cars that are easy to get along with, and people who aren’t

by dichroic in daily updates

The car’s settling in nicely. I’m especially appreciating the things that work exactly as they’re supposed to, like the keyless entry. (As long as the key is somewhere on me, even if it’s in a purse inside a backpack, the door unlocks as soon as I grab my handle. They were intelligent about it too – you can set it so that all doors unlock at once, or only the driver door, for added safety.) I also really like being able to drive up, turn 90 degrees, and enter a parking place. You’d think those things would just go without saying but so often they don’t; the BMW I test-drove was finicky about its locks, and on my old car I always had to swing wide first because it had way too wide a turning radius. Then there’s the things that work perfectly, but you have to figure them out a bit first, like how to get the roof to open a crack vs all the way, or the radio/phone/nav system, which is fairly intuitive, but just does a whole lot of stuff. So I’m learning all that stuff, which is fun.

There are only two small annoying things, so far, are that I can’t just tell it to make a phone car, because that was a more expensive option I didn’t get – but I can just push a button on my iPhone and tell Siri to do it, and the call still goes through the car, so that’s OK. And you have to hold the button on the built-in garage opener for a while before it works – it works perfectly, just apparently likes to be held as it’s waking up. I sympathize.

I’m not complaining in a first-world-problems sense, because these aren’t problems – it’s just that, especially as an engineer, it’s annoying when designs don’t quite work as they should. I feel the need to need that because I seem to have been annoying people all over the internet – well, all over Ravelry, really, lately. We are pretty OK financially, and lots of people aren’t and I do try to be conscious of that. I have seen people gloating about their lives, and it’s ugly, ugly, ugly. On the other hand, I’m not going to just completely not talk about the details of my life – but it was an unfortunately choice to use the word “frugal” in the title of a thread about the decision whether to buy a car on the lower end of luxury or a decked-out but more normal car. (I think the problem was that, since Ravelry is set up so that you usually just look at the title of a post before you click on it, some people were expecting more useful money-saving advice.) And there’s someone on another group that seems to want to not only tell me I’m wrong all the time but that I’m WRONGWRONGWRONG and probably evil. The thing there is, I am wrong – or at best either thinking or writing unclearly – some of the time, but attacking everything I say is a pretty good way to get me to ignore you. (It’s possible on Ravelry to set a person to Ignore so you can’t see anything they post – but I’m a moderator on that group so I don’t think I should. Plus, I do want to get corrected when I’m wrong, I’d just prefer not to have someone else’s morals thrust on me or to be attacked. It looks like a few other people are starting to see it and circle wagons, though, which I appreciate.

And that’s the other reason I’m not stupid enough to gloat about my life: it’s got plenty of good parts, with being happily married leading that list, and bad parts as well – notably, not much of a social life. But it does have the effect of making me really appreciate friendly gestures like that, or even more tenuous connections. In Oregon, you don’t pump your gas. I went to put gas in this car for the first time this morning, and the attendant I see there all the time, an older guy, recognized me and asked if I’d gotten a new car. I only get gas there every couple weeks or so, and it’s a very busy station, with several attendants working there at any one time, so I don’t know if he has a freak memory for faces or what, but I always love being recognized as a friendly regular out of all proportion to the actual contact.

ETA: I got a really nice compliment from one of my fellow mods on how I’d handled the whole situation described a paragraph back – much appreciated since I felt like I was just bungling through it being insensitive.

more driving

by dichroic in daily updates

OK, so here’s my photo of my car.


There may be something wrong with it though. Yesterday, another beautiful gorgeous clear day with perfect temperatures, it took me 24 miles to get home from work rather than the expected < 2 miles. No, there is nothing wrong with the nav system! I decided to go home a slightly longer way just for the fun of the driving. Then I went a bit longer. Then a bit further. Then I said the hell with it and drove all the way out to the country roads and back. (This was all on roads I know at least slightly, but still I think this drive would have scared me two years ago when we first returned to the US. So that's a double win, and a bit more proof that having a fun car really does lure me into driving more.) Don't worry, I'll stop talking about cars any time now. On the other hand, I could be talking about the 11km I need to erg tonight, and that’s no fun for anybody!

introducing …

by dichroic in daily updates

So I bought a car Saturday. I haven’t taken my own picture of it, but this will give you the idea:


(Sorry, Mercedes, I stole your picture. But hey, I gave you credit for it – and bought your car.)

It’s a Mercedes GLA250, and looks somewhat dolphin-ish. I haven’t named it yet, though I’ve been thinking maybe Gladys, for the GLA moniker, and also after Flavia De Luce’s bike.

I still think the Subaru Crosstrek is a great car, but after driving the lux-o-rama models, it just felt …. thin, somehow. Plastic-y. I’m sure that feeling would have worn off quickly, but hey, I haven’t actually owned a car (except I guess I have a half-share in our truck) since 2006 and I wanted something nice. Also, I loved the cars I had in 2006 (Toyota Tacoma, Toyota MR2 Spyder) and was hoping for something else I could love as much. Another issue with the Subaru is that the CVT (continuously variable transmission) apparently feels unresponsive to a lot of people and I think it would have bugged me when I’d driven it more.

Just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, last Friday night I went and drove a BMW X1, and they let me take it overnight so we could test it for longer. That car was freaking adorable – a dark burnt orange in color and with the only wheels I’ve ever seen that I really liked the look of. (Normally I can never figure out why some people pay extra for wheels, unless they just want a bigger size. These made me think of tree roots or spider webs – in fact, it was a very good car for Halloween, overall.) Here’s a picture, though it makes the car look a bit too red. I loved the way the car drove, too – and it had leather seats, which the Mercedes doesn’t. There were just a couple of issues, though. For one thing, very little storage. I don’t mean the cargo, just not many places for things like eyeglasses. There were three front cupholders: one is always obscured by the armrest unless you flip it up; one is covered when the armrest is slid forward (e.g. where it is when a short person like me is driving) and the third (which I think is an add-on) sticks out into the passenger’s leg space. Speaking of that armrest, it’s way down low, so that you can’t really actually rest your arm on it while driving. Fine for short trips, but we were afraid it could get uncomfortable on long ones, like our biweekly drive to the lake.

The Mercedes didn’t have those issues, as we remembered, so I tentatively decided on it, pending one more test drive to be sure. (When you drive enough cars, they do blur together!)

That car buying pretty much took all day. First we tested the X1, with Ted driving, to get his opinion. Then we went to breakfast. Then I dropped Ted off, dropped the Beamer off, and went to Mercedes. First I went on another drive with the salesman, during which we made a stop for lunch that took a lot longer than planned (he ate; I’d just had breakfast so I had a strawberry lemonade. But I did get to talk to a visiting homebrewer from Atlanta, which was nice, and just enjoy being out on a nice day). Then we did paperwork for 40 minutes or so – that part wasn’t too bad. Then I had to wait about another hour and a half for them to do the preliminary inspection of the car. They’d only had it in house for two days, and I think once I said I wanted it, the salesguys hid it so no one else would take it! So that got old. I finally got home about 5:30, just in time to erg 12 km before dinner. Bleah. Buying cars isn’t fun.

Driving this one is, though! To be fair, the BMW has a few more advantages over the Merc: free service for 4 years (or you could say it’s built into the price), free roadside assistance for 10 years, more power (though less fuel economy because of it, and the GLA’s 208 horsepower isn’t exactly underpowered), a little more cargo space. The first one is ok, though; I bought the Mercedes four-year service plan. (They have a bad rep for reliability, but the actual statistics are better than BMW from what I found; I think it’s a case of perception lagging reality. Either way, at least I’m covered for a while.) On the plus side, it handles beautifully, gives a feeling of sticking tight to the road, and has a lot of comfort. I had that Spyder convertible when we lived in Arizona; I don’t really want one in Portland, but the big moonroof gives me a similar open feeling, especially with windows down. (After I’d been testing the GLA and X1, my old moonroof-less Edge felt a bit claustrophobic!) Edmund’s gives the GLA better ratings for reliability, performance, fun-ness to drive, build quality and value quality. They don’t seem to like it as much for interior design, exterior design and comfort but those are easy enough to judge for myself and I don’t need anyone else’s rating. (Though that does make me wonder about their general accuracy!)

I did save some money by cutting down on features. I don’t have leather in this one, but the “MB-Tec” is a pretty good fake, and I do have all the options I want most. I like the way this one looks and I love how it feels Any negative comments I could find about it online are from people who seem to be wanting a bigger SUV – but I wanted a small car. This drives like one and parks like one and has lots more internal space than an actual small car. I’m loving being able to just make a right turn and zip into parking spaces – that Edge I was driving lumbers like a truck.

There have been a few small disappointments, and a few nice discoveries.

Among the former, I can’t make a phone call by voice control, because that’s on an option package I don’t have. However, I can still make a call by just holding my iPhone button and telling Siri to make it, and then the phone audio is still piped through the car. The glove box is too small to hold the manual – what kind of engineer designed that? But it comes in a sturdy case, so I tossed it onto the rear floor. The memory seats aren’t linked to our keys, as they are in our truck, so you have to actually hold the memory button for the appropriate driver to move the seat into position. (But Ted rarely drives me car during the week, so it’s not like we do that all the time.

On the plus side, I didn’t think there was a lumbar adjustment for the seats, but there is (on the side of the seats, whereas the other controls are on the doors. The BMW didn’t want to stream music from my iPhone unless plugged in (though it was supposed to do that) but the GLA has no problem playing music from my phone, plugged in or not. A few other things work better than the BMW’s too; I find the navigation maps a lot easier to read on this car, and the keyless locks seem to work a lot more reliably on the GLA. And the navigation menu, among other local attractions, has a whole section on wineries! It’s a decent list, including the one we were headed to in order to enjoy yesterday’s gorgeous weather, when I found that out.

Today has just been about driving to work and to and from a customer site, but even with that, I’ve really been enjoying the open roof, general zippiness, and the ease of parking.

Arguing over a second-best solution

by dichroic in politics

I hate reading about the debate to fund Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood should not be federally funded – because it shouldn’t be needed. As one of the richest countries in the world, all of our citizens should have access to decent basic healthcare. And the category of “citizen” does not default to “male citizen”. Half or more of us are female and for us decent basic healthcare includes contraction and screening for the cancers that are most likely to kill us. We shouldn’t need a nonprofit that’s funded partly by charitable donations to get those things. We shouldn’t need the U.S. wing of Planned Parenthood.

Unfortunately, as things stand, we still do.

Pterry, Diana, Tiffany and Aileen – and decisions they’d all be proud of

by dichroic in books

After I finished Terry Pratchett’s last Tiffany Aching book, The Shepherd’s Crown, I found myself thinking about Diana Wynne Jone’s Islands of Chaldea. Both were posthumously published, but the literary executors or whoever made the decisions took them in different directions.

The thing about Shepherd’s Crown is that it’s not Pratchett’s best book. What it reads like, rather, is a completed draft midway through the polishing of what could have been one of Pratchett’s best books. When he died, they apparently decided to publish it more or less as is. The whole story is there with no parts missing, but the words just don’t quite dance in the way I expect from Pratchett. They’re a bit stiffer, with creaky joints here and there though of course you notice it less as you get sucked into the story. I think publishing it that way was the right decision; I’m not sure anyone else could duplicate Pratchett’s voice, and depriving us of a last chance to follow Tiffany would have been a much greater crime than a few creaks and crotchets here and there. It’s also likely to be of interest for anyone who wants a view into how Pratchett worked.

When Diana Wynne Jones died, on the other hand, her sister Ursula Jones finished The Islands of Chaldea. She did a seamless job; I can’t tell where Diana leaves off and Ursula begins, and, unlike some other “finished by” novels whose second author adulterated the brew, this one feels like a Diana Wynne Jones book. This was also a right decision even though it was the opposite one from The Shepherd’s Crown.

I don’t think the situations could have been reversed. One obvious Ursula Jones – not only that she’s an author herself, or has the same genetics, but maybe that she and Diana were raised by the same set of wolves (Really. Not nice people.) cemented a bond or set their minds working in similar ways. I don’t know if Pratchett would have had someone like that, even though he did work with other writers. But the other thing is their writing styles. You can always tell a Diana Wynne Jones book – it’s like nothing else in the literary world. But you can tell a Pratchett sentence. Her quirkiness is in her characters, the worlds she builds, and the way she describes them – or doesn’t – but his gets down to the word level. Trying to write in Pratchett’s style would be exhausting; you’d always be wondering if you’d mentioned socks enough, or had a Feegle tell the truth too many times, or just somehow lost the balance somewhere. Ursula Wynne Jones said it felt like Diana was watching over her shoulder every step pf the way, which would be hard enough without also always having to look over your own shoulder. (That might be an example of Second Thoughts – or maybe Third Thoughts.)

So anyway. Totally different decisions, but I think both were right ones, and I thank the people who made the tough choices and gave me the chance to spend one more book in Jones’ and Pratchett’s worlds.

as my whimsey takes me

by dichroic in daily updates

Today I want a Subaru Crosstrek. The real question, of course, is what I will want six months *after* I buy whatever car.

Though if I feel the way about it that every Crosstrek owner I’ve talked to seems to, that would be a good thing. So far at least two separate people who don’t know each other have told me “I love this car so much that I think I’m only ever going to buy Subarus.”

Enough of that. I’m boring even myself.

more car angstiness

by dichroic in daily updates

This week is being confusing – mostly about the car thing. Last week I got a break from thinking about it because I spent most of the week in Toledo for work. I’m still not that fond of TOledo but it was a good trip. It was sprung on me suddenly and I wasn’t too excited about going, but we got to present the results of an innovation effort, which was fun,a nd then I had a bunch of productive meetings. Also, one of my coworkers from here was traveling too, so I had someone to carpool and hang out with , which definitely makes a trip better. (Well, depending who it is, I guess. This was a good one.)

Now I have finally decided what car I want; once I realized that what I really wanted was something capable like a Subaru Outback plus something fun like a Mazda Miata (and I simply don’t have room to park two cars plus Ted’s truck), I settled on what turned out to be the booming new class of compact crossovers. I want to get a Mercedes GLA250, but the problem is that I don’t want to spend $50K. No, the problem is that the basic car from Mercedes isn’t that out of line with everyone else’s prices, but they charge about 4 times as much for most of the same options that everyone else has. Mercedes basic, $32K. Mazda or Subaru basic (for the highest-end model of a comparable car), $24K. Mercedes loaded, $50K. Mazda / Subaru loaded, $30K.

Also, I do really want the driver’s assistance package, which the cool new shiny autopilot features that everyone has this year, like a lane departure warning (and in some cars, a nudge back into your lane), auto-braking if an accident is impending, and radar cruise control that changes your speed if you’re using cruise control and get too close to the car in front of you. The engineer in me is torn between “just more things to break” and the prediciton that every car will have this stuff in three years and I’ll be hating my cvar if it doesn’t. Yet though there are about 50 GLA250s available from the local dealer, only two of them have that option – the two most expensive. Apparently Mercedes thinks no one could possibly acutally want that option unless they wanted every other option too.

The smart thing would be to buy a Subaru XV Crosstrek or a Mazda CX-3, both of which were a lot of fun to drive. Yet the two of them just don’t quite measure up. On the one hand, the fit and finish isn’t quite as nice – why get leather seats if they feel like cardboard? (Possibly it softens with use.) And on the other, there are some options that for some reason just aren’t available, like a powered driver’s seat with memory. THat’s a useful thing, when you have two drivers in the house who differ by nearly a foot in height.

So I’ve told the Mercedes dealer what I want, and to see what he can do for me. Since I don’t have to be in a hurry, I might even just go ahead and order one.

2012 Elk Cove Riesling (and some background)

by dichroic in daily updates

Elk Cove Riesling
Making good on my “threat” to write about wine – because it does seem like a good idea, and has become a hobby for us. (Maybe that’s part of the blogging reluctance for me – not talking about a thing that we’ve been spending a fair bit of time and money on recently.) One thing we’ve been doing for the last several years is focusing on local wines; when we were in the Netherlands we tried to stick to buying European wines, on the theory that we’d have a much smaller selection of them at higher prices once we returned to the US. Since we got to Oregon, we’ve been focusing on Oregon state wines, and some from Washington as well.

We currently belong to three, no, four wine clubs:

  • Abacela is in southern Oregon and specializes in Spanish-style wines – Tempranillo is their flagship, though they also produce Merlot, Malbec, Dolcetto, Albarino and others. We’re not in general fond of their white wines but their reds are very much to our taste. It’s too far for a day trip, but we like to stop there on the way down when we visit Ted’s parents – otherwise we just have them ship the wines.
  • Montinore and Ardiri are local to us, half an hour or so away, and like most of our local places they specialize in Pinot Noir. Montinore’s wine has been really good (including some of their whites) and they’ve had a bunch of interesting events, like an annual crawfish boil and a blend-your-own-wine Valentine’s Day event. We haven’t liked Ardiri’s wines quite as much recently as we did when we were first going there, but they’re still decent and it’s a wonderful place to go hang out and have a picnic.
  • Gran Moraine is our newest membership. Their wines are rather more expensive than most of our purchases, and disappointingly they don’t offer free tastings to members as most clubs do. We still may regret joining this one – they seem to have an unfortunate tendency to want to be elite and high status. We’d rather appreciate a place for its wines than its snobbishness. They’re owned by Kendall Jackson, but fortunately the parent company seems to let its local vineyards be run by local management. Their wines really are excellent – last time we were there we got a great Rose of Pinots Noirs for a very reasonable $20 or so – and they have some wonderful events. We went to a salmon bake there that turned out to be a tasty and fancy 5 course meal – and they comped the event for members (there was supposed to be a charge but somehow they decided not to). So that covered the cost of a couple bottles of even their priciest wine, which was when we decided to join. This is an odd club though; most wine clubs send you 2-4 bottles, two to four times a year. For this one, in contrast, you have an “allocation” of their high-end wine and can decide how much of that you want to buy. We’re still deciding on the current release – we will get some, just haven’t decided if we want all nine bottles allocated to us. We’re going there in October for a multi-course wild mushroom dinner, and even assuming they charge as they’re supposed to we’ll save more money on that one as members.

Photos of the salmon bake – this happened back when we were getting the smoke from a bunch of forest fires.



We also just like to set out on a weekend day and visit a few new local wineries, taking along a lunch and doing some tasting. It’s a great way to spend some time with good wine and beautiful views. So that gets me to what I intended to write about – last night’s wine – before I decided that I’d better give some background.

Last night we drank a 2012 Dry Riesling from Elk Cove, a vineyard we visited a few months back that’s not too far from here. We had it with New Orleans shrimp, a salad of spinach, mixed tomatoes and bleu cheese, plus some bread, and it went beautifully. In my opinion it has flavors of spiced pears on the palate (Ted wasn’t so sure about the “spiced” part). It’s bright and quite dry for a Riesling, perfect to accompany spicy foods, and also has a surprising amount of complexity. The “surprising” part there is partly because most Riesling’s we’ve had have been much simpler, but even more because when I checked I found that it’s very reasonably priced for an Oregon wine (wines here seem to be a bit pricier than California wines on average). It’s listed at only $19 on their website, and well worth it.

a different sort of midlife crisis

by dichroic in daily updates

And here it is, a third of the way into September, and I haven’t blogged anything this month. It’s just that I feel like I don’t have much to write about.

On one hand, my life is just more boring than it was from about late 2006 to somewhere in 2013. I’m not traveling anywhere, living the expat life, publishing a book or doing anything out of the ordinary (the ordinary being work knit read erg row, with the “row” part happening only once every couple of weeks and the “work” thing taking up approximately half my waking hours (that’s actual math, but includes getting ready for work, commuting to and from, and things like lunch break as well as actual work time). That’s no reason not to blog, because some of the most interesting journals I’ve read over the years are from people who don’t do all that much but who are intrinsically interesting. But a) I’m not, particularly and b) it’s just the transition from having an interesting outside life to not that’s difficult.

And on the other hand, my bucket list is empty – I have almost everything I’ve ever wanted and done most things I want to do. There’s only one gaping hole, one thing that would make my life appreciably better would be to have local close friends. Other than that, I have a very happy marriage, a nice place to live in an area I really like, enough money to do most things I want (except retire!), an OK job and so on. I’ve got plenty of yarn and more importantly, plenty of books. I’ve done most of the things I wanted to do in life – got a couple of degrees, found a lifemate, learned to fly a plane, traveled to all seven continents, wrote a book. (I’ve done pretty well at seizing opportunities that were presented to me and I’m proud of that to a degree, but I am acutely aware of how lucky I am that the opportunities were there at all.) The only really big experience I feel I’ve missed out on is parenthood – and I was always a little ambivalent about that. After all, if you go on a trip and it’s lousy, all you’ve wasted is a little time and money. If you have a kid and regret that or aren’t good at parenting, you’re stuck – and it’s much worse for the kid.

Midlife crisis is supposed to be about boredom, and people taking one more chance to kick over the traces. I don’t think I’m having that. I’m not bored with living my life, just out of things to say about it. There are always new books to read or old ones to reread, always things to knit, always the experiences like drinking a glass of wine, having a conversation with Ted, or rowing around the lake that are always new because they’re different every time. (It’s possible this is why I love wine and rowing, and it’s almost certain this is one reason I love Ted.)

Maybe the other point is that I don’t really have much to complain about – it’s always easier to write when you need to vent. I began my first blog on a boring three-month business trip, griping about being away from Ted, and then once I return, segued into bitching about a difficult rowing coach. The only real problems I really have at present are that I’m too sedentary and not as fit as I was – and those are under my own control. Work’s not perfect, but then when is it?

So I’m having my own odd sort of midlife crisis, in needing to fill my bucket list with new goals. The other problem is just one of adjustment – after spending 7 years writing about what was happening around me, in my expat years and writing period, I need to tune my lens to a micro level and bring it inward a bit.

And also, maybe I need to write more about wine.

The Unmistakeable Scent of Approaching Autumn

by dichroic in daily updates, poetry

Leaves about to fall;
snow still a thousand miles off
but coming closer