Stolen: Wallet, Wedding Ring, and Pocket Knife

Today, while working out at the new SMU gym, my locker was opened, and my wallet, wedding ring, and pocket knife were stolen. Fortunately, since I use my PDA while working out, I still have my PDA.

I know for sure that at least one other person’s stuff was stolen.

My lock was a classic Master Lock Combination Padlock. It had a pink dial. Back when we lived in Groves (late ’80s), we picked it up at a grocery store on the way to the Port Arthur YMCA one night. (A family member worked there briefly, and we had a membership during that time.) When I came back to my locker after the workout, the lock was gone.

Fortunately, a cop was already at the gym taking the other guy’s report, so I was able to quickly make a report. The cop thinks a thief may have entered with a bolt cutter, although I wonder if the thief had a shim? These Master Lock combination locks are surprisingly easy to open. I will never use that trash again.

The ring was sitting in the locker, but my wallet and knife were in pants pockets. The thief was nice enough to zip my backpack shut when he was done. How courteous!

My wallet had about $80 cash, my credit cards, my driver’s license, my SMU ID, and other less important things.

I first called MBNA to cancel my MasterCard. After waiting on hold for 13½ minutes and reaching nobody, I hung up and called my bank and other card issuers. That was tragic for MBNA. Had MBNA not been negligent and actually had enough operators or an expedited path for fraud alerts, then $2,500 of fraudulent purchases could have been avoided. Yup, you got it, about 30 minutes after I hung up with MBNA, someone made three fraudulent purchases totaling around $2,500 at stores in the CityPlace Market, a shopping center with a Target and some other stores. I’m sure the merchant is going to eat the cost of these purchases, though, because merchants are supposed to verify that buyers are who they really are. (When is the last time a merchant has asked to see your driver’s license when you made a purchase?) My wife was finally able to get through to MBNA as the third fraudulent transaction was being placed. The other credit card companies and my bank immediately answered my call.

I am now questioning why I have an MBNA account. MBNA once fined me because I paid a balance too early (yes, literally, I was fined for paying too early–I made them credit me that fine), another time they fined me because their web site screwed up my payment (they credited me that one, too). Their web site is awful, and they don’t directly integrate with Microsoft Money (i.e., they haven’t bothered to allow Money to automatically download transactions). Now, their inept customer service department is causing a hassle. Because of the size of the fraud, I am now having to sign an affidavit that the transactions were truly fraudulent. Why should I bother with such a crappy company?

Shame on you, MBNA!

The good thing is this is apparently random crime, and it is all replaceable stuff. Well, I cannot get my original wedding band back unless it is sold to a pawn shop.

The cop said that he was not aware of a history of crime problems at the gym. In all likelihood, the thief was taking advantage of the fact that the gym just opened on Sept. 26.

You know what’s strange? SMU is supposed to be one of the safest places in the Dallas area. Despite this, this is the second time something has been stolen from me at SMU. Back in 1999 or 2000, a Sony Walkman was stolen from my desk. Somehow, I managed to get through my undergrad years without any losses.

Relandscaping, Part 3

Be sure you read part 2 before reading this.

At this point, we are ready to order landscaping materials. We shopped around. I got a good price at Living Earth Technology because I was able to use their wholesale prices due to a connection I had with one of their largest customers. (You may be able to get wholesale prices if you just fill out their wholesaler application. Or if you know me and need materials, talk to me. I may be able to get you a discount.)

We ordered 5 cubic yards of compost, 5 cubic yards of azalea soil, and 3 cubic yards of pine bark mulch.

Two of our very generous friends showed up at 8:30 AM on Saturday, Oct. 1. Shortly afterwards, Living Earth’s truck showed up:

Oh, my gosh, I didn’t expect such a big truck!

That huge thing takes up almost all of my driveway:

Here it is dumping out the materials:

Living Earth dumps each material in the dump container, separating them with thick plastic. The driver raises the dump container just enough to dump out the first load. Then he moves forward a bit, raises it further, and empties out the second load:

You’re seeing the pine bark mulch on the ground. In the bed is the azalea soil, and under that, under plastic sheeting, is the compost.

Now all the azalea soil is on the driveway:

Emptying out the final load, compost:

The aftermath:

Left to right: compost (stinking like poop with flies circling all over it), azalea soil, and pine bark mulch.

I am pretty sure they gave us more of each material than we ordered.

First order of the day was to retill the flower bed by the front sidewalk. It turns out we needed to have gone much deeper than we did. Here the dirt has been shoveled out and is waiting for a retill:

I didn’t take many more pictures of the day’s events, but here’s what we did next. We retilling that bed and then tilled in over 3″ of compost. Then we tilled in about 3″ of compost to the second tier of the rest of the front landscaping, and we filled in the bottom tier (the dished out area) with azalea soil. That took us until about 1:30. Here’s the aftermath:

After that, we had lunch and then went into the back yard. We had to completely retill the “easy” part of the back yard beds to get a deep till. Then we added and later tilled in a generous amount of compost:

The above picture was taken at 6:10 PM. Remember that we had been working since 8:30 AM with few breaks! That was a LONG DAY!

The other side of the back porch was a mess. It had never been tilled right at all, it was full of tree roots, and it has a drainage problem. One of the guys and I spent almost the whole afternoon surgically removing as few roots as we could manage and digging a trench for some 4″ plastic perforated landscaping pipe I am going to use to correct the drainage problem.

Those two guys ended up staying until 8:00 PM. That’s right, almost 12 hours of help in the hot sun. They were beat!

By the way, we had to get rid of the gas lamp. It had rotted out around the base:

It sits waiting to be hauled off:

By the way, some people had hypothesized that the reason this lamp didn’t work right was because of a clogged gas line. Nope, the line was fine:

The next day, Sunday, Oct. 2, Jennifer and I spent the afternoon and early evening finishing out everything. We added more compost to beds and mulched almost everything.

I spent more time on the difficult part of the back yard. Here is what I ended up with:

I got it prepped fairly decently, but I stopped because of the tree roots. I have since checked a few web sites and consulted with a respected landscape architect, and I really don’t have much to worry about as long as I limit my cutting to the 3½ foot width of this bed. The tree is a healthy, mature American elm, and I would only be disturbing a small portion of its entire root system. Because we live in a moderately dry area, this tree’s roots probably go at least 10-15 feet deep. If the tree’s root system could be seen as a pie, I am only affecting one small sliver of the pie.

That tree is in the center of this shot:

So this upcoming weekend, I will probably cut out the remaining roots and deeply till and prep the remainder of that bed.

By the way, I discovered what half the drainage problem was:

The gutter was full of leaves, so water couldn’t even get to the downspout.

Here’s how everything looks right now.

Back yard (the not difficult side):

Nicely mulched and “ready to go” front beds:

More of the same for the front:

One thing I am not sure about is whether this steep of a slope of azalea mix can withstand heavy rains. I may need to add a row of railroad ties across the front.

Our plants come in this weekend! We’re excited!

Relandscaping, Part 2

This is a long-overdue update on our landscaping project. In the last update, I told you about how we are re-landscaping the front yard. We’ve since expanded the project so that we are re-landscaping all the beds around the house. Yup, front and back yards. After we’re done with this project, the only landscaping left will be a hedge around the fence.

The last update was on August 21. At that time, we had just cleared out all the plants in the front landscape, although I still had to spend extra time on a ligustrum stump, visible in front of the two stacked railroad ties:

This is all that was left of a multi-trunked, 15 foot high ligustrum semi-tree. I had to stop because I had been outside all day in the 100+ degree heat, and I uncovered a bunch of fire ants.

Fast forward a few weeks to Sunday, Sept. 18. By this day, I had finally removed the stump. With the help of a friend, we spent another hot Sunday afternoon building up the tiers on that side of the house. The stump is gone, and we have a bed that completely wraps around the front of the house:

(By the way, notice the warm light from the window? You wouldn’t get this with a normal daylight picture. This is a 1 second exposure time, 400 ISO shot I took at 6:43 PM on 9/21/05. It was too dark to take pictures except under this special mode.)

If you looked carefully, you’ll also notice that we buried the gutter outflows underground. They now drain into the lawn. I still need to finish this off with a better water distribution system, but for now this keeps the water away from the beds.

Now jump to Saturday, Sept. 24, the day that Hurricane Rita was menacing east Texas. Rita gave me a great 10-15 MPH breeze to keep the temperatures down but no rain! Oh, well, the lack of rain gave me another day to work on the cherry laurel tree roots. I pulled out more large stump pieces:

(Box of facial tissues provided to get a reference on the stump’s size.)

They may not seem like much, but when all you have is shovels and a Sawzall, ripping out these stumps is a major achievement.

I also noticed where cherry laurel roots grew between the stacked railroad ties, so off came two sections of railroad tie!

Camera Fun

On Wednesday, Sept. 28, a thunderstorm rolled through my area. The storm knocked the power to a lot of east Dallas out after it rolled through, and the outage lasted for 3 hours.

Since the power was out, I went outside and played with the camera. I am amazed at the kinds of shots I was able to create.

This is looking down my street at, get this, 8:42 PM at night. The sun had set around an hour ago. I got this much light with a 16 second exposure time and ISO-400 equivalent sensitivity. (I can automatically change the emulated film type on this camera.) Part of the brightness is lightning in the distance. It was all cloud lightning.

The clouds are breaking, and stars are showing through. Stunning. Same settings as above.

A neighbor’s car passes down a nearby street.

A few nights earlier, I got this shot of my son playing with one of those green lights. This was given to us by some of my neighbor’s family evacuated Hurricane Rita from Houston.

This is a 5 second exposure with a flash at the end.

That’s Not Transmission Fluid!

As we were walking across the parking lot to church this Sunday, I saw a pool of red fluid on the ground. At first glance I thought it was automatic transmission fluid. It was wet and decently fresh. On closer inspection, I saw that it was too thin to be ATF, and it was blackening in the center, as if it was changing color. It sort of looked like a pool of blood. I didn’t see any other signs of an altercation, so I didn’t suspect anything.

After church, walking back to our car, the pool looked the same. About 1 foot wide, mostly circular, red, with blackening in the center.

Fast forward to Monday. As I was driving home, I heard the local NPR affiliate talk about a guy who was beaten to death in a downtown Dallas parking lot. Was this the pool of blood?

Tonight I get the full scoop: that was it. It turns out a recent high school graduate came to Dallas from Natchez, MS and was beaten to death in an unprovoked fight in downtown Dallas.