Return of the Umbrella

Today was the day! Umbrella pick up day! I patiently waited to hear form Crate&Barrel and within minutes of getting an email that my item was ready for pick up I got a call from Fran, the woman that sorted out my umbrella mess. We got into the car and headed over there. Of course Danny wanted to check out the furniture on the second floor as soon as we got there. I think he was shopping for a couch and a bed. I found some plates that will be joining my kitchen very soon.

After Danny picked out a plum couch "there is enough room here for you and Daddy and I will not be squished," tested out a canopy bed "sit, it's quite soft", we finally went to get our umbrella cover. At last I met Fran. She is exactly what one would expect from a woman named Fran: petite, cute, dark curly hair, blue eyes, soft a bit raspy voice, and a hot pick cardigan set. I picked up my package (it was small enough to fit into a tote, which makes me wonder why exactly would they charge over $20 for shipping), hugged Fran, told her manager how great she was, and vowed to always have the store place my orders from now on.

I decided to assemble the umbrella as soon as we got home. The frame is 8.5 feet tall, I needed a small step ladder. But since I'm short, even on a step ladder I couldn't reach the top. I unwrapped most of the frame, including the arms that hold the fabric. Big mistake as I discovered later. Then I opened the cover. It was bigger than me, like a giant skirt, and most of the fabric fell to the floor of the garage and immediately picked up all the dirt off it.

Frame and cover. If you buy them together, do they come already assembled?
The plan was to climb on the step ladder, lean the frame toward me, throw the cover over it and then pull it into place. Yeah, right, in theory! I climbed, I held the cover in my left hand, I leaned the enormous – top heavy – frame toward me... and teetered dangerously back and forth on the ladder. Did I mention that I'm afraid of heights? I carefully regained my balance, got off the ladder, and thanked God for not crashing me onto the concrete floor. I needed a new plan – one where I stayed safely with both feet on the ground. So I decided to lean the frame on the step ladder.

And that is when I discovered that removing the wrappings that held the arms together was a bad idea. The arms just flailed about as I lowered the frame on the ladder and almost made it roll off and smash into pieces. I carefully balanced the frame on the ladder, put on the cover, secured it with the finial, and started to match the corners to the arms. There is a little pocket which the arm goes into, but the pocket is really small and the cover starts to pull taut so it starts to get harder after the first one.  Basically, it's like putting on eight condoms, same principal. And I had to be careful not to roll the entire thing off the ladder. Finally, success was mine! I tied the red ties and carefully lifted the now assembled umbrella back upright. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a whole and fully assembled outdoor umbrella! If only the weather would cooperate and I might actually get to use it this summer.
Waiting for sunshine.
Now, about that purple couch...

The Trouble with Curry

We ran to Trader Joe's for potatoes and juice boxes yesterday. And as we get further into the store I realize that it reeks of some pungent cooking. They do samples so I walk by and see yellow. Curry! Uh no! The only time I ate curry was when I was invited to a friend's house who is Indian and she not only prepared all the dishes from scratch but knew how to tame it down for the Western palette. The curry chicken was delicious and I took some home and my house never smelled when I reheated. The smell at the store was of a different caliber. But then the sauce came in a bottle.

We're by the cheese isle and all of a sudden Danny stops dead in his tracks and says: "What is that smell? Where is it?" I tell him that it's curry. He goes: "I like it! Where is it?" So we walk back to the sample table and they're doing a shrimp and rice slathered in curry sauce. I give him a shrimp to taste (he loves shrimp) which he swallows in one gulp, grins with satisfaction, and makes yummy sounds. He wants me to buy the whole dish including "the yellow tasty stuff". I then have to spend 5 minutes talking him OUT of buying the curry sauce! I buy the shrimp (it's fully cooked and frozen) and the rice (in microwavable packets with baby corn, lemon grass, and ginger) and promise that it'll taste the same minus the stink. The sales person who is present during the debate is not saying anything, so she knows that their bottled sauce is super pungent. Go home and carefully defrost the shrimp. No ammonia smell so we're golden.

Make him his TJ dinner. The entire one package of rice and half a bag of shrimp. He eats all the shrimp and just a little rice. Asks from more shrimp. OK. Comes back and only about 1/3 of rice left. Which Terry saves because we still have shrimp left over (it has zero flavor since it was frozen). As I put him to bed I realize that his breath reeks. And I didn't give him any curry! I get out of his bedroom and into the fresh air as soon as I can, hoping it'll all dissipate by the morning. He comes in at around 7 am. Climbs in and as I hug him he breathes on me and I keel over. He still smells! I push him toward the other side of the bed and he passes out for another couple of hours. When he finally wakes up, I tell him that his breath still smells and he's all shocked: "but I flossed last night!" Then he asks for the leftovers for lunch.

He won't eat a hot dog, but he's likes curry! And what is exactly making him smell? The lemon grass? Ginger is supposed to be good and calming for the digestive system. Hoping that the chlorine in the pool tomorrow morning will finally kill it all. 

Outdoor umbrella saga continues

I was looking forward to today. I was planning on picking up my Chili Pepper Red umbrella cover from Crate&Barrel and actually, finally, sitting under the umbrella outdoors. And since fall decided to come early to Chicago I would've had nice cool weather to tinker around with the cover and frame without being completely drenched in sweat (I'm sure another Urban Idiot moment will be coming). But, unfortunately no umbrella cover for me today.

They lost my order. Between the online customer service (who couldn't ship me a backordered cover because I used my rewards to pay for part of it) and the store, the order vanished. Thank God for a very persistent, and helpful, associate at Geneva Commons Crate&Barrel. It took her almost two hours but she found it. She was just as confused as to where it went I was because the warehouse was full of Chili Pepper Red umbrella covers. We spent so much time on the phone this afternoon that I ended up telling her our umbrella saga. Perhaps that fueled her efforts, because the next time she called, she found the order and had the cover put on their delivery truck.

I decided that from now on I should have the store make a furniture order, which my retail friend confirmed was the only way to do it. As she texted: "You support local business and have someone to advocate for you if anything goes wrong." Lesson learned.

I am now waiting till Wednesday. Hoping by dinnertime I will finally have an assembled umbrella. Wish me luck!

Saving Nemo

I blame Sesame Street. Elmo has a goldfish named Dorothy so of course every three year old wants a Dorothy. What I didn't notice right away, since I would leave the room when Elmo came on to preserve my sanity, is that it is a different goldfish in every episode. I found that out after we gifted a goldfish to Danny on his third birthday. He named it Dorothy. It lasted less than a month.

Did you know that dead fish don't float right away? It takes about 12 hours for them to balloon and go belly up. What really happens is that they go to the bottom, hide in the corner, and then die. And that is precisely how we found Dorothy one morning. I told Danny it was sleeping. Then I texted my husband and asked to pick up new fish on the way home that evening from work. As the day went on we devised a plan of getting a new tank and extra goldfish, setting it up in the playroom, and selling it as Dorothy got moved to a new home and got new friends. It worked. We got a five gallon tank kit with a filter and a lamp built into the hood. The lamp worked for less than six months. The fish quickly filled the upstairs with rotten stench of ammonia and I found out the hard way that goldfish are the dirtiest fish to own. Ever. I decided they needed to go. But they were stubborn and lasted for over a year.

As soon as the last goldfish met the toilet bowl, Danny asked for new fish. No goldfish, he couldn't tolerate the smell either. I scrubbed the entire tank, changed gravel, and he brought home four neon tetras. George, Mango, Knife, and Spoon. I suggested Paul, John, George and Ringo, but only George stuck. They were happy little fish with Mango getting rather fat. But neither the filter nor I were able to keep up with the algae growth and pretty soon all four sides of the tank were covered with a thick coat of green slime. I sent the boys out for an algae eater one evening. They brought back a black plecostomus* that was about two inches long. Pretty big compared to the tetras. In the morning I discovered that he worked through the night and licked the entire tank clean. Not a single algae in sight. Off to buy algae wafers for the busy little guy. He gained an inch in a month. One day we went to the library and I saw an enormous pleco in their 100 gallon fish tank who looked exactly like ours. After some research I discovered, to my horror, that what we had was a common pleco that have a tendency to grow to at least a foot in length.

Last year we moved the tank from the playroom to the office, mainly because my mom who sometimes came to visit didn't want to "sleep with the fishies" (the filter gurgles and the pleco, being nocturnal, is very busy moving around gravel at night looking for food). Now a five gallon tank made of glass and full of water weighs more than five gallons. 1 gallon of water weighs over 8 lbs. It was like moving a dead body. So we had to very carefully slide the tank onto a side table on wheels (thank you IKEA) and then gently roll it from one room to the other. The fish didn't seem to mind. I wonder If they even noticed. The pleco was slowly getting larger and larger.

My cousins from New York came to visit and after seeing our tank asked how come there is no Fork. Fork, the yellow guppy appeared soon after they left.

This May, I figured that we need a bigger tank. The five gallon was starting to look kind of crowded. So Danny saved and saved (since technically these are his fish and his tank) and bought a 10 gallon. It took me two hours to set it up and move the fish over. The water turned cloudy and green in less than 24 hours and after another 24 hours the foul stench emanated  from the tank. Then we lost George. The pleco hid inside an alien skull ornament and wouldn't come out.

Danny immediately needed a replacement fish. George The Second was purchased along with a red guppy, Wiggly, and a cleaner shrimp, Sushi. Unfortunately, we walked away while a Petco employee was fishing the shrimp out and what we got was not what I wanted. I wanted a busy and happy one that was cleaning everyone, we got the loner from the corner. He molted two days after arriving to our house and then died 24 hours later. The water was still smelly and getting worse and my pleco was not eating.

I started Googling like crazy and discovered that since the tank was new, it had to cycle in order to establish good bacteria level that kept all the levels in check. And that awful smell was high levels of ammonia. I found myself buying over $50 worth of test kits to test the water levels and then spent every day doing partial water changes using my kitchen Pyrex measuring cup and the largest mixing bowl I had. Then three of the tetras: Mango, Knife, and Spoon got sick. They had fish rot. From water stress! I yanked them out into a small bowl which I called the hospital. We lost Spoon the next day. Tank was still not recovering and we were getting close to leaving for a vacation. I was getting worried that I was leaving all this nightmare to my friend who kindly agreed to fish sit. A week before we were about to leave I found a post on a fish forum that if you do a daily water and filter change and skip a feeding the water will finally return to normal levels. I starved the fish overnight and in the morning everything finally tested in the safe zone. The pleco emerged from his abode and asked for food. My friend was left in charge of a healthy tank and a fish hospital. Everyone survived on her watch, even the patients. The pleco was now too big for the skull, but somehow he still managed to coil himself into it. Sometimes he'd stick out a body part.

A week after we returned, Danny begged out two more fish. Wiggly and Fork were duking it out for the tank dominance completely forgetting that it was the, now enormous at seven inches, pleco who was king of the tank and George the Second was feeling lonely. The boys went to a different Petco in hopes of getting healthy fish. They returned with a glow fish, Glowie (it glows fluorescent yellow under a black light which I refused to buy of course) and a zebra tetra, Stripe. The glow fish cost $9! They inhabited the tank for a while until two and a half weeks ago when all hell broke loose.

Every morning, the first thing I do after getting out of bed is go and check on the pleco. I admit, I've grown attached to the guy since I fed him into quite a large size. Plus, he's pretty entertaining. So I wake up, go check on the fish, and discover that the pleco is covered in ich. I check the other fish and realize that the entire tank is infested. Ich is a parasite that eats the fish. It looks like salt has been sprinkled all over the fish's body and ich lifecycles in the gravel. By the time you can see them, the damage's been done. I freak out and google in panic then run to Petco. Of course they don't have any of the medications that I had on my list. I buy something that is "organic" with no listed active ingredients. No one in the store knows what exactly to do with it, all I get is: "ohh, you have ich?" The fact that their own fish infected my tank is not registering. Run home, change water, yank the filter and dose the fish. Stripe dies the next day. Medicate again. We lose George the Second. Fork gets sick, hides behind the skull barely breathing, and for two days we watch hopelessly as it slowly dies. Wiggly's fins droop from sadness at a loss of his friend (he would swim down to him and coax him to come up for air) and he follows Fork. We're now down to Glowie and my big guy who's not eating and who stuck his head out of the water for air (plecos can survive out of the water in a crisis, which this was). All of a sudden I discover PetSmart and we go there with high hopes of finding the right medication.

PetSmart is a whole different story than Petco. Their GM is an aquatics expert, an older nerdy soft-spoken guy who carefully listened to my predicament and explained what to do step by step. I came home with top rated ich treatment, a gravel syphon and a thermometer. I syphoned the gravel, changed the water, removed the carbon pellets from the filter but still used the felt part, dropped a heater in the tank because I had to heat the water to a precise 82F to kill the parasites, attached my new thermometer, and dumped in the treatment. It was a bright green powder that turned the water dark bluish green. Then I read that the stuff causes cancer in the state of California. Great! I forgot to use gloves! So I made a large sign on the tank's lid that said: "WARNING! Cancer causing meds in tank, use gloves!" The next morning I discovered that our only remaining residents have fin rot from stress of being sick. By the time we ran to the store and returned, Glowie's tale fell off.

Fin rot is treated with tetracycline. Yep, the antibiotic that humans get. I was now dealing with two separate diseases. Even the PetSmart guy felt pity for me, he kept shaking his head and repeating "two diseases..." He explained how to juggle two completely separate meds schedules. I came home and drugged the fish. The water turned red and foamed. I spent the next four days dosing the fish with antibiotics and ich treatment and changing water on a precise schedule. By the last dose the water was deep brown and we were barely able to see the fish. Last night was the first time when I was able to put the carbon filter back in. Water's still funky, but we're able to see through it a little more. Looks like they're doing better. I put an indefinite freeze on any new fish purchases. I think I'm going to try and treat my big guy to a zucchini, plecos are herbivores.

I have a feeling that one day I have to upgrade to a 50 gallon tank to hold one large zucchini eating fish. By that point he'd better walk over there on his own, and change his own filters. I think I'm done fishing after this adventure.

*To keep with pleco owner's tradition the name of the fish is withheld from online publishing.

Urban Idiots™ Guide to Outdoor Umbrellas

As a young, recently married, couple living in a swanky townhome built in the 60s, buy a bright white canvas umbrella from Pottery Barn. The reason you buy a bright white one is because you just returned from Miami where you fell in love with the Delano Hotel and you now want to recreate their environment as close as possible. Also plant white flowers in enormous planters by your front door.

Move to the suburbs.

Keep leaving your bright white umbrella open and rocking from side to side on your two-story deck. Go to work, realize you left your umbrella outside, spend the entire day worrying about the umbrella. Come home to discover that the white canvas has been bombarded by purple berry bird poop. Realize that the berries come from the recently planted tree in front of your house.

Have a baby.

One morning, while feeding the baby, watch your white umbrella (that you still forget to hide from the elements when not using) get plucked out of the middle of the heavy tile and concrete table and base, blown across  and over the deck, and then loudly smashed into pieces on your lawn by a gust of wind that was predicted by Weather Channel the night before. Put baby into enormous play yard and go pick up the umbrella pieces and the no longer bright white canvas off your lawn. Cry and curse.

March to Pottery Barn, designer stroller and all, and discover that in the time you spent neglecting your umbrella Pottery Barn has gone rustic and no longer carries a bright white canopy. And that the prices have gone up. Spend the rest of summer without an umbrella.

Spend yet another summer without an umbrella because of your inability to realize that you will not be able to turn a suburban back yard into a Delano Hotel. Your child is now walking at this point and wants to play outdoors. Limit your outdoor time to couple of hours a day when the deck is covered in loose shade from the massive maple trees.

One Sunday in early fall, brave a family visit to Crate and Barrel with your now walking and talking child, and discover an outdoor furniture floor sample sale. Get super excited over a large round umbrella that is very well priced and whose canopy is striped in sage, teal, black, tan, brown, and an occasional aubergine. Manage to somehow fit the umbrella into your SUV and not decapitate anyone.

Happily enjoy umbrella for the following three summers. Sometimes forget to put it away, then run outside in the rain and wrestle with it. Find that wasps like to nest in the pole holes. Spray with Raid and enjoy the Raid fragrance for months to come.

One morning, get woken up by a large thud from the outside. Go investigate in your robe and discover that umbrella (which was left open the night before) has once again been turned over. Discover that it is also blocking the door to the deck, so the only way to get to the problem is to run out the front door and around the house. While still wearing a robe. Watch the umbrella teeter on the edge of the railing and then finally fly off and smash into the ground while contemplating your plan of rescue. Cry and curse again. Run outside, the door is now free, and save the canopy remembering that Crate and Barrel sells canopies and frames separately just for this purpose. Wait to buy the frame until next year because summer is almost over.

Buy an outdoor rug, color coordinating it with the tans and browns of your umbrella canopy.

Buy a new frame. Spend 30 minutes on 4th of July explaining that you want just the eucalyptus frame, not the stand and not the whole umbrella. Opt for store pickup to save on shipping. Return in a week (wearing a dress) as discussed and spend another 30 minutes finding out if your frame was on the truck that just delivered. Reverse your car into customer pickup and rearrange your car seats to fit the frame in. When the guy shows you the box, realize that it is 12 feet long and your car is not. Have a panic. Become friends with the stockroom guy as you both wrestle the frame out of the box. Slide the umbrella into the car, with its top touching the windshield and the bottom just half an inch short of trunk's gate. Drive home very slowly as your precious cargo slightly rolls from side to side on every turn. Ask your child, who's slightly amused by the whole thing and is sitting next to the umbrella, to hold it in place. Deliver it home in one piece and realize that you might be missing a topper. Find a voicemail from Crate and Barrel alerting you that they discovered the topper in the box and it is on hold. Send your other half to pick it up.

Find the canopy from last year that wintered inside a white garbage bag with red handles inside a garage cabinet. Leave it behind the frame for a couple of days because there is no time to stretch it on right away. The kitchen garbage is being tossed out in a white bag with orange handles.

Discover that the white garbage bag with red handles that contains the canopy is missing. Go garbage can diving. Find nothing but white bags with orange handles. Canopy's gone. Earn more wrinkles by madly frowning while stomping up to the office to order a new canopy. Find that every canopy that might remotely suit your taste is backordered. Settle on chili pepper red because it's the only one with a decent delivery date. Once again opt for store pickup to save on ridiculously high shipping cost. Settle in for a long two week wait. Watch the Weather Channel and see that the temperature this week will raise well above 90s. Frown some more and long for the cooling shade of an outdoor umbrella.

The Delano Hotel, Miami Beach