Day of the Dolphins

(Warning: No dolphins were harmed in the writing of this post. And, as it is with all human interactions in my life, everything is my fault)

Pop Quiz

1) The primary reason I, the Unknown Idiot, don’t go to children’s birthday parties is:

A. I hate birthday parties
B. All of the mothers stare at me and undress me with their eyes
C. I believe I will catch a cold and end up in the hospital
D. I break out in hives if I eat cake without first drinking a six-pack of Old Milwaukee

2) True or false: Raising an 11-year old daughter can, on certain days, make you want to ram your head into a brick wall.

A. True
B. False

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I broke my rule of not going to birthday parties with my daughter. However, I had a good reason to jump aboard the most recent invite: whale watching.

Spending the afternoon on a boat on the Pacific Ocean looking for giant mammals? I was so there.

And there I was with my wife and daughter Sunday afternoon as we boarded a double-decker boat for a four-hour journey to the waters of two Channel Islands: Anacapa and Santa Cruz.

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Anacapa in the distance. A perfect February day on the Cali coast. Life is good.

Anacapa in the distance. A perfect February day on the Cali coast. Life is good.

3) Approximately, how many Anacapa islands can you fit on Santa Cruz island?

A. 1
B. 10
C. 100
D. None unless you’re Godzilla and you like to tear up islands and move them other places

********

According to the tour guide, you can fit about 100 of the tiny Anacapa on Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. Good to know.

So, the boat ride was a blast, as the wind created exciting swells. I stayed on the covered upper level by myself, away from the lower deck, the elements, and the party with its toilets filled with vomiting parents, and had my own zen moments staring at the water and watching people flinch every time they thought a whale popped its head out of the water. None did.

I made trips outside to the exposed deck and cold wind – it was ball-freezing cold – and enjoyed the sun and heaving. I wore my hunting cap, not that I hunt, but it covers my ears better than the paper bag I usually wear over my head.

The offending pants. The front isn't looking so hot either. Retire or wear?

The offending pants. The front isn’t looking so hot either. Retire or wear?

The rest of my stylish ensemble included a windproof, lined jacket, turtleneck, two t-shirts and my special “hot pants.” Not the “hot pants” that models wear, though I am a male underwear model in my spare time and could totally get away with wearing the short type of hot pants.

When you're on the water looking for whales, look for birds. That's what they told us. We found the birds, but we didn't find the whales. But we found something better.

When you’re on the water looking for whales, look for birds. That’s what they told us. We found the birds, but we didn’t find the whales. But we found something better.

My hot pants, made by Abercrombie, are literally “hot” because they’re lined with flannel, keeping my rock-hard buns and jewels nice and warm on cold days. Unfortunately, after 15 plus years of wearing them, they’ve seen better days. One might say that I look homeless wearing them.

Oh, and they upset my daughter now that she’s a self-conscious 11-year old (more on this later).

Though no whales made an appearance during our trip, we did see something very special: hundreds of common dolphins racing to a feeding area occupied by hundreds of gulls.

Think: dolphin party.

They swam next to the boat, under the boat, around the boat, in the distance, and up and out of the water. Hundreds of them.

All I can add is that it’s a good thing the fuckers can’t fly because we would have shot them out of the sky and feasted on dolphin stew. Kidding, this isn’t “the cove” where killing dolphins is allowed.

No, this is California and we don’t eat our dolphins here. We love our dolphins. We shoot them with iPhones and digital cameras and post their pictures to our blogs with cute captions, like “Hey, it’s Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.”

Back to the day trip.

It's very hard to photograph dolphins, as they don't listen to direction and surface in a coordinated fashion. The white splashes, well, I just missed them.

It’s very hard to photograph dolphins, as they don’t listen to direction or surface in a coordinated fashion. The white splashes, well, I just missed them.

Whales: zero, dolphins: a ton.

Back to shore we headed. Shortly after 5 we were off to downtown Ventura for some Thai food, where we joined a good friend and her daughter.

Now my daughter, who was tired and hungry from being in the cold and running around the boat with her friends, sat there on the vinyl bench-seat one wrong comment away from Tasmanian Devil mode.

And sure enough the spark arrived when her friend said to me: “Hey, you have holes in your pants.”

I find that lying in these situations is best.

“No, I don’t. You’re imagining things.”

But she stuck to her guns and disagree with my attempt to deflect by telling a blatant lie.

Hey, it's Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.

Hey, it’s Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.

My daughter’s eyes focused on me. Arms crossed. She shook her head in disgust.

“What?” I said to her in a light and fun tone, hoping to make her smile.

“You embarrassed me, daddy.” Repeat that sentence two more times.

Scene: Angry daughter, all conversation at the table halted.

Disappointed my usual charm didn’t work, I let it go and focused on my Tom Kha soup. I decided to discuss it at home and not get into a fight that would have led to the burning down of one of my favorite Thai food restaurants, then going to jail for it, with my daughter telling me, as they took me away in handcuffs, I shouldn’t have worn those pants,.

“But I didn’t even get to taste the pumpkin curry with chicken,” I would have said, adding to my wife, “Honey, get it to go. I’ll be out in five years. Wait for me.”

Well that didn’t happen. Fortunately.

But we did talk about it later, which was like me talking to a dolphin about not worrying about what other dolphins think of her daddy dolphin.

“What?” the daughter dolphin said. “No comprende human language.”

Then my daughter gave my wife some attitude and that was all she wrote. My wife delivered the hurt and guilt. Tears, crying, and an apology for moi. Nice job, Hon. Hey, that worked out. Boy, this parenting stuff is a boatload of fun. A boatload.

All I can think these days, and that night, as I tried to go to sleep and the bed rose and fell, “God, don’t let me mess her up for life.”

It was so easy when my daughter was 4 or 5 or 7. Now she’s a genius whirlwind of love and emotions, and dynamite.

Look at her the wrong way, wear the wrong pants, discount how she’s feeling about a situation (Mommy understands, you don’t), and “bang,” here’s a boat oar to the head.

But still, even with a cracked skull, it’s impossible not to love this little dophin girl more than life itself.

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4) True or False: The loser known as Unknown is always one step away from a major disaster of some sort or another. 
A. True
B. True

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Invaders storm the walls of my castle (another bad clinic appointment)

INT – Castle – afternoon

The lead knight rushes to Unknown with important news. 

It's time to visit my happy place tonight. It looks like this. Ah, that's better. Ocean breeze and salt water.

It’s time to visit my happy place tonight. It looks like this. Ah, that’s better. Ocean breeze and salt water.

Knight: The scum have surrounded the castle and are upon the walls, Sir.

Unknown: All right then, man, no need to panic. We’ve been here before. Piece of cake. Let’s drop some boiling oral cipro on their heads.

Knight: Been there, done that.

Unknown: What? What do you mean by, “been there, done that”?

Knight: We already tried the boiling oral cipro, Sir. It’s lost it touch, it has.

Unknown: Really? Well, that’s not good. All right then, Plan B. How about some flaming balls of IV tobramycin to knock them down? That’s always a game-changer.

Knight: Been there, done that.

Unknown: My God, man, would you stop staying that, please?

Knight: Been there, done that?

Unknown: Yes, that. Exactly. Thank you. It’s no time for negativity. Are you quite sure the last barrage had no positive impact?

Knight: Yep. Not this time. Quite surprising it was, if I must say so. Just bounced right off of them. Quite amazing to see. Tough little buggers and quite angry.

Unknown: I see. Brilliant. Well, what else have we got here?

Knight: For lunch?

Me: For lunch? Are you daft, man? For heaven’s sake. For lunch? Not for lunch, imbecile. To drop on them. To keep them out of the castle.

Knight: Hmm, let me think. [pause while he thinks, and thinks some more] Well, lunch was pretty awful. It might work.

Unknown: Oh, my god. That’s the best you’ve got?

Knight: Well, yes. The ham is quite spoiled. Damn awful. They’ll be throwing up for hours if they eat it. Buy us some time, it will.

Unknown: Oh, damn me. We’ve run out of tricks, haven’t we? I guess we have no choice. Drop the ham. Drop it now. Let’s buy a few hours before we’re buggered for good.

Knight: But we’re out of ham.

Unknown: What? But you just said we had ham.

Knight: Well, not technically. I said perhaps we’d like to consider dropping lunch on them. But we ate it all.

Unknown: Even though it was rotten?

Knight: We used lots of mustard.

Unknown: And the men didn’t leave even a tiny bit of ham for later?

Knight: No, I’m afraid not. We ate all of it.

Unknown: And you didn’t get sick?

Knight: Oh, we got sick all right. Right horrid, it was. Oh, terrible squirts. But we was hungry. What’s a man to do when his stomach calls?

Unknown: Skip the detail next time, my dreadful knight. So, if I’m to understand correctly, what you’re saying is that we’re completely screwed?

Knight: I guess I am. That sounds about right, Captain. Completely screwed. 100%.

Unknown: Very well then, I’m going to walk to that wall over there. And then I’m going to climb up on it, at which point I want you to give me a nice solid kick to the arse, sending me over the edge and into the intruders. I may as well take a few of them with me on the way out. Are you clear on the new plan, my good knight?

Knight: Crystal, Sir. It will be my pleasure, your royalness, to kick you in the arse. My pleasure indeed.

The End

I have no right to complain. Every day I grow old with CF is a gift, but some of those days have their challenging moments. Today was one of those days.

My PFTs are still down after IVs. Or, no improvement. And the reason I can’t hear higher tones anymore is because I’ve lost a portion of my hearing thanks to the dozens of doses of IV tobramycin I’ve taken over the years – one drop at a time. Ouch.

Tomorrow will be a better day. I have a shipment of ham on the way.

A guest link from Sir Sean

So, my good friend in England, Sir Sean of Englandshire, decided to walk to his computer, turn it on, visit his own blog, and write a blog post. Happy days. And he wrote a good one. It’s about how technology is changing the way doctors monitor cystic fibrosis treatments.

Why doesn’t my US CF clinic have anything like this?

I imagine one day sending information from my daily treatments and FEV1 to my clinic. My PFT graphs won’t have dots placed every three months. Instead my peaks and valleys will be smoother, and I’ll see trends soon rather than getting a nasty surprise at clinic. Perhaps my blood pressure won’t skyrocket on clinic days if I already know what to expect.

This is Sir Sean as young man getting ready for his mandatory military duty for Queen and country. Oh, England, they love those old-school battles still.

This is Sir Sean as a young man getting ready for his mandatory military duty for Queen and country.  England, how they cherish old-school war technology and sword battles still.

I’ve read a few articles on doctors using iPhone apps to measure patients’ heart rates and other body functions. I’d really like it if I could go to the doctor but not go to the doctor. That’s my dream.

So, please click on the link at the bottom and check out Sir Sean’s post.

BTW, Sir Sean is a big fan of the West Ham soccer team. I haven’t had the courage to tell him I played FIFA 13 on Xbox with my 11-year-old nephew and I chose West Ham. They lost 1 to nil. Sorry about that Sir Sean. They bite virtually too. It clearly had nothing to do with my soccer playing skills.

Here’s the link. Get ready for more technology to help us battle cystic fibrosis.

http://seanset.tumblr.com/post/41292567739/i-neb-insight-online

I fail a sleep test and O2D2 comes to live with me

Here are the fantasy and reality versions of my recent sleep test:

Fantasy: I enter a room that resembles a science lab with machines beeping, beakers of liquid bubbling dry-ice steam, and scientists with clipboards taking notes. A large one-way glass wall hides the doctors. The bed is round with a vibrating feature that costs 50 cents. A stack of quarters waits on the nightstand. Jackpot. A 72-inch flat screen is mounted to the ceiling and a Die Hard film festival is playing.

Reality: I enter a dim hospital room with one small overhead fluorescent light glowing and a king-size, rock-hard bed covered in 25-count white hospital sheets with old blood stains covered by a thin, crappy blanket. Ah, prison, I remember thee, my second home. The cushion on the single, lonely “not J-Crew green” chair has a torn fabric seat and would sell on Craigslist for a maximum of $10, which I know because I measure everything in Craigslist value. Crappy hospital flat screen: $45 – $60.

Fantasy: I’m greeted by two nurses who model on weekends. They insist on giving me a shiatsu massage to make sure I’m relaxed and ready for a good night’s sleep. They talk softly and compliment my muscle tone and how solid I feel. Yep, ladies, keep dreaming, I tell them, this ab table is reserved for one woman, my wife – but don’t stop the massage just because I popped your dream balloons. And they continue, little tears falling from their sad blue eyes.

Reality: I’m greeted by a young male lab-tech who just graduated college, looks 10, and speaks in a monotone, as he explains every technical detail of the test at a volume I stopped being able to hear when I was 18 and sat in the front row of a Who concert. Why can’t I sleep through this drone of medical detail, God? Why? Tell me.

Fantasy: After my massage, I’m dressed in Hugh Hefner Collection black and red silk pjs and tucked into bed by the nurses. Two electrodes are placed on my head, Bruce Willis shoots bad guys above me, and the ladies sing Beatles songs until my eyelids can no longer resist their siren powers. And I dream of . . . .

Reality: The lab tech robs Home Depot of every foot of wire they sell, then uses a thick gel-like glue to plaster all of it to my face, head, shins and stomach. The process takes 45 minutes and feels like watching King Lear in German. Worst of all, he asks personal questions of me. I’m grumpy, tired and want to sleep. I don’t like telling him about my life but can’t escape his suffocating, questioning captivity, while wishing he might accidentally stick one of the wires in a live socket and electrocute me.

Fantasy: I sleep like a rock.

Reality: I sleep like shit.

Fantasy: The nurses gently wake me in the morning with soft kisses. You taste like maple bacon, they say, delicious. The doctor interrupts and tells me she watched my brain waves with great interest last night and has never seen anything quite like them. Would I mind coming back next week when her colleagues from Austria will be visiting? They’d like to study my magnificent brain. Of course, my good doctor. Of course. Anything for science and my two nurse gal-pals. 

Reality: I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t sleep. I see the infrared camera and decide to give him the tech something to watch. So, I squirm around the bed, stretch, and dredge up any and every memory I can, flipping back and forth from childhood to adult memories, from terrible events (coughing up blood on a plane over the Atlantic Ocean) to the best moments (my daughter being born). Back and forth I go, lighting up my brain waves (so, I think), living my life over in my head, expecting the tech to come tell me the computer is on fire and to stop thinking before I burn down the entire hospital.

The air hose they gave me is probably long enough for me to walk to the grocery store a mile away.

The air hose they gave me for O2D2 is probably long enough for me to walk to the grocery store a mile away.

Fantasy: I am a perfect sleeper. No farting, snoring, no scratching body parts, nothing. Perfect lamb, I am.

Reality: My oxygen dips below acceptable levels and I’m given 1 liter of O2 for the remainder of the test. Four days later, R2D2’s little brother, O2D2, shows up at my home and starts humming and burping in my bedroom each night delivering oxygen.

Fantasy: I fly home instead of driving.

Reality: I don’t let this new milestone rock my world. My new positive attitude of “one day at time” shields me against bad thoughts and self-pity. I am grateful. I am lucky. I have so much to be thankful for. I repeat this over and over until it sinks in and life goes on.

Homemade apple-cider vinegar and steel wool stain applied to a table I bought on Craigslist for $100

[This post is my repayment for all of the blogs I enjoy reading that discuss home projects and experimentation. This is my attempt to share my experiences so others can learn from my mistakes. The proper safety equipment is a must, of course, and the wonderful reader is responsible for his or her own safety, as there is no expert advice here.]

Once a year my OCD sets its laser sight on Craigslist, and I end up cycling through ads looking for used furniture to replace our old used furniture. Example: I just replaced the dining room table and chairs that I bought on Craigslist with another dining room table and chairs I bought from – wait for it – Craigslist.

But why stop at one dining table when you can buy two?

Yes, I bought a second table to use in our new kitchen, which I still haven’t posted pictures of, as I think the experience of remodeling it drained every bit of my willpower and energy to think about anything related to kitchens at this point.

The good news: my wife loves her new cocina. She’s upped her cooking skills in it, resulting in some outstanding culinary experiences for us. Amazing what going from cracked tile and grout to nice new smooth quartz countertops can do.

My kitchen mission is complete. Next project, please.

Hello, beat-to-hell, left-outside trestle table with a crack down the middle of it.

This is the "before" picture. It's got water stains and the edges are in poor shape. Luckily the stain they used was very thin and came off with the sander.

This is the “before” picture.  Water stains covered it because they used it outside, and the edges were in poor shape. Luckily the stain they used was very thin and the sander ate through it quickly.

It was listed on CL for weeks at $400 than $300. I passed. But they were moving and needed to get rid of it. So, I offered $100 and got it. I figured at the very least I could repurpose the top for another project and use the trestle base with a reclaimed wood top. With that in mind, I decided I had nothing to lose on the table and could experiment. 

I discovered a homemade-stain recipe on the Internet using vinegar (white or apple cider) and real steel wool. What the heck. Why not. I like the smell of vinegar better than commercial stains.

Creating the stain was an interesting process: fill a sealable glass jar with steel wool and apple cider vinegar, shut the top, and leave it there for at least four or five days, or more (10 days for this table). The steel wool slowly dissolves and blackens the mix. And each day I gently shook the jar to mix it up, resulting in a blackish-gray liquid with little specks of swirling steel (it takes weeks for the steel wool to completely disappear).

Creating the stain was an interesting process: fill a sealable glass jar with steel wool and apple cider vinegar, shut the top, and leave it there for at least four or five days, or more (10 days for this table). The steel wool slowly dissolves and blackens the mix. And each day I gently shook the jar to mix it up, resulting in a blackish-gray liquid with little specks of swirling steel (it takes weeks for the steel wool to completely disappear).

hold

As we’re saving money in my family right now, the sanding of the table fell to me, which meant wearing a dusk mask, connecting the sander to the vacuum, and placing a large fan nearby to blow any dust away from me. I sanded the top three times, using 100, 150, and 220 grit. I was too tired to sand underneath the table three times, so I made two passes with 80 and 220. (I have since read a great book on wood refinishing and come to realize I’ve been over sanding furniture.)

sanded table

4 hours and a sore lower back later, I finished.

Lesson Learned #1: Use the same type of wood to sample the stain color. I used some small blocks I had around from when I shortened the legs of a table and added wheels. Not a good idea because they weren’t sanded at all and were probably a different wood.

Lesson Learned #1.5: According to some of the blogs, you can use brewed black tea to add tanins to the wood.  I tried this on a sample piece of wood but it colored the wood a shade of ebony. If you want black stain, this may be the perfect method for you. Some blogs said to add used coffee grounds to the mix for a deeper shade of black.

Lesson Learned #2. I used 50% Liquid Plumr and 50% water on the wood prior to staining. The sodium hydroxide works really well with pine to keep the stain from blotching on the wood. But I think it may have killed the gray/driftwood look I was shooting for. (Note about this technique: It’s potentially dangerous and you have to gear up with a mask and safety googles that protect against liquid splashing and you have to wear protective gloves and clothes you don’t care about. And it’s nerve racking applying it. Yes, it’s a pain, but safety first.)

The Liquid Plumr dries and turns the wood a yellowish-green. No worries.

The Liquid Plumr dries and turns the wood a yellowish-green. No worries. I let it dry overnight before staining.

This photo shows the apple-cider stain on the wood. Always work quickly and keep a wet edge. Don't stop on a surface and if you have a helper, have them help, which I did by enlisting my daughter and wife. Also, put a tarp down under the furniture because the stain does stain concrete. I learned the hard way.

This photo shows the apple-cider stain on the wood. Always work quickly and keep a wet edge. Don’t stop on a surface, and if you have a helper, have them help, which I did by enlisting my daughter and wife. Also, put a tarp down under the furniture because the stain does stain concrete. I learned the hard way.

This shows the stain after it has dried. It turned a pinkish tone and I started to worry. Luckily, the pink tone wiped off in the form of a powder. I recently built a bench (future post) and didn't have this problem. Not sure what happened. Heat of the day?

This shows the stain after it has dried. It turned pinkish and I started to worry. Luckily, the pink tone wiped off in the form of a powder. I recently built a bench (future post) and didn’t have this problem. Not sure what happened. Heat of the day?

I like Briwax. I used Clear and you can see the side with the wax and without.

I like Briwax, even though I never seem to be able to apply it thin enough. I used Clear and you can see the side with the wax and without. I was relived when I saw the brownish shade appear once the wax was applied.

This is the finished table weeks later after my daughter beat it up, but I think it turned out very nice and as it cost only $100, some labor, vinegar, steel wool and wax, it would be okay to tap dance on it. Let it age, I say.

This is the finished table weeks later after my daughter beat up the wax finish. I think it turned out better than I thought it would.  And, as it cost only $100, plus my labor, vinegar, steel wool and wax, I don’t mind it getting pounded. Let it age, I say.

That’s the story of my Craigslist table and homemade stain.

Here is a list of lessons learned:

  1. Don’t wear your sunday best – it may be a natural stain, but it still . . . stains. 
  2. Use a strainer (I bought two made out of a mesh material at Home Depot) to pour from the master container into a smaller container. And use the small container to dip your brush.
  3. No puddles allowed – When the stain is drying, look for puddles and spread them out. These puddles will leave stains in the stain, like a water-glass can on wood. 
  4. Every wood reacts differently to the stain. If possible, test a sample piece first – of the same wood, if possible. Apply your finishing coat to the sample too. You want to see the entire look. When I applied the wax, the table turned brown. You may have to experiment with different protective finishes for the look you want. 
  5. Drying in the sun may affect the look. The table dried on a hot day. When I stained a bench on a cold night in my garage, it dried differently. 
  6. The vinegar stain needs to sit at least four days in a sealed container. Shake it every day. This was the first point when it started to color the wood. Some claim 24 hours, but it did nothing for me after a day. 
  7. Not sure if Liquid Plumr helped or not. Working with LP makes me really nervous and I have to gear up in my hazmat suit. Not sure I’d use it again. Maybe I’d use a pre-stain conditioner if I’m using pine. 
  8. Work quickly – avoid drips or stopping on a surface midway. Having a helper makes a big difference on large pieces like a table. 
  9. Stain gets everywhere. Use drop clothes. It’s very thin and drips all over the place. Well, maybe not for you. But I was working fast. 
  10. Don’t oversand. I learned this lesson afterwards when I read a book by an expert on finishing. 180 grit is the point where the human eye can’t see scratches. That’s where I’m stopping from now on. 
  11. Write down how much steel wool and vinegar you mixed together in case you ever want to duplicate the color, though I have a feeling it all ends up the same no matter how much steel wool you add. 

All the best to you on your project. Please share your lessons learned, comments and/or pictures.