Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just Received Word...

That one of my nephews (who is in his 30s) has issued a Bobby Flay Throwdown-style challenge to me: his homemade wine vs. my homebrewed beer.

He had his first opportunity to taste my beer this summer. Apparently he liked it. A lot! So much so that he began thinking about brewing up his own batch. My word of warning to him was to stay away from Mr. Beer. Yes, it’s the lowest cost way to dive straight in, and a gift-giving favorite, but the results tend to disappoint. Given that, he seems to have looked for a cheaper way to enter the homebooze field.

He told my mother very proudly of his challenge, and of his system, which is newly set-up and with his first batch perking away. He is making his wine out of Welch’s grape fruit juice, stored in plastic gallon milk jug, with an inflatable balloon over the mouth of the jug serving as an airlock.

From the sounds of it, his system looks like this.

I don’t think I need to sweat about this anytime soon. Do you?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Strategery in Action: Example 942.

I have defined “strategery” on my blog in the distant past, but to bring every up to speed, “strategery” is an extreme strategy about unimportant things. When tons of thought, plotting and planning go into a strategy about, say, how to buy as much marshmallow puff at a loss-leader price when there is purchase limit (visit every store within a 10 mile radius and send all family members in to buy individually) that is strategery in action.

Strategery is something I know a lot about.

Strategery is my life.

Example 942 was applied when trying to rent the first volume of the five season series The Wire.

All five seasons can be rented in individual volumes at my local rental store, and every single volume of every single season has been sitting on the store shelf that entire time, except for volume 1 season 1. In other words, the exact disk I need in order to start the series in a sensible way.

Every time I went in, I looked over the store shelves, then asked at the information counter in case it hadn’t been shelved yet, or I had simply overlooked it. Every time I was told it was still out but due back on the 19th. I started asking about this on the 14th, so I don’t mind telling you this was getting a little old for everyone involved.

Back-up Plan 2 was to borrow from the local library, which theoretically has three copies of season 1. Except all copies were out, and the one that would be due soonest was due on the 17th. And that’s assuming no one else had placed a hold on it. As of the morning of the 21st, the set still had not been returned. (It turned out that it didn’t show up as “reshelving” until the 26th!)

On the 18th I attempted Back-up Plan 3, which involved renting from the same chain but in a different city that I frequent at least once a week. That failed too, as almost every volume was on the shelve except the first one. And it wouldn’t be due back until the 20th.

Back-up Plan 4* involved buying the entire box set, but I wasn’t particularly excited about parting with that much money when I likely would never be inclined to re-watch the series at a later date. There are few that I do. And since I hadn’t seen a single episode, I couldn’t be certain that I would want to watch them even once.

The thought that I would be chasing the same inconsiderate bozo through all volumes and all five seasons of The Wire was completely out of the question. That is no way to spend the summer. Entertainment should be a source of entertainment, not frustration. This is where the strategerizing really came into play.

Upon returning from failed Back-up Plan 3, I went straight to my local store and rented volumes 2 and 3 of season 1. In other words, when “bozo” returned volume 1, he or she would probably head straight back to rent volume 2. But no, volume 2 wouldn’t be there. Skip 2 and go straight for 3? Wait! It’s not there either! Crap!!

At that point, this should be a game ender, and as soon as volume 1 became available somewhere, I would be able to leapfrog them and continue watching the series at my own reasonable-yet-rapid speed.

On the morning of the 21st, I checked the store shelves, and was stunned to see that volume 1 season 1 had been returned. I finally had the first three volumes, and about four days to watch all of them before 2 and 3 were due back. That’s just the kind of challenge this gal can sink her teeth into. Thank goodness for a plethora of knitting and crochet projects at hand.

* And yes, I know you’re going to say “Join NetFlix.” But that ain’t gonna happen. There are many months when we don’t have the time to watch any rental at all. I’m not going to pay a membership fee for nothing. And there are other times when we can spend a two-day stretch watching 5-10 rentals. NetFlix’s rental cycle doesn’t make that possible unless I want to download, but I have another set of issues regarding that. Thirdly, I believe strongly in supporting local stores. (And besides, NetFlix has got my in-laws hooked on watching animated retellings of stories from the Bible. That just makes my skin crawl.) And while the NetFlix streaming option has its benefits, we get charged for bandwidth overage, and would also need to buy special equipment. Ka-CHING!

As to why I’m so annoyed by the previous renter’s holding habits (who, after all, only kept it overdue by 1 day), this is my viewing approach:

21st -(RENT S1 V1) watch S1 V1 (3 episodes)
22 - (PREVIOUSLY RENTED) watch S1 V2 (2 episodes) + (RETURN S1 V1 & RENT V4 & 5)
With this, I successfully leaped over bozo, and he/she would be out of my way the rest of the summer.
...continued returning and watching daily until...
25 - (RETURN V4 & RENT S2 V1 & 2) Here is where I discovered that there was in fact a second renter at my store. Because V3, 4 & 5 were missing and due back on the 28th. I would be finished with V2 on the 27th, so depending on when exactly they returned the next three volumes, I might find myself waiting two days plus any late days to continue on my viewing path.

And by this time I have four volumes of knowledge about how inner city Baltimore functioned, so it can be said that I had learned some mad street skills. This could be dangerous for everyone involved... Mos’ def’!

The staff at the store shared that these three volumes were all checked out by the same person. Knowledge is power!

I cogitated over this “critical” problem while I waited for my oil to be changed at the dealership (where I had already chastised them for sexist practices since only my husband’s name is in their service records yet I’m the lead owner on the car and the only one of the two of us who have ever stepped foot in their service area. Calling me Mrs. so-and-so is not the same thing as having my name in their books, ya know?)

Since I happened to have several appointments in town nearby, I decided to swing by that store location. It turned out that they had the remaining volumes of Season 2, so I rented from them. That gave me five days of uninterrupted viewing opportunity going into the weekend. But that only solved the underlying problem temporarily. If the bozo #2 immediately rented Season 3 when they returned 2, then I would be stuck in a wait cycle again.

Even though I was now sitting on five volumes of The Wire, I decided to go for it. I swung back past on the store on the 26th and rented S3 V1. Yes, I know how rude I would consider this behavior to be in someone else, I’m going to overlook that because I’ve been returning the previous day’s viewed disk the next day. So for the people behind me, I’m only holding them up a day. (Except for the people in the next town. Those disks will have to wait until I’m both finished and I have another reason to be in town. I’m not going to drive 60 miles round trip just to return a $1 rental. That’s just crazy, right?)

My plan continued to work beautifully up until the July 4 holiday weekend, when competitive renters came out of the woodwork and grabbed up most of the critical disks in season 4. I had leapfrogged a disk rental waiting for two previous disks to be returned in a few more days. These were returned late on the day they were due. After spending the morning doing yard work, I headed to the rental store. Yes, they had been returned the previous day. But no, they weren’t in stock. Someone had rented the two disks in question that very morning.

I waited. I monitored both store locations. I put holds at the library for both seasons 4 and 5. With the two disks out, I ended up having to re-rent my leapfrogged disk. (And yes, I was so totally being an ass to one of my competitors. But at this level of competition, the gloves come off.)

The missing disks were finally returned. And just as I was caught up and ready to begin renting season 5, I got a notice from the library that my hold was in. Freedom!

Due on July 28th, I actually returned them fully watched on the 20th. (And season 4's “due June 25 set still hasn’t been returned, and the other one is now missing.)

The Wire was so totally worth the effort. And it is so good, in fact, that I wouldn’t mind watching it again. On the other hand, I’m glad I don’t own it because there is way too much nudity in seasons 1-3 to share them with the parental units.

Really, if I’m ever planning to watch a series like this again, I’ll need to devise a better plan. Renting and/or borrowing is way too much stressful!

Monday, July 19, 2010

In a Perfect World, Home Improvement Stores Would be Like Airports

Airports are the picture of efficiency. Thousands of people pass through the doors every day. Planes take off and land. Yes there are delays. Yes there are frustrations. Yes, an occasional piece of luggage is lost. But vastly more get safely to their destination than don’t, n’est-ce pas?

There are several things that I particularly love about airports. Topmost is that no one is there that doesn’t have a valid reason for being there. People are there to pick up or drop off, work a shift, or catch a flight. I don’t think it’s a common thing for someone to kill an afternoon by hanging out at the airport unless it’s thrust upon them by layovers or flight delays. And once the traveler passes security, this becomes especially true.

Another thing I love are those motorized walkways. It makes it easier to travel the long distances through an airport. And if you walk them, then you get to your destination all the faster. But what I truly love about them is that there is a walk side, and a stand side, so that generally-speaking, a business traveler can get past an leisure traveler who apparently has no place to be at any particular time.

And those dedicated security lines for families? Love them! Er, I mean I love not being caught in them.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of home improvement stores.

For the past several weeks, and for weeks to come, I have been making repeated trips to the store for large heavy items. From my research I have developed a set of laws that would be upheld if I ruled the world.

People who should not be allowed to park in the contractor parking lot:
Anyone wearing flip-flops.
Anyone accompanied by children 8 and under.
Anyone “window shopping”.*
Anyone who is only there to order blinds.
Anyone only purchasing cleaning supplies or light bulbs.
Anyone with a French manicure on their toes.

Inside, the aisles should have a civilian lane. These would be reserved for:
Anyone wearing flip-flops.
Anyone with a French manicure on their toes.
Anyone in the company of small children.
Anyone traveling in groups of 3 or more.
Slow walkers.
Anyone who is there to “just browse.”

Because the length of this list is conversely proportional to my patience, I have a strong suspicion it will be significantly longer before my project is done. Though I have learned that most of the slow-downs and frustrations can be avoided when shopping at 6:30 a.m.

*My left hand still bears a scar from a loading accident because a window shopper became impatient and wouldn’t wait an additional minute or two to back out of the stall next to us.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Garden-Fresh Dining

My garden came through in a big way for my lunch today.

Vine-ripened lemon boy tomatoes (the first of the year), topped with feta cheese and Thai basil plucked fresh from my garden, drizzled in a bit of olive oil.

Dee-licious! And definitely a lunch that will be repeated as the crop comes in.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Yard Moments

I was rewarded for my quick stroll around the yard yesterday morning:

I don’t recall the name of this tropical, but we’ve only seen it bloom twice in all the years we have owned it.

A praying mantis practicing his camouflage on the garage door.

Our brand-new day lily and Shasta daisies. The day lily is ‘buttered popcorn,’ which wasn’t what drew us to it in the first place, but it definitely sealed the deal. As we loaded up our cart we realized the color of the petals perfectly matched the center of the daisies, leaving no question that we needed to plant them as companions.
Overheard at Target

Scene: A summer afternoon when the feels-like temps had soared to a nauseating 110ยบ, desperately searching through the clearance racks for something sun-dress-like. Nearby was a middle-aged woman shopping with her young adult daughter and toddler grandson. The daughter pulled a shirt off the racks and remarked that she liked it.

Mother: “You could make that. It’d be easy!”

Daughter: “I’m not going to do that! I’m not going to make my own clothes like some old dweebo!! That’s what old people do!”

...I thought momentarily of piping up, then realized that if I did so, I would only further bolster the obnoxious daughter’s viewpoint. sigh...

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Emergency Schmurgency

Hanging out during the cath.

One should (apparently) wait before announcing one’s been having a heart attack for the last two days.

Things are fine-ish, btw. But I’m clearly needing to stash some emergency knitting in the car.

(And why is it that the people I’m related to inevitably delve into long bathroom-related topics when other patients’ family members are in the waiting room? Today’s topics included a weird misunderstanding about pigs and squat toilets, and “what country is it that splashes water on you?” Sigh...)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

When to Walk Away

We’re deep into a huge landscaping project. It’s really more of a hardscaping project*, meaning that we are adding hard elements to the landscape. In this case it’s a flight of stairs built into the slope along our sunken garden that will provide an attractive and effortless way to travel from the upper to lower gardens.

In many ways the timing for this construction project sucks because we’re on the shoulder of the hottest part of the year, and it‘s common for the temps to be in the 90s with high humidity. On the other hand, this is also the time of year when greenhouses are closing down for the year, and there are sales to be had. Since the area flanking the stairs will be heavily planted, the opportunity to stock up when plants are half price has an overpowering appeal. And while we’re there, why not look for a few other additions to already-established beds?

Thus I have found myself twice in the last three days confronted with a frustratingly-unhelpful store worker. Coincidentally, both have been in my quest for lupines.

There are many tales of lupine failure in this region. We have spoken to countless people who have said they’ve never been able to get them to grow. And we’re among them, based on a brief but disappointing effort at our previous house. But so far the ones we’ve planted at this house are thriving. As much as we’ve been able to determine, it’s not the intense heat of our summers that does them in. Nor is it the extreme cold in the winter. They are prolific in the northern Atlantic seaboard, after all.

Lupines love to get lots of water, but they also can’t stand to have wet feet, so the ideal location should be well-irrigated with excellent drainage. Our test plot happens to be on a small hillside that gets blasted from both sides with by our sprinkler system. Fingers-crossed, they’ll continue to do well over the years.

The first store was a garden center at a grocery store. The full-time horticulturalist was off that day, and the only staff around were part-time college students. But I could have used a bit of guidance because this particular location doesn’t display their plants by species. Yes, the tables of annuals are separated from the tables of perennials. But beyond that, they are all mixed up. One or two columbine pots might be in five different spots mixed in with black eyed Susans, etc. So it would have been helpful if someone who was familiar with their stock could have pointed me in the right direction. I asked the nearest employee.

Me: “We’re looking for lupines. Do you know if you still have any?” (We remembered seeing them earlier in the season.)

Employee: Long blank stare... “What does a lupine look like?”

At that point I just thanked her and told her I would look around. She clearly was going to be no help. And in fact we eventually found four pots, which we bought along with three bushes we hadn’t intended to buy that day at all. They were on sale, of course.

I totally understand that employee’s lack of knowledge. She was just a seasonal worker. I expect less service at grocery store greenhouses than at established year-round dedicated garden stores. So it was the next incident that really disappointed.

After a full morning of brewing, we drove to a nearby town to pick up the next disk in a television series. (This is part of a weeks-long challenge to rent a 5-season HBO show in an uninterrupted stream. And we were nearly in the homestretch, but someone rented the next two less than 24 hours after they had been returned by the previous customer, and six hours before I walked into the store to rent them. Gah!!!) While in that town, we swung into the best garden center in the area and headed straight for the flats. An employee stopped me and asked if she could help.

Me: “I’m looking for lupines.”

Employee: “What’s a lupine? Is it a perennial or a bush?”

Me: “Never mind. We’ll look around.”

She continued to pester and question, following us into the greenhouses even as we tried to shake her off, insisting that she would “help” us. But she clearly could be no help. And if helping is theoretically a way to get us through the store and at the cash register faster, then making us stop to train her in basic plant identification is sort of the opposite of that, no? And if she’d never heard of the plant period, what are the odds that after she wasted our time training her, that she would instantly know where that particular flat of plants would be located among the dozens of flat trays that were in the greenhouse?

It turned out that they didn’t carry them, which in part explains her ignorance, though not fully. We ultimately freed ourselves of her by switching our focus to a plant that would screen the gas meter, which took us deep into their yard, where we immediately became distracted by beautiful evergreens that would screen more of our yard from neighbors. By the time we included the siren song of gorgeous day lilies and stunning varieties of echinacea, we had mentally spent between $300 and $800. But we left empty-handed.

I suspect that had they had even one or two lupines in their collection, it would have been a very different story, indeed.

*An unexpected side-effect of the hardscaping work, is that I seem to have strained my hands hauling 50# bags of gravel. Until this project is completed, and my hands have had a chance to recover, no knitting for me.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Odd Event/Current Event

This story about a hot dog eating contest controversy reads like a Coen Brothers movie come to life.

I have no inside knowledge on this situation—I certainly don’t know any of the players—but the accusation about the contractual clause has a ring of truth. I, too, have been presented with offensive contracts.

In my case they were to write travel guides that stipulated that I could not write other guides or articles about that region or subject for any other publisher in perpetuity. Given the massive scope of that type of work, the length of time it takes to research and write, and the measly pittance of a payment for completing it, I have turned down a lot such writing requests. Why on earth would I want to do 6-8 months full-time work only to be paid 1-2 months of income?

So rock on, Kobayashi! Rock on!