Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I hate playing coffee pot roulette.

     For the record, I enjoy the game of roulette. For those times that you do find me in a casino, you'll find me most at the roulette wheel.  I prefer to play straight numbers and have enjoyed many a 35:1 payout, but as much fun as I've had there, it does not translate well to my lifelong game of coffee pot roulette.

Not the way to start the day.
     I'm not an engineer (but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn last night), but the mechanism seems simple, a pump, a heating element, a pot, and some sort of slow dispersal system to drip onto the grounds.  That's all it really takes to make a slow drip, electric coffee maker, yet, for whatever reason, I can't seem to find a company to make it right.  All I want is a good, hot, consistent, cup of coffee to pour into my old butterfly gold Correlle-wear cup to start my day, but finding a device that would do all this, has been a life-long game of roulette for me, and the stories of these failures are legendary, well maybe not legendary, but at least blog-worthy.

     I can give up coffee if I want.  I don't have an addiction to it and if I am running late in the morning, I can skip the ritual and function normally.  The issue with giving it up is, that there are as many benefits to drinking a couple of cups of coffee as there are possible detriments.  The two big ones for me are increased brain activity (ability to concentrate) and the predictable and almost immediate laxative effect of the coffee.  For a guy who spends so much of his life on the road, you cannot understate the latter benefit, so I suspect that coffee and I will continue our relationship for a lifetime.  My wife, for the record, does NEED her coffee in the am, and I generally don't speak to her until the first cup has been emptied.  That's the secret to the long, successful marriage in our home, you don't poke the bear, especially in the morning, and never before she's had her coffee.  That's the biggest reason I need a reliable coffee maker.

The only cup I use to drink coffee
     So where do they fail, you ask?  Where don't they?  My earliest recollection of a failure was with a programmable coffee maker that we had purchased and set up nightly to be ready when we awoke.  Within a month or two of buying it, I came downstairs one morning to find the coffee dispensed, but not into the glass carafe , instead, onto the counter and floor near the device. Admittedly, it took longer than it should have for my foggy brain to process what I was seeing, but even for a generally optimistic guy like me, I'm 100% sure that a deep, disappointed sigh escaped my lips at that moment. Who wakes up ready to start cleaning things?  My sister, Hummingbird, maybe, but certainly not this author.  It just plain sucked, and continued to do so every other time that it happened.  I'm pretty sure that with that maker, it was an issue of the grounds clogging the hole occasionally, thus dispensing unto the counter.  When we replaced it, we found one with a larger diameter dispensing hole, but it didn't solve this problem necessarily.  That one had a button in the back that had to be pushed in for the coffee to be dispensed, and the coffee pot had to be placed exactly against it to have it dispense correctly.  I'm not a detail oriented guy normally, so you can imagine how many late nights I got this wrong and how many early mornings found me on the floor, cleaning up the spilled coffee.

Why I need coffee
     The second biggest issue was the heat of the coffee.  We both like our coffee piping hot when it is dispensed.  The kind of hot where you will sue McDonald's for serving it to you at that temperature, where it is sure to scald you if spilled, and where the first sip burns your bottom lip.  Some of the coffee makers that we've had couldn't get this right from the first cup.  They were quick to go.  The design on most of them allowed the coffee to cool too quickly, so we started purchasing thermal carafes to hold the coffee after the brew. Of course, adding a carafe to the morning ritual just added one more step that could possibly fail and we have had some mishaps and failings with these too.

Coffee isn't worshiped in our home, but I pray to get it right
     I mentioned consistency as a need and a few of these coffee-makes couldn't get this piece right.  I use the same measure and same scoop each night, and we generally buy the same brands, but there are the times that my wife tastes the coffee first thing and immediately inquires "Did you do something different with the coffee this morning"  Yes dear, I got a wild hair and decided that I'd throw a few more or less scoops in there, cuz I know how flexible you are with your morning routine.  Are you kidding me? Of course I get it right, my life depends on it, but the coffee makers don't always do.  The one we have now has developed an annoying habit of dispensing tepid coffee instead of the piping hot variety, and it happens completely at random.  I've had the heating elements fail, but never intermittently before.  This makes for some real interesting mornings in our house. 
     My last complaint on coffee makers, the final drip, if you will, is on the designs of the carafes.   We've frequently gotten carafes whose glass spouts are slightly offset. I'm ignorant of the glass manufacturing process, but how does the QA department of any coffee maker company let those go out? "Hey Bob, this one throws the scalding hot liquid to the left or right, should we pass it?  "Sure Hank, How could that be bad?"  Seriously?  That pot had 2 functions, to hold and to pour correctly.  Is it too much to ask to get them both right?  I'll finish my caffeine induced rant now, as I need a refill.....Wish me luck.....

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Baby, you can drive my car.

     I've been on both sides of the learning process for driving a car, and I'll candidly admit I wasn't good at either of them.  This blog discusses my experiences both behind the wheel and the times I was wishing I was behind the wheel. 

     I couldn't get my license when I lived at home, it was an insurance thing.  Dad probably offered to add me to his policy if I paid the insurance increase, but since I didn't have money to buy a car, it didn't really make sense to get my license and pay for the privilege of driving a non-existent vehicle.  My older siblings would occasionally let me drive their cars, but for the most part I learned to drive after I left home.  I do remember my sister Meter Maid's boyfriend letting me drive one time and scaring them both with my slow braking.  He had a classic 50's muscle car,  and that was probably the closest he came to losing it, prior to it getting T-boned at the intersection of Fort Hill and Main Street in Canandaigua (I was not driving).  My girlfriend
Molly's first car
then taught me how to drive, and I repaid the favor by later marrying her.  I think I was a good student, but I wasn't known for my powers of observation, failing to see signs that instructed me to slow down, stop, yield or the like.  I failed one of my three subsequent driving tests for making a right on red, where clearly it was marked that it was not allowed (That's an automatic failure FYI).  Yes, I said that it took me three times to pass my driving test.  On my first attempt, a friend of mine from work, recognizing my wife's car, barreled towards the car while I was parallel parking and then swerved away at the last moment and honked and waved.  I turned towards the instructor and inquired "Friend of Yours?", but he didn't buy it.  I actually did teach my wife to drive a stick later on, so I did repay her for the instruction that she gave me.  While I may be better at some driving skills, like backing up and parallel parking, she is the superior driver in our family, but she did take Driver's Ed, and I had to learn 3rd hand.

     When our first born, Molly was ready to drive, we decided that it would be a good investment to have her take professional driving instruction.   It had less to do with our lack of ability to teach this skill, both of us were competent drivers, but at that age she was rejecting almost all of what we had to offer summarily, so we really couldn't teach her and have her do that with the traffic laws of NY State.  I don't fault her for this phase in being a teenager, and I've never met a teen who didn't experience this, to some degree, but I would like credit for knowing enough to seek professional help (with driving, not parenting).  If you are a parent, tell me that you have never had your child laugh at one of your suggestions, only to implement the same idea later on, when suggested by a teacher or peer?  Sure you have.  For a few 
hundred dollars she was able to receive driving instruction through a program at our school, and we supplemented the 2 hour, 3 day a week instruction that she was receiving by having her chauffeur us whenever possible.   When she made a mistake that we would question, she would jump back with, "That's not how they taught us to do it at school".  Our ignorance and her attitude had us practicing K turns that looked more Ampersands, and parallel parks that left enough room between us and the curb to fit a smart car in, but we only hoped as she received more instruction, her skills would improve, and they did.  She completed the course and was "ready" to take her driving test.  I've heard that you are not supposed to practice on the actual course that is used by the D.M.V. but it's been my experience that both courses in my area, have strange lane changes that would throw an experienced driver off, so I say let your conscience be your guide.  Char took her to her first test, and she failed it.  I'd love to expound on the reasons she may have failed the test, but when asked on the way home, she promptly ripped up the test and 
Molly's first instructors
threw it out the car window before Char could stop her.  I offered to take the bullet the next time and we scheduled the test.  In the interim prior to the test, I had noticed that she didn't look into intersections as she approached them and upon doing some research found out that it was considered a dangerous action and could cause an automatic failure on the test.  I printed this from the D.M.V website and left it for Molly to read and the next week we headed off for her test.  As we approached the first intersection, she failed, once again,  to look down into it.  I admonished her for it, and at the next intersection, she did the same thing.  It was after the 3rd intersection with no improvement, that I directed her to turn around and go home.  When asked why, my exact words were "Because I've got better things to do today than to drag your Happy Ass to Seneca Falls and watch you fail your test again."  I wasn't known for my tact then (unlike now).  She threw some histrionics but finally agreed to adjust her behavior, and we promptly went there and she passed.  One down.  

      Truthfully, it was an entirely different experience when it came to our son, Dan, and driving instruction.  He was eager to learn and listen and only really needed some correction when it came to stopping at stop signs, where he was overly cautious.  I'm not saying that he is a slow driver, but if we are late for anything, we never hand the keys to Dan to catch us up.  He did not learn that from either of his lead-footed parents.  He did not pass his first test, but the "infraction" that failed him would have been done by most experienced drivers and he easily passed his second time (without histrionics).  At that point I wasn't really sure if getting your kid crying, prior to the test, so that they showed up with puffy eyes, was part of the formula for getting them to pass, so I did punch him really, really, hard on the way there just for good measure (Oh, put down the phones to Child Welfare, I was only kidding).  Dan started out as the better driver, but I have to give credit to Molly for overcoming her bad habits and becoming an able driver.   A couple of speeding tickets and a roll-over accident (icy roads, not bad driving), helped in this process.  The night she rolled the van, the seat belt had come untethered on the ride home and she had the maturity to stop and spend the time to fix it, and that action may have saved her life.  We only have Nolan left to teach and he will have professional instruction as well.  With the changing laws in NY, he won't be able to drive home from high school at night.   Thanks NY for keeping us all safe (no, not seriously).  He is convinced he is inheriting our used Mercedes as his high school car, and that is a vastly unlikely scenario. I'm not sure what the experience will be like, teaching him to drive, but thankfully I've experienced 2 kinds now, so I should be able to handle it, and he'll listen, or he won't drive my car. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On the momentus occasion of my 100th blog.

     It's hard to believe it, but this is my 100th posted blog since I started this project almost 2 years ago.  I've been faithful and posted each Tuesday, without fail, during this time and I thank each and every one of you who make the time to check it out each week or just when the title interests you.  

     I was tempted to do a "clip show" and talk about my favorite blogs over the last 2 years, but it was a helluva week, and I don't want the events to pass without comment, so I'll save the "clip show" for another column. Like I said, it was a helluva week.  In the last 7 days, I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary, my 47th birthday, had one of my best annual check-ups, held our 15th successful golf tournament, and oh yeah, wrote my 100th blog.  Weeks like this kind of make me wonder what I do all those other weeks.  I'll break down these events one at a time.....

     So 25 years ago I tied the knot with the most beautiful person that I have ever known.  I was only 22 at the time, and admittedly that's a little early to commit to someone for the rest of your life, but you don't pick when people like this come into your life, but if you are smart, you don't let them out of it when they do come
 in.  She took a chance on a guy slinging pizzas and going to school for computer science and currently she's married to a guy who sells tortillas for a living.  I wonder how she thinks she made out.  There is no question in my mind, that on that day, I got the better half of the deal.  I was a win/lose negotiator back then, and this could have been my best negotiation ever.  My sister, She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, told me once, that the best marriages are made up of two people who are convinced that they each got the better part of the deal. Maybe there is something to that.  I'll not pontificate long on being married 25 years, but I will mention a few things that I think have helped ours.  We had some counseling sessions a few years into the marriage, and we learned to be better communicators, better, not perfect.  It was interesting because it took until the 2nd session to convince the counselor to change her focus from preventing us from divorcing and to help us to communicate, and that's point 2, when we committed for life, we meant it.  I think it's important to keep lust in your marriage too.  I'll leave the sappy love talk to others, who will undoubtedly talk about how love changes from something purely physical, to deeper understanding and something even spiritual.  Me, I'll just say, that if my wife is changing clothes in the house, and I am home, everyone who knows me, knows what  room that I will be in.  The last point I'll share is that on the worst day of my marriage, whenever that was, I respected the person that I married, and no short term conflict or situation ever took that away from me or my wife, long. 

We've held up pretty well
     I'll combine my check up and birthday because they do fit hand in hand.  I feel very good about being 47, no second childhood seems to loom (it helps if you've never left your first one), and every morning and evening I am able to thank God for the many blessings in my life.  My health is not perfect, but it's pretty
workable. I aspire each day to be a better person, and some days I am, and some days I lose my focus.  I'm surrounded each day by inspirational people including my children sometimes, and that's a head-scratcher.  A few weeks ago, I sat with my daughter Molly and she told me, that if she passed away tomorrow, all she would want her headstone to read was that she was kind. It made me embarrassed for what I may have said to that same question had it been posed to me first.  A week later, my son Nolan, after having a rough day in school and subsequently finding out he was unexpectedly going alone to a Scouting camp-out, came home with a "Most Cheerful" award  that he earned over 160 others.  At 12, he reminded me that some days all you have control of, is your attitude.  I can't leave Dan out, so I'll just comment on how I've gotten prune-like in our hot tub listening to him and his views on a plethora of topics.  That is one thing I'm better at, at 47, than I was before, appreciating that wisdom can come from a variety of people. I used to think there was only one right way to do things, and now I know there are a myriad of ways to get to the same goal.  I'm not saying that I'm not stubborn on some things, my family would spit out their morning coffee if I tried to say it, but I am saying that I'm more open to other ideas now than in any other time in my life.  As to my recent check up, I'll summarize it by saying that never before have my parting instructions been, "Keep doing what you are doing", but this time, they were. 

My 2012 team

     Lastly on how I feel about my 100th blog, I don't know how long I am going to keep it up, but I think it's had a good run thus far.  Readership builds as people settle in to their patterns of viewing it.  I'm really excited about some blogs that I have written, and others  feel like I've phoned them in.  The site has had 54,000 visits since I started it, and I suspect of the 500-600 hits that it gets each week, less than a third are regulars that came to the site on purpose.  That's not to say that the "accidental" hitters don't appreciate the site sometimes, because I've had a comment or two that tells me that they do.  I've kept this blog pure in the sense that I have not taken advantage of any money making mechanism that I could with it and I've let no one influence what I post.  I did get a note the other day that set a dollar value on my blog at $900.  By my calculations that means that I'm making about $3.00 an hour for my efforts.  It will be nice when I get that to the minimum wage threshold.  As always, if you like a post, please share it, and this week pick an old one and read it too, you've now got 100 to choose from.  Which is your favorite? 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My dining room collection....

     I technically don't collect dining rooms, that would be weird, but I do collect things, in piles,  in my dining room at various times of the year.  I have to start this blog with confessing that my wife abhors that I collect things in our dining room, but she allows me to do it anyway sometimes.......

     Our dining room is directly off from our back porch, and is one of the ways to enter our house.  It is the wrong way, according to my wife, who would have you walk by the double french doors that lead into it, to the single door that leads to our back foyer, but that really doesn't make sense to me, so I come in the "wrong" door often. Point is, however, the dining room is an inconvenient place to pile things as any company coming over is bound to see it through the french doors, but it is the most convenient place to pile things that need to go back out of the house quickly, hence the frequent piles that end up there.  But what would I pile up in a room like that?  It depends on the season.

     In Spring, the dining room floor tends to get littered with boxes of tortillas and wraps from my job.  I have samples sent to me on a regular basis and it's too cold to store these in my car and the garage can get a little
This week's collection
cool at that time too, so I bring them in and pile them on the floor.  Each case weighs about 20 lbs, so it's not unusual for me to have 100 lbs of tortillas and chips just sitting in our dining room.  It does create some interesting questions when we do entertain.  It's kind of tough to explain your need for multiple boxes of 30 lb un-fried tortilla chips.  I normally just evade the question enough to get the people guessing what in the world we would do with these things.   When the weather starts to get warmer, I store this stuff on the Tiki bar in the back of my garage, near my kitchen (What, doesn't everyone have a Tiki bar and a kitchen in their garage?), but prior to that, they can be found in the dining room.  That doesn't necessarily mean that I stop storing everything for work in that corner, and in fact almost every Monday night you can find my suitcase packed and ready there, and on some trips assorted banners and flyers for distribution that week. 

     Towards the end of the spring, we start to gear up for the family golf tournament and as Chairperson, I end up with a lot of the clutter.  Most of the long term storage for the event is upstairs in my garage in the
What cases of tortillas look like
recreation room (What, doesn't everyone have an upstairs and a rec room in their garage?), but as the tournament draws nearer, it starts to collect inside. This includes the tickets for drawings, the cigars and boxes for the beer wenches, the shirts for the girls, and eventually the tee gifts.  Tradition holds that the Friday night prior to the tournament, my family stuffs the 100 plus bags that hold the tee gifts for all the participants.  The bag includes a sleeve of golf balls, rules sheets, band-aids, sunscreen, pencils, tees, and that year's tee gift which could be shirts, umbrellas, chairs, coolers, or another branded item. Suffice it to say, it's almost impossible to see the floor of that room the weeks prior to the tournament.  My sister Hummingbird has a similar issue to this as she collects thousands of dollars worth of donated raffle gifts for the tournament each year, but she has to keep hers for months, mine are in and out in a few weeks.  I often wonder if the kids will miss this particular tradition when the tournament ends in 5 years.  My son Nolan, has never know a June that didn't include stacks of stuff in the dining room and the Friday night "walk round the table" to stuff the golfers bags.  It's weird how sometimes you create these type of memories without even realizing it, but I digress, back to the clutter....

     After the tournament in early June we have a series of birthdays, holidays, and anniversaries that create a better kind of clutter in that room (I know right, what could be better than piles of golf balls, cigars and tortillas?) .
Oooh presents !!
Since we celebrate most of these events at our dining room table, that room tends to collect the wrapped gifts in the weeks prior to these events.  We have my birthday, my son Dan's birthday, my anniversary, and Fathers day that all occur within a 2 week period in June, so you can imagine what the pile must look like sometimes.  We'd hide the presents prior, but sometimes it's fun to drive the recipient crazy trying to figure out what is in each package prior to the event.  It's even better when we don't label the presents right away, and you have to guess if it's for you too.  After the 3rd week in June, the floor starts to show back up again and we have probably the longest stretch of clean floor in that room that we will have for the year.  My wife smiles more at this time and I'm never sure if this is because Summer is coming or just because she doesn't have to clean around the clutter in that corner.  Knowing my wife like I do, it's likely a toss up. 

     As Fall approaches we tend to get Scouting related piles in that room.  That's not to say we don't have piles occasionally in that corner during other seasons, as a matter of fact there are boxes of flags sitting there right now and I remember tripping over some tents that landed there already this year, but in the Fall it gets worse.  We do Scouting for Food in November and try as we might, we inevitably miss picking up a bag or
The pineapple stain in the dining room
two in our local town.  We'll come back home that month and find bags of canned goods hanging from our doors and we store them in the dining room until the next Scout meeting. One year someone donated a leaking can of pineapple, that we did not discover until a few days after the bags were sitting there.  The enzyme from the pineapple ate the varnish off the floor and created a black mark where it was set.  I took the blame for that one and someday we'll get it buffed out, but we have to clean off the floor first.  Each week my Scout briefcase ends up in that corner. I could store it in my office in the top of my garage (What, doesn't everyone have an office in the upstairs of their garage?), but since I do a lot of the Scout bookwork at night, it's most convenient to leave it in the dining room.  When we do car washes, the corner has piles of sponges, soap, buckets, and towels.  For pancake and spaghetti dinners, it's cases of food, and serving utensils, but it's safe to say, almost without exception, there is always something Scout related being stored "temporarily" in that room.

     As the winter comes and we start to prepare for Christmas, inevitably the boxes of Christmas decorations start coming in.  We put the Fall decorations in the same boxes so they stay there for a few weeks as we slowly start converting each room to a Christmas theme.  We generally don't store our Christmas presents there, as Santa doesn't bring them until Christmas Eve.  That generally ends the year for us collecting stuff in that room and we celebrate each year by inviting some close friends and family over for cocktails and to inspect the clean floor.  As I said when I started this blog, my wife prefers it this way, as she hates clutter, but I have a different view.  You see, each pile that comes and goes from that corner represents some activity or organization that we are elbow deep into, and the piles mean that we are keeping busy doing what was intended, that is, giving back to this community that we are so blessed to be part of.   It's as simple as that, so yes we have a collection in our dining room, and I wouldn't have it any other way. 
      Author's Note:  Next week I'll pen and post my 100th blog.  I'm thinking of doing a clip show, but if you have suggestions for a different theme, feel free to comment and share it.  Thanks for following!