Tuesday, December 13, 2011

O Tannenbaum

This past weekend we got a tree. A fake tree. I swore for years I'd never do fake--I like the smell and look of a real tree, along with helping support local business folks. Every year I'd take the Jetta over to the local Jaycees lot and pick out a Fraser Fir (cats, dontcha know).

Then I got a car I actually liked (the MINI), and did not want to put a sappy tree into, so I began relying on the kindness of others for SUV's to bring the tree home. Because of my desire to limit friends' vehicles exposure to that same horrid sap, I started picking purveyors closer to home:  Lowe's. So much for helping local business. Even after getting a truck of my own, I found it just so much easier to go back to Lowe's and plop down another $30. And each year, I'd keep the tree up until just after the free tree-recycling collection, necessitating a trip to the dump. So ~$33 / year for 13 years,or roughly $429 BEFORE adding lights, which got replaced in their entirety at least 3 times.

So a real tree was starting to become actual work, and I wasn't accomplishing my goals of helping the community (or the environment), and it wasn't helping that my house has something like -25% humidity during the colder months, making it impossible to keep needles from ejecting like porcupine quills after just 1 week.

For K and li'l A, I wanted better this year. We decided to look at some tree options, but we were disheartened at the lack of pre-lit LED trees. Figuring we'd waited too long into the season, and refusing to support the incandescent market, we decided to go once more to Lowe's and get one last real tree. The money saved would help us through the season, anyway. We'd picked out a tree and gone into the store for one last look at lights when we found it: one lone 7.5' pre-lit warm-white LED tree. And it's beautiful.

Last night we decorated it as a family, selecting our favorite ornaments from our blended family's past and our new present. The tree is beautiful, in spite of the hot mess of empty boxes, and our home is finally becoming that: ours.

Happy holidays to all of you, and may this year find you embracing traditions new and old.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Miata #3 (Yes, it is a sickness)

The 2011 racing season ended for me on November 6, 2011.  I went out with a bang...or 2 or 3...finishing in first place both days, winning me 2 more tires to start the 2012 season.  However, the clutch died on the last lap of the last session of the last day, a session that also saw the end of the transmission's useful life.  I pulled the drain plug to find pieces of gear teeth.  Boo.

Thus began the hunt for a new transmission, and it would lead me to curious places.

I started my hunt like any enterprising person would:  craigslist.  I found a fellow looking to sell an engine & transmission together for $900, a reasonable deal that would allow me to swap trannies and begin to develop a new race motor for when the current one pukes, which it ultimately will.  So I went to look at it, and the guy offered to sell the whole car with it for $1500 total.  The catch is that the car won't start due to an unknown electrical short.

We verified the cylinders hold compression, the body was in reasonable order, and bought it.

I now own 3 Miatas.  Holy crap.  And no transmission for Bridget (the orange car).  HOLY CRAP.

So a plan was hatched to turn the new car, "Stacey", into a Chump Car racer, and if she survives, an aero-laden Time Trials & Performance Touring (D) beast.  And given what I've learned along the way from building the current car, I'm confident I can achieve both goals for less than 1/3 what I have in Bridget.

My shed is so full of spares that Bridget is half-built already.  Spare racing radiator, suspension components, differential, seat, harness, seat-back brace, etc.  Pretty much all I need to do is gut it and put a cage in it.  Oh:  and make it go.  Which is turning out to be quite an ordeal.

Stacey's former owner was an ASE certified mechanic.  Apparently they don't teach electrics.  Turning the key did nothing at first, so I pulled all the wiring under the dash and found hot wires to nowhere, grounds to everywhere non-structural, an alarm system, bisected ignition wires, and a hot mess of a radio harness.  I yanked all of it and tried again, and got a buzzing sound from the main fuse box.  Progress...?

A battery swap and a key-turn made the main fan run.  Um...wtf?  The fan is wired to ignition?  So I pulled the fuse for the fan, re-keyed, and the starter engaged!  Now that's progress.  But still the engine will not start.

I did a little more hunting around the car and found that, after running the starter for a bit, the exhaust pipe reeks of fuel, so I feel fairly confident it's not a fuel-delivery issue. Laying a spark-plug on the head produced no spark, in spite of the dude having just recently swapped coil packs.

So it seems something is wildly mis-wired.

Unfortunately I'm out of room in the trailer to continue diagnosing it, and I can't back it out because Bridget is up in the air behind it (with no motor).  And Bridget can't have her motor back until a new tranny is sourced.  But now there's a new car blocking me from getting the motor out of the trailer and...yeah...I've kind of screwed myself.  Sometimes I think it would be easier if I were just addicted to crack.

Monday, October 31, 2011

I can has wife!

K and I were married October 16, 2011 (sorry, thieves, we bumped it up from June 2014).  It was perfect, though the boy was running a festive fever.

The honeymoon saw us visiting the beautiful US Virgin Islands, where we drank all the rum.  Pics soonish (after the hangover wears off).

Yay married!

Monday, October 10, 2011

New Name

I changed the name.  Maybe it's dumb, but I don't care.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


I wrote this moons ago, but now I'm bored, so I'm publishing it.

I am constantly amazed at how perception defines reality. It's an axiom I've long understood, but occasionally the ramifications still manage to escape me. For instance!

I've noticed that many of my friends ballyhoo the writing of a few others whose sole claim to epistemic fame is the density of their words. Irrespective of the import of said words, the capacity to overwhelm the reader with verbal diarrhea is heralded as the highest achievement of intellect. We heap accolades on public orators who do little more than recite speeches with dramatic pauses.

It scares me, then, when people tell me I'm smart. Sure: I know a few things, and I feel fairly confident that I can formulate a proper sentence, but there are people who dedicate their lives to intellectual pursuits. I fix computers and race cars. I'm not in a post-doctoral program. I don't have a good understanding of economics. I can't follow basic sports stats.

But I am guilty of sesquipedalianism. I proselytize. I am a pedantic grammarian. I have used "floccinaucinihilipilification" properly on a college essay. And I didn't have to check the spelling.

And yet, for all of it, I see no logical flow to my words. Maybe it's because I almost never review anything before I post it, or maybe it's because I have the attention span of a squirrel on crack. Irrespective, people tell me I write well. Da's wack, yo. You can look back over the entire course of my ramblings and find the most basic patterns repeated ad nauseum (seriously: how many times can you find where I've used 3 points to prove an argument, and each of those three points is supported by 3 supporting statements, the third of which is generally pretty freakin' weak?).

What's even more upsetting to my equilibrium is when people tell me that I'll like someone else's writings because they're smart, too. I usually don't think they're very good writers at all (remember, I hate my own writing)--they're just neatly packaging an argument that people want to hear.

Here's the long and short of what this big ol' meanderin' mess is all about: the decision to confuse readers with complex sentence structures does not display a writer's intelligence. Rather it demonstrates that one is an ass.

Monday, October 03, 2011

So, new name?

Help me out here, I need a new name for this thing:

  • Rainbows! Puppies! Moving Forward!
  • LifesocrazyAAAAAGH!
  • 'Sometimes We Feel Guilty Because We Are Guilty' & Other Lessons of Catholic School
  • Life Soup. It's delicious because it's sticky.
  • Sometimes I Poop Too Much.
You can see that I'm not making much headway with this...

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rainbows! Puppies! Marriage!

Hey cats & kittens, it's time to rename the dusty ol' blog.  Can't really cling to the past because the future's coming like a freight train.  I'm getting married in two weeks pretty darn soon (remember:  if you're looking to thieve my junk, the wedding is in June 2014--you might want to write that down) and some light cleaning is in order.

I won't pretend for even a moment that Amanda's influence on my life is gone.  It will never be gone.  I spent 14.5 years with her and we produced one amazing little guy, but daggone am I excited about the next phase of my life.

K is beautiful, intelligent, funny, dorky, nerdy, and perfect.  Alastair adores her almost as much as I (and has frequently told me that he'll marry her too, once he grows up).

People have been asking me if I'm nervous.  I'm not.  I'd be a fool to be blithely walking into any commitment without fully vetting my fiancee, and we're incredibly compatible.  The minister performing the ceremony says he's never (in over 20 years) seen a couple so compatible--at least from our standardized couples' test scores.  She may choose to believe it has nothing to do with us both being Year-of-the-Rabbit Virgos, but I know what's what.

Nor am I sad to end my bachelorhood.  Dating is horrible.  Everyone has games and walls and baggage, or worse.  K brings none of that.  Since the majority of our relationship has been from a 140 mile distance, we've had to be extremely open and honest.  And she's astonished me every step of the way.

I love you, K, and I'm so ready to be your husband.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I, Criminal Again!

Remember this?  Way back when...?  Well I went and got all criminalistic again.  Back in July, I was coming back to work from lunch when I apparently decided I absolutely needed some trifle from Target.  Taking an exit I'd not used in many moons, I found myself pulling up to what looked like a yield, stopping (or maybe not, who knows any more--it was July forgodsake), and pulling out to the flashing of blue lights.  Yay me! I'd been stopped for running a stop sign!

I of course told the cop I was certain I'd stopped, and he told me he was certain I hadn't, but that it wasn't his job to argue with me.  I got a citation and a court-date of last Friday.

It rattled me for a number of reasons.  One was that I was absolutely certain I'd seen a yield sign.  Two was that I felt like I remembered there being a stop sign where I thought I'd stopped.  Three was that I try not to do things to fall afoul of the law.

So later that day I went back to the scene of my murderous spree of gang violence traffic citation and took lots of pretty pictures.  I then talked to another cop on the scene who remembered the intersection the way I had before I'd been caught.  He was just as surprised as I'd been that the only visible stop sign in the intersection had been replaced by--not one, but 8 smaller yield signs for a new pedestrian crosswalk.  Of course, for as much as he agreed that the new traffic pattern was confusing and probably not proper, he refused to be a part of my court case and told me that my beef was with Officer Mason, who'd written the ticket.  Great, thanks.

So I took the pics I'd snapped of the intersection, compared them to Google's street-view pics, and determined my memory had been impeccable. Yay memory!  Then I looked at some satellite pics and realized that, based on where the old stop sign had been, there could not have been any way for Officer Mason to see me stop where I believe I had, which technically was still the only safe place to stop in the whole intersection.

Armed with my evidence, I prepared myself for the impending date with the Richmond Court system.  And then they took away the only remaining stop sign and changed the whole intersection to a yield.  I took pics of that, too, and added them to my arsenal of defense materials.  I printed my spotless driving record, I wore a suit, and I drank all the coffee.  I was ready.

When I got there, people began mistaking me for an attorney. Apparently most people don't take traffic court seriously.  When the time came for my case to be heard, I approached the bench with my packet of glossy 8x10's in hand.  I greeted the judge with a smile (which was returned--she was in a good mood!), and the DA spoke up.  I'll paraphrase...

Your honor, the intersection in question has since been changed from a stop sign to a yield sign, which is what I'm guessing Mr. Amos has pictures of there...  In the interest of fairness, we're asking for null process in the charges against him and the 5 other people in here for same offense.

I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded good.  Then the judge smiled at me and said, "Have a nice day, Mr. Amos."  I even turned to Officer Mason and the DA and told them to have a nice day on my way out.  I was honestly a little disappointed I'd not even gotten to open my bag of pics.

But it occurred to me later:  he'd busted a minimum of 6 people in there at the same intersection for running the same invisible stop sign.  And that was just the people who'd shown up!  How many just sent in a check?  And then I looked up 'null process'.  It's not the same as 'case dismissed' at all.  It just means that the DA isn't interested in pursuing the charges at this time.  Granted it'll likely never come up again, but if I get pinched for speeding tomorrow, this null process ticket could be used against me.

But in the end, I still walked away from court with only a Kinko's fee for printing 6 8x10's, and that ain't bad.
BTW--for those who don't know, I'm getting married soon.  I'd go into further details, but I'm told thieves would just love to hear about our honeymoon plans, so you'll all just have to wait for details until after the wedding (which for you criminals out there is expected to take place some time in June 2014).

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Hyperfest may have been NASA's big event, back in June, but nothing on the year's racing schedule touches the grandeur of the Pirelli Ultimate Track Car Challenge presented by Grassroots Motorsports. It holds a special place in my heart because last year I was there becoming an instructor and competing for the first time in Time Trials.

Since then, I've missed just one NASA Mid-Atlantic competition weekend, and my results have steadily improved to put me in 3rd place for season points (up from 5th last year, and only 5 points out of 2nd this year!).

This year I intended to go and do my usual Time Trials & instructing weekend, but I got a call about a month ago asking if I'd like to drive someone else's prepared vehicle in the UTCC on Friday. It was this:

Obviously the only possible answer was "yes", followed by "hell yes". It was an opportunity to learn how to pilot another vehicle, get some additional track time, and maybe possibly build a bit of name recognition since the magazine does a blurb on every vehicle and its associated team & driver.

And what an experience! The Wreckless Abandon crew made one hell of a fast truck. With a bulletproof motor that could pull almost anything in a straight line, NASCAR cup brakes, the widest slicks I've ever seen, and a suspension that was remarkably capable, I was able to pull times that were competitive with my best ever times in the Miata.

I managed to haul that 3900lb beast to a 2:22.339 lap, 8 seconds faster than the truck had ever turned laps at VIR, and considerably faster than the last place finish the guys were expecting (you don't show up with a $500 vehicle to a super-car shootout with much hope).

Even without the quick laps, it was the talk of the paddock. The tech inspection crew didn't want to approve it to go on track at all, but there was hardly a moment all day when there wasn't a small crowd around it. The Grassroots Motorsports guys spent a good amount of time chatting us up about it, and a data-acquisition company called RaceKeeper decided to volunteer their system for one of my sessions. They came back later and told us the video will be featured next month as Grassroots Motorsports' video of the month, and that they were shocked at how much steering was required to get it around the track.

I did have two off-track excursions in it (one of which may be part of the video), once as a result of boiled brake fluid, and once when fuel was starved from the pickup sensor under heavy braking, but all in all it was a solid setup that I'd drive again in a heartbeat.

Saturday & Sunday brought a return to normalcy with TT and instruction, or so I thought... It turned out that my first student was a Grassroots Motorsports employee, and the car was a one-off factory concept Subaru. Called the Legacy GTk, it was an Outback with a Legacy GT drivetrain, but with an enlarged cargo area specifically for a child's shifter kart. The actual concept was that you would take your kid to the track, drop him/her off at the kart track, and then go turn laps on the grown-up side. Not a bad concept.

We had a great day in the car, which surprisingly featured almost 100% working accessories (extremely uncommon in concept cars), the most important of which was the AC. With temps hovering just above 100F, any relief was welcome.

My other student did not fare so well. I got sick from the heat and had to solo him early. Fortunately he's a great learner and a fantastic driver, so I wasn't too concerned.

But somehow in the fray, and in spite of turning good laps, I managed to lose an hour of my day. Just gone--no idea where it went or what happened. I invented a very convincing story in my head, that I'd gone out for a 2nd session with my group 2 student, and can still vividly remember that phantom session, but evidently heat can do some horrible things to your brain.

Fortunately the day ended with a thunderstorm shortly before my last session, and I had a very convincing run that was good enough for 2nd place. It helped having a rabbit to chase...

Sunday, however, was an exercise in futility. Hoping to beat the heat with a solid early run, I overdrove and went off in Turn 5 in the first session, then overdrove and went off in Oak Tree in the 2nd.

That meant my 3rd session would be automatically disqualified (so I turned one lap at an abysmally slow pace for a 2:37), and I had no choice but to stick around for the 4th and final session if I wanted to post a time.

That sucked harder than anything because ambient temps were back to about 100F by that late session, and the two offs had not done my alignment any favors. The best I could manage was a 2:23.5, a full 3 seconds off my best lap from the previous day, and just barely good enough for 3rd place for the day.

Ultimately the weekend was a success, bringing me up from a 20-point deficit to a 5-point deficit for 2nd place, two free tires, two fantastic students, riding in a car that doesn't properly exist, and piloting a truck that's just too freakin' awesome to exist.

Shout-outs to the guys at NASA Mid-Atlantic, Hoosier Race Tires, Grassroots Motorsports, Wreckless Abandon Racing, and my beautiful fiancee who endured the heat all weekend and whose car got mauled by a trailer late Sunday afternoon. I love you, babe!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Phases of My Adulthood as Viewed from Wine Selection

Under age: Wine? Gross; it's like drinking sand. Who does that?

21 years old, living at home: No bills! Freedom! No wine: BEER ALL THE TIME! WOOHOO!

22 years old, living in an apartment: Can't really afford wine. Go to Olive Garden; take remains of enormous bottle home; drink for a week! Woohoo!

25 years old, living in a house: Must have wine for special occasions. Never drink it because it cost real money. Pretend to understand what constitutes "good" wine; attempt epic wine snobbery.

30 years old, owning a house: I make decent money. BUY ALL THE GOOD WINES AND DRINK THEM! WOOHOO!!

35 years old, with a child: Bills! School fees! Retirement planning! Drinking with friends is a long-forgotten treat. Fuck it: I'll take the box.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Shall I tell you about my weekend?

Hello. It's been a while. How are you? Yeah? Kids doing ok? They enjoying the summer? Good...good.

Alastair and I had a pretty big weekend. Well actually, we've had a pretty big month. We started it off with a trip to VIR, where we had something of an engagement gathering of my parents, K's parents, the boy, the dog, and well: us. Twas fun, if a bot hot.

Then, because I'm a lunatic, I decided to approach a very minor oil leak in the race car by tearing the motor out of the car and completely disassembling it...in 12 days. With an overnight out-of-town trip in the middle. It was dumb, but it paid off: with 1 day left, it all got put back together in time to make Hyperfest (a big madhouse of car enthusiasts at Summit Point in WV), where I drove the untested motor, new clutch & flywheel, and hexagonal used tires to 2nd place. Yay!

So this past weekend, because I'd spent so very much of June dedicated to racing, I decided to dedicate entirely to my boy.

You may have heard about it, but Pixar had this new movie come out last weekend called Cars 2. Defying all of my personal rules about lines and crowds, I decided that this was one movie that must be seen on opening day. Surprisingly there were no major crowds to speak of, which was great considering how vocal Alastair was through the movie. He wasn't talking over it or being rude, but giggling and cackling like a loon at all the awesome. And it was awesome. The movie itself was ok, with some jokes for grown-ups tossed in for good measure, but watching his little face! My heart was bursting with joy.

So then Saturday morning we capitalized on that joyful attitude and made our very first ever day-trip to the beach! We took the Miata at his behest, packed to the gills with toys, food, and beach paraphernalia. All the way down he kept telling me that he wasn't going to get in the water--he was just going to play with his sand toys. I told him that was fine, but after 5 minutes of digging in the sand, he asked if we could go get wet for 'just a minute'. 2.5 hours later, I had to drag him out of the water. He loved the waves crashing over us, and went underwater innumerable times.

Even when we got out, he was clamoring to go back in. Which of course we did, high tide be damned! We weren't even 5 minutes out of the parking lot before his head drooped and he was out. I've never seen anyone sleep for an hour with the top down at 70mph.

And then, in spite of the sunburn (letting him spray my back was maybe not the best idea ever), we got up and went to King's Dominion on Sunday, where we met up with one of his pre-K buddies for a day of roller coasters. I hadn't realized how much of an adventure freak Alastair can be until I watched his buddy.

No disrespect to him at all, but that kid just did NOT want to have anything to do with speed or heights. Ghoster Coaster: ruled out. Swings? No thank you. But Alastair didn't mind one bit doing the slower / lower rides, and they had an absolute blast together.

Then, on top of everything that had come before, Alastair got to spend 2 days at his grandparents' house while I went on a last-minute business trip.

And lemme tell ya something...


My company has a manufacturing facility in a small rural backwater. We employ roughly 90 people at this facility, which was moved there to take advantage of lower real estate prices. Not the most noble of reasons, but the benefits are immediate and immeasurable for this community.

The town that hosts our plant is so small there are functionally only two last names. They plaster everything for a several-mile radius as you enter and exit the area. I joked with someone that that would make dating difficult, and she confirmed that they are facing a situation right now where an ENGAGED COUPLE is having to cull county records to see if/how they are related. Personally, I'd rather establish that before getting down on bended knee, but...

The area is so economically devastated that people cannot afford to feed themselves, let alone their pets. This has evidently lead to problems with people abandoning or downright killing their dogs. In response, the community has held "ugly puppy" contests just to keep the dogs alive.

The only other sources of income in the area are tobacco, a smattering of corn, and travelers with busted tires. And my company. There's no local* McDonalds. No Walmart. It's a choice between making a salary working for my company or scraping by. They do not even produce the raw materials that go through their machinery. It's all trucked in and out.

So let me re-iterate: we are giving 90 people a chance at a better life. No, let's rephrase: we're giving 90 people the ability to put food on their table.

That might not seem like a lot of people, but in an area as desolate as this one, it's huge.

*these things exist a couple of towns over, so while they may be accessible by car, I didn't see a single car in the employee parking lot made in the past decade.

Monday, May 09, 2011


So...some things have happened recently.

1. The boy and I repeated our pilgrimage to DC last month. It was awesome, and portions were quite adventurous. It needs its own dedicated post, but for now an aside will have to suffice, because...
2. We got a dog. Well, a puppy, to be precise. A black lab / pit bull mix. He's adorable, about 6 months old, and is working on house-breaking right now. He's also just about done teething, so everything is getting chewed. It's an adventure, and the cats are none-too-thrilled, but we love Sparky (short for Dammit) to death.
3. We went to the circus! But I had to leave early because...
4. I got engaged! Yep, folks, that's right: I'm marrying K. The date is set for October of this year, with honeymoon expected to be in the US Virgin Islands--hurricanes permitting.

I'd have posted all of this earlier, and in much greater detail, but the good folks at Blogger decided my blog was a 'splog' and nuked it. So after much bitching to get it back online, I'm left with very little energy for actually telling the tales, but fear not: I will. It just might take me a while.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Nightmares & Dreamscapes

So I don't know if I've mentioned it here, but I've been seeing someone pretty seriously for the last 6 months. One thing that's been truly curious about this phase--and pertinent to the overarching theme of this blog--has been my dreams.

Since K and I started dating, I've had a series of nightmares unlike any before. I spent years having the whole "unprepared for an exam" dream, but these are less recurring and more of a loose narrative that feels so real I wake up genuinely confused. And to make matters worse, I've learned to recognize the dream while having it, which sometimes makes the dream shift into believing that I'm awake and discussing it. So "Inception".

Six months ago, the dream was simple: Amanda was still alive and had just come home from Texas. Somehow nobody had bothered to tell me she was still alive, and my life was just as it was at the time: beginning to date K. In that particular dream, I remember trying to keep them completely unaware of each other. Because how much of a mind-fuck is that?

Then later on, as my relationship with K progressed, that dream slowly began changing to one where I had to explain to Amanda--who at this point would still legally be considered my wife--that I'd fallen in love with someone else. So very "Cast Away".

Last night I had a new version of the dream. Amanda had come home, I told her how my life had changed, about K, about Alastair. And while she wasn't really happy about it, she understood and decided to look for another place to live. She also volunteered to not pursue custody, essentially freeing me to live the life that is unfolding before me. (And of course, to add an extra layer of weirdness to last night's, I had one of those "waking" moments where Amanda was still there.)

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what my brain is trying to tell me: I can move on. Finally I'm not living in the shadow of What Was, but in the glory of What May Be. I don't expect to be done with these dreams any time soon, but it's been wildly fascinating to see how they've changed as my love for K has grown.

Friday, March 25, 2011

2 years

So today marks 2 years. 2 years ago I told my coworkers that Amanda had leukemia, and that I'd be spending a fair amount of time in Texas. Then a short while later I found out that wouldn't be true. It was a crazy day. I hated every single aspect of it. I've torn it apart in retrospect and still found absolutely nothing redeemable about that day. About that whole trip to Texas.

And yet I really don't have anything poignant to say today. Maybe I'm just exhausted. I've been up late almost every night working on one car or another, and it just hasn't left a lot of time for reflection.

There's a mood and tone that I feel is appropriate for discussing Amanda's death, but I just can't seem to evoke it today, and I don't want to speak from a fabricated emotional state.

I miss Amanda, but I love our son, so she's not really gone.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Ten years ago, give or take a week, I was getting ready for my sparkly new job one morning when my kitty, Sasha, wheezed. It was terrifying and unsettling and lasted about 15 seconds. Amanda insisted I take her to the vet, but I couldn't risk being late for a job I'd had for less than two weeks.

She got to the vet within the next 48 hours (details are hazy now), and began a 6-month ordeal that would end tragically with her death.

Sasha had a disease called 'lymphangiectasia'. It's not curable, but we didn't know that then. We also had no freaking clue what she had, and neither did the doctors.

Her first trip to the vet, she had an x-ray that revealed a massive pleural effusion (fluid on--not in--the lungs). They pumped one liter of fluid out of her, and she was right as rain for the next month. But you don't remove a liter of fluid from a 13lb cat without worrying.

The next month, they pulled another liter out of her chest, and sent us to a specialist. The specialist removed half a liter (only a week after the previous drain), and still no answers came. We did our own research, growing ever more disheartened and loving our girl as hard as we could.

Then one day the disease got its name. We were told she should never have lasted the first month, let alone the 5 she'd already had. They told us that the drains would eventually cease to be effective, that her lungs would harden and it would become increasingly difficult for her to draw breath, and that we would one day have to put her down.

And then she sprung a leak. Late one night, as we were lying in bed, Sasha jumped up on us, began lunging back and forth, and we both realized the bed was wet and smelled like chicken. She was soaked through with her own fluids. Her body could no longer hold it in.

All manner of emergency medicines and vets were employed, but two weeks later she was gone.

Not an hour after the vet ended Sasha's suffering, I tearily set about removing Sasha's food and water dish to find a pill that she'd rejected the previous day. Amanda completely lost it, convinced that missing that one pill had undone our beautiful, loving girl.

Looking back to 2001, I realize now that losing Sasha was pre-ordained. I had to learn those emotions in order to deal with the fusillade of self-doubt that would creep into my heart after Amanda died. Should she have gone to Texas? Couldn't she have survived indefinitely on blood transfusions? Did the treatments she received there kill her? What about the original doctor who never bothered with blood tests?

And then I remember Sasha. Sasha had an incurable disease. No amount of pills or doctors could prevent her death--they could only delay it.

This month marks 2 years since Amanda died. I cannot believe so much time has passed. I could not have imagined then how relatively normal my life is now, and yet sometimes those tendrils of doubt reach up from the darkness and attempt to consume me. Amanda had an incurable disease. Amanda had an incurable disease. Amanda had an incurable disease.

Friday, February 25, 2011

First Race Weekend of 2011

Sanctioning Body: NASA-MA
Class: TTE (Time Trials)
Position, Day 1: 5 of 8*
Position, Day 2: 5 of 7*

Not how I wanted to start my season.

I had committed to running Hoosier tires this year based on results from the end of my season last year, which had me finishing in the top 3--high enough to win tires. Running Hoosiers was a gamble because they're (a) more expensive, and (b) take 3 points away from what could be engine or suspension mods.

Since I had committed to a plan that would see my tire budget decrease, and since NASA had raised the minimum weight of my car to just about exactly my last-known competition weight, I also decided to buy scales. A hefty investment, to be sure, but I couldn't afford to be even 5 lbs under weight, or I'd be bumped into the next class (given the results from TTD, though, I would have won on Sunday).

The scales told me that I needed to add 30 lbs to meet weight. They also told me that the weight desperately needed to be on the passenger side. And as it just so happened, I had a seat that had been removed from that side which, when combined with the weight of its belts, put just about exactly the right amount of weight back in. Score!


In doing the initial balance, I detached both sway bars. And while I remembered to reattach them, I did not remember to re-torque them. This, of course, resulted in both coming loose on track, which caused the right rear tire to pogo on right turns, which did not help lap times. By the end of the 3rd session on Saturday, it was impossible to get any grip in the rear. A quick glance under the car revealed two end-links laying flat on the control arms. Oops. Off to the parts store!

Once that was fixed, I was ready to go back out on track and tear it up. Except instead of doing that, I locked up the tires under braking at end of the front straight on the first hot lap of the session.

Even without posting a single lap on Saturday with a properly-functioning suspension, I was still only 0.4 seconds off my fastest-ever lap. These tires are sticky.

Sunday I would have only two sessions, and I had a lot of work to do to put myself into contention. I had the car ready to go, having put the flat-spotted tires in the rear and triple-checking torques.

I started out behind the #53 Spec Miata of Grant Cain. Grant's a great kid, and I enjoy running with him. But apparently he was having some handling issues, because he just couldn't put down a hot lap. I caught him in the climbing esses, and when I went inside him at South Bend he drove off into the grass. Sorry Grant! 5 laps into the session, though, I ran out of gas. Rounding oak tree after passing a car in a higher class, the engine sputtered. I parked it, 0.3 seconds off my fastest-ever pace.

Which, as it turns out, would be the best I would do all weekend. The second session was a mess. On the first lap I had chased down a car 2 classes ahead of me, and when I began my pass I saw a car in the grass. I let him pass me again to avoid a black flag, since I realized I was passing under yellow. For the next 3 laps, the yellow was displayed at South Bend, with emergency vehicles at Oak Tree. In spite of this, though, I was turning 2:25.0 laps, within 0.15 seconds of my best ever lap while puttering through a straight-away!

The second the flags were gone, I punched it. I was putting down the lap of my life. I had come through South Bend at 94mph, an absolute record in my car, and had even managed to control wheel-spin at Oak Tree. I was 1.6 seconds head of pace for the weekend, which was going to be a 2:23.4 lap, when I spun at Roller coaster. It was ugly. And even though I made eye-contact with a corner-worker, he didn't give me any indication that I was about to merge right into the path of 2 oncoming faster cars. An accident was narrowly avoided, pride was severely wounded, and my weekend was done.

Analyzing the data afterward, I now know that, with only the new tires, my best theoretical lap is 2:22.8, two full seconds faster than I've ever done. It's still not enough for 3rd place (the worst I can do and still potentially win tires), so I've done what every red-blooded American does when confronted with a problem: thrown money at it.

Right now I'm waiting for a full replacement ECU, header, and intake to arrive. When they get here, the car is going to the dyno and a reclass request will be filed. This car will make more power, and as long as I can wrangle that power, I will post better results.

Here's looking forward to March.

*9 cars were registered in class, but did not all compete on both days.

Monday, January 24, 2011

And now he's 5!

Alastair's 5th Birthday Extravaganza Weekend Celebration Holy KaPow was fun fun fun fun fun!

We woke up Saturday morning at the leisurely hour of 8:30, made delicious cinnamon graham waffles filled with butter, syrup, strawberries, and whipped cream, fixed up a whole mess o' bacon, and then set to the presents.

He got loads of Star Wars toys from the Galactic Heroes line, a bunch of Mater's Tall Tales (Cars Toon) stuff, NERF guns & swords, video games for the Wii & PS3, a new slot-car track, and a PlayMobil dragons & knights set that Amanda had given me years ago, but that I'd never opened.*

After we'd busted open all the loot and rocked out to some Lady Gaga for a while, we headed over to the Little Gym for his first class with 5 - 12 year-olds. A little different from his largely-unstructured classes of yore, he had trouble catching the rhythm of the class, but I think he'll have it down in no time. Plus, having a bit of angsty energy helped set him up for his...birthday party!!

After a quick lunch and a nice nap, we headed back to the Little Gym for his party. That he'd won on my birthday. Weird, right? Anyway... 1.5 hours of basically unrestricted free-play with 8 of his friends, Ukrop's cake (represent), and no major injuries! Parents were free to join the fun, but most just took the opportunity to watch the action. I raced several of the kids across the air-trak (it's just a big, long bouncy) and managed to lose every single time.

Then it was home for hot dogs (his bday dinner wish) and down to the Richmond Coliseum for Arena Racing. Seriously, you need to check this out. 2.5 hours of 1/2 scale stock cars on a postage-stamp banked indoor track. There are 4 adult races and 2 junior races (ages 9 - 13). It's a fantastic way to blow a few hours without breaking the bank, and it serves my ulterior purposes of getting him more interested in following in my lunacy.

Did I mention that he loved it? 'Cause it was a HUGE hit. But it was also a very late hit, ending at about 9:30pm. My little boy--my newly-minted 5 YEAR OLD--was so sleepy he nearly passed out reading Goodnight Moon.

He was so good all day, and so good all night. He thanked his friends for coming to his party, thanked everyone for his gifts, and even told me that he'd gotten enough gifts, in spite of my mandate that none of his friends were to bring anything for him. He's got a good heart, that boy.


*I realized later that effectively this was Amanda's gift to him. Kinda neat that even almost 2 years later, she's still able to reach out to him.

Friday, January 21, 2011

On Being 4: A Retrospective

Today is the last day I get to squeeze and hug on a 4-year-old. And it makes me a little sad to realize how quickly my little guy is growing, but he's had a pretty good year, all in all.

3 was a rough year for Alastair--understandably so. His little world, already in upheaval since shortly after his 2nd birthday, took a major blow that no child should have to endure. When 2010 rolled around, I decided to make the year as much about Alastair as I could. And we did a lot of super awesome fun stuff.

We saw monster trucks and the circus, took the train to DC to explore the Smithsonian museums, went to the beach for a week. I took him to the track so that he could see race cars (he even got to camp in the trailer with me), bought him a balance bike that he quickly mastered AND a speedy little go-kart that will see much more (ab)use in 2011.

We went to the Fair and King's Dominion and Busch Gardens' Christmas Town, traipsed through Maymont Park and Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens regularly, got like 6 whole days of sledding (before I destroyed my back being an IDIOT), and kept up classes at the Little Gym all year.

There was preschool and playdates and sleep-overs and parties and all manner of mind-blowing awesomeness.

He got a playset built in the back yard--a big one with a rock wall, swings, and a sliding board (h/t to the Foleys).

And as the year was drawing to a close, he got to see the entire original Star Wars trilogy.

For all the little individual experiences, I came away with a little man who's excited about what being 5 could mean. He knows some things will be repeated: we already have tickets to the monster trucks & Kings Dominion season passes. But he also knows that new things await. He's excited about Kindergarten and seeing the remaining Star Wars films (he's seriously obsessed) and spending more time at his grandparents' new getaway home in the mountains.

Tomorrow he will be surrounded by friends and have way too much cake and stay up too late to watch small stock cars at Arena Racing. He will be super exhausted and overwhelmed with all his new toys and probably drive me just about batshit crazy with his fatigued ramblings. And it will be one of the best days ever. For as much as he might be excited about his birthday, I am absolutely ecstatic about our future adventures. I love my little man!

Happy 5th birthday, Alastair!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Monkey Make You Crazy

He's a clever one, that boy.

During his first semester of preschool, Alastair had at least two notes sent home about his behavior. None extolled his virtues...

Yesterday he got yet another note sent home, but instead of reporting him taking things or cutting up or even having to go sit in the hall, this one said he'd been exceptionally good all day, that I should be proud of him, and that I'm doing a great job as a parent.

He was SO excited when I got home, he gushed about his good note. The sitters also expressed their pride in him, and we talked about how good it is to be good all night.

Then I dropped him off at school this morning and got a little more info...

Apparently, just before school let out yesterday, his teacher told him he'd been very good. Sensing opportunity, he asked if she could send me a note about how good he'd been, since all of his previous notes had been negative. Seriously: he took the initiative to ask for written positive reinforcement. He's 4.

I'm not sure whether to be proud or terrified.