Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Robots, Race Cars, Lacrosse, and All Sorts of Fun

I forgot to mention that last week, after a busy day of lacrosse and girl's socializing, we headed over to the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth to attend their annual open house. We figured it would speak to the kids, and sure enough, it did. It was a complicated evening because N had lacrosse, and A had to tag along but it worked out perfectly because all of her hockey buddies, including her BFFs, all play lacrosse and have brothers that play lacrosse, so they all end up at the same place. It's beautiful, actually.

It sure makes my life easier because the kids are on auto pilot. The most complicated part is meals. Since we were on a tight schedule, I decided that Subway BLTs in the car were in order. I picked up the sandwiches en route to lax, and then kept them in an ice chest while the kids had fun. N's practice ended at 6:30, and the Thayer open house ended at 8:00, so we didn't have a lot of time, but also didn't want to miss it. I gathered the kids up and we headed over, arriving at Dartmouth around 7:00. Mom was going to see a movie from 7-9, so we were going to meet her at the observatory. In case you didn't know this, Dartmouth has an observatory, and they open it to the public from 6-9, weather permitting, but more on this later.

The engineering event was cool and fun, the kids were definitely intrigued by some of the stuff, especially robots and machines, while some of the bio-engineering stuff was a little beyond their comprehension. The event culminated in a room with a 3-D printer and all sorts of machine shop stuff, and it was packed. We saw a lot of people we knew, and it was a nice way to spend a Friday night. There was an electric race car that apparently races in a big event down south, so I thought it would be a cool thing to check out.

The engineering gig finished around 8:00, and we headed over to the observatory, but it was cloudy so it was closed. Bummer. We decided to meet mom at the movie theater, and we had about 30 minutes to kill, so we walked around the campus and just relaxed. Mom appeared around 9:00, pleasantly surprised to see us.

We went home and went to sleep, tired after a long day and needing rest for our big trip, which we are currently on, but that's a story for another time.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Peyri Herrera for the pic.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Taking Off For Belize

Since we are now experts at traveling light, we managed to get 10 days worth of stuff in one backpack for each of us, and one big bag for other stuff. The kids are amazing, they get almost all of their stuff in their backpacks. The canvas bag is for food and snacks. That's the beauty of traveling to a warm place, you don't need a lot of heavy stuff. When we traveled to Quebec City, we needed a lot more space.

We flew out of Boston on Monday and arrived in Belize that afternoon, with a stop in Miami en route. It was cool and crisp in Boston as we departed, but by the time we were in Miami, you could feel the heat. It was in the mid-80s and humid. I realize a lot of people love this weather, but it's only April, I don't know how they survive the summer.

The flight was a pleasant experience for two reasons. First, there was a movie, which I was thought was a thing of the past. One of the biggest challenges in traveling with kids is entertaining them without the use of video games. Meals are important, too, but you can plan for that. It's hard for a kid to sit for 6-8 hours in a cramped airplane, even if it is fun and exciting to travel. I bring my laptop and tons of DVDs for the kids to watch, but there is a finite amount of time you can use the computer before the battery runs out. International flights are brutal and long, but they usually offer multiple movies, and if you get a more modern plane, they have the awesome screens right in front of your seat. You can't beat it.

You don't get those perks on domestic flights, and I've noticed they no longer offer movies, which is a bummer, but again, flying has just become more functional, less about comfort and enjoyment. This flight on American Airlines, however, they were showing Spiderman, which was a bonus for all of us, because we'd never seen it and it's probably not something we'd go out of our way to see. This also meant we could save battery power on laptop so we could use it for the second leg of the trip, which for the record, also had a movie, sort of.

Anyway, the flight was pleasant, there was a slight delay with an equipment issue, which you never like to hear about, but what are you going to do? It was about 3 hours to Miami, then about an hour layover, even with the delay. We had food and snacks so we were all set. Then, on the second leg, not only did they have a video (it was a TV show, not a movie), but the flight was barely 50% full. When does that ever happen? As a consequence, we got to spread out, and it was a comfortable trip. The kids used the laptop to watch a movie and I watched the TV show and took a nap.

Once we were in Belize City, we spent a little time in the Philip SW Goldson (how'd they come up with that name?) airport before boarding a small prop plane to Ambergris Cay, which is where we are currently staying. For anyone who hasn't traveled in Latin or South America, or for that matter, anywhere that is not an industrialized nation, the airports are always an experience. Much like you would expect in a movie, sort of rustic and small, hot and provincial. Sometimes it's amazing they land big jets there, but they do. It reminded me of Costa Rica or any of the Caribbean Islands. They seem to have the same decor, sort of dull muted colors on the walls and guys who look like soldiers walking around. There's always a small stand serving local food, most of which is fried, and a small souvenir shop. It's really an interesting experience, and I chatted with the woman in the shop and she gave us some tips on what to check out.

Once we checked in and went through security, we took a Tropic Air plane to Ambergris Cay, which is where we are currently staying. The flight was only about 15 minutes, and we were on some sort of prop plane I couldn't identify. That's a job for the Amazing PR Man. It was a pretty smooth flight, even though the cabin was sweltering, and then the shuttle came to get us and transport us to the hotel. It was nice to get to our flat and change into shorts.

The island is nice and inviting. The weather is warm and breezy, and maybe a bit more developed than we anticipated. Apparently there are lots of American tourists and ex-pats who have made this their home, and this area that we're in seems to cater to that demographic.

The cottage we are in is beautiful, and we have been doing a lot of exploring, but that's a story for another time.

Until then, thanks for reading.

First Day of Travel

Our first day on vacation, once we got past the episode with the critters, went really smoothly, and got me to thinking that it's a great way to plan a trip. First off, it's nice to spend the night at a hotel prior to your plane flight. Granted, this makes travel more expensive, so it's not always an option, but it affords you a lot of time to get ready, not to mention salvage the destruction of your tomato plants if need be.

We took our time getting ready, and had a nice leisurely meal before we hit the road, which is great because eating while on the road is not always easy. Learning from our past experiences, we packed a ton of food for the plane flight. Flying today is not the warm and fuzzy experience it used to be because the airlines don't give you much in the way of food or anything. It's a bare bones experience, but we really can't complain because it's still pretty affordable, and it's really about just getting to your destination. Besides, we complain too much anyway, when in fact we have so much we should be grateful for, but don't get me started.

As any parent knows, traveling is more of a challenge with the kids, so we pack plenty of sandwiches and snacks. You can't have too much, so we bring what's reasonable to carry. This allows us to try to bring stuff that is at least marginally healthy, as well. The drive down was smooth because it was Sunday and we avoided rush hour, and our hotel was nice, as well. We couldn't stay at our beloved Embassy Suites because it was just too expensive, but the Holiday Inn Express worked out just fine. The hotel was close enough to the airport, and the parking was great because we left the car in what seemed like a safe spot, really close to the front entrance.

The hotel is close to a shopping complex that has a Panera, which is a good option for a meal. You can get food that is reasonably healthy and reasonably priced. A win-win in my book. After a quick meal, it was back to the hotel and straight to be. We had a 8AM flight, which meant a 6AM departure from the hotel. Lucky for us, getting up wasn't too difficult. Plus, the breakfast people were nice enough to let us eat early, and we chowed down. The food was good, maybe a little more variety than the generic junk you always get most chain hotels, i.e. no pre-fab eggs and nasty waffle machines.

Then it was off to the airport, which again, was smooth. The hotel has a shuttle, and it was right on time. We checked in at the desk and had some time to spare at the gate. As hard as it is to wake up, an early morning flight has many perks. First off, you have the whole day still ahead of you, but it's also a little quieter at the airport, and the airlines haven't had as much of a chance to fall behind schedule. It's not much, but I'll take it.

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

Nature's Wrath

Talk about timing, this is one that's hard to believe. As many of you might know by now, I'm growing lots of tomato plants for our garden, both of them. I probably seeded close to 100 plants, figuring not all of them would make it, and if they did, I could give them away. People appreciate that, and even pay money for them. I know I have in the past... not this year.

Our community garden has a greenhouse that we can leave the starters in to grow through the spring, thus avoiding any frost dangers. Plus, they're our neighbors and friends, so they are willing to water the plants when we are away. The setup is amazing, they do a great job of hosting the gardens on so many levels, plus it's withing walking distance. You just can't beat it.

We were planning on being away so I figured it was a great time to put our seedlings into the greenhouse. I contacted them and they said they'd be happy to water the plants, and everything was set, Plus, they're expert gardeners, so they know the drill. I put the seedlings in on Saturday, and on Sunday morning I gave them some water. Later that same Sunday, as we were packed and ready to take our trip, I asked if we could stop by the greenhouse so I could have one last look at the plants, and about 75% of them had the tops clipped or eaten right off, all within the span of a few hours. I couldn't believe it.

I wasn't sure what to do, we were on our way out for our trip. I was so bummed, our precious little seedlings had been decimated, but fortunately we were not in a hurry to leave. We were lucky in the sense that a lot of the seeds had not yet sprouted, so they hadn't been eaten, though a few had been dug up as if the critter was searching for some more to eat. We had to do something, so we gathered up the seedlings and took them back home to the mud room.

We had leftover seeds, so we re-seeded the ones that had tops bit off, figuring they wouldn't bounce back at that point, and if they did, we could just trim off the excess. R and the kids helped, and before long, the job was done. I gave them a quick spritz and then had to ask our friends who were watching the cats if they could do us one more favor and keep an eye on the plants, as well. As you would expect, they were all happy to help out.

Boy, talk about drama before our departure. I'm an animal lover, but sometimes critters can get on your nerves. I think the greenhouse would benefit from having a cat, like Misty and Dusty, our resident feline assassins.

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

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Still Not Ready

Here we are on the cusp of our big trip and I haven't even come close to packing my bag, yet. It seems like every trip we take, we get increasingly relaxed to the point to where we forget things and make mistakes. Then again, maybe that's not such a bad thing because it teaches you that when things go wrong, it's not the end of the world. Big deal, right? Besides, what does the illusion of being in control get you? Not much, as far as I'm concerned.

We just finalized our rental car and we'll be hitting the road at some point today, probably after lunch. We have an early AM flight out of Boston, so we'll be spending the night, which is nice because it is very relaxed getting ready. We can leave at any time because it's just about getting to the hotel. It adds extra cost, which is a bummer, but is a really nice way to go.

Talk to me tomorrow when we have to catch an early morning flight. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Alison Christine for the pic.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Excited About the Little Things

I hate to be such a nerd about things, but I am really excited about our garden, to the point where I was getting really nervous and stressed that the seeds weren't germinating, at least visibly. I would check the pots two or three times every day, and still nothing. I started to wonder if I screwed something up, which wouldn't be the first time.

We've had a garden for several years, but usually planted starters that we purchased from the market or in town. Every year I kick myself because I felt like it's something we could have done this. All it takes is a little planning and initiative, and this year we finally got our act together and got the seeds in time. The key, at least for me, is keeping it simple. I got mainly tomatoes, three different varieties: Roma, Amish Paste, and some other breed that I can't pronounce even if I remembered its name. R and the kids wanted squash, peas, and beans, but the last two you directly plant.

It was fun because the kids got into it and helped choose the seeds and then get the starter pots going. I made a mistake early on by not wetting the soil, which is really dry and sort of hard to work with. Plus, when it's dry, it doesn't seem to moisten properly, which of course added to my neurosis. I found out later you're supposed to dampen it before working with it, which I would have known had I read the instructions. What else is new?

Once we had the pots ready, we brought them inside and I sat and waited for signs of life. After about a week, I was ready to dump the pots out and search the debris for a seedling. I ran into issues watering them because the liquid seemed to gather on top and not soak in, and then it didn't seem to sink in very far. So many things to worry about.

Well, after what seemed like two weeks, some of the plants started to break the surface, and let me tell you, I was so stoked. It's a pretty amazing thing to see a plant come out of this tiny seed, which will eventually bear fruits and vegetables. How can you not be in awe of it.

I'm going to take them over to the greenhouse and eventually I may need to transplant them, but that's for another time.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Tico for the pic.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Game, Set, and Match

We got N a new tennis racket (new meaning used but new for him) and he's pretty stoked with it. It's an adult sized racket though it's really light, but most importantly, it looks cool. N is a pretty good tennis player and up to this point he's used a kid sized racket. He could use this for several years if he wanted to.

The first order of business was to put a new grip on, which was much easier than I thought it would be, mainly because he did all the work. He was into it and did a great job, first removing the old grip and then attaching the new. We got these cool "grippy" grips from the store, and we ended up replacing the grips on all four of our rackets. I've had my racket since college and never really liked the grip, it's leather and stylish but thick and smooth. This new grip tape is thinner and grips like crazy, I love it.

Anyway, we were ready to break in our newly gripped rackets, so all four of us headed over to the courts for a game. It was fun, and even though A is not that into the game, it's fun playing with her because she's so witty and entertaining. At some point I think N and I will have some good matches, but we're not quite there, yet. One thing is for sure, however, and that is that we have a firm grip on the situation.

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

Lacrosse and Girls Just Having Fun

N's lacrosse (lax) season has finally kicked in, and it's nice to be outside, even if it's still a little chilly. During one of his practices A said she wanted to attend, missing her track practice in the process. All of her friends are doing track at the school, and since they have siblings who play boys lax, they were all going to end up at the field, so they told A to come.

N had drums that day, as well, so A brought along her sketch pad and a book, and we sat in the car while N pounded away at the percussions. After, he suited up for lax, A and I were in the car when we heard this pounding on the window, and there they were - teenage girls just wanting to hang and have fun, and have fun they did. There were about 6-7 of them, and they took off together to do teenage girl things. Don't ask me, I just work here.

The lax field is quite the scene, even more so than hockey, maybe because lax is so popular (much cheaper, less time and travel) and people want to be outside. After N's practice, there is enough to do, including plenty of socializing. The older kids practice after him, so most of the families we know stick around.

We were ready to leave because we still had to get home and make supper, but A was nowhere to be seen. I ventured into the woods to try and find them, but they are pretty extensive, and I had no luck. HC's mom was helping me look, and at some point they emerged on the other side of the hill, all 52 of them... just kidding, they were about 8. Apparently they got lost and started to panic before they found their way. Sort of funny, sort of not.

I'm glad she had fun, and I'm glad she got to hang with her friends. This could become a regular thing, which is fine by me.

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

Back From the Big Apple and Video Camp Crazy

I forgot to write about this, but a week or two back, A went down to NYC with her buddies and N was in video camp. It must have been a thrill to head to the big city with your friends at that age, I never did cool things like that at that age.

It was weird with A gone, but N and I made the most of it. I was able to get some stuff done on many fronts, and N was at video camp, which is always a lot of fun. Plus, it's good for N to do things without his big sister, it helps him to be more independent. Since camp was over in another town, we were able to do things in the afternoon, including going to the driving range (and ice cream) and skate park. The weather has been nice and the snow is finally all gone.

A came back in the middle of the week, and as you can imagine, she had a blast, though I get a sense the trip was predominantly Long Island vs. the Big Apple, which is fine for a teenage girl. In fact, it doesn't really matter where you are, as long as you're hanging with your homies.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Nemanja Ljubenovic for the pic (hey, that rhymes).

Thursday, April 24, 2014

75% and Counting

I've been working like a dog to get as much of that wood pile done as possible before we go away. I am disappointed in myself for dropping the ball last year and not getting year two split and in the pile, though doing the market didn't help, nor did the difficulty in obtaining wood. Whatever be the case, I missed out on an entire year of drying for the wood. Bummer.

This year, I really wanted to avoid that, so as soon as the snow melted, I got to work. This winter was a particularly long and cold one, which I don't mind, but it meant burning more wood. In fact, we're still burning wood. I had cut and moved a lot of wood last fall thinking I'd get year 2 done before winter, but I failed. I did manage to split and stack about half of year two, which we are currently dipping into. I also had a lot of un-split logs up in the splitting area, so that made life easier. I also had cut and un-split logs down by the log-length stuff, so that was good, as well. Finally, I have a fair amount of log length in the cutting area. My hope is that between the un-split blocks and uncut logs, I will have enough to stack two year's worth of wood. My other goal is to avoid firing up the chainsaw until we get back, because I don't want the gas to sit around unused.

Anyway, about a week ago I started splitting and stacking and I've been going at it every since. I have actually managed to split almost all of the blocks, and I still have a ways to go to complete the pile. It's funny because usually when I move the blocks, the pile seems never-ending and fills me with despair. This time around, I was bummed when the pile dwindled, because I was hoping for enough blocks to avoid needing the chainsaw. It's looking like I'm going to fall short. Total bummer.

You do the best you can, right? I would say I'm about 80% done with this year's wood, and once we get back, I'll gas up the saw and see where we end up. If I can get all of next year's wood done, I would be so stoked, but let's not count our chickens before they hatch, or something like that.

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

One For The Birds

We have been keeping our cats inside this spring, and as much as they hate it and are bugging the heck out of us (they are going stir crazy), I think it's having a positive effect on the survival of the wildlife in our yard, namely the birds. On the one hand I feel sort of bad for the cats, they live to be outside, but on the other, they have a good life, and are a little too good at being killers. The birds and animals don't have a chance. What makes it harder to accept is that they ruthlessly kill solely for entertainment, and they are amazingly good at it.

We have bibs which help out, but they are not foolproof. Now R was explaining that in the spring the birds are nesting, so when they get killed, an entire family of birds takes a hit, not to mention little babies that are just getting started. I didn't realize this, but many of the baby birds can't fly very well and are dependent on their moms for survival. Talk about sitting ducks, our cats would have a field day with that.

The plan is to keep the cats in until late spring, and hopefully by that time the baby birds will have matured enough to fly and get away from the cats. I love birds, but I hope they will stay away because if they get too close, it will be lights out. For this reason we no longer have a bird feeder, which is a shame because it's nice to watch them feed, but I'd rather not encourage them to spend time in the danger zone, i.e. our yard.

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Food Trauma

This is sort of funny, but sort of not. We went to lunch the other day and they were serving African food, which we love. The food is somewhat exotic, but nothing too crazy, just a lot of stews and root vegetables, and of course, rice. Usually there is a vegetarian offering and a meat offering, though this time around, there was a Chinese food meat offering, chicken with green beans. The food is excellent, and all prepared by one person, MD, and not only is it an enormous amount of work, but she does a great job.

Either way, this last time we brought along a friend who is not used to eating African food, and I don't think it went over too well. Maybe even a bit traumatizing, though complaints were never vocalized. I felt bad, but it wasn't that offensive. Then again, I shouldn't have been completely surprised. People don't like to try exotic new things, and this is especially true with food.

I'm glad our kids are willing to at least try new foods, many of which they have embraced, including sushi, African food, shellfish, and others that I never ate as a kid. I lived on fast food and Top Ramen. How's that for a terrible diet? What's crazy is that it's standard fare for a lot of people.

Oh well, live and let live, as the saying goes. Besides, who really knows what's best for you? Your parents, of course.

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

It Pays to Be Patient

As some of you may know by now, I have been looking for employment that will pay me the big bucks while allowing me to be at home with the kids while working on my tan. So far, I haven't found much, but I'm still looking.

In the meantime, I've been working more diligently at finding something, especially in terms of my glorious freelance writing career. That is constantly in the works, but I've also looked at jobs where I have to physically be there. It's funny how this works, but most jobs just won't pay you unless you're present and accounted for. What a bummer. I could probably find a job full time because they are always looking for people, a fact that I learned first hand when I explored job opportunities in the next town. I got a few call backs, which really surprised me.

Anyway, I've also been looking at the big boss around here, Dartmouth, and there is not a lack of opportunities. They were even looking for an assistant coach for the men's hockey team. How cool would that be?

I did find something intriguing over at the hospital, and that was being a standardized patient. I didn't even know they did these sort of things, though I later learned they did a Seinfeld episode on it. It makes sense, doctors and nurses need to practice with real people, so they get people to act out in staged situations. They even pay people to do it.

I applied, thinking it would be a nice part time gig, and they called me. I went to the interview not really knowing what to expect, and it was pretty low key. I even knew one of the other interviewees. I'm not sure what will come of it, I don't even know if I got the job, but I'm guessing they'll let me know. It could be an interesting experience, to say the least, though they don't pay much, as you would expect.

I'll let you know when I find out more. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Stanford EdTech for the pic.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

Happy Easter to everyone. It's hard to grasp that April is almost over, I can't believe it myself. Where does all the time go? We were wrestling with the idea of hiding eggs and candy about the house, wondering if the kids were getting too old for this sort of thing, but when we asked, they gave us a resounding thumbs up. So it was decided, we'd do the egg hunt, except that last night we forgot all about it and went to bed. This morning R reminded me, and at about 5:30AM, we started hiding stuff outside and around the house. It was about 20 degrees outside, and I was tired and whiny... what else is new?

We got it done long before the kids woke up, and I'm glad for that, albeit a little tired. The things you do as a parent.

Happy Easter and thanks for reading, and thanks to Feli Caravaca for the pic.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Snow Tire Revelation

I just had the summer tires put on our car and it dawned on me that R went the entire winter with just all-season radials. Now there were a couple of times where they were not adequate, and I was there for one of them. We were going to visit our friends and her car got about 75% up the hill and literally slid all the way back down. Truth be told, I don't know if I would have made it up, we had freezing rain and the hill is steep.

Either way, it's expensive to buy snow tires, and to have them installed and removed twice a year. I think they go help, especially since I have the kids with me, but we buy fairly high end snow tires, and I'm beginning to wonder if that's not necessary. I know several people who buy whatever is on sale, which of course speaks to my heart. I took the advice of our former neighbor in the Red Barn, CS, who said buy the best snow tires you can afford. This seems like sound advice, though perhaps a bit of overkill, especially when you consider the source. CS is probably not the best person to take advice from, especially when it comes to matters involving parenting and relationships.

My point is, maybe we don't need top of the line snow tires, especially since R made it through the winter, and it was a long, cold, snowy, brutal winter, with all season radials. Maybe we could get by with moderately priced snow tires, which would probably not be as effective as top of the line models, but would surely work better than summer tires.

Something to think about next winter, even more so since our current snow tires have worn out and need to be replaced.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Wes for the pic.

Sock it to Me

Coaching for both of my kids hockey teams was a bear of a job, and one more than a number of occasions I asked myself, "What was I thinking?" I would do it again if my kids thought it was helpful, and I think it is on some level. Sure, they roll their eyes over the antics of their dad, but there's no denying that I'm definitely involved. I'm not sure if I'll do it again next season, but we shall see.

In the meantime, I was given gifts from both of the teams. From A's team they gave me a gift certificate for a local restaurant, which was really nice. And form N's team, and I believe this was the work of one family, I got a pair of socks. Not just any socks, but a pair of Darn Tough socks, made in Vermont. I've seen them before at assorted stores but never bought them because they were too expensive. As most of you know, I go cheap, and pay the price for it, no pun intended.

This is somewhat ironic because over the years living in New England, I've come to appreciate the value of a good pair of socks, especially wool socks. Cheap socks wear out and then you have buy new ones, or wear them with your toes and ankles sticking out. The cool thing about these Darn Tough socks it that they are guaranteed for life. If they wear out, they'll replace them, no questions asked. How can that possibly be?

Now I've only had them for a month, but I already love them. I hope they last, because I'm sick of wearing cheap crappy socks. The story of my life. Check back with me in the fall, where they'll really be put to the test. For now, thanks to SY and AM for the incredibly thoughtful present.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to fishify for the pic.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Splitting Time

As I mentioned, the snow is receding and I'm able to access some of the wood to split. Last year I borrowed a splitter to split numerous logs that I couldn't do by hand, and it was pretty impressive how well that thing worked. Since some of the blocks were 2-3 years old, you can imagine that they wood was not in the best shape, and I probably should have just let them rot in the woods. Instead I split them and burned some of them this winter, and I think it was a mistake. The wood didn't burn that well, or it was not that efficient. There are probably creosote consequences to my decision, but hopefully nothing that can't be fixed this summer.

I guess my point is that now that I'm splitting wood that is not that old, it looks so much nicer. It's not as black and ugly, and burns much more cleanly. While I'm glad to have burned through that old stuff, I think it's better to have wood that isn't one step away from petrification. I'm sure my Mentor would agree. Part of the reason I let the wood go bad was because it was too knotty or big to split by hand, and when I finally obtained the splitter, I ended up splitting it big. Having the big pieces made it much easier to stack, but I've found that consequently, we burn through the pile much quicker. Maybe it's a good thing that we're going through the bad stuff, not that any wood is bad, right?

Now I'm making a conscious effort to split the blocks into smaller pieces, and it sure makes stacking more rigorous. It will dry and burn more efficiently, but it is definitely more work. Oh well, I knew the job wouldn't be easy when I signed on, and who wants to do things the easy way? Not me, that's for sure.

My goal, and it's an ambitious one as usual, is to have two years worth of wood split, stacked, and drying before June. The one constraint on this lofty goal is whether or not I actually have two year's worth of wood on hand. If I do, I will be so stoked, but I won't know until I actually do the work. I'll keep my fingers crossed.

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

Auto Parts and the Mixed Blessing of Technology

I have to confess, I appreciate technology but sometimes view it with some degree of skepticism, at least in terms of how it's supposed to make our lives easier, and for that matter, better. I'm not even talking about smartphones and iPads, which I think are a double-edged swords. I am thinking about car repair, and of course there's a long drawn-out story involved.

If anyone has purchased a car in the past 10 years, you may have noticed that tire pressure monitoring sensors (TPMS) now come standard, I believe on all cars, but maybe just imports. My understanding is they stem from a problem with Ford Explorers, whereby low tire pressure problems somehow led to fatal accidents. You might have to check up on that one.

Whatever be the case, we first encountered TPMS on our road trip out west. We rented a Matrix and toward the end of the trip, we noticed a dashboard light went on and we had no clue what it meant. I hate when that happens. It turns out that it meant we had low tire pressure, and when we pulled into Kansas City, we discovered that we had a low tire pressure. It was actually a punctured tire that was slowly leaking. Needless to say, this complicated our trip, but we dealt with it, and from then on realized what it meant.

When we bought our current car, it too had the TPMS light, and for the most part, I think it's a cool thing. How often do we check our tire pressure? If you're like me, I'm guessing not much. This TPMS will give you a head's up when the pressure is low, and the mechanic can even measure it with a handheld computer, which is sort of cool.

The problem is that with all new technology comes more complications in our lives, and do we really need more complications in our lives? I don't, that's for sure. I was surprised when I went to put our snow tires on and they charged me an extra $8/tire to re-calibrate the sensors. Apparently they have to do this every time they change the tires, and believe me, when you're dropping $80 to put on snow tires (not buying, installing), you feel the pain of an extra $32. I complained and the guy over at Wilson Tire explained where the cost came from, but it's literally no sweat off their nose. All they do is plug in some wires and push some buttons. His reasoning is that they have to make-up the cost of the new equipment they had to purchase to deal with TPMS systems, but I felt like it was a scam. Bad PR in my opinion, and when I complained, he offered to not charge me for the TPMS stuff when I put the summer tires on. Fat chance I'll be going back to Wilson Tire, who for the record, have left me with a bad taste in my mouth a couple of times.

In all fairness, I think Interstate Tires charges the same thing, which kills me. You just can't beat the system, though our mechanic RM is cool and doesn't charge. I love that guy. On the subject of mechanics scamming you, I'd like to relay two incidences that in my opinion were nothing short of ridiculous. In Providence, I was having the oil changed and bought new windshield wipers. I asked the guy to put them on, and he charged me for 15 mins of labor. They usually charge about $75/hr, so you do the math. This happened again at Midas in W. Leb, the guy put an air filter in, without my consent, and charged me for labor. I asked him to take it out, and was spared the cost, but not everyone pays attention to these things. It's such a scam, and really gives mechanics a bad reputation. It really pays to have a mechanic you can trust, and I really trust Meunier Towing.

Anyway, in addition to the hassle of technology, it also has a finite life. At some point you have to replace all this stuff, and this was the case with our TPMS. When your tires are low, an exclamation point light goes on, but when the system has a problem, a "TPMS" light goes on. Apparently one of the sensors died and needed to be replaced. They are said to last about 5 years, and then the batteries die. How surprising, another occasion to spend your money.

I checked around and almost without fail, every place I talked to was asking over $65 for the sensor. The car was past warranty, but Shearer Honda offered to replace the thing for half price, which still came out to over $100. They have to remove the tire and rotate and balance it. Plus, Shearer is over in Rutland, which is a bear of a drive. I finally went online (Amazon) and found one for $29. I couldn't believe it, and shipping was $2. I ordered it and RM installed it when he put my snow tires in. He said nobody should charge that much for a sensor, and even when I called Gerrish, they quoted me $65. I was disappointed, to say the least.

Anyway, after RM installed the sensor, another one died, so I had to go through all this again, but I figured I was in no hurry. I ordered it, and RM put it in when he put in the summer tires. Now there are no "dummy lights" on the dash, which is A-okay with me.

Sometimes I think technology is so overrated, but that's because I'm old and boring.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to WORK Wheels USA for the pic.

Spring Has Sprung... or Maybe Not.

Spring becomes official around here when we finally put the screens in our windows, and I just did that a day or two ago. Actually, I was inspired when we had 80 degree temperatures, it was so nice outside. Of course, after I put the screens in, the temperature dropped to below freezing at night, and the days are brisk and cool, but still nice. Not such a big deal, though we're still burning wood and will continue to do so probably for the next month.

It is nice to open the windows and get a breeze, and our cats like to get a taste of the fresh air, even if they aren't allowed to get outside and terrorize the wildlife.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Jo-Anne Peck for the pic.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Take Us Out to the Ballgame

We (N and I) went to our first Dartmouth baseball game, and we couldn't have had nicer weather. It was a beautiful day and the Big Green were playing Yale. In fact, it was a doubleheader, though we only stayed for the first game. A and mom had to go out and prepare for her trip to the Big Apple, so they had things to do, so N and I decided to do guy things like watch baseball and eat hamburgers and ice cream. What else is there in life?

As I mentioned, the day was stellar, sunny and cool, warm enough for shorts but not hot. Best of all, the sun was shining, and I'm all for that. I wasn't sure how much N is interested in baseball, but I for one love it. I grew up with baseball, and there's a big difference between watching it on TV and going to the game, which for the record are free. My kind of price. Plus, the stadium is small, so there are no bad seats, and it's a beautiful field.

Since the crowds were not heavy, we moved around a bit, starting behind the plate and then moving to the third base dugout, which was the student section. This concerned me a bit because young people (guys, actually) can be a little rambunctious, especially outside, but it was early in the day so I'm guessing nobody was drunk.

The game itself was exciting, as well. Dartmouth crushed Yale, and hit 2-3 home runs. I got to explain the subtle details of the game to N, and we got to eat hot dogs, though N opted for a burger. The game threw me off a bit because it only went 7 innings, but I was told that happened because it was a doubleheader. We didn't stay for the second game.

We headed over to Fore-U to get ice cream, instead. The plan was to have ice cream and then get home to split wood and make supper, but the line was HUGE. It took us about 20 minutes, but it was a beautiful day, and no time is too long for ice cream... sort of. We were thinking of hitting some golf balls, but I needed to get home to make supper, and since we spent so much time with ice cream, we shifted gears and decided to play tennis instead, which was fun.

By the time we finished, A and mom got home, so we ate supper and headed over to UA to watch the Upper Valley Vixens and some roller derby.

Talk about a fun filled day. Then again, all we do is have fun, right?

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Watching the Vixens

Last weekend we went to watch the roller derby at UA and saw the Upper Valley Vixens take dismantle the Shoreline Belladonnas. As always, a good time was had by all. The Vixens looked better than I remember, I think in the off-season they did some training or something because they were way more aggressive and physical, taking to their opponents and winning by a wide margin.

We met with some friends and it was nice they got to hang out because the socializing is an important aspect for the kids. If none of their friends showed up, I don't think we'd attend. There were some surprises, as well. You just never really know who's going to show up at a roller derby match.

One funny thing is that I actually know one of the Vixens, I work with her at one of the non-profits. How crazy is that? It was cool, and another friend did some of the announcing. His son is friends with N, so that was a funny connection. Maybe because match was the season opener, but the crowd was pretty big, and the parking lot was packed.

One final note was that A won the wheel toss, which is like chuck-a-puck: you roll the wheel into a target and the person who gets the closest wins. She got hers the farthest in, and when he called her name, I couldn't believe it. I think she won tickets to the next match, or something like that.

I think R should come, she would enjoy it because it's quite a spectacle. Maybe next time... or maybe not.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Robin DeGrassi James for the pic.

Plot Development

Due to the fact that we are crazy garden warriors, we are committing to a second garden plot in the community garden. There's no stopping us now. The reason we got a second plot is because I've been informed that you're supposed to rotate your crops. There are adverse consequences to planting the same thing year in and year out. This is what you see in industrial agriculture, where they only grow corn or soy. It damages the soil and creates a situation ripe for disease or pests. It's all so complicated, all I want are tomatoes.

The past two years I did just that, growing virtually nothing but tomatoes, and it was fine. I'm not sure how critical it is on such a small scale, but our decision to diversify was aided by the fact that R and the kids want to grow other things, including fun stuff like peas and corn.

The second plot is actually closer. The farm also does an amazing job of hosting local gardeners, providing mulch, compost, and a greenhouse, which is a bonus. They hosted a welcome brunch that we attended last weekend (I'm never one to pass up free food) and all of us walked over. It was really nice, we got to chow down, and the kids (and myself) got to eat apple pie for breakfast. How often does that happen?

After brunch, we got down to business. Our plot has been dormant for a couple of years, so there is a ton of weeding that needs to be done. That will be my job. I have started numerous tomato plants, and I will eventually bring them to the greenhouse, where they offered to water them if we are away. They also have potting soil and tons of seeding pots, which we are free to use. Once we transplant, they have tomato cages and all sorts of gardening tools that are available to everyone. They also provide straw for ground cover. It's pretty incredible.

Now we have to get to work. As I mentioned, we have the seeds going, and hopefully something will come of it. Otherwise, we can always pick up seedlings at the market or from friends, but I like the idea of doing it ourselves. Not only do you save money, but it makes me feel more like a real gardener, and that's what it's all about, right?

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

Sigh of Relief

I realize every year it's the same neurotic pursuit of wood, but the fact that I'm a basket case when it comes to uncertainty coupled with the importance of securing wood before winter, I'm not sure what else I'm supposed to do.

This seems to play out year in and year out, and I guess I need to just lighten up and go with it, but I never can. I call the loggers, see if I can get wood, and then they don't get back to me. They've always come through for me, so I should rest easy, but the problem is, if they can't get me the wood and they let me know too late, then I'm out of luck. I need to know early enough to find an alternate source, which isn't always so easy when it comes to buying wood.

I now have three guys to turn to, and one is a pretty good friend, though he charges a little more. At least he'll sell me a half truck, which can be convenient, but more is better. Last year our regular source, TB, connected me with an associate who brought me a killer load, good hardwood in nice widths. I have the number of the new guy so at least I have some options, right? I ended up calling both and leaving messages, and neither of them got back to me. After about two weeks, I called TB one more time. I just wanted to know if wood was a possibility, and if I could take delivery later in the season, maybe late summer. In retrospect, that was probably my mistake. I told them I wanted it later, and maybe they figured they could blow me off because of it. I can't take the wood right now because I still have a pile of logs I need to cut and split. Whatever be the case, TB finally got back to me. I was lucky enough to be at home when he called, and he said he could get me wood in July/August, and to just hound him then.

Whew! All I needed was some semblance of confirmation and I could get on with my life. Sure, being the neurotic mess that I am, I can't rest easy until that pile of wood is sitting in our property, but I'm happy for now. My dream scenario is for the current supply to be enough to make two year's worth of wood. My second best scenario would be for it to make at least one year's worth, and that doesn't seem too unreasonable, but we'll see.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Thesa Chambers for the pic.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Frazzled Friday

We had quite a day last Friday, the kind you love but also drives you nuts. A's buddy ES was coming over for the day (no school) and the original plan was to attend an African lunch/fundraiser for iKODI. A request was made for people to help serve the lunch, and the kids more than willing to lend a helping hand. This was good for me, because it meant there was an activity for the kids to do.

Normally we're pretty good at occupying ourselves at home, including school work but also fun stuff. The kids are really good about that. The complications arise when we have other kids over, more so when it's a full day, and even more so when the kids coming over watch a lot of TV and surf the web (i.e., social network and YouTube). It just runs counter to how we live, and I don't want them forsaking their lives in favor of screen time, but I feel sort of bad (I know I shouldn't, it our home) for the kids who do. I assume they must come over and be bored out of their minds.

Helping at the African lunch would be a great way to get out of the house, have something to do, and get a meal out of it. A win-win situation, the kind I love. To add to the fun, the kids had their final hockey game that afternoon, the ladies had track, and A had a party to attend, for which she invited ES to join her. Needless to say, there was a lot of shuttling going on, not to mention time conflicts.

To address this, R and I came up with a plan. ES would come over in the AM, the kids would hang out for an hour or two, and then we'd go to the lunch. After lunch, we'd come home and go to track, then over to hockey. Since it conflicted with the party, A was skipping hockey. I would drop A off and go back to hockey, then N and I would grab some supper and go home. Meanwhile, mom would stay out, maybe see a movie, get the girls at the party, and take ES home. How's that for juggling?

Of course, some complications came up, like they always do. First off, the Africa lunch folks called in the AM and said that her support showed up after all and she wouldn't need the kids to help. This was sort of a bummer because they were ready willing and able, and it would have been a nice experience for them. Plus, it was going to be the day's entertainment, and now it was back in my lap. Helping out also gave us a better reason to travel to the hospital than just a meal, which by itself was not, in my opinion, reason enough to make the trek.

I decided to go to the lunch, anyway, because otherwise I would have been wrestling with the kids to stay off the computer and to get out of the house. In retrospect, it was probably not the best decision, but a decision is better than indecision. Another complication is that our friend does not have much palate diversity (none?), and the African food was too weird for her. To her credit, she didn't complain (she never does, she's a good kid) and ate some white rice, but I should have known better. There were desserts that she liked, so she basically had a meal of rice pudding and brownies. Good enough for now.

After the lunch, we chilled at home before heading to track. While the girls were at track, me and N hung out at home and then played some lacrosse at the school. Then it was back home to prepare for the party, which meant doing nails and choosing the right clothes. Very important. We all headed to the ice rink where N got ready. I had to arrange with the other parents to oversee the bench because I wasn't going to be there, and more than a few volunteered to help out. I then took the girls to the party, which was all the way over in the next town. My plan was to drop the girls off, get back before N's game ended and tell him he could play in the second game if he wanted to, and then get some supper. If he didn't want to play the second game, I wanted to go to Five Guys and get cheeseburgers, then to Fore-U to get ice cream.

I spent more time than I wanted at the party because I couldn't just leave. I had to stay and chat with the moms, all of whom are really nice. I also got a chance to see how the party was set up, and to meet some of the other kids. By the time I left, time was running out and I had to get to the arena. I raced back and when I saw N, he informed me that the game was going 2 hours and that he wanted to stay for the whole thing. I was fine with that, it was actually really nice just stopping and getting a chance to watch from the sidelines. I never get to do that, and am always helping out.

The game was fun, the kids had a blast, and by the time it was over, it was well past 8:30PM. We still had to eat, and it was looking like ice cream wasn't going to happen. Whatever be the case, I'm glad he played two games, he really stepped up in the end and had a great time. I asked N his thoughts and we decided to head into the big city and get pizza, which was fine by me. Afterward we stopped to get ice cream bars, which is not as good as Fore-U, but better than nothing.

Then we headed home and time to watch one show before mom arrived, at which point it was bedtime.

Boy, talk about your marathon days. The sort you anticipate with dread but look back on with satisfaction. Maybe that's the process of growing up, you just deal with it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Barbara O'Connor for the pic.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Snowmelt and Splitting Time

The snow is gradually receding, though where we live, it seems to last the longest since we're somewhat sequestered in the woods. This makes it much nicer and cooler in summer because it's shaded, which I'm all for, but it does mean slower snow melt. Melt it will, however, and now the ground is starting to reappear. This also means that the wood pile is revealing itself, enough to actually split some wood.

I don't think I'll be able to cut any logs for a few weeks, but last fall I moved a couple of cords of wood to the splitting area thinking I'd get it done before this past winter, which never happened, but the wood is still there. I figure I can split and stack that and then assess our wood situation. I think (hope?) I have enough for this coming winter, and then if I can score a truck load, I can cut and split that over summer/fall. I know this is often wishful thinking, but you have to hopeful for something, right?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to cam17 for the pic.

Free Magazines

I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I recently let my subscription to my beloved New Yorker lapse, and have instead been checking them out of the library or picking up discards. It has worked out beautifully. We all love the New Yorker, it's an amazing mag, but a little pricey. Being the frugal maniac that I am, it's hard to justify the cost.

Getting them at the library has several advantages. First off, it's free, and that pretty much says it all, but wait, there's more. It's nice letting others read them once I'm done, and gets me off the hook to recycle them. Finally, as much as I love the mag, I would say that about 25%-30% of the articles are of no interest to me. In fact, there are times when for the life of me I can't find anything that captivates me enough to sit and read through it. At those moments, I question the worth of buying a subscription.

I was a little wary of trying to the mag for free, but it's worked out fine. Now if I could just get some people to take the same approach to People Magazine, we could save even more, but I'm not sure if that's going to happen.

Oh well, have to be happy with what you got, right? Or is it what you don't got?

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

Learning a New Trick

I've been learning Web based coding (i.e., HTML) and it's pretty amazing what goes into the Web stuff that we all look at it. Every image and word has some form of code that must be translated into the final product that you see. I learned Web design when I made my website, but the software is so advanced now that you don't have to know anything about HTML, you simply drag, copy and paste. Piece of cake.

The reason I am trying to learn code in the first place is that I saw a writing job listed online that looked interesting, but when I went to apply, they required that you submit your application in HTML. Boy did that end poorly. Actually, I didn't even attempt it at that point, but it dawned on me that maybe a rudimentary knowledge of code might not hurt. Plus, it's sort of interesting, if you're into that kind of stuff.

I don't think I'm ready to do hardcore Web design, but for now I'll be happy just to have a basic understanding. I'm learning what I can with free resources, for which there are plenty, and I'm sure that in no time I'll be making the big buck to support our fabulously opulent lifestyle.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to infocux Technologies for the pic.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Making the Most of the Great Outdoors

With all the snow we got this winter, spring is a little late to arrive, which makes it harder to do outdoor stuff. This would normally affect N since he's an outdoor/active sort of person, but it has not deterred him from getting out and having fun. He's right in his element as long as it's outside and involves something he can build or manipulate. He used to rely on so much on his sister to join him and lead the way, and it was cute because they play so well together, but as she's moving on to "teenager-dom" she has less time to get dirty and be silly. It's all about being cool and hanging out, and little brothers don't always make it into that equation. Not yet, at least.

As some point he realized he was on his own, and he adapted accordingly. Pretty much every day he'll put on his shoes and head outside, and then he can while away the hours. It doesn't matter if it's pouring rain or frigid outside, he just dresses accordingly. Our yard is big enough to find endless amounts of fun.

Now that the snow is melting and there is a ton of mud and water, it just gets that much more fun. Sure, he comes into the house covered in mud, but that's what being a kid is all about, right? Besides, it's just a good example of making the most of mud season. Wouldn't it be cool to get him a mini dirt bike? Some people in this house might not agree.

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

Game Delay

One consequence of the late snow is that outdoor sports is delayed, at least for us. N's lacrosse and A's track are affected (A opted for track vs. lacrosse), at least for a week. Not a big deal, but once something new starts, it helps to close the door on hockey.

I'm glad A decided to do track, for a number of reasons. First, she's good at it, and it really suits her abilities. She is a fast runner, and it's her thing. She'll also be a senior runner, so she can lead, and it also reunites her with her track buddies, who are all local. Lacrosse is all about the hockey scene.

Plus, she got new running shoes and track spikes, so she can be even more cool, not that that was an issue. I felt bad because she has run track for the past two years in a pair of leather cross trainers that I found used at the Listen Center. Sure, they worked fine, and she never complained or made an issue of them (what a good kid!), but I did notice she was the only kid who didn't have a pair of real running shoes. Now she's got both, and they're bright and funky. Today's running shoes are bright and colorful, not anything I would wear, but I'm old and boring. Young hip kids can get away with it.

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