Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oh, The Insanity

Okay, so I wasn't expecting to write another post this year, but I just had to jump on this for a quick post about the absolute insanity (at least in my humble opinion) surrounding collector firearms. Specifically, a certain one of a kind, factory engraved 100TH Anniversary Colt 1911. I first heard about this little gem about a week ago over on Jay's blog MArooned.

At that time, the bidding was topped out at a measly $25,000. As of this moment, there have been 141 bids bumping the price up to $70,475.


Blink, Blink.

Yes, you read that right. Seventy THOUSAND dollars for ONE (albeit pretty) firearm. That will, in all likelihood, NEVER be shot.

And, it won't stop there. There is a little over 22 days left to bid on this little treasure. I feel confident in predicting that the bidding will go well over $100,000 for this piece of history. The sad truth is that this firearm will likely not even come close to the high water mark for collectible gun prices (some idiot retard paid over $1,000,000 for a rare German Luger in .45 a while back only to later sell it for about half that amount).

Again, I have to ask the infernal question: WHY??? Why for the love all that is holy and sane would ANYONE pay that much money for a firearm that they will never shoot. As a shooter, I just cannot comprehend the thought process behind this concept. If I had the money, I'd buy the thing and make a video of me shooting it so I could tell everyone how good (or bad) it works (and to royally piss off every other collector out there).

So, to the fool out there with TOO MUCH MONEY and NO SENSE who will eventually win the auction and take ownership of this fine pistol, I have one question for you: How does it shoot?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 In Review

This will probably be my last post of the year as I work a full day tomorrow and Friday and Saturday are spoken for with other commitments. So, I’d like to take a moment to look back on my first full calendar year of blogging.

According to Blogger stats, I’ve had 6100 pageviews since May (about 871 pageviews a month) when the stats function came online. Of those, 2765 pageviews (45% of all pageviews) where directed at the 2010 Ford Focus SES review post from back in June. That’s almost as many pageviews for one post as for all other posts combined.

Including this post, I’ve put out 107 posts for the year. That’s an average of about 1 post every 3 and a half day. There are others out there that put out more content than I do; but, considering the demands on my life, I can’t complain. Also, my original goal when I started was about 100 posts a year. So, I feel pretty good about coming in more or less right on target.

I’ve gone from having only a few regular followers at the end of last year to having 18 officially listed followers and at least a few others who I know are out there but don’t show up in Blogger as followers for reasons that escape me. I know at least one of those folks is on WordPress, and it may be some stupid cyber tit for tat, I can’t play with your marbles thing going on. I also had an early commenter explain that some people don’t use the Blogger “follow” option instead favoring an alternative blog reader.

The content itself has been somewhat varied both in topic and quality. Hopefully I’ve made you think, laugh, groan, nod your head or some other reaction. I’m working on improving quality on my “serious” posts (those posts where I’m actually trying to put the time in to write something worthwhile). I still think I have a long way to go to reach my personal writing quality goals, but I think I’m making progress. Also, there have been some accusations of damaged computer equipment while reading some of my work allegedly caused by spewed beverages. I take no responsibility for this whatsoever. This is a read at your own risk blog. If you haven’t learned yet to set aside your beverages before reading snark infested blogs, you deserve to have your gear soaked.

Finally, after a little over a year and a quarter’s worth of blogging, I finally received my very first spammer comment today on the post just before this one. I knew that the comment moderation option would come in handy eventually. One of these days, someone is going to have to explain to me how spammers get the idea that their completely off topic comments are somehow going to get people to click on their virus infected links. Of course, having worked in insurance for long enough, I know that there are plenty of stupid people in the world and stupidity is compensable (and not always for the stupid person).

I hope you’ve all enjoyed the ride so far as much as I have. I think it was Spider Robinson who wrote that shared joy is increased and shared pain is diminished. I look forward to sharing another year of increased joy and diminished pain with you all. Be safe. See you all in 2011.

Which Would You Prefer?

My mother's favorite mind game is "Which would you prefer?" Usually, the target of this mind game is some poor unfortunate soul who has just committed something monumentally stupid and now has to face their choice of consequences. It's not unlike being told to go out to the tree and pick out your own switch.

My all time favorite victim so far was the history teacher in junior high that busted me for having a water gun at school. Apparently, my "arsenal" of water guns was discovered after a hall monitor got soaked. Not sure how that happened, but I digress. Yes, this was long before the zero tolerance policies, and  I'm pretty sure the entire incident went down right in front of the Plano PD officer who was in the hall with nary a raised eyebrow. Nevertheless, the teacher was really hoping to make my life miserable by calling my mom. Her amazing plan backfired when mom gave her the "which would you prefer?" options which I no longer recall but which I'm pretty sure involved keeping a job or not as I was able to promptly reclaim my "arsenal" from a disgusted teacher with a smirk on my face and a vague promise on my part never to do it again.

Anyway, I have found that "which would you prefer?" has other applications in life besides allowing fools to choose their own fate. It also applies to purchasing decisions. I'll give you an example of one I am contemplating right now.

I have, for a very long time, lusted after a 1911 style .45 ACP semi automatic pistol for my real arsenal. Since I am not independently wealthy, my options are limited to the lower end of the vast see of 1911 options. I have narrowed my potential choices to three candidates with which we now get to play "WHICH WOULD YOU PREFER?"

Option Number 1: The Taurus PT1911. Manufactured in Brazil. Imported via Miami, FL. Lots of cool "custom" features at an entry level price. Notoriously bad customer service and warranty repair. Someone let the lawyers loose on Saint JMB's Authorized Version. Real new (less than 5 years) to the 1911 market.

Option Number 2: The Para Ordnance GI Expert ESP (which stands for Enhanced Service Pistol). HQ in Toronto, Canada. Imported via North Carolina. The ESP is a basic 1911 platform with a few of nice enhancements (beavertail grip safety, skeleton hammer, fiber optic front sight).

Option Number 3: The STI Spartan. New-ish, employee owned semi custom shop focused on the 1911 based in Georgetown, Texas. The Spartan is a step up from the Para Ordnance ESP as it has nice wood grips, an adjustable rear sight, front and rear slide serrations and a few other nifty neatos. STI is also featured prominently in Larry Correia's Monster Hunter book series.

So, which would you prefer? The "cheap" Brazilian lawyered up knock off with questionable customer support, the every so polite French Canadian or the STI made by God fearing, proud, conservative Texans.

With all the talk about supporting your local economy, I plan on making my 1911 an STI Spartan if I can find a good deal on one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Surprise, Surprise...Semi Fail

Okay, The Queen is finally awake. As mentioned in the comments on the previous posts, The Queen's sleep schedule has been out of whack for a while now due to her mystery illness. It doesn't help that she's a light sleeper, and I went to sleep an hour early last night after getting only three and a half hours sleep the night before due to being rudely awakened in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. When I'm exhausted, I sleep like the dead with a bad case of chainsaw snoring. The Queen is a light sleeper. So, she usually chooses to sleep elsewhere when I'm Zonked of the Dead.

To make a long story short, The Queen finally got back into our bed at about 8:30 AM this morning and didn't wake up again until 2:20 PM. I got back from helping the niece with her car woes at about noon meaning I've been bouncing around trying not to wet my pants waiting for her to wake up. I even resorted to asking my mother in law to MAKE noise in the kitchen (right next to the master bedroom) instead of trying to keep quiet.

Anyway, here's the set up. Queen sleeping soundly under layers of blanket in the king sized bed. One vase with a bouquet of pink edged white roses and some other pretty lookin' flowers with white, pink and other colors (I'm a well rounded person, but my knowledge of horticulture pretty much ends at "Hey, that's a rose."). Vase strategically placed on the desk in the corner of the master bedroom (on her side of the bed) so that (hopefully) it would be the first thing The Queen sees when she gets up. We'll get back to that. Framed wedding photos strategically placed in front of the master bath toilet to be admired as The Queen takes care of her morning constitutionals (yes, I know it sounds weird...just go with it). We'll get back to that in a minute too.

So, finally, after an hour and a half of waiting to hear a squeal from the other side of the house, I finally get word from the MIL that The Queen has stirred in her chambers. Not having gotten a call from The Queen expressing her delight at the flowers before exiting the bed, I had to go investigate. I found The Queen in the shower. I nodded at the photos, and she asked, "Did you do that?"

Not exactly the response I was looking for. Slightly underwhelming.

I informed her that, yes, I was responsible for the photos.I then asked if she had seen her other surprise. Her response was a timid, "Um, what other surprise?"

Partial Fail.

At that point, I brought her the flowers which did elicit an awe struck "WoooOOOOWWWWwwww!". It was at this point that I learned that she did not see the flowers in her bleary eyed, semi conscious, just awaken, no glasses/contacts state. I can forgive her for that. I probably should have thought to place them in the bathroom with the other items to give her brain a few more seconds to boot up. I also learned that she had to do a double take upon being seated on her throne as she was not sure she was really seeing the photos. She told me she wasn't sure if they were from me as her mother sometimes does stuff like that for her but then thought better of that as she wasn't sure her mother would remember that today was our anniversary.

The good news is that The Queen confirmed that she was completely clueless about my behind the scenes efforts to produce a surprise for her. The Queen has chastised me several times before for giving away too much about a surprise. The fact that there is a surprise coming is apparently giving away too much about the surprise to The Queen. Given my upbringing, it is very hard for me to keep a lid on a surprise. I have always enjoyed dropping hints and watching the recipient go nuts trying to figure out the surprise. I get that from my mother. The Queen, on the other hand, likes the surprise to be complete and total. No hints. No nothin'.

According to her, I succeeded this time. I almost blew it the other night after discovering, while trying to pay for the photo CDs, that I had lost my debit card. I called The Queen to see if she had it or if it was lying on my side of the bathroom counter of something. She didn't locate it but offered to bring hers to me. I told her that that was not necessary, that she hadn't been feeling well, and that it was no big deal as it would only take me a couple of minutes to swing back by the house to get hers. It took a little convincing, but she finally agreed to stay put and the surprise was saved.


Happy Anniversary

Seven years ago today, The Queen (some would say foolishly) said I do when the minister asked her if she would take this goofy guy to be her lawfully wedded husband. We've enjoyed our share of ups and downs, and I fully expect us to share many more for years to come. I still love her with all my heart, and I can not imagine being married to another woman.

I have learned something though. When you work from home, it is REAL hard to plan a surprise anniversary gift for the spouse who also is a stay at home person. There's only so many "Hey honey, I've got to go run an errand for work." opportunities to go around. If something throws a monkey wrench into the works, you are really going to have to get creative. 

Case in point, I've been trying to skulk around this year to accomplish something that The Queen and I thought was a great idea seven years ago when we got married but never got around to doing since. Instead of having a guest book at the wedding, we decided to have a couple of photo frame mattes out with various colored markers for people to sign. My nephew who was all of 8 years old at the time scrawled "H. is a dork". Great. The plan was that we'd get some prints from the wedding to frame with the mattes and have our wedding photos/guest book on display for all to see. 

Seven years later, we still hadn't gotten around to it yet. Our wedding photographer was a great guy, but he hadn't made the transition to all digital yet. So, for the last seven years, I've been carrying a binder full of negatives around in addition to the wedding album. No CDs, and print film is quickly going the way of the dinosaur.
Working in the commercial claims, I was leery of leaving my only set of negatives with a store to transfer to CD; but, what's a hubby to do. I reluctantly handed them over; and, a day later, I had me four freshly minted photo CDs with our wedding memories now in easy to use digital format. 

I selected 10 of my favs to be printed as 4 x 6s plus one of The Queen and I dancing at the wedding to be blown up to 8 x 10 and trotted off to a digital friendly photo center on an excuse/errand of the moment (returning DVDs to Blockbuster) only to have Murphy strike. I arrived to the photo center to be greeted by a sign that said "OUT OF ORDER". 

Well, poop. 

I didn't have time to locate another photo center on that errand. So, I had to amend the plan. The updated plan involved me sneaking out of the house this morning before The Queen awoke to get the photos printed, run back home, get them set in the frames and have them set up in the bedroom before The Queen arose from her beauty sleep. Then Murphy called again. 

Oh, monkey fungus. 

The oldest niece's car would not start, and I was the closest person with any mechanical know how in the family. So, I had to trot off to Mansfield (about 30 minutes from Castle Erickson) to figure out the automotive dilemma de jour. It turned out to be a dead battery. Fortunately, there was a photo center suitable for my purposes on my way back to the Castle. I printed the photos I needed proceeded to jet back to the castle with a brief detour by the local store's floral department for a suitable arrangement of roses and other flowers all the while praying that The Queen would not be awake yet (the evil plan called for her to awaken to fresh flowers and freshly framed photos). 

Sliding into home, I returned to find The Queen still slumbering. I madly framed the photos and set them up with the flowers. Now, I just have to wait for her to wake up.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Testing, Testing...One, Two, Three

A week ago Monday, I took the LSAT for the first time...and, hopefully, the last time. I think I have sufficiently gotten over the trauma of taking the test to tell you, my loyal followers, about the experience. For the uninitiated, the LSAT is the Law School Aptitude Test. Supposedly, it represents a fairly reliable indicator of one’s ability to succeed in law school.

The test is broken up into six sections: 2 “arguments” sections, 2 reading comprehension sections, 1 “analytical reasoning” section (commonly known as the “games” section), and the writing sample. All the sections but the writing sample have between 23 and 27 multiple choice questions. All sections have a 35 minute time limit for completion.

For the mathematically inclined, that means you have less than a minute and thirty seconds per question to read the question and any applicable argument, game parameters or reading passage, evaluate the answer choices and make a decision. If you are a slow reader or have other learning difficulties like dyslexia, you are boned. Gruesomely.

To make it even more of a mind game than it already is, one of the “arguments” section is an “experimental” section in which the test creators test out new questions. The experimental section does not count to your score, AND they don’t tell you which one is the experimental section. Surprise. You get to waste 35 nerve wracking minutes helping the sadistic maniacs create a more diabolical test, and it won’t help you get into law school in the slightest.

The multiple choice sections could probably best be described as exercises in trying to create the bed time stories for the love child of Sherlock Holmes and Spock. For instance, a typical argument question will involve you reading a paragraph anywhere from three to 10 sentences long, a question and five multiple choice answers of varying lengths depending on the question type. I would really like to write a humorous, fictional argument section question to insert here for your amusement, but it’s making my brain hurt to try. Reading comprehension section questions are even more fun. You are given a section of 50 to 60 lines of material organized into five or six paragraphs to read on a variety of subjects (one of the subjects on my test was about the Latina autobiography as a literary genre…exciting stuff). Once you’ve slogged your way through that stimulating prose, you get to answer five to seven questions on various esoteric concepts covered or implied in passage. The worst section, in my opinion, is the games section. You start out with a set of incomplete parameters typically involving at least two variables (for instance, airline flight arrival times and domestic versus international arrivals) for which you have to organize and then answer a set of five or six questions (flight A arrives before flight B but after flight C; what time does Bobby get his omelet?).

The writing sample is a whole other exercise in self flagellation. You are given a simple, two sided issue for which to take a position and write an argument. They give you a two sided sheet of wide ruled paper to write your argument. You have 35 minutes to review the pros and cons for both sides of the issue, outline your position on scrap paper, and write a grammatically correct and legible argument using nothing but a No. 2 pencil and whatever you have lodged between your ears. The kicker is that there is a better than average chance that no one will ever read your writing sample. According to the LSAC, the organization that administers the test, every law school you apply to gets a copy of the writing sample; however, the preparation materials I worked on to get ready for the test suggested that only those applications that were “borderline” candidates stood a chance of having their writing sample reviewed by the folks in the admissions departments.

In the preceding paragraph, I mentioned availing myself of some professionally produced review materials including the Princeton review book and a book of practice tests which were actually previously administered tests. A lot of people I talked to suggested taking a full blown prep class; however, I just didn’t have the time or excess cash flow to put into it at the time. How helpful were they in actually preparing me to take the test? Overall, I would have to say they gave me at least half a clue as to what to expect and how to approach the test. Without the preparation, I probably would have been flopping around on the floor in a full blown, foaming at the mouth seizure.

The one thing that the prep materials could not help me with was actually taking a test under real test conditions. Sure it’s easy to sit down, set a timer and rock through a section. If you live alone. On a mountain top. With no modern communications equipment. If you live in my house…ha. I tell people I’m studying. I tell them I’m trying to time myself. I tell them I need to not be interrupted. What happens? The phone rings. Someone yells at the deaf, 94 year old. Someone walks through and asks, “K. how’s it going?” ARRRGGGHHH!!!

I should have had a loaded gun on the desk with me so that I could shoot anyone who interrupted.

So, despite all that, I felt like I at least had a decent grasp of how to approach each type of section as well as individual questions going into the test. It’s possible this was a delusion of monumental proportions on my part, but I’m choosing to hold onto that fantasy a little longer. At least until the test scores come in.

Anyway, The Queen and I agreed that it would be the pinnacle of wisdom for me alone to go down to mom’s house the night before to get a good night’s sleep, get some uninterrupted last minute study in, avoid some traffic and be a few minutes closer to the testing location. I woke up on time the day of the test after a fitful night’s sleep (I can sleep anywhere, but I don’t always sleep well just anywhere…plus I couldn’t get my mind to shut off). I ate a small breakfast with mom, and off I went.

The test was supposed to start at 8:30 AM, but I got to the test center at 8:00. I took the opportunity to review the notes I had made while prepping for the test one last time, breathe deep, and say a short prayer. At about 8:10, I decided I’d better get into the building where the test was going to be held, find the testing room, get a final bathroom break, and leave plenty of time to take care of the necessary administrative tasks in case there was a line.

I needn’t have worried. There were only 6 people scheduled to take the test at this location on this date: 2 women and 4 men. However, one of the guys was a no show. I really don’t get that. For what it costs to take the test, it would have taken a coma to keep me away. Of those six people, I was the first one to get to the testing room…by about 10 minutes.

In the weeks leading up to the test, The Queen would occasionally ask if I was getting nervous about it. Truthfully, I didn’t really get nervous about the test until I arrived at the testing center. It was the sitting there for 10 minutes by myself with the proctor waiting for the others to get there so we could light the fuse on this mess that got to me. My biggest concern in prepping for the test was being able to do each section of the test within the time limit, and I had too much time to think about that while waiting for the others.

Once we finally got started, it felt like high school all over again. Write you name in the spaces provided, fill in completely the bubbles corresponding to the appropriate letter, write in the test code, write out your certifying statement and sign below in your own blood. Be sure you are using a No. 2 pencil and erase any wrong answers completely. Blah, blah, blah. All that administrative mumbo jumbo dragged on for at least 20 minutes. Giving me more time to sweat the whole time element thing.

Finally, we got to “Open your test booklets to section 1….” And they’re off! Into the first question, it’s Young And Clueless fast out of the gate with Yarmulke Boy nipping at her heels. Dyslexia Man and Preacher K. set off at a steady pace with Also Young And Homely sitting on her rear. The horses are charging madly for the finish line. It’s anybody’s race. And “Time is up. Please put your pencils down and discontinue working on section one.” It’s a photo finish. Preacher K. has the stunned look of an armadillo caught in the headlights on his face, but he doesn’t look like he’s going to puke.

I was able to relax after the first section. A little. On the first 3 sections, I think I did fairly well being able to comfortably answer all the questions in the time allotted. If not having much, if any, time left over. There were questions I was iffy on, and I coin tossed on a few questions with two possible answer choices. I am pretty sure the fourth section was the experimental section based on the number of similar, crazy questions, and I didn’t get through that one as well as the other sections. By the fifth section, I was getting tired and starting to lose focus. I finished, but the last four or five answers were not well thought out. The writing section was last, and I really think I rocked on that one. Even if no one will ever likely read it.

In my prior academic life, I took the SAT and the GRE. Both of which I was fortunate enough to have to only take once in order to achieve my educational goals of the moment. I could have gone back and taken the tests again to try for a better score; but, why bother. I got what I needed out of the tests. It’s not like getting a perfect score on the tests counts for much of anything once you’ve been accepted to the school of your choice. Or, in my case, the school my finances could afford. Hopefully, my record of once and done will continue to hold.

Now, I have to have the patience to wait until January 10 when my score will be released to find out how I did. If you’re really interested in finding out more about the test, follow the links below.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Death Becomes Her

I’ve spent the last 15 years working in the insurance claims business handling what are considered high exposure and complex claims including a fair number of cases involving fatalities. In that time, I’ve handled claims involving some pretty inventive ways to die. Most of those “interesting” deaths aren’t what you would consider to be peaceful. Fortunately for the victims, whatever pain they may have experienced while in the process of creatively exiting this life is mercifully brief.

Almost all of these fatalities are thoroughly documented with accident scene and autopsy photos. In the course of my career, I’ve seen photos of people who died as a result of gunshot wounds, unfortunate encounters with machinery, practical applications of the law of gravity, car accidents, roasting in an open fire and one unlucky soul whose head was crushed by a section of highway overpass girder. Some of these people died in the course of committing some stupid, epically Darwinian folly of their own creation while others had the misfortunate to be caught up in someone else’s grand misadventures. Others still were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time through no fault of anyone.

Most of these people never had to face the possibility of growing old, becoming infirm and eventually dying the allegedly peaceful death of dying in one’s sleep. All of us age; and, eventually, we all will die. Try as we might to avoid death, it is inevitable. The challenge all of us are given is how we will face it when it comes for us.

As you might expect, it’s kind of hard for someone in my line of work not to contemplate one’s own mortality from time to time.

For the last two years since I’ve been working from home full time, I’ve had a front row seat to the slow deterioration of a loved one at the merciless hands of time. This decline has been ongoing for sometime; however, I have only been a regular witness to the effects of advanced aging since my road warrior days commuting back and forth from Dallas to Houston every week came to an end in November of 2008.

The star of this one woman play is my wife’s 94 year old grandmother. I have only known her for a comparatively short time. I know from my photo album that it’s been at least 10 years, and it has to be less than 12 years. How about we just split the difference and call it 11 years?

The first time I met The Queen’s grandmother, a long time widow whose husband had died long before I met The Queen, was when The Queen and I took a trip out to California to visit her. The Queen and I had only been dating a year or two at that point. At the time, Grandma, as we call her, was still living independently in a 2 bedroom apartment off of Marengo Dr. in Pasadena near what used to be the campus for Ambassador College and the headquarters of the Worldwide Church of God.

Grandma had been a longtime member of the church going back to the 1960s. Before Ambassador College closed in the early 1990s, Grandma was something of a self appointed caretaker of the students who came from around the world to attend school there. She would regularly have students over to her apartment for Friday night ice cream socials where they learned that Bailey’s Irish Cream and other liqueurs aren’t just for coffee and froo froo drinks. Though she has, and had at the time, several grandchildren of her own, Grandma unreservedly adopted these students as her “grandchildren”.

This habit of indiscriminate adoption led to an interesting bit of confusion one night when The Queen and I were out in Pasadena to visit Grandma. The Queen and I decided to go out to dinner with people she had known in college at Ambassador who were also adopted grandchildren of Grandma. One of these adopted grandchildren asked The Queen how The Queen knew Grandma. The Queen replied that she was Grandma’s granddaughter. Our dinner companion, not realizing that The Queen was Grandma’s flesh and blood, reiterated her question a couple of different ways until we were able to convey to her that The Queen was, in fact, the daughter of Grandma’s daughter. Our companion was a tad embarrassed when she finally “got it.”

My memory of Grandma from that first meeting is of a feisty, active, petite little woman with a strong will. She had stopped driving several years before after having had an accident and deciding, wisely it is assumed, not to endanger the motoring public further. She managed without a car just fine for quite a while by walking to nearby stores or letting her many “grandchildren” assist her.

One thing that really stood out about Grandma was that you didn’t have to wait long to find out what was really on her mind as she would not hesitate to give you her opinion. If you were a little on the stout or stocky side, she would not hesitate to say, “Grandson/daughter, my you’ve gotten fat.” Some might find this rude (which it is to an extent), but that was just her way of being brutally honest. Of course, she wouldn’t be that brutally honest to just everyone. You had to get to know her first. I didn’t find out until recently, but The Queen told me that Grandma told her after that first visit that she didn’t think I was right for The Queen. She apparently changed her mind about me sometime before the wedding.

Fast forward a few short years to just before The Queen and I got married, The Queen’s family started receiving calls from California from concerned church members about Grandma’s health. I don’t know all the details; but, suffice it to say, the family was very concerned. It was important, and rightly so, to The Queen and her family that Grandma be taken care of properly. However, this desire had to be reconciled against the stark reality of Grandma’s pride and strong will.

Though Grandma had visited her family, including The Queen, here in Texas several times, she had made it abundantly clear that she had no desire to live there whatsoever. She believed that Texas was a ghastly place populated by hicks to borrow her words. She had adamantly stated her intention to live out her years and die in her native California on more than one occasion.

So, what is a concerned family to do? Well, for starters, I gave a couple of roundtrip reward passes on Southwest Airlines I had lying around to the cause. We sent The Queen’s mother out to California to “assist” Grandma. Ostensibly, this was for the purpose of having Grandma fly back with The Queen Mum to visit the family here in Texas for Thanksgiving. We didn’t tell Grandma that we had no intentions of letting her use the return ticket. I proposed to The Queen right after Thanksgiving which gave us a readymade excuse to have Grandma hang around a while longer. The Queen and I planned and held the wedding in just under four weeks. Not because of Grandma…we had been dating for six and a half years at this point, and we didn’t want to waste anymore time.

During The Queen Mum’s trip out to California to retrieve Grandma and continuing into her visit with us, we learned that she had become unable to take care of herself due to persistent back pain such that she had difficulty walking at times. I think this was due to osteoporosis as she has a very pronounced “widow’s hump”. At times, she looks like a petite, female Quasimodo. We also learned that this chronic back pain was interfering with her ability to cook for herself and take care of basic bodily necessities. While all this was going on, church members were carefully boxing up Grandma’s worldly possessions which were then stuffed into a U-Haul truck for the long drive to Texas.

Whether Grandma had a choice in any of this is a subject of some debate. My memory is that Grandma made the decision to remain in Texas on her own after being asked to stay; however, The Queen Mum insists that Grandma was told in no uncertain terms that she was staying here whether she liked it or not. I will choose to hold onto my memory as the truth even if it might be fantasy.

At the time, we did not expect Grandma to live much longer. Such was the shape she was in when she arrived. However, three square meals a day, physical help as needed for life’s basic necessities, and constant love and attention will do wonders for house plants and elderly people. Grandma began to regain her strength and vitality. She had an appetite that would put a voracious pack of teenage football players to shame and could eat people half her age under the table. We speculated that she might have a tapeworm. It became something of a family joke. So, we affectionately named it George.

Of course, it is now seven years later. So much for Grandma not living much longer. Remember what I said about her having a strong will? Her health has continued to trend steadily downward. For the first few years she lived with us, she made it her duty to walk out to the mailbox everyday to retrieve the mail. She enjoyed sitting out on the bench in the front yard to watch the world go by. She would get up every morning, kneel down on creaky knees and pray. She would read her Bible every day using a magnifying glass as her eyesight diminished. Her mind was still very sharp at this point.

Unfortunately, time has taken its toll. It started about three years ago when she stumbled and fell in the middle of the night. We think she was getting up to use the bathroom. Either her legs buckled under her or she tripped, but she landed on an antique wooden luggage rack hard enough to break the wood.

Though she didn’t break any bones in that fall, she was never really the same after that. She would still try to walk; however, we got her a wheelchair for when she couldn’t. Her hearing started getting worse to the point that you had to raise your voice to talk with her. She steadfastly refused to get hearing aids. She thought they were for old people. She began to be forgetful, lose track of time, lose track of little things, forget where she was. Most disturbingly, she would get up in the night to “go for a walk.” We had to resort to putting things in front of the door so she wouldn’t get out and wander the neighborhood.

Fortunately, she became too weak to walk without assistance ending our nightly barricades. She would still try to get up from time to time, but she was too weak to make it far. We obtained a hospital bed from another family member who no longer had need for it. Grandma would sleep, almost like a small child, with the rails up. There were times when we would find her calling for help after getting herself tangled up in the rails and bed covers while attempting some mission only known to her.

Unfortunately, with the weakness came an undesirable side effect…incontinence. At first, it was infrequent. It was embarrassing to her to have to need help from others. Then, it became routine, an accepted part of life.

We have muddled through as best we could this way, each of us doing what we could to assist Grandma while trying to maintain some semblance of a normal life for ourselves. This was not always easy as we’ve been dealing with The Queen’s mystery illness throughout the last four years as well.

In July, we thought we really were going to lose her for real. She had a nasty infection on her hand that had the potential to rapidly turn into a systemic infection. The Queen and I finally convinced The Queen Mum to take Grandma to the hospital. Despite some reluctance on The Queen Mum’s part, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The hospital got us set up with hospice and home health care. They come in four or five days a week now to help. They change Grandma, give her a sponge bath, monitor her vital signs and give us a small break from the pressures of caring for an advanced geriatric.

Grandma has continued to slip away from us. She is no longer the once proud woman we all knew and loved. She no longer truly lives so much as she simply exists. She sleeps most of the day whether in bed or sitting up in her chair. When she is awake, she is eating or being assisted with other basic needs. She is completely dependent on others for everything. If she recognizes anyone, she is unable to carry on even a simple conversation. If Grandma is aware of her current circumstances, she gives no indication to us. Perhaps that is for the best.

To be honest, I am amazed everyday when I see her still among the living. That may sound a little callous, but it is the truth. We, as her family, want what is best for her, whatever that may be. We do not wish that she would die, but we do pray that God does not to allow her to suffer and will allow her to pass peacefully when it is her time.

Having watched this process unfold in front of me has, undoubtedly, had an effect on me. I have always joked that I would like to live forever or die trying. Now that I’ve spent the last two years watching the slow decline of a loved one, I feel the need to change that philosophy just a bit. So, instead of just “die trying”, I will amend that to “I want to live forever or die quickly, painlessly and spectacularly while trying.”

Monday, December 6, 2010

I Was Bored...Sue Me

As mentioned in the last couple of posts, I made a road trip to San Antonio the other day. I brought the camera along for giggles as you never know when you might spot something photo worthy. Of course, after an hour or standards started to slip. So, for your viewing pleasure, here are some Kodak moments that found their way onto the memory card.

Wherever you go and wherever you've been, there you are. I thought it was kinda cool that the view of the road in the rearview mirror as well as view out the front were both in focus.

I guess, for some, either the election isn't over or they are just getting an early start on 2012. I do have to question the wisdom of purchasing the advertising space for this message in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE. Cheaper rate, perhaps?

Your fearless leader and chauffeur.

Hey, Sammy. I can't drive 55 either. Fortunately, the speed limit is 70 in this stretch of Texas interstate.

Rush hour traffic in Austin, TX. It really sucks when you have to pee.

Where are all these people going? I thought we were supposed to be in a recession.

Obviously not from the road trip, but I couldn't resist posting a photo of Sasha the wonder mutt trying to smoke a turkey drumstick.

Car Review: 2010 Dodge Caliber SXT

As mentioned in my last post, I’ve had my fill of the hassle that has become what passes for domestic commercial air travel. I normally fly Southwest Airlines which has historically gone out its way to make things as easy and painless as possible for its customers; however, even SWA is no match for government red tape and the TSA “security” procedures. As a result, day trips to destinations more than 200 miles away that I used to do via air, I now choose to do via car if at all possible.

I have found that scheduling my business for the afternoon gives me much more flexibility than flying. I get to go to sleep at a normal hour, wake up at a normal hour (or at least not an obscenely early hour), drive four to five hours, attend to business, leave when I’m done, stop anywhere I choose along the way, have a nice relaxing meal with real utensils and arrive home before midnight after a leisurely drive listening to good music, talking to people on the phone, etc. This is much preferable to my routine when flying: try to get to bed early (nearly impossible at Castle Erickson), try to wake up early without disturbing The Queen (also nearly impossible), fight traffic to get to the airport at least one hour early, deal with the TSA (getting more and more difficult each day), get to the gate to find out whether your flight is held up by weather or equipment delays somewhere else in the system (rare but not unheard of for SWA early in the day), board the plane and pray there is an emergency exit row seat with extra leg room available (suffer for an hour or so if not), arrive in the city de jour to see how long it take to connect up with your ride (I hate being at the mercy of others), conduct business sometimes finishing early or late depending on how crazy people are that day, see if there is an earlier/later flight available that’s not full while praying that you don’t get stuck with a “C” group boarding pass (if you’ve never flown SWA, a “C” boarding pass means you are all but guaranteed a middle seat between two fat guys), hope you don’t get hosed by traffic on your way back to the airport, deal with TSA (again…“Sir, we need to do a pat down of your groin.”), arrive at the gate to find out that…yes…your return flight is delayed (a much more common occurrence later in the day), dejectedly scope out the airport food court options to enjoy an exciting fast food experience with plastic utensils, go back to the gate to find out that the flight left without you because the gate attendant lied about how long the delay was going to be and the airport PA speakers don’t work in the food court so that you missed the announcement for your flight (it happened to me once…I was not happy)….

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Driving’s also cheaper for the company for me to rent a car and drive as opposed to paying for airfare and, occasionally, cab fare.

Such was the case last Thursday when I decided to drive instead of fly from Castle Erickson to the north side of San Antonio (269 miles according to MapQuest). At an estimated 4 hours and 20 minutes, it’s a little further than I would like to drive in a single day when adding in the reciprocal 4 hour and 20 minute return drive. However, I’ve made the conscious decision that my dignity, stress level and personal freedom are worth more to me than the off chance that SWA can get me home an hour or two earlier.

So, as with previous business day trips involving driving, I once again enlisted the help of my friendly, local Enterprise Rent-a-car agency. This time the nice folks there gave me a 2010 Dodge Caliber SXT to drive. Knowing me as well as you should by now, I can’t leave well enough alone. I have to take a stab at writing a review of this case. Of note, I have now completed a Detroit car review trifecta: one each for Chevy, Dodge and Ford.

As with my previous car review, here are the official disclaimers and disclosures.

1) Neither Dodge nor its current owners, Chrysler Group, LLC and Fiat have paid me one thin dime for this review. As far as I know, Dodge, Chrysler and Fiat have no clue that I exist.

2) I (actually my company) paid for the privilege of being able to rent this vehicle from Enterprise Rent-a-Car*. Again, no promotional consideration was paid by Enterprise to me for this review. Aside from the guy at the Enterprise rental counter who now recognizes me on sight, I don’t think they have a clue who I am either.

*Interesting bit of trivia: Enterprise Rent-a-Car was named for the aircraft carrier that the founder and CEO served on while in the Navy.

3) I have nothing against Dodge, Chrysler or Fiat (except for the whole government bailout thing…at least twice for Chrysler now…but who’s counting?) or any other car manufacturer. I have looked at Dodge/Chrysler products on several occasions including every time I’ve considered purchasing a new vehicle. To date, I have not purchased one of their products; however, I came very close to purchasing a Dodge Ram 1500 pickup about 15 years ago. I would have too if the salesman hadn’t tried to pull a bait and switch on me. Pissed me off royally. Ford can thank that guy for a sale (I bought a 1995 Thunderbird instead…really great car).

4) I am not now, nor will I be in the near future, in market for a new car. In fact, I will probably never buy a brand spanking new car ever again. I’m more than happy to let some other hapless soul take the hickey on depreciation while I merrily pick up gently used cars for more reasonable prices.

So, where to begin?

Let’s start with what kind of car this is.

Seriously, I’m still trying to puzzle this one out. Is it a crossover? Is it a mini SUV? Is it a small car? Is it a station wagon or hatchback? Is it a motorized beverage cooler? Normally, when car designers sit down to think up a new vehicle, they have some idea of what the actually intent or end result is supposed to be. Apparently, Dodge designers think this method is overrated. It’s almost like they got a memo from HQ that said “One of each.” It reminds me of the Simpsons episode where Homer’s brother comes to visit and we get a flashback to when Homer ruined his brother’s car company after being allowed to design a car.

Let me just say this to all the Dodge designers who may stumble across this: Whatever you were trying to accomplish with the Caliber…swing and a miss.

Now, let’s talk about the name for a moment: the Dodge Caliber. One of the meanings of “caliber” is “Degree of worth; quality”. “Dodge”, of course, means “to avoid or evade”. Putting the two together, it’s actually an accurate description. That’s not to say that the car I drove was of poor quality (it was not luxury car class quality either); however, since I still don’t know what this car was supposed to be, I can’t tell you if it has any degree of worth. Add to that, Dodge’s marketing department came up with several trim levels for this car: Express, Heat, Mainstreet, Uptown and Rush. I’m pretty sure that the car I had was the “mainstreet” version, and I think I can safely say that “mainstreet” is the only one of the five trim level names that could possibly be applicable to this car. “Express” and “Rush” are out of the question as this car only comes with a four cylinder engine. “Heat” might apply if you are comparing this car to a brick oven; however, if you think this is a “hot” car, you need your eyes checked. “Uptown”…please. You can’t be serious.

Okay, let’s talk about something other than bashing the car’s name and apparent identity crisis.

The exterior is probably best described as boxy. The Scion xB, Honda Element and Nissan Cube are probably the only cars on the planet boxier than the Caliber; however, all of them could win first prize at a Star Trek convention for best impersonation of a Borg Cube. This is a car that only rugged individualists with thick skins could love. This car is the ugly duckling that trips over its own four wheels at the high school dance. It has the aerodynamics of a…well…brick. Some cars can slip through the bow wake of an eighteen wheeler with ease. In the Caliber, things get a little bumpy. The car I drove was equipped with 17 inch aluminum wheels and tires which I’m sure helped with handling and ride comfort over the standard 15 inch wheels.

Speaking of handling, the Caliber surprisingly had a good, smooth ride. It handled corners well, and it didn’t brake like a pissed off Arabian looking to ditch a rider and loose saddle (been there…done that…no fun). So, at least Dodge did something right.

The interior isn’t half bad. Unfortunately, it’s only about half good too. Head room and leg room were good for the most part. However, there was not enough room between the key sticking out of the ignition and the radio console for my right knee. I was afraid I was going to break the key off in the ignition. The seats were almost comfortable…but not quite. They weren’t nearly as bad as the seats in the Ford Focus I drove a while back, but that’s not a stellar recommendation of them either. The seats in the Caliber seem to have had a tense truce with my butt and legs for the duration of the trip. One false move on either side, and things would have gone very badly. The radio control layout takes a bit of getting used to, and I would have liked the tuner knob a bit closer. Extra special bonus, all the Calibers come with Sirius Satellite Radio. The cruise control is flat out in the wrong position, in my humble opinion, and not terribly intuitive. The rearview mirror is a joke and all but useless. I quite bothering to look at thing since it showed more “C” pillar and hatchback than anything else. The “A” pillar is freaking huge limiting outward visibility to the point that you feel like you are driving a tank. The car did come equipped with lighted cup holders…ooohh, wow. I’m probably being overly critical on the cup holders; but, after the LED ambient lighting in the Ford Focus, the lighted cup holders are just insufficient.

One thing that may or may not be neat depending on how you roll is the “Chillzone” storage system. The glove box has a drink rack that holds four 20 ounce plastic bottles which are chilled by the AC system (remember what I said about motorized beverage cooler?). I didn’t have the opportunity to take advantage of this feature; however, I can see how it might come in handy. Once or twice over the life of the car. Truthfully, it seems like a solution without a problem.

How about “performance”? It’s got a four cylinder engine with a CVT transmission. What are you expecting? It gets up and goes when it needs to. It will do the speed limit. What more do you want? You’d think it gets good gas mileage. Right? Dodge’s website claims it will get 23 MPG in the city and 27 MPG on the highway. Since Dodge engineers didn’t see fit to include a mileage computer with this car, I can’t give all sorts of nifty analysis about what the car’s mileage was in various driving conditions. I can just tell you that I put 10.047 gallons into the car after driving 274.0 miles which calculates to about 27.27 miles per gallon. So, at least Dodge is not misrepresenting the mileage figures. I do have one question for them though: who thought it’d be a good idea to put a 13.6 gallon gas tank on a car that gets less than 35 MPG? My 2000 Nissan Maxima with a 3.6 liter V6 gets better gas mileage AND has longer legs. So, remind me again why I would want to buy one of these things?

Dodge’s website claims that this car will run you about $18,810 including the delivery charge which is less than the Chevy Cobalt I drove and about the same as the Ford Focus. As a reminder, the Ford was better equipped than the Caliber for about the same money.

Final thoughts. Would I buy one? No. Should you buy one? I have no idea why anyone would want to. Is it a good car-ish thing? If I knew what it was supposed to be, I could probably tell you. Does it reasonably serve its intended purpose? If I could figure that out….

***5/13/2011 Update - I'm watching old Top Gear - U.K. episodes; and, in Series 8, Jeremy Clarkson called the Dodge Caliber "The World's Most Useless Car." There you have it. A professional agrees with my assessment.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What's In A Name?

Today, I had to go to San Antonio for the day to attend a mediation. Since I have reached my hassle threshhold with flying, I decided to yet again rent a car and drive the 4 hours and 20 minutes from Castle Erickson to the north side of San Antonio where the mediation was to occur starting at 1:30. That put me in Austin around lunch time, and I took the opportunity to stop by the original location of Chuy's on Barton Springs Road for some awesome Tex Mex. The Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken (chicken breast rolled in potato chips and deep fried) is very good if you're not hungry enough to polish off the Elvis Presley Memorial combo.

My waitress for today was a very friendly person who, I learned, was named Happy Day. It turns out she was born two weeks after I was. This will be forever burned into my memory as she made it a point to remind me that we were conceived in the summer of 1969. I also learned that her sister is named Rainy Summer Day, and her brother is named Dusty Autumn Day.

I promise you I am not making this up.

Setting aside, for the moment, that I could live the rest of my life without ever again being reminded of what my parents were doing during the summer of 1969, I do have to comment about the metaphysical kharma bus that is the burden of all of us who were conceived during the late 60s and early 70s.

To be more specific, hippies should not be allowed to name children. It is as simple as that. I mean, seriously, what does it say about our society that some us were given relatively normal names while others, more or less fortunate depending on your perspective, were bestowed with handles like Happy Day?

I'm pretty sure that Frank Zappa started it by naming one of his kids Dweezel and another Moon Unit. I even once knew a guy whose biological parents named him Buckaroo Bonzai Honolulu Jackson. They were apparently seriously into heroin. Fortunately for him, his adoptive parents changed his name to Devon.

Were these Hippie parents too stoned to care what they were doing to their children for all time? Imagine roll call in grade school for little Dweezel. How about Devon filling out a job application if his name wasn't changed?
Employer: Okay...let's take a look at your application. Wait a minute! Are you some kind of wise ass?
Buckaroo: No, sir. My parents were hippies.

Employer: Do we even bother with the drug test or will the lab get high just being in the presence of your urine?
It's not just the Hippies either. Some parents don't seem to consider the unfortunate consequences of certain name combinations. I once worked with a lady whose married name was Jan Dick. She told me her sister in law was Anita, and she couldn't wait to get married so she could change her name. Then there was another guy I worked with by the name of Michael Hunt. He went by Mike. I am serious. Really.

Of course, the Ho family from Korea can be forgiven if they name a daughter Ida. Maybe.