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I can't make this up.

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I must be a glutton for punishment, a masochist, or some combination thereof.

A few days ago, I was sitting at home when I heard a "POP!" followed by a whistling noise, followed by the smell of natural gas. I rushed into my kitchen, where I discovered the source of the issue - my super ancient, super ratty, super tiny stove had failed and was now spewing natural gas into the house.

I quickly turned off the gas supply and opened all of the doors and windows. Whew. That could've been a disaster... I then set about searching for a new stove to replace the "apartment-sized" stove that had just failed.

An apartment-sized stove measures 24" wide. That means you can't set two frying pans side-by-side... not very convenient at all. I measured the available space for the stove and discovered I could squeeze in a 30" stove, which was excellent for a number of reasons. I'd have more available cooking space, and ironically, 30" stoves are less expensive than 24" stoves.

After much searching, I found that Best Buy had a beautiful Samsung 30" stove, and it was in stock, and it was on sale. Double win!

Except for the part where I had to deal with Best Buy again. Those with sharp memories may recall that I had a heck of a time obtaining a washer and dryer set from Best Buy. To say I was hesitant to deal with them would be an understatement, but I didn't have many options, so I ventured over to the store to place my order.

The order process was simple and went off without an issue. I reminded the employee about my previous experience, and he assured me things would be absolutely perfect this time around. He gave me his business card, which included a direct line to him, and an e-mail address. Perfect!

Upon returning home from Best Buy, I discovered an e-mail and a text on my phone. They both confirmed my order, and reiterated the delivery time and date: Tuesday, July 7, between the hours of 10:00am and 12:00pm. Things were looking up.

Fast forward to Monday, July 6.

I received a second set of e-mails and texts, both of which once again confirmed the delivery date as Tuesday, July 7 between 10:00am and 12:00pm. Superb!

Monday night (July 6), at around 10:30pm, I received an "unknown" call (no caller ID) and a voicemail that lasted six (6) seconds. The message said, "Your appliances will be delivered tomorrow between 1pm and 3pm."

Huh? That's confusing... And, I couldn't return the call, because there wasn't a number to call. Great.

So, on Tuesday morning, I grabbed my sales person's card and called his direct line. Voicemail. So, I left a message and requested clarification about the delivery time. I also sent an e-mail, which was promptly returned as "undeliverable" - the address was invalid. Oye. This was not looking good.

10:00am to 12:00pm came and went, without any sign of the Best Buy delivery truck. I called the direct number again - voicemail. So, I left another message. After stewing for a bit, I decided to drive over to Best Buy and talk to them in person.

The guy in the appliance department did some research and said, "Yep, here it is - confirmed 100% - your delivery time is 1pm to 3pm today."

I showed him the 4 e-mails and texts that showed 10:00am to 12:00pm, and he said, "I don't know who sent those, but it's wrong. It is 1pm to 3pm today."

I pointed out that they came from Best Buy, and he said, "But I don't know who sent those." Ugh. This was going nowhere, and 1pm was approaching, so I cut my losses and returned home to wait.

1:00pm to 3:00pm came and went. No truck. So, I called the store and spoke to the same person that I met with in person just a few hours earlier. I told him it was beyond 3:00pm, and I didn't have my stove. He said, "Oh yes, our drivers are very busy today and are running late. They will be there by 7:00pm."

What? You didn't know this when I met with you 2 hours earlier? Unbelievable.

At around 3:30pm, the truck arrived. The driver came up to my kitchen, looked at the existing gas line and went out to grab his tools. He came back with a pair of pliers, and tried to disconnect the gas line with a pair of small pliers... needless to say, the line wasn't budging.

I said, "You don't have a pipe wrench or even an adjustable wrench?" He said, "Nope, this is what I've got. You may have to call a plumber to have this disconnected and installed." (insert huge eye-roll from me)

I said, "I used to be a mechanic; I'll get my pipe wrench - hold on a second." I went out to the garage, grabbed some wrenches and proceeded to loosen the line in about 10 seconds. The driver said, "You seem to know what you're doing here. We'll go grab the new stove and bring it up."

The stove made its way into my house, at which point the driver said, "Here, sign this delivery receipt." I read it over, signed it, and said, "Ok, should we work on getting it unwrapped and placed?"

The driver said, "We're running late, so since you know what you're doing, I think we'll get moving." (insert another eye roll from me)

After they left, I noticed they had left their delivery manifest behind...

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Notice the red part that I circled? Seems to show my delivery was supposed to be the 5th stop, and take place between 10:28am and 11:03am. Morons. Not only are they morons, they're lying and deceitful morons. A double crime.

Fast forward to me trying to connect the new gas hose to my existing gas pipe... thanks to my ancient, cobbled-together house, the new gas hose would not fit my existing gas pipe. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

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Not only was the fitting too small, the pipe was too tall to allow me to flush-fit the stove against the wall. I'd have to shorten it and get a properly-sized fitting on it. Joy.

Frustration #3 manifested in gas pipes that had been put together not with teflon tape, but with some type of cementing compound. This made removing the existing pipes nearly impossible. I say nearly because there's no way I could've gotten them apart, were it not for the invaluable help of my local plumbing supply store owner, who lent me a nifty new-style pipe wrench that actually locked onto the pipe and didn't slip, no matter what. I owe that guy about 100 beers...

$14 in parts later, including a safety valve for the gas supply line (it detects line leaks and automatically shuts off the flow of gas if a leak is detected), and I had a workable solution. Here it is all put together and leak tested:

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Looks a little nicer and is a little more simple, eh?

With the gas line sorted, I unwrapped/packed the stove, put together the burner assemblies and grates, and set the stove in place (leveled it, secured it, etc). The finished product looks like this:

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So much nicer. However, I vow to never, ever purchase another appliance from Best Buy, no matter what. Those jokers are unbelievable (literally and figuratively)...

I spent the rest of the evening doing some guitar work with my pal Jeremy:

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My ESP Eclipse was in need of some TLC. Jeremy polished the frets, oiled the fret board, replaced the bridge, restrung it, and adjusted the intonation and action. I loved the guitar beforehand; now I'm head-over-heels about it. It's such a drastic improvement from the way it was. Looks like I also owe Jeremy 100 beers or so. :-)

And finally, throughout the entire ordeal of the appliances and guitar repair, this thing remained unimpressed and non-enthusiastic. Go figure.

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Ho ho ho! Merry - hey. Hold on. Let's settle down a bit, ok? There are still like 26 days before Christmas, right?

So, what's up 'witchyall? Me? I'm fine, thanksferaskin', if not busy with work and the whatnot. But, just because I've been busy busting my hump for the man doesn't mean that I haven't had time to enjoy the view for a bit. Let's see what I've been up to over the past month or so, shall we?

I took a little trip down south to visit Amy, the animals, old friends, and the house down in Northwest Arkansas. It was really nice to get away for a bit and even nicer to hang out with Amy, the critters, and my peeps from down south.

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Poor 'ole Mrs. Squid (Monica) - she's getting to be so old. Her back legs are super wobbly and unstable; it's difficult to watch her try to walk around because she stumbles a fair amount and drags her back feet as she tries to maneuver about. She spends most of her time sleeping and/or lounging around the house. Poor girl... I realize she's nearly 12 years old, but it's still hard to see such a magnificent creature degrade like she is.

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The cats were as goofy as ever... Sulley and Kramer provided plenty of laughs as they "did battle" with one another. Kramer is such a geek and Sulley loves to pick on him. Ernie provided comic relief by bounding through the living room, hurdling the ottoman and leaping in his vertical/sideways fashion. Kosmo sniped us from afar, while grunting little "meows."

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Riley and Regis were as good as ever - Regis is such a beast. Strong, solid, and that blockhead of his... Riley still looks like a little tick and craves attention moreso than ever. It was really good to see them.

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Amy's doing well; the animal shelter is as busy as ever. She got a call one night stating that the police had dropped-off a chihuahua in an outside pen; she dutifully got-up and drove to the shelter so the little guy didn't have to sit outside in the cold night air. She also woke-up extra early one morning (like 4:00am early) so that she could meet a transport group and send some dogs to better homes. I don't know how she does it.

I worked on the house for a bit; replaced a leaky wax ring seal on one of the toilet drains, cleaned the roof and gutters, cleaned the yard of fallen leaves, sprayed for weeds, treated for bugs, and did a few other odds-n-ends.

I also got to ride my bike for a bit as the weather was truly excellent. Day time temperatures were typically in the 60s and low 70s, although a few days did dip down into the 50s.

We ate dinner with friends nearly every night, which means my belly is bigger than ever... I must - MUST - get back onto a plan here, because my pants are seriously in dire shape.

After a week spent south of the Mason/Dixon line, I loaded-up the car and headed north, my trusty co-pilot resting comfortably (for her) the entire way home.

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Upon returning to home base here in WI, I decided to revisit my musical side. I had been contemplating another guitar purchase for quite some time... I knew that I wanted an American-made, solid wood, electric guitar, but I didn't want a Fender. So, I started researching and decided that a Gibson Les Paul might fit the bill.

I searched high-and-low online at places like Craigslist, eBay, and countless retailers before deciding to visit the local Guitar Center. After a few hours of shopping, I left with a beautiful Gibson Les Paul Studio, in faded cherry finish.

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The thing is silky smooth and an absolute joy to play. I was surprised by how well I remembered my old chords, riffs, and songs. I was back to pickin' the likes of Queensryche, Metallica, and White Lion songs in no-time, although they were a little choppy.

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The body features a solid build; the thing is heavy and very substantial. The neck is silky smooth; the action is perfect. If only my fingers felt the same - calluses are an important "must-have" when playing the gee-tar... it feels like I've been pinch-rolling razor blades all day!

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I did discover the world of online guitar classes. Holy cow are there some great classes out there! I spent a solid 2-hours last night online, following along with a teacher and really picking-up on things. I spent another hour tonight taking additional classes. And they're cheap!! Just $15 per month gets you unlimited class time and countless options.

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Huge thanks to the fine folks at the local Guitar Center for the smokin' deal on this new set-up and for their patience and help as I pondered my options, tested various guitars, and asked countless questions.

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You just can't beat that good 'ole Made in the USA stamp... Thank you, Gibson for crafting such a fine piece of machinery!


And finally, I got to attend another Yelp elite event earlier tonight. It was sponsored by a new local restaurant called "DLux" and it featured 6 - count 'em, six - new and intriguing burger offerings, tasty appetizers, extravagant french fries (truffle oil, bleu cheese, bacon, and parmesan, just to name a few options), and complimentary beverages. And, like all of the other Yelp events, this one was completely free-of-charge.

The staff at DLux went all out - they even drafted "Yelpy" greetings on various food dishes... here's their Alsum Farm Spicy Sweet Corn dip, adorned with a Yelp signature. It was served with Frito's Scoops, and was simply divine.

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Great event, great food, fun people, and free. What more could a guy ask for?!

And with that, I'm off to play on the guitar for a bit before I head to bed. Take it easy, everyone!

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IT IS OFFICIALLY HOT.

Well, that's not exactly accurate... It's not only hot, it's obscenely hot and it has been for quite some time now. According to the weather report from this morning, we've had temperatures in excess of 90F for thirteen days in a row, and we've exceeded 100F four days in a row.

Combine that heat with a complete lack of rain (June saw just 0.33" compared to more than 4.25" during a normal summer), and it makes for a crunchy existence. Just take a peek at my backyard, along with a squinty and hot Flea...

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That yard is brown. And crispy. And I'm sitting here, sweating as I type this.

So... it's been a busy few weeks... there's been a lot going on at work, a few motorcycle rides, fewer bicycle rides, even fewer runs, a tour of American Packaging Company, fireworks, and a concert. Let's recap, shall we?

I'll skip the bits about work, running, and riding. Those are necessary evils. Let's just say that I've been working much harder and longer than I have been running and riding as of late. I truly am burned out. I need to find a new activity to help keep my girlish figure in check.

The motorcycle has been doing quite well. I promised some photos a while back, and I apologize for not getting them posted in a more timely manner. I snapped these while on a ride a few weekends ago. I won't bother to describe them, I'll just post them.

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Much to my surprise, the Flea has taken a bit of a liking to the motorcycle. She really enjoys riding in the car, but it was a bit shocking to discover that she was interested in the Hog... here she is investigating the ride, looking for a place to sit.

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I got to thinking, and after some searching online, I found several options for taking your dog along on a motorcycle ride. There were backpacks, chestpacks, tank bags, and trunks. Some cost as little as $20; others cost as much as $600. I hated to spend serious money to determine if the Flea actually liked riding on the cycle, but I didn't want to leave her vulnerable to danger in the event of a crash or incident.

I eventually decided to buy a small crate and secure it to the luggage rack with heavy duty zip ties. This would allow me to keep her safe without having to spend a ton of money up front. I went to the local pet store and bought the smallest crate I could find - it cost $21.

I disassembled the crate and lined-up the bottom half with the luggage rack so that it was centered on the bike. I marked locations on the front and back of the crate so that I could drill my first series of mounting holes. With those marked, I grabbed some Vaseline and applied it to the top surfaces of the luggage rack. I then set the crate on top of the rack, in exactly the centered location.

When I lifted the crate off the rack, I could see exactly where the luggage rack rested on the crate (the Vaseline left perfect luggage rack lines on the bottom of the crate). I then drilled additional holes for the zip ties, in a manner that would allow me to completely secure the crate to the rack.

I purchased several dozen 3/8" wide ziptie packs and went about securing the crate to the rack. When I was done, this is what the base looked like:

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The next order of business was to put the top back on, secure it, and zip-tie it for additional security.

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With the crate secured, I placed an old quilted pillowcase inside, and my work was complete.

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I put the Flea inside the crate, and she seemed to like it. She spun around and sat down.

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We've taken a few test rides - started with a short ride of about 5-8 minutes, followed by rides that have been progressively longer. Aside from the oven-like heat, Flea seems to enjoy the rides. When I check on her, she's looking out the front while lying down. She doesn't seem anxious or upset, so I'm guessing she doesn't mind it too much.

I may take her for a longish ride this weekend, just to see how she does. If she likes it, I may invest in a more expensive, more professional-looking solution. Or, I may keep this homemade system... it assembles/disassembles quite easily, and it only cost about $25 with the 10 zipties.

Fireworks

My friend Matt (aka "Potato Man") invited me to watch the infamous Rhythm And Booms event with him, his wife, some family, and friends. Since he lives near Werner Park (site of the event), and since I really enjoy spending time with him and his wife, this was a no-brainer.

I met at their house, where they had a wonderful cookout underway, complete with roasted organic free-range chicken and a ton of goodies. We ate, drank, and chatted until it was dark, at which point we ventured a few blocks down the road and scored some awesome seats just across from the park. With lawn chairs and coolers in place, we sat back and enjoyed the show.

Here are some photos of the fireworks:

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One of the great things about watching the event with Matt and Jen was that I got to catch-up with Andy (Matt's brother) - I hadn't seen him for nearly 10 years. When the fireworks ended, I bid everyone farewell, packed-up my folding chair and headed for home. It was a great fourth of July, for sure.

American Packaging Corporation Tour

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My cousin's husband Jeff works for American Packaging Corporation, which is located in Columbus, WI. They're celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, and as such held an open house to demonstrate how and what they do. It was extremely interesting - APC produces the packaging (labels, wrappers, etc) for the majority of the world's leading consumer products.

Each time you crack-open a mini Hershey bar, or open a can of Pringles, or unwrap a piece of gum, you're peeling away the packaging that Jeff and his fellow employees produce at APC.

APC has several large lines, known as Roto lines - "Roto" is short for Rotogravure, the method by which the packaging is produced. The Roto process uses an engraved cylinder to apply ink to the paper at a high rate of speed. Some of the lines can run at more than 1450 feet per second. That's insane!

The factory is huge - something like 400,000 square feet in size... those Roto machines are massive. Here are some photos from the factory tour.

Roto 2 - one of the original Roto lines. It runs at around 1000 feet per second.

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Roto 2 makes Krackel wrappers, along with other things. Here's a roll of finished Krackel packaging, before being scored and cut into a final product:

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Here's where they mix all of the ink for the various packaging. They start with bulk dyes and then custom mix them to the client's exact specifications. The amount of Quality Control effort that must go into this process is unreal. They use more than 360 tanker trucks' worth of ink per year.

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Here's the area where they store, retrieve, and refresh the cylinders. The cylinders are stored in a large "silo" and are inventoried and retrieved by a computerized, robotic system.

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While slightly blurry, you'll still get an idea of just how large some of these lines are - this is the newest Roto line, and it's an absolute monster. I didn't catch exactly how long it was, but I'd guess it was right around 75-85 yards.

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Here's one of the control panels for that monster. The operators are responsible for identifying misprints, misalignments, feed problems, and so on. Imagine trying to track all of that stuff while it flies by at more than 1,000 feet per second.

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One of the Roto lines was printing labels for Pringles. In Chinese.

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It was a great tour that lasted about an hour or so. At the end of the tour, we were invited into a large warehouse area where APC had free food - brats, burgers, chips, cakes, and the like. Bucky Badger even made an appearance. Here's to another 40 years of success, APC!

Summerfest 2012

I vowed to never attend another Summerfest event, but when I heard that one of the world's greatest heavy metal bands was going to be playing the event, I had to make an exception.

Iron Maiden announced that as part of their Maiden England 2012 tour they would be visiting little 'ole Milwaukee. I purchased tickets as soon as they were available, and a small group of us made the trek to the shores of Lake Michigan to take in the show.

When we arrived to the Summerfest grounds at approximately 5:30pm on the 4th of July, the air temperature was well over 100-degrees. Yikes.

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The blistering heat didn't seem to deter too many people from attending... there were throngs of folks everywhere. Upon our arrival, we took a stroll through the grounds, just to get an idea of what had changed, where the hot spots were, and to see the various stages. This was one of my favorite free stages:

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Alas, there weren't any decent bands playing on the free stages (Summerfest saves the good bands until the late night hours), so we decided to find a place that would be cool(er), and preferably served brews. Within no time we were sitting in the upstairs pavilion for the Water Street Brewery, enjoying a beverage or two.

Here's a shot of our crew; from lower left, working counter-clockwise, we have: Mark (brother of my friend and co-worker, Chris), Mike (friend of Chris'), Chris, and yours truly. If we appear hot, sweaty, and a bit cranky, we were. Even with a cold beverage in hand, it wasn't much fun sitting outside, wallowing in a pool of your own sweat.

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Iron Maiden wasn't playing on a free stage - no sirree - they were playing in the Marcus Amphitheater, which sits on the far south east side of the grounds and requires you to buy a special event ticket to attend. Our tickets were $72 each... and the show was scheduled to start at 7:30pm. If you look closely, you can see the Amphitheater in the background - this was taken from our perch at the brewery's pavilion.

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We sat at the pavilion for as long as we could, and then made our way to the Amphitheater. Our seats appeared to be in a decent location; left of the stage, about 40 rows back. Little did we know the seats wouldn't be that great once the show started.

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As soon as the show began, we instantly recoiled in horror. The sound was absolutely dreadful - nothing but shrill, harsh, shrieking sound. You see, the Marcus Amphitheater has several design factors working squarely against it... it's an Amphitheater, so the stage is set low into the ground, with a shell placed behind it. This works great for non-amplified performances, but acts as a reverb chamber for amplified sound.

The Amphitheater also has a large metal roof that is quite low in relation to the venue. The metal roof helps bounce/reverberate sound even more than the shell behind the stage.

And finally, the entire facility is constructed from concrete, which only makes the reverberation problem worse than it already is. So... as a result, the sound was absolutely atrocious. We know every single Iron Maiden song there is, yet we struggled to identify which songs were being played - that's how poor the sound was.

The showmanship was fine; lots of explosions, good lighting, and props. Here's the stage, almost completely consumed by a controlled fireball:

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I felt really bad for the band - they were playing their hearts out, and they are a super talented group of guys. To be 60-years old and hammering away like they did is truly impressive. They didn't miss a beat, and they played non-stop for nearly two hours in the blistering heat.

Unfortunately, the sound was so bad that I couldn't wait for the show to end. It was literally fatiguing to listen to - it was pure reverberated static, and it was disappointing to say the least.

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The band also mentioned that because the Summerfest stage was so small that they could only bring out about 1/3 of their normal stage set-up. Further proof that the Marcus Amphitheater and Summerfest suck, and that I should've maintained my self-imposed ban of attending any events there. Oh well... lesson learned - never again.

My ears rang for an additional two days because of that horrible venue. UGH.


Bonus content: Clips of Faith

In an attempt to create my longest blog entry to date, I'll pass along one more story.

The New Belgium Brewery (makers of Fat Tire) are big supporters of bicycling. As such, they set up a small national tour called "Clips of Faith" and selected twelve US cities as host destinations. The events raise money and awareness for local cycling efforts - the brewery donates its proceeds from the event to local cycling organizations. Madison was selected as one of the twelve stops.

It's called Clips of Faith because it's essentially an independent film festival that serves some exclusive New Belgium beers along with local cuisine. Entry is free, but you have to pay for your food and drinks.

Chris (from work) told me about the event, and we decided to attend.

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The event was hosted at Olbrich Park, near downtown Madison. While it was warm, it wasn't scorchingly hot, so the event was tolerable. Here's the list of brews offered by the brewery; some of these were really unique and not widely available:

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In addition to the movie screen and beer tents, New Belgium set-up a little "village" of sorts. There were various tents with information, events, and social gatherings. It was really well done:

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We grabbed a few brews (they were available in small, 3oz sample sizes), found a seat on the lawn, and set about preparing to watch some short films. Here's me and the Flea, with a little beverage (they allowed dogs, which was extra cool):

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As soon as dusk landed, they fired-up the projector and started showing films. The films were truly short - I don't think a single one lasted more than 3 minutes. Some were as short as 20 seconds. And, none were very interesting... It's really difficult to "follow" a short film, and the subjects were all over the place... the best part of the show as the intermission - they left the projector set to a white screen and encouraged people to make their own shadow puppet show. That was fun to watch.

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I left the event a little early and was home by 9:30pm. Chris and his girlfriend stuck it out for the entire event, and I'm told it didn't get much better - the films were all equally odd and unusual. At least it was (mostly) free.

FIN

A tail of two dog coats

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...I know that I misspelled "tail" in the title - it was purposeful...

Fifi isn't a fan of the cold weather - that's no surprise, given she's all of five pounds, hails from a tropical climate, and spent all of her adult life living in Southern California.

Thankfully, this year's winter was quite mild; however, I did try to find a suitable sweater and jacket to help her cope with the cold. Unfortunately, she's such an alien that I wasn't able to find anything "off-the-rack" to fit her.

Fifi has a large head, skinny neck, large chest/rib cage, and a tiny waist. She reminds me of a bobble-head doll... So, every sweater or jacket that I tried was either too tight, too loose, or too short for her to benefit from.

So, I set about searching for custom-made dog apparel. After doing some serious digging, I stumbled across two vendors: Blue Willow Dog Coats and De-Re Dogs.

Despite ordering two very similar pieces of apparel from two custom-made clothing service providers, the two experiences could not have been more different. Let's start with Blue Willow...

Blue Willow Dog Coats makes dog coats intended primarily for greyhounds, Italian greyhounds, and whippets. They're located near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and the jackets are all custom-made, hand-fabricated using extremely high quality materials, like GoreTex equivalent shells and Primaloft insulation. If The North Face or Arc'Teryx made dog jackets, these would be them.

The ordering process begins with a very thorough measuring of your dog. I took eleven measurements of Fifi, triple-verified them, and input them into BWDC's website. Because I wanted to make certain the folks at BWDC understood exactly how oddly-shaped Fifi is, I followed-up the order with an e-mail, photos, and additional information.

I didn't receive a reply.

I waited two weeks and followed-up again. After several days, I received a short message stating they had my information and that everything would be fine.

I waited another four weeks - I heard nothing the entire time. To say it's a bit unnerving or stressful to know that you just spent nearly $300 on a dog coat and haven't heard a peep is an understatement. It may also say that I'm insane, but that's another story.

After nearly seven wintery weeks of waiting, I sent an e-mail inquiring about the status of my jacket. I received a reply stating the jacket had shipped and that it would arrive soon.

Communication isn't their strong point... I did some checking, and their facebook page has more than a few complaints and questions from customers inquiring about the lack of communication.

The jacket arrived and I could immediately tell it was too big. I took it home, put it on the Fleef, and yep - it extended beyond her backside by a solid 5-inches, and hung down too low on her by about 2-inches. UGH.

Before contacting BWDCs, I went back and re-checked the numbers that I submitted - they were spot on. So, I took more pictures, and sent another e-mail to BWDC. A few days went by and I didn't hear anything (detecting a theme?). So, I followed-up again.

An e-mail arrived, and I was told to return the jacket, and they would resize it. I returned the jacket and waited. I checked-in after two more weeks and was told the jacket was almost done, and that it would ship soon. Oh, and that I owed another $25 for alterations... Wow.

The jacket arrived and after the second try, it was spot-on. Here's the Fleef, modeling the jacket (under protest, as it was 80F when I took the picture):

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The jacket really is quite nice. I can tell that it's going to be absurdly warm and protective, and after the resizing, it fits literally like a glove. It was insanely expensive, and I think it's worth the money... but the communications process was absolutely terrible, and charging to correct something that they misbuilt is really troubling. I'd be hard-pressed to use them in the future.

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And now for the good...

De-Re Dogs gives "unwanted sweaters a second chance at life" - the proprietor, Dawna, takes people's sweaters and converts them into dog sweaters. It's a neat concept because it recycles quality sweaters into quality dog apparel.

I browsed De-Re's selection of sweaters, and found one that I thought would work really well for Fifi. I contacted Dawna to inquire, and she immediately responded with some ideas and suggestions. She stated that she was working on finalizing a merino wool sweater that might fit Fifi. She also offered to custom make a sweater for her from one of my existing sweaters.

I took her up on both offers; I asked her to send the red merino wool sweater to try, and in turn, I sent her one of my beloved Icebreaker tops to cannibalize and convert.

Within a few days, the red merino sweater arrived, and it looked awesome, but it was too small (as we suspected it would be). I sent her the measurements that I took for the BWDC coat, and Dawna said she would make two sample shirts to try.

After a few days, she e-mailed to inform the shirts were ready and that she would send them that day. The shirts arrived, and one of them was a perfect fit:

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I replied to share the good news with Dawna, and to offer to return the sample shirts. To my shock, she asked me to keep them or to recycle them. I felt guilty keeping them, but honored her request.

With confirmation that the test shirt fit, Dawna set to work on the custom Icebreaker sweater. A week went by, and I received another message from Dawna - the sweater was done, and it would be sent that day.

The sweater arrived within two days and it fit like a glove. It's absolutely perfect.

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Merino wool is such an awesome material - it's not itchy, it doesn't hold odor, it breathes well, and if it gets wet, it won't sap your body heat. The Feefer really seems to like the sweater, even if it has been 75-80F outside lately.

Dawna's communications were prompt, professional, and helpful. I was never left for wondering, nor did I ever feel "lost" during the process. And the bonus? This custom-made sweater cost about 1/10th to make and deliver from what the BWDC coat did.

I'll definitely order more sweaters from De-Re - I'll just wait until we get closer to the fall/winter season. De-Re is definitely top-notch!!!


So there you have it - a tail (or tale) of two dog "coats" - one very expensive, frustrating, and time consuming; the other enjoyable and delightful and very inexpensive.

Settle in for another one of my "Oh, crud - there are 379 photos in my phone and it's been several days since I've created a blog entry so here goes nothing" posts.... :-)

When you live in Madison, you're surrounded by a seemingly endless number of microbreweries. From the top of my head, and limiting the radius to a distance of around 30 miles, one could visit the following breweries: Ale Asylum, Capital, Essers, Furthermore, Grays, Great Dane, Grumpy Troll, Hydro Street, New Glarus, and Tyranena. I'm sure there are more - but these are the better-known breweries... For those not keeping tabs, that was 10 breweries within 30 miles of Madison. Yikes.

Most of the breweries deliver some excellent brews, and nearly all of them do something to support their communities, either by way of "giving back" or hosting special events with proceeds going to a charity or organization.

One such event has become quite popular over the years, and it's known as "Bockfest." For the past fifteen years, this annual event has been organized and hosted by Capital Brewery, and has built-up a cult-like following while attracting a ton of people from all over the state. The event is so popular, in fact, that the brewery must literally ration ticket sales; the tickets are offered for sale on a certain date at select locations, and they sellout immediately.

I was lucky enough to score two tickets to the 2012 Bockfest event, so I grabbed my friend Chris (from work), and on Saturday, February 25, we attended our first-ever Bockfest event.

We began our day with an early morning breakfast at the Prairie Cafe & Bakery. Chris went with a big omelette, some hash browns, toast, and an orange juice. I went with a blueberry pancake and a scrambled egg with coffee:

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That may have been one of the best pancakes I've ever had in my life. Crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and loaded with fresh blueberries - I barely added any syrup, it was that good. The only bad thing about the Prairie Cafe? It's cash only. Oh well.

With our bellies stuffed, we drove over to the Capital Brewery and tried to find a place to park. Despite arriving a full hour early, parking was nearly impossible to find. We parked close to our office and used the walk to help settle our over-filled guts. Once to the brewery, we hopped into line and began the wait. This picture was taken at around 10:00am - the entrance to the brewery was about 1/4-mile away...

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While it was a sunny day, it wasn't particularly warm... I'd say the temperature was around 25F with a strong and persistent wind. I wore my Sporthill 3SP pants under a pair of blue jeans, along with Icebreaker wool socks and Salomon prima-loft boots. On top, I wore a wool t-shirt, a 320-weight wool long sleeve, my Sporthill 3SP jacket, and my Columbia Omnitech jacket. The system worked - I was plenty warm all day.

Within an hour-and-a-half, we were finally able to enter the brewery grounds. Here I am, standing in-line for my sample of Capital's Blonde Dopplebock - you can see how many people were at the garden:

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Bockfest celebrates the beginning of spring with the release of Capital's infamous Blonde Dopplebock. It's a super-smooth beverage that's only available for a limited time; it also packs quite a punch - so much so, that the brewery limits the sale to one per person. You're given a wristband with a tag; the tag is used to redeem/buy a Dopplebock. Once the tag is gone, you're not allowed to buy any more Dopplebock.

The event was fun and surprising. Fun, because there were a ton of people, all socializing and enjoying a live band (which was quite good).

Surprising? Yep. While making my way into the brewery to use the restroom, I was nearly run-over by a group of cross-dressing men, complete with huge blonde wigs. Apparently, part of the event includes a 1K "race" that they call "The Running of the Blondes."

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The other "fun" part of the event involves trying to catch fish being thrown from the roof of the brewery by Capital's brewmaster, Kirby. I don't have any idea where this tradition started, or what relevance it has to the event, but everyone seemed to know what to do...

At around 2:00pm, Kirby rode a large dinosaur to the edge of the brewery roof and began tossing smoked smelt into the crowd. People were literally diving for the fish... I managed to catch a part of a fish... Not sure what to do with it, I tossed it into the garbage.

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We also ran into several other friends while at the event - I had a chance to see my pals from the Capital Brewery Cycling Club - we had a great time catching-up and chatting. It was good to see you guys (Mike, Ginger, Paul, Sally, and Helene)!!!!

The event was scheduled to end at 5:00pm, but by 2:30pm, we were tired and ready to head for home. We went back to the house and watched Tower Heist... I wasn't really a fan of the film - it seemed rather lame - so if you haven't yet seen it, save your money.

I was happy to have gone to Bockfest, but am not sure if I'd need to go again... it was an experience, but it was also sort of cold, very crowded, a little chaotic, and a little long. If I do go again, I'm bringing a camping chair and a cooler with party favors and snacks.

== Next Story ==

I've been spending a lot of time in Chicago, thanks to my latest work project. I typically drive down to the office on Sunday night and stay through Friday morning... our office is located near O'Hare airport, so I've grown used to seeing low-flying aircraft at all hours of the day. This photo doesn't do the proximity any justice, but the building to the right is a 15-story building...

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With the weekly travel, I've managed to accumulate a lot of points with the local hotels... I've also reacquainted myself with tricks for traveling - I take a full case of water with me for each trip, I've purchased suction-cup-activated clotheslines to line-dry my running gear, and I bought a small humidifier for the hotel bedroom (I stay in a 3-room suite). This little thing has made a huge difference in how I feel in the morning:

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While the humidifier was my secret weapon, on the last visit, this electronic door lock served as my arch nemesis. This thing was the bane of my existence:

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No matter what I did, the key never seemed to work in this particular room... The hotel sent maintenance at least five times - they replaced the lock's batteries, they cleaned the assembly, they re-coded it, and did a bunch of other things with it. I would've taken them up on their offer for a different room, but I had unpacked and cleaned the room with Lysol wipes, and I liked the location... so I suffered through it. :-)

My hotel and office are not only located near O'Hare, they're also located right "on" the Blue Line for the Chicago El (train) system. With each trip, I've been venturing out on the El and checking out various downtown neighborhoods. Thanks to the suggestions from friends and co-workers, I've fallen in love with the Wicker Park area. It's got a great selection of restaurants, bars, and shops - it's a really cool area.

One of the best places I've been to in Wicker Park is a taco place called "Big Star." Their menu is small - there are four or five tacos to choose from, along with guacamole. But the place doesn't need a huge menu because those few items are absolutely fantastic.

I met a few coworkers at Big Star last week - here's one of the plates of tacos:

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I believe that plate has a fish taco, two pork belly tacos, and a pulled pork taco... all were unmistakably delicious. They're simple, fresh, and tasty. They're also reasonably sized and priced. Double-win.

After enjoying some tacos, we headed over to a little bar called The Blue Line Lounge and Grill. The place reminds me of something from the Rat Pack era; it could easily stand-in for the set of Swingers or Goodfellas. It's located directly under the El's Blue Line track, so the name is appropriate. Here's a shot of it from the outside:

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I was incredibly lucky to catch-up with one of my old friends from my home town - Steve W. I had an absolute blast chatting with him while at the Blue Line; it's like we never missed a beat, despite not having seen each other for at least 6-7 years. Steve W is a super interesting and cool guy - Steve, if you're reading this, let's get together the next time I'm in Chicago!

On another night, I ventured back down to the Wicker Park area to sample some of the pizza from the infamous "Piece Pizza & Brewery." The venue was small and completely packed; when I stepped foot into the establishment, I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with nearly 200 people. Yikes!

After a fairly substantial wait, I was able to score a small table and promptly ordered some pizza and one of their brews. While I wasn't a fan of the brew, I did enjoy the pizza. It was a New York style pizza - the crust was chewy but nicely charred, and the toppings were very high quality. I opted for jalapeno, sausage and onion. A spicy combo, but it was delish:

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And finally, while visiting Wicker Park on yet another evening, I encountered this wonderful little guy.

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His name is Louie, and he's a handsome 2-year old American Staffordshire (aka "Pit Bull"). He was being walked to his socialization and training classes by a nice lady who stopped to chat with me about him. He's available for adoption and currently lives with a Chihuahua and a few cats (sounds familiar, eh?!). He was so sweet - I wish I could've taken him home with me, but I think I've got my hands full with Feef.

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As if I wasn't tempted enough by the fine dining and wonderful bars down in the Wicker Park area, one of my project team members brought these in for the last day of our last working session...

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Those devils!! I resisted, but it wasn't easy... they looked and smelled as if they could've given the Greenbush Bakery (in Madison) a serious run for its money. ARGH.

I returned to Wisconsin on Thursday night and was greeted by an awesome surprise snow storm on Friday... there wasn't any mention of snow while I was in Chicago - I guess they may have been spared. We, however, took the brunt of the storm - 5-6 inches of heavy, wet snow landed by 5:00pm on Friday. Here's the view from my car as I left work on Friday:

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Nice.


== FINAL STORY ==

With the fresh snowfall, I was able to get out and snowshoe for a bit. It was the first time I had been able to go this year; we've had a very mild winter, so I was actually happy for Friday's heaping helping of crystalized water...

I did a nice 3-mile hike in the snowshoes today - the weather was perfect, and the wet snow made for easy hiking:

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After finishing the snowshoeing, I grabbed Feef, and we took a trip into town for some cat and dog food. Here she is, riding in the car - she rides like a champ and can never wait to hop-in the car with me:

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...and finally... holy cats, I'm exhausted after writing this entry...

I've given-up diet soda. I quit it cold-turkey in mid-February, and haven't missed it since. I figured it would be much more difficult to quit drinking it, but I find that I really enjoy a glass of water or a glass of unsweet tea as much as, if not more than, a diet Mountain Dew or a Diet Coke.

The nice thing about quitting soda is the amount of room it clears in the refrigerator. Here's what my fridge looks like after dropping the soda.

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No Chicago trips this week; it'll be nice to stay home for a bit and enjoy the home turf. Especially this little thing:

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He's sexy and he knows it...

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Took a little liberty with the LMFAO song, "Sexy and I know it" -

"When I walk on by, girls be looking like 'damn he fly'
I pimp to the beat, walking down the street in my new L.A. Freak, yeah -
This is how I roll, animal print, pants out control,
It's RedFoo with the big afro
And like Bruce Lee I've got the claw...

Girl look at that body, Girl look at that body, Girl look at that body -
I work out"

What? Oh no - I'm not talking about me... I'm talkin' about Shiloh. He's been hitting the gym, cutting back on carbs and really focusing on his abs. See?

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HA.

And truth #2 - that's not actually Shiloh; I saw the picture on woot.com's message boards today and just about spit coffee all over the place. Someone at work mentioned it looked like Shiloh, so I figured I'd share it with everyone.

Enjoy.

Wow. Winter sure did arrive in a big way, eh? For those not fortunate enough to be located in the land of frozen tundra, allow me to share a few of our fair region's weather events: moderate temperatures abruptly turned to bone-chilling cold, accompanied by strong winds, wrapped-up with an awesome dumping of super powdery snow.

Needless to say, FiFi has been less than impressed. I've been shoveling a path and circular area for her to use; the winds have been covering it with blown snow. I've had to coax her with copious amounts of treats, and I've been crating her during the day to avoid coming home to "presents."

And while I don't know if anyone will appreciate this photo, it makes me chuckle - here she is "doing her business" in the cleared-out area:

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She's giving me a look that seems to say, "Why did you move me here? Why are you forcing me to be out in this cold weather? And, most importantly, why are you taking my picture right now?!"

When I woke-up this morning, my digital thermometer showed a temperature of -6F... nice. To Feef's credit, I was able to get her outside without too much hassle. Once back inside, she bolted for her favorite spot - the recliner with the Packers fleece blanket on it. She burrows herself into it, gets completely covered, and then growls if you try to move or disturb her. She loves this thing (I uncovered her to get the picture)...

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The cold weather and recent dumping of snow means that I've been running on the wonderful dreadmill... lucky me. I had to use it on Thursday, Friday, and this morning. I think I'd rather be water-boarded than to spend 40 minutes on a treadmill. They're so incredibly boring, and for some reason, my quadriceps always ache after I finish using it... I must change my stride/gate while on it.

The good news is that I've been staying extremely consistent to my plans - haven't missed a workout since 1/1, and haven't eaten anything bad since 1/1. I'm rock solid right now, and have dropped 17.4-pounds and 3.9% bodyfat since 1/1. I guess that's what happens when you're as strict as I've been - 900-1000 calories per day (primal foods: grilled lean meats, grilled non-starchy vegetables, no sugars, and no more than 1/2-cup of black beans). I've been running 6 days per week and cycling 4 days per week. TRX workouts take place 3 times per week.

So, with my diet and workouts in solid form, I was a bit nervous to accept a ticket to the Badgers hockey game - the notion of some pretzels, popcorn, or nachos could've been tempting. Alas, they didn't even appeal to me, and so I enjoyed the game with my co-worker Dan. Here's where we sat:

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The Badgers absolutely routed the UAA (University of Anchorage, Alaska) with a score of 4-0. Thanks again, Dan, for the ticket! I appreciate it!!

I spent today helping a friend that I used to work with at the MidTown Pub; Evan needed some new tires for his Tahoe, so we placed a call to my other friend Dan (Newhart episode flashback? No?) from Topel's Towing & Repair. Dan was able to get Evan some excellent tires at a great price, so we drove to Lake Mills this afternoon and I mounted and balanced the four new tires (Dan was the only one in the shop and was also on wrecker duty; he was called-out on towing jobs twice while we were there).

Here are the nearly bald tires that we removed from Evan's Tahoe:

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They were like slicks - I don't think there was even 1/32" of tread on them!!

Here's one of my old "friends" from my days as a technician... the Coates 20/20 pneumatic tire changing machine. Back in the day, this thing was an absolute beast! It's still more than capable, but I suspect newer versions are even better:

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And the fruits of our labor - new shoes on the Tahoe. There's nothing like new tires on a vehicle... they ride quietly, smoothly, confidently, and have such a great "feel" - it's truly awesome, even when it's not my vehicle that has the new tires. :-)

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We finished-up the work at just over an hour-and-a-half, then waited for Dan to return from a towing job. Evan settled his bill and we trekked back to Madison, where I had a little friend waiting for me back home. Care to guess where she was waiting for me?

That's right...

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And here's what we're doing right now:

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So there you have it... the past few days - bad weather, good dog, staying on target with the diet, a hockey game, and new tires for a friend. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Photodump - Dogs & Cats

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I took a TON of photos of the dogs and cats while in Arkansas last month. I didn't feel like writing/crafting a mega-long entry, so I dumped them into Adobe Lightroom, made an album and uploaded it to the site.

Here are a couple of samples to help whet your beak a bit...

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If you'd like to view the rest of the pictures of "the kids" without any captions, stories, or info, please click on this link to see the photos.

All of the pictures were taken with my phone, so excuse any lighting/contrast/color issues... sorry in advance!

...Oh, and this Patriots vs. The Donkeys game is awesome - so glad that Tebow is getting stomped!

Link to Arkansas 2011 Photo Album

Merry Christmas to Me

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While I'm not big on the holiday season, I am thrilled with this year's Christmas gift. Meet the newest addition to the crew: FiFi

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FiFi is a five-year-old female Chihuahua that came to me by way of The Bella Vista Animal Shelter. She has an interesting history, albeit a bit sad.

Her "human mom" had to move into a shelter for battered women, and when she did that, the Bella Vista Animal Shelter (BVAS) took-in FiFi with an agreement that they would take care of her for 30-days. The woman got out of the shelter and picked-up Fifi. A few weeks later, the woman called the BVAS to see if she could surrender FiFi, as (in her words) "FiFi tries to bite the baby."

It's not clear whose baby FiFi was trying to bite, but the BVAS agreed to take FiFi. And so, FiFi entered into shelter care, sometime in October of 2011.

I had been considering a Chihuahua for quite some time - ever since I met Zeus (scroll to the end of the entry, and you'll see him). I didn't want to rush into anything, as I'm not around the house as often as I'd like to be, and I wanted to make sure I could adopt an older dog with the right personality.

I was browsing Petfinder, looking at Chihuahuas and MinPins, when I stumbled across a few dogs that really piqued my interest. As luck would have it, FiFi was located at the BVAS - imagine that!

So, when I went down to the house for Thanksgiving, I took the opportunity to meet FiFi, and, well, I fell for her. How could you not?

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I brought her home, and she's doing great. She loves to snuggle - she'll happily sit on your lap all night, and loves to crawl under any available blanket. In the car, she rides like a champ, and she's 100% house-trained - it's such a dream. It is funny to see her next to the cats; she weighs less than 5-lbs... Shiloh weighs 11-lbs, and Mack weighs 15-lbs... FiFi is literally 50% the size of the cats! And compared to Monica (our Great Dane), FiFi weighs about 5% of what Monica does.

FiFi eats 1/8 of a cup of food in the morning, and 1/8 of a cup at night. A 5-lb bag of food will likely last 6-7 weeks (compared to burning through 100-lbs of food when we had 2 Danes, 1 Boxer-mix, and 1 Whippet). It's unreal how little she eats, but I have to remember that she's about 4.5-lbs at the most...

She's not really a fan of the cold weather... I bought her a few sweaters, which have helped, but she'd much rather run out, do her business, and run back into the house. Once she gets into the house after being outside, she likes to race around at about 100 miles per hour, jumping on and off of the couches like a maniac.

She also likes to sit on top of the couch and look out the window:

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I forgot how nice it is to have a dog in the house. She's thrilled when you come home from work (or running, or the store, or taking the garbage out), yet she calms right down and rolls into a ball on your lap. I like taking her out for walks (they're short, but it's still a walk), and with any luck, I'll teach her a few new tricks (she knows how to sit).

So, there you have it - FiFi, the newest addition. Merry Christmas to me.

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Taking care

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By now, you're all likely to be sick of my constant complaining about bad dieting, working out too much, and so on... but, man, July 2011 may have been the single worst month in my diet history - something has to change, and it has to change pronto.

I failed on my diet for 21 days in July. That's simply inexcusable. I gave-up during this month... I had friends in from out of town, a house warming party, several work functions at restaurants/bars, a skydiving celebration, and a solid week of "I don't care about anything" self-pity. The net result? I gained 27-lbs in July. I'm sitting at nearly 185-lbs, which is ridiculous given how hard I had to work to get to a healthy weight.

I consumed 99,655 calories over a 30-day period in July. For comparison, in July of 2010, I consumed a total of 39,012 calories. I burned a total of 10,300 calories through exercise in July of 2011, compared with 26,455 in July of 2010. It's no wonder I'm blimping-out.

So, I vow to get back on track. I feel miserable right now - my joints hurt, my face feels puffy, my stomach is flabby like it hasn't been in a long time... I've eaten so many donuts and cookies this past month that I honestly believe I'm burned-out on them, which is probably a good thing. It'll make me less likely to want to binge on them over the next few months.

I spent yesterday re-mapping a viable, long-term plan for nutrition and workouts. I created spreadsheets, daily meal plans, daily workout plans, and scheduled 2 specific cheat meals for August. If all goes to plan, I should be back into the groove and taking care of myself in no time.

It started today with a 58-mile bike ride, followed by a 4-mile run. As heavy as I currently am, and as painful as it was to run, I hammered out the 4-miles at an average pace of 8:12/mile... that shocked me because I'm usually an 8:30/mile runner, and, I hit that pace after an intense 58-mile ride.

I rode with a group of folks from the Capital Brewery; we left from Madison at 7:00am sharp and wound our way up to Prairie du Sac. At several points along the way, we crossed the Wisconsin river, which was absolutely beautiful:

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A 58-mile ride sounds impressive, but we didn't ride "straight-through" - we stopped in Prarie du Sac for a breakfast break... I had a scrambled egg and 2 pieces of this awesome homemade cracked whole wheat toast. I gave 2 pieces away - my fellow riders thought it was "top 10 toast" (if there is such a thing).

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The breakfast was made all the better by the surroundings - we stopped at the Blue Spoon Cafe & Creamery in Prairie du Sac, and scored outdoor tables, which overlook the Wisconsin river. Even though it was approaching 80F by 9:00am, it was quite enjoyable out there. After our break, we hit the road for the return trip; the total ride took about 3.5 hours, with a 30-minute breakfast break. I averaged just about 19-mph, which was really pleasing.

After the ride, I ran (in Madison) on a nice trail - I forget how glorious it is to run on crushed pea gravel. I like the sound, I like the feel, and I like the softer impact. After my run was finished, I headed to the house, where I hung out for about 2 hours.

My boss and I then went for a 12-mile bike ride; he just got his first real road bike and wanted to take it for a spin, so I joined him for a quick spin. I returned back to the house and hopped in the shower, at which point I noticed that the sun had gotten the best of me, despite my lathering-up with sunblock. :-)

Here's my arm and leg (note the bike shorts/watch tan lines):

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Even my feet got tan/crispified... I ride my bike without socks, and here you can see where the sun worked its way through past the hooks/loops in my shoes:

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For dinner I had 2 grilled fish tacos (4" corn tortilla, broccoli slaw, grilled fish, cilantro, lime) and 1 smoked brisket taco (4" flour tortilla, smoked brisket, onion, cilantro) and an iced tea. So tasty. I really enjoy and feel better when I eat "clean" - I have no idea why I crave crappy foods when the good stuff tastes as good as it does.

After dinner, I went grocery shopping and prepared meals for the rest of the week. I then gave Mack a good brushing... how she isn't bald is beyond me:

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Tomorrow will be more of the same - ride/run and focus on getting back into taking care of myself. If the weather permits, I may try to sneak in a late afternoon/evening skydive... we'll see how things go.

House guest...

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I have a house guest for the weekend.

Amy came up from Arkansas to visit her folks and her sister (who is also visiting from Colorado), and she was kind enough to bring Riley along. I spent Friday evening with Amy and her family - we had a cookout and caught-up on things; it was a super nice time, even if it was nearly 100F outside!

On Saturday, Amy and Kelly drove in to Madison so that Kelly and her son could go to a birthday party. Amy dropped them off at the party, then came to the new house, along with Riley. The cats aren't too sure if they like Riley or not, but thankfully they all get along without incident. I wouldn't say they'll be exchanging any Christmas cards this year, but things could be worse. :-)

Amy and I had a cookout, with some absolutely phenomenal steaks from Wyttenbach Meats, a sweet potato, and some stellar grilled asparagus. After dinner, we took Riley for a walk (I think her ears just perked-up again), then went to a local pub for a beverage. Amy had to run to pick-up Kelly by 8pm, so it was an early evening.

Riley is staying with me for the weekend while Amy and Co. head up north to her parent's cabin. I'm pleased to report that Riley slept like a dream last night - no whining, no whimpering, no roaming around. She hopped into bed, went under the covers, curled-up into her usual "hot pocket" position, let out a groan/sigh, and slept the entire night.

We woke-up at about 6:15, went for a walk, had some breakfast, and then I went for a run. We're now sitting on the couch watching the Early Show on CBS. Plans for today: bike ride at 10:00am, followed by taking pictures of the house (for the blog), and that should be about it.

Enjoy the holiday weekend!

Hitchhiking... Georgia to Minnesota

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I spent my Sunday riding from Madison to Eau Claire with a newfound friend - a "hitchhiker" of sorts, if you will. His name was Bryce and he was the perfect traveling partner; quiet, relaxed, grateful, and really fun. I was lucky to spend 3 hours with him in the 'ole car.

What?! "Steve picked-up a hitchhiker? What next?"

Here's me and Bryce, riding along, somewhere on I-94 north of Tomah:

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Not quite what you may have pictured, eh? Hehe.

I had an opportunity to help a group of rescues transport five (5) dogs and one (1) cat from various locations in the south to a rescue and/or final homes in Minneapolis. It was my first-ever venture with transporting a large group of animals as part of a multi-leg "tour." It was pretty interesting, and the folks who coordinated the trip did an amazing job of lining everything up.

It started with an e-mail from the transport coordinator that was re-posted on a message board at my workplace. The e-mail begged for volunteers to help drive/shuttle these dogs and cat - they really needed drivers to cover the legs from Illinois through Minneapolis. I looked at the available legs and the approximate timeframes and figured, "eh, what the heck? I'll give it a shot."

So, I e-mailed the coordinator and volunteered to drive from Madison to Eau Claire. The only problem was that the Prius can only accommodate one or two dogs at the most, but I had nothing to worry about as the transport had lined-up at least two vehicles per leg to help accommodate the six furry passengers. It also turned out that the Madison legs were covered, but they asked if I could drive from the Wisconsin Dells to Eau Claire. I said, "No problemo," and prepared to meet the other transport drivers in Wisconsin Dells at around 12:15pm on Sunday.

We met at a convenient location near the interstate, figured out who would transport who, swapped leashes, handed-off paperwork, and prepared to hit the road. Here's a few of the other volunteers from the transport - I believe these folks drove from somewhere in central Illinois:

b_van.jpg

Bryce, my passenger, was a lab-mix of sorts and appeared to be 2-3 years old. He was surrendered to a shelter in Georgia because he was supposedly "uncontrollable" and "wild." If he was wild, I'll eat my shoes. He may have been one of the sweetest dogs I've ever met - an absolute gentleman in every respect.

He immediately jumped into the car and sat respectfully near the back hatch. I sat down next to him and snapped a quick photo of us together. He's about 45-50lbs - perfect size.

bryce_steve.jpg

The weather was awesome, and the traffic was light, so the trip went really quickly. According to the GPS, I drove about 145-miles with Bryce by my side. I had him tethered to the inside of the car with a carabiner and a 4-foot leash, but he really wanted to sit in the passenger seat, so after a few miles I decided to let him ride shotgun with me. He curled-up into a classic "dog ball," rested his head on the armrest, and snoozed away. I'd pet him every so often, talked to him a bit, and enjoyed my time with him - I really do miss Monica, Regis, and Riley... dogs are simply awesome.

Before I knew it, we were in Eau Claire, so I started telling Bryce about what was going to happen next and that I was going to miss him. He sat-up and tried to talk a bit - I think I got him a little excited...

bryce_talk.jpg

We met-up with the next shuttle drivers just north of Eau Claire, I bid Bryce farewell (along with the other four dogs that rode in the other vehicle), and headed back to Madison. The trip back went just as quickly - 175.8 miles later and I was back in Madison - total mileage roundtrip? Just over 350. But well worth it. I'll definitely do this again - it was really rewarding and enjoyable.

The only unenjoyable part? Dealing with AT&T's horrible cell coverage. Man, are they awful - AT&T has to be the worst cell provider on the planet; if I didn't love the iPhone so much, I'd drop them in a second (and probably still will when my current contract expires). Here's what I saw for signal strength during 75-80% of my trip along I-94 from Tomah to Eau Claire (look in the upper left corner):

attsucks.png

Only about a year until I can switch to a reputable, reliable cell company like US Cellular.

More snowshoeing

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I'm really digging the new snowshoes.

So much in fact, that I find myself wishing for more snow - just the opposite of what I wished for last year. There's just something about being outside, walking "on" the snow, and the serene nature/feel/vibe of it all that is really appealing and enjoyable. The workout doesn't hurt, either. :-)

I decided to take a trip to the Aztalan State Park last weekend, and I'm glad I did. I had visited the park as a kid, but haven't been back to it for many, many years. It's a pretty cool place, not only for the landscape and scenery but for the story and background.

park1.jpg

I parked the Prius at the "main gate" area of the park; there are two large parking areas - one near the highway's main gate, and one closer to the Crawfish river (deeper into the park). It was about 3:00pm, the sun was setting, the air temperature was in the low teens, and I was the only person at the park. Perfect!

Aztalan is believed to have been a small community with ties back to the Aztec indians; it was inhabited around 1000AD and now serves as an "important archeological site" for Wisconsin. It supposedly contains some burial grounds and may have hosted sacrificial ceremonies back in the day... creepy. :-)

I made my way up-and-down several small hills and then trekked into a small wooded area that bordered the the Crawfish river. The snow was still "painted" to the trees, and I thought it made for a cool picture (although the phone doesn't do it justice):

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You can see the tracks from cross-country skiers and snowshoers - I guess a lot of other folks like to enjoy the hilly terrain here, too. The wooded area afforded several options for exploring - I walked around back there for a bit and then made my way out toward the river, which was just beginning to freeze over:

park5.jpg

I could actually hear the ice "moving" or forming in the water - there was this grumbling noise every so often, and at first it was a bit unsettling, but ultimately pretty cool. I could see tracks from where people had walked out onto the ice, which seemed completely crazy to me; it couldn't have been more than an inch or two thick...

I kept making my way along the river and eventually hit a turnaround point - there was a small stream that branched from the main river and prevented me from traveling any farther south. I turned around and made my way back to one of the large "forts" that exist on the park's property. There are remnants of a perimeter of sorts around many sections of the park; they're large wooden poles that are laid-out with complete precision:

park4.jpg

It's even more impressive when you consider those things were cut, positioned, and hoisted into place more than 1000 years ago!

I completed two "laps" of the park, which was good for about 3.5 miles or so. The sun was quickly setting after my second lap so I decided to call it a day. I managed to burn a cool 700 calories or so while out and about, which definitely helped, as I joined Dan and Tara for dinner and the Packers game later on that night. Here's my summary of the trip to Aztalan:

park3.jpg

The funny thing about snowshoeing is that despite the cold temperatures (the car showed 14F when I was done), I found myself being too warm even though I only had on a wool baselayer (fairly thin), a windproof mid-layer, a lightweight fleece, and my Columbia "shell" (no insulation). I was actually sweating pretty heavily, and normally I freeze. My cheeks were a bit cold, but everything else was too warm - go figure.

Upon returning home from my little adventure, I hit the couch and Shiloh joined me... he seemed to be pretty relaxed:

shiloh.jpg

Hangin' out

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I woke-up this morning and went for a run - only my second run of the week, as I've been trying to take it easy after the race last weekend. It's my hope that by relaxing and recovering for a while that my legs will "mend" and feel better than they have over the past two months or so.

So, I did an easy 4.5-miler this morning; the weather was perfect - low 60s, no humidity, no wind, and lots of sunshine... all at 6:30am... it was gorgeous. When I returned from the run, I fed the cats, brushed my teeth and got ready to take a shower. As I was getting ready to hop into the shower, it dawned on me that Mack wasn't anywhere to be found - normally she's "first in line" for food.

I started to panic - had she somehow snuck outside? Was she sick or injured and hiding somewhere? Was she in a closet? So I ran around the apartment, opening all of the closet doors, checking in the bedroom closet, looking under the bed and couch, all the while calling for her. I looked out on the deck, ran down to the garage, and was really getting nervous when I heard a faint, "meow" coming from somewhere - it sounded like the bathroom... I checked the tub - nope. I looked behind the toilet - nope.

"Meow," I heard it again - it sounded like it was coming from next door??? And then I opened the cabinet under the sink and found this:

new_hiding.jpg

Ugh! I must have left the cabinet open earlier in the morning and she must have crawled in to explore. Truth be told, as soon as I found her, I closed the cabinet door, ran to get my phone so I could take a picture, and then took the picture - so, it was a bit "staged," but the story remains the same. What a crazy cat... she's more or less fearless (the complete opposite of 'ole scaredy pants Shiloh). I had to coax her out of the cabinet - I have a feeling she would've stayed in there for a few hours if given the chance.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful - work was "business as usual." I left a tad early to get a haircut, and then arrived back to the apartment at around 5:15 or so. I fed the cats their dinner, and took a few minutes to relax on the couch. I looked over and thought this would make a good picture:

the_duo.jpg

Just after taking the picture, I noticed that it was nice and shady out on the deck and the temperature showed 80F, so I grabbed a Siggi's Skyr plain yogurt, added 1 Tbsp of McCanns Irish Steel Cut Oats, mixed them together and went outside to enjoy the nice weather. I sat on the deck for a solid hour, just watching traffic and relaxing - it was quite nice, to say the least.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been "resting" my legs a bit this week, so I only ran twice (for a total of 8 miles), rode once (19 miles), and swam twice (maybe 1500m). I've also been focusing on my diet - I think the key is going to be watching my glycemic load - keeping the blood sugar level and steady. So, I've been researching low-glycemic load foods, while trying to not go completely "low carb."

Imagine my surprise when I learned that black beans offer an ideal low-glycemic load solution. Yep - 1 cup of cooked black beans provides 227 calories, 15g of protein, 15g of fiber, a glycemic load index of about 10 (which is low), and a nice mix of complex carbs (no sugars).

I've not been a black bean fan in the past, but I figured I'd find a recipe and give them a shot. After some searching, I found a recipe for "cuban black beans" that looked simple to make and didn't include any extra items like oil, corn, rice, and so on.

I made the beans on Wednesday night, tried them last night and fell in love. I had them tonight, along with a grilled chicken breast (with 2 tsp of salsa), a broccoli veggie mix, and a tomato. Here's dinner:

dinner.jpg

463 calories, 3g fat, 52g carbs, 12g sugar, 17g fiber, 51g protein. The majority of the sugar came from the broccoli mix - 6g, followed by the tomato with 4g. Thankfully the sugars in those are relatively low-impact as well, so no spikes. :-)

Dinner was tasty, but I couldn't help but think how deliciously wonderful a fish fry would've been instead... but alas, I've been eating terribly for most of the summer and I really need to get back on the wagon. Next weekend is the Taste of Madison... argh - guess I won't be going to that, either. :-(

Tomorrow's supposed to be a lot warmer, so I'll be getting up early to ride and run. I'm not sure what else I'll do tomorrow - maybe go see a movie or something?

No fish fry reviews - sorry. The 'ole waistline needs a serious break from that Friday night ritual, so I've been actively avoiding that temptation.

I did however attend a Mallards baseball game last weekend with my friend Dan and his family and we had a blast. Dan and Tara purchased some awesome seats that were located literally behind home plate:

home_plate.JPG

Not a bad seat for $7!

The game quickly became a lop-sided trouncing as the Mallards went ahead of their opponents (from LaCrosse) in the second inning to the tune of 9-1... So, we had to find other sources of entertainment and the most obvious option was to watch and shout along with a Mallards staple: The Beefstick Guy.

He sells a variety of items, but as he climbs up and down the stairs and makes his way through the seats and bleachers he shouts, "Peanuts, sunflower seeds, caramel corn," (and then with heavy emphasis on the "EE" and with the crowd of 7,000 people joining him) "bEEEEEEEEEEEfsticks!"

You'd think it gets old... but it never does - the whole crowd yells along with him and before you know it, you're joining the crowd. I figured I'd take a picture with his legend:

beefsticks.JPG

I also took a picture with Dan; upon review of the photo we promptly noticed two things - one, we're getting old, and two, we got "photo-bombed" by a little kid in the background... classic!

dan_steve.JPG

The night quickly came to a close and was capped-off by some fireworks and live music. We weren't able to stay for the music as Dan was there with the entire family (including his nephew who was visiting from New Jersey), so we watched the fireworks for a bit and then called it a night.

fireworks.JPG


In other news, I'm continuing to get the apartment "in order." I got a magnetic knife holder and a few Victorinox Fibrox knives:

knives.JPG

And, I finally got around to mounting the TV on the wall... what a difference that made. I'm waiting on one more component to arrive and then I'll be done with the set-up of the living room entertainment pieces (and I'll be able to get the last cardboard box out of the area).

I also bought a "cat sitter" DVD (I'm embarrassed to admit it) to help entertain the cats a bit. At the old apartment, the cats enjoyed watching birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other critters as they scavenged bird seed from my upstairs neighbor's (aka "Psycho") porch. Here, they don't have that luxury, so I hoped the DVD might be a nice diversion from time to time. Turns out Shiloh loves it:

tv.JPG

...Probably the best $5 I've ever spent on a DVD.

And finally, here's one last shot of Shiloh sitting on his favorite toy. I'm not sure why he chose to sit on it like this, but I thought it would make a fun picture.

shiloh_king.JPG

Lump-Lump: R.I.P

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Received some sad news last night - Lump-Lump, our parakeet, died unexpectedly and apparently of old age. Amy reports that she heard an unusual squawk from the office (where Lumpy lived in his cage) and when she went in to check on him, he was laying on the bottom of the cage, dead.

Poor little guy. I always felt bad keeping a caged bird - never seemed really fair to him, but he apparently enjoyed his cage quite a bit. There would be times where we would take him out and try to get him to "spread his wings" a bit, but he'd always work his way back into the cage - I guess it felt safe and familiar.

For those not familiar with Lumpy's story, he was found in Bentonville - he flew up to someone and landed on them. They brought him to the animal shelter, and Amy and I agreed to foster him for a while. We were supposed to hand him off to a family from Oklahoma, but for one reason or another, we couldn't ever sync our schedules. Then, we discovered that the family's house burned and several of their pets perished in the fire... had we met them when we were supposed to, Lumpy probably would've met a similar fate.

We decided that it was probably a sign to keep Lumpy, so we upgraded his cage and did our best to keep him content. I can still hear him singing - he had a nice "whistley" voice that wasn't annoying or unpleasant - it was just a happy, feel good whistle. He loved his mirror and he was a sucker for bird seed... we tried to feed him healthier options, but he was quite the seed junkie (an exclusive diet of bird seed is actually not real healthy for birds).

Anyway, we had him for around 6-7 years, and while he wasn't actively involved in our day-to-day lives, he certainly was an enjoyable little fella, and I'll definitely miss him. Take care, Lump-Lump.

Could they be any more cute?

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cats_sleeping.jpg

I'm glad I had my phone near me to grab this picture. Not that I couldn't have gotten up to get the camera... they're zonked out.

More Cat Tales...

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Poor Shiloh - he's got a urinary tract infection.

I noticed he had been using the litter box a lot, and was spending a considerable amount of time "sitting" in the litter box. It started on Sunday - he went to the box at least 6 times in an hour, and when I checked the box to see what was going on, it was obvious that he was having trouble urinating. Instead of big clumps of urine, there were six or seven pea-sized marbles of urine. :-(

Urinary tract infections (or "UTI" for short) are usually quite painful for cats and quite stressful, so I knew I had to get him in to the vet first thing on Monday. Blockage of the urinary tract as a result of a UTI can lead to a prompt and painful death; males are more prone to blockage than females. I was nervous all day on Sunday.

The rescue group warned me that Shiloh was difficult to get into a pet carrier, but boyhowdy did I underestimate just how tricky and difficult it really was! After trying to corral him for a solid 20 minutes and getting scratched and bit a few times, I finally trapped him in the bedroom. Big mistake...

He was on the bed - I could tell he was worn out from the chasing - so I went to grab him and must have spooked him something fierce because he immediately emptied his bladder on the bed... which included my new comforter. :-( Got him into the carrier, then promptly doused everything with Nature's Miracle, and threw what I could into the washing machine.

Because he emptied his bladder just minutes before getting to the vet's office, they weren't able to express any urine for testing purposes (to test for stones, crystals, infection, and so on), so we took a best guess that he had a UTI. A quick shot of antibiotics later, and a few hundred bucks lighter, we headed back home. I forgot how expensive vets are when you aren't getting "the shelter discount." ARGH.

Once home, Mack stepped in and took care of Shiloh:

groom.jpg

I'm happy to report that he's doing better now. Made some adjustments - he's getting wet food now (Wellness Core) mixed with his dry food (Wellness Core), and then doused with a 1/4 cup of warm water. The extra water from the wet food and dousing should help flush his bladder and keep things tidy. I might also add that the cat food bill is now higher than my own grocery bill - that stuff is pricey!

And speaking of tidy, we made some changes to the litter box scene as well. His foster family used a DIY litter box system that included an unscented clay litter; I was using traditional boxes with scented litter (Fresh Step) - perhaps that was adding to stress, and stress can cause UTIs in cats. So, I figured I would try to make things as "familiar" as possible.

Thanks to the good folks over at catinfo.org, I learned how to build a "proper" litter box - it's quite simple, much less expensive than a store-bought box, and the cats seem to enjoy the extra space and privacy.

Step one: purchase a large Rubbermaid (or similar) tub, with lid. I found this 22-gallon unit at Menards for $10.

new.jpg

...you can see my Trek trainer bike in the background - I found that on Craigslist a while ago for a decent price. I use it in the trainer so that I don't beat-up my Cervelo during the off season.


Step two: cut a decent-sized hole in the tub, near the top. Don't cut through the top lip, as it provides support for the overall structure. Don't cut down too far, otherwise litter may spill out or get kicked out by the cats. I used a utility knife to cut the opening as shown here:

done.jpg


Step three: fill it with litter! I used Dr. Elsey's Ultra Precious Cat litter. A 40-lb bag is $15 at Petsmart, which is a reasonable price for litter. The 40-lb bag perfectly fills the big tub. It's unscented, low dust, and clumps nicely. Note that Dr. Elsey's website has a ton of helpful information for litter box training, clean-ups, and cat assistance (in general).

bag.jpg

... I think Mack was excited to see a familiar litter box coming together...


And that's it - put the lid on, and you're all set. Here's the finished product, in place and ready for some customers:

in_place.jpg

All-in-all, it took about 10 minutes to make this box and the cats seem to enjoy it. I also feel better that it's unscented litter (which is supposed to be better for the cats in general) and that it may help reduce a little stress from Shiloh and Mack's new world.

I'll keep you posted on his condition, but I suspect he'll be back up to 100% in no time.

And finally... look at how my "dumb" stock pick is doing:

siri.jpg

If you'll recall, I purchased that stock at $0.11 per share about 14 months ago. It was at $0.81 per share a few weeks ago. Now it's at $1.05; it was up to $1.09 at one point today... sure am glad I bought that stock! Wish I would've bought 100x more than I did, but then again, I'm apparently not too sharp when it comes to this stock stuff...

Ok, so I may become "The crazy cat guy"

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I'm not sure which title is actually worse - "crazy cat guy" or "fish fry fanatic"? Regardless, the cats are doing really well. They're adjusting to their new surroundings and are providing a ton of entertainment.

Shiloh is "Mr. Daring" - he wants to get into everything, and if there's something going on in the kitchen, he's all over it. It's nearly impossible to prepare a dinner, as I usually have a turkey wrap or something like that, and he has to keep close tabs on my efforts. The other night, he stole a chunk of scrambled egg whites directly out of the frying pan!

He's also started to enjoy hanging out in "sniper mode" as shown here:

on_counter.jpg

He climbs up above the cupboards and waits for the right moment to swoop down and grab something from the counter. While it can be annoying, it's usually too funny for me to hold any type of grudge against the little guy.

Mack and Shiloh have also found a new favorite spot to sleep - it's on my $50 craigslist couch (which, after a gallon or six of Febreze doesn't smell too badly now), as shown here:

on_couch.jpg

They love that spot and will sit there for hours while I ride bike or work on the computer. Sure am glad that I bought them a really nice bed that they never use. :-)


Oh - in other news, I saw my first "good" accident the other day... Wisconsin drivers have this wonderful tendency to "block the box" while attempting to turn left at any intersection.

"Blocking the box" refers to pulling your car into the middle of an intersection and waiting for the opposing traffic to open-up so that you can turn left (across their lanes). It's about the dumbest thing you can do, because you're literally out in no-mans land, blocking the intersection and making things unsafe for everyone.

Well, blocking the box is "the norm" around here - everyone does it all of the time. Wisconsin drivers also love to run red lights - they "sneak through" even after the light has gone from yellow to red.

Combine these two traits, and you're bound for a collision, which is what happened last night. Minivan blocking the box, waiting for traffic, with a Jeep waiting directly behind it (a double-block situation).

Lights turn red, and the van and Jeep both start to accelerate through the rest of the intersection. Bad timing, because a brand new Ford F150 was trying to run the red light as well, and ended-up hitting both the van and the Jeep. I just shook my head, because you could've totally predicted it.

Everyone got out - the van guy yelled at the truck guy; the truck guy yelled at the van guy; the Jeep guy was from another country and was on his cellphone as if nothing happened.

I pulled-in to a parking lot, started to get out and walk to the accident, but by then two cop cars were arriving, and there were two other cars that saw the accident as well. So, I figured it would behoove me to not get involved and just go home... which I did. And along the way, I saw another "blocking-the-box" move... ugh.

Next time I'll rant about how ignorant and inconsiderate the drivers are of pedestrians here.

Kickin' it with the Katz

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It's been a few days since I brought home Mack and Shiloh, and I'm pleased to report that all is going extremely well. They're both coming out of their shells and are quite the characters.

Mack is a bit more aloof than Shiloh - she's happy to sit next to me rather than on me, although she does follow me everywhere throughout the apartment. If I get up to grab a soda, she's right by my side. She's so cute - she just sits quietly, waiting for me to finish whatever I'm doing, and will then follow me back to wherever I'm headed.

Here she is standing behind me while in the kitchen. I think I was grabbing a Diet Mt. Dew at the time.

mack_kitchen.jpg

Shiloh on the other hand, is quite outgoing. He walks around "talking" constantly - meowing and "griping" for attention. He's curious about everything - including my cereal from the other morning:

shiloh_cereal.jpg

Just in case you're curious, the cereal is Fiber One with Silk Light Vanilla and fresh blueberries. 1/2 cup of Fiber One, 1/4 cup of silk, 1/4 cup of blueberries. Makes an excellent 100 calorie breakfast. I'll sometimes mix the Fiber One and blueberries with vanilla yogurt for an evening snack. Try it - it's awesome.

Spent the day working out. I found the "Insanity" workout DVDs on craigslist and have been working my way through them. Today was "Plyometric Cardio and Max Abs" - about 45 minutes of pretty tough core/aerobic exercise.

I followed that with 2 hours on the bike on the trainer (ick). At least I was distracted from the boredom of the trainer; I watched the "Big & Rob" series on DVD - it's a hilarious show about Rob Dyrdek (a pro skateboarder) and his bodyguard, Big Black. It was on MTV for a while and I never paid any attention to it, but a friend told me more about the show, and based on his description, I had to see the full series. If you can catch a rerun of the series, I suggest you take a look - it's really entertaining.

And then finished the morning with an 8-mile run around the neighborhood. The temperature was in the low 20s, and there was a solid northerly wind... made for a chilly run, but anything is better than the treadmill, so I didn't complain too much.

The rest of the day was rather unexciting... Cleaned the apartment (the cats don't seem to be afraid of the vacuum), did some laundry, made a dinner of egg whites, pico de gallo, some turkey breast, and a flax wrap, and am now sitting on the couch catching up with computer stuff.

Here's Mack, sitting next to me:

mack_sleep.jpg

And here's Shiloh and me, writing this blog entry together:

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Fish fry review to come next!

What's up, Kitty Kat?

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I adopted two cats from the local animal shelter. Meet Mack and Shiloh.

Mack:
mack2.jpg

Shiloh:
shiloh1.jpg


I was originally planning on adopting a single cat, but these two cats have some special needs. They had been at the shelter since 2008, because both have FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), which is the equivalent of kitty AIDS. There's no cure, and no real form of treatment - they live with it, and you hope for the best.

FIV cannot be transmitted to people or other non-felines, and it's usually only spread to other cats by way of a deep bite. So, there's relatively little harm in having a cat (or two) with FIV, but for some reason, most people get scared and freak out about it. Most shelters and vets will euthanize cats with FIV because they are more difficult to place into homes than your standard cat might be.

So anyway... I saw Shiloh on Petfinder and really took a liking to him. I saw that he had FIV, but I was familiar with the condition, and knew it wouldn't be a big deal. So, I went and met him, and it turns out that he had a foster sister that he was absolutely in love with. Apparently Shiloh and Mack were best buddies, and would benefit from being placed together in a "forever home."

Shiloh is a bit scared of new people/environments to boot, so I figured that it would probably be best to keep them together, and as a result I came home with two wonderful kitties - one boy (Shiloh) and one girl (Mack). Mack is short for Mackerel - apparently the people who found her fed her Mackerel, and so the name stuck.

Mack is really outgoing - she follows me around everywhere, sleeps on me at night, and seems comfortable with everything. Shiloh is a bit more timid, although he did spend a considerable part of the night sitting on my lap and then laying next to me while in bed. I think he'll warm-up fairly soon.

So, there you have it - Mack and Shiloh, chillin' at the apartment. There'll be plenty of more pictures (and stories) to come, I'm sure. These photos aren't that great - I took some quick pictures while on lunch today. The apartment is a bit cluttered as well - I'll be cleaning/organizing this weekend (after fish fry, of course).

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