Offbeat Divorce Part 1: Advice for struggling couples

By kate on April 27th, 2011

This is the first of two posts I originally wrote for Offbeat Bride.

Hi, my name is Kate and I failed. I had a somewhat offbeat wedding, was married for 8 years, ultimately failed at it, and got divorced. I’m starting this way because it’s not something you hear people say very often. After a marriage falls apart (or serious problems are worked out), it’s swept under the rug, put in the past, and never mentioned. This might make the newly-divorced feel better, but it creates a false impression that most people are happy and have never had these problems. When my marriage was exploding, I felt so alone and so defective in a world full of (apparently) shiny happy people.

In this post, I want to pass on a few of the things I learned while my marriage was struggling, before we decided to separate for good.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: about, relationships | 4 Comments »


Tea Gear Advice

By kate on January 8th, 2011

A friend, who has started drinking more tea, asked what kind of teapot to get. I spent a little time on my response, so I thought I’d share. I drink one to two pots of tea every day, so I have a good idea of what works (for me, at least). Here are the items I recommend, if you want to be a serious tea drinker:

Teapot

You can get something fancy if you like, but you can’t go wrong with the classic English “brown Betty” style (it comes in other colors too). It’s a virtually drip-free spout design, and you can get various sizes. Mine is a 6C size, which fills 3 large mugs.

Brown Betty
Traditional Brown Betty
Green "brown" Betty
Modern version

Filter

Don’t screw around with tea balls – get a good, large filter so your tea has room to unfurl. Along with this, I recommend a small dish to put the filter on (to catch drips) if the filter doesn’t come with a base. I have and like both of these filters:

Finium filter
Finium Filter
Chatsford filter
Chatsford Filter

Mug

You can drink tea out of any mug, although I recommend a large size so you’re not constantly refilling it. In the nice-to-have department: for Christmas my brother bought me two of these beautiful Bodum glasses, and I LOVE them. They’re insulated, hand-blown, and dishwasher-safe.

Bodum Pavina 15oz glass
Bodum Pavina 15 oz glass

Other Items

You’ll definitely need a tea cozy. It may be challenging to find one that isn’t all kitschy or flowery, but they’re out there. In Seattle, they carry good ones at Teahouse Kuan Yin in Wallingford. I also recommend a wooden trivet for your teapot… it’ll absorb drips and keep it warm longer.

Tea cozy
Tea Cozy
Wooden trivets
Wooden Trivets
Leaf dish
I have a small dish like this to put my filter on
Filed under: consumerism, tea | 1 Comment »


A Visitor’s Guide to Seattle

By kate on September 4th, 2010

My brother Michael got married this month (the wedding was wonderful). I was a bridesmaid, and one of the things he requested of me was a guide to Seattle for the out-of-town visitors. I’ve lived in the Seattle area for about 26 years, so I have a good sense of what I think is most worth showing off to visitors.

The guide turned out pretty well, and several of the guests thanked me for the help. At their suggestion, I’m posting it here so others can use it.

pdf.jpg

It seems to me that the biggest problem for visitors to any city is that there’s too much information, too many long lists of things to see and do. So the approach I took was to narrow it down and curate a list of my top recommendations in a bunch of categories. Visitors can either focus on categories of interest to them, or choose one interesting destination and use my guide to find other destinations in the same neighborhood.

If you have any feedback on my guide, feel free to leave a comment here.

Filed under: handiwork, seattle, travel | 2 Comments »


How I Broke Into my Honda Civic

By kate on August 6th, 2010

The other day, I ended up at an outlet mall with my keys locked in my car, a 1992 Honda Civic, and needed a cheap way to get back into my car. Here’s the easy method I discovered.

Skewers

Before I go any further, let me just say please don’t use this method on someone’s car without their permission. In addition, it’s a last-ditch technique, since it can damage your car’s weatherstripping. However, if you’re a Honda Civic owner like me and need to get into your car, feel free to give this a try.

Because I was at an outlet mall, my first thought was that wire hangers would be easy to come by. As I walked around the stores, though, I observed that all their hangers were the plastic kind. I was about to give up on this approach when I walked past a kitchen store. I thought that there MUST be something in a kitchen store I could use, and lo and behold, I was right.

For the low price of $2.49, I was the new owner of four metal barbecue skewers, one of which I used for my own purposes. I used the metal on a trash can to bend the skewer into a hook shape like this:

Hook shape

After a few false starts, here’s the method that worked. I slipped the skewer into the side of the window (either front passenger or driver’s side will work).

Aiming for the lock


I maneuvered the skewer past two weatherstripping barriers, and then the hook was inside the car!

Aiming for the lock

After that, it was fairly easy to use the hook to pull up the door lock. In case you don’t believe me, here’s a video of the whole process, which took a little more than 30 seconds:

Once I was aware of it, I noticed that my Civic appears to have quite a history of this entry method:

Break-in damage

This was a strong reminder to me that I should never leave valuables in my car. If you own a ’90s Civic, the same applies to you!

Filed under: life, luck, technology | 5 Comments »


Car project (entry 4 of 4)

By kate on February 22nd, 2010

(mouse over pictures for captions and click for bigger versions)

After taking a weekend off of the project, we were back at it on another Sunday, Reassembling the suspensioncautiously hoping to be able to turn the car on by the end of the day. We put on all the stuff we’d had to disconnect (driveshafts, suspension, exhaust, radiator) and plugged in all the clips and hoses again.

After pouring in the fluids, we arrived at the Moment of Truth. I got in the car and turned the key to accessory power. So far, so good. I turned the key again and there was a kind of popping noise as it started to turn over. This spooked us, so I turned off the engine. We consulted our reference materials and all we could find was some advice that the engine wouldn’t start or run smoothly at first, so I got back in and tried again.

Engine, all back together

This time, the engine started up pretty quickly, and actually ran! There were no obvious problems that we could see or hear. It was a joyous moment, one I’d hoped for but never let myself really expect. My grin was a mile wide.

Successful mechanic!At that point, it was late and we were tired, but we pushed through the last hour of work (putting on wheels and hood, mostly) so we could actually drive the car out of the garage that night. I was giddy as I pulled it out and parked it on the street.

The next morning, I took it to a mechanic for a few adjustments that required special tools we didn’t have (timing light, belt tension measurement). The mechanic found one small issue (an extra washer causing a fuel leak), but otherwise praised our work. The one-hour minimum of shop time was plenty to get everything adjusted, and I drove the car away afterward, running smoothly.

Even after five and a half days in the garage slogging through this project, I’m not tired of working on my car. I enjoy the measured pace of engine disassembly and reassembly, and wouldn’t mind doing it again. I’m already building a list of possible next projects:

  • fix non-working driver side speaker wiring
  • add windshield wiper fluid reservoir (mysteriously missing)
  • fix air conditioning system
  • look into adding power door locks
  • troll junkyards for missing trim pieces

My car will never look fancy (it’s a banged-up ’92 Civic, after all), but I’m developing a real sense of pride in it. It’s a great feeling to drive around in a car whose engine I now know so thoroughly.

I'll be back in here soon enough.

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Car project (entry 3 of 4)

By kate on February 8th, 2010

(mouse over pictures for captions and click for bigger versions)

As I discussed in my previous post, after removing the engine it became clear the best thing to do was to keep the engine I had. I ordered some needed parts (gaskets, mostly) online. We detached the head from everything else and I took it in for resurfacing to a local machine shop, Action Machine. I had a great experience with them – they were friendly and nice, and reasonably priced. Because I knew just enough to sound knowledgeable, I was able to chat with the guy while dropping off the head, and found that he could sell me the head gasket and head bolts for much less than I had been able to find anywhere online.

Shiny new head gasket (the head goes on top of this)

A handful of other specialized parts had to be ordered from my local Honda dealer (luckily nothing too expensive), and we stopped at Schucks for the more pedestrian things like fluids and filters. Overall, I spent $259.98 on parts, plus $64.50 for the head resurfacing; a total of $324.48 – significantly less than the $1700+ quoted to me by the mechanic. Doing the labor myself saved me about $1400.

Me 'n my car
Photo credit: Steve Leroux

Then followed a long weekend of work on the car. Saturday was very discouraging. We spent a lot of time carefully scraping off the old gaskets, then realized we were missing some important (new) gaskets and had to make a second trip to the dealer.  By the end of the day, we’d only just put the head back on the block. Adding to the aggravation and the feeling things were taking forever was the fact that the head bolts must be tightened in a very specific pattern, three times each. That is, we had to go through the bolts (in the pattern) three times, tightening to the next torque setting each time. Quite a pain, but we were careful and followed the directions to the letter.

 The rocker arm assembly, a particularly intricate and beautiful contraption (you can see the head underneath)    Rocker arm assembly, looking all steampunk

The next day, Sunday, things picked up. We finished reattaching all the other engine parts that we had removed (transmission, wiring harness, distributor, etc). By the evening, we were able to hoist the engine back in the car and attach a few of the mounting bolts. It felt really good to pass that milestone and have the visual confirmation of the engine inside the car.

 

Engine going back in the car!

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Car project (entry 2 of 4)

By kate on January 22nd, 2010

(mouse over pictures for captions and click for bigger versions)

Before this project, I knew very little about cars. Looking under a hood, I could identify only a few things like the dipstick and fluid reservoirs. The most advanced work I’d done to date was to replace my headlights a few times (a very simple procedure).

One of the 1200+ manual pages (we constantly referenced it)We equipped ourselves with the PDF version of the 1200+ page Honda Civic Service Manual. One version was all over the internet, and it was very inconveniently missing three pages from the engine replacement section (just what we needed). I had to go to the downtown library to photocopy the relevant pages!

Then, we spent a weekend in coveralls and disposable gloves, getting coated in all manner of synthetic gunk (sometimes at unexpected moments). Grant patiently let me do all of the actual work, removing bolts and clips, labeling parts, etc. By the end of the weekend I was pretty good at estimating the size of a bolt head. I can also name a lot of the parts under my hood, and understand at least how they fit together (if not all the details of how it actually works).

 

Me wearing my face shield, which was perfect for protecting me from falling bolts and gunk

I experienced a minor shop injury when my thumb got jammed between a pneumatic wrench I was using and a foot of the hoist. Luckily, Grant sprang into action right away and was able to reverse the wrench to free my thumb. For a little while I was afraid it was serious, but by the next day it was already a lot better.

My engine, being hoisted out    The big fish I caught... er.... my engine.

As far as the car, it does not yet have a new engine in it. Both engines are sitting in the garage as we consider our next step. Once my engine was removed, some complications emerged. (The new engine was a manual transmission, and lacking power steering.) These could be fixed by moving a bunch of pieces to the new engine. However, we noticed that my existing engine was (visually) in great shape. The hoses and belts appear almost new. We realized that we had just done all the intensive labor that makes head gasket replacement so expensive. The only part of the process that we can’t do is to resurface the head, and if we take just the head to a machine shop, it’s pretty cheap. Then, we need to buy a new gasket kit and should be good to start reassembling everything. (I’d return the “new” engine, which has a 30 day warranty.)

 The hole left once we removed the engine   My engine, removed

I feel pretty confident with the engine at this point. I realize that this is a false sense of confidence because taking everything apart is the easy half of the job. The real test will come when we start to put it all back together. I’m excited to see how challenging that will be, and if I remember it all well enough.

Filed under: handiwork, learning | 1 Comment »


Car project (entry 1 of 4)

By kate on January 21st, 2010

I have taken my engine apart, reassembled it, and lived to tell the tale. Not only that, but I’m left with a nicely running car that I can finally drive again. I’ll get into the details shortly but I have to say I’m feeling pretty proud of myself at the moment. I feel knowledgeable and capable, and I’m looking forward to the next car project. Here’s how it all happened.

(mouse over pictures for captions and click for bigger versions)

My car just before I bought itIn the fall, I bought a car to help facilitate my separation. After a morning of intensive shopping (up and down Aurora Avenue), I found a 1992 Honda Civic 4-door that was a good deal. I paid $1700 for it (plus fees). I had a good feeling about the car, and it served me well for a few months.

Then, on Christmas Day, trouble began. By the next day, white smoke poured out of the exhaust pipe and the car idled really roughly. It was obviously serious. I took it to a mechanic, and got the dreaded diagnosis: broken head gasket. The repair cost for this (and associated work) would be about $1700, what I paid for the car!

Leaking head gasket - the source of all my problemsI retrieved my car from the mechanic with a “no, thanks.” Luckily, Tim has a second car he’s not using, and kindly allowed me to borrow it for the time being. This gave me time to consider my options.

Grant suggested that replacing the engine entirely would be cheaper and simpler than getting into the head to replace the gasket and resurface the head. And, this would be a procedure he’d be comfortable doing himself! Having always wanted to learn more about engines (and knowing next to nothing at this point), I jumped at the chance to take on this project.

We found a used engine on Craigslist with low mileage for the year, and a good price (because it was missing a distributor – something I already had). It was delivered this week and I worked with the delivery guy to get it up on the hoist. All is in place for a weekend of greasy work.

New engine, delivered and up on the hoist

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A Sad Announcement

By kate on November 12th, 2009

[Also cross-posted to Steve’s blog at http://steveleroux.com]

Steve and I would like to share some sad news: we are separating. For almost two months, we’ve been doing a trial separation while (mostly) staying in our house, staying in separate rooms and switching off weekends as we figured everything out. At this point, it looks pretty certain that we’re headed apart, and we’re now talking about how to make that transition in the best way possible. Kate will be moving into a new place towards the end of November, and Steve will stay in the house for the time being. Ruby will split her time between us.

Although this has been a very difficult period for us, we’ve discovered that it’s helpful to be open about our situation. Sharing the story with our friends has rewarded us with a lot of support and interesting stories, and deepened some of our friendships.  We believe people should talk about these subjects more often, and we’d be willing to share more details with you (or hear your own story) over a cup of tea or pint of beer.

It’s a natural inclination at a time like this for friends to tend to take sides.  We’d like to strongly discourage you from doing this. Both of us are working very hard to maintain a strong friendship through this separation, and neither of us is looking to win points by rallying our friends to our cause.  Don’t be worried about inviting us both to the same event; we still very much enjoy spending time together and won’t spoil your party.

Also, suffice to say that at this point our most important priority is providing a loving, nurturing path for Ruby through the transition, and we’re both fully engaged in that process.

Filed under: about, family, life, relationships | 2 Comments »


Why I don’t text much

By kate on June 10th, 2009

It comes down to cost. Either I must pay my cell phone carrier a monthly fee for some number of included texts (which is more than I’d ever send), or pay $0.15 each. I might be willing to do that, except I get unlimited data on my phone, a Blackberry. I came across this recent piece from NPR about texting, and I have to say I agree with most of it:

If we all expect each other to receive text messages, and we all expect that people prefer to be texted rather than called, then we are all more likely to send text messages. And if we are likely to send text messages, the carriers can charge us monthly rates for doing so. AT&T, for example, has packages ranging from $5 a month for 200 text messages to $20 a month for unlimited. And by “text message,” they mean any message sent or received.  This really irritates me!  (whole article)

I don’t have quite the militant stance that this journalist does… I’ll send or receive the odd text with good friends who are inveterate texters. But every text costs me money.

Can I suggest that, if you’d like to text me, just send me an email if you can? I get them both on my phone with equal urgency.

An even better text-to-data bridge is Twitter. Direct tweets can be sent by your own preferred method, and received by the recipient’s preferred method. It’s the most elegant answer to this problem I’ve found.

Filed under: technology | 1 Comment »


The pernicious pinkification of little girls

By kate on May 29th, 2009

This vehement guest column from the Times Online UK had me raising my arms and shouting “amen!”

“All the Disney princesses are there in a terrifying tableau of simpering, gurning girlishness. Why are all these princesses, the apotheoses of modern girlhood, clasping their hands together in front of them, in an expression of coy submissiveness?” (whole article)

I’m relieved that Ruby has thus far been able to hold onto her own opinions, more or less, after joining preschool. She actually seems more tuned into “boy characters” like Batman and Spiderman, who she has brought up by name, than any of the princesses (or Dora, or whoever). Her stated favorite color is a sophisticated-for-preschool purple, rather than pink.

While she does enjoy dressing up, dancing around and being “fancy”, she does it with her own crazy tastes and ideals, rather than conforming to the princess standard. This is a kind of girlishness that’s just fine with me.

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How I choose my SIFF movies

By kate on May 18th, 2009

Every year, I try to go see some movies at the Seattle International Film Festival. I’ve had a few off years lately, but I had a great time in 2004 and 2005, so I’m ramping it back up this year and planning to see fourteen films. A few years ago, I described my film selection process this way:

“The process is very instinctive (and random). I’m basing my choices solely on the paragraph-long blurbs in the festival program, which is pleasantly limiting and challenging. It’s a lot like a puzzle, to try to figure out the most optimal viewing schedule based on the movies you REALLY want to see, and the movies you ‘kinda’ want to see.”

I thought I’d expand on that a bit in case anyone is looking for guidance. The SIFF schedule can be an intimidating thing to get started on. I use the Seattle Times SIFF Program Guide (mostly because it comes out early and comes right to my house with the paper).

First, I sit down with the guide (a tabloid-style section about the size of the weekend entertainment section) and three colors of highlighter pen. I quickly read through the paragraph-long film descriptions. After each blurb, I mark it in one of four ways: no mark if I have no interest in the film, one color for films I MOST want to see, a second color for films I’d like to see, and a third color for films I’d see if it were convenient. These are usually quick, almost instinctive decisions.

Next, I turn to the schedule grid. I highlight all the films I’d previously marked with the same color, making sure to highlight every showing of each.

SIFF schedule

Then comes the puzzley part: I eyeball the grid and try to identify a handful of days containing a clump of films I want to see that are showing at the same theater. I circle potential days. I check over the films I most want to see, and check if they’re included in those days (or decide if they’re worth seeing on a separate day). I re-read descriptions for non-marked films sandwiched between ones I want to see and decide if they’re worth seeing. I cross-reference the potential movie days with my real-life calendar to avoid conflicts.

Finally, I check with my husband and make sure it’s OK with him that I spend so much time away from the family in the upcoming month. I try to cluster as many movies together as I can to minimize the number of days involved, and remind him that May is an unusual month.

Then, it’s just a matter of buying tickets (single tickets for matinee showings, cinematic six-packs for non-matinees). It’s too hard to try coordinating other people’s schedules with all this, so I try to drum up company after I’ve already bought my own tickets. I don’t plan to post my schedule publicly, but I’m more than happy to share it with you if I know you.

Note: there’s a new site called b-side festival genius that purports to help you with your SIFF schedule. I tried it after the fact but didn’t find it as useful as I had hoped. Your mileage may vary.

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Where should we eat tonight?

By kate on May 12th, 2009

As a Blackberry user, I’ve long been jealous of Urbanspoon‘s excellent iPhone application, which includes a slot-machine randomizer to help you decide upon a restaurant. While it’s still not available on the Blackberry (despite my pleas), anyone with a Flash-enabled browser can now use the slot machine!

Seattle restaurants on Urbanspoon

You can use it right here on this page, on the Urbanspoon site, or you can embed it in your own website.

Filed under: technology, work | 1 Comment »


Goodbye Seattle P-I

By kate on March 17th, 2009

last-p-i.jpg

It’s a sad day in Seattle as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stops its presses for the last time. I wanted to write a post today about what our society is losing as newspapers close down, but I re-read my 2005 post, “Why Newspapers are Still Relevant,” and realized it’s all pretty much there (except the new sense of urgency and despair I now feel).

We won’t entirely lose the editorial voice and professional journalism from the P-I as it continues online, although from what I can tell, these will be provided by a skeleton crew of less-experienced employees. And you know what? I’m the kind of dinosaur that still prefers a newspaper,  so I’ll be resignedly reading the Seattle Times. I’m sure I’ll see relevant and important P-I articles online as they pass through the blogging echo chamber, but that’ll only be supplementary.

I’d like to explore a fantasy for a minute, if you’ll bear with me. Those of us who specifically appreciate what a paper paper can offer (e.g., large format, skimmability, article curatorship) are certainly a shrinking group, but there are still hundreds of thousands of us out there (if not millions). I accept that the old-school printing press/delivery approach is becoming expensive and obsolete, but maybe there’s another solution that technology can offer us. What about a home printer that works as usual, but with the addition of a spool of newsprint? Imagine a software back-end that allows an editor to do his or her editorial work to digitally create a newspaper (or even several variants), and then “publishing” it online to any subscribers with such a printer. This could be an editor at a single paper, or someone syndicating content from multiple sources. Those with a printer could even do some small-scale distribution if they found it worth their while.

As our numbers shrink and we become less attractive to advertisers, the onus falls more heavily on paper readers to pay for our preference, and this is one way it could work.

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Simple Gifts

By kate on January 20th, 2009

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in a place just right
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.

‘Tis the gift to be gentle, ’tis the gift to be fair
‘Tis the gift to wake and breathe the morning air
And everyday to walk in the path we choose
‘Tis the gift that we pray we may ne’er come to lose

‘Tis the gift to be loving, ’tis the best gift of all
Like a quiet rain, it blesses where it falls
And if we have the gift we will truly believe
‘Tis better to give than it is to receive

CHORUS:
When true simplicity is gained
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed
To turn, turn will be our delight
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Today, at the inauguration ceremony of President Obama, a quartet of musical greats played a song specially arranged for the occasion (by John Williams) called Air and Simple Gifts.

As moved as I was by the swearing in and Obama’s speech, hearing this music moved me the most. Simple Gifts is a traditional Shaker song that my dad used to sing to me. He learned it during his childhood in Pennsylvania. I’m not much of a singer, but I chose that song to be the one I’d sing to Ruby as a lullaby. Not only is it a traditional family song, but the plain, simple lyrics perfectly illustrate the values I want to pass on to my child.

When the first notes of Simple Gifts rang out from Anthony McGill’s clarinet, I was overwhelmed with joy. Joy that our new president’s team had selected this humble American folk tune to share before assuming a mantle of such power and prestige. With the whole world watching, the quartet could have played any of the hundreds (thousands?) of songs celebrating pomp, greatness, victory, or heroism. Instead, we were offered a beautiful tune that reminds us what is really important in life: the simple gifts of gratitude, fairness, gentleness, love, and humility.

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