Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Broken Stuff Karma

Just a small rant for the morning -- this fall, everything is breaking. To date, things that have gone down include:

the main computer in the office (replaced and then resurrected as the garage computer)

my Garmin bike GPS (replaced; Chad dissected the dead one in preparation for fixing the flakiness in his)

the Roomba's bumper sensor (diagnosis/repair still in progress)

my kindle (warrantee replacement coming in the mail)

Nim of course is most upset about her wind-up whale bath toy, whose tail fell off. Waaaa.

That's not the worst of it, though.

Sunday morning, we went to start the truck, only to find that several warning lights came on. It was also running pretty rough. Given that the vehicle is still pretty new, we assumed that maybe there was some defect that would be fixed under warrantee. Maybe rain got in and fried its little brain, or something rattled loose, or the like.

Not so. Much more diabolical.

Chad got a call from the shop after they got it on the lift and the report was "Rodent chewed up cyl 3 harness"

Eh? Rats are eating the wiring in the car? To the tune of a couple thousand dollars of repair work? Devouring my tomatoes is one thing, but this is ridiculous! This means war.

On calling the car insurance, I found that "Rats ate my car's wiring" is not an unheard-of claim (and fortunately is a covered event). And of course, one can find all sorts of tales of woe/tall tales on this subject if one uses the power of Google. Apparently, rodents quite like some of the new soy-based plastics used on wiring in the last 10 or so years, if you believe everything you read.

We already know these vermin are not nesting in our yard; they have enough range to be coming from one of the larger brush-filled yards nearby. I just picked up some more traps and sent in the online request for the county vector control people to come out and investigate where the beasties are coming from.

Maybe we need a pet snake in addition to a pet barn owl. It wouldn't take care of the various broken electronics gizmos in the house, but it would be satisfying to watch the vermin be decisively defeated. Chomp.

Unfair. Argh.

Not All Bad

Despite the tenor of the previous post, most of our anniversary weekend was quite enjoyable, and full of mountain bike exploration. By far, the most interesting route was following an obscure trail out of Columbia that ran along side, or in some cases on, the Tuolumne Flume, then along an old rail grade, then on a series of little-known dirt roads heading north from Lyons Reservoir.

The next crossing was both much longer, and only had one board to walk on rather than two. Not the usual mountain biking terrain feature!

Route finding is left as an exercise for the reader, or bug Chad for the GPS trace.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Kids are sometimes irrationally terrified of things. For a while, Nimue was terrified of sea urchins, as they sometimes project a little bulbous eye-like thing on a stalk out between their spines. Unbelievably creepy -- to the point that she would run screaming out of a room if one were encountered -- until I did a little poking around on the web and was able to explain that that was the part of the urchin's anatomy used for excretion. (Bottoms are inherently funny to my small one, as mentioned in the past.)

Then it was old maps of the distorted not-quite-right "Here There Be Dragons" variety -- I still can't figure this one out, except that the juxtaposition of authoritative sources with the unknown bothers her. Most recently, we went through a spate of fear of skeletons. I was afraid that trick-or-treating would be traumatic until I hit upon the idea of routinely talking to and cracking jokes with any freaky Halloween decorations that we ran across on the way to school. "Nice to meet you, sir!" I shook hands with many, many unsold plastic skeletons at OSH before she relented and started doing it too.

For me, as a kid, the phobia was of the neighborhood Doberman. We never saw this dog. It lived behind a tall fence in the spooky corner of the neighborhood near the woods, and would bark its head off any time a kid went by. You could almost hear the feral dog slobber spraying across the fence as he paced you. I was certain it must be six feet tall with balefully glowing eyes. Older kids would tell stories of how their best-friend-from-second-grade's cousin's teacher had a bite chewed off the last time the dog got out. I was terrified.

Over the years, I've learned to suppress my inner distaste for the critters. For the most part, dogs seem to be good at following at clear expectations if your voice and body language match, so I usually force myself to relax and say "Nice dog", or perhaps "Stop!" or "Down!" if it is approaching too quickly. Even when one is on a bike and the dog has to fight its normal chase response, this is generally successful.

Occasionally when I run into a large-ish, but well-behaved dog out in public and respond with my default "Nice dog" mantra, it is misinterpreted by the dog owner as actual admiration rather than me trying to send a brain wave to the beast that it WILL be a nice dog and will NOT chomp me. "He's friendly -- go ahead and pet him" says the dog owner. "No no nono no no no no nooooooo!" says my hindbrain, as I dutifully pat the top of the head, trying to avoid the slobbery teeth. This is not what I want to do. I don't like dogs.

As it turns out, this is justified.

Chad and I were heading out on mountain bikes this weekend, riding up a hill through a rural neighborhood near Columbia on our way to a trail that runs along an old water flume when we came around a corner to see a woman walking with four large dogs. As Chad passed her, she had control of three of them while the fourth ran wild. She said something about that one not being her dog; it got all excited and started chasing Chad, who quickly outpaced it up the hill.

In cases like this, being the second rider sucks.

The dog was all raring to go, ready to chase bikes, and annoyed by the escape of the first cyclist by the time it noticed me. Charge! I rode to the other side of the road to go around it, but of course it was charging down the hill straight at me and matched every move. "Be a nice dog. Stop! Down. Nice Dog! Be a good dog! Ow!!!"

Ow? There were teeth making contact with my flank. Huh? This isn't in the script. "Be a nice dog." He let go and huffed hot breath on my calf, ran around the front of the bike, and chomped the other shin. "Stop that!!"

Meanwhile, the woman walking her other dogs was yelling at this one. Chad's impression was that she was calling it "Splitter" when he went by. I heard something slightly different. One of us must have misheard, or the name had morphed to something unprintable, which roughly translates as "One Who Defecates", by the time I was trying to avoid hitting the beast.

There's humor in the juxtaposition of her swearing at the dog and my "Stop that! Be a good dog!", not that I noticed at the time. At the end of the day, I don't think it cared what either of us were saying, but merely found the spandex-covered mouthfuls of me that it got to be unappealing enough for me to be able to escape and ride up the hill away from it.

I probably should have gotten some information from her about the dog at the time, but a quick check showed that my shorts and legwarmers had protected my legs enough that I wasn't bleeding, and I just wanted to get the heck away. Chad and I proceeded to have a lovely 40+ mile ride (more on that later). When we got back and cleaned up, there were two sets of four bruises each where the dog's canines had made contact and one small scrape where one of the teeth had almost but not quite poked in. Ow.

I did call Kaiser yesterday morning after we got home, as I was overdue for a tetanus booster anyway -- they made me come in to get it looked at, and insisted that I report the incident to animal control. Joy. I spent quite a while on the phone ("Hello, Tuolumne County Animal Control? I'd like to report that a dog with an unprintable name bit me on Yankee Hill Road..."), and had to fill out another form with the same information when I went in for my tetanus shot. Apparently a dog bite does not have to cause bleeding to count as having punctured the skin (the scrape from the pressure was enough). Fortunately, there's not been rabies in dogs in CA for quite some time. (Just don't get a bat or skunk bite.)

Funny thing, when you go to Kaiser with a dog bite, the staff are much more solicitous than normal, radiating a bizarre "Oh, you poor thing!" mien that's so strong it's almost cloying. This doesn't happen if you go in with a broken bone, sprain, or profuse bleeding from some other accidental self-induced trauma, or even if you're taking your small child in with pneumonia. It was weird -- everyone from the person on the phone, to the advice nurse, to the receptionist, to the nurse, to the doctor seemed to treat me as if I was fragile, despite all that really happened was some bruises, a scratch, and the need for a tetanus shot that was already overdue. Maybe others have the same subconscious response to dogs that I do? Or a primal response to wild-acting critters? This level of dog bite is much less of a problem than, say, breaking an ankle in the backcountry.

When I told Nimue the story, she wanted to know the dog's name; I told her that I wasn't sure, but it sounded like it might have been a bad word. "Oh, like Poopsie-Whoopsie?" she asked. Bottoms are inherently funny in the words of an 8-year-old. I'll probably remember that and crack up the next time I see a threatening canine. And start riding the other direction very, very fast.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Not bad for a rainy day

Nimue had so much fun running the Fun Run at her school a while back that we had to sign up for another event. The Title Nine 9k promised chocolate, plus it looked to be a nice route around the Palo Alto Baylands, so we were in!

Of course, being early November, it decided to rain on us. Nim and I arrived at the start early as recommended, checked out the situation, and retreated back to the shelter of the truck for about half an hour. We had to amuse ourselves by perusing the Title Nine catalog of cute but expensive stuff that was in the registration bag (evil evil temptations), as that was the only reading material in the car. About 15 minutes before the start, we got back out and huddled in the mob loosely arranging themselves at the start line. It's actually quite warm when you are in the middle of a bunched crowd of 1000 runners :)

Finally, it was 9:00, and we were off! After the usual disorganization of a bunch start, we found an open patch and Nim settled into a nice steady pace. Even though we had planned on a strategy of half mile run/1 minute walk repetitions, she decided in the heat of the moment that she wanted to run straight through, only stopping briefly at the aid stations drink and snack. Crazy determined kid did it, too!

Brief learnings:
  • Nim has decided that Gatorade is yummy and is convinced that it contains some sort of analgesic in addition to sugar and salt.
  • One's hat is less likely to blow off if you look down. (only one hat-sailing incident)
  • One can kill a lot of time for thinking of other ways one could say tailwind, especially given the fact that an 8-year-old finds words referring to one's backside to be intensely funny. Booty-wind comes to mind.
  • It's hard to eat chocolate while running.
  • A slightly chilly windy drizzle is neutralized by having a nice warm Nim hand to hold :)

All told, we went 6 miles in 1 hour, 17 minutes, and 53 seconds, over a combination of pavement, dirt, and slippery mud along the levees. My watch showed a total moving time of 1 hour 13 minutes, so our Gatorade stops were shorter than they seemed at the time.

Nimue also pointed out that the course ran in the shape of a heart:

The excellent tired kid is now splatted in the TV room watching cartoons.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

More celebrations

A few more pictures from Halloween itself:

Like last year, Todd, Sarah, Cathryn, and Scott came over to share "Spooky Food".

The spider allowed Chad to sneak up on it.

Pumpkins. I'm sure I'm owed something for scooping them all out so others could decorate them.

Nimue and her haul, waaaay past bedtime.