Saturday, December 27, 2008

How Much Torque Does This Baby Have?

When we were living in Wheaton, Peter bought a Mini Cooper S. It was a fun little car, like driving a go-cart, but the downside was the cuteness factor often brought unwelcome attention. After about six months, Peter decided his summer fling with the Mini was over and it was time to get a new car.

We spent about a week, visiting dealerships and going out on test drives. We quickly fell into a pattern on the test drive. Peter would drive and would ask the sales guy (it was always a guy) questions like 'The horsepower on this model is x, so how much torque does it have?' and 'Does this model have the super-updated whirzligger that I've read so much about?' (OK, I'm making that second one up because I can't remember all the questions, but he always asked technical questions about the car.) I'd ask the sales guy questions like 'Did you ever have a test drive where you were so freaked out by the person's driving, you asked them to stop?' and 'Did you ever have a test drive where you got pulled over by the police?'

I was always amused by this difference. He was completely interested and focused on the car. I was indifferent about the car, but excited by the novelty and the possible opportunity for collecting interesting story.

Peter now drives a Nissan Patrol, which is a giant SUV. I always feel like I have to justify this choice - it's because of his photography business. He needs four-wheel drive and also needs to be able to carry multiple passengers and bags of camera equipment comfortably.

I know the sterotype of short women is that they love to drive great big honking SUVs. Maybe it's just short mothers who feel that way, since the auto industry in the States has successfully perpetuated the myth that SUVs are safer than smaller cars. I have no interest in driving Peter's car, especially on twisty country roads or through narrow villages where cars are parked up on both sides of the street.

I'm not great at judging distances and don't have very good spatial relations skills. So driving a 3-tonne vehicle that feels about two feet wider than my car is nerve-wracking. So much so, that until yesterday, I had never driven Peter's car on the road. I had only driven it in circles around our house.

But yesterday, we had too many cars in Peter's parents' driveway, the inevitable result of Christmas guests who are responsible enough not to drink and drive. Peter wanted to return his sister-in-law's car and he wanted me to drive his car. I wasn't happy about this, in fact, I was down-right terrified. But the traffic was light, the trip was only about a mile, the roads were nice and wide, and I'd only have to navigate one roundabout.

Peter's parents' house is on a busy main road, so he was kind enough to back the car out of the driveway and get it pointed in the right in direction. All I had to do was get in the car and drive. So my worried face and I climbed into the car and first had to adjust the seat and all the mirrors. Then the next order of business was to get the car into first gear and out of the driveway. Peter stood next to the car, giving me instructions on how to manage his clutch.

I stalled the first two times I attempted it and then managed to blast enough gas into the system to propel the giant vehicle forward. The car seemed sluggish, but I chalked that up to its size and inertia. I shifted smoothly into second and felt like I was getting the hang of things. The shifting to third didn't go so smoothly and I was terrified of stalling, so I popped into back into second and slapped on the hazard lights, figuring I had to warn people that I was going to be abnormally slow.

I coasted up the roundabout and was able to time it just right so I didn't have to stop the car. I was in the correct lane for my exit and was halfway to it when a silver sedan screeched up next to me, the driver madly blasting his horn. My first thought was that my lane position was wrong, that I was misjudging the width of the car and squeezing in on him. But that wasn't the case.

I couldn't figure out what I'd done wrong, so I slowed down a little bit and made my way to my exit. I watched him take the same exit (from the wrong lane) and then saw him slow down and wait for me, so he could angrily beep his horn some more at me. I refused to make eye contact with him and just continued driving.

Wouldn't you know it, we got stuck at the next traffic light. He was in the turning lane and there was an empty lane between us, so I decided to sneak a peak. He rolled down his window and shouted at me 'Why have you got your hazard warning lights on?' (Um, to warn people that I'm a hazard in a three-tonne death machine?) I shouted back that it was to let people know there was a problem with the car (yes, the driver, but still) and I may have maybe perhaps called him a not so nice name. I was boiling with anger at that point - all that commotion and fuss just because I had my hazards on? For feck's sake, I was terrified that I'd accidentally hit someone and was dragging the poor sod, such was this fella's overreaction.

The next half-mile went without incident - I was even able to find third gear. When I got to my brother-in-law's house, I parked on the street, put the car in first gear, and went to pull up the parking brake. Only to discover that the parking brake was already on. Nervous that the parking brake was now well and truly banjaxed because of my stupidity, I took the brake off and then put it on again, pulling up as hard as I could. I was on an incline, so I put the car in neutral just to check it. Seemed like the parking brake was holding.

Peter pulled my sister-in-law's car into the driveway and met me at the curb. He asked how it went and I told him fine, except for the jerk who yelled at me. I was going to try not to mention the parking brake, but then Peter's next comment was 'What smells like it's burning?'I hung my head and 'fessed up to my sin of parking brake omission.

So, if anyone ever asks me 'How much torque does this baby have?' I can tell them from first-hand experience - enough to drive 30+mph with the parking brake on.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hanging with The Nieces

I'm not a big fan of holidays, but I did find yesterday particularly enjoyable. Probably because I spent most of the time hanging out with my nieces, who are eight and five. They're sweet girls, very polite, and I enjoyed spending time with them.

The five year old (whom I will call Niece 2) is a real firecracker - I don't think she sat still for two minutes yesterday. She was just a blur of activity and excitement. Her favourite present was a digital camera, a sleek black Fuji. 'A GROWN-UP digital camera', she would be quick to point out. (Peter called that a brave choice, but as hyper as she was, she really took good care of the camera and quickly figured out how to use it.)

Peter showed N2 how to make movies with the camera and she was off. Her two-minute movie is the best thing I've ever seen. She races around crazily with the camera, careening around corners and pausing only briefly to survey various items of interest, like the living room or a desk with a surprise drawer. She also stops in front of the mirror and sings to herself, before racing off again. It reminded me a bit of BarneyCam or CatcherCam.

Niece 1's best present was a Wii, which her parents brought over for entertainment purposes. Where N2 is a blur of action, N1 is poised and deliberate. She's a smart kid, into reading and writing. And she's great at video games and not shy about letting her opponents know it. She's also clever enough to claim the vaunted Player 1 mantle, which allows her to choose the games to suit her strengths. She's wickedly good at the game where you have to spot look-alike Miis, tiny little people with oversize heads.

When N1 and N2 play against each other, it's not really a fair match-up. N1 tries to be patient and help her sister, but she can't help that she wants to win. N1 soundly beat N2 at every game they played, until N2 managed, through some combination of luck and perseverance, to beat N1 at a game of pool. My sister-in-law (their mother) and I cheered so loudly for this accomplishment that I have a sore throat today.

We also played Mario Kart, which led to a bizarre conversation. N1 wanted to select the race through mushroom gorge, which I asked her not to do because I'm afraid of mushrooms. They thought this was the funniest thing they'd ever heard of, then N1 called me an alcoholic. I wasn't sure how she'd come up with that word, but it took Uncle Peter to unravel the mystery, asking why she'd called me an alcoholic.

N1 shrugged and said, 'She's afraid of spiders.' 'No, N1, that's arachnophobia you're thinking of. An alcoholic is something else entirely.' Then N2 chimed in with 'yeah, and besides, she's afraid of mushrooms, not spiders.'

I did miss The Kid and The Other Nephew a bit yesterday, but being able to hang out with The Nieces definitely made up for that. My best Christmas present? The memories, of course.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Christmas

My Christmas post was going to be about celebrating the imperfect nature of human love and why 'The Fairy Tale of New York' is the best Christmas song ever written. I was aiming for a tone that could have been the lovechild of Dorothy Parker and Dr. Phil. It would have been great, but I've just been too frazzled to actually sit down and put all the necessary words in the order I wanted.

Instead, have a Happy Christmas and enjoy these photos of my poor put-upon pups, who are probably plotting ways to kill me in my sleep for perpetrating this indignity. But comon, they're so damn cute.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

They Don't Call It 'The People's Republic' for Nothing

One of County Cork's most endearing nicknames is The People's Republic. In many ways, Cork is sort of like Texas - big, bold, and completely disinterest in blending in with the rest of the country.

I love the independent streak of the county, but the fact remains, it is still part of Ireland. A fact that seems to have escaped the planners of Dublin Airport. I wish someone could tell me why I need to present a passport and go through the Garda Passport Check when I've only flown from Cork to Dublin.

It makes me wonder what would happen if I decided to present my driver's license as my valid id. It's on the list of approved identification. But would it be enough to get me out of the People's Republic and into the Irish capital?

Maybe that's a test for next time. For now, I'm arrived safe and sound im Dublin and am killing time at the Internet kiosk, waiting for Peter to collect me. Perhaps I'll redesign the airport in my spare time.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Treasure

When we were living in Dublin the first time, all those many years ago, we scavenged the most brilliant piece of artwork. It was a large canvas painting done by someone with decent artistic talent and a good sense of humour. Reaching down out of the sky, was the God figure from the Sistine Chapel. His outstretched finger pointed to an apple. A perfect, shiny, bright red apple, which just happened to be in the hand of Snow White.

As much as I loved the combination of two cultural touchstones with the representation of Original Sin, I loved the colours even more. The 'classical' half of the painting was in the subdued cream and brown hues of the original. The other half was in garish Technicolour.

We carried off that treasure and hung it in our flat until the day I had to move back to Cleveland. Peter moved a few times during the time we lived apart and at some point, the painting was thrown out. (Although I like to think that someone else saw its greatness and rescued it.) I have few regrets in life, but a tiny part of me really regrets losing that painting.

So, when a painting caught my eye at the Civic Amenity Centre, I couldn't say no. For all its grand naming, the Civic Amenity Centre is just our dump/recycling centre. You have to pay to leave trash, but recycling is free.

Next to the main dumpster, there's a shed to shelter the poor county council workers who have to collect the cash. I don't know if these workers pull out treasures when they see them or if sometimes, people separate out their trash from their junk, but I often see items sitting next to the shed, waiting for a new home. Random, bizarre stuff, like a Virgin Mary wall-mounted holy water dispenser or children's board games or garden ornaments.

A few weeks ago, I spotted a treasure that I just knew I wouldn't be able to pass up. It was a painting, not quite as brilliant as God Meets Snow White, but charming and mesmerising nonetheless. When I got it home, I was a little disappointed to realise that it's not a hand-made painting, but is some sort of commercially manufactured print. Even so, it's just tacky and kitschy enough that I can't help but love it.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday Three

It's been a bit manic around here, since I've been putting in extra hours at work to ensure that I'm able to take the next two weeks off. So even though I've loads of blogging ideas swirling in my head, I've not much time to get them out.

Today, I'm stealing two ideas from two of my favourite bloggers. I'm taking the idea of the Thursday Three from the Rotten Correspondent and the theme is coming from Barbara, who subscribes to a theory I very much believe in. If you keep your eyes open, you will see things that can change your mood and improve your day.

I hate this time of year with a burning passion that only intensifies as I age. I hate the frantic pace of trying to finishing everything up for the holidays while all around me, the natural world is crawling to a halt. The dim drizzly days make me want to curl up in a ball and sleep until spring, but there's just too damn much to do. Recently, I saw three things that put a smile on my face and brightened my whole day. In all cases, I observed pure, unadulterated joy and you'd have to be even meaner than a grinch if you can see that sort of joy and walk away unaffected.

Three Observations of Joy

#1. The Visit with Santa. Irish store Santas are apparently way more generous than American store Santas. I was floored when Peter told me that the whole point of a visit to Santa here is that Santa gives you a festively wrapped present. It usually contains a cheap plastic toy, but you don't care about that when you're five years old. And all we got was a lousy Polaroid picture!

On Tuesday, I had a Christmas lunch in Ballincollig. Since I arrived early, I wandered through the shopping mall to kill some time. I saw a little girl, she must have been about 3 or 4, walking next to her mother. The girl had clearly just been to visit Santa, since she had a wrapped present. She was glowing with the joy of it. Her beaming smile made me notice her. It was the half-dazed smile of a girl who's just had something amazing and wonderful happen.

Then I saw the present in her hands. It was a thin rectangular box, maybe a board game. She held it with both hands and looked at it often, as though she couldn't quite believe she had it. I'm not a mind reader, but even I could see the thought bubble above the girl's head: "Best Day Ever!"

#2. The Car Wash. As part of the same trip to Ballincollig, I stopped on the way home to get diesel for the car. The prices were a whole cent cheaper than the petrol station by us, so I was already pleased. As I filled up the tank, I noticed the car in the car wash. I've always been disappointed here that Irish car washes are all out in the open.

Going to the car wash, through the dark tunnel, and then getting 'eaten by the car wash monster' as the big slappy roller washed the car was always one of my favourite activities. Even as a grown-up, I couldn't help but giggle and squeal.

So it was a great joy for me to watch another little girl, maybe 2 or 3 years old, giggle and squeal as the car wash monster ate her car. She started off huddled close to her mother, perhaps a little frightened, but was soon clapping her chubby hands in delight. It nearly made me want to get the car washed.

#3. The Running Irish Wolfhound. Callie running could be a comedy sketch. At the start, she's awkward and gangly, all long legs not quite acting in concert. Then she gets up to speed and finds her rhythm. Her long legs fall into the steady pace of a gallop. Her body lengthens and contracts as she covers ground at a rate that seemed unattainable when she got started.

What elevates her running from a comedy sketch to a day brightener is the absolute joy on her face. Her ears are flat back from the wind and her tongue is hanging out the side of her mouth, but you can't miss the grin on her face and the delight in her brown eyes.


Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Tale of Two Baths

After our joyous reunion with Toby and Callie, it was clear that a week in the kennels necessitated baths as a matter of urgency. Thus begins the Tale of Two Baths...

Bath One: Toby

We call Toby into the bathroom and encourage him to jump into the tub. He rolls his eyes and grits his teeth but complies because he knows there's a piece of cheese at the end of the bath tunnel.

Toby suffers through the bath in silence. He seems to enjoy the parts that involve soap and does not enjoy the parts that involve water. The only tricky part of the bath is turning him around to rinse his other side.

While we wash Toby, we leave the bathroom door open so Callie can see that this is not some big, scary, horrible production. See, Toby doesn't mind. Callie head-butts her way under our elbows and jams her giant face into the bathtub. She's curious about all the strange goings-on.

When the bathing part is over, Toby waits patiently while we towel dry him off as much as possible. He is eager for his cheese but waits until he gets the command to jump out of the tub. Once out of the tub, he gives himself a good shake and then runs off to the kitchen for his cheese reward.

Bath Two: Callie

We call Callie into the bathroom. She is immediately suspicious and edgy. We encourage her to jump into the tub. She looks at us like we're crazy. I stand in the tub in an effort to get her to join me. It's like a couch, only different. She doesn't buy it.

Peter puts his hand on her collar to drag her up into the tub. Callie collapses on the ground like a masked protester at a WTO meeting. Her body is transformed into 120-pounds of awkward dead weight. Peter crouches on the ground, trying to find a grip that will allow him to lift her the two-and-a-half vertical feet into the tub. I look at Peter's bent back and the slippery floor and see seven possible accidents, so I suggest dragging her into one of the shower stalls.

Peter agrees and first tries to lure her upstairs to the guest bathroom. While Toby dashes up and down the stairs, wondering where his cheese is, Callie cowers at the bottom of the stairs. Peter gives up and agrees the shower in our en-suite bathroom will work just as well and eliminate the need for stairs.

Callie follows us quite happily into our bedroom, and then collapses the minute Peter gets a hand on her collar. It takes both of us to drag her into the bathroom, Peter's pulling her front half and I'm pushing her back half. She makes a last ditch effort to splay out her back legs and brace them against the door jamb, but I disarm her. We perform a tricky move to get all three of us into the tiny bathroom and close the door to eliminate the chance of escape.

In the en-suite, Callie positions herself as far away from the shower as possible. It becomes clear that washing the dog without getting drenched is no longer an option. I turn on the water and climb into the shower. I take Callie's collar and pull her into the shower with me, while Peter lifts up her back end and shoves the rest of her in.

"You are the most recalcitrant, stubborn dog I have ever met," says Peter. I have to laugh and say "Yes, that's my girl." (When I later report this story to Middle Brother, he observes that Callie and I have been cut from the same cloth.)

We spend several minutes working on turning Callie around so she's more under the water stream. (I wish fervently the whole while that this shower would have the detachable head the way the bathtub does.) I'm part contortionist, part tightrope walker as I balance and twist my way around the giant huddle of dog at the bottom of the shower.

Finally, Callie is properly positioned and we're able to lather and then rinse. Slight adjustments to her position get everything rinsed except her underbelly. Peter suggests more turning. I tell him to get a bucket. I shut the shower doors and wait while he fetches a bucket. When he returns with a big, empty kitchen pot, I hold it high above my head until its full of water, then I carefully pass it over to him. He rinses Callie's belly, then hands me a towel.

After I've dried her, Callie is given the all-clear and she bolts from the shower. While I put on dry clothes and wipe up the water on the floor, Peter takes the dogs into the kitchen for the cheese reward. Callie gets hers first. As Peter is placing Toby's cheese into the dog's mouth, Callie muscles in to take it. Peter growls and both dogs back off, then Toby is finally properly rewarded for his bath.

Lessons Learned

According to Peter, we have learned two important lessons from this endeavour.

Lesson 1 - Next bath time, Callie's bath is going to be outside with the garden hose.

Lesson 2 - The next time we adopt a giant dog, it's going to be in puppy form.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Homepages, the Book

Last month, I posted an essay that I was submitting to Homepages, a collection of stories and photos from Irish bloggers. All proceeds go to Focus, an Irish charity for the homeless. The book is now available on LuLu for 14 euro + shipping.

Catherine from Two Wheels on My Wagon dreamt up this fantastic project and I can only imagine the effort that went into it.

I'm especially thrilled because my essay is one of the selections for Homes Past. (I had a peek at the Table of Contents - page 41 is my lucky page.) This is the first time my writing as appeared in an actual book and I'm hoping this will provide a much needed kick-up the pants to get me focused on writing again.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Tactical Retreat

After all of the agnosing and calculating, we've made a decision to pull back from the raw diet for the time being. The immediate reason is that the dogs are at the kennel for a week and we couldn't really expect the kennel owner to refrigerate a week's worth of raw dog food.

The secondary reason is that December is going to be a madhouse and not having to shop for and calculate the dogs' food ration is an item that I'm happy to have fall off the edge of the To-Do list.

We found a dog food called Real Nature that is probably better than anything we'd ever be able to assemble for them. Its primary ingredients are Angus Beef from South America, Barbary Duck, and some kind of fancy herring. Best of all, no corn and no wheat. I'd give you a link to the food, but it doesn't seem to have its own web site. It's made by a pet store company in Germany.

I was a little concerned about the propensity of kibble to expand with water, so I did an experiment and soaked a piece in water for a long while. Because of whatever special way this food is processed, it doesn't puff out the way regular kibble does. It just disintegrated over time. So it should be both yummy and safe in Callie's tummy.

Both dogs have taken to the food well, so we might just continue with it past the end of December. The downside is that we have to travel 30+miles one way to get it, but making that trip once a month wouldn't be bad. (Two bags should cover a month.)

I took the dogs to the kennel on Monday. It killed me to do it, especially leaving Callie for the first time. I hated leaving her after only 10 days, but it had to be done. She seemed fine with it, much more fine than Toby. He still hates going into the run, but I've perfected my technique and can get out of there before he's clamped onto my leg like a recalcitrant toddler.

The kennel owner, T, put Callie in the run and she trotted in with no fuss. T saw a problem though that I didn't quite understand, until she pulled up the outside dog door. Callie's too tall to fit through the door to the outside part of the run. The top of the door didn't even reach as high as her back. Oops. T assured me that she could take Callie outside a few times a day for bathroom breaks.

Just like prison, the dogs get play time in a fenced yard right behind the kennels. T is going to put Toby and Callie out for exercise together. This will double the amount of time they get and will also increase their exercise and burn off their excess energy. No matter how hyper he is, when Toby's outside by himself, he tends to chase his tail a little and then collapse in a heap of boredom. (Before we got Callie, I'd have to walk around outside to get him to run around at all.)

As much as I like my quiet, responsibility-free mornings, I really miss those damn dogs. On the drive up to Dublin, Peter said that it would be interesting if the dogs were able to send us texts about their stay at the kennels. The idea intrigued and amused me. So far, my imagination has gotten two texts from Toby.

The first simply said Suxors.The second said you broke my life. Maybe so. I'm looking forward to fixing it next week.

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