Monday, October 15, 2007

An Omnibus Post to Bring Everyone Up to Speed

Abject apologies for the dearth of posts lately. It was a full and trying summer, though the fall is looking much better.

Here's a partial list of all that's happened in our lives since last I blogged.

Death of Sebastian, our dog
Sebastian was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of cancer called hemangiosarcoma that usually manifests first in the spleen, but spreads quickly to the rest of the body. The lesions/masses can grow so quickly that they deplete the body of iron, so the primary symptom Sebastian showed was acute anemia.

After the first occurrence of anemia (in June), we had the vet remove his spleen and put Sebastian on a plan of iron supplementation. This bought us another four or five weeks with him in good, jumping-around health.

We came home the night of July 6th after a night out to discover that Sebastian was unable to move well, and had obviously had a seizure during the day. Seizing typically means that the end is near, so we made him comfortable and prepared for the inevitable. Around eleven o'clock he began seizing regularly. The emergency clinic was far enough away that making the drive might take longer than Sebastian had, so we decided to keep him in familiar surroundings.

Sebastian died gasping, at about three on the morning of the 7th of July, after many seizures. It was fairly horrible to watch.

We buried him in an area of Amy's parents' property reserved for pet graves. It was raining--the first rain showers Birmingham had seen in nearly two months.

Acquisition of a new puppy: Shasta!
About two weeks after Sebastian's passing, Amy suggested that we go puppy shopping. Reese (our other dog) hadn't shown too many symptoms of grieving or pining, but he did seem confused, often, when Sebastian would ordinarily have popped in front of him on the way to the back yard, or sat next to him on the couch, and failed to. In short, Reese was coping well, but we didn't want him to become too used to being the only dog around the house. At over twelve years old, Reese is an old dog, and was becoming a bit set in his ways.

Amy and I had discussed another puppy, and I was definitely all in favor, though only two weeks seemed fairly short to grieve properly--the topic was still painful. Anyway, we went to the local humane society and visited with a few dogs, but we eventually settled on Shasta, a black lab/husky mix with white toes and a shock of white on her chest. She also has one pale blue and one brown eye--very striking. :-) Amy was particularly taken with her because she was more easygoing and loving than most of the puppies we "interviewed," without being too energetic or overly fearful.

Shasta is a wonderful dog: extremely intelligent, and quite affectionate. It took her a few weeks to sleep through the night reliably, and to be sufficiently housebroken not to require "puppy pads" or frequent towel changes in her crate.

She's also been good for Reese: he's a bit arthritic, but now that we've got him on glucosamine supplements he's able to tussle and play, and honestly I think he enjoys wrestling with Shasta more than he ever did when he was a puppy himself.

The plan for Amy to leave her job
Amy had been eager to leave her desk job for some time--the commute from our house in Alabaster to her office downtown was punishing. Several factors both financial and interpersonal came together to allow us to have her leave her job in mid-August, having given notice in mid-July.

This would have worked out better if the beginning of August through the middle of September hadn't become a constant march of expenses, repairs and travel needs. Of course, this came after spending some impressive money on the first heroic rescue of Sebastian from the effects of his cancer, and after the wedding and honeymoon expenses of the spring.

The air-conditioner breakdown
The summer of 2007 contained one of the longest streaks of 100-degree-Fahrenheit high temperatures in recorded history. It was also an extremely dry summer, in terms of rain, but with periods of high humidity, to make the heat interesting.

Naturally, once Amy came home, the house's air conditioning began to malfunction.

The condensation overflow pan under the refrigeration unit kept filling up, so the floater switch that kept the pan itself from overflowing kept tripping, meaning no chilling of the air. Temperatures in the house routinely reached 85 and higher. I rigged up a siphon system to drain the pan until we could afford repairs, but I wound up having to empty the pan about every other day. Very trying conditions for Amy, and our animals.

At long last we determined (with the help of my new brother-in-law Greg) that a pipe that normally allowed the condensation to drain had become clogged, and after flushing that pipe all has been well.

Breakdown of Gladys, the Mercury Mystique
Gladys, the Mercury Mystique, was bought with several known problems. Electrical issues--check. Leaky tires--check. "Moosing" hum that emanates from under the hood when the car's not yet warmed up--check.

In late August, though, Gladys's alternator died, taking her battery with it. I appear to be hard on car alternators--I seem to lose them at a disproportionate rate to the rest of the car-driving world.

The Mercury Mystique, however, seems purpose-built to cause alternator pain. Not only is the alternator located near the bottom of the engine (and exposed to the elements, making it more prone to failure than other placements would make it), it's located such that one actually has to remove the car's front axle and hoist the car's engine to replace or otherwise service the part. Thus a $160 part can require $500 or more in labor to replace.

Luckily, having family in town who's been in the area for generations enabled us to find an alternator-specialized place that would cut us a deal on the part (repairing it rather than replacing it) and the labor. We made out for hundreds less than we were originally quoted by a more conventional place.

After waiting for the following payday, we got the alternator repaired, and all has been well.

Breakdown of Betsy, the VW Beetle
...which was just in time for Amy's beetle to lose its battery, another $90 expense and bit of installation headache right on the weekend where she was going to drive out to Atlanta to join me at...

Dragon*Con was actually an enormous amount of fun, if getting Amy there was more grief than planned. We got to visit with my brother Matt and his wife Amy, hang out with throngs of our fellow geeks, and generally relax among the rampant absurdity.

I also got to attend a writing workshop taught by Ann Crispin (aka A.C. Crispin) as regards the craft of writing the science fiction novel. Very, very, very useful time had, there. And yes, I will be participating in NaNoWriMo this year. :-D

There was also a brief workshop, off in one of the rear rooms of the Hyatt, where there was an impromptu homebrewing discussion that cropped up...

Gentleman Meadmaker
One of the stars of the Dragon*Con homebrewing panel discussion was a quiet guy who had brought three bottles of mead (a beverage made by the fermentation of honey, and sometimes described as honey wine) to the con, and of course pulled the corks on them for the audience to sample. One of the samples Amy and I didn't quite care for, but one was sublime: exactly the sort of taste you'd expect from a fermentation of honey: sweet, alcoholic like a wine, aromatic like... well, like honey. :-)

About two weeks ago I dropped by Alabrew, my local homebrew supply store, grabbed 25 pounds of truly excellent Alabama orange-blossom honey and some suitable yeast and other sundries, and then went home and broke out the fermenting equipment.

Amy and I have two batches going: the first is a six-gallon batch of "traditional mead" that's just eighteen pounds of honey, water added to six total gallons, yeast nutrient and yeast. We didn't boil it, didn't filter it, didn't even heat the honey: we just sanitized the heck out of all equipment, dumped the honey, water and nutrient into the fermenting bucket, agitated with a stirrer that was driven by power drill, added the yeast and covered. The bubbler's still going at a pop every two seconds or so, weeks later. (Mead takes a good while longer than beer or wine to "ferment out," or exhaust the yeast.) Should begin to be drinkable at around six months, sometime close to St. Patrick's Day.

The second batch is much smaller (just one gallon), but also more elaborate. It's a melomel/metheglin-style mead (containing fruit and spices) called "Joe's Foolproof Ancient Orange, Clove and Cinnamon Mead," found here at It should be ready by Christmas, and Amy and I can't wait to try it--we scored whole nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and other spices from our local Whole Foods grocer, not to mention a decent bottle of Chaucer's Mead to sample while we set up the ferment.

Wedded Bliss
Amy and I are, despite the craziness of the summer, doing better than ever. People frequently say that the first year of marriage is the hardest to get through, and if this is the worst we ever see, then we're in good shape. Certainly it's been external problems that have caused the most commotion: coming home to my new wife has been the easiest part of this past summer by far. :-D

Well, I feel better
Whew! Lots of history to get through, but this covers the high (and low) points. I plan to do more blogging about issues great and small from now on (knowing that I had this huge thing to do made it easy to procrastinate on other posts I want to do), so keep an eye out!


[Edit: Wanted to make a note for precision's sake that the batches of mead were started on 9/30/07. Just for my own future reference.]

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