Sunday, March 31, 2013

Marriage, Divorce, Car Buying and Thankfulness

I don’t have a thread that ties all of these together, but maybe I will by the time I’m done writing this. They’re just the three topics that took all of my emotional attention this week.

On Saturday I started reading The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller. It has caused me look at how I got married to begin with. I’ve also been examining my thoughts and actions over the last few years in regards to tending to my marriage - or not. I took a lot for granted, and didn't dig in to warning signs. There are definitely some lessons to apply to whatever the future holds. I’m looking forward to the second half of the book.

A friend sent me a sermon on divorce from Austin Stone Church. The pastor makes some strong comments about God’s view of divorce. They weren’t easy to hear, but they were good for me to hear (I think).

I capped off the week making a car purchase. I spent 4 mentally exhausting hours at a dealership doing the test drive, the paperwork, the insurance, etc. My salesman spoke 6 languages, so we had fun chatting in Spanish and French. I took home a Gray 2004 Honda Civic Coupe manual with 131K miles. I splurged on one with a moonroof. I’d seen it on craigslist, so it wasn’t as much of an impulse purchase as it sounds. I’m having my mechanic check it on Monday morning. If all goes well, it will last me another 3 to 5 years. After several weeks of looking, it’s nice to think I may be done with my transportation challenges.

(The next day I spent 6 hours at a Hyundai dealership while my housemate leased a luxury sedan. Unfortunately he skipped lunch and had a bit of a diabetic episode. Now I know the signs and the treatment.)

Despite my gripes and struggles, I feel very blessed. I have friendships here that continue to grow and thrive. The weather is great, and the mountains are beautiful every day when I drive home from work or walk to dinner. I'm five minutes from a cozy, thriving downtown with fun restaurants. My church group is lively and passionate and fun.

Happy Easter!

Downtown Mountain View at Sunset

Food Truck after Easter service

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Transportation Troubles

The theme this week was transportation. As in, I need some. After a lazy Saturday morning last weekend - long after - I realized the car rental agency closed at noon. I would be car-less until Monday because I was careless (couldn’t resist).

So I stayed local on Saturday. Then I worked out a plan for getting to church on Sunday that involved taking Caltrain to the Santa Clara station and then a cab the rest of the way. Then I decided to take the VTA light rail to the office to get some work done, thinking I could take light rail to the Santa Clara station. Trouble started when I was leaving the building and I saw the train whiz by. After waiting for the next train, I arrived at the Santa Clara light rail station and realized it was nowhere near the Santa Clara Caltrain station. Or my church. That was a depressing right back home.

At least it’s easy enough to take VTA to work, which I did Monday through Thursday. I can check work email on the VTA or I can play a game on my iPad. Guess which I choose.

Friday I needed wheels again, so I walked a mile to the car rental agency. The compact options were a boring Nissan Versa, or a battle-bot, aka a Fiat 500. For a moment I was annoyed that the door frame blocked the view of the rear window that would show me my blind spot. Then I realized the car is so short it has no blind spot. More than once I’ve been tempted to park on the street with the nose to the curb rather than parallel parking.

It also has a few features I don’t get. One is a “sport” button, which I’m afraid to touch. The Fiat forums online suggest turning it on along with the ESC button, which I can’t find and am afraid would cause the car to reboot. It also is a manu-matic. You can move it from Drive to choose-your-own-gear-without-a-clutch. It actually helps with freeway driving. It’s like a stick shift with training wheels.

My highest priority this week is to settle on a car. I really want a manual Honda Civic with a sun-roof and less than 200K miles for under $6,000. Preferably royal blue. I found a good deal on a civic with 125K miles, but then carfax informed me that it once had 178K miles. Not sure what happened there. I really like a blue honda civic that’s 30 miles away in San Bruno, but I’m not sure they’re going to let me bring it down here so my mechanic can check it out. 

My main car shopping tools right now are my carfax monthly subscription and craigslist. When I downloaded the craigslist app I got way more hits. Turns out I was only searching for the title, not the whole listing. Rookie mistake.

A friend has been trying to convince me to get a zipcar account, rather than buying a car. I looked into it two months ago, but there were no zipcars in Mountain View. I checked again last night and there was a new Mountain View location. I could barely see the map on my phone, but I wandered around for half an hour and finally realized it was in the underground parking structure for a new apartment complex. It’s about a 20 min walk from my house - which is kinda far - and I think it would be more expensive than a car if I did it for more than a year. But it was neat to see it nearby. 

After all that, I relaxed tonight with a glass of wine on a patio near the downtown main street, watching folks drive their cars.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mexico City in March

So, I love to travel. Especially to another country. This time is was Mexico. I think it's still a separate country - they stamped my passport. I was even fine traveling in coach, what with the crossword puzzle in the airline magazine, and a game and movie on the iPad. On the leg from DFW to Mexico City I caught up with 3 guys from work, all of whom were wearing blazers. Made me feel under-dressed in my casually untucked travel shirt. Oh well.

The first night was a bit rough as I had a little too much wine, which didn’t go well with the altitude (~7000 ft). Around 3:30 I hit a deep sleep, but the hotel alarm clock - set by a previous guest/sadist - jolted me up at 5:30. 

We had all-day meetings in a fancy hotel for 3 days, where they catered breakfast, a morning snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack. For dinner the first night we were treated to a cooking class in the hotel kitchen. 15 of us made shrimp ceviche and a beef loin "unrolled" and stuffed with mushrooms topped with poblano pepper garnish and a poblano pepper cream sauce. Yummy! The only weird part was that the mushrooms were a mexican variety that grows on corn.

I managed to get up for a workout on Wednesday, on the 15th floor of the hotel. The mountains were beautiful, when they weren’t hidden by clouds or smog. 

Besides cooking, the highlight of my trip may have been the search for post cards - just because I got to speak a lot of Spanish. I probably sounded like a 5-year-old, since I could only remember the present tense, and hardly ever got my verbs and nouns and adjectives to agree. (Argumentative lot they were.) I had a great conversation with a taxi driver about marriage, family life, the new pope, etc. Or at least I think I did.

It turns out there’s not a lot of demand for postcards in the business district where our hotel was located. So not a lot of supply either. I went to a department stored owned by the richest man in the world, Carlos Slim. They had 6 copies of a single version of a postcard of a soccer stadium. The 2nd taxi driver suggested I try Wal Mart. No luck there either.

On Thursday I took my 2 postcards of the stadium and called a taxi to take me to the post office. It turns out the demand for a post office matches that of post cards (not sure why those would be related). It was bad news when the driver looked at me and said he’d go back into the hotel to ask for directions. At least he came back. 10 minutes later, more directions. Then more directions. Back the same way we came. More directions. Some discussion about why nobody gives good directions and why the post office is hidden (I think that’s what we were talking about. Maybe it was the new pope instead.). I had a meeting to get back to soon, and I began to understand how contestants on the Amazing Race feel when their taxi gets lost and they don’t understand what’s going on. And then we found it. There was no line - I guess no one else could find it either. 15 minutes later I was back at the hotel for lunch.

The next day I took the hour-long cab ride to the airport - dodging upcoming demonstrations over labor contracts. I got in trouble at security. I couldn't leave my laptop in my special leave-your-laptop-in-the-backpack backpack. Out it came. So did the iPad. Then they gave me a massage. I think they called it a pat-down. Then they had me open up my backpack and rifled through the tangle of chargers and cords. The rubicks cube probably didn’t help matters. Then I was through, and with a quick stop for empanadas I made it to the gate and on the plane for more travel time with a new airline magazine, an iPad game, and “Wreck-It Ralph” (which I liked.) 

I can’t wait to travel again to a place that humors my language ability. (Like Paris. Or even East Texas.)

Saturday, March 16, 2013


Note: I'm letting too much time pass between an inspiration to write and actually publishing something. I'm working on it. This actually took place the weekend of March 1.

Last weekend I had a delightful and uplifting time with my church neighborhood group. 10 of us went on a retreat to Cambria, CA to unwind and get to know each other better. Cambria is a cute little town on the coast with great views of the ocean. (OK - coast and ocean views kinda go together, but it's still worth mentioning.)

We arrived at our rental house on Friday after a 4 hour drive from San Jose. I rode with the couple who leads the group. We spent a lot of time talking about my divorce, God's will in marriage, and the idols we each have. We stopped in town for a late dinner and ate in a fancy restaurant in the cute little downtown area. I had to try the seafood pot pie. The filling was based on their clam chowder and the crust was delightfully flaky.

The other groups rolled in over the next few hours, and we stayed up talking until midnight - which required some effort given my standard 9:30 bedtime. Besides me and the lead couple, it was mainly young women in their mid-20s. I shared a room with the one single guy in the group.

On Saturday we had banana pancakes and then hiked a trail along the ocean down to the tide pools. The views were gorgeous. Then we went to see the elephant seals. The beach had hundreds of baby elephant seals, who are as big as normal seals. There were some adult males, who are about 10 feet long and weigh 5000 pounds. Their backs are covered in scars from fights they’d had.

For lunch we went to yet another scenic ocean outlook and ate sandwiches. A ground squirrel kept creeping up looking to steal a meal, causing the occasional shriek from the nearest startled sandwich owner. It reminded me of the voracious - and uninhibited - squirrels of the UT campus main mall area who would brazenly crawl into backpacks looking for food, regardless of any attempts to shoo them away.

After lunch we visited a winery where we tasted 6 wines for $5. The chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon didn’t really do it for me, but I enjoyed the sweet Riesling and the Port. Once again, the views were great. The owner came out and showed us the barrel room and the the area where they receive the grapes, crush them and then ferment the juice.

We drove back to downtown Cambria and walked through shops. I got bored of that pretty quick, but perked up when we decided to go to the bakery for pie. I chose the blueberry peach pie - a la mode of course.

When we got back to the house that afternoon, half the folks went for a run, while the rest of us took a nap. We also had to solve the kitchen disposal/drain clog. It came down to unscrewing the u-shaped pipe section which was full of shredded paper and egg shells.  

After a dinner of homemade burritos, we played a game called Resistance. It centers around figuring out which players are "spies" trying to sabotage the rebel missions. Not exactly ideal for building trust, since you begin to suspect everyone is lying.  Once again, we stayed up until midnight.

Sunday morning I finally pulled on my running shoes and headed out for a jog. My sense of direction failed me totally and I ran away from the coast - and its gorgeous views. But with the fog on the ocean, I didn’t miss much. I did see a few wild turkeys and even found a dirt trail into the forest. There were lots of inclines and declines, so I got my workout.

When I got back it was time to packing lunches and bags, clean up the house, and close it up for the week. We headed back on a scenic drive over the green mountains and then up the valley, enjoying the beauty of nature and the new friendships we had formed.