The Deck Saga

One of the things David and I loved about this house was the deck. It was huge, with a gorgeous view--you could see for miles. It also had a lot of rotting wood on it. The supports were still good; only the surface and handrails needed to be replaced. I started the project myself, but it quickly turned into a nightmare--trying to pull rusted screws out when their heads have rusted right off is no easy task. So after doing one section of the floor, I called in some "pros" to finish it.

They were terrible. I picked a top-rated contractor off Angieslist, but found out later that it was more like a referral service...and the guy they referred me to was sloppy and unprofessional. As they were finishing up the project, I started noticing little things--ends of boards weren't cut straight, the bottoms of the railings weren't a consistent height--and I tried to get some of them corrected, but got kind of brushed off. They half-assedly resolved one of my complaints (made one section of railing even with the one next to it) and rushed through the rest of the job.

When they finished, I wasn't really happy with it, but at that point the project had dragged on and had been stressing me out for so long that I just wanted it behind me. We were planning on moving, anyway, so the uneven bits that would annoy me wouldn't be an issue soon.

This section of railing looks pretty nice, actually. It has warped quite a bit (more on that later), but it's basically okay.

Here's a pretty decent bottom gap. I'd prefer it a little higher (code says it can be up to 4"), but this is okay. Note the crooked cuts on the balusters, though.

Hmm, that's a significant change in height. And what is going on with those balusters?

Okay, this is ridiculous. Even without measuring, this is a glaringly obvious difference. At this height, I can't sweep leaves and debris off the deck. Nice job on the balusters, though.

Wait, I take that back.

Great patch job, guys. I'm sure nobody will notice.

As the wood dried, it warped. Rather a lot. Gaps like this started showing up.

Further inspection showed that each top rail (even the ones over 8 feet long) is only attached by a screw at each end and a single screw in the middle, like this. Of course the wood is warping--it isn't even f#$%ing screwed down!

Straight lines are for sissies.

How wide should this gap be? Eh, good enough.

So it's a year later, and the house didn't sell. The deck has been bugging me, but I tried to ignore it until about 3 weeks ago. We had a guest who was leaning on the railing, and the railing just...collapsed. The section of railing he'd been leaning on tore away from the post and dropped about 3 inches. The height of our deck is no small drop--we're on a very steep hill. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say that if he'd been leaning forward more, he could have been killed.

Note the broken screw. This entire section of railing--over 8 feet long--was attached to the post with three screws. Two at the top and one at the bottom.

It turns out not only are they all attached with 3 screws, but the screws are so close to the edge of the wood that even slight warping can tear them out.

That was enough to motivate me. I called back and was told that I was past the "satisfaction guarantee" window, but they would send someone out to look at it. They sent the same guy (fantastic), who looked it over, seemingly unconcerned. He reattached the railing, put a couple more screws in the rest of them, and made a vague promise to come back next week to even up the bottoms of the railings. Take a look at the splendid job he did reattaching the railing:

Apparently it's too hard to line a railing up with the one right next to it.

Note: same number of screws, just a little further from the edge and sunk way into the wood.

And here's what the rest of them look like now.

Two weeks have now passed, and not a word from the contractor. I've had it. I don't give a damn if the we get an offer on the house tomorrow--I paid to have a professional finish my deck, and got an ugly, unsafe mess. I'm not going to just pass the problem off to the next people to buy the place, hoping that they decide to get it redone before someone falls and kills themself. In addition to everything above, the posts aren't even properly attached. They're not bolted on--they've just got a few screws in 'em.

Note: that bolt does not go through the post. The 4 wood screws under it are all that's holding the post on.

Five screws! I guess that's better...?

Um...five and a half?

I would really appreciate any advice on what to do here. My plan so far is to print out these pictures, go down to the main office, and demand to speak to someone else about it. I can threaten them with a bad review on Angieslist, which may or may not affect them, with the volume of positive reviews they have (there are a sprinkling of terrible reviews in there, which I cynically suspect are from people unfortunate enough to have ended up with the same guy I got). Maybe I could take them to small claims court to try to get my money back, at least (though I'd still be stuck with the cost of the wood, since I bought all that when I was planning to finish it myself).

Beyond that, I have no idea. What I want is for them to just fix the damn thing, but I fear that's unlikely to happen. It would require a lot of wood to do right, and I sure as hell don't want to pay for that again.

A Humble and Unsurprising Request

I know I'm far from the first person to complain about this, but...can women's clothing manufacturers please just settle on a universal sizing system that makes some kind of sense?

I went thrift shopping today, and I tried on:

  • size 10 shorts that were way too small

  • size 10 pants that were a little big

  • a size 9 dress that fit great

  • size 8 shorts that fit great

  • size 8 shorts that were way too small

  • size 4 shorts that were a little snug

  • a size 4 dress that fit great

  • a size Large shirt that was like a tent

  • a size Medium shirt that was a little tight

  • a size Small shirt that fit pretty much okay

Depending on manufacturer and style, I can wear anything between a 4 and a 12. This is an absurd, and in my opinion unacceptable, variation. My t-shirt size used to be anywhere between Small and XXL (seriously, American Apparel, WTF?). Since losing weight, that range has narrowed to anywhere between Small and Large.

I can't even trust one manufacturer to be consistent between styles. I tried on a bunch of pants at Target last week in sizes 6 through 12, all in the same brand. Men, if you've ever complained about us women taking too long to shop for clothes, it's because of crap like this. I can't just pull a size 8 off the rack--I have to try it on, along with the 6 and the 10. Every. Single. Time.

Back on the Wagon

A year and a half ago I started Couch to 5k. I followed it with a diet, and over the next few months I lost 20 pounds (but it looked like more). I looked and felt great, I got David to join a gym with me, and we worked out 3 times a week together.

Around February, that changed. I got really busy (both with the house, and a surprisingly active social life), but that alone didn't do it. If I had to point to a thing that started it, I'd say it was the abscessed tooth. It took about a week in bed to recover from that. Around the same time, I finally saw a podiatrist about the plantar warts I've had for years. Every 3 weeks I'd spend 4-5 days in such awful pain from the wart treatments that I didn't want to walk, much less jog for 20 minutes.

Then came the allergies. I got really sick. I'd never suffered from allergies before, so I didn't believe it at first...especially when my doctor started throwing medication at me that didn't work. Soon I was taking so many pills just to get through the day that I felt woozy, and I still couldn't sleep through the night because I'd wake up coughing. That finally worked out when the doctor gave me Singulair (which my insurance didn't cover because it was for allergies--insert grumbling about the American healthcare system).

I started to feel better around mid-summer, but by then the habit had been broken. For 3 or 4 months I hadn't been going to the gym or logging my food. It's really hard to start a habit. I think it's even harder to get back in the habit of something you're no longer good at.

Last week I finally got my increasingly flabby ass back in the gym. The key, I think, was getting David to come back with me--he'd similarly fallen off the wagon, partly because I wasn't doing it anymore. I'm starting Couch to 5k over again. It's humbling to find the first week difficult when I'd been up to 20 minutes at a time before. But I'll get there again.

I had forgotten how good I feel after a workout. Man, endorphins are great. Sometimes it feels like all I can do to drag myself to the gym, but once I walk out of there, I feel fantastic...and I keep feeling fantastic for the next hour or two. Not only does my body feel powerful and energized, but I feel great mentally, because I've just done something hard that's good for me.

I never thought I'd be a gym person. I'm glad I am again.

Could Have Been Worse...

In the movies, when something's wrong with you, you go to the doctor. You get some tests done, and then you sit in the doctor's office. He comes in holding a folder with your chart and test results, and gives you a diagnosis. "It's Plot Device Disease #372; you have six months to live."

In the real world, it's almost never like that. Diagnosing illness isn't always black and white--sometimes it's a whole field of fuzzy grey that's nearly impossible to make sense of. Sometimes the doctor tells you you have six months to live, but more often he just tells you to wait and see.

When I saw the retina specialist yesterday, he studied the various scans and photos of my eye and said, "This is probably a result of the viral infection you had a couple weeks ago. There's a group of diseases known as White Dot Syndrome that result from a viral inflammation; not a whole lot is known about them, and there is no treatment. But the good news is that usually it goes away on its own."

"How long are we talking here? Weeks? Months?"

He shrugged. "Weeks to months. And it's possible you could have some permanent minor visual distortion as a result of scarring when it heals."

"So is there anything I can do?"

"Just monitor it. I'll see you again in two months, and if it gets significantly worse, call me and we'll run some more tests."

This is simultaneously just about the best news I could have heard, and the most frustrating. "It's probably not permanent, but you'll just have to wait and see." And there's still the possibility that it's something completely different, but the only way to find to wait and see. In several weeks, the blind spots might grow, or shrink, or stay the same...and none of that necessarily means anything, nor is there necessarily anything that can be done even if we know for sure what it is.

I am, at least, no longer panicking. I'm still worried, yes, but there is a certain calm that comes from knowing I've done all I can for now. I even got some programming done last night, which is a sure sign I've calmed down and gotten my focus back. Of course, after two weeks of barely touching it, I kinda felt like this:

How Should I Live it Up?

The other day my boyfriend pointed out I hadn't posted here since July. Whoops.

I wish I could say I've been busy with exciting and important things, but I really haven't. For a while I was working on various crafts for my Etsy store. More recently I've been working on an iOS game. Picking up a new programming language has been challenging and fun, and seeing an actual program I wrote actually run on an actual phone is immensely satisfying. Actually.

But what's on my mind tonight is heavier stuff. For the last week and a half or so, I've had three blind spots in my right eye, and they're slowly growing. They show up as spots on my retina, and the opthamologist doesn't know what they are. I'm seeing a retina specialist in the morning, and maybe I'll get some more information then. Possibilities range from benign things that shouldn't be causing me any vision problems to early-onset macular degeneration. I don't think I'm overreacting when I say there's a very real chance I could go blind in at least one eye.

Naturally, I'm terrified. While I'm fully aware there's no sense worrying about it until I get a diagnosis, actually stopping worrying is proving to be impossible. This is my vision we're talking about. I use that, like, just about every day.

I've been thinking a lot about how my life would be different if I lost my sight. Things I could no longer do, and things I could. Things that would require a lot of effort to make work, and how I might do them. (I like playing games with cards that have lots of text on them. I could mark the cards with their titles in braille, memorize what each card says, and play by touch. Tough, but doable.)

I wouldn't be able to finish the game I'm working on. Even if a screen reader could parse Objective-C into something understandable, I wouldn't be able to see the results to know if they're working. I rely on vision a lot for programming--scanning the general shape of the code to find the bit I'm looking for, or diagramming the flow of a program on paper to make sense of it.

I couldn't ride a motorcycle anymore. I wouldn't be able to make the webcomic I'm probably not going to make anyway (being realistic here). Fireworks wouldn't be nearly as cool. The sorts of home improvement projects I could do would be severely limited. Most video games would be unplayable. Visual gags in movies and TV shows would be lost on me. I wouldn't get to see what Dani looks like when she grows up--probably the most heartbreaking loss of all.

But there's a lot of stuff I could still do. I could study languages. I could finally learn the guitar. I could focus on my writing again. I would probably update my blog with the same frequency. (Heh.) If the house ever sells and we move back into the city, I could even be somewhat self-reliant and get around on public transportation. I would probably enjoy music more.

A thing like this does help to highlight what's important in your life. When I think about all the things I wouldn't be able to do anymore, I realize what I would and wouldn't miss, and what things I'd want to be sure to do while I still can. And when I think about the things I could still do anyway, I realize which ones I would really want to do. Whatever the doctor says tomorrow, I would do well to remember this.

Well, That Was Easy

Two awkward conversations later, we're now officially out as poly to both sets of parents. One went about as I expected, and the other was not at all as bad as I'd feared. It's a relief to not have to worry about being accidentally outed by my daughter. In fact, it's good we had those conversations, because just a couple days after coming out to my in-laws, she explained to them how she had gone to Steak 'n' Shake with Daddy the night before, because Mommy had gone to see B.

Aside from that, I haven't been doing much that's terribly newsworthy. I've been playing a lot of games on the computer and iPhone, when I'm not spending time with the assorted important people in my life.

Our house has been on the market for a bit over 3 months now, and we haven't had any encouraging news yet. I know in this market, that's not unusual. Still, it's frustrating. We decided at the beginning of the year that we wanted to move, and it's annoying to be stuck here after making that decision. Also, it's stressful to know that at any moment, we could get a showing request and have to get the place perfectly clean and rush out the door. I'm looking forward to getting back into the city, settling in, and relaxing.

Well, I think we all know that last bit isn't going to happen. Relaxation isn't really in my repertoire.

Not the Adventure I'd Hoped For

I had a little run-in with the police the other day.

Well, it wasn't me, precisely. Two friends had just picked me up and we were headed for a day of fun at Six Flags, when we got pulled over in the local speed trap (a very wide, flat, and straight road that for some mind-boggling reason has a 30 MPH speed limit). When the officer ran the driver's license, my friend was promptly removed from the car and frisked. It turned out that unbeknownst to him, his license had been suspended for unpaid tickets.

The officer let us know that he was being nice, and while this technically counted as an arrest, my friend was being "released at the scene". Then he asked us if we had someone to pick us up, because he was having the car towed.

"Wait," said my other friend, "this is my car!" She pulled out the registration to show him her name on it. "Can't I just take the car?"

No such luck. It was "policy" that he had to tow the car. So the tow truck arrived, all three of us piled in, and rode less than a mile to the towing company. We went inside, where my friend had to pay $125 for the tow, and a $35 "storage fee" to get her car back (even though the car hadn't even been taken off the truck yet). Then we went back outside, where the driver unhooked the car and sent us on our way.

That was a bunch of bullshit, right there.

I'm about 95% certain the officer could have decided not to have the car towed, just as he had the authority to release my friend at the scene instead of hauling him in. The tow and subsequent fees were almost certainly intended as a punishment--you've done something wrong, so I'm going to inconvenience you as much as I possibly can without inconveniencing myself (as arresting him would have done). I can't see any other reason why the owner of the car, a licensed driver sitting in the passenger seat when it was pulled over, couldn't take it instead.

(The real kicker is that my friend suspects this is all due to a clerical error--he paid off a number of tickets at once a few weeks ago. But what can you do? Even if he can prove that's the case, the tow company isn't going to refund the money, since they performed the service they were called to perform. And good luck getting the police department to make it right--customer service isn't exactly their area of expertise.)

What I find myself wondering is how much of that decision to punish us by towing the car was due to the driver (who was nothing but polite, meek, and courteous during the whole stop) having a mohawk and a bunch of metal in his face. Similar to "driving while black," his real offense may have been "driving while counterculture."

Oh well. At least we had a great time at Six Flags anyway.

Too Much Time With Ronald

Two weeks without my husband has made me a connoisseur of McDonald's restaurants--specifically, the ones with kids' play areas. When I'm dealing with a rambunctious 3-year-old by myself all day, places where I can turn my child loose, put my feet up, and enjoy free wifi for an hour or two are pure paradise.

The House Springs location is closest to home, but they keep their A/C turned a little lower than I prefer. Valley Park is a good balance between drive time and quality of playground. Kirkwood has hands-down the best playground and a very accessible bathroom, but it's a bit of a drive, and they play children's music that can get stuck in your head for the rest of the day--I'll only risk it if I'm feeling gutsy or lucky. Des Peres is a good location, from what I can remember, but if you get within a mile of the place, Danielle immediately recognizes that Chick-fil-A is near and starts demanding that instead. I can't remember what the Manchester location is like; maybe I'll head that way tomorrow if I'm feeling adventurous.

Yeah, I kind of hate myself.

I've been spending my ill-gotten time well, though. For a long time I've been wanting to get myself back up to speed on PHP but not actually doing it; getting away from the distractions of home has been immensely helpful, and the environment works well for the short bursts of intense concentration I need. I'm starting to feel proficient again, and I'm building things. It's a good feeling. And it's left me feeling more motivated at home, too. I've been cooking and canning and preserving, and yesterday I baked a cake. It was delicious.

Still, I really look forward to David getting back from his business trip this weekend. Productivity is nice and all, but my husband is nicer.

So, What's New?

The last couple of months have been sort of a blur for me. I had a frenzied few weeks of activity to get our house ready to sell (followed by a period of doing pretty much nothing, because I damn well earned it), and my social calendar was frankly ridiculous for a while there. The house is on the market now (and has been for a month, sigh), so every once in a while we have to frantically clean and then get out of the house so it can be shown. I quit a job, slobbed around for a while, then started applying for others. My Etsy store continues to make a few sales a week, which is awesome. Even more awesome: I bought a motorcycle. I sold my last one just after Dani was born, and hadn't ridden since. Now I can't fathom why I ever stopped. And of course, like any good nerd, I've spent the last week completely immersed in Diablo 3.

And all of this is aside from perhaps the largest development in my life lately: my boyfriend. We've been dating for a couple of months, and it's been a wonderful, giddy, exciting, and sometimes scary experience...the kind that I had a couple of times when I was much younger, but was certain that now, at 30, I'd never have again. I was okay with that--I'm older and wiser than I was ten years ago, and I'm more grounded, mature, and realistic about relationships. I didn't want or need to have an all-consuming whirlwind romance--who has the energy for that, especially with a family? And the stress! Ugh, no thanks.

Well, shows what I know. I'm ridiculously in love and wouldn't have it any other way. Somewhere, the younger me is sticking her tongue out and yelling, "I told you so!"

New relationships can be frustrating when you're not out as polyamorous to your family. You learn to dread that ubiquitous query: "So, what's new?" I just shrug and say "not much," because a lot of what I do these days involves him in some way, and I'm not up to the challenge of creatively editing him out of my stories. It must sound like I've gotten pretty boring lately.

Strangely, I'm not at all opposed to the idea of being out to my family (posting about it on this blog would be pretty dumb otherwise, even if I'm pretty sure none of them read it), but the conversations involved are awkward enough that I sort of instinctively avoid them. Frankly, until pretty recently, it wasn't terribly relevant to anything. The occasional casual date doesn't really warrant the hassle of explaining polyamory to your parents.

It's beginning to look like those conversations are going to have to happen, though, if for no other reason than we're sure to be accidentally outed soon by our increasingly chatty 3-year-old. She knows who I'm seeing when I go out, and I expect sometime Grandma will get an earful about how Mommy spends her Monday nights.

Teacher Suspended for Being Suspected of Starring in Porn

Via the Huffington Post today: Teacher Rumored To Be Hardcore Porn Actress, Removed From Classroom. There is just so much wrong with this story, I hardly even know where to begin.

First off, what exactly is the point of blurring out the faces in the photo? We're talking about an internet porn video here--anyone who is going to recognize the film from one still image is probably going to do so with or without the faces. If you're really concerned about preserving anonymity, it might be better to just leave the images out entirely.

Now, my personal feeling is that a teacher is entitled to a life outside of school, and what she does in her spare time is her own damn business. And do we even know when this video was made? Complaining about a teacher moonlighting as a porn star is one thing--punishing her for what jobs she might have worked before wrangling unruly brats is another thing entirely. (Personally, I don't care if it's happening simultaneously, but I can kind of understand people complaining.)

All that aside--suspended because she's suspected of being a porn star? Seriously? You know, there's a lot of porn out there in the magical world of the internet. I would be willing to bet that just about any even moderately attractive woman has a porn star lookalike somewhere. Isn't it a little absurd to take action before you've even confirmed the rumors?

KTLA-TV reports that officials were alerted when students showed administrators a pornographic video allegedly starring the teacher.

Does this sound sketchy to anyone else? Keep in mind that this is a middle school. Picture this: you're a school administrator. A 13-year-old student comes up to you and says, "hey, I found a porn video that might have Miss Smith in it. Wanna see?" Do you really want to say yes? It just seems...remarkably unwise.

"We are asking teachers to discourage the children from searching for and/or visiting these inappropriate sites. We ask that you be particularly vigilant over the next few days with respect to the Internet content being accessed by your child on his or her telephone or other Internet-ready devices." Superintendent Jeff Chancer told the Ventura County Star his main worry -- other than students trying to search for videos of the teacher -- is that it will disrupt productivity.

Oh, yeah, that's going to be effective. Because the best way to discourage students from looking at pornography on the internet is to call attention to it by suspending a teacher over it. You'd think if these people worked with teenagers all day, they'd have at least some idea of how they think.

Gerardo Sanchez, father of a 13-year-old student at the school, told KCAL-TV that he can't believe this is happening at his child's school. “School is supposed to be a safe place," he told the station. "Now, you think twice because you never know what is going to happen."

Dude. NOTHING HAPPENED. This did not happen at school; the teacher did not behave in any inappropriate manner. Your children are as safe from the evils of pornography as they ever were...which is not at all. (Don't believe me? Remember, your kids were the ones who found this video.) The only thing that "happened" here is that school officials blew a non-issue way out of proportion, and made a scandal out of something that should have remained a stupid rumor passed around school by a bunch of horny kids.