Tuesday, March 30, 2010

OK, it's worse

Last night, as I drove home from work, I sat in my car with a feeling of dread about what I'd find in the basement. It started raining again yesterday and after our flood last week, I'll never look at rain the same way again.

Stunningly, the basement was dry upon my return home. Much relief all around. Heading to bed at 11 PM or so, the basement was water-free.

Then our neighbor's gas generator fired up at 3AM, waking us up and a good thing, too.

There was more water than yesterday and it was rising fast. Even the efforts we'd taken to move items to positions where they'd be safe were about to fail. So we scrambled to haul stuff upstairs, emptying filing cabinets and CD racks, carrying futons up the stairs and dumping them in the guest room. Moving the power cords and new surge protectors to the tops of desks or the entertainment center.

There was no way our utility pump was going to handle this. A dawn run to Home Depot when it opened at 6AM bore no fruit -- completely sold out. Lowes? Same thing. So I turned around and headed home, detouring around sections of roads and towns that were impassable. Then I figured I'd stop at the local hardware store in the hope that they opened at 7AM. Thankfully, even though they didn't actually open until 7:30, the staff was already there and kindly let me and another gentleman in to buy pumps.

So then home with utility pump #2 where I quickly got it fired up. By that point, the furnace was extinguished and our telephone jack was underwater (bye bye warm water and the landline). I fired off a few e-mails to work to let them know that I most definitely wasn't going in (not the only person from work in this predicament) followed by a lie down on the couch with the cat, just needing to relax for a moment. Sadly, that didn't work and hasn't worked all day as my stomach is tied in knots.

And then it became apparent that the two pumps weren't keeping up with the influx of water. A call to family for aid saw my mother arrive a short while later with their utility pump. Now all three are spewing water out of the house and appear, just maybe, to be at least running even with new water coming in.

Even so, the rain continues to fall in sheets and buckets with no sign of letup. Several counties in RI now enjoy the designation of Federal Disaster Area thanks to a statement by President Obama. Sadly, ours is not one of them yet but we can hold out hope. We can also hold out hope that the rain stops, that the water table eventually begins to recede, and that we do not under any circumstances lose power. It's bad enough now. Losing power and the pumps will make things oh so much worse.

Send good thoughts and dry weather, please!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Well, it could have been worse

"Wow, the family room floor looks mighty shiny this morning."

7 AM today and that's what went through my head as I stood at the bottom of the stairs looking into our basement family room (aka our home office space and TV room).

Sadly, the tile-polishing elves didn't come in the night to buff the floor and make them all pretty. That would have been much more welcome.

Instead, our basement flooded for the first time in the five years that we've owned this house. Sure, during the summer we run dehumidifiers down cellar to deal with the summer humidity but that's nothing compared to what I saw as I trooped downstairs for a quick look at the morning news on my computer.

There's nothing to wake you up like seeing 2-3 inches of water across virtually your entire basement. A quick visit to the circuit breakers and I minimized the risk that computers or TVs would blow up or that I'd get fried as I sloshed around. (Side note -- thank god we had an entirely new breaker box installed just a week ago and our great electrician kindly labeled all of the circuits! Hurrah!)

An hour later, after I'd moved all the electrical cables and such out of our new indoor swimming pool and had started to relocate the many items that were now doubling as sponges, my wife gets home from the gym.

"Honey," I shout up the stairs. "We've got a problem."

And so our unexpected vacation day began, leading into a seemingly endless struggle with the shop vac, utility pumps (no sump pump here), soaking feet, continuing seepage of more water from a freakishly high water table, and profanity galore. Seriously, I just wanted to chuck it ever now and then and go someplace without a flooded basement. I hear Australia is nice this time of year.

11 and a half hours and I think several hundred gallons of water later, it occurred to me that while I'd taken a few breaks, I hadn't had anything to eat since I woke up that morning. Not good. So my lovely wife dragged me from the house, my stomach in knots about what we'd find when we got home. Dinner was great but I was still thinking about how miserable I was going to be if we returned home to find everything underwater again.

Thankfully, things were no worse and perhaps just a bit better than when we left. And then I started thinking...in the grand scheme of things, it could have been so much worse. Yes, the basement is soaked and we'll be running dehumidifiers and using drying agent from now until Doomsday to get rid of the moisture and avoid mold. However, we didn't lose anything irreplaceable like photos (let's hear it for plastic bins!). Our furniture appears to be fine. Our electronics survived with the exception of the easily replaceable laptop power adapter (that will teach us to leave it lying on the floor by mistake), and neither of us got hurt, electrocuted, soaking wet, or otherwise seriously damaged.

It could have been worse.

We could have been like the guy we heard about today who came home from vacation recently to find 5 and half feet of water in his basement. I can't even imagine how I would have reacted to that.

We could have been like the family here in Bristol who came home after work one day to discover 200 gallons of heating oil filling their basement, the result of a mistaken oil delivery to the wrong house...a house that had an external pipe but no oil tank. Those poor souls were out of their house for 18 months as hazardous waste crews pumped out the oil and then gutted the foundation and surrounding yard as part of the toxic waste cleanup.

We could have been like family members who discovered that their tankless hot water had ruptured, filling their basement not just with water but steaming hot water.

Thankfully, none of those things happened. Instead, we had an extremely crappy day that left us exhausted and frustrated and not yet done (more cleanup tomorrow). However, it's manageable. We've been lucky. It's been a while since we've had a real stinker of a day or a major disaster. Hopefully, we've gotten it out of our system (and our house) and can avoid another for a while. After all, everyone has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day now and then, even in Australia.

Some like it hot

A few years ago, we spent a week on Chincoteague Island off the coast of Virginia. While there, my step-father discovered a little store (well, a large shed...ok, a moderately sized shack, really) that only sold hot sauces. This was very appealing to us as virtually everyone on that side of the family is a fan of hot salsas, peppers, and sauces.

One of these sauces on sale that day, known solely as "Widow", has achieved the status of legend among our family and friends. It's easy to tell Widow from the other hot sauces that you might find in a kitchen cabinet. It's the one with the yellow label and the big plastic black widow spider glued to it. The deal with Widow is that if you want to try it, you simply dip a toothpick into it and then dab it on your tongue. Anything more and you're asking for trouble, not to mention a damaged tongue. My step-father almost learned this the hard way when he dipped a chip in the sample bowl and was lifting it to his mouth as the proprietor waved his hands like a mad man to warn him not to do it and instead directed him to the bowl of toothpicks.

I was thinking of this as I read an article published by the Associated Press regarding the Indian Army's planned use of a native hot pepper -- the "bhut jolokia," or "ghost chili" (aka the Guiness Book of World Record's official "hottest chili") -- to make a natural, non-toxic but apparently extremely effective form of gas grenades to deal with terrorists and criminals in a non-lethal manner. In the article, the reporter notes that the bhut jolokia contains 1,000,000 Scoville units, a scientific measurement of how spicy a pepper is. A typical jalapeƱo pepper, by way of comparison, contains roughly 5,000 Scoville units and a green Bell pepper clocks in at 0 Scoville units.

(Side note...how cool would it be to invent a unit of measurement for something and then have your name attached to it for all time? As long as it's not an embarrassing one, like a "Garn", NASA's official measure of space sickness, named after U.S. Senator Jake Garn who was sick for pretty much his entire trip in the space shuttle. The other requirement? You've got to have a cool or unusual name so that the unit of measure is memorable...like the Smoot.)

OK, so back to my hot pepper musings...

What's really scary, after having tried Widow and agreeing wholeheartedly with the store's proprietor that Widow is best taken a toothpick tip at a time, is learning that in the grand scheme of things, at only 90,000 Scoville units, Widow is really a lightweight along the spectrum of hot sauces and extracts (though if you survive the heat and the mild blistering that might occur, it's actually got a nice taste).

Of course, finding out about the existence of these other sauces a) makes me curious to taste them and b) gives one an appreciation for creative branding. At a local restaurant we occasionally visit, hot sauces are range from the basic "hot" up to "call your mama". In the world of bottled hot sauces and extracts, how can you turn down options like "Possible Side Effects Hot Sauce", "Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally", "Satan's Blood Chile Extract", "Demon Ichor" and "Z...Nothing Beyond...It Won't Kill You But You'll Wish It Did" (checking in at 4,000,000 Scoville units). Actually, with heat like that, I think it would actually be very easy to turn these things down. I'm not even sure how one cooks with something that hot but it would certainly make for some interesting meals!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Something needs to start before it can stop

"There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year."
-- Sen. John McCain, speaking about how the Republican Party will not cooperate with any Democratic initiatives following the passage of health care reform
Shameless hypocrisy aside (Republican attacks about Democrats use of reconciliation after the Republications used it 17 of the 22 times since 1980, anyone?), someone really needs to explain to Senator McCain that before you can stop doing something, you really need to start doing it first.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Book Review: A Wreck in Iraq

As I languished this weekend in a cold/flu-induced catatonia, I still managed to get through a book or two as a means of passing the time between sneezes and hacking, lung-expelling coughs. Among the reading materials was Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, his recounting of life in the Green Zone in Iraq during the aftermath of the U.S. invasion and the reign of U.S. viceroy J. Paul Bremer.

I can't really say I enjoyed the book. It's not that Chandrasekaran isn't a good writer or that the tale he tells isn't compelling. It's just that the ongoing recitation of the shocking range of ineptitude became numbing after a very short while. Clearly, it didn't make me feel any better about the U.S. efforts to put Iraq back together again following the invasion and overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

While Chandrasekaran makes it clear that there were members of Iraqi society ready and willing to work with the U.S. and there were U.S. government employees on the ground making a legitimate attempt to make things better, by and large their efforts was ignored or swallowed up and spit out by the staggering incompetence of those placed in charge by Dubya, Dick "Dark Lord of the Sith" Cheney, and and Don "Freedom is Messy" Rumsfeld. Honestly, they couldn't have fucked things up more if they'd set out to do so.

Of course, there were moments of levity scattered throughout the book, mostly as a result of sarcastic, knowing comments made about the neo-con efforts in Baghdad and throughout Iraq. Among my favorites was the simple poster in the British barracks in the Green Zone:

"Yeehaw is a not a foreign policy."

So true. So very very true.

It's not a book I'll probably ever read again but it was worth plowing through at least once, if only to clarify just how lucky we are that the 8-year desolation known as the Bush Presidency is over.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The reason music videos were invented

I stopped caring much about music videos following their 80's heyday when they peaked with the a-Ha classic "Take on Me" and Michael Jackson's "Thriller". However, I was just introduced to two new music videos that are:
  1. laugh out loud funny
  2. unbelievably clever
  3. actually go along with some catchy tunes
Please excuse me if I'm dreadfully behind on the whole "Ok Go" phenomenon but I just have to sing the praises (as it were) of their videos "Here it Goes Again" and the holy-crap-how-did-they-do-that "This To Shall Pass (Rube Goldberg Edition)".

I'm not even going to bother trying to embed them here because you really need to see these in the big YouTube format. For the first time, I may actually buy an album because the videos made me like the music so much.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Our "Triple D" Experience

So, last weekend, we're enjoying a brief sojourn to Maine just to get away for a few days. To change things up, we don't head for the coast like usual but instead travel inland to explore some towns we've never visited. While Greta Garmin sits on the dashboard making sure we don't run too far afield (or can find our way back if we do), we wander about exploring back roads and small towns.

As we do, we pass the A-1 Diner in Gardiner, a true classic perched above Cobbosseecontee Stream (isn't that a great Maine name?) and just a short stroll from the banks of the Kennebec River. Sadly, we're too late for Sunday brunch and they're closed. A quick perusal one of our Maine guide books lets us know that we might have missed out on one of those unique small town experiences. Oh well.

Not so fast, my fellow gourmands.

In the end, there is no doubt that we'll be heading back that way on that very trip for a visit to the A-1 once my wife discovers that said classic diner had previously been featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives. For those of you as yet unexposed to this paragon of food porn, "Triple D" as it's known is a hit on the Food Network and features the uniquely coiffed Guy Fieri traveling the country to find unusual, remarkable hole-in-the-wall restaurants with excellent food and that typically are only known by the protective locals. More importantly, it's one of my wife's guilty pleasures.

(OK, I'll admit to watching it sometimes, too. And yes, last year I did write down the name of a pizza joint Guy visited in Chicago just in case I ever happened to be in the neighborhood the next time I'm in the Windy City on business.)

Anyhow, once we know that we're in range of a Triple D-featured joint (you can watch the segment here), well, we just can't leave Maine without stopping. And so we do, popping for dinner on our last evening right before making the drive home. And it is oh sooooo worth it, especially after the tremendous disappointment that was dinner the evening before at what passed for a barbeque place in Augusta. (I'll never doubt my wife's new #1 rule for barbeque places -- don't eat there if there's no one else in the place; it never turns out well.)

First of all, the A-1 really is a classic old school diner, built in the '40s and lovingly cared for though clearly showing the years. We settle into a battered booth at the end where we could look down to see Cobbosseecontee Stream (damn, I can't stop saying that name) rolling down to the Kennebec. The friendly young waitress chats with us, reminisces about the Triple D visit -- "the crew loved the onion rings and the rest of the food...they told us they often just shoot the video but don't eat it but here they chowed down!" -- and greets various arriving and departing patrons by name.

(On a side note, is there anything better than having a great local store or a restaurant you enjoy so much and that is so welcoming that you just keep going back to the point where the staff knows your name and you know all of them? I've only got one of those in my life right now...Island Books in Middletown, RI, and I love popping in just to browse and visit.)

OK, back on task here...

The A-1 menu is full of standard diner fare there but we go for the specials...a wonderfully grilled pork chop with homemade apple chutney for Jennifer and "cajun meatloaf" for me. Sorry, Mom but that is the best meatloaf I've ever had and it runs a distant second to the bite of chop and chutney that my lovely wife shares with me. The homemade onion rings are pretty spectacular, too. I can understand why the Triple D crew enjoyed themselves.

Sadly, the meal is so good and the portions so generous that there is no room to sample one of the desserts before we stumble back out to the car and begin our trek home. However, I think it will all work out. The A-1 has been there for 60-some odd years and doesn't appear to be going anywhere. Maine certainly isn't going anywhere. And we're certainly not planning to stop our occasional visits to the Pine Tree State.

I think I might start with dessert next time.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Facts vs. Fiction

It's with a certain measure of disgust that I've been following the apparently successful efforts of Texas Board of Education's conservative faction to rewrite history as it will be taught to schoolchildren. Can someone please explain to me why people with no academic credentials and no educational expertise get to distort facts and impose fictions upon schoolchildren? Will we be allowing entirely untrained individuals to set medical standards next? Oh...wait a minute. I forgot about politicians' attempts to tell doctors what to do and say when it comes to a woman's reproductive health. Argh!


February got crazy busy. March, not so much but still not much spare time. Then came a nasty lingering cold/flu bug that kept me sidelined for several days and still has my head feeling like it's swaddled in cotton.

The result...no writing. With the exception of one post on my prospective adoptive dad blog, it's been a creative wasteland for the last 4-6 weeks -- nothing on the blog, no real activity in Facebook, a half-hearted attempt at seeing if Twitter might shake me out of my wordless funk, no work on my big writing projects.

But I've sat around long enough. Time to shake off the rust and force myself to start writing again, just to work the kinks of out of my fingers.

Now I just need to figure out what to write.