Thursday, August 30, 2007

Don’t Buy Anything From China

Who is sick of hearing about all the horrible things China is doing to the world? Personally, I don’t think I can stomach another recall of some kids’ toy because of dangerous materials “accidentally” included in with it. From toxic toys to noxious pajamas, the list of items recalled from China keeps growing, and it keeps getting worse. The latest additions include SpongeBob SquarePants journals, dog treats and disposable chopsticks, making us wonder what are they doing over there… and how can they keep doing it?

Well, for starters, I think the Economic Czar, whomever holds that seat in China’s government, doesn’t exactly care. Some kids get poisoned in far-off America, so what? Much in the same way big business’s lackadaisical attitude toward customer service, for every pound of “Made in China” garbage that is hoisted off of the barge in Long Beach and then promptly recalled because of some strange poison or random toxicity, there five pounds right behind it to take its place.

From the Lex column in Financial Times: China’s economy, by contrast, can take it on the chin. So far, according to a local press report, the official tally of items directly affected by recalls stands at $700m. That is less than 0.1 per cent of last year’s exports and an even tinier fraction of this year’s forecast $1,200bn. Toys, the main segment affected, accounts for a mere 1-2 per cent of China’s exports. Besides, even if Americans wanted to ban all Chinese-made toys, it would be extremely difficult to replicate a similar-sized industry at home or anywhere else: the Chinese mainland accounts for 80 per cent of their children’s playthings.”

Well, I’ve had enough. The first premise is that I’m sick of my hard earned money being shipped in barrels overseas just because I think that I need something that is made there. I no longer shop at Wal-Mart, which should take care of a great deal of the Chinese market, but I think I need to do more.

From now on, I’m not knowingly going to buy anything made in China, and that includes Hong Kong and Taiwan. Why support them, when it is quite evident they are only in it for the American buck? We should turn our resources inward, find a company here in the States that makes what you want and keep the American dollar in America.

Sounds racist? So what. If that’s the way their going to be, if they’re not going to take care of quality control, then I don’t have to buy their products. It’s not like I’m going to stop talking to Chinese people; I’m just not going to buy what they’re selling.

Sounds economically un-worldly? That’s right, because it is. I don’t believe in a lot of foreign policies that my tax money is funneled into and if I could only pay the portion of my tax bill that pays for things only in this country, then believe me, I would. But unfortunately, I’ve got to suck it up and help Russians grow corn for their vodka, Africans dig wells for water and South Americans build bridges then that’s just what has to be done. However, why should I purposefully support the economy of a giant country that is only interested in making money and taking over the world, one pile of fake rubber dog poop at a time. Frankly, I just don’t want to anymore.

Sounds impossible? It probably will be, because I can’t ensure that everything I buy isn’t made in China, but I’m going to try. It just involves reading labels and making wise choices in what I buy. Like I said, I already avoid Wal-Mart like it’s the Black Hole of Decency, so I’ve got most of it licked already.

Why flush our own economy down the toilet while helping a billion people create a world-dominating juggernaut that only continually bites us in the hand, time after time?

When will it stop? It will stop when we start looking for the tags that say, “Made in the U.S.A.”

That’s what I’m going to do. Care to join me?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Don’t Wine About It

I drone on and on about it, but I enjoy a nice glass of wine from time to time. I mowed the back lawn this evening and then sat out on the patio, listened to the radio and enjoyed a beer while the sweat on my face dried. It was peaceful, looking out over all that I own (at least after the 354 more monthly payments) and the beer was refreshing. Wine wouldn’t have held up under such demands. No way is a glass of wine refreshing, nor does it slake the thirst of someone who just did two dozen laps with the mower, but for some reason it gets lofted up onto a pedestal and admired as a high-class drink. Wine is for leaning on the mantle or sitting on one of those wrought iron settees while discussing how well your relationship has been progressing. Nobody has ever said, “The guys are coming over for football, can you pass the corkscrew?”

But it is just a bunch of crushed grapes, thrown into a vat.

At any rate, I have decided that I’m going to become a wine collector. I realized as of late that I no longer collect anything of interest. When I was a kid, I collected all kinds of things. I had a stamp collection, one that was rather thrust upon me, and I don’t remember who it was (my grandmother, I think), but one day, she decided that I collected stamps. Every time I saw her, she had a tightly rubberbanded bundle of stamps, freshly cut from envelops. I also collected business cards, and up until a few years ago, there was no question in my mind that I was the only one on the planet that collected business cards, quite literally, just me and no one else. Well, who knew. See Here. So, I’ve got about 30,000 business cards gathering dust in a box in the attic. I don’t collect them anymore, but it has been engrained in my psyche (most things you do in repetition as a kid is) to never throw out a business card, so from time to time, when I think I’ve gathered up a good number of them, I trek to the attic and make a deposit.

Also, I collected Buffalo paraphernalia… and what exactly is that, you ask? Anything really, related to the American Buffalo, indeed my favorite animal. The collection (also in boxes in the attic) runs the gamut from small trinkets I picked up when I was young to expensive statues made from exotic materials (I have one made from the ashes of Mt. St. Helens). So, the next time you’re in my house, wander around and see how many buffaloes you can find. And yep, there's an organization for them too.

Now, I think I’ll go with wine, but where am I going to put it all? When I was younger and still living at home, then girlfriend Kara and I belonged to the Wine of the Month Club, which is basically a clearing house for wine that they force on unsuspecting people, because (as we found out), anyone who knows anything about anything doesn’t get it from a “of the month” type club. In fact, we still have some of it, which should just be right to brine some pickles in by now.

To store all of that wine, I obtained a wire rack that wasn’t too expensive but big enough to hold 25 bottles. I figured that I would never have any more than that. I mean, really, what good would more than 25 bottles of wine do lying about? Over the years, it has served us well, as we rotated through the wine and the rack was only full a few times (overflow was handled by another smaller rack that sat on the counter).

Then the kids came, and we thought we were lucky indeed to be able to sneak away for an hour or so before bed to have a glass of wine. Sadly, that was it, and the rest of the wine went bad in the fridge the following week… so our wine started to stack up. We joined a few wineries and ended up filling up all available space in our rack, as well as another one my brother got us for Christmas a few years back, and so bottle started getting stuck under chine hutches and in the corners of closets. As if we were alcoholics hiding our stash of vino.

This last trip to Paso Robles broke the bank, and the three case of wine convinced us that we needed a proper storage facility to house our growing collection. But where?

I heard from a neighbor that they had cut a hole in the unusable space underneath the stairs and had installed a wine fridge, and that sounded nice except that a wine fridge to store the number of bottles we have is entirely cost prohibitive, plus, I don’t think I want a fridge jutting out of some random wall in our living room. Kara had been looking for a place where she could set up a scrapbooking table, and I had plans of converting a downstairs walk-in closet with a built-in table, some shelves and whatever else she might need to do her scrapbooking (which I haven’t seen hide or hair of in over a year). So, that space is spoken for.

Or was it? For whatever reason, our actual entry hall closet had no facilities to hang coats, and whenever someone came over with a coat, it got hung in that walk-in closet, along with all of our board games and the flotsam and jetsam that accumulates in an average house. Basically, if you don’t know where to put it, put it in the closet and forget about it. I imagined Kara’s scrapbook room to meet the same fate, making it completely useless… so why not nix the whole thing? Kara wouldn’t use it as frequently as maybe even she would like and I’d hate to see all of my work go unused, so let’s put that room to good use.

Let’s make an above ground wine cellar. That way, I’d have a place to put all of my wine and it would be big enough to accommodate all future purchases. So, I’d need lots of space and that closet (60 by 60 inches) is perfect.

As with everything I do, I logged in hours of research. How to make it, what I need, what to look for, equipment I’ll need, and as a result, I discovered that there’s no way in hell I could afford to make a proper wine cellar. For starters, I’d have to tear the room down to the studs, add an A/C, a dehumidifier, special drywall, special insulation, a new door, lighting and flooring, not to mention the storage system. This was nearing a five-digit dollar project. The wine racks I needed were nearly a grand all by themselves, and they were nothing but pine slats screwed to a frame.

Wait a second. Pine slats screwed to a frame. I can screw wood together. In fact, I screw up a lot of stuff… wood can be one of them, for sure. Why can’t I start the ball rolling by getting a wine rack built. As with anything, I drew up the plans for a monstrous wine rack, big enough to hold 250 bottles, consuming the entire room. It would be grand.

As it turns out, it took the better part of three days to build. I used 620 screws and nearly 300 linear feet of 1x2 pine slats. Though I’m no carpenter (I’d make a terrible Jesus), it turned out pretty good; at least the wine is off the floor and there’s no suspicious creaking sounds indicating it might come crashing down at any minute. There were speed bumps, of course, like how I got into the groove of cutting one-foot lengths of wood for the slats and I ended up cutting all of my wood instead of saving some of it for other parts…and how I learned a valuable geometric lesson: You can’t spin a 60-inch-wide wine rack around a 60 by 60-inch room without hitting the walls.

But, that aside, I’m on my way to having a nice wine cellar.

Wow, what a long boring story this was.

I’m really sorry.

Oh, but what became of my old wine rack? My neighbor took it. Wait, that wasn't as interesting as it sounded before I wrote it down. Sorry again.

God, the pictures I took even suck.

Will this post ever end?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Learning Bath

Well, Natalie's getting bigger, now that she's turning four next week, and since the bathtub seems to be getting smaller now that we've got two of them sloshing around in there, I figured it was time to start Natalie down the right road to personal hygiene by learning how to wash herself. Up until now, it was just easier and quicker to do it myself, and although having both of them stand there like a car wash was quite efficient, it just dawned on me that Natalie might be old enough to do it herself.

At first, like anything, I figured she wouldn't want to do it. I mean, who can blame her? I would love to have someone wash me while I sat there and didn't have to lift a finger, but to the contrary, she seemed excited for me to teach her.

"Daddy!" she exclaimed in that hushed tone she gets when she's excited about something. "This is going to be a learning bath!"

And so it was. I taught her about lather, bubbles, the soap, where to start, where to end and everything in the middle.

Now, if only I can teach her not to empty the entire tube of toothpaste onto her brush, we might have our evening routine down to a science.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bent Over a Barrel

If I were a character in a Shakespeare play, my fatal flaw (and all his characters seemed to have one) would be that I am impulsive and sometimes impatient. If an idea strikes me, it is pretty much all I can think about until I tackle said idea, and yesterday morning, I found myself way down in Temecula, at a winery, because I heard that they were giving away wine barrels with every purchase.
I’ve been looking for a wine barrel for months, and I’m not really sure why. I just think they're cool. Kara wants to make a planter out of one cut in half, and I can envision all kinds of uses from a yard decoration to a fountain to an outside cocktail table. However, my desire to own a wine barrel is deep rooted, which is why I decided to throw caution to the wind and go.

Why caution? Well, Friday afternoon, after picking up the kids from school, we were on our way to dinner at Chili’s when Natalie began to complain about an upset stomach. An hour later, she was ralphing in a bucket. Two days before, Matthew was doing the same; yet he hasn’t learned much about the bucket and pretty much threw up on Kara all night. Then Kara started to complain about not feeling well, but I was fine.

I stayed up too late watching movies I could have done without (Dukes of Hazard and Mr. and Mrs. Smith), and when I woke up on Saturday morning, my mind was a little fuzzy. I chalked it up to lack of sleep and went about my morning plans, to go to Temecula, taste some wine by myself, pick up a barrel or two, and drive around the back country roads to see what adventures I could discover. It was slated to be a nice say of solitude and relaxation. I figured I’d meet some nice people (I usually do at wineries), see some sights and have some nice wine, and it didn’t bother me at all that I was going by myself. Everyone was sick at home; I certainly didn’t want to be there.

The server at Wiens Family Winery was from Chicago, recently relocated to Temecula because she and her husband wanted to be in the warmer climates of Southern California (it was 104 degrees when she told me that) and near something to do with wineries—apparently there isn’t a lot in Chicago. I paid my $10 to get a glass and begin tasting. The couple next to me were also there to get two wine barrels, and we discussed their various uses; he had plans of making a bar out of them.

I started with their viognier, which was exactly how I like it, light and flavorful, and up until this point, I was feeling perfectly fine. Maybe a little tired, maybe a little hot from the sun, but I was inside, cool, and having a glass of wine. I spoke to the owner about the barrels and he said that if you buy three bottles of wine, you get a half-barrel. That sounded fine with me. At home I have a newly minted wine rack I built last weekend just waiting to be filled, and the 100 bottles there now are quite lonely, so I debated with myself about how many to get. I don’t need any more than one barrel, but I wanted two, especially if Kara wanted one cut in half. I certainly didn’t want to buy a case of wine, however. Like we need it.

The five of us chatted more about the usefulness of the old barrels, how much they weigh (the owner said about 100 pounds each, 700 pounds full), and how long they use them for (usually around three or four season). Next, I tried the chardonnay, and I was still doing well, oblivious to the brink on which I was standing and how close I was to going over the edge.

The third glass was a merlot, and I tasted it in the same manner as I have done hundreds of glasses of wine before: Give it a couple of swirls, let it sit in the glass for a few moments, bring it up to my nose and inhale deeply before taking a sip.

Then it hit me. The merlot, though perfectly fine, smelled to me like acetone, like gasoline, and it was as if someone punched me in the stomach. Undaunted, I stood there for a while, thinking that it would blow over.

I started to sweat, and I could feel my face turn white. Black and white splotches sprinkled before my eyes and the edges of everything grew fuzzy. Voices turned hollow. If I didn’t sit down, I was going to pass out, and I gave myself about a minute to find a seat somewhere or this day is going to get increasingly embarrassing.

I pushed the glass toward the woman serving me and said, “I’m sorry, I’ve suddenly become ill…” I used the term “ill” instead of “sick,” and I remember distinctly choosing that word over “sick” because someone who is sick at a winery had too much wine, whereas someone ill at a winery has other ailments. “I need to go sit down.”

And then, without really thinking about it, I added, “I’ll take a case of wine, one of each except for the champagne” (they offered 13 wines). I didn’t add up the amount and I had no idea what the other nine wines taste like; I just knew I wanted to take home two barrels.

The woman looked somewhat alarmed at this revelation, so I felt a brief explanation was in order. “My whole family has the flu and I thought it would pass me up, but I guess not.” And then I turned to leave. She was saying something, but my minute was almost up; it was find a place to sit down or sit down on the floor right in the middle of a crowded winery tasting room. Either way, gravity was soon to take over. After that, all I saw was the bright sunlight from the door, and I’m glad nobody was in the way. It seemed inevitable I was going to throw up and I wasn’t about to do it inside the winery; If I did I’d have to make an announcement to everyone there that I wasn’t drunk, just ill from a stomach bug. Really! I’m sure nobody would believe me that this was the first and only winery I planned on going to today, and I only had three tastes of the wine. Nope, I would be the drunk guy who puked on the floor; it would easily clear the room, I’m sure, and then there would be no way I’d ever get my barrels. In fact, I don’t think I could ever return there.

Finally, outside, I planted myself on the first bench I found, right next to the front door, my head in the window. That wasn’t good enough. The bench wasn’t long enough for me to lay down on and I was too close to the front door, too much in view of everyone who happened to look out the window. It suddenly seemed, that sitting down wasn’t good enough. I had to lay down.

I got up and stammered around the corner of the big porch in front of the winery. It wrapped around to the back warehouse, but I didn’t make it that far. I slumped down onto the concrete and laid against the side of the building.

What a sight I must have been. Here it is, just barely noon and I’m passed out on the concrete outside the front doors of a winery, in the eyes of all who saw me obviously an amateur who can’t hold his liquor. How embarrassing, but the concrete felt so good that I could have cared less. However, I couldn’t have waited

Five minutes later, it seemed to pass and I was up again, shivering from a cold sweat. Inside, I found the bathroom and washed my face and returned to the server. She was quite gracious and I apologized, very much embarrassed. She had my case of wine ready for me and I paid for it (Egad! I wasn’t expecting that). Outside, a barrel was forklifted into the back of my truck and as I got there with my case of wine, the forklift driver had returned with two additional barrels. We loaded the second one in and I asked what his plans are for the third one. “Do you want it too?” he asked, and since I’m never one to turn down something for free, “Sure,” I replied and we hoisted that one in too.

Now, I had a long drive home ahead of me, and I new from previous experience with the stomach flu that it would be close. I drove fast, as fast as traffic would allow me.

But a wave of illness returned. The cold sweat, the heavy breathing, the fuzziness. The a/c felt hot on my face. I slipped off the freeway and pulled onto a dirt road, parked the truck, flipped the seat back, kicked off my shoes and held onto the door handle in case I had to make a quick exit.

I had to make another stop like that before I got home. After that, the rest of the day was spent in bed, and later, Kara and took turns laying down while we got the kids ready for bed.

Today, I feel fine, perfectly fine, as if yesterday never happened…aside from a little buyer’s remorse for all the wine I got. If I had merely bought the barrels outright (they were selling them straight, without having to buy wine), I could have had six of them for what I paid for the wine.

At least every time I have a glass of wine from Wiens Winery, I’ll have a funny story to remember.

It's What's For Breakfast

Here we are, happily eating pancakes, eggs and sausage on Sunday at 6:20. Nothing unusual about that, expect that it is 6:20PM. Kara thought it would be a good idea to mix it up a little and have breakfast for dinner. And why not? It's the most important meal of the day, so let's have it twice.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Teach Your Children Well

I try to do the right thing, and I like to think that, for the most part, I make proper decisions and follow a certain code of ethics that defines me as a worthy member of society, a contributing thread in the fabric of modern civilization. In the past I’ve given into the easy way, the path of least resistance, but I have found that, as my kids get older and as they start taking on more responsibility in this world, that I have become more fastidious in my resolve to show them the right way through life.

Other people, not so much it seem. And what bothers me most, isn’t what course of life they choose for themselves or what kind of burden they have become for everyone else, but that they are teaching their children their same lazy, sordid ways.

I often joke, taking a line from Homer Simpson, that we have kids so we can teach them to hate the things we hate, and part of that is rather true. We try to impart on them a specific set of values and hopefully they will take those values and make a moralistic profit in this world.

Despite what others do.

We make a habit to teach Natalie how to speak properly, act accordingly in public, eat properly, show good manners, respect nature, appreciate the hard work of others, recognize that shouldn’t expect to be handed everything they want just because they think they deserve it.

For our 10th anniversary today, Kara and I took the kids with us to Chili’s for dinner and then to the bookstore. While Kara and Matthew were off doing something else, I was sitting with Natalie reading her a My Little Pony book on the short benches in the kids’ section of the store. Nearby were other parents doing the same, as they were waiting for StoryTime to begin (a staff member reads kids books to a gaggle of squirmy little Chatty Cathys while their parents glaze over for 20 minutes or so). To my left, over Natalie’s shoulder was another father reading a book to his daughter. She looked about Natalie’s age, maybe a little younger. With him, he had a regular sized soda in a typical to-go cup with a straw, and by the sound of the ice clanking against the cup, it was about half full.

He took a few sips from it from time to time and then set it down, and the way he set it down, pushed way into the corner of the bookshelf, almost out of reach, told me that he was going to leave it there because he’s too damn lazy to find a trashcan. The little girl picked it up and handed it to him, saying, “Daddy, you can’t leave it here.” He took it from her and held it for a few moments before putting it back in the corner, adding, “Leave it alone.”

She kept looking at it while he wandered off to do whatever it is partially deadbeat dads do in the children’s section of the bookstore. The little girl sat there and read a book and then pick up the stack of books and with it the soda.

Good for her. Really, good for her.

What is that guy thinking? There are plenty of trashcans in the store, I’m sure. They sell coffee and Danishes, so I’m sure they’d have a trashcan or two about. Oh, I get it, he’s just a lazy slob who’d rather inconvenience someone else to pick up his trash instead of doing it himself. I’m sure he’s the same kind of person who flicks cigarettes out in National Forests, and I’m sure bags of fast food trash inexplicably end up at the stoplight of a freeway off-ramp.

One of my largest pet peeves, my biggest hates, something I will surely impart onto Natalie and Matthew as they get older, is that littering is one of the most despicable personal traits that anyone could ever possess. It disrespects everyone and anyone who sees it and especially the person who has to clean it up.

In the end, I hope that maybe that guy learned a little something about the responsibility of being a father and maybe a little something about his little girl. However, and this may be the irony of the situation, but I hope that she learned a little about her father, but not enough to make him look bad in her eyes. After all, a random piece of trash on the floor doesn’t make him a bad father, just a really lazy one.

You know what they say, he who hasn’t sinned be the first to cast a stone.

Ahem, I’ve never littered in my life…ever.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

First Date, Last Date

I enjoy television. I always have. I find it relaxing, and I’m actually mentally stressed when I can’t find anything good on… and you’d be surprised how many times that happens, even though I’ve got access to over 300 satellite-streaming channels blipped to my television.

At our first house, we settled for basic cable with no add-ons, nothing special and very little in the way of quality entertainment. In fact, the television we bought in 1996, I just finally threw away (after taking it apart, of course) because I got tired of having to get out of bed and smack it back on (I don’t know what was wrong with it, but it would suddenly turn itself off and only a Fonzie move would bring it back to life). When we moved here, there was a special at one of the big-box stores on a 32-inch Sony high-def TV, one of those too-good-to-be-true deals that ended up being true. The frosting on the cake was that the TV fit perfectly in the built-in media, with about an half-inch to spare on either side. By then, we had switched to a satellite-based system from DISH Network, and I couldn’t figure out why my television was getting such poor reception. It seemed the blacks faded into the grays in sudden steps, giving the picture a weaving bitmapping that I found incredibly irritating. Whatever I did to the television’s fine tuning, I couldn’t even come close to making it any better, and on top of it all, the problem swirled around the TV to the point of distraction.

I called DISH numerous times with the complaint and suffered through speaking to someone in India who knew nothing about the equipment aside from the scripts they are given when first trained. Frustrating, to the last. They, of course, had no answers to my problem.

Then the worst thing happened. Thanks to a friend’s misfortune of not having enough space in his house, I fell into a brand new high-def plasma flat-panel TV… which I had been wanting for quite some time to find. But what happened when I hooked everything up was the exact same problem as before, only exaggerated to the point that it wasn’t even worth watching. Why have a big cool TV when you’re watching a poor quality picture? Crap in, crap out. I called DISH and spoke to someone from Indonesia, and again, they had no clue as to what my problem was and were very little help in coming close to solving my problem.

I went online and immediately found the problem. High-def TV, low-def satellite signal produces a poor quality picture. Do the people that train the outsourced teledummies ever look at the Internet forums of people who have problems? I’ll never trust a call center with solving my problems again.

We needed a change. DISH just wasn’t performing to my expectations, and since I was shelling out $85 a month for quality I wasn’t enjoying and service I wasn’t getting. If I were DISH, I would have read my call-in file, noticed that I had called several times with the same problem, and I would have had someone come to my house to see the problem for themselves.

I had been wooed by DirecTV for almost a year. I’d get the fliers in the mail, see the deals on TV, visit their site and read the benefits. I also went to some of the comparison sites that do head-to-head challenge between all of the cable/satellite companies.

What I really needed was a company that would deliver to me high-definition television, quality customer support, painless installation and flawless performance. What can I get that? Also, I need to prepare for the future. Since I’ve entered the realm of high-definition, I need to plan ahead. What company will provide the most high-definition channels in the near future. The answer that I found was DirecTV.

And guess what? When I called to sign up for their service not too long ago, I spoke to a person that actually lives in this country whose first language she learned was English. Rare delight, but like the phone call before a blind date, it was promising. Also, they were out to my house to set up the systems the following day. I remember waiting about two weeks for DISH to come out and strap that dish on my house… and the guy that did it was slightly disgruntled about his job, saying, “We do it as quick and easiest as possible. Any change in the installation will cost you extra.” And this was in response to me asking him to make the wires straight and clean.

It should have been my first clue.

When the DirecTV guys showed up two hours early (they called and said they’d be early), they set up my systems with no problems at all…though they did reverse my VCR and DVD wires on my plasma TV that I had to reconfigure. My only major complaint was that they didn’t bring all of the equipment and had to leave, but what was worse is that they left a guy at my house that I felt I had to entertain….for an hour. I did have better things to do, but it all worked out.

Now I have to learn a new remote control and a new system. I could easily cycle through a half-dozen functions from changing the channel, turn off the DVD player and switching the television through a series of inputs in a fraction of a second and without even looking down at the remote. Now, I feel like I’m learning how to type again, as my thumb (my digit of choice to change channels with) wants to return to its old ways.

And I’m happy with the change. I like the new format. I love the picture quality I’m getting. It took some fine tuning, of course, but I’ve settled right into good TV again.

The following Monday, I called DISH (yep, she was from India) to cancel my service and they were genuinely disappointed. Her tune was bright and cheery until I told her I wanted to cancel my service. Then it became sullen and disheartened. She asked why, like we were breaking up. Was it something that we did? No, it’s me. I need change. I need excitement. I need variety. It’s not you; it’s me. Really.

She wouldn’t process my request, saying that she had to transfer me to another customer service representative, and I knew full well that it was the guy who sits in a cubical prepared to talk cancelees off the ledge. He wasn’t very good at it. “Why are you cancelling your service?” I told him again, “Not that it matters, but I wanted more high-definition channels and I knew that DirecTV had them.” “Well,” he answers, “We are adding 100 new high-definition channels next month.”

What a freaking lair. If they were going to add 25 percent more channels, and in high-def too, you think I would have heard about it. You think there’d be a whole bunch of advertising attesting to that fact. It’s a major deal, a major coup against the competition. Not likely.

That ended the conversation pretty quick for me and I shut down, thinking that I’d never from them again. Well, again, not likely.

Three days later, I got a phone call from a DISH rep, telling me about the wonderful services they have to offer and how happy I would be if I were to switch back. I politely said no and ended the call.

Two days after that, they called again. I told them a little less politely that I was happy with my new arrangement and that they should take my name off of whatever call center rolls they might have me on.

I began to feel like I had broken up with a psychopathic girlfriend who was bent on winning me back and the only way she knew how: with incessant phone calls and ever elaborate offers.

This has been going on for a couple of weeks now and today was the final straw. Some jackass from DISH calls this morning and I answer, “How many more times are you guys going to call?” “A couple,” he retorts, probably thinking he was being funny, but I could tell there was a little snide snipe in his voice, so I answer, “Well, this time, make it the last.” And he hung up on me.

Good. Finally, they got the message.

Three hours later, another guy from DISH called with the same routine and I was ready to go through the roof. However, calm heads prevailed and this time I wanted to impart a message to DISH. I acknowledged that I understood he was only doing his job and that I was probably only a name and number on his computer screen. However, “I’m getting pretty tired of you guys calling me every couple of days, and the more you call, the less I’m even interested in switching back.”

I went on like that for a few minutes, explaining that I was happy with DirecTV and unhappy with DISH’s incessant persistence to the level of annoyance. He actually apologized, and I asked him to make a note on whatever file he has about me that I don’t want to be called again. “If I want to switch back to DISH, I’ll call you.”

That ended it, and hopefully along with it my relationship with DISH and all the American’s they’ve screwed out of jobs by hiring foreigners.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Getaway

It never hurt anyone to take a vacation, to pack up your troubles into a box and leave them on the front porch as you say good bye to all that is comfortable and routine and venture out into the world and see something new and different.

The Canyon Villa, at the top of the hill, with deer grazing in a barley field in the foreground. We saw 23 deer; of course, it could have been these same five deer five times...but it was still cool.

In a couple of days, Kara and I will be saying “Happy Anniversary” to each other, probably right before she leaves for work and maybe again before I slog upstairs to continue my never-ending project (which is why this page has been so bleak the last couple of weeks). Maybe we’ll share a smile over dinner that day, a briefly distracted memory of some bygone romantic thought that may have happened somewhere in the last 10 years of our marriage, a thought probably snatched away by Matthew trying to spit his juice across the table or by Natalie seeing how much butter she can put on her bread. Other than those brief moments, that will probably be the extent of it. We may exchange cards in that sleepy time after the house falls quiet, right before we both want nothing more than to curl up under the covers to recharge for the following day. A lot has changed since the days of staying up all night to see how many times we could wake the neighbors.

Here is a picture of Kara at the fountain, enjoying a glass of wine before dinner.

We had decided about four months ago that the best thing we could ever do for ourselves would be to celebrate our anniversary on a mini vacation. Since there was no way I was going to shell out the big bucks for some jewelry that she probably wouldn’t wear and I didn’t expect her to wrack her brain looking for just the perfect gift to sum up 10 years of shackled love, we felt that the best way to spend it would be on a trip.

The exact location was something to be debated. We didn’t want to bother with the logistics of flying. We weren’t interested in Vegas or Laughlin. Catalina was a contender for a while, but Kara didn’t want to suffer through the boat ride, so we opted on wine tasting, a much loved pastime that we had abandoned roughly when Kara got pregnant. We’ve hit most of the hot spots in California, but haven’t spent a lot of time in Paso Robles, a small town at the junction of the 101 and the 46 highways, right smack in the middle of the state.

Breakfast. This is some sort of egg and sausage quiche that was really good, and I contribute our stamina to visit 13 wineries that day to this little absorbant dish.

We researched the area, looked at a few bed and breakfasts and decided on The Canyon Villa, kind of a crap shoot for us, as we have never stayed in a B&B. I always carried with me some trepidation about staying in one, because I’m a private person. I like my space, my freedom, and I hate to impose. I’d rather do without then task a host with my needs. Plus, I figured it would be as if we were staying in someone’s house, invading their space, putting them out. On top of which, I don’t ever eat breakfast…and that’s half the place right there. Now if it was a Bed and Dinner or Bed and a Movie, I might have been more easily swayed, but all in all, I’m very glad we did it. Thanks to the couple that owned The Canyon Villa, the feelings melted away soon after we got settled in.

I don't remember where this was taken, but I'm going to guess Opolo.

They always say getting there is half the fun, and after sitting in nearly three hours of traffic through LA, I would have punched anyone who so much as breathed any part of that mantra. It was horrible. We had decided to take the 101 north because it drives by the coast and is a much nicer drive. If anywhere else in the state is over 100 degrees, the 101 is about 30 degrees less. Well, it was bumper to bumper soon after we left our house until roughly past Oxnard. I was wishing that my truck came equipped with a gun turret to clear the way; however, it was one of the rare times I’ve actually been able to spend time with Kara lately without the distractions of the children.

Paso Robles, even in the worst weather of the summer, where the grass is dry and crunchy and the heat is oppressive, is very beautiful. There is always a breeze and the sun seems to always shine through a deep blue sky. But boy does one side of the town vastly differ from the other. If you were to get off the 101 before the 46 West, just north of Templeton but on the southern outskirts of Paso, you might think you were in any ritzy upscale suburb in LA. Trendy antique shops (where there probably isn’t an antique to be found), upscale dining, and lots and lots of wine. However, go about five miles north or east, and you might just find a Subway to eat at (we did) or the Mid-State Fair, which is conveniently located across the street from Big Daddy Bubba’s BBQ, which we would like to have eaten at.

The owner of the B&B called on our ride up and asked if we wanted her to make some dinner reservations for us and since we didn’t know the area, we left it up to her. Dinner at the first restaurant on Friday night was $130 for the two of us. We knew we were in for trouble when the waitress asked us if we’d like some water. Sure, we responded, who doesn’t like a glass of water. “Would you like, sparkling, mountain spring, bottled water, or house water.” House water? That’s just water, right? With lemon please. On a good note, they were shooting pictures to go with the restaurant review for the LA Times and since we were sitting right in front of the wine cellar, we got in a host of shots, so check Wednesday’s Food section for a review of The Artisan. You might just see us gawking at the price of a freakin’ brownie, or me wondering why they only brought out a quarter of my dinner… What? That’s it?

You’re right, we weren't made for fine cuisine, and I’m okay with that. Spending a ton of money on food seems rather silly, especially when there are so many other things you can buy when you’re on vacation.

This was taken right outside of Donati, where I bought a really nice Decanter.

The nights were clear, cool and quiet. Nobody cried when they went to sleep. Nobody wanted any juice. There weren’t any diapers to change or schedule’s to keep. We had a couple of glasses of wine and some hors d’ oeuvres back at the Canyon Villa and sat by the fountain and watched the stars come out. Then, for no good reason what so ever, we took a bath… and we didn’t even have to clean out a tub full of toys.

The next day, we visited a few wineries and spent a great deal of money on a new wine collection. Since we have been without good wine in the house for so many years—the best wine we’ve seen around here was a giant three-dollar jug of Livingston’s Kara’s mom gets when she’s in town—so, it was time to replenish the assortment. I made a habit of buying two bottles of wine from every winery we visited, sometimes more, sometimes less, and after 18 wineries in the two days we were there, the bottles do stack up. Of course, the doctors and their wives who were sharing the Bed and Breakfast with us were loading up the back of their car with cases instead of singles like us… but we did alright with nearly three cases of wonderful wines. We certainly out paced them when it came to tastings. Amateurs.

Oh well. It hurt to come home. Sure, I missed the kids, but after the first night, I was getting over the feeling and was almost ready to just keep driving north. But sadly, we had to return. B&B’s are not cheap and I don’t think The Canyon Villa needed a new dishwasher or someone to turn down the four beds at night.

The view from our back door.

On the long drive home, we took the 46 east to the 5 Freeway which ended up being just as big a mistake as taking the 101 north. We left at 10:30, hit a few wineries on the 46 and got to the 5 just after noon. We didn’t get home until after 6:00. I had to go to the bathroom so badly during the drive that I pulled off the freeway and into an almond orchard. It was actually pretty cool. I had never seen almonds up close like that before.

There was pizza waiting for us when we got home and a nice comfortable bed, not to mention two small kids, dazzled at the stories of our adventures. “I wanna see the pictures of the deer,” buzzed Natalie. “Did you take any pictures of a moose?”

Maybe next time.

Look, almonds!

Special thanks to my folks who agreed to come watch the kids that Friday, and who, thanks to a major communication glitch on my part, had no idea they were spending the night with them until the subject came up as we were walking out the door… and thanks to Joe and Julie who kept them well entertained for the rest of the weekend.

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