Life, Philadelphia

Time flies! Today marks 2 months since we moved to Philadelphia. Here’s how it’s been going.

Moving day. 7 bags, ~300 lbs

HOUSE STUFF

Ryan closed on the house at the end of May, and we stayed out here for about a week at the beginning of June just to get things set up. At the time I thought that it was a bit extra, and I was wary of the additional cost, but looking back, it was definitely a good idea. The whole flurry of leaving San Francisco for good was stressful, and I couldn’t imagine having to spend those first few surreal days having to deal with Comcast, buying toilet paper, and setting up a bed.

Still, there was tons to do once we got here. Since we don’t have a car, we’ve been ordering a lot of furniture and essentials off the internet. The first few weeks were an endless stream of packages from UPS, FedEx, and the USPS. My hands got red and raw from hauling things around, building furniture, and breaking down a million boxes. I hadn’t gotten used to the house yet, so I kept bumping into things, leaving miserable bruises all over my body. The absolute worst was when I ran into our new wood/leather couch while trying to answer the door. I did this all by myself, isn’t that cool?

Anyways…everything was a bit of a mess for the first few weeks, but it’s all coming together slowly.

Staining Ikea furniture for the guest room

BOGIE (OREO MILKSHAKE TRAN-LAWLER)

Tote-a-pup

In a move that will surprise absolutely no one, on our first full day in Philadelphia, Ryan suggested that we visit the SPCA. One thing led to another, and we ended up adopting an adorable and terribly frightened puppy, one of a litter of 3. I was a bit nervous  about how the little guy would do, since he was incredibly anxious and sad looking in the shelter. But once we got him home, he relaxed and became a total love bug! I don’t blame him, I would be depressed and scared in the animal shelter too. It was nothing like the super chill and beautiful San Francisco SPCA adoption center. It was straight up THE POUND.

Bogie couldn’t go on walks until he finished his course of shots, so we were housebound for about three weeks. I never knew this was a thing, that dogs shouldn’t be walking around on the ground outside and meeting strange dogs until about 4 months. How do dog owners handle this quarantine? It’s terrible!

There were a few times that we took him out in a tote bag, but beyond that, we were in the house, watching him like a hawk and making sure that he didn’t have any house training accidents. We’ve also been crate training him, and it’s been rough. At night he would howl, scream and cry, and paw furiously at his crate like we were torturing him. Several times we had to stop since it was just too disruptive.

After too many nights of sleep deprivation I found myself getting angry. Why did we have to get a puppy? Why not an adult dog that already had its shit together (literally!). Why did it have to be crate trained? Why couldn’t he just shut up so I could sleep?

I honestly thought I was going to lose it for a few weeks. Thankfully I found the subreddit puppy101. The regret and exhaustion we were going through was so common it had a cutesy name – ‘the puppy blues’. I resolved to stick it out, and things have gotten better. Now Bogie can sleep through the night in his crate, hasn’t had accidents in the house in quite a while, and we can leave him in his crate for a few hours while we go out and explore the city. I still wish we had waited longer before committing to a dog, since I wanted to do some traveling up and down the coast, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.

WORKING REMOTE

Working remotely full time has been pretty good. There’s the novelty of not being in an office surrounded by coworkers of course, no commute, and then the time difference. But mostly the work is the same, and surprisingly, I still get the “Sunday Scaries” – anxiety about work on Sunday night. Having a cheerful study with this little office buddy helps. 🙂

PHILADELPHIA IN GENERAL

I remembered that east coast summers were rough, but it’s been nasty. Mid 90s with on and off thunderstorms. Still, we’ve been able to get out and about. There have been a ton of outdoor events we’ve stumbled onto.

Fourth of July
East Passyunk Car Show
A curious hearse
2nd Street Festival
View from the Cherry Street Pier

Everyone has been pretty friendly/polite. I don’t know if it’s a Philadelphia thing or it’s a neighborhood thing. I haven’t made any friends yet, but I definitely make plenty of casual conversation day to day. Having a dog helps a lot on that front. Bogie is a puppy, so he gets lots of attention. One time I took him to the dog park 10 minutes away and got stopped 4 times! In one instance a girl literally laid down on the sidewalk and let Bogie jump all over her! A quarter of a block later, a couple stopped to pet him and reminisce about losing 2 dogs in the past six months. They started getting teary and wondering whether they would ever love a dog again. WHOA.

OTHER ODDS AND ENDS

Ryan got excited about composting, but we hadn’t figured out the right ‘ratio’ of organic matter, so the back yard smelled hideous for the first couple weeks. And the flies, oh the flies. At one point last weekend, I killed 11 flies in the kitchen in one afternoon. I felt like a ninja, popping them with my towel of death, until I realized every time that there was yet another fly.

Building things to keep Bogie out of the compost, and out of our neighbor’s yard!

I’ve been hitting up local developer meetups, and there’s definitely a dev scene here, but there isn’t the same free flowing startup money in it like SF. No beer, limited food. Guess I’ve been spoiled by SF and its heavily sponsored events.

Speaking of SF, I actually just got back from a quick work trip there. Being in the city felt strange, like I’d just come back from a long vacation, but I couldn’t go home because home didn’t exist anymore. I got to spend every night with friends though, and that was nice. I miss them the most.

Shopping

About a month ago, Ryan showed me an ad for a site that takes photos of your pets and turns them into printed regal looking portraits. My friend Michelle’s birthday was coming up in the next month, so I thought I’d try it out and order a portrait of her cat, Penny.

The site has lots of great options, with the different portrait types split by gender. Counts, Colonels, Dukes and Heiresses, oh my! I perused the sample photos and decided on the “The Ambassador“, mostly because there were a lot of cat examples in the sample photos, so I had an idea of how it would turn out. I thought Penny would look particularly dashing in this simple choice.

It’s pretty simple: you upload a photo, select the size, and then move on to checkout. Unfortunately, you can’t see a mock up of the finished item. You just have to hope that it looks okay. Frankly for the prices they’re asking – $60 – $100, I wish they could email you a proof of the item. I mean, Minted does it.

I’ve catsat Penny a few times back when Michelle was living in SF, but I didn’t have any great photos of him. So I scrolled back through Michelle’s Instagram feed, ohhhhh about 5 years or so.

I screenshot this photo, which follows the suggested Crown & Paw guidelines of having the animal facing either to the left or right, looking away from the camera. There were a few other photos that I wanted to use, but the photo guide said that the animal’s entire head had to be visible. The photo I originally wanted showed his beautiful orange markings well, but it cut out half his ear. Damn.

So choosing and uploading was fun. Then the experience got complicated.

I entered Michelle’s shipping information, and my billing information. Three times I tried to checkout. Three times I got a screen with an infinite spinner of death 0_0. Eventually I had to close out the browser tab each time. I started to get worried, did I just buy three cat portraits????

Two days later on May 27th I shot Crown & Paw support an email. In these screenshots I’ve removed names & order numbers, and replaced our addresses with fakes that still illustrate the issue.

The response

OK, it didn’t go through, confirmed that on the 28.

I tried again to purchase the portrait, with the same spinner of death plaguing me on checkout. Finally, I tried something different. I went through checkout paying via my Paypal account instead. It worked! Yay!

I got a confirmation email and thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until about a week later that I decided to check on the status of the item via a link sent in my confirmation email. There was an unidentified problem, so I looked back again at my confirmation email. The shipping address and the billing address were both addressed to Michelle, using an address that was a mash-up of both of our addresses!!!! It had her full name and Portland street address, and my San Francisco city, state and postal code. What??? Come on, this e-commerce system is buggy.

I sent another email to customer service on June 6.

I got an instantaneous auto-reply from a dog customer service bot.

Ummm, that’s really cute, but let’s talk to a human about this. Also, I’m not Michelle. Sigh.

Ok, I realize now looking back at this that maybe the person did not understand. They never say in the email THAT THEY ARE CHANGING IT TO THE CORRECT ADDRESS. I thought that it was clear what was going on from my initial correction email, but it was not, as you will soon see.

The next day I went to check the order screen again, and it said that my order was printing and shipping! I would receive a shipping notification soon. Ok I thought, they must have fixed the address issue. Cool.

I checked in again 9 days later on June 17, and shit, the addresses under shipping and billing are still the incorrect nonexistent address. I write back again:

The next day at 1:34pm I get an email that my order is on the way!

One minute later at 1:35 I get a delivery update:

Also at 1:35 a second delivery update:

At 1:37 I get an email response to my email from the previous day.

Goddamn it. This is annoying. Also, I’m not Michelle. I write back:

At this point I am a bit flustered and angry. My friend’s birthday has come and gone by several days. Based on the timing, Crown & Paw are within their delivery estimates, but this extra BS adds several days to get the present to her.

I call UPS, argue with them about the mixup, then take a Lyft to UPS pickup, argue there, and finally get the package. Wednesday morning I relabel the package and mail it via USPS. I receive an email response to my previous email expressing disappointment.

Damn it, I’m not Michelle. I’m Tracy, ugh. So this email is basically like hey, it was picked up. “I hope everythings good now.”

NO KATHLEEN EVERYTHING IS NOT GOOD NOW.

Maybe I’m spoiled by Amazon or Wayfair, but how about saying a real sorry for the mixup, not “our apologies for the inconvenience.” That phrasing is a non-apology apology. Hate that.

How about some empathy? Around the same time, I lost my Ally debit card. I called Ally, and the customer service rep was sorry that I lost my card, but he was gonna get me another one right away. I almost did a double take when I heard that – what, good customer service? It still exists?

Oh, and also, Crown & Paw, how about offering solutions to FIX the problem??? Jeeez. If this were Wayfair, they would have already printed that portrait out again and sent it express to my friend’s house. Is $80 really worth pissing someone off?

I fire back:

They write back a whopper, once again confusing the issue.

Let’s look at the circled part closer…

Once your item is with the courier we no longer have a control over it and we can only base as well the whereabouts of your package through the tracking information that is provided as well with the courier. I also see here that the courier was also making sure they deliver it to the address that was provided. So I think initially Michelle should have address this package to your address instead of her’s to avoid certain issue like this to happen or delays to happen.

Michelle should have addressed the package that was a surprise present that I bought for HER to MY address in San Francisco, instead of hers in Portland, so that this would not have happened? WTF. That makes no sense.

At this point I’m laughing hard. I realize that I’m never going to get the real apology that I want, nor am I going to get any sort of reimbursement for my time and shipping costs. This person just doesn’t get it. And they’re still blaming me for this mixup. I write back:

Response:

Did you see the little dig at the end? Just some advice, double check your info.

FUCKKKKKK YOUUUUUUU CROWN AND PAW.

FUCKKKKKKKKKKK YOU.

EAT A DICK.

I FUCKING HATE YOU.

Anyways, that’s what I’ve spent the past few weeks doing. Moving, and emailing Crown & Paw to correct what was most likely a database error. To be honest, I’m really really shocked that they didn’t offer me ANYTHING to make this experience better, no promo code, no comped order, nada. They just kept writing me sassy clueless emails where they blame me for their fuck up.

After showing all my friends and having a good laugh, we’ve decided that based on the reading comprehension, Crown & Paw must outsource their customer service to somewhere where English is not the primary language. Also it’s been suggested that perhaps it’s not “Kathleen” responding to me each time, but a different rep. That would explain the lack of context and the cluelessness about the situation. But who knows, who cares. I’m done with this company.

Oh, and before I end this review, the actual product is great. My friend Michelle is very happy. Penny was not amused.

I will scream to the heavens however that no one I know should use this service, just on principle. God forbid there are any errors with your order, even if they’re not your fault. This company does not care. There are so many other pet portrait options, just google “royal pet portrait.” Here’s some on Etsy, here’s some place called Renaissance Pet.

Life

I was going to write a Q1 update, but life got away from me, and here we are in mid-May. 0_0

January

I don’t remember too much about January. January was full of rain, and yoga. I went to the annual David Bowie birthday party / drag show at The Chapel, and as usual I left feeling inspired and hopeful about the new year.

Another semi-tradition… I was doing Yoga With Adriene’s annual 30 days of yoga, and was vegetarian for the month, which led to me eating such gems as this BBQ jackfruit from SouthPaw. It’s not “similar to pulled pork” at all, but was still delish.

Umm what else…? The freezer fan broke, creating a loud and terrible buzzing sound that slowly drove me insane. I think my roommates handled it better because their bedroom was not sharing a wall with the offending kitchen appliance. After having our handyman inspect it, find nothing, and declare that the noise must have been from a handful of frozen peas that got caught in the fan area, I got frustrated and fixed it myself. I’m pleased with myself now, but that was a stressful week.

February

Ryan started getting really skilled with the sous vide. His ribs and steak have come out perfect every time. The vegetables on the other hand… have been a waste of electricity.

A killer tiki bar opened near my house.

My company has a Mexico City office. For a while I’d been joking with coworkers about taking a group trip there, and in February I organized it and made it happen! Mexico City was wonderful as always, and it was great meeting my Mexican coworkers in person. Surprisingly, they were very similar to their video/chat personas. It gives me hope for the future of remote work.

March

After Ryan’s near drowning at the Yuba last year, I was pushing really hard for formal swim lessons. We finally signed up for a pack of 8 classes at our local Y, and it came at the right time, to be honest. Work became really shitty and stressful… then my friend died, and that was a bit of a breaking point. I started swimming hard, 2-4 times per week, and it really helped clear my head. My hair on the other hand, has become a disgusting brittle mess. I figure it’s worth it.

We celebrated our 9th anniversary, crazy.

April

Ryan was in New York for work around his birthday, and decided to stay in Philadelphia afterwards to spend time with friends and family. I flew out to join him, since it was a good chance to poke around and get a feel for the neighborhoods and the housing stock, just an exploratory mission to see if owning a house in Philadelphia was doable.

A realtor showed us around, and combined with a few open houses, we ended up seeing like 25 houses in 4 days. It became very clear over the course of the visit where we ought to live. Unfortunately, the more houses that we saw, the more evident it became that we’d definitely have to make some compromises.

One strong contender had a back “yard” that looked into a Dunkin Donuts/Liquor shop parking lot. Now is that a plus or a minus? Torn.

One house had everything Ryan wanted (finished basement, a yard, newer construction in a hip walkable neighborhood), and almost everything I wanted (safe neighborhood, lots of space and light, not that terrible skinny Philadelphia home layout, pet friendly).

Ryan made up his mind to make an offer and then it all happened so fast. He put in the offer the night before we left for home, and after a few back and forths, our offer was accepted, right as we boarded the flight back to SF! Under asking price! Totally unlike the Bay, it was wild.

Closing is in two weeks, when we’ll head out to pick up the keys to the house. Our actual move date is still up in the air, but would probably be July. Surreal!

May

And here we are in May! I snuck in a quick trip up to Washington to see Jill and Brett.

In the next 6 weeks, there’s more travel planned. Going to see my mom, then head out to Philly to get the house keys, then Providence for a wedding, then Philly again finally. Poor Ryan has a few extra trips on top of that.

So I guess things are going to still be stressful, but at least it’s all for a good reason. Anyways, that’s it for now!

Life

So, I never thought I’d write this, but my friend Tristan died. About a week ago – on a Friday morning – Ryan walked in to the living room bearing the bad news, after seeing a few articles in the SF Chronicle and TechCrunch. He was in the tech community, so I suppose his death was tech news.

Tristan was my oldest friend, I’ve known him since I was maybe five. His parents owned a futon shop in the same quiet strip mall where my parent’s Chinese restaurant was located. We spent many long summer afternoons running around causing all sorts of trouble. Catching frogs, playing with his mice and monitor lizard, running toy cars up and down the sidewalk, camping out in the Drug Emporium and laughing at the ‘adult’ aisle. So many kid memories.

I don’t remember when, but eventually his family moved away to New York, and I remember being sad. Years passed, and every now and then I would wonder about him. This was before Facebook, so I kept wondering.

One day when I was living in San Francisco (about a decade ago), I got a Facebook message. It was from Tristan! He had looked me up. And what a coincidence, we both lived in the bay area! And he had co-founded Square… what? I was shocked by the randomness of it, but proud of his success. And so our friendship continued, but this time as adults.

Our adult friendship was a little bit different. Because as adults, there’s just so many other responsibilities vying for your attention. Work, home, family, and in his case majorly… relationships.

Many times I would try to hang out with him, and it would have to be worked around his significant other’s schedule. I remember one time we had finally nailed down plans, and he ended up cancelling on me that night because his girlfriend’s plans fell through. What the hell, man? You live together, you’ll see her at home!

We had good times together, but over the years his romantic drama became more intense. There were breakups and engagements (3). Then breakups again. I always knew to reach out when he was in a breakup. That was when he for sure would be ‘available.’ Kind of reminds me of the lyrics to the Smiths song “Hold on to your friends.”

But now you only call me
When you’re feeling depressed
When you feel happy I’m
So far from your mind
My patience is stretched
My loyalty vexed
Oh, you’re losing all of your friends

Then his life took a different turn when the money came in from Square. He stopped working a nine to five and started doing… what? I’m not really sure. Travel, school, photography, a number of different things. It was a lot harder to relate to him, but I was glad that he had this unique opportunity. I was jealous, what can I say?

The last few years were bad. He got into another romantic relationship. All of his relationships were up and down, but this one made being friends with Tristan harder than ever. I won’t go into details, but there was a specific moment that my heart just broke and I’d had enough.

I decided right then and there that I had to let this friendship go. I wasn’t going to kill it, but I wasn’t going to nurture it anymore. It hurt too much to be disappointed every time.

So from then on, I mostly observed from a distance. I saw him have a daughter. I saw him share his struggles with addiction. I saw him move to Los Angeles. About a year ago I remember unfollowing him on Facebook, and not responding to a text message from him informing me of his new phone number. I just had to take a break from it all.

Now that he’s gone, I feel incredibly guilty. I somehow mucked my way through the workday that Friday, and at the end of it I dragged Ryan to Last Rites, our neighborhood tiki bar, to pour one out for Tristan. I hate that the last memories that I have of him are of him going through hard times. I hate that I couldn’t help him more, and I hate that his life became a weird oddity, almost a running joke between me and my friends. Like hey, what crazy shit has your friend been up to?

I got really drunk at the tiki bar, but I did remember some good things. I remembered how funny, and present and alive my friend always was. He was so creative and geeky. He was a mega Apple fanboy, and I remember visiting his apartment, and seeing every model of i-anything decorating his room. He was very affectionate and sentimental. Sometimes he’d send me a text saying “Hey! I’m passing your favorite Starbucks, thinking of you!”. I don’t even really go to that Starbucks that much, it was just something that I’d said offhand one time when we were walking down Market Street, but he remembered. I still have a weird plastic friendship bracelet he made for me at summer camp, which is stored in a memory box in my room. Reminds me of better times. There was a reason that I tried to stay friends with him, even though it wasn’t easy to maintain.

Thankfully, I do have at least one adult memory of him that is pure and uncomplicatedly happy… One perfect day biking in the rain out to Sausalito. I even blogged about it. It was nearly 8 years ago to the day.

I’m so sad about losing you buddy, but I’ll try to keep this day and this version of you in my mind. You will be missed.

Craft, Health

I almost titled this post “Making Kombucha is Gross.” Because it is. So look away now if you don’t want to see giant moldy looking hocky pucks of bacteria! Or to be precise, the SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).

I’m a big drinker of kombucha, and it’s not a cheap habit, coming in at about 3.50 per 16 oz bottle. The fermentation is supposed to be good for your gut, but really I just like the fizzy tangy flavor. It’s funky. I knew that I should take the next step into brewing my own, but I just couldn’t get myself to do the research in order to get what I needed.

Thankfully there are kombucha starter kits. I asked Ryan’s parents for one for my birthday, and lo and behold! I had no more excuses.

What’s this?

Just what I wanted! Bacteria and yeast!

How to Brew

Making kombucha is pretty easy. It’s also a lot more flexible than I’d imagined. Here’s basically how it works, when making a gallon:

  1. Make some sweet tea. Boil 4 cups water, add 3 tablespoons of tea (not herbal), add 1 cup sugar. Pour into your brewing container.
  2. Add 8 cups of cold water to the sweet tea.
  3. Wait for the mixture to cool to between 68 – 86 degrees.
  4. Check that the PH level is within range – 4.5 and below.
  5. Add the SCOBY to the mixture along with some starter tea (included with the SCOBY on purchase).
  6. Cover the brewing container with a filter on top, either cloth or a coffee filter. This keeps the tea clean of debris and allows the carbon dioxide to exit the container. Leave it somewhere warm and dark. I didn’t have a great spot, so I chose the top of my fridge, and added some towels to keep the jar from getting too cold.
  7. After 7 days, use a pipette to slip beneath the SCOBY culture and grab some of the tea. Taste it. If it’s too sweet, let it go for longer. If it’s too tart, add sugar in the second fermentation process, and brew for less days next time. You can ferment for up to a month, I think.
  8. Remove the SCOBY, putting it aside with about a cup or two of the tea to use as a starter for the next batch.
  9. Pour out your tea and drink it as is, or go on to second fermentation.
  10. Second fermentation: add sugar of some sort (sugar or mashed up berries or juice) to the tea, stir. Bottle the tea into individual bottles. Leave out to ferment several more days. The culture in the tea will keep eating the sugar, and create carbon dioxide, creating that nice fizzzzzz. Move to the fridge.
  11. Make more tea with your SCOBY and starter tea or put it away until later.

Results

I’ve just finished up my fourth batch of kombucha. Here are the results so far…

Brew #1

My first batch turned out really awesome, probably because I followed my kit’s instructions by the book. I used the Ceylon tea that was included in my kit, letting it sit for 13 days while I was vacationing in Budapest. Then I second fermented by adding defrosted frozen berries. I didn’t have individual bottles, so I used an airtight pitcher. The taste was really nice. One thing that I didn’t realize… Each time you brew kombucha, a new SCOBY grows on top, and grows to fill the container. Every time. At this point I had a double layer SCOBY.

Brew #2

The second batch I brewed with David’s Tea Red Velvet Cake black tea. This tea is special because it includes chocolate chips and sprinkles that melt into the tea and make it creamy and sweet. It’s a ridiculous dessert tea. I threw in my double layered SCOBY, fermenting for 24 days, then second fermented in individual bottles with just sugar. It turned out okay, but tasted a bit artificial due to the tea. Wouldn’t do this again.

Here’s a closeup of my brew jar for batch #2. The temperature reads as 64, which is about 10 degrees lower than it ought to be, and slows down the fermentation.

In this picture you can see that there are 2 layers of SCOBY.

I decided to cut the SCOBY into 2 separate pieces for batches 3 &4. Here is a picture of that SCOBY pulled out onto the chopping block.

The perfectly circular brown puck is my original SCOBY. The white is everything that has grown during my brews. The brown strands are yeast.

Ta da! And then there were two!

Brews 3 & 4

The third and fourth batches were brewed simultaneously, fermenting for 9 days.

I used Trader Joe’s Winter Wakeup tea, which is a spicy black tea with ginger and cinnamon with the new baby SCOBY. Fourth batch was a half batch of Trader Joe’s Earl Grey tea, using the original SCOBY. The Winter Wakeup kombucha turned out very odd. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of this tea normally. At this point I still had kombucha in the fridge, so I just called it a wash and threw a whole gallon of tea out! The Earl Grey was less of a disappointment. It tasted perfectly tangy with major Earl Grey undertones, so I skipped the second fermentation. My favorite combination so far!

Things have gotten a little crazy… Now I have 4 SCOBY. TBH I felt a bit overwhelmed, so I created a SCOBY hotel. I’m just going to let them sit there until I’ve drunk down my tea.

Money Saved?

So in the last month and a half, I made 3 1 gallon batches and 1 1/2 gallon batch. I threw out a gallon of tea. At 16 oz per bottle of kombucha, I made 20 bottles of kombucha. 20 bottles at $3.5 = $70! If I hadn’t have thrown out that gallon, it would have been 28 bottles, or $98. Not bad!

Not gonna lie, I still buy store bought kombucha from time to time. But I do really enjoy brewing my own, and I’m looking forward to trying to make a green tea kombucha.The only thing that I have yet to figure out is how to get that super burning fizzy carbonation in the bottle. I’ve heard it’s sometimes artificially added, but I want to second ferment for even longer, and see if I can replicate it.