Why I Hate Home Improvement

You read that right. I hate home improvement. Yes, yes, I enjoy watching The Property Brothers and Chip & Joanna just like everyone else. But when it comes to actually doing home improvement, I find that every project takes twice as long and costs twice as much as the most conservative estimates. Not only that, this latest “simple” repair nearly broke me.

The Role Model

My father-in-law is my role model. In his early 70’s, he is fitter than most through brute force of effort. His goal is to walk 10 miles a day, and unless he’s got some project going on, he does it. Jimmy, as he is known by those close to him, also goes to the gym. He has perhaps the calmest demeanor I’ve ever seen, and this from a man who survived the front lines as an infantryman in Vietnam. He is also quite handy. A now retired electrician, Jimmy makes short work of plenty of home improvement projects. I can only aspire to such great heights.

The Problem

This past weekend, Jimmy came to visit to watch our youngest play in his baseball tournament. He got to our house while we weren’t home and discovered the half-bath ceiling vent had stopped working. I had heard the motor begin to whine over the past few weeks but I figured I’d let it completely die before replacing it. Springing into action, Jimmy quickly disassembled the offending fan and performed some diagnostics. He reported, “I got the fan spinning again, but the motor is fried. Just take it to Lowe’s and tell them you need a replacement motor.” Simple, right?

The Project

Not even close. I went to Lowe’s and found the “right” motor. Only it didn’t turn out that way. It was the exact opposite of everything that I needed. Mounting screws on the wrong side, shaft spinning the wrong way, it was made to be right side up and I needed upside down. I could take it back, but this was all they had. Then I’m off searching for another motor on the internet and the experts at the hardware store knew this one was right for me. What would Jimmy do? Jimmy would take it and the previous motor apart, change the mounting screws and make other minor adjustments to make it work. So let’s get started!

The Complication

I don’t have the tools to change the mounting screws. The previous motor’s mounting screws were simple hex heads, whereas the new one requires a star head driver. The drivers are cheap and I will probably need them in the future so I decided to go get them. It was the weekend and traffic was bad. The hardware store is on the bike path, so I decided to mount up and ride over to pick up the tools. Why not channel my inner Jimmy and get some exercise while home improving? This decision would prove painful.

The Crash

I made it to the service road without incident. Checking behind me for traffic as I turned into the parking lot, I started to crank down on my pedals to get up to the building and find a spot to put my bike. Right then I hit a bump. I hit it with my front tire which caused me to lurch forward and when my back tire hit, it lifted my back wheel off the ground. The next few split seconds played out in slow, teeth-gnashing motion as I attempted to shift my body weight backwards and pull on the back brake handle to slow down. Best I can tell, shifting my hand on the grip caused me to lose control of the front because the front wheel turned and I went toppling over the handle bars in a heap. I lay on the hot asphalt for a moment taking stock. Bruised and a little bloody, nothing seemed to be broken at the moment, so I got up to finish the job. I’m sure I looked a mess as I limped around the hardware store with a road-scarred shirt and shorts grimacing from the new aches and pains.

The Conclusion

The new exact-opposite vent fan motor cost me about $20. The new tools cost me $14. However, when I add in the new bicycle seat since mine was busted in the crash, my additional cost goes up to $32 – more than double the cost. Had the motor been correct, I could have replaced it in about 25 minutes. After changing the mounting screws, reversing the armature, having to use the bushings from the old fan motor because of the upside down mount, and three attempts before getting it right, I had nearly 3 hours of labor in this “simple” project – more than 6X the time. As I write this, I am still finding new bruises from the bike crash. I hate home improvement.

In Pursuit of Zero

We have two kids in college at the moment. One is finishing up, the other is taking off from her first year like a rocket, jumping from Freshman to Junior by way of a full load and a summer semester abroad in Ireland. Having had children early in life by modern metropolitan standards, I didn’t have time or the extra funds to save for college. However, I hold firm to the commitment that my children should not come out of college saddled with debt, so… yours truly is paying for college. As I watch the student debt totals climb, I begin to get uneasy. I know I can pay it off in a reasonable time, but I do not like owing money. The only logical conclusion is to reduce spending in order to funnel more money towards the debt. Hence, “in pursuit of zero.”

Having read up, watched movies, and listened to podcasts on the topic of minimalism, I am wise in the ways. There is a mental shift that has to take place in order to buy less. We get settled into our routines like morning coffee at Dunkin Donuts (yes, this part of America runs on Dunkin), grabbing a bite at the cafe for lunch, or closing out a long work week at happy hour with friends. All of a sudden not doing those things when your income level hasn’t changed feels a bit like punishment. I also find that I tend to buy things whimsically – especially when life isn’t going as expected. Frustrations at work? Oh, I think I’ll work on my upper body and core strength with a new set of gymnastic rings for the garage. To be fair, I do use my new toys. But in reality, I don’t need them.

So it is with essentially no fanfare that this weekend I kick off a fresh pursuit of zero. I’ll start with some analysis of where I’ve been spending my money – this is always a hoot. From there I’ll look for opportunities to reduce subscriptions and then set ground rules for spending like: “No takeout coffee.” Even if I can free up an extra $50 a month to redirect toward paying down debt, I’ll call it a win. While I won’t post exact dollar figures here, I’ll check back in in a future post to report any progress.

On a related note, I find that Cait Flanders’ The Year of Less is the best book on moving toward frugal living. What I thought would be an exercise in throwing stuff out and setting rules about shopping a la Marie Kondo turned into a deep analysis of the factors that drove Cait’s consumerist behavior. While I don’t have much in common with Cait, I applauded her candor and honesty, which inspired me to get out of some of my own mental ruts associated with spending.

Cheers!

When Suffering, Smile

So let’s get started with all the appropriate waivers: I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, seek professional medical or psychological help if you’re feeling an emergency situation, 9 out of 10 dentists probably do not recommend this, call your mother, and my dog ate my homework. That being said, the past several days have been rough. I haven’t felt exactly ill, but I certainly have not felt well. Pile on the work, add a dash of extra stuff to do around the house, and there we have it: a sour mental state.

My wife and better half has even lovingly told me over the past few days, “You’re very abrupt.” I think she used the term ‘mic drop’ in there somewhere, but she made the point. When we kicked off the day yesterday (Monday), I would say I had a full case of the blues. I was contemplating not going to work, which for me, is a serious matter. I actually sat down for a little while and did not move. I felt the pull of inertia rooting me to the spot. After several moments of staring at the fan which was blowing air into my face in front of me, a quote popped into my head, “When you’re really suffering, you have to smile.” “What a dumb thing to say,” I mentally responded to the quote.

After a moment’s mental searching, I realized where I had heard it. It was advice given during an interview with an ultrarunner – you know, these crazy people who run 50k, 100k, 100 miles, and even more. I don’t remember the exact ultrarunner, but honestly they all say about the same thing. Their point is that unless you’ve really done some serious injury to your body, you can overcome the general suffering (muscle aches, random internal pains, etc.) of hours and hours of continuous movement. Overcoming the suffering starts with the mind – sort of. There are some great books and studies on the market covering this in much greater detail, but in essence the science behind endurance says that action and thought are very much linked. So, smiling for instance, actually lifts our spirits and enables us to endure more. Score one for the long distance running crazies.

Yesterday morning, I smiled. I also dressed more professionally than usual. I didn’t have any important meetings on the day, but the professionalism of the clothes also helped propel me forward. Silly, I know. Here is the funny thing: I had an extremely productive day. I had a breakthrough on a topic that had been weighing me down. I had some new administrivia come up and instead of kicking the can down the road, I faced it head on and came to a nearly immediate solution. On the whole, I’d say that I won the day.

So here is to ‘smiling when suffering,’ ‘faking it until you make it,’ ‘a body in motion stays in motion,’ and all the other conventional wisdom for overcoming a bit of adversity. Wishing you a smile filled, roll-that-rock-up-the-hill kind of a sunshiny day.

The Curiosity of Premonitions

Have you ever had a premonition come true? Have you ever changed your mind on something because of a premonition? I’m generally not one for “woo woo” stuff, but lately I’ve come to trust premonitions more and more.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I left our house while feeling completely in disarray. I don’t mean our house was messy, I mean our internal compasses were swirling. We were headed to the airport for our trip to Portugal and something felt wrong about it to both of us. Neither of us knew what the problem was, but we felt like we were headed for trouble. Did we leave the stove on and the house would burn down while we were gone? Well it turned out we were in for some dissatisfying travel experiences and we’d get a chance to check on that stove.

We got to our local John Glenn International Gateway Airport in our beloved home city and things started quickly going awry. I had neglected to take my camping knife out of my backpack and had it discovered in security. Oops. After going through the explanations and machinations of mailing it back to myself, we moved on toward the gate. But first, a meal. 50 minutes later, we had completed our over-priced mediocre-at-best supper and were ready to make our way to the gate. But not so fast. The texts were coming in: “Your flight has been delayed.” It took about another 90 minutes and three more delays for our flight to go past the point of connection in Washington D.C. and so, just like that, we were cancelled and rebooked on the exact same flight the next day. We had just lost 24 hours in Lisbon.

We called the airline. On hold. We called the travel company. “Talk to the airline,” they said. After an hour of getting no love, we were sent back to baggage claim to wait for another hour to pick up our bags and then to make the drive back home. As I’ve written before, we Don’t Expect Benevolence When Traveling, but this was the pits. While waiting for the bags, I looked at Melanie and said, “Well this explains that bad feeling I had about leaving the house.” She smiled knowingly and simply said, “Me too.”

For the past several nights, I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night to the disturbing thought of my dog getting hurt. Today I figured out why. Today he was scheduled to go to the groomers for a bit of a spa treatment. To say my dog is special kind of doesn’t do him justice. He is the most athletic, active, and intelligent (if not always for his own good) dog I’ve ever known. The last time he was at this place he climbed out of a 6 foot tall fence 3 times before they figured out how to contain him. He’s now 10 years old and hasn’t slowed down a bit. I had the sneaking suspicion that he was going to attempt that same climb and this time get really hurt. And at 10 years old, recovery is not an easy thing. So this time, I trusted my gut and I didn’t let him go. Who knows, maybe I’m going whacko in my middle age. But I just didn’t think it was worth the risk of not trusting my gut for some trimmed nails and a shampooing.

Do you get premonitions? Do you listen or ignore them?

Area Man Just Wants to Work On Golf Game

No, not me. I couldn’t care less about golf. But I love The Onion (Warning: The Onion sometimes mixes in strong language). These Onion-esque headlines run through my head all the time.

This morning, I walked to the store and some young lady in a white SUV came barreling toward the crosswalk when I stepped into it. She stopped with plenty of space, but I couldn’t help but flash a spontaneous headline through my head, “Suburban SUV driver intentionally stops late near crosswalks just to keep pedestrians on their toes.” It is a guilty pleasure.

I think what I love most about The Onion is that it strikes so closely to the essence of human behavior while carrying a wry smile. Not malicious, but certainly not innocent. The original, ah hem… “real?” fake news, articles on The Onion are very short. They remind me of creative prompts in writing class. They prompt just enough interest in a topic and then wrap up without really going anywhere in particular. I suppose we could say it is small talk for introverts.

If you happen to run across me in public and I look as if I’m sharing an inside joke, I probably am. It is just me writing Onion-like headlines in my head as I observe the world around me. And so I’m off. Boldly going, occasionally delusional.

The Last Parking Spot

The AM commute is always full of caffeinated, elbows-out driving here in my lovely city. I sometimes cringe as people jockey for positions in two lanes of essentially free-flowing traffic. I often wonder, “are they going to get the last parking spot?” It doesn’t matter. My 20-year-old car is only capable of so much revelry. There’s no way I can compete with the giant SUVs powered by V24 engines and the bi-turbo hot hatches that zip in barely-there spaces like motorcycles in Thailand. So, I drive in a terribly unsexy fashion at just about the speed limit as people pass me impatiently. And then it happens. Some 2-3 minutes after they’ve raced ahead, I come pottering along and park right beside them. They’re finishing up the morning’s first conference call and searching their bags for heaven only knows.

I’m sure I am missing out. What I’m missing, I don’t know. What I do know is I got in before the last parking spot was taken. But then again, it is never the last parking spot.

Enjoy your day.

Lovely Lisbon

Melanie – my wife and better half – had a milestone birthday this year. We love to travel, so for her birthday we decided to have her pick a trip that she wanted. She had never been on a cruise of any sort and has been considering it for a few years. So she picked a river cruise up the Douro River in Portugal.

Anyone with access to a map will quickly recognize that the Douro River has nothing to do with Lisbon. However, Viking’s River of Gold starts in Lisbon. I’ll cover this trip in segments to keep these posts manageable in size. So… Lisbon is our starting point.

Lisbon is a decent port of entry for Europe. The airport is modern and customs was pretty easy, if not a little slow. Our trip started off with a couple of airline delays – throwing shade at United Airlines – so we were running about 1.5 days behind on our trip. Viking did great. They met us at the airport, helped with our bags, and delivered us to our hotel in a clean, upscale vehicle. No muss, no fuss.

Avenida da Liberdade

Our hotel was the Tivoli Avenida Liberdade, which is an upscale hotel on the main avenue in Lisbon. The street is very wide with plenty of tile sidewalks under a canopy of sycamore trees. Along the street, we stopped off in a cafe hut and had a snack in an open air cafe. I had been brushing up on my Portuguese in order to get around, but it was unnecessary. Everyone spoke perfect English. The food was great, the cafe was tasty and it was nice to be not moving in and out of airports. The weather was nearly perfect: sunny and 80F (27C). We had a lovely stroll along the wide street, people watching and window shopping.

Enter the Tuk Tuk

Because we were running behind schedule, we missed out on the Viking guided tours. Near our cafe, we saw a series of golf carts lined up. As we strolled past, a lively young lady asked us if we wanted a Tuk tuk tour. These vehicles – some three wheeled, some four – are called tuk tuks (long u) and are a common sight in Lisbon. These tuk tuk drivers navigate the very hilly streets of Lisbon and point out some of the finer points. Our guide, Nadia, was great. She spent an hour and a half showing us Lisbon, sharing its long history and fascinating backstory.

Not Enough Time

In the end, we decided we didn’t get enough time in Lisbon. Less than 24 hours simply did not do it justice. We didn’t get to see the sea or cross either of the long bridges across the Tagus River. Lovely Lisbon left us wanting more. Below are some highlighted photos from our short stay in Lisbon.

I still have a keyboard and I’m still alive

It feels like forever since my last post. Life has been busy. My wife and I took a trip to Portugal, some details of which I’ll offer up as an upcoming post. In the run up to the trip, I was feverishly getting ready to be out of the office for 10 days. In addition, my humble little department is growing, so I’m focused on the hiring process on top of my out-of-office prep and – now recovery – plan. Having said all of that, it is high time to get back to writing. I’ve been catching up on some of the blogs I follow and you’re all putting out such great content. It inspires me to get back to it. So… here we go. Kicking off a fresh season of Quixote Goes!

Running: The Continuing Saga of Returning from Tendonitis

Several weeks ago, I wrote about overtraining my way into Posterior Tibial Tendonitis (PTT) on my way to attempting my first 50k trail ultramarathon. Then, in a bold move of bravery / stupidity, I ran the 50k anyway. As one might imagine, running 50k didn’t exactly help my tendonitis, so I accepted that my spring running season was going to essentially be one of rehab. Mainly, I rested. I rested until it didn’t hurt to walk. I also did a bit of physical therapy with a licensed practitioner, I strengthened and then Rested, Iced, Compressed, and Elevated (RICE for those who have been there), and I’m happy to report that I’m on the mend.

The Keys to Success

Looking back, there are a few things that have been very effective in my recovery from PTT: shoes, speed, and strength.

First, shoes. I invested in some new running shoes and I started wearing old running shoes in lieu of dress shoes for most of the day. While I’m not one to dole out free advertising, I have a couple of go-to brands for my running shoes. For the last couple of years, I’ve funneled the vast majority of my shoe dollars toward On – the Swiss running company that brings us the Cloudflow. Cloudflow has been my weapon of choice for all of my marathons and essentially all of my training runs. In the height of my training, I’ll put 60-70 miles per week (100k+), so my shoes don’t last a long time. I try to retire them after about 400 or 500 miles, although I’m not fantastic at keeping track. However, for my 50k trail run, I opted to try the Hoka One One Speedgoats. These shoes are gaudy. When I was buying them some young lady walked by and exclaimed, “Why is everyone switching to these geriatric, super soled things?!?” I wasn’t offended. I agreed with her. But I was trying to put in some big miles on a bad wheel. And my goodness, did these things work! So much so that I have since bought a pair of Hoka One One Cliftons, more or less the road version of the Speedgoats. These shoes have been an excellent source of comfort as I work my way back into fitness. I will say that I’m now splitting my running time between the Hoka and the On products, but as I slowly ramped up, the Hoka One Ones were very important to my recovery. I also mentioned that I started wearing old running shoes instead of dress shoes. This was also very important. I now routinely wear a pair of my On Cloudflows that have at least 500 miles on them to and from the office, and unless I have any big meetings, I’ll wear them all day. I have no data on this, but in my mind, the shoes help my foot maintain a good shape so that I’m not collapsing the arch on my flattish feet in my fashionable dress shoes. After wearing my old running shoes all day, my feet feel stronger and ready for a workout.

Second, speed. And what I mean by speed is the absence of it. I have to admit that I am inspired by ultra-athletes like Scott Jurek, Killian Jornet, and Rich Roll. I’ve been a bit of a fan boy and read all of their available advice, which says, “do volume first, then work on speed.” After taking 1.5 months off, I worked as if I was starting over. So now I’m a few weeks into building volume again. At this point I am doing 6-8 mile runs 5 or more days a week, all without compromising my pesky tendon, at least until last week. For shorter runs, I’m wearing my beloved Ons. For longer runs, I’m wearing my “geriatric” Hokas. This really isn’t fair to a shoe that has helped me recover. But they are a tad on the obnoxious side. As far as my actual speed goes, I’m comfortably in the 9+ minute/mile range. At the height of my fitness, I was turning in sub-7 minutes/miles. But now is not the time. I’m simply rebuilding my base level of fitness. And it is working very, very well. I’m finding that my heart rate is lowering by 20 beats per minute at the same pace in just a matter of weeks. So, running is getting easier as I plug away slowly. Now, I will admit that I took a speed detour this past week and set myself back. But that was a learning opportunity too. I have been feeling very good, so I opted to work on a bit of speed this past week. On Tuesday, I did 2+ miles of 30/30 in which I ran hard for 30 seconds (5:30 minutes/mile pace) and then rested for 30 seconds. This didn’t hurt my foot at all, so I decided to hit the “go button” on a shorter distance run at pace. I was targeting 5 miles after warming up. I made it 4 miles at 7:14 minutes/mile, but with some discomfort. In the days following, I was in pain. However, my strict regimen of resting and wearing running shoes throughout my day has helped put me back on track. I’m happy to report that I did a slow 7 mile trail run today with no discomfort. So, I’m experimenting and learning. This helps me focus on my recovery time rather than sit idly by and attempt to wait.

Finally, strength. My physical therapist gave me several exercises to do with bands and such to strengthen the muscles in my foot, ankle, and other parts of my legs. I have somewhat dutifully followed the prescription. However, as previously reported, I have also started rock climbing. When rock climbing, I often have to gain a foothold on the smallest of edges; thereby working muscles in the foot and ankle. I have found this to be extremely useful. I’m not one for weight training for the sake of weight training. I much prefer to do something that has the spillover benefit of improving strength. Rock climbing has fit the bill beautifully and I have built strength capacity for my runs while having a great time learning a new skill. I’m still a novice of course, but that’s ok too. Novices see all kinds of gains in new skills as they put in the time.

Summary Recommendations

OK, so here we have it. I hope you never come down with the dreaded PTT. But if you do, I have 4 key recommendations: 1.) Rest until you can walk pain free, 2.) Give your feet a break with a shoe solution, 3.) Take a break from speed training and come back cautiously, and 4.) Find a way to strengthen the muscles in your foot and ankle in a way that works for you. Of course, I’m no doctor. So work with your licensed professional on your specific recovery plan. However, hopefully my path to recovery can be used as you navigate the tricky path of soothing a savage tendon.

Thanks for reading!