Foxy Mama's Blog

Stories, musings and ramblings from the front porch. Pull up a rocking chair and sit for a spell...


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Driving Miss Foxy...

Something has been happening to me lately which perplexes me and worries me a little too. Maybe I’m making too much of it and of course, it wouldn’t be the first time, but it still bothers me. Perhaps I should explain more fully. Let’s go over some background here… You see, I’m a driver! I love to drive.

I’ve done my fair share of driving over the years and I kind of hate to relinquish the control of the driver’s seat to anyone else. I’m a terrible passenger! I really hate being a passenger, although I try to stay calm and not be a pain in the neck. I think I’m reasonably successful at this. Other than Dear Husband, most people probably don’t catch on to the white knuckles. I plaster a smile on my puss and try really hard not to wince out loud or scrabble for the door handle too noticeably.

Her Sweetness (my mother) has always been an absolutely impossible passenger and what’s more, she’s an abominable driver! A long time ago we made a pact that when I got a license I wouldn’t drive with her and she wouldn’t drive with me. We’ve both broken the pact on occasion but we manage to do it very infrequently. Her Sweetness’ driving has become the stuff of legends but then so have her antics as a passenger. She winces, screams, scrabbles up the side of the door with a death grip on the handle, cries pitifully (pretend cries) and swears you’re racing if you’re going more than 20 miles an hour. She hyperventilates…

You can see why I don’t care to go anyplace with her. My nerves won’t take it. She says her nerves won’t take it. One of us is wrong here and I swear it’s not me… The only place she drives me is nuts! To be a passenger in her car is a quick bid for sainthood. For one thing, she’s a yo-yo, she speeds up, she slows down, she speeds up, she slows down… She’s been known to stop dead in the road if she sees something she deems worth seeing or fetching (like pretty weeds, seed pods or vines for dried flower arrangements or wreaths) and she does this with absolutely no thought for anyone else who might just happen to be behind her.

Her Sweetness was the one who showed me (by example) why you don’t make a right-hand turn from a left-hand lane on a busy highway when a huge milk tanker truck is zooming along in the right-hand lane. She reminded the truck driver too, apparently, since he had to pull over on the shoulder a little ways up the road to recuperate. We could see him slump and shake his head repeatedly as we turned the corner. Bet that truck driver turned in his license for a safe little desk job shortly after that little maneuver of hers.

I can still describe the underbelly of the tank truck if you’d care to know sometime… “Did you see him(?)” she asked. Uh…yes, yes I did, I croaked. “Well, you should have said something” she said. For one thing, my vocal cords were frozen up and being tugged unmercifully by my bulging eyes, nearly choking me to death. “I never saw him” she said in an amazed sort of I’ll be doggoned voice. “I wonder where he came from?” I wonder where he went

Do you want to know the irony? We were on the way to the hospital for a doctor’s appointment. I remember the doctor saying something about my blood pressure being awfully high for a person of my age…

Her Sweetness is also pretty good at panicking and taking her hands off the steering wheel, waving them around and yelling “aaagh, it’s out of control!” Well, yeah, it sure is… She’s had a couple of interesting little accidents. I never have (knock on wood).

From her I’ve learned what happens if you trounce on the brakes on ice, especially when you’re going downhill and around a bend. If it hadn’t been for a glorious heavy snowfall the day before, we wouldn’t have had that miracle inch when the bumper tried to snug itself around that tree in a rapture. The tow truck didn’t have enough oomph to pry the car out so they had to get the firetruck because it was heavier…we were stuck there pretty good. This was many years ago, before tow trucks got so hefty. Heck, it was before a lot of vehicles got so hefty. It was also before seatbelts. Makes me shiver to think of it…

Her Sweetness has killed a few nice cars over the years, but not before maiming them completely. Sigh… Such nice mechanical marvels done in by one sweet little woman with a penchant for drama and inattentiveness. She built up quite a nice little reputation for herself in the town where we used to live. The garage guys loved her. My dad is an absolute saint. He has never harmed her…

I, on the other hand, pride myself on being a good driver. In fact, I used to make my living out of driving. I was a school bus driver for several years. I drove the big yellow birds and I drove special education vans and Suburbans. One of the Suburbans was literally held together by duct tape. My boss was a frugal man…so frugal he nearly killed me on several occasions by his cost cutting measures.

Twice the wheel bearings on the right front wheel went… Most people never have the experience of losing their wheel bearings in a lifetime. But in one year of driving for that guy I had the experience…twice! When your wheel bearings go, you lose your steering and your braking. At least I did. Once I was on my way home (alone, thank goodness) and once I had a suburban load of 5 highly energetic ADHD kids on a warm, sunny Friday afternoon (you teachers can especially relate to this) in the early spring. I had just picked them up from the special school they attended and we were on a narrow back road, far from houses or humanity. When the spindle broke on the right front tire and the axle caved in and we lost the bearings, we were heading straight for the lefthand side of the road and directly toward a 12 foot break in a rock retaining wheel (the only break in the retaining wall), and the drop onto the railroad tracks below was about 200 feet, plus or minus a foot…

If you want an adrenaline rush from hell some time, try to approximate it. There’s nothing to compare to it. To this day I’ll never know how I managed at the last minute, with no steering or available brakes, to get back onto the right side of the road and safely stopped in a nice deep ditch. I feel as if I should have accomplished something more with my life by now but maybe I haven’t come to the special thing that that I’m supposed to do in payment for that life reprieve. I could give you more details of that hellish day but I won’t bother to go into it. Suffice to say that I didn’t actually end my day until 9:30 pm because there were parents needing to have details.

I don’t think my husband fully grasped the dangerous conditions and the full details until he accompanied me to that spot and saw the skid marks and then he knew that I hadn’t exaggerated in any way the incredible danger. Though I’ll never know why, I’m good in emergencies, only falling apart privately and later on, after everyone else has gone on to other things. It turned out that my boss actually knew we had a bad spindle on the right front but had wanted to stall the repairs a little. I saw the maintenance log right afterwards but then it mysteriously disappeared and wasn’t in the glove box the next time I had to drive. He was questioned by the state vehicle examiners but somehow he managed to keep his credentials and continue to run the vehicle, which was 11 years old anyway.

Those kiddoes were an unruly lot in general but a total hush came over them every day after that when we went by that spot. One of the girls always gave me a hug and called me a heroine but the real truth is that Someone much bigger than me or you or anyone else intervened that day and I’ll always be grateful…

Driving for that boss (who incidentally had to have his brother bid for some of his routes because the towns wouldn’t deal with him) made me very familiar with vehicle maintenance and why it’s important. I had some adventures I will say… There’s the time two of the tires completely self destructed about half an hour away from the garage. This same guy apparently took 2 radial tires off his daughter’s Buick the night before (she got new ones) and put them on the Suburban. You don’t switch one vehicle’s radial tires to a completely different type and size vehicle, especially if you put them in different positions on the vehicle. That’s a big no-no! It causes the steel belts to separate from the rubber, effectively turning the tires inside out, with the steel belts sticking out everywhere and digging up the road, and wherever you are when it happens is where you’re going to be when the tow truck shows up. This was before modern methods of communication too…like cell phones and the like. Not that he would have sprung for them…

Fortunately I had dropped off my last load of kids for a couple of hours. They were preschoolers with different types of emotional and learning problems. I honestly don’t know what I would have done then. I drove very long routes through the country and help was never readily available. The same vehicle had the fuel pump go (or maybe it was the water pump, I can’t remember now) when I had a full load of kids to deliver home for the day. The thing went while we were in the middle of a hideous intersection where there was a lot of truck traffic and we were at the light. In this instance anyway, I was near a gas station so I could get the kids out of that vehicle in the middle of the busy interesection and into shelter. It was winter too…very cold. Again, I couldn’t get my boss. He was out on a run too. I managed to call most of the parents except for the most worrisome one…the small kindergartner whose parents had an unlisted number and the kiddo couldn’t talk well enough to give us his name anyway. Oh, it was an interesting job.

I could blog for hours about some of the things that happened, both to the vehicles and also stories about the kiddoes…but that’s for another time. I’ll save the one about the punctured fuel tank too. That was a different place. But it was quite a story…

Anyway, you can see that I know how to drive and handle awkward situations and emergencies. I didn’t inherit Her Sweetness’ lack of affinity for driving. I do okay… I still harbor daydreams about being a stunt driver like in “The French Connection” and “Bullit.” I still love the mastery of a well constructed marvel of modern automobile engineering. I’ve driven in every weather condition known and I’m not afraid of snow. I used to drive frequently into New York City from 2 hours away and I know how to get into the Lincoln Tunnel from the Jersey side when 11 lanes of traffic (with lots of busses) are filtering down into 2 lanes to get into the city during rush hour. I knew how to negotiate New York City traffic with no problem.

So should I be worried about everyone else suddenly wanting to tote me around? I mean…I’m a lousy passenger. Is there something I should know that they’re not willing to tell me? I really prefer to drive. After all, I know what can happen…

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Phoenix redux...

The cry of outrage was heard throughout the land… Did you hear me? I was bereft! NO computer for two whole days and two whole nights. That’s 2 entire days and 2 entire nights. Count ‘em! One, two. O…n…e, t…w…o… Ohmigawd, she’s dead! She died! And it happened with no provocation. The only drama involved was related to my hysterics.

I hadn’t realized just how much I relied on this modern, plastic contraption. I knew she stole my time unmercifully but I figured that was just due to a weakness on my part. I knew that she’s my workhorse even though she doesn’t dust, vacuum or do windows. Bill Gates ought’ta work on that. Instead of being a billionaire he could graduate to being a gazillionaire in no time at all…

This computer keeps me linked to the outside world. Not only do I communicate with family, friends and businesses on this electronic marvel, but I keep my calendar updated, store my addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses and keep track of information on books read, films watched, listen to radio (the receivable radio stations around here are kind of crappy), read newspapers and monitor tons of news websites, blog, check out artistic techniques and the latest materials and information for rubber stamping, find out information on just about anything that I’m curious about any time, and I can even play CDs or watch DVDs if I have a mind to. I don’t usually, but I could I’m sayin’… And I scan in all of the cards and stuff I make too so I won’t forget what I’ve done after they’re long gone, and I start each day with a fresh jigsaw puzzle and a word game from a puzzle site I subscribe to. All of that came to an abrupt halt earlier this week. For two whole days and two whole nights!

Well, that sure was a reality check. I sat morosely staring at her, willing her to make an electronic burp or something, and grieved. Oh how I grieved! Over an electronic hunk of plastic and wires. Is that pathetic or what?! Of course I couldn’t blog. I’m always behind in my posting of fresh blog entries anyway, but goldarned if I wasn’t suddenly just crammed full of ideas for things to write about whilst the creative juices simmered and festered and turned rancid for those two days and nights. I was primed. Oh, I was… The Muse (that harpy (!)) sat on my shoulder and whispered twisted little perversions in my tortured ear in a strident voice that begged to be satisfied…

Well, what could I do? I complained a lot. I broadcast my misery throughout the house like holiday cheer gone astray in the final weeks of December. Oh woe is me. I’ve lost a friend I brayed… I’ll get so far behind I opined. My spirit will moulder away to a corpse… I’m cut off, segregated, severed from the outside world completely. How could this happen? Why did this happen? What have I done or not done that I should have or not? I trusted her and she betrayed me. Ooohhhhhh….

Enter HERO HUSBAND… He’s such a splendid a fellow. Smart, very smart, and able, certainly able. Capable of fixing anything… He can too…fix anything. He’s a regular renaissance man, he is. He can write articulately, debate intelligently, do plumbing, electrical work, chemistry, mechanics, physics, computer stuff of all kinds. Computer stuff! Yeah, he can do all things “computer!” And he understands me totally when I tell him “oh, today I had to pull the wires out of that thingy on your desk again because the gizmo wouldn’t give me the email again and it made that be-ding(!) sound and popped up that stupid little ‘I don’t know you, get lost, I’m locking you out now’ message.” He knows just what I’m saying.

He can cook too. He’s a good cook. Oh he is a keeper. Mmmmn, hmmmn… That’s not all he can do or be, but at this time, wowee, he da Man! Yeah, baby… The only trouble? He has all these responsibilities pending. Like work. Full-time. And then there’s the part-time (teaching chemistry at the college)…which, if you include the preparation, is like a second full-time job. And we have another family member currently in need of extra time and care right now, and on top of everything else, dear husband was getting a cold. But this is a man up to a challenge.

Okay. So I had to wait. I did. I bit my tongue into a pulp. I tried to stop staring pitifully and moaning at the suddenly useless hunk of plastic and wire. I waited my turn semi-gracefully and tried to keep busy with all the stuff that I used to do so effortlessly before I became a modern woman. Okay, so I didn’t suddenly regain my housewifely efficiency. I know I used to keep very busy doing something, but…you can’t remember how to do everything right away after having forgotten it all so thoroughly. And I was in mourning here for heaven’s sake. So I did what any red blooded modern woman would do…I used Dear Husband’s computer. Or at least I tried. He was very accommodating. “Use mine,” he said. “It may be a bit unhandy and there’re a few things you’ll have to remember, but you can manage until I get yours up and running again. And don’t forget, it may take awhile to get your system up and running again…we don’t know exactly what’s wrong with it yet.”

Dear Husband is tall. I am short. His chair, his desk, everything is set up for the comfort of a taller person than me. My desk is totally organized and familiar to me and his is thoroughly littered with debris and there’s no available space left uncovered. I have an ergonomic keyboard for my arthritic hands. He doesn’t. He should because of his own hand troubles but his keyboard is some sort of special one that’s linked in with his audio card because he’s got a SPECIAL sort of super-duper sound system which he uses to blast me to Kingdom Come most of the time... He has a squadron of speakers, specially aimed right at him and very carefully attuned to his hearing pleasure. In his musical position he’s like General Patton commanding the 3rd Army while sweeping across France.

You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Mahler and Shostakovich FULL BLAST in super stereo right at a time when you’re ready, after a day from hell, to crawl into a hole and just “be” quietly, in an absence of sound. I like Mahler and Shostakovich, just not usually at the same time that he needs them and at such a concussive volume. He’s such a quiet man himself… I have decided that Mahler was the heavy metal king of the classical world. That’s an accurate statement in more than one way, actually, because Mahler used an abundance of “brass” in his works. I’m more of a baroque and chamber kind of gal myself. (But music plays such a central of our lives, I’ll have to blog about that separately sometime. That will require many posts actually…) He’s strictly classical and I’m pretty eclectic (I like most genres of music), although classical has always been the love of my life…

Anyway, I just couldn’t comfortably use his set-up. For one thing, all my settings and my links and my programs were still unavailable to me. I could check the email on both accounts but couldn’t comfortably send anything out. He uses a different email program for his account. I just wanted my own plastic playpal back… How had I come to this? How had I let myself become so subservient to a hunk of plastic with wires attached to it? Where had I gone wrong? I’d better get a grip on myself before I ended up in an addiction program of some kind. Nah, not really…I’m just putting this in for drama… Really.

Well, just like in the movies, the handsome savior (him) came to fair damsel’s rescue (me) and now I’m “back up and running.” Running like crazy, in fact, since it would seem that all my favorite bloggers suddenly had a spate of creativity while I was out of commission and left me behind in the dust. Now I’m faced with trying to recover two whole days and two whole nights of reading, etc. I figured I should do something special for this great guy and he said he wanted to “weigh in” on his role in this saga so here’s Dear Husband and his version of what’s what! (Fanfare…)


Educated people understand that automobiles can divine the existence of any extra money. Squirrel away five hundred dollars and the transmission breaks. Similarly, homes can detect the existence of free time. Plan to take an evening off relaxing with a good book and the spring for the garage door breaks. Not a major job but time intensive enough to guarantee that you will just finish before bedtime.

Computers, on the other hand, show no mercy. After spending a day at work and teaching a class in the evening I came home to relax only to encounter an agitated wife directing me to her computer where I faced a blue screen with the following message:

STOP: c000021a {Fatal System Error}The Windows Logon Process system terminated unexpectedly with a status f 0x00000407 (0x00000000 0x00000000)The system has been shut down

Attempts at rebooting only confirmed the same message:

STOP: c000021a {Fatal System Error}The Windows Logon Process system terminated unexpectedly with a status f 0x00000407 (0x00000000 0x00000000)The system has been shut down

I have a tendency to attribute most if not all computer problems to either a faulty operating system or else a defective hard drive. I used to not consider the operating system a suspect but then SP2 came along for Windows XP; but that is a whole different story.

A part of me believed that this time it wouldn’t be the hard drive since I had recently backed up all of Foxy’s files. Hard drives only quit when you don’t back them up, right?

It is in my nature to try the simple things first despite low probabilities of success. Therefore, I used the F8 key and tried booting up in safe mode. I wonder why they call it safe? Is there a hidden command that boots the system up in unsafe or dangerous mode? There is also the option of booting up the system in safe mode with a command prompt, obviously a means of switching rapidly to dangerous mode if it is needed to fry incoming viruses. Neither of these option offer any relief for Foxy’s digital habit. In my next experiment I try to restore the system to the last good configuration. Good for who? This is a clever feature developed by Microsoft so that people experiencing the problems we are having can restore their systems back to a point where the message on the screen will read:

STOP: c000021a {Fatal System Error}The Windows Logon Process system terminated unexpectedly with a status f 0x00000407 (0x00000000 0x00000000)The system has been shut down

At this point I went to bed and told Foxy that she could use my system in the meantime.

After coming home from work, eating, and preparing for the next night’s class, I tackled the computer problem again. This time I pulled out the box of disks and books that came with the system and actually read them. I swear there are people out there who think these books and packages of disks are a part of the packing material and throw them out with the cartons. From my manual I learned that Dell furnishes a neat little feature on the back of their systems where four small lights come on when you power up the system and tell you if your hardware is functioning, provided all the lights are green. Any combination containing one or more yellow lights means you have hardware problems. Foxy’s system gave all green lights, a good sign.

Next I tried the Dell diagnostics CD which provides some means of testing various parts of the system. I was pleased to see this work and I soon began running a bunch of tests that might explain the blue screen. Finally on the diagnostic testing of the hard drive we looked at the screen and saw:

IDE Disk Read TestError Code 0F00:0244Msg. Block 93188711Uncorrectable data error or media is write protected


IDE Disk Read TestError Code 0F00:0244Msg. Block 93193861Uncorrectable data error or media is write protected
Identical information was obtained during the IDE Disk Verify Test except the Error code is 0F00:1A44.

For whatever reason, some small sector of the hard drive became corrupted and needs to be fixed. I figured this would be a good place to try out the Windows XP recovery console which can be reached by booting from the operating system CD. That was my next try.

Did I mention that while all this is going on Foxy is sitting behind me asking, "Are we there yet?" or maybe it was "Will I have my computer tonight?". Using the CD, the system booted up and loaded drivers and whatnot until I reached the screen where you are given the choice of aborting, reloading the operating system, or hitting R to repair the operating system. I hit R and though expecting to see the recovery console, I was presented with a command prompt that asked which operating system I wanted to repair even though there was only one choice. I typed 1 and hit the enter key. The command prompt came back with something like:

C:\WINDOWS Administrator Password? or some such thing. I never entered a password on this system and Foxy claimed she didn’t either. This made me suspect that a hacker might have figured out a way to get though our maze of firewalls and discovering a lack of any password put one in themselves effectively locking us out of our own computer. I tried hitting enter without typing any password and followed this up with a few educated guesses for a password. Microsoft only gives you three tries and then you are out.

Desperate, I organized all of the information I had and attempted to get into a real-time chat with a Dell representative. No luck. I then put everything into an email since they responded so quickly the last time I had used this service. I hoped that maybe Dell put some sort of default password into the system but I would have to wait until they replied the next day.

Wednesday started as any other morning and a check of my email indicated that Dell had not yet responded. After work and school I checked again and still no message from Dell. Lucky thing I found a copy of PC Disaster and Recovery at the college library. Here I learned that XP Professional has to have a password for the administrator account. Since I knew I didn’t enter one it had to be Foxy who entered it except she didn’t know she was entering the most important password of the system without keeping any record of it.

Anyway I decided to try some various passwords that might work especially since this password had to be entered before Foxy discovered the importance of secure passwords. Now she comes up with passwords that might look like: &tF89#b5N+ or some other easy to remember combination. I knew I only had three guesses per CD boot cycle so they had to be good guesses. My fourth guess was correct. I still can’t get over this! You have to realize that the password I guessed is not something anyone else could ever guess even if they had the benefit of a book on the life and statistics of either of us. It was truly a lucky guess.

Now at the command prompt I typed Chkdsk /r and hit enter. After about thirty minutes the display indicates that two repairs had been attempted. There is a temptation to fiddle with the boot section of the hard drive but as a scientist I know you should never make two changes at once. So I attempt with suppressed excitement to reboot the system normally. The seconds tick and the old familiar desktop photo pops into view like the Phoenix rising from the ashes. From the cheering coming from over my shoulder, I assume I did a good thing. She said things like: “Thank you, oh thank you, thank you, thank you! I owe you! You’re the best! This is a call for celebration. My hero!”

Celebration? Did someone say “celebration?” Sounds good to me. Now I’m finally going to bed…
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