Monday, April 29, 2013

Blueberries, Razors, Moving, and other Random Stuff

Blueberries are back! Yay! That makes me happy. Cherries will be here in a couple weeks, sending me to further fits of delight, followed by pluots (yummy, juicy, fruity pluots). Apples and mandarin oranges are gone, having kept me satisfied for the first 4 months of the year. I’m going to have to buy a pie dish so I can make a blueberry cream pie and eat the whole darn thing myself. Probably in one sitting.

We had a heat wave last weekend, meaning it got up to 88 degrees or so. There’s no AC in the house. It cools down overnight, or I’d be a puddle. I see a fan purchase in my future. Probably at 90 degrees.

I recently fell for an act of pure marketing genius. A product was reviewed on a money podcast I listen to. Now, a money podcast should make me more prudent about my spending. Oh, no. I paid $25 for a shaving set: razor, 3 blades, and shaving cream. The brand is Harry’s. You pay more for the razor, but less for the blades, because they cut out the middlemen. It’s not a good time to be a middleman. Only a front-man.

A few days later I tried the razor. (It wasn't delayed gratification; it's just that I only shave 3 times a week.) It was...amazing! It felt more like a face massage than a razor. The cartridge has 5 blades! (Take that, quattro!) It’s as big as those gummy hands we used to thwap each other with. And it’s flexible. So it exerts almost no pressure on your face. I was stunned. At the rate I shave, I’m probably set for the rest of the year.

The best part of my week was probably on Sunday morning. I got to help a friend from church move from Los Gatos to Campbell. You might think that moving is just exploiting free labor. (There were about 6 of us helping altogether.) But I really enjoyed being part of a fun team. (Extrovert!) And packing a U-Haul is like playing tetris to me, which is like catnip to a kitty. It was packed and unpacked in less than 2 hours and we were done by 10:30. Which gave me plenty of time to meet a friend - and her poodle puppy - for lunch.

Cocoa, the poodle puppy

Once again, I spent several hours each day looking at car postings on craigslist, trying to weed out the good from the rust-buckets. In the end, I gave up and joined a local credit union so that they can find me a car. I’m done.

I’ve been listening to recent sermons from Gateway Church in Austin about Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, and our tendency to try to fix other people. Or to change them. (How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but the lightbulb has to really want to change.) I'm trying to turn it around and think about what I need to change in me first.

Roses are growing like weeds all around: at work, in downtown, even along the walkway to my house. I stopped anyway to smell them. Ah.

Downtown Mountain View Rose-Weeds

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Cars, Cars, Cars.

Occasionally someone comments on my indecisiveness. Sometimes I feel caught in the throes of analysis paralysis. (I’m not sure I want to keep that last phrase; it sounds a bit cliche, but I guess I will. Maybe not. Ok, it stays. Unless I find something better....)

But surely I’m not indecisive. I had no problem choosing my tablet (iPad!). Except I wasn’t sure if I wanted 32GB or 64GB. No big deal, because I knew I didn’t want it with cellular ability (well at first I kinda wanted that, but then I didn’t). At least I knew I wanted it in black. Or maybe I just didn’t want it in white. What would I have done if they offered blue? And I knew I wanted the smart cover - but black, navy, gray, lime green?

I’ve decided it’s no fun being indecisive. And that’s final. The time it takes, the angst, the  excel spreadsheets. Ugh. It takes a week for me to book an airline ticket. I can waste an hour on where to go for dinner. Maybe I need to go to indecision anonymous. Or indecisiveness anonymous.

But the car search has taken my indecision to a new level. My history with cars doesn’t help. My first car was a cherry-red stick-shift Chevy Cavalier with a sunroof - that my dad chose, not me. I promptly destroyed the clutch multiple times (scarring me for years until I was forced to drive a manual Honda, which was very forgiving). And I fell in love with sunroofs. (An open sunroof on a cool morning commute to work is a gift from God.) I didn’t have to choose my next car either, inheriting a Delta 88 battleship.

In 2000 it was time for me to buy my own car. I had enjoyed renting some Pontiac Grand-Ams, so that’s what I looked for. I found a blue one for sale (Was it in the paper? Did they have Craigslist back then?) I’ve memorialized it as a piece of junk. Maybe that’s just because it developed a clogged catalytic converter just when I had no savings left from buying a house. (Memories are weird. I can’t remember any other problems it had.) Regardless, it felt like a bad decision.

So let’s add fear of failure to my natural indecisiveness - a delightfully paralyzing combination. I scour Craigslist for hours until I can’t remember what I liked and what I didn’t. I cross-check cars with CarFax and Kelley Blue Book, which disagree with each other. I’ve narrowed down my requirements so specifically that nothing fits: a blue or red Honda Civic manual transmission with a sunroof, no older than 2000, no more than 180K miles, no salvage title, no time in a snow state, under $6000. I thought that was a very reasonable list. (It’s about reliability, control, and good gas mileage.) Oh, and power windows. Power locks, cruise control, and some kind of iPhone integration would be nice, but hey, I’m being reasonable.

Doors! Doors are a requirement.

And...nothing. So I try to be less particular - but I have good reasons for everything. Stick-shifts offers control, power, and reliability; automatics are boring and expensive to fix. No, that stays. I live in California, where the morning temperatures beg for a sunroof. I’ve longed for one for 15 years. That stays. Cars before 2000 are ugly, and can’t be relied upon. Not budging. My car shop only services Hondas, Acuras, Toyotas, Lexi, and Hyundaii - not even Nissans -  and I’m not going to look for a new mechanic. Imagine the angst! If I increase my budget, I have to get a loan. I don’t like it. Fine, I could live with a boring color like silver or white. There - that’s being very flexible, right?

Did I mention I already spent $400 not to buy a car? A black 2002 Honda Civic stick-shift with a sunroof and too much rust from living in West Virginia. Yeah, the dealership charged me $300 to take it to my mechanic, who charged me $100 to tell me “car rusty bad”. And don’t mention the $1,000 on rental cars so I can get around and look for a car. (It ticks up by $30 every day. No pressure.)

My Latest Rental

So this weekend I test-drove a used Civic that is a California native. But the upholstery was an ugly squash color and the headliner was detaching from the ceiling. I took a used Accord for a spin, but it was 5 figures for a 10-year old car and the leather seats were hard as rocks. So I looked at new Hyundais and Nissans (on the hottest day of the year) and their auto loans.

I’m so close to being able to go car-less. I can take the light rail to work, but there’s no reasonable way to get to church, my Wednesday night group, or my counselor. At this rate I’ll wind up single-handedly propping up Enterprise Rent-a-Car for the rest of the year, then I’ll buy a brand new luxury car I can’t afford, get cancer from the new-car plastic fumes, lose my job, wipe out my savings, declare bankruptcy and move back to my parents’ basement to work on their goat farm, building fences and de-worming goats. I might as well cut up my drivers license now. But I haven’t decided.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Austin! Georgetown! Jacksonville! Cedar Park!

I just got back from my third trip to Austin this year. I’ve made one trip a month so far, and next month’s trip to Paris will make it five for five. Or cinq sur cinq. Airfare feels cheap compared to what I’m paying for rental cars. Sure, it was a fun-to-drive little red Kia Forte with a bluetooth phone connection and satellite radio, but it cost me twice what my airfare did. Of course, I don’t get bluetooth on the airplane, so maybe the higher price makes sense after all.

My new Austin destination is Bangers on Rainey street, with gourmet sausages and 100+ taps to choose from. I made it my first stop after picking up the rental car. A buddy met me there and I had a nice wheat beer with my venison sausage sandwich. Or maybe I had a nice venison sausage sandwich with my wheat beer. Maybe I did both.

It’s bluebonnet season in Texas, which is just too cool. Best flowers ever! (Although the blue fireworks flowers in California are a close second.) Definitely a true Texas experience; there are photos of me as a two year-old sitting in a field of these beauties. (Blue is my color, after all.)

The downside to the four-hour drive to the Chance Ranch in Jacksonville is that I don’t have the emotional constitution for being alone that long. Pitifulness warning: I got sad on the drive thinking about all the times Marianne and I made the trip (nearly a dozen times over 10 years). I hope I’m now inoculated against it for the next trip, but I’m sure there are more memory triggers around the corner waiting to pounce on me with gloominess. Yay.

My parents noticed I’ve been more into wine lately, so they scouted out the East Texas wineries. One of them had a nice little self-guided walk through the vineyard after the wine tasting. I liked their port (of course). The other one was...well...interesting. “Interesting” as in “I can’t stand your sense of decor, but it’s a free country and you certainly didn’t do it half-way.” They specialize in sweet wines and...junk. Er, formerly useful tools that are now strewn around in a manner intended to be decorative. It was East Texas shabby chic - minus the chic. 

Back in Austin I worked out of the local Cisco office (saving vacation days). I enjoyed going out for lunch with co-workers and friends. I saw two action movies at Alamo Drafthouse, where the beer makes bad movies worth it. (Delicious Pecan Porter). I had several relaxing dinners with the Cannons, along with an ice cream celebration for Devin’s grades. Devin and I even went to Outback Steakhouse so he could get his sirloin fix. (I prefer filet mignon) We followed that up with a visit to Main Event for air hockey, rock-wall climbing, glow-in-the-dark putt-putt golf and a virtual roller-coaster that brought me closer to puking than a real one ever has.

Now a highlight of some things I read or heard this week that might be educational or entertaining in some way. No promises. Well, I found them educational and entertaining.

On Saturday Devin and I went to the Cedar Park Cave Day, where we found a really cool cave to climb down into - right behind a subdivision of houses. That evening we sent his parents off on a date. We ate at Kerbey Lane and then brought back Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to enjoy with our movie, Battle Los Angeles, which was quite good. Lesson: “Go left or go right. It doesn’t matter which, but make a decision.” (And - if aliens can land on earth, they probably brought aircraft, not just ground troops.)

On Sunday I went to Gateway Church. As part of their Refrigerator Rights series, they had an actual refrigerator on stage, of course. They talked about letting a few people into your life who can get to know the things about you that you usually hide because they stink. (The things, not the people.)  The pastor pulled a “prop” tupperware dish from the on-stage fridge. When he sniffed it - theatrically - he found that it contained some prop food that was actually stinky enough to get his attention. Good prank by his staff.

In the failure-to-communicate department, Derry proposed a hike along Bull Creek as our penultimate Austin activity. I heard hike as in “on a trail”. He meant hike as in “bushwhack our way along the bank of the creek, crossing it randomly, and scrambling up and down rocks and slopes as needed regardless of the terrain” He had hiking boots and cargo shorts. I had running shoes and old jeans. I came away with a few bruises, but avoided landing in the creek or contracting poison ivy. We had some good conversation, saw a few fish, and returned sweaty, Gatorade in hand.

And after a day of planes, trains, and automobiles, I’m back in Mountain View doing laundry and scoping out a restaurant for dinner. I’m thinking Ramen.