Sunday, May 30, 2010

Surviving Market Day

Well, we survived our first Farmer's Market, and as you might expect, it was truly a learning experience, complicated, of course, by the fact that A had rehearsal that night at 6:00, and the market ended at 6:00, which meant that R would have to leave early and breaking down the site was up to me and N. Then again, nothing that two real-men (one real-man in training) can't handle.

There were points right beforehand where I was beginning to feel a little stressed, mainly that we weren't going to sell anything, or that people would think our dumplings were no good. While both of these were possibilities, they were unrealized ones, and a good example of how fear of unknown things that haven't happened yet can stop people from ever trying things or taking a chance.

Sure, we were heading into uncharted territory, the idea of which terrified me, but there are a few things to keep in mind. First off, we were together as a family, so that makes a huge difference. Second, the worst that could happen is that we'd learn some big lessons and adapt for the next time around. I believe we have 10 market and by extension, 9 chances to rectify our mistakes. And finally, we still have our day jobs, for now.

We had procured our tent and chafing dishes the day before, so on market day, we were about 95% ready to go. We still needed to get oil for cooking and apple cider (our brilliant last minute/local retail addition), which would entail a trip to the COOP beforehand. Also, we needed more dumpling wrappers, which we would need to order. We needed braces for the tent, and the market people did not want us to use stakes, so I had the Vermonty idea of using pieces of firewood to hold down our tent. How's that for marketing?

The market opened at 3:00, but we were told to get there as early as 1:30. We were shooting for this time, so we could heat the water for the chafing dishes, then get the oil hot and ready. This meant that I would have to leave the house around 12:00, which by extension meant that I would have to start loading the car by late morning. For the record, we could not have done it without that Explorer.

Loading the car was a bit tricky, because there is so much stuff, but the key seemed to be packing the tent first and then placing everything else around it. It would've probably been easier if I was solo, but not nearly as fun. A brought along her guitar because she had rehearsal right afterward and it gave her something to do at the market. I managed to get things in, and like R said, it was like packing for a long camping trip, tent and all. One of the key things was to get ice ASAP to keep the dumpling frozen. R would get ahold of some dry ice and meet us at the Green.

I didn't have time to make the kids lunch, so when we arrived at the COOP to get the cider, we sat down for sushi, and even tried something new. The kids were growing weary of the same rolls, so we went for the eel and the salmon, which they both loved. We may get even crazier next time, but one step at a time. After lunch, we piled into the car and headed to Hanover. I had butterflies in my stomach.

The day was beautiful, perfect for a market, and when we got there, we were on the early side. I think one or two other vendors were there setting up. Being the new kids on the block, I felt a bit wary of being too assertive or overstepping my boundaries, so I kept it low key and tried not to step on anyone's toes. The biggest issues seem to be over space, which I have a hard time keeping mind of.

It took about ten minutes to set up, with the biggest thing being getting that darn tent up. It was our first time, though I'd helped set up tents for other events, and like most things in life, it isn't rocket science. The kids helped out and did a stand-up job. The tent is a key moment. Once it goes up, your market space is no longer an abstract concept and comes to life. Then you begin creating it. A&N pitched in and suggested where things should go. We had so much stuff, and didn't what went where, so we just dumped it onto the ground and worried about it later. Unfortunately, later comes sooner than you think.

Everyone else had the drill down, there tents were up and in running condition within minutes, while we were scrambling to find our footing. Because the clock was ticking, we had to get it together, and fast. We needed hot water and oil, which meant firing up the stove. We worried that the wind would compromise out stove, and sure enough, that came to fruition. Because of this, our water and oil heated up much more slowly, and had adverse consequences, but more on this later.

R showed up a bit late with the dry ice, but that wasn't a huge problem. The market starts officially at 3:00, which worked in our favor, because whenever someone walked by and wanted some dumplings, we had to turn the away, rather than tell them we not only had no clue what were doing, but we no product for sale. As 3:00 neared, however, things were getting a little tense. Because the heating was inefficient, after cooking, it took a few minutes for the oil to re-heat, and when you're in the thick of a market, those lost minutes can kill you.

Also, our stand has a lot of light, moving pieces, so a big wind will hit us hard. Things to consider in the future. By the time the market was in full swing, we were only at about 60% capacity. On a bright note, people were buying the dumplings, but we couldn't cook them fast enough, and the end product was not our ideal dumpling. This all stemmed from the fact that the stove wasn't getting hot enough, and we didn't have the luxury of taking our time to cook them because we were losing customers who realized what a bunch of losers we were. As a general rule of thumb, when you are not ready at that moment to serve your customer, they are gone. Some may come back, but for the most part, you've lost your chance.

We scrambled and learned a lot. There were at times lines of people who either liked our message (local, eco-friendly, Grateful Dead) or liked the dumplings, or both, so it was a good start. We ran out of certain things (sauce), were unprepared for certain situations (to-go bags), and believe it or not, sold out of certain items. The cider was a bit of a bust, but we figured what we didn't sell, we could drink, because we are big cider fans, as long as it's not filled with garbage like pesticides and preservatives, which is how our cider (Champlain Orchards) is. It's local, as well.

One major thing we really screwed up on was planning food and water for the workers, meaning us. We were thirsty the whole time and plowed through all of our water and started in on the cider, since nobody else was drinking it. Next time, we'll also pick up food for ourselves, like a big fat juicy killer Boloco burrito. Live and learn.

By the time 5:30 rolled around, we were winding down, and R&A had to go, leaving the men (one real-man in training) to hold down the fort. All we had left were apple, and I started to just give them away, which may have been a mistake, but it was late, and we were tired and on our own. Besides, it was only about 10 dumplings... I think.

The drag of working a market is that when you break everything down and head home, the work is not over. We had to clean out all the pots and equipment, and because it was covered in grease, I did it outside in the driveway, which made me fodder for the mosquitoes, which were out in full force. We were exhausted and could have waited until morning, but that meant putting off the inevitable suffering, and it was better to do it then and there. It reminded me of parenting, no matter how exhausted you are or how badly you want to whine, you just have to deal with it, because it's there.

Oh, and of course, I had to pick up A from her rehearsal at 8:30. The fun never stops.

So we learned a lot, and will take that knowledge into the next market, I hope. You either learn the hard lessons or perish by them. I think next time we'll be better prepared, but are sure to make more mistakes along the way. The next markets will be easier as the show and t-ball come to a close in the next week or two.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to roberto tostes for the pic.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Showtime and The Grateful Dumpling

Today is quite the momentous occasion in that it marks the first day of the Grateful Dumpling, our first family foray into the crazy world of retail sales. Heaven help us. We are making a go of selling meat, veggie, and apple dumplings that are as locally derived as possible. We are using local meat, apples, tofu, and eventually veggies, but due to the timing of our endeavor, couldn't get too much local produce. We'll have to work on that one. Just wanted to mention that R made the sign and as usual, she did a fabulous job.

Today is also the first day of the Farmer's Market and we are just figuring out all the things we need to do. Talk about going down to the wire. I spoke with the Hanover FM director yesterday for the first time, she was a little peeved I hadn't called her back sooner, and we hashed out some details. I think she was a little concerned that we hadn't spoken sooner, but by the end of the conversation, she said it seemed that we'd done all of this before, which I took as a compliment. A reach, I know, but you have to grab it when you can.

As of yesterday, we hadn't even obtained several things we needed for the market, including a tent, chafing dishes (I didn't even know what they were), Sterno, and a stove. The stove thing is complicated. We were told by the Vermont crew that we weren't allowed to cook at the market. No change in temp was the mantra, so we had to bring and serve food at the same temp. In other words, we couldn't bring cold food and cook it, and we couldn't bring hot food and let it get cold. I know how ridiculous this sounds, but those are the rules, so we figured we'd cook the food at home and keep it hot until the market, whereby we'd put them in chafing dishes and keep the warm. Not the best idea. We had originally planned on cooking the frozen dumplings on site, but now we had to change plans.

WELL, after speaking the NH folks, they said it was ridiculous to try to keep them hot, and to just cook them on site. We had to scramble to change our plans, which meant we needed a propane stove and propane to cook them. Also, we hadn't tested this approach since we assumed we weren't going to employ it. Why didn't we investigate this sooner?

We ordered a tent, but won't get it for about a week, at least, so we managed to finagle one from our friend, and didn't pick it up until yesterday afternoon. Also, we didn't know where to get chafing dishes until yesterday, and managed to borrow those, as well. They can be pretty pricey, and we don't want to plunge into an investment in something we're not sure is a long term deal. That, and the fact that I'm incredibly cheap. Anyway, I made a few calls and found them in some unlikely places.

In fact, I asked my neighbors, B&KJ, if they knew of them, and sure enough, they had some and were willing to let us borrow them. For the record, they are the nicest people I've ever met, and are always willing to help us out if we need it. I jumped at the opportunity, being cheap and all, and learned a thing or two about chafing dishes (why the heck are they called that?). KJ had the disposable kind, which is perfect for us. I don't want to borrow them for too long and will get some of our own soon enough, especially if they make a economical, disposable version. He also wanted to give us all of his Sterno, but I told him that wouldn't be necessary and I would get some. Little did I know what was in store for me.

Now that we had chafing dishes, we now needed Sterno. I mistakenly believed that Sterno was a camping thing, when in fact, it's nothing of the sort. Consequently, that stuff is not that easy to find. Sure, you can go to Wally World (as my Mentor would say) and find it, but that's a bit of a trek, so I tried to find it closer by, with no luck. I finally found it at the NE Kitchen Depot, and even then, the guys working there didn't know what Sterno was. It's called something else, but it was obvious they had no idea what I was referring to. What century were you born in?

We did catch a small break. Because of the weather, t-ball was canceled, so though N was a little bummed, it was one less place to be, although A still had rehearsal for her show, which was going to be late.

As for the market, there were legal hurdles to attend to. In an effort to protect the consumer, NH and VT have strict guidelines regarding the sale of food, rightfully so, though this makes our lives more complicated. Since they are separate states, their rules are not identical. And since we are total losers, we didn't learn about the rules until the zero hour. Fortunately, since we are selling at a FM, there is some flexibility, but not a lot. We have to answer to a higher power. This wouldn't be so bad if we had planned a little earlier and been ready, but since I didn't talk to the NH people until yesterday, we had to scramble, but nothing insurmountable. I think things are in working order, but who cares what I think?

The guy who is supposed to make our t-shirts if flaking out, but we can't blame him, he's a busy guy, and our order is a small one. Even still, it would have been nice to have our tied-eyes for the sale. You just can't have it all. We are promoting the healthy local thing, as well as the eco-friendly approach. This means our containers are from recycled material and are compostable, and at some point we'd like to give back to the community, but one thing at a time here. For the record, being local and eco-friendly are not the cost-effective approach, which as most of you know, goes against my nature, but sometimes you have to get your priorities, straight, especially if you want to save the planet.

I think there will be music, but I'll bring my CD player and Dead CDs, just for effect. There is no electricity, but I'll bring my jump box and plug in until the thing runs out of juice. Speaking of juice, we were told yesterday that there were too many lemonade vendors, so we had to switch gears once again and now we're selling local apple cider. Again, not the economical approach, but much cooler.

Today I have to load up the truck, get to the market early and set up, and then start cooking. We have no idea how many of these things we'll sell, or for that matter, how many to bring. Cooking them on site is a better way to go because that way there is less waste, though cooking on site can be stressful when you have a queue that reaches all the way to Harvard.

Either way, this should be interesting. Regardless of what happens, I can assure you that this will be an adventure, filled with learning experiences, both good and bad.

Until then, thanks for reading.

T-Ball Dilemma and Being Head Beagle (sort of)

I realize that with leadership comes responsibility, but this may be going a bit too far. It reminds me of when Snoopy became Head Beagle and came to hate it because of the ugly responsibilities. Anyway, it has come to our attention, more than half-way through the season, that a few of the families on our t-ball team have not paid their registration. They have in effect slipped through the cracks, avoiding the $25 fee. Not that we would condone this, but what's the big deal of a few dollars?

Well, it's complicated by the fact that there were a set number of hats and jerseys, which we felt short on, and now there are kids who have in fact paid the registration but don't have hats and jerseys. We were asked to identify the offenders and get those back.

Fat chance. I can't imagine telling a kid he's got to return his jersey, much less tell him he can't play. The question is, what to do? Some of these might not in fact have the $$ to pay. Personally, I'd like to employ my standard MO and ignore it until it goes away, or at least until the season ends, but that doesn't always work. We'll see what happens next.

For the record, it ain't easy being Head Beagle, and I'm only the assistant.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to shan dun for the pic.

Anticipating YKW at Farm Fest

We are on the cusp of the local farm festival, and I'm dreading seeing our old friend YKW. I know it's going to happen, I just don't know how the relevant parties will respond. My gut sense is it won't be pretty, but what are you going to do?

The one saving grace is that the kids will helping me out at that pizza stand, and A will be jam on stage with the band. You have to love distractions.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Alessandro Paiva for the pic.

Local Pond and Heat Stroke

I don't know if this is a validation of global warming (you can pretty much read into anything), but the weather had been unseasonably warm for a couple of days last week, to the point of being intolerable. We had one day where we hit the mid-90s, and it was brutal. The outdoor pools have yet to open, and when it's that hot, you don't want to swim indoors (at least I don't want to swim indoors), so the question becomes, what to do?

Well, lucky for us, there are a few ponds nearby that are fed by springs, making them clean enough to swim in. Best of all, they are frequented by local kids, so we get to have fun with the neighbors, as well.

We've been going to them over the past few days, riding our bikes, and it sure makes the heat more tolerable. Plus, we get that classic Tom Sawyer, summer, growing in the country experience. Something alien to a city boy like myself, who still has problems sinking his feet into the muck at the bottom of the pond and spends half the time reminding the kids not to drink the water.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Chee Kong Teo for the pic.

Mr. Popper's Penguins

We attended the local performance of Mr. Popper's Penguins at the Northern Stage, and they did an amazing job. The play was written and staged by the people in the company, and they did the music as well. Not only was the acting fantastic, but the music was so well done. What a talented group they are. I'd love for A&N to be more involved with them, I really think they'd thrive, but we'll see.

The play was nicely done, the kids are so good at their art, and I was glad we went. I also hoped that maybe A would be inspired to see what great things kids can do.

We also saw a bunch of our friends there, include the H's, and I have to confess, the theme of the play really spoke to me-unrealized dreams in the face of having to answer to the practical demands of everyday life. Who can't relate to that?

My hats off to Jody, Mary, Scott, and the entire crew. A fine performance.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and Mohammed Amod for the pic.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Crazy But Nice Day w/New Friends

We had a really nice day the other day, and best of all, it was a beautiful day (the kind that makes you grateful to be living in Vermont) and involved a playdate with a new (sort of) friend. We've been spending a lot of time with the community theater, and one of the kids, EC, in the play has been jiving with A. I know EC and his folks, P&J, because they are in my karate class and PC regularly beats me up when we spar. We are pretty much sparring buddies since we are the only two adults who are not black belts, so we match up well.

Also, R had to a go to some meeting up north all day, literally from early morning to evening, so I was riding solo. I'd assumed that she would be home in the late evening, when we were winding down for bed.

Anyway, I mentioned to P&J that the kids seemed to get along, and we decided on a playdate. They live nearby, and the date was set. I struggled with whether or not to include N, and at first decided to not include him. That way, he and I could go do something while A played with EC. N was really bummed upon learning this, as was A, a testament to what a great sister she is. She even lobbied for him. This, of course, put a wrench into my beautiful plan. Not only had I planned on spending the day with N, but I had already arranged for only A to play with E. What to do? We also were supposed to meet with NT to film the video, and I had a festival meeting to attend, which I didn't really have time to make.

Well, being the neurotic dad that I am, I contacted PC and put him on the spot. I asked if N could join in, giving him plenty of leeway to say maybe not this time, but PC is such a nice guy, he said it was fine. I felt bad, but N was so disappointed, and it broke my heart. When I told the kids about the change in plan, they were thrilled, and I suddenly had two hours of free time. Wow!

I was so happy that things worked out, that I decided to whip up a cake to bring over there. Our good friend KR had given us the recipe for rhubarb cake that was amazing, so I gave it a go with the organic rhubarb that she'd given us. I was crunched for time, and watched the clock tick away as the hour of our departure neared. It literally went down to the wire, and I pulled the cake out of the oven, put it in the car, and we left.

We went over to their house, which BTW is beautiful, such a nice location, and the weather was perfect. Sunny and cool/warm. Being the loser that I am, I forgot to put sunscreen on them, but I'm still adjusting to the arrival of Summer. Poor excuse, I know.

I left the kids with the intention of getting some stuff done at home, like building a barn, but ended up running around getting things for the house, including rope to prevent me from falling off the roof. I managed to do some work on the dormer, but before I knew it, I had to pick the kids up.

They had a lot of fun, and didn't want to leave, a good sign. What's really cool is that they were playing chess when I got there. Later I learned that they share a common interest in Harry Potter and Ben 10, so life was good. I was so glad that they had fun, and that N was included and it didn't make it difficult. Also, I really like P&J, and find it easy and enjoyable just hanging out with them and chatting. It was a really nice time and I wished I could have stayed longer, but we had meetings to attend. For the record, everyone liked the cake.

We jetted over to the garden to meet with NT, but she wasn't there. What's a bummer is that we saw her van at the store and I thought of going in and talking to her, but I assumed that she was en route to the garden, so rather than bother her, I just drove to the garden and waited. She never showed up because she had just come from the garden (we were a little late), and seeing that we weren't there, had left for other engagements. I should have...

One really bright note was that KR and JM were at the garden, so the kids got to hang out with them, and JM, who is in charge of music at the festival, asked A if she would play that day. She would play with KR, whose band would play backup. How awesome is that?

A was thrilled at the prospect, but bummed about missing NT, I could see her sitting patiently waiting for her on the grass. It bummed me out as I sat through the meeting, and I was noticeably distracted. The others must have been thinking, "Are we wasting your time here?" I felt bad, but felt worse for A. I excused myself early, I really didn't have to be there since the baking master couldn't attend, anyway, and gathered the kids in search of NT.

We stopped by her house and apologized profusely for missing her, and decided to shoot the video then and there. We sat in her van and improvised a scene, and it was a scream. It came out so well, and in retrospect, you realize things happen as they will, and maybe for a reason.

Still glowing from our awesome video shoot, we came home and decided to BBQ on our amazingly modern and high tech grill. I'd thawed out some of the amazing Cloudland Farm beef, got some Essem hot dogs from the store, and we were all set. We got the fire going, cooked the meal, and just as we were digging in, R came home from her meeting, and she was hungry. We'd had the foresight to make extra food in her honor, not really expecting her to be there, but not wanting to leave her out, either. We sat down to a fabulous meal, made s'mores over the hot coals, and then went to be.

So, in what originally began as a tense and anxious and crazy day turned out beautifully. I love when that happens.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Eva Schuster for the pic.


My dental woes really came to a head last week, and I was convinced I needed an emergency visit with my dentist. All the while, my family gives me no sympathy and can't understand why I'm such a big baby. Boy, if they only knew...

Either way, the fillings that I had done had begun to really hurt, so much so that they were borderline debilitating. I know, I'm being too dramatic, but the pain was excruciating. Forget about the fact that I couldn't eat, it really felt like the left side of my head was being crushed in a vise. A dull throb that seemed to seep into the rest of my head. Believe me when I tell you, it was painful. I called the dentist, who only comes in on Mondays and Tuesdays, and left a message, hoping that by then, the pain would go away.

In the meantime, I can't eat. At least not anything even remotely crunchy or hard. The problems is, on the one side of my mouth the cavity hurts, and on the other, I had the wisdom tooth pulled and another tooth filled, so I have pain on both ends and can't favor one side. Cold things are like eating dynamite, and hot things hurt, as well. I think I'm ready for a root canal.

If there is one bright note to it all, I'm losing weight because I can't do what I love to do throughout the day, which is to snack constantly. Bummer.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Francisco Navarro for the pic.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Crunch Time

Wow, the time has arrived. After trying to push all of our obligations out of our mind, the moment of reckoning is surely upon us. Today is Friday, and this weekend begins the madness that has become our lives. The local farm festival begins this weekend, and I'm responsible for helping out with pizzas, though I'm still not clear exactly what I'll be doing. The baking master will lead the charge, I believe (hope?), and I'll just roll the dough, though it never works out so simply. I'm supposed to pick up the firewood for the oven, and was told the pieces are too big so some splitting may be in order. Then I'll help man the booth, though again, I'm not sure what I'll be doing, and how much of a presence JH will be. Still not clear how money transactions will take place, but we shall see.

Then, next week, the fun really begins. The farmer's markets begin, and we're supposed to be selling dumplings at two of them. Can you believe that? What exactly did we get ourselves into? We just learned that as long as we keep our sales below a certain level, we can slide without a catering license of fair license, both of which require a state inspection of our preparing facility, i.e., our home. At least, that's how it works for Vermont. Not sure what the whole deal is for NH.

We needed to get a ton of supplies for the market, and we have knocked off most of them, if you can believe that one. Our friend said we can borrow her tent, and we found a nice table at Mr. Gs. The New England Kitchen Depot is a great store, paradise for anyone who likes to cook, and they carried a lot of the stuff we'll need to keep the food hot. We learned that we're supposed to keep the food at a constant temp when we sell it. That means it has to either be prepared hot and maintained hot for sales, or prepared cold and sold cold. We can't bring frozen dumplings to the market and cook them and sell them hot. Is that crazy, or what? In a way, it makes it easier because we can cook them at home and just bring them over, but still, we lose out on the cooking effect. The only way you can cook them there is by having a complete kitchen set up on location, like a big truck.

Now, of course, we just have to make the dumplings on top of all the household work and let us not forget being parents. I feel like Charlie Brown on the day of his big exam, laying in bed with a stomachache, not wanting to get out of bed.

He never had it so easy. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Pedro Simao for the pic.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Resolving Computer Problems

We had a computer issue that stemmed from my being so cheap, but what else is new? My Mentor would shake his head and say, "I told you so." Anyway, R and I both were having problems with our computers in that the power cords had become defective and were not charging. They sort of worked, but required 5-10 minutes of dancing with them before they kicked in, and then not always for long. We'd decided to get new ones, but official Mac hardware is expensive, not to mention hard to find for older models like ours. We toyed with the idea of getting a new computer for home, but we'll see about that.

Anyway, after a perfunctory degree of research, I bought two power cord knock-offs that were about half the price, and within a couple of weeks of having them, one of them ceased to work. Talk about a bummer. Best of all, the company has horrible customer service, and returning them will be a bear.

Faced with this dilemma, I came upon a solution. The Mac adapters can actually be taken apart and the pieces mixed and matched. I simply took exchanged the broken pieces with the functional ones and voila, we had one Mac adapter that worked fine. Coupled with one cheap one that worked, we were back in business. I let R use the nicer one and I took the cheapie, since I got us into this mess in the first place.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Spencer Ritenour for the pic.

What Have We Gotten Ourselves Into?

I've reached that phase where I'm beginning to ask "What the heck have we gotten ourselves into?" We have so many things going on, and it seems like it's going just get worse. On top of our daily activities and quotidian responsibilities, we have the farmer's market coming up (not one, but two), where we're slated to be a seller. With that, there are the legal and administrative issues, as well as the actual making of the food. Yikes!

We have our annual farm festival coming up, which for the record is a great event, but I have to help make pizza, and then 4th of July celebration, where we'll be involved, as well. What exactly were we thinking?

Oh well, more fodder for my blog. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Chris Baker for the pic.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Not Worthy

There are definitely days when I feel completely unworthy of our kids. Actually, there are many of those days, and we had a couple in a row just recently. As you may have gathered from my incessant whining (it's not that bad, is it?), we are feeling pretty overwhelmed in this neck of the woods. So much so, that every little bit helps when the kids pitch in, but when the do it without a word from mom and dad, it's like a ray of sunshine through the clouds (I use that metaphor often).

Because there is so much work that needs to be done outside, I'm not around inside as much as I could be, overseeing the running of the homestead. This includes cleaning, making beds, preparing food, and schooling. The other day, as I was furiously trying to do fascia work and stain boards, A came out and asked me if I wanted her to make lunch. Not just for themselves, but for me, as well. Now I'm not a big lunch eater, but how I could say no?

Not only that, but she informed me that she'd made her and her brother's bed, she and N cleaned the room, and they'd both done their schoolwork. And I didn't say a word. N also fed the cats and cleaned their dishes. AND, they did the same the next day, as well.

Amazing. Just goes to show you, I'm not worthy, but I'm working on it. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to julia _ for the pic.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Everyone's Out To Get My Money and Cat Strategy

Okay, as I mentioned in a previous post, I get the distinct impression that people are out to get me, or at least my money. Then again, that's not so surprising, is it? I already went on about the whole ice cream debacle, but something that baffles me is I took my Mentor's car in to have the oil changed and for whatever reason, it cost nearly $60. I couldn't believe it. I was going to change it myself, but I couldn't get to the darn filter, so I just took it in. I even bought the oil and filter, but ended up returning it to the store.

I also ran into another problem with the car, and I know my Mentor is shaking his head in disbelief, but the darn mechanics can't seem to find the right filter for the car. The one they had didn't fit, so they called the parts place, and they brought one over that was the wrong size, as well. I ended up sitting there for over 2 hours while they tried to find the filter. Finally I said forget it, just put the old one on, I had to go.

The next day, I was going to change the oil on our car and had the thing jacked up and ready to go, and I couldn't get the darn bolt off. I had been changing the oil for the past year, but the last oil change, I took it into Bob's because we needed the tires rotated so I just had them do it. They put the lug-nut on too tight, I couldn't get it off, and started to warp the bolt, rounding the edges. I was bummed, and decided to just take it in. I kind felt slighted, however, by the fact that they had put the bolt on too tightly and I wasn't man enough to loosen it. Time to get an impact wrench.

Coupled with my conspiracy theories about Ben and Jerry's, I'm convinced that the world is conspiring against me. Oh well, what else is new?

One final note, we've been having problems getting the cats to come inside at night, or should I say, R has been having trouble. She is out there sometimes until midnight calling for them, and on some nights, they stay out all night. If they knew the dangers they were in, they wouldn't be so bold, but they're cats, after all. Either way, we have shifted to feeding them once a day, and in the evening. We'll starve them into submission.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to A&N for the pic.

Getting Old and Decrepit

I finally went out and got new glasses. Are they me, or what?

Actually, in a sign that I'm getting old and decrepit, I actually broke down and got bifocals. I have been having a hard time reading small print, and R told me the progressive lenses work well, so I went for it. I'm having some adjustment issues, but that's to be expected from a real man, or should I say, a real man in training.

It ain't easy getting old. Just ask our kids. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Harry Fodor for the pic.

Rehearsal, Library Meeting, and Missing Practice

So my life of public service has cramped my style a bit. My trustee meeting is coinciding with t-ball practice, and being a coach and all, how can I possibly not be there? I mean, the fate of the free world depends on my presence, or at least batting practice. I mentioned to the other trustees that I had to be somewhere, though I toyed with the idea of spinning a story because I was a little embarrassed to say I had to miss some of the meeting because of t-ball, but in the end, opted for the honest approach, which of course got me nowhere, because I didn't manage to leave early.

Coach KW said it was no problem if I showed up or not (thanks a lot), her sons would help out (great kids) and R agreed to cover for me. So the way it worked out was I would take the kids to the library along with their bikes and t-ball gear, and they would hang out and I would be a trustee.

R would come and pick up the kids and take them to t-ball while I finished the meeting. After the meeting, I would head over to practice, where nobody even noticed I was missing, and R would take A home for supper. N and I would join them to eat, and then A had rehearsal for the community theater, which on that night went for 1.5 hours.

Welcome to a day in our lives. It's a good thing we have two cars... for now. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Agata Urbaniak for the pic.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

We had a wonderful Mother's Day last weekend, and I realize I'm way behind the curve here, but what else is new? Besides, I'm spread pretty thin these days, so bear with me.

The kids really get into special occasions, especially when it involves mom. A&N holed up in the school room and went all out, making cards and gifts from assorted craft supplies. Given the time and left to her own devices, they can do an amazing job of making gifts that would break your heart if you saw them. They are so cool, and so endearing, you can really see that they put a lot of thought into them.

The Friday before Mother's Day, we decided to go out and get flowers for R, but we ran into the problem of keeping them fresh until Sunday. We knew come M-day that we couldn't really slip out and make it a nice surprise, so we got them earlier. We then found a nice vase and kept them in water in the secret room. The kids made it clear to R that she was not to enter, and they kept everything stashed in there. The night before, A was stressed out that I wasn't going to put the flowers in the nice vase in time, but I managed. Give a guy more credit, why don't you?

The morning of Mother's Day, the kids were besides themselves. They kept asking me, "Can we go see mom?" I told them to be patient, let her sleep, but they couldn't wait. Finally, R appeared, and boy was she surprised. She asked us how we got the flowers without her knowing. If only she knew.

The weather was cold, some sort of cold front, so we hung out by the fire and the kids made pancakes and bacon. The pancakes were from a recipe we got from our King Arthur Flour Whole Grain cookbook, which we bought at auction at the Winter Carnival. You can freeze the mix and simply add milk and eggs, which is perfect for the kids.

After breakfast, R did some work at home, and then we headed over to the big city for dinner and then a movie. We ate at our favorite place, Boloco, and in line with the fact that we love that place, we got a free burrito for Mother's Day. How cool is that? We love Boloco, I could eat there every day.

After dinner we went to see that Disney flick, The Ocean, which was okay, but somehow Pierce Brosnan just doesn't cut it as a narrator. They need someone like David Attenborough or Peter Wolf or something like that. I hate to admit it, but on a few occasions, I found myself falling asleep.

We went for Ben and Jerry's ice cream afterward, and I sort came away from the place with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. They seem to be embracing the Starbuck's approach to ice cream. They have these deceptive names for ice cream, and when you want a small scoop, you need to specify a "kid's" scoop, otherwise they give you a bigger one than you want and of course charge you more. I mean, seriously, our kids are little, I don't want them eating a half a pint of ice cream. Either way, I felt deceived and duped, kind of like I feel at the auto mechanic's shop, but more on that later.

We got home and it was getting dark, but I figured it was cool and nice out, so a perfect time to mow the lawn before bedtime.

A nice Mother's Day, mainly because we hung out together and got to eat Boloco and ice cream. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

T-Ball Stabilization

T-ball practice has been going pretty smoothly, and I have to give coach KW credit, she's great with the kids. Lots of fun energy, the kind kids respond to. I don't know KW's circumstances, but she's got three great boys that help out, and it's amazing for teenage boys to be so willing and earnest in helping out a bunch of 5-6 year old kids learn to play ball. Hats off to her for great parenting.

We've figured out our drill for t-ball, and it's working out well. We split the practice in half. The first half, we do stretches and a bit of exercise, then focus on basics, covering a fundamental or two with each kid. The second half of the practice we play a scrimmage, where they get to implement what they learned into action. It's complete chaos, and any planning goes right out the window as kids scramble in every possible direction, but they have fun.

Being the elder statesmen, N is in a reasonable position in the skills category, and one of the only kids (I think there are 4) who wants to be pitched to. I'll leave it at that.

I think we've found a plan that will get us through the season, but we'll see. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Larisa Hicken for the pic.

P.S. I think softball is a thing of the past. It just wasn't meant to be, and that's fine. We have too much on our plate, anyway, and A is more of an artist, as opposed to a jock.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More Divine Intervention

Boy, we sure caught a few breaks yesterday with the weather, and this time around, it was bad weather that worked in our favor. In retrospect, however, it may not have mattered, anyway.

I had been trying to get A to play softball because some of her friends were on the team, so naturally, being the overbearing dad that I am, I tried to force the issue despite her ambivalence. She was hesitant about the whole thing, but often times with new things she is not sure but enjoys it in the end. She just needs a little nudging.

Well, as it turns out, we missed the first practice, so I figured we could make it to the second one without falling too far behind. That night, however, N had drama class in WRJ, then t-ball, then after practice, A had her community theater rehearsal. It was crazy, and I didn't want to bite off too much, but I wanted her to at least try softball. On the other hand, if she missed too many practices, at some point it might not be worth it, and here she was going to miss another one because of rehearsal.

Then the clouds rolled in, and before we knew it, there was rain, thunder and lightning. Practice for t-ball and softball was canceled. New life. Now A could go to rehearsal and not miss another practice and still be up to speed.

In the end, however, after further inquiry, she indicated that she just wasn't that interested in softball. She's an artist, not a jock, like her brother. I decided that you just can't force these issues, and left it at that. Part of the reason I was encouraging her was because she is good, she can really hit the ball, and she has a good arm. Not to be sexist, but she doesn't throw "like a girl," the kiss of death for any boy playing Little League. She has good form and a strong arm, and she can run. The only thing she needs practice in is fielding, but that applies to every kid I've seen on the field.

I'll just leave it at that. Just as a side note, we also had a dentist's appointment that morning, which I'd forgotten about and missed. They fine you for missing an appointment without giving them enough notice, but this time around, they cut me a break because someone had canceled and if I could fill the void, they'd forgive my oversight. Serendipity shines it's light on us once again.

Or as my Mentor would say, "Friggin cosmic!"

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to laura00 for the pic.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Reading Machine

In an example of a situation that would bring tears of joy to any parent, N has become a bit of a reading machine. I'll tell you one thing, you haven't really experienced the true meaning of life until you've seen your child in their underwear or wearing a robe on the couch and losing themselves in a good book. A good reminder of what life is all about.

Mind you, it wasn't always this way. N wasn't as keen on reading as A. In fact, when he was really little, he didn't even like being read to, but we hung in there and eventually he began to love having stories read to him, and now, he is able to read on his own. It's too cool for words to see his face light up with recognition when he can read and understand something. He has yet to really jump in head first and devour books, but at least he enjoys them. One step at a time, as the saying goes.

I'll take it. Until the next time, thanks for reading.

It Ain't Easy Squeezing It In and Final Drama

No, I'm not talking about going to the bathroom.

I'm talking about getting the writing done, but also keeping in mind the long term goals, which are to get my glorious freelance writing career up and running. Not easy to do when you're a SAHD who is trying to be a real man at the same time. On the one hand, you want to be like Hemingway and write and do manly things and poison your body with absinthe, but on the other hand, I don't think he scored too many warm and fuzzy points in being a dad. Just a guess.

Either way, I'm torn. I have a writing gig that pays peanuts, but it pays, so I try to write at least one a day, but preferably two, and in a golden world, three. This is doable, I've done it, but it takes some time, usually all of my free morning time, which is when I write best. This, however, does not leave a lot of time to get the big stuff in, like writing a novel or play or screenplay... etc. One has to be sacrificed to fulfill the other, that's the way of the world. Oh, and of course, there's the issue of this blog, but don't get me started.

Anyway, I started writing a feature piece, but these things take time. First, because it's a longer, more involved piece. Second, because if it's a real piece of journalistic work, it has to be good. And third, because it's new territory, and I always struggle in these arenas. The take home message, I need some time to get it done, and time is one of the many things I don't have. I'm not trying to make excuses, just pointing out the drama that has become my life.

So I keep plugging along. I have confidence regarding two issues. One, I feel I can do this. This may be delusional, but sometimes you're better off that way. And two, that it will happen, and the day will come when I will get my act together and get it done. Then, my glorious freelance career will get off the ground, and we can all live our fabulously opulent lifestyles.

In the meantime, there are the quotidian matters that need to be attended to, and of these, there are many. A&N had their final drama classes this past week, and the program is coming to an abrupt halt. This is a bummer, because not only did the kids love the class, but we thought it was a good arena for A to get some constructive criticism that she will take to heart (i.e., it isn't coming from her parents), she is challenged and has to work hard to overcome it, she can express her creative and imaginative side, and she is around interesting and imaginative kids. AND, it's a cool experience and endeavor.

Now it's done. Some parents have a desire to keep it going, and I hope this works out. I think A came out of it liking it, but not loving it. In retrospect, she could have done better if she'd put in the time and effort, but a lot of things come easy for her. When the going gets tough and the challenge is greater than normal, her mode is to walk away and seek out the easier things. Not a good way to go through life. The only way to hook her into something more difficult is if she understands the end result is rewarding. That, or having us force her, which breeds resentment.

I think the drama speaks to her on a number of levels, and afterward, I spoke with her and she thought she could have done better, and though at first she didn't love the class, mainly because it wasn't fun and silly, but required work, she did get something out of it. She said if she had to do it all over again, she might be inclined to put in the time. We shall see.

We also sat in on N's final class, and somehow the kids seemed more out of control than last time. In fact, there were moments when it seemed like anarchy. I could see the exasperation of the teacher, and some of the kids struck me as in need of medication, it was that bad. I found myself exhausted in the end, but there was an end. N is bummed it's over, but maybe that's not a bad thing. One less activity to have to get to.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Zsuzsanna Kilian for the pic.

Green Up Day and Rehydration Issues

I made a whiny post and deleted it because it was so whiny, but in retrospect, maybe should have kept it. Like the line in Biloxi Blues when the character tears the page out of his diary because it offended his friend, "Once you start compromising your values, you become a candidate for mediocrity." I think that's a forgone conclusion.

Anyway, there's too much to deal with to whine, so I'll move forward and stew quietly, instead. We had Green Up Day this past weekend, and the kids were really excited about it all. People really get into it, and the town really rallies (sp?) behind the cause. They have all sorts of activities and events, and it's a big day out here. Also, people fiercely defend their cleaning areas. I was told people call in the day before to reserve their road. Last year, someone beat us to the punch on our road, and this year I, too, got into the act and was determined that we should clean the road we live on. For the record, the people who scooped us last year were our neighbors and friends. This year, when we were taking care of our neighbor's cat, we actually cleaned up the road on our own, and there was plenty of trash. Walking to and fro, we picked up a bag's worth, and felt good about doing our part, because every day should be Green Up Day, don't you think?

It was a beautiful day, and R spent it in the garden while I worked on the barn/yard. At some point, the kids wanted to do Green Up, so we went for a walk. There wasn't much to do, as expected, but they had fun, and we saw several of our friends getting into the act, as well.

After working in the yard all day in the hot sun, I've found I have rehydration issues, and at R's suggestion, decided to drink an oral rehydration solution instead of water. More carbs, salts and electrolytes, it reminds me of Gatorade. At the very least, it tastes good, and I want to believe that it will help, so we'll see. The heat is only going to get worse.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Flavio Takemoto for the pic.