Sunday, July 31, 2005

Heading for the Big Easy 

With Misty starting up at school in a couple weeks, we came to a grim realization this weekend: She has only one remaining weekend off from work before her classes start.

We've been loosely planning three different vacations for a while now — to Destin, New Orleans, and Boston — but suddenly it looks like we're going to have a much tougher time pulling any of them off. Since two of her classes are held only once a week, missing either a Monday or a Wednesday puts her a week behind in either of those classes (and half a week behind in her Mon/Wed class). The beach is probably still doable, as it's a quick trip down there, and we can stay just a few days and be satisfied. New England, on the other hand, requires a more substantial commitment, because we have to factor in time to visit all of my relatives up there. So it seems unlikely that we'll be able to pull off that trip this year.

Faced with the fast-approaching start of UAB's fall semester, Misty and I have decided to squeeze in our New Orleans vacation next weekend. It's short notice, but we're not going to be able to manage it otherwise. We had hoped to go in a few months when it's not so ungodly hot and humid, but at least this is the off-season, and rates are lower.

I've never been to New Orleans. In fact, the city has never appealed to me. Like Vegas, the overtones of sin, excess, and flamboyance just aren't my cup of tea. Yet now, with our impending trip only a few days away, I find myself very excited about it.


Something happened at Misty's office last week, but she asked me not to write about it in my blog. Despite my urge to share the story, I've obliged. I won't divulge the details here. However, Robin's post about the demise of her basement freezer gave me the opportunity to share this similar incident in her comments section.

Neither tale is for the faint of heart, but I think Misty's got Robin beat.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Author 'Smith' receives dubious honor 

I think I know a good candidate for this contest.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Day of accomplishment 

Misty and I were supposed to have a date today. We'd planned to go out to lunch and then to see March of the Penguins. Oddly enough, when the day arrived neither of us felt like it very much. Instead, we decided to do housework.

Together we worked on cleaning up the clutter from our bedroom — a project that has been looming for nearly a year. We washed laundry, vacuumed, mopped the kitchen, cleaned the bathtub, and put together a new bookshelf. Having accomplished all that, we felt much more satisfied, I think, than we would have if we'd gone to the movies.

As our busy morning turned into a lazy afternoon, I finished the fifth Harry Potter book so that I can finally join the rest of the world on the new one.

Misty pulled me away just as I was finishing so we could head over to UAB. I don't think I've mentioned here that Misty has decided to go back to school to finish her degree in communications management. As she pointed out yesterday, this has been kind of a whirlwind decision. She met with an advisor a couple weeks ago to discuss the possibility, and within an hour she applied for readmission and plotted out what classes she'd need to take. This week, she found out that she had indeed been accepted, so today she went to sign up for classes and buy books. She's taking two classes: one Monday and Wednesday afternoons and one Wednesday nights, so she'll only be home late one night a week.

I have no doubt that after a five-year break, it's going to be difficult for Misty to get back into the swing of things as far as school goes. She's still going to be working full time, and of course her job as "mom" never lets up. Nevertheless, I know she can do it, and I know she's going to be so much happier once she does. I'm very proud of her for making this commitment.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Forraging for food 

I went for a hike at Moss Rock Preserve this morning. I took the blue trail so that I passed by the "great wall" and then what was indicated on the map as a waterfall (though there was only a trickle today). My real intention for today's hike was to pick blackberries, so I didn't pause often to take in the scenery. Nevertheless, I felt that the blue trail didn't offer as many nifty sights as the white trail.

I did spot a couple of young raccoons, though, who were sitting on a rock only a few feet from me as I came up the trail. One of them arched its back and kept its eyes on me as I stood and watched. Having no intention of getting closer, and seeing that they were too nervous to carry on with their activities while I was around, I moved on. After a few more feet, I turned back and saw that they'd hastened up a tree while my back was turned. They were still watching me intently.

As I neared the end of the blue trail where it intersects with white, I took a path out of the woods toward the top of the mountain where the power lines are. Two weeks ago, I'd walked back to the parking lot this way after I'd completed both the red and white trails. I'd been exhausted, and thought it would be a quick route out. It wasn't. It was still probably a mile or so back to the parking lot — which doesn't seem like much, but consider that this was late morning in the middle of the summer, I'd already hiked a couple of miles over hills and rocks, and unlike the trails through the woods, there are no trees to shade you along the path where the power lines reside. The nice part about the power line trail, though, is that it's lined with wildflowers. They're much more plentiful there where they can acually get some sun. There are also scores of blackberry vines, so hungry as I was, I helped myself to several berries as I walked along.

This past weekend, while my parents were visiting, we all went over to the Preserve to pick blackberries. However, all the vines near the entrance are well picked over, and you have to walk a long way down the path before you find large amounts of berries. Since it was afternoon, and we had Emily with us, we didn't go very far. No one else had been there before, though, so the collective assumption was that the berries had "gone by" for the season. I knew this wasn't the case, but it didn't much matter, as we couldn't have stayed long or walked far anyway.

So today, my goal was to return to the spot where I'd been two weeks ago and pick enough berries to proove that they were indeed plentiful. Once I reaced the clearing I didn't have to look far. I set about filling up the container I'd brought with me, and after about 20 minutes, I'd nearly done so. In fact, I didn't even move beyond the first patch of vines that I came to.

Now completely drenched in sweat from the heat, I began my trek back. This time, I didn't make the same mistake as before; I stuck to the trail through the woods in order to stay in the shade. The walk back was of course, much more strenuous than the walk there. And now back at home, I notice that I have tiny cuts all over my hands from thorns. But the blackberry cobbler Misty bakes tomorrow will make it well worth the effort.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Mr. Fix-It 

Wednesday was like the hottest day of the year, so of course our air conditioner broke.

I blame its shutdown on myself because of two stupid things I did (or did not do). First, I did not change the air filter for about 3 or 4 months. In fact, for a week prior to the air conditioner's demise, I thought to myself repeatedly, "I need to change that filter." But each time I thought about it, I neglected to actually do it.

My second blunder was a bit more complicated. On Tuesday, Misty called and asked me to open the windows and try to air out the house a bit. When I did, I shut off the air, and turned the system's central fan on. A few hours later, when the heat became unbearable in the house, I shut the windows and turned the air back on. I did not remember to turn the fan off, however. As such, the air ran continuously for about 36 hours until Misty discovered my mistake.

By this time, the air duct was coated in ice and the hose had become very hot and stuffy. We put buckets and towels down on the floor, and shut the unit off for a couple hours while we waited for the ice to melt. Once the ice was gone, though, the air conditioner kept on leaking. So much so, in fact, that we thought the buckets would overflow in the night if we kept it running. So we shut it back down and braced ourselves for an uncomfortable night.

Now if it wasn't bad enough that I'd caused the air conditioner to break down, something else made me look like even more of a dumb ass. Last year when our home warranty came up for renewal, I chose not to renew it. Misty didn't agree with my decision, but I held that even if an appliance did break, it would be less expensive to get fixed than to keep paying the insurance — probably. My assumption came from the fact that we'd already had the air conditioner fixed three times, finally ending with the warranty folks installing a new unit for us. I figured that with a brand new unit, it was a safe bet that it wasn't going to break down for at least a few years.

So it broke down. I caused it. And I caused us to not have a warranty to get it fixed. So I was pretty much screwed. Misty didn't have to say "I told you so" for me to know she was thinking it. I was determined to fix this thing myself so that I could get out of the doghouse.

Thursday when I got home from work, the first thing I did was change the filter. As I expected, it was chock full of dust. The dripping water started right back up when I turned the air on, though, so obviously it wasn't going to be that easy. Next I went outside to see if I could clear out the drain, but I didn't have the tools to get into it more than a couple of feet, and it didn't seem clogged there anyway. So I went back inside to the closet unit, and I pulled out all the pvc pipe.

Looking at the pipes, I could immediately tell that this was where the problem lay. They were totally clogged with dirt and dust. I used a coat hanger, a couple of old toothbrushes and the hose to knock out as much gunk as I could. It was just disgusting how much sludge poured out of those pipes. But with Misty's help, I got them all clean, and I installed them back into the closet.

Finally came the moment of truth. I turned the air back on and waited by the buckets for the dripping to begin. But it didn't. I'd fixed it.

Better yet, I didn't call a repair technician, and I didn't read the instructions. My manhood remains intact.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Hey, doggie 

Emily loves the shih tzus. She is the primary reason for their continued existence. She hugs them whenever they'll sit still enough for her, and she squeals with joy when they lick her face. Her favorite phrase is "hey, doggie."

But Emily doesn't discriminate. In fact, everything is "hey, doggie" these days. When she sees a cat in the neighborhood, she says "hey, doggie" to it. When we read a book about animals, half of them get a greeting of "hey doggie" (and some even get hugs). When we go to the zoo, the animals all get to hear her exclaim, "hey, doggie!" You can imagine what it's like when she visits Misty at work, and there really are a bunch of honest-to-goodness doggies around. Sometimes Emily even refers to Misty or me as "hey, doggie."

It's frustrating, because you're so excited when your child finally starts to call you "Mama" and "Daddy," yet she's happy to abandon that for a name which she obviously holds in much greater esteem.

Her new habbit, though, is calling me "Matt." Obviously she's picked it up from Misty, and we've now realized why so many parents talk like idiots, referring to each other constantly as "Mommy" and "Daddy."

Just yesterday when we were picking Emily up after work, she looked at me and said "Mama." I corrected her, saying, "no, I'm Daddy." She responded with, "MATT!"

The problem is that Misty finds this development quite amusing, stiffling giggles whenever Emily says "Matt." Of course, Emily's not calling her "Misty." So Misty taunts me with it, purposely referring to me as "Matt" in front of Emily, thus strenthening our daughter's misguided belief that she should call me by my first name.

But I suppose it's better than "hey, doggie."

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My own private opia 

I've had a tear in one of my contacts for the past couple weeks, but I've been putting off going to get it replaced. No reason, really, I've just had other stuff to do. But yesterday's episode of Higglytown Heroes prompted me to make an appointment. On the show, Wayne's glasses broke, preventing him from watching a meteor shower with his friends. Someone special saved the day though (as someone special always does) — the featured hero was the optometrist (OK, so this really had nothing to do with convincing me to go to the eye doctor, but I found the coincidence amusing).

At my checkup, I found out that my sight has worsened in both eyes. My left eye went from -6.5 to -7.0 and my right eye dipped from -6.5 to -7.5. This is the first time I've had a different prescription for each eye, so now I finally have to pay attention that I put the right contact in the right eye.

As I was waiting the requisite hour between the time of my apointment and the time I actually got to see the doctor, I considered heading back out to my car to get my coupon book. I had a feeling that there might have been a coupon in there for the Wal-Mart Vision Center. However, since most of the coupons in the book have proven useless, I didn't bother. For instance, the Wal-Mart coupons include "Free Cookie" (something Bruno's does every day), "Free Balloon" (another something Bruno's does every day), "Free lifetime rotation with purchase of tires" (something Wal-Mart already offers without a coupon). I figured if there was anything for the vision center in there, it was probably something like 5% off an exam, and I didn't bother going out to check.

So I have my exam, I pay the $50 exam fee and the $30 fitting fee (What the hell is that? Just tell me it's $80; don't try to fool me by saying an exam is only $50.) and I go home. At home I flip through the coupon book to find a coupon for "Free vision screening." Shit. "Vision screening" better not mean the same thing as "eye exam," or I just wasted $50. Knowing Wal-Mart, it's not the same thing, but it's probably best for me not to think about it just in case.

Those kids today 

Just in case you didn't see the Life section of today's Huntsville Times (I'm betting you didn't), here's the opening of their top feature:
If your teenager complains of a sore throat and wants to see the doctor, don't just hand him a cough drop.

That cold might really be chlamydia.

Whoa! That'll cue up the paranoia.

And speaking of suicide... 

The current top rated iMix at Apple's iTunes store is "My Dead Wife," the playlist of a guy's wife who recently committed suicide.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

It fuels you and your car 

We had leftovers tonight from a plate Misty's Aunt Wanda fixed for us. There was a weird kind of corn in there, and it was so tasty and sweet. Misty explained that it was field corn. It's mainly used for feeding livestock and not marketed to humans because it goes bad so quickly. Nevertheless, it tastes much better than regular corn, and so it's considered a real find if you can get your hands on some, she said.

I'd never heard of the stuff, but according to Misty all Southerners know about it, particularly older Southerners. In fact, that's what she and her family were planning on hunting for at the farmer's market this weekend.

As it turns out, field corn isn't just a tasty side dish, it could be the future of fuel consumption!
In general, current U.S. ethanol production is based largely on the starch in kernels of field corn, the nation's largest agricultural crop. (The predominant use of field corn is for animal feed. Current ethanol production uses only about 7% of the crop.) Any starch or sugar crop, however, can now be used to make ethanol.

As commercialization of advanced bioethanol technology makes possible ethanol production from biomass other than starch and sugar, vast additional resources will become available to supplement ethanol production from corn kernels.

It'll be just like in "Back to the Future" when Doc Brown threw that banana peel into the "Mr. Fusion" on his Delorian.

Emily's playlist 

We were watching some of the Live 8 concerts last week, and when Madonna started singing "Ray of Light," Emily broke into a dance. This morning, I downloaded the song for her, and she again bounced up and down with her arms out and a big smile on her face.

She's always loved music and dancing (I say that like she's 15 years old instead of 15 months), but it's interesting to see which particular songs strike her fancy. Some of her other favorites include "Yeah" by Usher, "Hey Baby" by No Doubt, and "Here in Higglytown" from They Might Be Giants.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

A muggle's diary 

Saturday night I attended the McWane Center's Harry Potter book release party. I wasn't sure what to expect from it at first. On one hand, I thought that the fact that they were charging admission and selling the books for a bit more than the local bookstores might keep people away. On the other hand, they're already quite experienced in hosting events, and the admission charge would help supplement whatever decorations they were setting up.

The party turned out to be an amazing event. They had everything turned into scenes from the Harry Potter novels — from platform 9¾ at the entrance, to food in the Great Hall, to books for sale at Flourish & Blotts — and that was before you even got past the lobby. When you entered the museum itself, you were given a Marauder's Map to explain the layout and schedule of event. Once inside, you could put on the sorting hat and be placed into the house of your choice (most kids picked Griffindor). You could take classes in arithmancy, care of magical creatures, potions, and charms. You could get your face painted or make a wand at Olivander's. Many of the coodinators were in costume. I saw Professors Dumbledore, McGonagal, Quirrell, and Trelawney. Also Hagrid, Mrs. Weasley, and Rita Skeeter. The folks at McWane really went all out, and they put on an impressive show.

But as good of a job as they did, what struck me even more was the crowd. That place was packed. And so many people were dressed up — both kids and adults — for the night they became wizards, witches, quidditch players, house elves, and dementors. There was a real excitement in the air, and I think everybody felt it.

After a couple hours there, it dawned on me why I was having such a good time. Where I'd really wanted to be last weekend was in San Diego for Comic-Con International. And what I've always loved about that convention is the people. When you're in an exhibit hall with 80,000 other people who are all there for the same thing, you feel like you're part of something really important and special. At home, you're just a geek who reads comic books, but there, you realize that everyone else does too — they're like you, and they're not all weirdos.

That's how it felt at the Harry Potter party. I didn't feel a bit like a dork for being an adult who enjoys the Harry Potter books. There were tons of adults there who were in the same boat. We relished the evening; we cheered when the clock struck midnight; and we went home exhausted and smiling.

When you care enough to send the very best 

I received the following press release over the weekend...
So you've decided to kill yourself but you just don't know how to say "goodbye?"

SENTI-MENTAL GREETING CARD CO., the first name in last words, announces the release of "Suicidal Sentiments." ...

The 12-card "Suicidal Sentiments" series offers a range of commonly repressed thoughts, feelings and emotions commonly held by suicidal persons. The series is surprisingly direct and cleverly written from the suicide's perspective, an innovative first in this "hush-hush" society of suicide and mental illness.

It goes on and on (as press releases tend to do) with quotes from the creator and such, but I think you get the idea already. Then, in order to avoid hate mail from people saying the business is tactless, it closes saying that they "will be donating 25% of all sales to local and national suicide prevention programs."

Of course if the prevention programs work, no one would need to buy the cards.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Hurricane Emily wreaks havoc 

Emily had another bout of teething this week. Saturday night when Misty went out to dinner with her cousin, I stayed home with Emily while she cried and cried. At first we thought she was getting sick because she was extra fussy, she had a fever, and she didn't want to eat or drink much. She also began holding her hands behind her back, walking around with them clasped together like she's some professor pondering her lecture. Misty mentioned this to her boss, and he suggested that Emily might have a kidney infection which would lead to both the fever and her back hurting.

Luckily, though, it was just teething (you weren't worried because I mentioned that at the start), and she's got a big new molar now. We had a couple of bad nights where she didn't sleep well, and we ended up bringing her to bed with us. However, Emily still didn't quite sleep — instead she fidgeted back and forth, climbing on us — but at least she didn't fuss. In the morning, I woke (I say that I woke, but I never really slept) to find Emily's feet on my pillow and her head burried under the quilt. What a weird kid. Of course, she usually sleeps with her butt sticking up in the air, so I shouldn't be surprised.

The business of her walking around with her hands behind her back continues, so I still don't know what that's about. Maybe she's just fascinated by the fact that she can touch her hands together behind her. Whatever it is, she's not acting like she's in pain.

Hiking trails guide 

Totally swiping the idea from Over the Bridge's CodPod and the text from an article in The Birmingham News, I created a guide to a few Birmingham hiking trails that you can download to your iPod.

I'm thinking about creating more of these sorts of files soon — kind of like mini travel guides for Alabama cities. They'll be on as soon as I can figure out how to publish zip files.

It would be really nifty if I could make a little map that would show up on the screen, but since my iPod is an older version without image capabilities, I'd be unable to check my work to see what it looks like. For now, though, I'm pleased with this.

How to tell when someone's not paying attention 

I was just walking down the hall toward my office when I passed a coworker.

Me: "Hello, Aaron."

Aaron: "Not too much."

Obviously Aaron's day has been more stressful than mine.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

It's fiction, dear 

I was just eating dinner with Misty and her cousin Cathy, and we were talking about television. Misty was extoling the virtues of "Arrested Development" trying to gain another convert. Cathy said that the only programs she watches regularly are "Dr. Phil," "Big Brother," and "Cold Case." Misty hadn't heard of "Cold Case."

Cathy: "Each episode they investigate old homicides using new forensic evidence and stuff like that."

Misty: "Do they ever solve any?"