckling to remind them that even if they are rejected by one group, they will eventually find a place in life where they fit. how can we do that, and then turn around and tell people it's too much hassle to make room for them in our tent? a couple extra letters are that inconvenient? so hard to type? so much harder to say? stretch that canvas, i say. move those tent poles out a little further, and maybe the raindrops will bounce off a little better.

the irony of my favorite name for the community is that the term "sexual and gender minority community" really drives a spike in heart of the the "we're all normal, just like you" message, by emphasizing the minority aspect, the sexual aspect, and the gender-variant aspect of our big queer alphabet soup. and until there is some wider social acceptance of sexual and gender variance, the movable moderates need to keep being reminded that we're not a big scary "them" so much as we are an interesting and tangible "us". so alphabet soup it is.