USPS Sucks

My mom called me to track the package she sent to her accountant, five days ago, because she’s inept with modern technology, even though she has it.  She had no clue how to track her package, but she could read me the # over the phone.

So, I did it for her, while she was on the phone with me.  Holy hell.  That thing went from the Northeast, down to New Orleans, spent three days in Thibodeaux, and got sent back to the Northeast, where at least it finally got back to the correct state.  Sheesh.

Man, I’ve had some packages sent from Chicago go though Atlanta to MD, to PA, to NY, to OH, back to a hub in my own state, and finally get delivered, but that circuitous route made slightly more sense than sending something from one town to another 25 miles away via Louisiana.   That’s a whole new level of sorting error.  I don’t think we can blame that on faulty logistics software.  That’s crazy.


Just in the Nick of Time

We finally got our barn roof repaired yesterday.  From estimate, to back and forth paperwork, paying 2/3 upfront for materials, etc., it took almost three months to get the crew over here to do the job.  We got one day’s notice.  Granted, the weather needed to be cooperative, but we visited the company’s office a month ago or so, and were promised at the time that the materials were on a building site a few miles from here, and we were next in line for the repair.  The thing is that the weather cooperated, and we had a few days over the past week that were not only above freezing, but had crystal clear blue skies, sun, and actually got into the 50s, Farenheit.

They moved in one piece of fairly heavy equipment, and two small other trucks, but it was way out by the barn, and three guys got the entire job done in less than two hours.  We didn’t have to move anything other than a tractor, and our big trailer to give them enough room to maneuver their equipment.  I got all the paperwork I needed when I cut them the check for the balance, per the contract.  They did a really good job.  They sure should have, because after taking bids, we ended up hiring the original manufacturer to do the repair, rather than someone who just owns a local roofing company.  One of the crew members remembered building this barn ~20 years ago.

The “just in the nick of time” part was that last night it started raining, and is still raining — hard.  At least we don’t have to worry about snow melt or rain getting inside the barn anymore.  There are still tall trees around the barn, but we’ve already had the ones susceptible to toppling or dropping huge branches removed.  Same deal around our main house, not that any branches have dropped on it’s roof, but when they drop on where we normally park our vehicles in a wind storm, they’ve got to go.

Either the contractors around here are really good, for fair prices, or I’ve been very good at deciding who to hire.  Either way, I’m a happy camper.

Tomahawk Chop

The main reason we chose the tree service company we did was that the company we had used in the past is closed until the end of March, and the company that came yesterday came in with the best bid.  It was a flat fee for a whole day’s work for a crew of four, with the owner supervising.  The owner probably left and came back a few times during the day, to check on progress, while his crew did the work, but I knew he’d show up for his check at the end of the day.  Sure enough, he did.  He was also really interested in seeing our saw mill out behind the barn.  I was glad he took a personal check instead of insisting on a credit card, because although he accepts them, he tacks on the processing fee that the credit card company charges him, so it saved me a few hundred.  That policy is not unusual for contractors around here.

All the really tall multi-trunk trees they downed were left in nice neat log piles on the lawn, and they mulched/carted away anything under a 6″ diameter, as we had requested.  We have more than enough mulch piled up for ourselves, plus a few of our neighbors, so if they can turn around and sell what they carted away, good for them.  I’m sure that was worked into our firm cost quote.

A couple of those trees could have waited another month or two to be downed, but the mostly dead maple by the end of our driveway that was 30′ from the house was a hazard that could not wait much longer.  They dropped it away from the house, and driveway, which they were supposed to do.  Now, we can park our vehicles where we normally do, without fear of having a huge branch break off and land on top of them.  Nobody wants to make an insurance claim for something that could have been prevented by using common sense.

Other than that, our front yard, and the side yard by the barn, now will get a lot more sunshine, even after the remaining trees leaf out over the next two to three months.  We got some really good logs for the saw mill, and whatever is left that isn’t good enough for that will make good firewood after it cures for a year or two.  We have no shortage of firewood, but when we have a boatload more than we can use, we have a couple of neighbors who will take it off our hands for free, whether we deliver it, or they come pick it up themselves.  What goes around comes around.  Do a neighbor a solid, and it will be returned at some point, in some form.  Heck, we loaned our next door neighbor our large trailer a couple of times, and he gave us a $25 gift card to the restaurant he owns, plus a couple of 6-packs of Yuengling.  Lager is good year ’round.

I have to have a cookout to return the favors a couple of my neighbors did over Christmas — two parties, and a box of phenomenally good Christmas cookies.  I sent a “thank you” note for the Christmas cookies, asking, politely, if I could have the recipe for chocolate-peanut butter bars.  Those were sinfully rich, and delicious.  I got the recipe enclosed in a return card.  Feed people, ask what they need or want that you can spare, and they will return the favor.  I’m so lucky that I’ve never had asshole neighbors.

Tree Downing

We needed a few mostly dead trees taken down, that are at least four stories tall.  It’s not a big deal to take out smaller ones, or snags that aren’t close to the house.  The “Okay, that’s it, dammit!” moment came a few weeks ago when a wind storm dropped a huge branch right where we normally park our vehicles.  A week later, after we had called a few places to get estimates, it dropped another smaller one the size of one of my legs, that missed my car by 2′.

So, we went with this one company, after  both of us had shown the owner around the property, pointed out what needed to be done, and got a what I thought was a fair estimate.  We wanted them to leave the downed trees here, so there was no removal cost.  We have use for maple.  In addition to quoting us a fixed price for a day’s worth of labor, even if it entailed more than we originally pointed out, they dropped off two trailer loads worth of white pine logs for free.  They don’t want them; they can’t sell them to a lumber mill, or a furniture maker, as is.  They’re not good for firewood, either.  But, white pine does make nice indoor furniture, and we have the chainsaws and a small saw mill to render them down.

Anyway, they’re here, now that the weather is cooperating.  My god are they efficient.  It’s the owner, plus his crew of four guys.  Split that fixed price between four guys, and the owner, for up to eight hours worth of work, and they’re not exactly making a mint, considering their worker’s comp insurance.  Still, they took the job, and I’ll cut the owner a check when they’re ready to leave, unless he prefers to bill me later, if that’s the only way he can give me a receipt.

Yay, tree guys!  If we ever need tree service again, this company would be the first one I call for an estimate.  Although it might sound a little undignified, woo-hoo!

Wonky Night Light

A few months ago, we drove down to Harbor Freight to pick up a few things we saw in its sale catalog.  While there, I found a five pack of power strips for $10, that included a bonus night light.  I needed the power strips for the oldest part of the house, in which none of the rooms have more than three outlets, and the price was right, so I bought the package.  The night light was a “come with,” for which I had a use in our guest biff/powder room.

The power strips work perfectly.  The night light is a little wonky.  If I were Nicky, I would write a nonsensical short story about how either the light or the biff is haunted.  It uses a mere 7w, but is an old fashioned kind that has an on/off switch, instead of being photosensitive.  Fine.  So, switch it on after dark to throw just enough light to see where the porcelain god in the loo is, without switching on the 75w overhead light.  But … it has a nasty habit of cutting out inexplicably.  It’s a little trippy when it happens while you’re sitting on the pot, and you suddenly find yourself in total darkness.  Reach down, knock the plastic casing around the bulb, and it comes back on.  No big deal.

As much as I’d like to think my Civil War era house is haunted (benevolently, of course), it’s not the case.  I will never attempt to write a 5000 word story about a wonky night light, or an exploding light bulb being proof positive of a house haunting.  Most incandescent light bulbs don’t explode on their way out, but it has happened a few times in previous houses.  Usually, they just make a pop, then die.  Anyone who gets freaked out about nonsense like that is more than a little cray-cray.  As they die, I’m replacing most of our bulbs, both ordinary, and floodlight, with LEDs, but the window “candles” and night light still use the incandescent ones.  LEDs actually do cut down on our electricity bill, but all bets are off in July/August, when we can no longer tolerate the mugginess of open windows with fans, and have to close up to turn on the air conditioning.

I’m pretty sure that if our house is haunted, one or more of our critters would alert us to it.  They don’t.  It isn’t.

Ride TV

Verizon has carried Ride channel for several months that I’ve noticed while channel surfing, but only since March 1, has it appeared without a message “You are not currently subscribed to Ride …”  Cool.  All I can think is that it’s been downgraded to a tier to which I do subscribe.  Now, I get to watch anything from rodeos to horse jumping and dressage events, along with some generally Western themed shows.  I used to get so bummed when I’d channel surf, and couldn’t watch the show jumping program that was playing.

I grew up riding English, and still love being around horses.  We do have a bunch of horse farms around here.  Some of them offer riding lessons, or hourly rentals, but they mostly want beginner to intermediate kids, not adults looking to learn dressage beyond a flying change.  Although I have ridden bareback, and Western, a handful of times, it’s not much of a challenge.  Dressage would be a challenge.  Nobody rides Western around here.  All our saddlery shops have English style tack, riding apparel, and stable supplies.

As much as I’d love to go riding again, I fear that it would be like the time I rented a horse from a stable in some Mews in London, adjacent to Hyde Park, at which a friend stabled her horse.  We were led out to Hyde Park, by a stable worker, who sort of was a “trail guide.”  She realized I could ride a whole lot better than anyone else she was leading, but I was still restricted to cantering a block ahead, then pulling over by a tree to wait for everyone else to catch up.  Hyde Park rules, for cantering, not hers.

I miss galloping, and jumping.  The only thing I found “interesting” about riding English was the one day I had to ride sidesaddle.  It’s easy enough to clamp your knees and thighs on the saddle, but when your ass has no padding, it’s a bumpy, slippery ride at a trot.

It’d be really cool if Ride would show some driving competitions.  Those four-in-hand ones could be interesting.  I’ve never learned how to drive more than two-in-hand, and those were in-line.

Back to the Longines jumping competition, which is on right now!  Yay!

Hotel Reservations Suck

I had no problems making reservations in Champaign, and Cambridge, but Rochester was quite a challenge, even with member rewards.  The website kept insisting I only wanted one adult, despite repeated attempts to change it to two.  It made no difference to the room rate, but I’d rather not show up with a reservation for one, and have both of us traipse through the lobby with our luggage after check-in to stay for several days.  I finally got it right, but it was like pulling teeth.

FWIW, I was able to print out the reservations for all three places.  Since I’ve never worked for a hotel, it never occurred to me that a king bed room would be cheaper than a room with two queens in one chain, and more expensive in another.  The two of us combined weigh less than 250 lbs., so it’s not as if we need a whole lot of space to spread out.  We’ll take the less expensive option.  After all, we’re only going to crash there at night, and grab breakfast on our way out in the morning.

The worst of it is that printing out the reservations uses four pages per hotel, when it really should only use one page.  What a waste of paper, and ink.

First world problems, right?

Live Concerts and eBay

Around here, we have so many good musicians playing in small local venues.  We got to see Marshall Crenshaw and The Bottle Rockets a couple of nights ago, for the fourth time at that particular venue.  It’s a 19th century movie house and stage that seats less than 300 people.  We also have tix to see Wishbone Ash, the Strawbs, and the Black Lillies at the same venue.

I also snagged tix for a cabaret table for two right in front of the stage to see Al Stewart for the fourth time at another, even smaller local winery venue.  I love his particular “brand” of irreverant and folksy stage manner of talking to the audience between songs, along with all sorts of historical references in the lyrics.  Today’s young’uns would probably think his music’s fine, but would wonder what his lyrics are all about.

Some people go see movies.  We prefer seeing live concerts, especially at small venues where beer, wine, and snacks are available to purchase and bring to our seats to enjoy along with the show.

On to eBay.  I cannot always find the least expensive version of what I want from one of its sellers, but often, I do.  Most of them ship pronto.  If I have to order from another country, it typically doesn’t take long for it to make it through customs, from Poland, Peru, or Japan, but it can get stuck for a week if it’s from China, even if it’s some LED Christmas lights.  I can deal with that.  What pisses me off is that occasionally, I win an auction, pay for it within minutes, and the seller, who is only about 500 miles away from me can’t be bothered shipping it within 10 days.  I shouldn’t have to chase down the seller to inquire about it.  I do have recourse, for a refund, if necessary.  Still, it’s a pain in the ass.  It shouldn’t happen with a seller who has 100% five-star feedback.

Li’L Nikita Strikes Again

Hat tip:  Naaman Brown

I’m more than a little late to the plate on this one.  Evidently, Nicky’s tried to steal someone’s anthology, and make it look like it’s his.  From what I can tell:

  • He had a story accepted
  • He volunteered to do the cover, and some editing
  • He padded it out with at least one story from a woman who had no clue he’d swiped her story
  • He posted the book listing on BookPatch as though it was his, writing the blurb and only comment himself
  • Posted an ad on his old high school’s Facebook page about the book

Mr. Brown tells me:

I am beginning to think the boy has taken over someone else’s book, like he did with Jordan Bobe’s “Darkened Horizons 3”, Carter Kaplan’s “Emanations”, Serena Carrington’s “Avalon”, Aimee Bejarano’s “The Gateway”, Butler’s “The Aeneid”, Bloch’s “This Crowded Earth”, either by being involved [by having one story in the book, or] as a book designer or deciding it’s P.D. and his for the taking. I might be wrong, but, hey, it’s Nickolaus Pacione.

I think he’s right.  The sad part is that the woman whose story he stole is flattered.  He never even contacted her about using it under creative commons, so she found out about it some other way.

On two completely different subjects, Ozzie, our newest adoptee 10 y/o cat, has settled in so well with the other cats, and the dog, that none of them challenge or spook him anymore, and the oddball items I can find on eBay for super cheap never fail to astonish me.

Ozzie has turned out to be a real lap cat, which is great in winter.  He’s a long and tall longhair, so when he sprawls across my lap, he’s the feline equivalent of a fur draft chaser.  He’s got a few physical oral and sinus issues, but nothing other than that.

As for eBay, it’s so easy to find all sorts of things, from tractor parts to party supplies.  From time to time, we do need replacement parts for our tractors; usually, Craig’s List is better, but eBay sometimes has what we need.  Throwing a party for some neighbors and friends is something I have to do, because we got invited to their parties over the holidays.  Sure, we brought hostess gifts, but still, I owe them.  Throwing an outdoors BBQ/cookout is the way to go.  Informal, pool will be open for swimming by then, kids are welcome, the food will be good, and none of it will be catered.  Kids may not like satay sauce, or a spicy BBQ sauce, but they will be fine with Sweet & Sour sauce, or a sweet BBQ sauce.

Have an outdoors bar, with beer, wine, and non-alcoholic beverages.  Set up the tables for seating, and a buffet style setting.  I’ll do the cooking, and the guests may serve themselves.  I’m willing to bet our guests, kids included, would love root beer floats for dessert.  Plenty of coolers and ice will serve to keep the food that should be kept cold, cold; chafing dishes will be fine for anything that should be kept warm, such as pulled pork, flank steak, etc.



Most Boring Stupor Bowl Evah, and Nice Haul

Typically, for a Super Bowl, I make several finger food type munchies:  potstickers with dipping sauce, nachos, chicken satay, etc.  This time around, I wasn’t up for doing all that, so I just made a batch of chili, and quéso, served with tortilla chips.  The chili was spicy enough to make my mouth numb, but hardly what I’d call five alarm (more like three alarm).  I think I’ll use the chicken for tikka masala this evening.

As it turned out, the chili made me sleepy, so I dozed off before halftime, underneath my favorite throw blanket, and didn’t wake up until that turnover right near the end of the game that sealed the deal for the Patriots.  Evidently, everything I missed was something I didn’t regret missing, from Adam Levine’s nips and tats to the god-awful supercilious, sanctimonious ads.

Unless their home team is in it, most people watch the Super Bowl for the ads, anyway.  Apparently, those scored even less than the total game points, if that’s possible.  There hasn’t been a good halftime show since Prince.

Today, I made an errand run to a local deli/bottle shop.  They were still selling their collection of logo beer glasses for $2 apiece, so I picked up another dozen.  They get them for free as promotions from the beer distributors.  Two bucks apiece is a good deal, since they normally run anywhere from $5 to $8, if you get them from the brewery.  The Hoegaarden glasses were supposed to be $5 each, but the woman who works checkout during weekday morning to afternoon hours sold them to me for the same $2 as the other glasses.  I probably wouldn’t serve beer in them, but they’re great for root beer floats.  The rest of the ones I bought were some more Heinekens, Long Trail, and some from Commonwealth Cider (which I had never heard of before today).  The Long Trail ones are laser etched, instead of stamped on, so the logo will never wash off, no matter how many times they get run through the dishwasher.  The only beer glasses I have that need to be hand washed are the Stella Artois and Chimay ones that have gilt or silver around the rim.

Seriously, for $24, these dozen were well worth it.  When they get condensation on them in the summer, people drop them on the patio, and they shatter.  With these, I don’t really care if they get broken, as long as we can sweep or vacuum up the shards before anyone steps on them barefoot.