Saturday, May 27, 2017

The art of compromise: a bike-shopping story


As I mentioned in my post about switching from Greenie to Snowflake, when I was shopping for a bike, I wanted everything to be perfect. I had a long list of criteria to meet:


  • It had to have a step-through (women's) frame, since I do a lot of riding in skirts
  • It had to have fat, durable tires, since I'd seen other people's road bike tires go flat over practically nothing too many times
  • It needed to be able to accommodate my front basket, rear rack, and fenders
  • It could not be a "cruiser" —they are for people who want to ride slow, and I have places to go!
  • It had to be lightweight—my old bike is a monstrous clunker, and I've had enough of wrestling that around Metro to be ready for a change.
  • It must not have a front suspension, which just adds weight and yet another moving part to keep maintained.
The preceding criteria were basically must-haves. I would be very reluctant to compromise on any of them, but there were a few other things I wanted that were really just strong preferences.

  • I wanted lever shifters instead of twist shifters, because I'd used another bike once where I was constantly changing the gears by accident, just by leaning too hard on the handlebar.
  • I preferred V-brakes over disc brakes since I understand how to maintain them.
  • I wanted a fun color. Though I was willing to consider dark and boring colored bikes, I always felt reluctant to make a purchase, because they didn't spark joy!
  • I preferred fewer gears. My last bike had a lot of problems with shifting, and I basically only ever used 3 out of my 21 gears anyway, so anything more seemed like overkill.

Turns out, a lot of these criteria are mutually exclusive. Try finding a bike with fat tires but without a front suspension. They are few and far between. Try finding a speed-oriented bike that also carries less than 21 gears. I still haven't!

As I shopped (over a period of years), eventually, I had to give up on some of my less-important criteria to make room for the most important ones, which I distilled down to light, fast(ish), and durable enough for jumping curbs and surviving stretches of loose gravel in my commute.

I stopped worrying (as much) about getting fat tires and started looking at hybrids with "32c" tires, which are narrower than my old ones but not so crazy skinny that they'll go flat hitting a bump on the pavement (as happened to my ex-boyfriend once!). I considered frames with a horizontal top tube (and started brainstorming ways to still be able to ride in a skirt). I conceded that maybe a front basket wasn't the best method of transporting stuff, and started looking at bikes with less clearance between the handlebars and front tire. 

This was also when I added the price limit I mentioned in my last post: Although at first, I'd been mostly looking at fairly costly bikes from REI, this round of shopping, I decided that my new bike had to cost under 400 dollars. Those who know my shopping habits might be shocked that I'd even consider a bike in that price range when you can get a bike for less than 200. But those who haven't been shopping for bikes for the past few years might be excused for not knowing that every bike in the low price range gets terrible reviews. Apparently they go out of tune very rapidly (if they can ever be properly tuned in the first place), and after having spent the last 3 years on an out-of-tune bike, I wanted something that I could keep in good working order with minimal effort. It seems to be true that in the bike market, more expensive bikes have better components, meaning less finicky maintenance. The 430-500 dollar range seemed to be about the MSRP of a decent bike with some measure of reliability, and of course, after I started finding those models in end-of-season sales for 300-400, I decided that was the range for me. Not so cheap that it would fall apart right away, but not so expensive that I would regret it forever if I hated something about it.

And no matter what bike I picked, there was a good chance I would hate something about it. Since none of the bikes I found met all my criteria, I was considering the purchase to be essentially an experiment. I would find out what I liked about the new bike and what I didn't, and then after a suitable amount of time, if I didn't like everything, I would trade up to a more expensive (better made) bike that ticked exactly the right boxes.

So after years of deliberation, and several months of this-time-it's-for-real hardcore shopping, in the end, I decided on Snowflake.

Snowflake was a pretty good compromise at $295.74. Way cheaper than I ever expected, it also was better than a lot of the bikes I had considered in a number of ways. It did have the women's frame and it had some of the widest tires (at 36c) I've found, barring a mountain bike (and it turns out I rather like these tires. They have a bigger rolling diameter than my old tires, making it easier to move fast—one of the most important criteria in my daily commute).

True, I had to take the twist shifters (which I still dislike) and the white color (which is better than black or grey, but still less preferable than any other color I can think of), and the excessive number of gears (which have proven to be my least favorite thing about this bike—more on that later) but I feel like I spent a little money to learn a lot, while simultaneously getting a bike that's a solid improvement over the last one.

Committing to purchase something is one of the scariest things I ever have to do (just under making phone calls), so I'm relieved that this purchase went off without a hitch (that is, unless you count the failed purchase from Amazon). Now that it's over, I can focus on riding. Guess what I'll be blogging about next!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

If you were wondering about my hair...

Last month, I posted a gripping exploration on the topic of not washing one's hair. Following that post, I embarked on a month-long experiment in which I waited as long as possible between hair washes. The results were not too impressive (the most I ever managed was 5 days, and they were 5 very un-pretty days!), so I didn't have much to say about it when I was done. I had almost forgotten about my short-lived venture when I ran across a video which stated what I'd already observed: about half the sources on the internet tell you you should avoid washing your hair too much, and the other half tell you washing your hair is essential!

So while I'm thinking about it, let me quickly summarize my own conclusions.
  1. My hair gets grossly greasy approximately 28 hours after a wash, and no reduction in the amount I wash it seems to change that.
  2. I hate how my hair looks when it is greasy...
  3. But I love how obedient my hair is when it's greasy—I can brush it to the side and it stays there...I can brush it up into a pompadour and it stays there...I can wear a hat all day and not get hat hair, because I can just brush it back up into whatever shape I want!
  4. When I haven't washed my hair in about 3 days, it reaches this sweet spot where it can be manipulated into just the right shape, but still can look clean if I dump a whole ton of talcum powder into it.
  5. However, while talcum powder may make my hair look clean, it also makes it look parched, which isn't exactly pretty.
  6. Conversely, I love how shiny my hair looks right after a wash. I never thought I had very shiny hair, but after spending most of a month with dirty locks, I can really appreciate my moderate natural shine when I do actually allow it to shine.
  7. On the other hand, my hair gets annoyingly limp a few hours after my shower, which kind of dampens my joy at the shine.
After making all these observations, I finally came to a conclusion: there are good things and bad things about both washing it often and washing it sporadically, but washing it every 5 days actually took more effort than just doing it with every shower. That's because I'm bad at keeping to non-daily schedule. Daily washes are also easier to fit into my lifestyle, since my hair basically always looks the same. My 5-day wash cycle, by contrast, caused a lot of stress because my hair's appearance varied wildly from day 1 to day 5, meaning I always had to plan in advance if I wanted to look more presentable for an event or a meeting. Plus this persistent green color will never wash out if I only wash it every 5 days!

So I've decided to go back to my old ways and wash my hair every two days, supplementing with a powder if it gets too greasy!

I realized that my favorite thing about my hair when it's oily is the volume imparted by the combination of the shape-holding powers of the oil and the separating powers of the powder...and if all I really need is more volume, then I can have that without having to schedule my whole life around my hair-wash days!

So I invested 9 dollars in a (tiny) shaker bottle of Big Sexy Hair volumizing powder, and wow! It works! I mean, it doesn't turn my straight strands into the luscious bouncy mane of a superstar with a styling team, but it does endow my hair with instant lift when I need it, without having to wait until it has marinated in its own oils for 2 days.  Ta-da! Now I can wash my hair and style it too!
 
Freshly washed and volumized!
Ultimately, the lesson I've learned from this experiment is that you shouldn't trust anything you read on the internet.

Just kidding, everyone already knew that. But a better lesson is: when it comes to the best way to care for your own hair, you really just have to listen to your own hair. If you have coarse, dry hair and it's always looking dried crispy, then maybe you shouldn't wash it as much. If you have fine, straight hair that turns stringy at the mere mention of oil, then maybe you should wash it more!

I bet you didn't need a month and almost 2000 words to tell you that!

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Mouse Walrus

And now for something completely different.

Being a Very Forgetful Person, I have devised many methods over the years to remind myself of things. My To-Do lists in Evernote (which include the "Ongoing To Do List" for miscellaneous tasks, as well as at least three for specific projects such as fixing the house) are a good start, but sometimes I forget to look at Evernote!

When there is one small thing that I need to remember to do in a short time frame, I'll often just use an odd object, placed somewhere prominent, to catch my attention and jog my mind into thinking about whatever the thing is. A Forgetful Person could potentially have some problems remembering which task has been mentally assigned to the object, so it helps to use an object that is somehow related to that which needs to be done.

Consider my mouse at the office. A few years ago, I started using a wireless mouse. I resisted going from wired to wireless for a long time, because I have a strong aversion to relying on tools that rely on batteries, because batteries require so much maintenance! However, a change in the configuration of my desk rendered my mouse cord too short, so I reluctantly adopted the wireless mouse as my new pointing device. The problem with this wireless mouse is that it uses a rechargeable battery, and that battery dies after about a week and a half off the charger.

After a few annoying instances of having to stop everything and charge my mouse for an hour, I decided to put my mouse on the charger every Friday after work, so that I could return to the office on Monday with a refreshed battery waiting for me. Charging one's mouse every Friday sounds like a simple habit to get into, but Forgetful Personhood knows no bounds! Almost every single Friday, I was so eager to be going home for the weekend that stopping to drop my mouse on a charger just never happened.

And so, I resorted to my old trick of using a Reminder Object. On my desk, I keep an inbox tray. Since inbox trays are relics of a past era that I fortunately don't live in, I do not need to keep paper in my tray. Instead, I load it with an assortment of toys that I've accumulated over years of going to conferences and receiving goody bags. My inbox tray presently  looks something like this.

And what's that front and center in my inbox tray? Why, it's a walrus. In my search for an object to remind me to charge my mouse, the walrus stood out. A toy mouse would obviously have been better, but I figured a small rendition of any mammal was a pretty close second. So now whenever I think "Today is Friday! Oh, I need to charge the mouse!" (Or, more often, "Shoot! I forgot to charge the mouse on Friday! I must do it when I leave today!") I immediately pull the walrus out of the tray and stick it into the top of my backpack, so when I start packing up for my trip home, I'll see the walrus and remember to move the mouse.

It works, and I've been making good use of the Mouse Walrus for something like 2 and a half years now. And in those 2 and a half years, it never occurred to me to wonder a very important question: "Why does the walrus not have tusks?"

Until last Wednesday. As I was putting the walrus out for a mid-week reminder, I finally noticed the tusklessness that should have been obvious to me long ago. Was my Mouse Walrus actually not a walrus at all?

Frantic internet searches ensued. Yes, both male and female walruses definitively have tusks. No, seals all seem to have pointy noses, not the broad snout of my little toy. Was this one really a juvenile walrus? Although I never came up with a satisfactory answer, I ended up thinking about it all day long. 

On the plus side, this absolutely ensured that I also ended up thinking about my mouse for most of the day as well. My question still remains unanswered, but at least my mouse made it onto the charger!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

From Greenie to Snowflake


Last month, I bought a new bike.

This might not sound like a life-altering purchase, right up there along with buying a house or even a new car, but I've actually been in the market for a new bike since before I even started shopping for a new house (that was in early 2015), and in many ways, it has been an even tougher decision! I wanted to make sure that when I bought a bike, everything about it would be perfect. Which meant, of course, that I simply never bought a bike at all.

What finally spurred me to move from bike shopping to bike buying? Plain old-fashioned desperation. My old bike, Greenie, had been around the block a few (hundred) times, and he was really starting to show his age. At some point a few years ago, I tried to replace the front shifter cable, failed at that, and finally removed the front derailer entirely. Ever since then, my chain has been prone to falling off when I go over bumps. Pretty much everything else on the bike was equally out of tune. My problem downshifting into fifth gear hadn't improved in the 4 years since I first noticed it; the brake pads were on their last legs; and, the last straw in a cavalcade of minor annoyances, the pedal makes a scraping noise whenever it turns. It had progressed beyond my ability to fix it (make it worse) myself, but it didn't seem worthwhile to take it into a shop to be goaded into some temporary semblance of repair.

It was time for an upgrade! For real this time! A little before Christmas, I took the plunge and ordered myself a bike on Amazon. My boyfriend's Christmas present to me was professional assembly by our local bike shop. A few days after Christmas, we picked it up at the shop to discover...it was the wrong size! I had ordered a small and somehow ended up with a fully assembled (at the cost of almost as much as the bike itself) extra large!

With disappointment, a bit of shame (why had I not checked the box to verify I'd received the right size!?), and a certain amount of trepidation (would they accept my extremely costly-to-ship return in the not-original packaging?), I sent the bike back (they refunded me) and spent a few months wallowing in uncertainty. By this time, the fantastic deal I'd received on the first bike was unavailable, and I was beginning to have my doubts about whether I'd have liked that bike even if it had been the correct size.

Returning to the drawing board, I revised my expectations a little. I knew it wasn't very likely that I would find the bike of my dreams on the first try, especially since I was switching to a completely different breed of cycle—a road-leaning hybrid style after a lifetime of riding a mountain bike! So on my second round of serious bike shopping, my top priority was price. I would make some compromises, get a bike that would under no circumstances cost more than 400 dollars, I would find out what I liked and disliked about it, and then the next time I was in the market for a bike, I would know better what to look for.

Since I hadn't been so keen on the first bike I'd ordered online, I decided to give a local bike shop a chance to sway me. I tried a couple of mid-range hybrid bikes, at a significantly higher price than the ones I'd been looking at online. Both of them rode so much more smoothly than Old Greenie, I was almost convinced I could love them...except they were black. I hate to say that the single strongest factor deterring me from the purchase of these otherwise good bikes was their uninspiring color. But I I hop on my bike at least 12 times a week and spend 3+ hours weekly riding it. If I couldn't feel even the tiniest spark of enthusiasm when I look at it, I just couldn't commit to buying it!

A few days later, I finally found the perfect "starter bike" on the Performance Bicycles website. It wasn't black. It wasn't a beautiful shade of aqua like my second-choice model either, but it was also cheaper by almost a hundred dollars, so I decided that white was a good, affordable compromise. I was sold when I learned that it would come with free assembly and lifetime adjustments by Performance!

So finally I found myself in possession of my new bike! As I always do when I receive a new shiny thing, I waited a few weeks to give it a name, to see what really suited it. The name that kept coming back to me was Snowflake.

No, it may not be the most creative name out there, but I think it embodies the spirit of freedom and ease that I'm trying to achieve with my newer, faster, lighter wheels. My old bike (Greenie) had been named after its color, so it seemed it appropriate to keep the tradition alive. I'll probably never ride this bike in the snow, so its name adds just a touch of subtle irony as well.


I wanted to introduce you, my loyal readers, to this bike now, because, with the change in my lifestyle that comes from changing my bike-style, I'm sure I'll have a lot of stories in the future about how I'm adjusting to my new ride.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Don't It Yourself

I once said that every guy I ever dated, no matter how briefly, came into my life for a reason.

One guy, who I only ever met online (but with whom I had a short and very fiery online relationship full of drama), said on his dating profile that his talent was "Fixing things, rigging things to make them work."

Was it that throwaway line on okCupid that set me on my current trajectory – instilled in me my  philosophy of DIY-til-you-die? (Or was it the plethora of "life hacks" I keep stumbling upon on the internet?) I can no longer remember, but I can be certain that it had an impact on me. Before that, it had never occurred to me that being able to cobble something together was something to take pride in. But now, it's part of my unshakable M.O.

I have more love for my home improvement projects that end up like a Frankenstein's Mashup of glue, scavenged parts, and a smattering of mismatched screws, than I ever would for a beautiful brand-new, store-bought version of the same thing.

But there comes a time when every do-it-yourselfer must draw the line. And for me, that time came when I needed to install a handrail for my basement stairs.

The basement staircase was one of the many "special" qualities of my house when I moved in—it had no handrail whatsoever. That was not a problem for me, young and nimble and indescribably graceful at all times, but it became an issue when I wanted to begin renting out the basement bedroom. Suddenly the primary user of the basement staircase wouldn't be me with a load of laundry in my agile and capable hands, but a paying guest. Who would no doubt be happy to sue me for any slip or fall. I don't have much of a defense in a lawsuit when my staircase lacks a basic safety feature such as a railing.

But I wasn't worried! As an avid DIY-er, I was ready to take on the challenge. Fortunately, the stairs had come with a railing...it just wasn't installed. I found it in the storage cubby under the stairs! All I needed was a few screws, and my staircase would be ready for business!

Cut to 5 months later. The railing has still not been installed. Turns out the hardware that came with the railing was bent and needed replacement, and it took me this long to get motivated and find suitable parts (I got them from Community Forklift for 99¢ each, of course!)

Cut to 4 months after that. The railing has still not been installed. Turns out my basement drywall is just as "special" as the rest of the house, and has no studs upon which to anchor a handrail. But that hasn't stopped me from trying. Now my drywall is pocked with screw holes of varying sizes, and a couple of places where whole chunks are missing, thanks to my inability to master the art of drywall anchors.

I had literally been failing to install my handrail for 9 months, before I finally reached the line of Don't-It-Yourself. I brought in the professional contracting big guns (which was of course a struggle in itself, between the lack of call-backs, the no-shows, and the refusals to provide an estimate). But once they arrived, my handrail was up and stable in less than 30 minutes. And in the two hours that they were there, they also replaced my non-functioning gas oven with a new one (one which I'd picked up for free from a Craigslister, of course!), and installed a new bathroom fan in my basement.

Those tasks would have taken me, on my own, days, weeks, or even months, which would have undoubtedly been filled with many frustrated tears, and possibly a blown-up house!

So no, I'm not ashamed that this time I decided to let the pros handle it. In fact, I just might be changing my tune. Next time I'm faced with a home improvement, no matter how DIY-able it might seem, I may just treat myself to a professional job.

Monday, April 3, 2017

All washed up: The never-ending search for hygienic hair

Warning! This is a long post...but if you read all the way to the end of it, you might hear an encouraging message and get some takeaway tips for managing your hair!

I'm no stranger to experimentation with my hair—short, long, blond, streaked, blue, black, self-cut, every kind of curler—I've tried it all, and you've seen it all. Well, almost all.

What you don't see are the continual behind-the-scenes experiments that I've been running for years, regarding the less glamorous aspects of hair care—mostly, how to keep it clean.

Up until around 2013, I'd had a pretty simple hair routine: I washed my hair every day with whatever 3-dollar bottle of Suave I'd most recently bought at Target. I didn't even use conditioner.

I'd long ago come to the conclusion that if I didn't wash my hair every day, it would become streaked with oil, stiff, and stringy looking, within a few hours of that magical nightly cutoff point. They say that blond hair, straight hair, and fine hair are all more predisposed to be oily, so I got the triple whammy.

I was fine with my daily washing schedule, until I read something telling me that shampoo is bad. Well, not unequivocally bad, but definitely not your hair's best friend. Shampooing, you see, dries out your scalp, causing it to freak out (in scientific terms) and produce more oil in a desperate attempt to balance out the dryness. Unsurprisingly, the result is even more oily-looking hair than before! A vicious cycle!

The solution, I read in some natural beauty blog, was the "No-'poo" method. It was a silly name, but it promised to return your hair to its perfectly balanced, healthy, pre-shampoo state, by basically not washing it. If necessary, you were supposed to "gently" clean your tresses with "natural" baking soda—and no harsh surfactants! 

I followed the dictates of the No-'Pooers for several months, leaving my hair unwashed and only using a baking-soda-water mixture to get it clean. The baking soda was not enough to really get rid of the grease, so I still had to shampoo every several days (they said that was an OK compromise for the initial stages when your hair was getting used to its new routine). But it never really did get used to its new routine. During this time, my photos all reveal me in a seemingly permanent style of overly long, limp, grease-soaked bangs. 

Bangs plastered to my forehead, as per my Summer 2014 usual.
I eventually gave up on no-'poo; I can no longer remember whether it was before or after I read that baking soda is just as drying as shampoo, not to mention it wreaks havoc on your scalp's natural pH balance....in any case, learning that was enough to dispel any sense of guilt I had at my shampoo-a-day habit.

Well, maybe not completely any sense of guilt. Everywhere I turned, I was still reading articles telling me to cut down on my shampooing.

From these articles, I gleaned that it's a measure of success among stylish women, how long one can go without washing one's hair. Once a week seems to be the golden standard to which we all must aspire, while oil fountains like me, who start to look like wet dogs in under 24 hours, are doing something wrong. (Women's media: promoting unattainable standards since the 1600's!)

From this new crop of self-hatred beauty resources, I learned about dry shampoo. At first, I thought it sounded fake—how can you really wash your hair without liquids? As it turns out, dry shampoo doesn't really "wash" your hair—it just absorbs the oil so it looks cleaner. It's basically like a spray-on version of the baby powder I'd long been using for emergency bangs-refreshing, but easier to use and less static-causing.

So my new routine became thus: Wash my hair every two days; then spruce it up on the second day with a hearty misting of dry shampoo, thereby saving my locks from a daily encounter with the dreaded real shampoo.

It was a system that was working for me—making me feel virtuously balanced between cleanliness and earthiness—until some other publication had to go and ruin it by reminding me that caking my hair in a desiccating powder every two days wasn't really doing it any favors. As I read it, I had to concede that, just as diatomaceous earth kills insects by absorbing all their moisture, dry shampoo is probably killing my hair, little by little, by stripping it of moisture in the same way shampoo does.

So at this point (it's only taken me 4 years to reach this conclusion), I realized I was in a catch-22. The same catch-22 I was in 4 years earlier, but with fewer options left to try. Either wash my hair every day, making it look nice and clean and shiny, or don't—replacing the shampoo with some other product which is probably worse for my hair in the long run.

Framed like that, it seems pretty obvious that I should just give up on the "alternative" beauty methods and stick with the shampoo that has been working for me all my life.

But the problem is, I don't know when to quit.

So I decided to try an extreme measure. The next time I was on vacation and didn't need to go to work for a few days, I would completely stop washing my hair. Free from the constraints of looking office-appropriate, I could cover it with a hat or scarf if it then started to look hideous. That time came just a few weeks ago, when I was on spring break and had 5 straight days off work. I washed my hair on a Friday evening, and then didn't wash it again until Wednesday afternoon.

By the second day, it was looking its usual oily self, but I persisted. Surprisingly, as the days went on, it didn't look appreciably worse (I guess a certain degree of greasiness is indistinguishable from any other). It never got so bad that I needed to cover it with a hat or scarf...and I actually got to experience the surprise benefit of increased stylability! That is, if I brushed my bangs to the side, they would stay there instead of immediately flopping right back into my eyes. I was beginning to see the upside of having greasy hair.

Since being unwashed didn't look nearly as bad as I'd been expecting, I've continued the experiment, going as long as I possibly can without washing my hair. Since March 17, I've washed my hair exactly 4 times (4 times in 18 days! That's 1.5 times a week! I'm basically a glamour girl now!). I've made some concessions, putting baby powder in it when I needed to look presentable for a photo or an important night out, but basically I'm rocking the hippie hair like I was born for it!

When I do wash it, I try to only wash my strands and avoid rubbing shampoo into my scalp. I figure if oil overproduction is really caused by distressing my scalp, then the solution is to just make sure my scalp is happy—I can do whatever I want to my hair and my scalp won't know about it! Eventually I might reach a point where my scalp thinks it never gets washed, and then maybe I will finally be the beautiful, fluffy-haired princess I always wanted to be!

Maybe. As with any good experiment, more research is needed. Consider this post my preliminary findings, with more data to be released at the end of April.

This is my head, 4 full days after a my last hair-wash, plus a baby-powder
bangs-refresh two days ago. Pretty, right?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Dog Life

I never approved; I tried to resist; but somehow, despite all my efforts, I ended up living in a house full of dogs. By "full," I mean there are two of them, but that's plenty when they generate enough unwanted byproducts (fur, pee, poop, noise) to belong to a whole canine army.

Though I task my boyfriend with the responsibility of keeping said byproducts under some semblance of control, it's not enough. Not too long ago, it suddenly occurred to me the extent to which I've had to rearrange my entire existence around these two stupid dogs.

The moment I realized I was living the dog life was when I walked out of the thrift store carrying two coats I had selected specifically for their ability to disguise the pale hairs of my two sheddy (Neologism by Valerie! Meaning: characterized by shedding a lot of hair) pets. When you buy your clothes to match your dogs, that's when you know you're committed.

One coat was a yellow and white houndstooth, which, while a very apropos pattern, I probably would have bought even if I didn't have dogs, because it's not often you run across such a sunny winter coat. The other one, however, is purely for the pups. It features a small chevron pattern alternating between dark grey and light tan, for an overall effect, from the distance, of being a brindled grey.

The chevrons work a miracle, though, because the light bands disguise white and tan hairs, and the dark ones hide black hairs (on the occasions when I travel with a friend who has a black dog). I call it my "fur coat" because it's so good at hiding the fur that constantly covers it.
Compare my old dress coat (a lovely black wool) with my new one up close, and you'll see the difference a camouflage color can make.


The brindled one is just as covered with hairs as the black one (you can see one dangling off the sleeve if you look closely) but you would never know it until you take a lint roller to it. 

The coats, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Here are a few more examples of how the dogs have totally taken over my life.

As I once complained shortly after the first unwanted dog entered my life, he likes to eat the trash. As soon as he's alone in the house, he shuns his dog food in favor of finding some juicy tidbit in the garbage can. Previously, we would put the trash up on a counter or chair so he couldn't reach them when we were not home (nothing like displaying your trash up on a pedestal for all to see), but now I've invented a better solution. 


The trash can now goes inside a microwave cart, which is just tall enough to house it, but not tall enough to allow it room to be tipped over. This doesn't protect the shorter recycling bin, however, so the search continues.

Exhibit B: the rug where Bubalou loves to poop, decorated with the ever-present bottle of vinegar spray that we use to clean up dog messes. I put the spray bottle on top of the rug to remind me that it's still wet so I don't step on it. This occurs pretty much every other day, so the vinegar bottle is basically part of the decor. Word to the wise: if you ever come to visit my house, don't lie down on this rug, no matter how tired you might be.

Speaking of spray bottles, one bottle is never enough in a house full of dogs. A similar bottle of water is always close by, ready to be deployed on any dog who has emitted one too many earsplitting yaps. My boyfriend is singularly unhelpful on this front—despite being the dog janitor, he does absolutely nothing to curb their annoying noises. His idea of discipline is to chuckle and tell them "Look, you made mommy mad" when I finally bring the spray bottle into action. Guess who's the "mean mom" in our family.

With a great number of dog supplies comes a great need for storage. Our dogs have earned a whole cabinet all to themselves, wherein we keep the leashes, the collars, the brushes, the medicines, the two kinds of food, the rags and the dog towels and all the spray bottles that are necessary for keeping two dogs happy, healthy, and well fed, while simultaneously keeping the house that they live in something resembling clean. Below, you see my large former pie safe, now dedicated to dog storage.
 
Oh, and that huge pink box next to it? That's the latest batch of diaper liners for Bubalou, which we must somehow stuff in the cabinet along with all the other detritus.

One of the nicest features of my house is the bay window. When I first got the house, I anticipated filling it up with a treasure trove of knick-knacks and a veritable jungle of houseplants. The only problem was, the dogs love it as much as I do. Every chance they get, they are leaping into the window, where they wreak all kinds of havoc, knocking over all the knick-knacks in their eagerness to demonstrate their earsplitting-yapping ability to every casual passer-by. In January, when my jungle of houseplants had all but died from the cold, I covered the window with an insulating plastic sheet, and was quite proud of my work, until the dogs decided to tear it to ribbons in their futile efforts to scratch their way into the hearts of the aforementioned passers-by.

All that remains of my once beautiful window covering.
I had to wage a border war. On a trip to Community Forklift, I chanced to find a collection of metal grates (for 5 dollars!) that happened to be the perfect size to cover the opening of the bay window. I have no idea what the grates were for originally, but now they are a fence. Yes, I have what amounts to bars on my window—not to deter burglars, just to deter my own stupid dogs.


One of the dog battles that I finally won – at great cost to myself – was the battle of the couch cushions. For some reason, the dogs could never content themselves with sitting on the seat of the couch. Oh, no, they had to scramble up to the back and sit on the back cushions until they were squished and deformed into hideous blobs with dog-sized indentations. For a while there, my entire vocabulary seemed to consist of "Jack! Get off the back of the couch!" until finally one day, I simply removed the back cushions entirely.

I left one cushion turned sideways for old-times' sake.
The dogs can sit on that one all they want, cause it's certainly
not comfortable that way for anyone else!
Now, the only things on the couch are slipcovers (to keep the dog fur and drool stains at bay), a blanket (to cover the one spot where the slipcovers don't reach) a couple of pillows (with pictures of the dogs on them naturally), whatever squeaky toy they saw fit to bring up there with them today, and, of course, the dogs themselves.


To get the couch actually in a state fit for human use is such an ordeal that, well, it's just  a dog couch now.
 
As if the dog couch wasn't enough, each dog gets his own personal (dogal?) bed.

 
The dog beds take up all of the floor space next to our human bed...for absolutely no reason, because when we go to sleep, this is how it looks.


Notice that's a dog butt where my body should be, and another one where my head should be. If that doesn't prove I've let dogs take over my life, I don't know what does!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Musings on Midnight Mayhem

Not too long ago, I was reading a story. A very masterfully written and gripping story, by a very talented someone who just might read this blog once in a while.

In this story, I encountered the following line: "I screamed at the top of my lungs. My neighbors' lights went on immediately afterward and I ran back inside."
It got me thinking. This is a classic scene in lots of books, movies, TV shows, and other works of fiction. Loud noise from somewhere outside a residential area, followed by lights turning on everywhere (assuming the action occurs at night). But does it happen in real life?

Let's set up the scenario. You're resting in bed in your house (if you don't live in a house, you'll have to use your imagination). It's a little after bedtime, but you're not really asleep yet. You're just settling in when you hear loud banging and yelling coming from the direction of the neighbors. What do you do?

I know what I would do. I would crawl out of my bed, creep to the window (or door or whatever portal was required to give me a line of sight into my neighbor's territory) and try to see what was going on without being observed myself. If the disturbance was coming from a place I couldn't see, I'd put my ear to the wall or floor and be quiet, hoping I could hear some information. That would be my first instinct, which I would act on without engaging in very much thought.

This is not what happens in stories, and movies, and TV shows, and pretty much any work of fiction I've ever encountered. In these kinds of made-up scenarios, the first thing that happens when someone creates a ruckus at night, is the neighbors all start turning on their lights.

Is this really what people do when their environment is disturbed? Light up giant glowing beacons and make huge targets of themselves?

I'm not saying, of course, that every neighborhood disturbance is a dangerous situation that requires stealth and self-protection strategies, but I am saying that anyone with a lick of sense would probably want to exercise a bit of discretion and not immediately reveal their position (or their nosiness) before even knowing what was going on. 

What do you think, friends and readers? Am I the odd one out here, or is this just a classic case of "Everyone in the world of fiction has to be stupid, or how else would we have horror films?"

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Adventures in Cooking: Peanut Butter Bars


This recipe is ideal for when you've been craving good chocolate chip cookies for like 3 weeks straight, but whenever you go to MOM's, they are out of your favorite brand, so on your third visit, you finally settle for the other brand, which is so awful you decide to swear off reviewing Giant Cookies because you just can't take the disappointment any more, and when you try to go to Safeway to get some of their delicious chocolate chip cookies which are even better than their chocolate candy cookies, they are so overcooked you leave without buying them, so finally after days of being too busy to buy or make cookies, you are finally on your last nerve and you vow to make some cookies of your own. Yeah, this recipe is perfect for that.

Ingredients

1 ¾ c. flour
1 ¼ c. packed brown sugar
¾ c. peanut butter
½ c. butter, softened
3 Tbsp. milk
1 egg
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
¾ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. baking soda
1 c. chocolate chips

Directions

Mix ingredients together.

Wow, this recipe is so simple—let's make it a bit more complicated.
  1. Start midway down the list, with the peanut butter, then work on the butter.
  2. It would be wasteful to get out a whole new bowl just to soften the butter, so just cut the stick in half and microwave it in the lid of your peanut butter jar, which you have used up anyway.


    Nothing can go wrong with that!

    Nope, nothing went wrong with that!
  3. Scrape the thoroughly melted butter into the bowl.
  4. You don't have milk, so use 3 Tbsp. egg nog.
  5. Move back up to the top of the list and add the flour.
  6. Make sure that your brown sugar has completely solidified since the last time you used it (how did that happen?) and somehow manage to scrape the approximation of a cup and a fourth into some measuring cups.
  7. Boy, this dough is sure dryer than you remember it being! Add a splash of water to make it easier to mix. Then remember you haven't added the egg yet, which would contribute the missing amount of liquid.
  8. You don't have an egg, so use vegan egg substitute.
  9. Don't bother measuring out the vanilla, just estimate with your eyeballs...but be sure to accidentally estimate a teaspoon instead of a tablespoon!
  10. Also estimate the salt and baking soda. Baking—despite the drivel they try to sell you about chemical reactions and all that nonsense, it's not an exact science!
  11. Now the dough is too soft, so balance out that added water with a light dusting of flour.
  12. Toss in a few handfuls of chocolate chips.
Tada! That was easy. Hardly an Adventure in Cooking at all!

Pour batter into a greased 9x13" baking pan.

Bake at 375° for around 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. But you don't have a toothpick either, so just guess you'll need 5 more minutes, then remove the pan when the top is slightly browner than you would like it.

Let cool, then put in refrigerator. For some reason this type of cookie has a much nicer texture when kept cold. Eat it, and wish you'd taken it out of the oven after the original 20 minutes.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

...But there is a great big ARRRRRRR!

"No news is good news," they say, but whoever does say that probably isn't freezing their buns off waiting to find out when their furnace is going to be fixed. I, however, am.

On Friday, when I hadn't heard anything from the warranty company regarding my claim for my pooped-out furnace, I called them. At 4:00 in the afternoon, I finally got the news: despite having had a whole day to do it, my furnace technician had not yet contacted my warranty company with a status report, and without a report, my warranty company could not move forward with authorizing the repair. This news was assuredly not good. Perhaps "no news" would have actually been better, as in that case, my ignorance could have possibly been bliss. Now I'm not feeling bliss so much as a seething rage.

At that time, I was told by the HMS representative that I might have to wait up to 48 hours for any kind of response. At 54 hours, I called again, and was given the heartening news that the report still had not been filed, and they would call me as soon as they had an update. Meanwhile the temperature outside was 32 degrees. For something that qualified as an "emergency" 3 days before, it certainly seemed to be of no importance to anyone now.

Finally, Monday morning, I was notified that my claim had gone to their "research department," to determine whether my policy would cover the replacement. When asked how long that would take, the representative guessed it would probably be about one business day.

Well, thanks, HMS! I may not have any heat, but by now, I could probably construct a cozy snowsuit out of red tape.

How does someone function under conditions like these? Well, let me tell you!

Something that I learned from the technician's visit was that if your furnace is overheating, it might not be enough to just turn it off and back on again (the first trick that every IT professional turns to when trying to solve a problem). The rollout switch (the thing responsible for turning off the burners when it overheats) needs to be reset by hand, and can't be accessed without taking the front plate off the unit. The tech showed me the flames "rolling out" (how the switch gets its name) as well as how to reach in underneath (when the burners are no longer lit, of course!) and reset the switch. 

As he was speaking, you could see his face change as he realized, "OMG, I'm just teaching this nice lady how to set her house on fire." As he kept talking, his advice changed from, "Here's how to do it," to "You should probably only do this when you can be downstairs to keep an eye on it, " to "You really shouldn't do this at all."

But it was too late! I did it! I'm not going to let a little fire hazard stand between me and being warm!

So, since the tech's visit, I began visiting my furnace every time it crapped out, to reset the rollout switch and give my geriatric piece of HVAC equipment another chance at life. When the tech came, the furnace only would run for 10-15 minutes before overheating, so as you can imagine, it never got very warm in the house, and I was required to be constantly on the alert for cold-air-blowing (as well as, I guess, fires). It wasn't long, though, before I learned a trick to make this process more efficient.

When I began writing my last blog post and started looking online for the names of furnace parts so I could accurately describe what was going on, I ran across this tidbit of advice: "Do not close off more than 20 percent of the registers in your house. This can cause high resistance and unnecessary heat build-up in the furnace." Well, shiver me timbers! As a rule, I have always closed almost all the registers in my house (the better to keep a tropical level of heat, but only in the rooms I spend the most time in). I decided to open a couple of the vents and see if this would enable the furnace to run longer.

It seemed to work! Friday evening, the furnace ran consistently right up until its scheduled shutoff time. Saturday morning, I had less luck—I had to reset the rollout switch one time, but after that, it was smooth sailing.

That is, until the carbon monoxide detector went off. I'll keep this part brief so as not to terrify those who value my life, but suffice it to say that no one was harmed by any toxic fumes. Since the carbon monoxide incident on Friday, I've been much more creative with my thermal maintenance.

My new strategy for keeping warm involves lots of strategic window-covering and uncovering (not particularly helpful on a gloomy day like today), 2 space heaters, a heat lamp, and liberal use of the oven.

This has kept the house a nice toasty 58 degrees (its lowest temp so far was 54, which is what the thermostat read when I got up this morning), and I hope it will do the job until my replacement furnace arrives on (fingers crossed!) Thursday.

I have to give HMS credit; while it took forever and a day for the HVAC people to send in the proper forms (or whatever mysterious behind-the-scenes things they do when submitting claims to HMS), it was only a matter of hours from the time my claim went to the research department, before I received another call to let me know my claim would be covered.

That's right, I'm getting a new furnace for free! Free plus 1,567 dollars in required upgrades and modifications.