what a ride!

Has it really been almost two weeks since I last updated? Yikes! It has! Well, there are some tales to tell… so I’d best get to it.

Turkey Day came and went since I last put fingers to keyboard. In all, it was a decent holiday. I went to visit with my in-laws with a certain sense of isolation, given that Mrs. Geek and I seemed to be so uninvited to the many upcoming events of the season. While no invitations suddenly appeared over the holiday table, there were a few regrets expressed for how things happened… and while there were no apologies, I think the sentiment was as close as we’re going to get. I’ve also learned that I need to keep my mouth shut about what we plan for the holidays — it seems that some words about our future plans were spoken on Father’s Day and these were the cause of the belief that we were traveling to The Land Of My Birth for Christmas.

I took a nice long break for the holiday at least. A day of vacation taken on Wednesday made it a five day weekend. The first three days were glorious. It was the first time spent here at the new house not involved in packing, unpacking, fretting about repairs, or gratuitous amounts of do-it-yourself work.

The last two days… well, that was another story entirely. I decided that the next home improvement project on the list was to install the two rear bookshelf speakers of my home theater system. I was going to be deliberately ambitious about it too; rather than just drill some holes in the floor, I was going to bring wires up in the walls and install nicely finished wall plates. I got some special tools for the job, and planned where the work was going to be done very carefully.

I then killed myself over the course of nearly two days running the wire by going into the crawlspace under the house nearly a dozen times. I had bruises on my arms, legs, hips, and abdomen. Muscles I didn’t even know I were sore. I was one hurting unit for the first two days of this week.

Of course, all this effort had an interesting coda: when I actually hooked up the speakers in question and did a “channel test”, I discovered that one was broken. After some careful process of elimination, I determined that the unit had a bad crossover. More on the repair of that, later.

And oh yes… the sewer pipe. Work on that continues, in fits and starts. The plumbers came by on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and filled in much of the trench in front of our house. We are currently waiting for city inspection of the work before the finish the road and sidewalk. I both yearn for and dread the day when this will be finished… yearn because it will be over, but the thought of the size of the bill gives me the willies.

Work at Company O. has been thoroughly nuts. After spending a number of weeks working like crazy to get a software release out, some of the test results we collected are not particularly to the liking of upper management… and we have to drop everything and collect some data about a competing product. This was a solution we rejected over a year ago… we should have collected data then.

Everything ended up on a high note though. After 2.5 days of pushing hard to make progress on these new tests, I finally got the test platform set up. We’re still about a day behind where I would like to be, but I’m hopeful that the worst is behind us. The speaker problem also resolved itself — the crossover was still covered by manufacturer warranty. I overnighted it to the factory early in the week, and I picked up the replacement part today. The system sounds great! The new wall mounts for the speakers really help bring out the depth of sound! So, I got home from making decent project to watch parts of Fantasia 2000 and The Thomas Crown Affair(the Pierce Brosnan version) on my newly complete system… it made for a very pleasant evening.

tomorrow the green grass

One of the reasons that rarely, if ever, sell back CDs is because somehow even mistakes are important, and you never know when a disc might be due for re-assessment. I found one such disc this week: Tomorrow The Green Grass by the now-defunct Jayhawks. Their American Recordings debut Hollywood Town Hall was a spare alt-country masterpiece with songs full of back roads, small towns, high desert loneliness, and longing. I remember buying the follow-up with no small amount of anticipation after hearing the first track Blue on the radio. That first track did grab me and hold me… but the spareness of Hollywood Town Hall was gone. Tomorrow The Green Grass was denser and louder, and did not evoke the wide open, empty spaces that its predecessor did. It got put on the shelf, and pretty much stayed there for about a dozen years — though it did get ripped for my iTunes music library earlier this year with all my other discs.

I have harri3tspy to thank for finally dusting this disc off and giving it another listen. I included a Jayhawks track Sister Cry on a mix CD I sent her last Spring. I went back to look at her review of the disc this week, and she mentioned Tomorrow The Green Grass. When I was scanning through my iPod albums list shortly after, I thought “well, why not?” Blue grabbed me again, but this time I could listen to the rest of disc for what it is — natural, organic, noisy, and pretty much everything that much of the music made since is not.

Maybe it’s time to give another alt-country disc that got put on the shelf, Son Volt’s Straightaways, a listen too.

a wicked holiday (boxing) combination

The Christmas season seems to be one of the harder times of the year to get through for Mrs. Geek and me during the last few years. I don’t know why… I certainly don’t mean or want it to be that way. Last year, I got told off by Mrs. Geek’s Stepmother for eating to fast at the Christmas table on Christmas Day. The year before, I got a pretty strong dose of reality concerning my sister’s marriage, with unsettling results. This year’s Christmas drama arrived early, when we found out what other members of Mrs. Geek’s family were planning for the holidays. It hit us all at once this week, like a boxing combination that left us seeing stars.

The first left jab came when we volunteered to have the annual family Secret Santa gift exchange at our house this year. We thought it would be a nice opportunity to have some of the immediate family over to see our new home. Planning that turned out to be a logistical nightmare — everyone else seemed to busy one weekend or another between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Finally, Mrs. Geek’s Stepmom said “Sorry it’s been so hard, how about next year?” Fine. It’s a disappointment, but understandable.

The next left jab came when we found out why one of the weekends was unavailable. It seems that Mrs. Geek’s Aunt, Uncle, their children, and their grandchildren are converging at the house of Mrs. Geek’s Dad and Stepmom for their annual holiday get together. Even though Mrs. Geek’s Dad is hosting the event, we have not been invited. Fine. Mrs. Geek doesn’t get to see as much of her cousins as she would like, but family politics can sometimes be a little weird.

The knockout right hook came just after this news hit. Mrs. Geek’s Dad and Stepmom and the various Stepsiblings are having Christmas out of town at a Stepsister’s house about four hours away. We were never asked what we were doing for Christmas, and it was somehow assumed that we would be traveling to the Land Of My Birth for the holidays. So, we were completely left out of the holiday planning conversation, much less coming anywhere near being asked if we would like to attend.

No, we’re feeling pretty snubbed by the family right about now. I don’t think any of this was intentional. It’s just the way some of the personalities and family dynamics of the situation fell together. It does make me wonder how we are regarded by Mrs. Geek’s Stepmom and her children. Our relationship has generally been a cordial one, and I know that “they” as a family are sometimes different from “we” as a family. But Mrs. Geek and I feel pretty much forgotten by them right now. It seems uncharacteristic of them to treat us so, which makes it all the more sad.

The worst of it is that we’re spending Thanksgiving with pretty much all of the people mentioned in this entry. How do we act around them? Do we quietly try to find out if people know that this has happened? Would that sound like we’re angling for an invitation? I don’t know. I don’t know.

All I do know is that frustration over this is balling up with work- and house- related issues to make me very grumpy. I need to let all of this go, if I am to enjoy the holidays at all. The glass is half full. Honest. Really. It will be fun. Right? Right???

taking money out of my pocket…

With our twice yearly property tax installment coming due and the expensive (and still ongoing) sewer pipe replacement to pay for in the near future, money is tight here at the Geek household. I’ve been trying to think of a number of ways to improve our cash flow. Short of flying to SouthEast Asia and putting a kidney up on on the black organ market, ideas have not been easily forthcoming.

One of the more outlandish ideas that popped into my head involved becoming the manager/svengali for a band of my own creation called “The Jimmies”. They would all be very clean cut, waspy looking boys doing very middle of the road 80’s white boy pop. Think a combination of the Four Freshmen, Haircut 100, and Rick Astely. The hook would be double-entendre. With member names like “Jimmy Dick”, “Jimmy Johnson”, “Jimmy Rod”, “Jimmy Stiff”, “Jimmy Wood”, and “Jimmy Pedro”, and an album name like “Standing Tall For You”, I figure we’d get someone’s attention. They would be my ticket to fame and fortune.

Alas, it is not to be. It turns out there is a children’s music band out of New York called The Jimmies (MySpace site here and label site here). I’m not entirely familiar with the new “children’s music” phenomenon… but I have to say, I’d probably be able to stand hearing The Jimmies CD a few dozen times in the car. They’re pretty cool. Can’t say that about Barney and much of the children’s music muck out there right now.

So, no hard feelings… but dang it, they’re taking money out of my pocket!

custom closets and a fat lip

This weekend’s home improvement project was some custom closet organizers in our bedroom closet. Having some real closet organizers is a dream that Mrs. Geek has had for some time now. We got ours via mail order through a company associated with Costco. They arrived early this week. Installing them took some work.

It all came down to a question of paint. We had an old wood shelf/hanger bar combination in the closet supported by a sort of high chair rail. The organizers are flush to the wall, requiring all of the existing woodwork to go. I pulled all of it down yesterday, revealing a large eye-height strip of semi-painted drywall (who knew that our closet used to be pistachio green?). I knocked a 3/4 inch hole in one of the walls during the demolition. The patch on that needed to dry overnight, and I didn’t get to the repainting job until today.

It all went pretty well, given that I haven’t doing much interior painting for about 20 years. I had to sand a few rough spots on the walls… which kicked up some lead dust, no doubt. I wore a dust mask for most of the day, so hopefully the damage (if any) will be minor. I then applied two coats of paint — one a latex primer, the other a latex off-white top coat. I’m still smelling some latex paint fumes. Again, let’s hope that I’m not shortening my life.

After that, I installed the shelves… and this is where the fat lip comes in. Installation was a maddening process because the shelves attach to the wall using two horizontal rails. The plans provided with the shelves only specify the final heights of the shelves, not the heights of the rails. It took three trials and a few holes in the wall to get that right… (it would have taken longer if I hadn’t run out to get a laser level shortly after buying this house.) One of the top shelves got away from me during the installation. It slid forward and hit me in the face. Voila! Cut, fat lip.

At times like this, I remind myself that the glass is half full: no teeth were broken.

waiting for godot… and what happened after

Well, the saga of the sewer pipe continues around here. We’re at what… ten days and counting since gray water backed up into our bathtub on Halloween night? At this point, all I want is for this to be over. I’m not sleeping well in the early morning. I am getting far too familiar with the TV schedule at 4am and 5am. Yet it still seems to go on and on.

When I last took up the tale, water had backed up into the tub, the home warranty company had been called, and we received an initial estimate from the plumber they sent. Not willing to trust one estimate, I asked around and found a plumbing company that specializes in sewer line work. Because of a missed phone call on Friday morning, an initial appointment to get an estimate had to be put off until Monday — and I ended up having to clean up some of my own raw sewage that leaked out the side of the house over the weekend. *shudder*

When Monday came, I got both good news and bad news. The bad news was that this was not going to be cheap. Some phone calls on my part determined that while we do live inside a particular municipality that maintains its portion of the “sewer lateral” between the street and the property line, our sewer service is provided by the county, not the city. The county does not provide line replacement, and makes property owners responsible for the cost of fixing the lateral all the way out to the main in the street. Sadly, the plumbing contractor I’d found determined that line replacement was necessary. He was able to get a camera all the way out to the main, and the line transitions from plastic to clay as it crosses our property line. That clay pipe is cracked in about three places, with mud accumulating in the line at two of those places, and roots occupying the other. Replacement is required.

The good news was that replacement was supposed to relatively simple. The line is located less than two feet under the ground. The county also allows line replacement without digging a full open trench. There was even a proper clay fitting where the lateral joins the main line, simplifying the replacement process. The estimate for the work gave me some profound sticker shock though: $4000. After a couple calls to verify that this particular contractor was on the up and up (though as pretty much the best in the area at this sort of work, likely to be a little expensive), I gave the go ahead to do the work. I did NOT want to have deal with my own sewage again any time soon.

Then began a process that I like to call “Waiting For Godot”. The contractor told me on Monday that he said he could “have some fellows out here by as early as first thing tomorrow”. So, I waited around for a while on Tuesday morning to see if anyone would show up. No one did.

The same thing happened on Wednesday… though I did at least get a phone call. Permitting was the problem, I was told. Permission to tear up a city street to work on a county sewer line required permits from both the city and the county, and no one was able to pick up the necessary permits on Tuesday. It was on the calendar for Wednesday though, and I was promised that work would begin on Thursday.

I waited again on Thursday, and no one arrived. A call on Thursday afternoon revealed the problem. The city does not offer walk-up counter service for the permit required to tear up the street. Proof of various kinds of insurance is required, credentials must be checked, and plans approved before work can begin. I was promised that a two man crew would begin the following morning.

The “fellows” (as the contractor calls them) did show up about 9:30 on Friday morning. I was thrilled. I was told that they would be done by the end of the day… with city and county inspections to follow on Monday. We would not have to worry about drains backing up over the weekend! That feeling lasted until about 1pm, when I saw that the “fellows” had abandoned working at the two ends of the pipe, and began cutting an open trench along its entire length.

Here, I should interject that this experience has allowed me to meet one of my neighbors. R. is a retired employee of the county public works department, who used to do precisely the kind of work I’m having done. So he’s began hovering around the work as soon as he saw that I had a plumber out to look at the sewer line. He tells me, among other things, that the county would have paid for the work I’m having done ten years ago. “No new taxes” indeed!

I think R. spent yesterday having a grand old time — indulging in the nostalgia of his old job, without doing any of the work. He was out there, introducing himself to the plumbers, looking over shoulders, and moving a hose or cone when necessary. He explained to me that the “sleeved replacement” of the pipe that they expected to do required that the clay pipe be split in place and that a plastic pipe be inserted in the widened hole. Sadly, the someone encased the clay pipe on concrete along its entire length, making that split impossible. A trench would be needed to get access to the whole pipe, the clay and concrete be broken up, and new pipe laid. He did at least compliment me on finding the contractor — he said the “fellows” seemed to know exactly what they were doing, dug right in and really worked, and brought all the right tools and equipment to do the job.

At this point, I freaked for about two hours. I had visions that the $4000 job I’d committed to was going to double in price. That would strain our finances severely, given the amount of money we’ve laid down recently to buy this place. I finally got a hold of the contractor at about three o’clock. Yes, the cost of men and material would go up somewhat, but there was still hope that the job could be done in one day… and definitely not double in cost, regardless. The shallowness of the pipe made the cost of digging a trench minimal. That buoyed my spirits somewhat, but looking at the “fellows” as they worked, I had real doubts about whether or not they would finish in one day.

My fears were confirmed when the “fellows” began covering up the trench as it began to get dark around 5pm. No word yet about when the work will be done… but I’m thinking it will be on Monday. So now I get to spend the weekend wondering if the drains are going to back up… and how much this will cost when the dust settles. Until then, I think I will be waking up before 5am… not in a panic, but also not able to comfortably sleep.

20lbs, 9kg, 1.42 stone

Excitement here around the house continues unabated. Plus, work is particularly chaotic… with requirements and duties changing almost by the moment.

I want to get away from all of that for a moment though, and focus on something simply delightful. I’ve lost 20lbs since August 1! Granted… this is based on a measurement from late last week and I haven’t spent much time in the gym this week, but still! Twenty pounds! I’m loving it!

When I tell people this, they always ask “how did you do it?”. I’ve been loosely following Bill Phillips’ Body For Life plan. The whole thing is mostly common sense. Eat 5-6 small meals a day. Exercise. Watch portion sizes. Eat a balance of vegetables, carbs, and lean meat. Exercise more. Repeat as necessary.

I can’t claim to have a body builder’s arms or abs, but wow, my clothes do fit better. Everything either fits pretty well, or is loose. I lost 20lbs!!!

Go me!