Friday, July 28, 2006

Now Improved!

The Sheraton Hotel is coming down this week. It was an odd little hotel, perched on the edge of I-94, surrounded by a Target, grocery stores, car lots, and dollar stores. Coincidentally, it was not close to anything you'd want to get to from a hotel. It was only about three stories high and never seemed particularly elegant.

I drove by this morning, and the demolition had begun. A few walls had been knocked down, exposing the interior.

I had thought it might look like a dollhouse--all the little roms with the outside wall removed. But it didn't. It looked so desolate: the wall that still stood had curtains still in the windows, as if there were still people staying there. There couldn't be, of course, so the curtains in the window were just like a sign of gross abandonment. The piles of rubble added to the moonscape.

There was a machine doing something, and casting water mist into the air. The morning sun was throwing rainbows over it all.

The old hotel never looked so good.

Bumper Stickers In The Neighborhood

There are a number of rental units on my block, and sometimes all I know of the people in them is based on what they have used to decorate their cars. Sometimes it seems that the bumper stickers are all that are holding the car together, but being in an educated state, no one puts just anything on their car. They all express their owners' personality. Here are two of my favorites:

Darwin Loves You

This one makes me smile. Minnesota's not likely to become a state that teaches Creationism, or Intelligent Design, so I can just smile, secure in my sense that that is one battle I won't have to face.

I (Heart) Scrawny Pale Guys

And who doesn't?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

All The Small Things

Life has been chaotic recently. Lots of stuff combining to make daily living more difficult than usual. And, of course, that means more for me to whine about. You lucky readers!

The shower.

For starters, the shower is about 14 years old, and the fixtures weren't highest quality at the time. They were good quality, and a good value, and apparently had a life span of exactly! 14 years! The initial symptoms were a lowering of water pressure, and a tendency for the spray to angle off in different directions. The terminal symptoms were a failure of most of the jets, and a spiritless drooling of water from the edges. It was like trying to shower under a teething baby, with an occasional loogie hawk for variety.

So--time for a new shower head.

But! It couldn't be easy! Because! In the intervening fourteen years, brass bathroom fixtures have become passe. Dated even. Restoration Hardware doesn't even carry ANYTHING in polished brass anymore. The local home stores had only a couple of chintzy pieces--nothing that was a well made or acceptable as what was failing back at home.

Time for a special order.

So--Mr. Sweetie and I went to Home Depot (TM) too look for a showerhead. Preferably one with a modicum of antique charm for our 115 year old house. We found one--with holes like a watering can and not nipples like a power washer--and ordered it. "It should be there by Monday" I was told by the nice lady who took my order on Thursday.


By Wednesday--with no showerhead--I called. "Yes, the one warehouse was out, so they had to ship it from another warehouse. What can I say?" It arrived on Thursday--so not the 3 days later I had been expecting. Mr. Sweetie and his plumbing buddy the Bunny went up to install it. At 9 p.m.

Yup--you guessed it. The parts didn't fit each other, plus the design was so bad that the water actually backed up out of the showerhead itself and ran back out the arm and down the wall. You couldn't actually get anymore water out of it than we were getting from the one we were replacing.

So--return badly designed showerhead and back to special order. Wait a week. Again. In the interim, the old showerhead was so useless that we took showers in the bathtub. Huzzah for bathtub faucet with telephone style hand shower!


Meanwhile, construction continues on all the street in our neighborhood. Old lead water supply lines are being removed, and new curbs and sidewalk being installed. Then streets being paved. No street parking allowed, and a ginormous trench built at the end of the driveway so off-street parking is not an option either. We found ourselves parking farther and farther away, climbing over piles of dirt and holes in the sidewalk to get to and from the car. Complicated by the fact that you never knew from one day to the next what street would be totally blocked by enormous excavations--heavy construction equipment, seven foot high dirt piles, with correspondingly deep holes.

Into all this disruption, it becomes obvious that it is time to replace our disintegrating concrete front steps. They have always been an eyesore--too large for the scale of the house, and resolutely charmless. Many many, MANY years of temporary patches and repairs (going back easily 40 years or more) have finally failed, and so Mr. Sweetie got himself a rental jackhammer and took them down.

So, to recap: no shower*. No street. No sidewalk. No stairs. Construction everywhere. Fine film of dirt settling on all horizontal surfaces.

What would you do in these circumstances? That's right--re-decorate a bedroom! Remove all the furniture, take apart the window to repair and paint, remove all light sources and ceiling fans! Paint the room--and halfway through find out that the Bunny (whose room it is) has buyer's remorse and doesn't want to change after all!

So--half the stuff in her bedroom is now in her sister's room, where Bunny is also sleeping. The rest of the stuff is in the hallway. The walls are edged, but only half painted. The room is a hangover-inducing mix of blue, pink and green.

So! How is your summer?

*Okay--I must give credit where credit is due. Mr. Sweetie installed the (second) new showerhead the day it arrived--one week later--and it is wonderful. It pays to buy known brand names. Thank you Kohler! And Mr. Sweetie!

Requiem for a Goldfish

The goldfish died.

This is the sort of trauma that afflicts almost every child who is given a "starter pet" like a goldfish. When I was a kid, the school had a fundraising "fair" and one of the dependable games was a ping pong ball toss into a square filled with small fishbowls, each with its own Real Live Goldfish. A goldfish was the most prestigious of prizes to bring home, and I remember the year we came home with two of them.

Unusually, one of the two was not gold, but black. Predictibly, we named the gold one "Golde," but in a nod to our Broadway ambitions, the black one became "Tevye."

They lived in a little bowl, and I remember some nonsense about dissolving "oxygen tablets" into the water to make it habitable. They did not last very long, probably, but as every parent knows, once something has a name, it's as real a pet as the old dog that's been around for years.

As a parent now, I marvel at the brilliance of ping pong ball toss as a revenue raiser. Even today, those little goldfish cost about twelve cents each. Ping pong balls can't be too expensive, right? (I looked them up, and they aren't--$1.59 the dozen) and after the capital expenditure of a bunch of little fish bowls (which can be bought from Michaels for about $3 each, and that's retail!). You never won the bowl, just the fish, which you carried home in a plastic sandwich bag. Sell tickets for a quarter a try, and you're in clover!

So--the Bunny wanted a fish, back when she was about 4, and we got a goldfish. Based on our joint nostalgic memories, we also bought a large glass fishbowl, and took it home.

Mistake. Surprise, surprise.

Goldfish, I learned, are not really very nice fish. They are very dirty--they poop long orange strings of poop. They seem to shed scales or something, and a fine black crud soon lines the bottom of the bowl and the water clouds up.

To properly keep a goldfish, you need a tank. With a filtration system. Which means a pump and some sort of filter, which you change. You need to change 20% of the water weekly, vacuum the gravel to keep the silt down, and you should really augment the tank with an aerator. Failing to do these things--EVERY WEEK!--results in a foul smell eminating from the water and polluting a surprisingly large area.

So, we got a tank. And the goldfish--which was silver and thus named "Luna"--was happy. Too happy. She grew. She rapidly outgrew the little tank we had gotten her. We had to upsize. But a six gallon tank only holds six inches of fish, and Luna soon outgrew that. Over the next five years, we upgraded until we had a twenty gallon tank and a filtration system with both a mechanical filter (meaning the water ran through what looked like a pot scrubber) and a bio-filter, which used some sort of organic matter (don't think about it--it's bacterial) to neutralize the ick generated by the fish. We ended up with a filter that was designed for a 30-40 gallon tank, because the fish was just that dirty.

Luna got huge. And the larger she got, the more apparent it was that goldfish are carp. Shiny carp, with glittery scales, but still carp.

But the Bunny loved Luna, and took excellent care to make sure that she was properly fed. I got to do all the cleaning--no surprise there. And Luna thrived. For five years. Sure, I got casual about cleaning the tank, and there were emergency rescue events where the water was so bad that Luna was gasping for air at the surface, and I had to do massive make-up cleanings. But she still thrived. And grew. And grew.

Then, one evening, the Bunny went into her room to get her pajamas, and there was Luna, lying peacefully dead at the bottom of the tank. The Bunny cried, and refused to go back into her room. It was time for the inevitable, if long postponed, pet funeral.

But--oh my God--can you really flush a five pound fish? This fish was so big that if you had pulled her from the lake you could have kept her. Many a lake cabin meal was made from fish smaller than Luna. She had outgrown all the aquarium nets we had ever gotten, and was nearly big enough to need her own casket.

And suddenly, I couldn't do it. I--who had stayed with both my elderly dogs as they ended their lives. I--who had dealt with the three parakeets who died within weeks of their acquisition. I--who had respectfully buried bettas and guppies and mollies in the garden. I--who had dealt with the wild rabbit that decided to die underneath my roses.

I--got creeped out.

I mean, she was huge! An enormous fish! A fish outside the parameters of pet sized, and well into sport trophy size. I just couldn't do it! There is a reason I don't fish! Or even eat fish! Especially not fish that lie there and look at me with their damned lidless eyes!

Bless his heart, Mr. Sweetie--the lad who spent all his summer childhoods fishing in the lake with his brother--he took care of it. I think I owe him one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Adventures in Linguistics

Acdording to an exhibit at the Duluth Zoo, there is actually a thing called the "House Mouse." They are noticeably smaller than the fancy mice sold as pets at PetCo and PetSmart. The ones in the exhibit were actually tiny, only about an inch long.

So, if there is, in fact, a subspecies called the "House Mouse," what do you call them when they are in your house and you have many of them?

"Hice Mice?"

Friday, July 14, 2006


Mr. Sweetie had a Boys Golf Outing weekend last weekend, where they played 90! holes! of! golf! On sort of spur of the moment, I took the kidlets up to Duluth.

We had a lovely room in a functional hotel--nothing special, but the view was lovely!

So, what do you do in Duluth? with kidlets who are 12 and 9?

You go to the aquarium, of course! Since we don't technically have an aquarium here in the Twin Cities, Bunny wanted to see the one in Duluth. It did not match up to her experience at the Shedd in Chicago. Are we surprised? No.

It was a very nice facility. You enter and are greeted by a two story wall of water, which really says it all, doesn't it? The Great Lakes Aquarium is dedicated to the ecosystems around Duluth. Which makes sense, of course, because then it is unique and educational.


The ecosystems around Duluth are all freshwater. Freshwater fish, they are not so much to look at. Can you say carp? Walleye? Sure, there are trout, but they look mostly the same dull green as all the other fish do. Remember those days when you were about 5, and your parents took you up to a rental cabin on a lake in Wisconsin, and your dad would defy all the basic assumptions about a vacation and would get up at about 4:30 in the morning to go fish? And when he came back--just as you were waking up--he'd invite you down to the fish house where he would hack off the fishes' heads and gut them, and the smell was just soooooo bad? Guess what he was catching?

That's right. Carp. Walleye. Trout. The Great Lakes Aquarium is dedicated not so much to fish as to dinner.

We were more impressed with the Duluth Zoo. In the great tradition of the great zoos of the world, this one was started by a guy who acquired a tame deer, and decided to reach for greater things. Which it does surprisingly well, after setting your expectations incredibly low. The entrance is shabby, with a ticket sales booth that looks like it travels with the carnie and is otherwise used for selling cotton candy. The main building is a bit dark, and the exhibits are not immediately on display. In fact, you walk down some stairs that remind me of my old elementary school, and into a room that--if it weren't a zoo, you'd think was a pet store. There are rabbits, and geckos, and fancy rats, and gerbils and guinea pigs. Except there are fewer of them than there would be at PetSmart.

It's after you get outside that the zoo surprises. There aren't a great number of animals and exhibits, but the ones that are there are well done and interesting. The peafowl wander the zoo freely, and were ganging up on the prairie dogs while we were there. One male decided to show off for the lone female peahen, and opened his fan tail and rattled it at us all. The grounds are quite expansive, and there is room a lot of future development there. It beats the heck out of the Como Zoo.

However, the most successful part of our trip was the aquisition of a miniature gnome. He is about three inches tall, with a red cap and a suitcase under his arm, and he became the focus of many many photographs.

Which I shall not post here. Yet. For some reason the computer is not recognizing the memory card. But when it does...