Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Typing With a Cat on my Lap

I have this cat, see? His name is Splot.

He gets back at me for the name, though. He jumps into my lap while I'm trying to write a new blog post. This is not a small thing, Splot tops 16 pounds when he is in trim. During the holidays, when we all put on a little extra weight, well, he tops 17 pounds.

This is altogether not the kind of balancing act that I had in mind when I started this blog. But you take what you can get for inspiration I'm trying to type one-handed while holding a sleeping (make that snoring) cat on my lap. One handed because Splot overflows my lap and needs an extra arm to keep him from sliding off.

So what does this say about real life? Not much really. I could draw parallels about needy friends-and-relations taking too much of your energy, or needy bosses who take advantage, but neither of those groups purr quite as well as Splot. So maybe I just type one-handed and take a few breaks to pet a cat that is as devoted as a dog, and say that the real lesson is to take some time with those who value you.

Nuff said.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Joining Technorati...Feedback at any cost

I have joined the ranks of the Technorati.  

It may take awhile for Technorati to acknowledge my humble existence. I am, after all, trying to balance tech with the rest of my life and not allow it to override my life.

In any event, here is my (purported) Technorati profile:

Technorati Profile

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Plumbing and Web Searches Are Related

I remember the hype about the web, how it was going to make our lives so very different.  So much more convenient.  I guess it has.  We can do a lot of our shopping on line, and can stay in contact with long-lost colleagues, and do this at 2 a.m. in our jammies and bunny slippers.

The web sites that make my life easier are Good Web Sites.  When companies do it right, it is a glorious thing.  The sites that make my life harder are not.  When companies do it wrong, watch out!  Every second you might have saved doing a little research on your own will be frittered away waiting for results or trying to find the one thing you want to know.  A little bit wrong is worse than very wrong.  Consider the events of the past couple of days.

We have a Noritz tankless water heater, and we love it.  Endless hot water is wonderful, even when you are watching your water consumption.  But on Thursday, something odd began to happen.  The water wasn't hot anymore.  (Cue the very sad violin music now.)  We went to the control panel and saw flashing numbers.  Imagine our dismay - flashing numbers on the display are the fevered brow of tankless heaters.  We dug out the owners manual:  ignition error was the translation.  Clean it out and restart the unit.  Since it was very dark we put off the clean the unit part and hoped that restarting the unit would work.  After several attempts, the heater ignited and hot water was restored.

Not for long, however.  My husband cleaned out the enclosure and the unit the next day, and to nobody's surprise found that the original installation looked somewhat slapdash.  Even after a thorough shop vac-ing, we needed to recycle the unit several times a day.  It was getting worse, not better, and this right before a holiday weekend.

It was definitely time for professional assistance.  We know when we are beat and should step aside in favor of the trained.  We called our favorite local plumbers, hoping against hope that they were tankless-enabled.  No joy.  We called the plumbers they recommended, but they were not Noritz-enabled.  Sigh.  

We hopped on the web, to the Noritz site.  Yeah!  They have a search for certified installers!  The minimum search radius is 30 miles from your zip code.  Hmmmm... this does not bode well; we are in Los Angeles, after all.   We put in our zip, and went "Search".  Ten results show up, and there are ten page links beneath it.  Sigh.  There is no sort button, and the names come up in random order.  Can we increase the number of listings per page, maybe, please?  Nope.  Not a chance.  We would like to use a name we recognize...  We began an exhaustive search.

The hubby was grumbling a great grumble, because the site was slow serving up those pages.  As an alternative attack, I looked up the website of the company that fixed our dishwasher last month.  (It has indeed been a bad few weeks for appliances at our house.)  To be fair, I had inside information, since I found them originally.  This company has a convenient web site where they list all their certifications and capabilities.  Plumbing?  Yes!  Noritz?  Yes!  They allow you to request an appointment on the web - woo hoo!  Done!

Meanwhile, back on the Noritz site, morbid curiosity took hold.  My hubby had abandoned his search after we requested the appointment.  Smart man, that hubby of mine.   I called up the Installer search and started paging through.  The site is indeed slow and this feature is painful to use.  Around doing other things, like typing this blog entry, I have been paging through.  A 30 mile radius returns At Least 31 pages of results, with 10 new results each page.  This is the walking, talking definition of Information Overload.  I'm giving up now, and will wait for after the holiday and the call from Carter Services to actually schedule an appointment.  Meanwhile, one of us stands by the restart button at the start of any shower.

Until next time!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Driveway Musing, Finale

As I read my comics yesterday morning and my husband played the video featured in Astronomy Picture of the Day, the whine of a diamond saw joined the morning soundtrack.  The last cuts to put some curves on the driveway were underway.  As I left the workmen had the portland cement for the last of the edging down.  

After all the edge pavers were in, they spread sand over the whole installation.  One of the crew took a snow shovel and distributed the sand in an even arc, then used the back side of a push broom to spread it in all the cracks.  Once all the driveway was done, the vibrator came out to settle pavers and sand into their final positions.  My husband informs me that the yard was enveloped in a blonde fog while the vibrating machine was on.

A little bit after that, the doorbell rang, and they were done.  By the time I came home, all the random I's had been dotted, the edging stones were in place, and the joins where the pavers met existing walls and steps were totally filled in.  We had our driveway, mission accomplished.

Today the Estella, the foreman, came by to do a final inspection.  She found a spot where the new driveway isn't completely flush with an existing concrete slab on our neighbor's property, and promised the crew would be by tomorrow to fix them.  The difference is minimal, only about 1/2", but she called it a tripping hazard and needs to be fixed.  That detail notwithstanding, we are thrilled with how the driveway and patio look, and amazed at how fast the change was accomplished.  No question about it, everything went well.

If I had to do anything differently, it would be to coordinate the driveway installation with any needed sprinkler rework better.  Until we had the design in hand we didn't even think there was any rework necessary.  Since we widened our driveway a bit, a portion of the old sprinklers needed to be capped off before the old driveway could be completely torn out.  The System Paver crew did that just fine.  Once the driveway is complete is the best time to have the next crew in to complete the sprinkler work.  Trying to interleave the work just annoys everyone; I wouldn't recommend trying it.

Our barbecue is back on the patio, as is the outdoor dining set.  The planters will be put back bit by bit.  Some of the plants need repotting and trimming before we place them as artistically as we are able around the patio.  Our cat also has approved the work, and spent some of the morning lounging majestically on the patio.

Until next time!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Driveway Musing, Day 2

As I left the house for work this morning, the crew was already here.  Three guys were spreading the last of the gravel fill, wetting it down and vibrating it into level submission.  Another was trundling loads of sand from the truck to the back of the patio to start layering in the sand.  Level lines were strung, and the sand that was added was leveled with a board and then smoothed with what looked like a super-sized wooden mortar tool.  I was not going to be able to watch the progress today, I would have to wait until I got home to see what happened.

My daughter and husband had a bet about how much the crew could finish today.  She figured that only 1/4 of the pavers would be laid by this afternoon, her dad said it would be more.  Remember the movie Guys and Dolls?  Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit are talking about bets, and Sky tells Nathan the advice given to him by his father:  if someone bets you they can get a jack to jump out of a sealed deck of cards and spit cider in your ear, don't take that bet.  They know something you don't and you'll end up with cider in your ear.  My daughter hasn't internalized the wisdom of Sky's father; she lost the bet and now has cider in her ear in the form of the dime she owes her dad.  They got much more than 1/4 done.

By the time I got home, the pavers were almost all laid.  From back patio to driveway's end, it was only missing the final edge on the lawn-side of the driveway.  For this, they wanted my opinion on how best to lay out the curves.  The drawing our salesman had done had some big looking curvy bits, but that would take us into the remaining lawn and would require more pavers than we had left.  (There was a small area that the salesman missed on the square footage estimate but had included in the instructions that used up most of the slack put in all  orders for supplies.)  The salesman had dropped by at our request, and together we looked at the plans and the actual area and settled on some curves that looked nice and didn't require extra pavers.  The foreman chalked the curves onto the pavers, ready for tomorrow morning.

I walked out our back doors, and took a look, and I must say it looks nice.  Of course, all our motley bits of outdoor gear are stowed in the back yard out of site for the time being, and this adds to the effect.  Beyond that, though, I took a look at how they laid the pavers and was quite impressed.  I sew, and I know what a pain it is to do mitered corners.  There were a number of spots where the pavers had to fit an inside corner, and the edging pavers were deftly mitered; so were the pavers one row inside the edges.  I was impressed enough that I made our daughter come out and admire it, which she did.  It's good when the kids humor their eccentric parents.

Until next time!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Driveway Musing, Day 1

As I type this, the floor to the home office vibrates and the air is filled with the bass hums and alto chattering of power tools at work.  Today is the day work starts on our new driveway and patio.  It has been a long journey.

We remodeled our house four years ago.  We added a master suite in the back and a dining room in the front, and stirred the rooms in between vigorously.  That gave us more than enough to think about, so we didn't really consider fixing our threadbare old concrete driveway. But when the contractors poured a slab to extend our patio to our old driveway, they graded it to guide most of the runoff from our addition, garage, and back yard into the lowest spot available.  The lake it formed was impressive, so long as you didn't have to get into the garage.  

This last year saw some record rains in Los Angeles, and we watched the lake grow each time from a friendly puddle to a body of water stretching the 20 or 30 feet from our back steps to the garage door.  Wavelets lapped against the garage, the deepest part easily reached my ankles.  We joked about shorefront properties and marinas, and thought uncharitable thoughts about those that left us in this mess.  The lake evaporated eventually, only to be replaced by the next storm.  By the end of winter we definitely had had enough.

Thus began the search for the new driveway.  Did we want to just add drains and replace the old with a new one just like it?  Did we want to add brickwork?  How about pavers or cement squares with groundcover in between?  We got ads in the mail and on our doorstep from various companies; I saw cool ideas in home magazines like Sunset.  The magazine ideas were great, but most of them assumed this was a do-it-yourself project, and we knew this one was too large for us.  So we would go with a company.

We settled on pavers as our first choice, and did a bit of research into the cost of installing new driveways.  We wanted help with design, we're definitely amateurs when it comes to design options on big projects like this.  Some sound advice on shape and color, some good ideas on whether or not to widen, all of these would be worth a bit extra in cost.  

We had been getting ads from remodeling and landscaping companies, and one particular company stood out.  Every ad we got from System Pavers had a variety of pictures of walkways and driveways, and each described a special offer to make the deal even better.  We got a flyer in early July, with some very sweet sounding deals, and after doing a final review of the information on their website, my husband called and made an appointment for an estimate.

Their salesman was friendly without being familiar, assumptive without being pushy.  He was, in short, a true artist at the sales presentation and a joy to watch in action.  He steered us to the lower end of the price scale (definitely our end) without mentioning cost; instead he pointed out that the more expensive pavers were too large to look good on our narrow driveway.  He offered some extras like tumbling.  This is like getting pre-washed jeans; the stones look a bit worn around the edges.  He suggested some colors and patterns.  He suggested a \combination that looked good to us and we went for it.  That was Wednesday evening.  By Friday we had our start date, and we were set to go.

Today the crew arrived and got right to work demolishing the old driveway and patio.  They used sledgehammers, jackhammers, and a mini bobcat to break up the old concrete.  For those into concrete, our driveway was old enough that there were no reinforcing rods in it.  The bobcat was also handy for dumping the rubble into the truck to haul away.  By lunchtime they were starting to lay lines to grade the patio portion.  A bit later the gravel layer was going in.  As a portion was filled in it was leveled smooth, and then pummeled flat with a vibrating machine to compact it.  By the time they left, gravel filled all but the last quarter of the driveway, and there were piles of sand for the next layer at one end.

Until next time!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What Is This Balancing Act?

The balancing act is how you live a full and fruitful life while doing the stuff that needs to be done. How to keep the spiritual, physical, vocational, avocational sides of you generally on the right track, without going nuts. Is that even possible?

The balancing act is how you handle the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Like Mary and Martha in the New Testament story. Jesus comes to visit their town, and stops to teach at their home. Martha plays the hostess, and gets a bit stressed when Mary doesn't help out.

Both women focus on the opportunity, each in a very different way. Martha thinks "We have an important guest. He will need quiet to teach, he should not worry about anything but teaching while he is in our house". Mary thinks "I will sit and listen.". And as the story is told, when Martha wants Mary to leave Jesus' side and help out with the hostess duties, Martha gets slapped down.

Dang! Why is that? I would like to say that it is because Martha wasn't content with her choice and tried to distract Mary from hers. That is a facile explanation, and contrary to the rest of the story. The narrative goes on to say not only that Mary doesn't have to help out but that Mary has made the better choice. Not just that Martha is getting whiny and to get over it, but that Martha chose to concentrate on the wrong thing!

Well, in hindsight, perhaps. After all, Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah. So perhaps the dishes could wait while he taught. But this lesson is, for Martha, as harsh as that given to the older brother of the prodigal. And I have to wonder what would have happened if both Mary and Martha had decided to sit at their guest's feet to learn. Eventually everybody would have gotten hungry, and it's not like they could have called out for pizza. Would we have gotten the Parable of the Unprepared Hostess, like the Parable of the Unready Virgins?

What does this story tell us women about balance in our life?

I haven't figured it out yet. But figuring it out is part of the reason for this blog. There will be plenty of side trips, because life is just too darn interesting to harp on one thing for too long. But balance is the theme here, and I will keep coming back to it.

Until next time!