Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Day of Rest

Whatever that means... the kids were away last week and when this happens I am never at a loss for these awe-inspiring visions of getting all of these big projects done, and then it doesn't seem to happen. This stems from getting too ambitious and focusing too much on the big picture while losing sight of all that actually gets done. While it's nice to dream big, it's also important to appreciate all the little things that get taken care of.

Case in point, my first day off from parenting duties. The fact that I didn't have to cook any meals or clean up afterward was a promising start to my day, not to mention a week of from poster-boy duties, but then I tried to get so many things done that I was not able to devote as much time and energy to the big projects. That meant that at first glance I failed in my mission, but in reality, many other things were addressed. Of course I'm going to describe them to you in excruciating detail.

First thing in the morning I took mom's car in to have the tires rotated at Tip Top, which they do for free when you buy the tires from them. I love that place. Then I stopped at the college to upgrade the memory (4 GB to 16 GB-quite a jump) in N's computer, which they happen to install for free as well when you buy it from them. Does it get any better than that? From there I went to library to return/check-out books, then over to W. Leb to Joe's for chainsaw/lawnmower stuff and finally to LaValley's for some paint. I managed to get home before lunch and get some actual painting done on the house (one of my big projects), and then mowed the lawn (a "sort-of" big project). It's important to bear in mind that I can't possibly finish a lot of the big projects in one day, they are all ongoing, so when I do find time to work on them, it's at most an hour or two. This means it will take me all summer to finish them, but that's fine with me.

With the kids away, mom and I had to take advantage of our time off, so we planned on meeting at the hill for a hike to the top. We picked up some simple picnic stuff, mainly bread, goat cheese, and olives, and had a nice (albeit smaller) supper on the summit, watching the sunrise. When we got home we watched our latest movie obsession, The Paradise, and then went to bed. So while I wasn't anywhere close to finishing the big projects, I at least got them started, and I was able to take care of the all the small logistical things that will open up more time for me to tackle said big projects. I love when that happens.

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

Computer Care

As the saying goes, one thing leads to another, especially when it comes to new technology. Way back when, I can't even recall when it was, I got N some new memory for his computer and then learned he needed a new battery. I'm not even sure why I got him more memory because it's not as if he needs it, though when you work with programming and game design, it often requires huge amounts of RAM. His computer was operating with two 2 GB memory chips, which is small by today's standards. My laptop runs on two 1GB chips, so it's a dinosaur.

When I replaced A's memory I figured I might was well replace his, as well, especially since they'll install it for free at the college. I don't think installation is that difficult, they just scare you to discourage you from trying. I was watching the guy take the bottom panel off and the only tool it required was a screwdriver, but I figured if they were willing to do the work, I would opt for that path. Yes, the fear-mongering made me afraid.

Either way, when he installed the memory, he also cleaned out the dust and build-up and then ran a diagnostic test, which indicated that the battery was dead. This hasn't stopped N from using his computer, he just runs it off the power cord, but it is a laptop, and having a functioning battery seems like a good thing, doesn't it? Batteries, however, are not cheap, but I opted to replace it. It's a good thing wedding season has begun at the Inn.

With the new battery and memory, hopefully his computer will run like a Cadillac, or better yet, a Honda Fit. When N came back and I excitedly told him that I replaced the battery, his painfully practical response was, "You didn't have to, you could have just said no thanks." I think he might have been concerned about the cost, which is a good thing, but I told him to just thank his dad and be happy with a smoother running computer.

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

Sharp Idea

We use a fair amount of firewood over here and that means that I'm cutting a fair amount of the stuff with my chainsaw. This in turn requires a bit of maintenance on my part to keep our machines running smoothly, and a lot of it I've had to learn on my own, which for the record is at times an exercise in futility. One area that I've repeatedly tried to master and have come up short is sharpening my chainsaw chain. As a real man in training, this sort of behavior is a little less than exemplary, but sometimes you just fall a little short in your quest for male dominance.

The actual process is pretty straightforward - you simply bore out the teeth with a file and in theory the chain should become sharp again, but I just can't seem to get it right. I've used files and a Dremel tool (thanks for my Mentor for that one), and I come away from it feeling good and accomplished, but the chains just don't seem to cut the wood as easily as a newly bought chain. It's hard to beat the clean smoothness of a cut with a new chain, almost as if the chain is being drawn into the wood. Factor in the enormous amount of wood we cut and the fact that chainsaws are terrifying machines (they made horror movies about them), and I've just found it not worth it to try to sharpen my own chainsaw chains. I bow my head in shame to my Mentor and the Amazing PR Man.

I could always take the old chain in and have it sharpened professionally, but it takes several days to a week, and who wants to sit around waiting when there's wood to cut? It costs about half of what a new chain costs. In light of all this, my solution has been to simply buy a new chain when the old one gets dull, and as you can imagine, I've got a little collection of chains lying around the basement (about 4-5, not that many, actually). My son was quick to point this out to me when I went to get a new chain.

It was then that I realized that I could have the old chains sharpened and have them ready to use when I needed them, thus eliminating the need to get new ones. Joe's has a sharpening program where you get 6 for the price of 5, like they do with ice skates over at Stateline Sports. This puts the old chains to good use, and I can plow through the wood without any down time. I usually go through two sharp chains per truck load of logs, but truth be told, I should probably use at least three because by the end I'm making sawdust, as they say in logging circles.

I know it's not the ideal real-man path, but sometimes you just have to make do with what you got. Whatever be the case, I'm ready to cut some wood, which is a good thing because we sure have plenty of it.

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Sweat and Blood

Talk about sweating blood for your job, I was working the other night and hit my head against a coat rack and cut my forehead. The cut was not deep, or for that matter very serious, but it sure bled like crazy. Bleeding on your face in any amount is not a good thing when you're serving guests at a high end wedding, and my supervisor took one look at me and said, "Fred, what the hell?" I managed to get the bleeding to stop, but I was self-conscious of it the entire evening.

Then, for good measure, I managed to hit the coat rack again at the end of the evening, opening up an even bigger gash on my ear. How the heck do these things happen to me? The bleeding in my ear was pretty impressive, but fortunately it was at the end of the evening, so no guests had to endure my bloody display. As we were signing out to leave, I was holding a towel to my ear and it was covered in blood. My supervisor took one look at me and once again said, "Fred, what the hell?" It was kind of funny.

One interesting note, several of my co-workers are women and their maternal instincts took over as they saw my injury. Talk of emergency rooms, doctors, stitches, and filing injury reports kept coming up. I just wanted to get home. For all it's worth the injury to my ear probably warranted stitches, it was that deep, but it healed just fine. As for future injuries, I just need to pay attention to where I'm walking.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to evil robot 6 for the pic.

Magic Touch

We received a high tech radio/flashlight for Christmas (I think) that is a pretty cool device and of course N took to it immediately. It runs on battery but has a hand crank to charge it up as well as solar panels. He loves it and keeps it by his bed to entertain himself before bedtime. The other night I noticed that it wasn't working. N said it hadn't worked for awhile, and neither he nor I could figure out why, which is a bit of a bummer.

However, on a bright note, and it's pretty bright note, the radio is made by LL Bean, and they have, or at least used to have, a killer return policy. I've employed it on a number of occasions, and I had a pretty good feeling that they would work with us on this radio. Sure enough, when I went over there the salesperson said bring it on in and they would figure something out. You gotta love LL Bean and their customer service. Unfortunately, I didn't have the radio with me so I said I'd bring it by the next day.

Well, the next day I put the radio in my car and took A to school. The plan was for mom to bring N with her into work, rendezvous with her and take N with us to run assorted errands, and then come back home. We met up at the library and as we were getting in the car, N noticed that the radio was now magically working. I hadn't even taken it in to the store and for whatever reason it now worked. How cool is that?

While I was sort of excited about getting a newer version, we were all stoked that the thing was back up and running, no one more so than N, who returned it back to the side of his bed for pre-bedtime entertainment.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Lucila D'Angelo for the pic.

Neurotic Oil Change

In the spirit of never doing anything easy, I've managed to make changing the oil in our cars a completely neurotic experience. Then again, what else is new? I can't seem to ever do things the easy way. The biggest reason for this is frugality, which I just can't seem to ignore, though doing things the hard way does make it more interesting and definitely helps to feed this blog.

I don't know how commonplace this is, but I put full synthetic oil in both of our cars, and if you've ever bought oil, synthetic is expensive. It runs about $10/quart, so if you use 4 quarts and a decent quality filter, it's about $55 out the door. The beautiful thing is when you take it to your mechanic, you're looking at $80-90, easy. Plus, a lot of mechanics use a blend. For whatever reason I've decided to use full synthetic, though I couldn't tell you why. Now you can get deals on bulk oil (5 quart jugs), but they generally come as specials that include the filter. Then you're looking at about $35, but you don't get to choose the filter. I don't know much about filters but needless to say, with these deals you tend to get the low-end in quality. At least that's what they tell me at the parts store.

Interestingly enough, when I was over at Gerrish Honda, I inquired about Honda filters on a whim and it turned out that they were very reasonably priced. I was shocked, or should I say excited? So much so that I bought two. As a nice touch, Gerrish includes a new washer, which saves me a whopping 75 cents, but it's the principal of the matter. I've been told to replace the washer with every oil change, though I have no clue why.

Now that I have a source for a quality oil filter (I trust Honda quality), I don't really need the low-budget filter I get with the bulk oil, even if I still want the low price of the bulk oil. With this in mind, I kept my eyes open for good deals on the bulk oil, and guess where I found it? Our favorite store, of course: Walmart. I go to Walmart about once every 6 months, mainly because it's really inconvenient to get there, and it's so darn big that I don't like searching for things. Plus, it's a little depressing going in there. They did, however, have the best price on the oil I need, so now I'm heading over there to get my oil. If I can find a similar price elsewhere I'll take it, but I haven't yet.

What I should do is buy several jugs and just keep them in the basement, but it pains me to spend over $50 on anything, except of course hockey and ski equipment. For now my new plan works, and my job as poster boy takes me over to Walmart so I don't need to make a special trip just to get there. I do, however, have to actually go inside, but sometimes you just have to deal with these things to save the big bucks.

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

Digital Arts Expo

A few nights back and we headed over to the big city to meet mom at the Digital Arts Expo, or DAX, at Dartmouth. It's always interesting to see what college level kids are working on in terms of digital arts. We really like for the kids to see what's going on in the digital arts because it's the world that they are growing up in, and if they can develop interests and skills in new technology, all the better, especially if it's interesting, cool, and fun. That seems to be the case with a lot of tech development. I think the juxtaposition of art and technology is a winning combination, but who really cares what I think?

We went last year and it was fun seeing some of the stuff. They have a short film showcase of the works that the students made, and then it was off to see what sort of art and tech projects they are working on. Now I know I'm deluding myself but I personally thought A&N could have made movie projects en par with what I saw, but I won't go there... for now. In the main gallery there were both art and tech exhibits, and some were interesting, though I got a sense that the tech fields of study are not huge up here. Dartmouth is a small school and almost has a provincial feel when it comes to high tech endeavors. I know it's an Ivy League and people will sell their souls to go here, but the scale of the event struck me as somewhat small; maybe it's just their focus. I would imagine that you would see wider range of really killer tech projects at a school like MIT or Cal Tech, or even a big university like my alma mater. Plus, schools in big cities probably have more going on due to the proximity of a bigger market for art and tech.

Either way, it was a fun night and the students have some pretty cool stuff going on. Enough to entertain the kids and spark some interest, which is A-Okay with me. Plus we know one of the heads of the department and she's mega-cool, so it was nice seeing her and chatting with her about what's new and exciting on campus. Finally, they had free food and we all know how I react to free food.

All in all it was a fun evening and I think the kids got a lot out of it. In the end, that's what it's all about, right?

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

Thursday, May 26, 2016

More Too Much of a Good Thing

This is too crazy to even fathom, but our wood guy, TB, finally made contact with us. The call came in the morning to let us know that he was bringing a load of wood... that morning. How's that for giving us time to prepare? I was drinking my morning coffee around 7:00AM when the phone rings and it's another logger, JW, who works with our wood guy, TB. He says he's got a load of wood and needs directions to our house. I told him I had no idea he was coming or for that matter that TB had wood for me, but he didn't want to hear my sob story, he just wanted to deliver the wood and get his money. Fair enough.

You may recall that I was whining about my lack of communication with said logger, TB. I had been calling him for the past couple of months asking for some indication that he could in fact get me the wood. He usually gets back to me at some point, but this time I got a sense that it wasn't going to happen, though in all fairness he has pointed out that he's always come through. It may take him months to get back to me, but he is reliable. In my defense, it doesn't hurt to know beforehand that he can in fact get me the wood, or for that matter, when it will come. This is also helpful because he prefers to be paid in cash and I need a little forewarning to get the money ready.

Either way, I hadn't heard from him all season, even after calling him several times. I sort of figured that this might be the year that he wouldn't come through, so I went and contacted another logger, DS, who also happens to be our friend and neighbor. He said he could get me wood no problem, but it wouldn't be right away. Plus, he has a small trailer that only holds about two and half cords, so I asked for two loads. He said it wouldn't be a problem, and just like that, there was light at the end of the tunnel. It wouldn't be as much would as we usually get, but it would be enough to keep my mind at ease.

Then the phone call came. I felt like I couldn't bail out on DS because I set things in motion, so in the end I'll end up with a little over 10 cords of log length wood. Mind you, I'm not complaining, I love when my cup runneth over, especially when it comes to firewood, but needless to say, I've got my work cut out for me. I sure am glad we're not doing the farmer's market.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Lost and Found

Okay, after years of toiling (maybe a bit of an exaggeration), I finally located the hatch to the septic tank. Though it was a bit of a chore, it makes sense that once you locate the tank it's just a matter of time before you find the door. You may end up tearing up your backyard, but at least there's a light, albeit a small one, at the end of the tunnel. I foolishly thought I could rely on my memory to find said hatch and tried to locate it by landmarks, but once again, my memory failed me.

I actually had two competing piece of information running through my head: on the one hand, I recall the previous owners telling me it was 16 feet back from the southeast corner of the house, while on the other, I thought it was lined up with our mountain ash tree. I was wrong about the tree. I started digging based the tree and managed to locate the near edge of the tank, so I knew at that point I had to move in a southerly direction. I then employed the 16 foot piece of information and located the tank, and from there I just started to widen the hole. The problem was that you can widen the hole in many directions, and I had to take guesses as to which one to take. I went with about a foot in each direction and before long I found it, but it was a pain.

One thing that really made it frustrating (beyond frustrating, actually) were the rocks. The tank is about 2 feet down, but add in plenty of rocks, and big ones to boot, and I was starting to lose my mind. For all it's worth, once the initial hole is dug, expanding it was much easier, but it's still a pain. I decided to take the advice of the septic guy and install concrete blocks to raise the level of the opening, but that could be another story in and of itself. For now, I'm just glad I found the hatch. I have a couple of weeks before they come to pump it, so I can ignore it for now and direct my attention to other pressing matters.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Possible Wood Source

I don't want to speak too soon but may have found some firewood outside of our regular source, TB. The ongoing drama goes something like this: I call TB three or four times before he finally gets back to me and lets me know he can get logs for me. I can then get the cash in hand (he prefers cash) to give to him upon delivery. While it takes a few calls to finally make contact, at least we make contact. This year I haven't heard a thing from him. Now I know I'm neurotic, anal retentive, OCD and all that good stuff, but I also know that things change from year to year. Guys go in and out of the business, availability changes from year and year, and the price of oil, gas, and propane must come into play, as well.

With this in mind, I once again had a need to make contact, especially since we had no standing wood as a backup. This coming winter is cut, split, and stacked, but there is no year 2 at the ready, and we always dip into year 2. Since I have not heard from TB for awhile, I figured it was time to look elsewhere and called a few other loggers that I know. I didn't hear back from any of them with the exception of DS, who also happens to be our neighbor. He could also be considered a friend, though I never see the guy, and was A's track coach, but that's another story.

As I mentioned, he did call me back, and said he could get me the wood. His trailer is small, however, so it's only about two and a half cords, which is fine with me. I asked for 2 loads and he said he could do it. Now it's just a question of when, which means that my neurotic mind won't rest until I see that wood on our property.

Boy, the things I go through to stay warm. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Mike Brocklebank for the pic.

Helping Hands

I recently started to ask the kids to start washing their own dishes after lunch, and they were more than willing to help their old dad out. This is a good thing on a number of levels, first and foremost that it helps out yours truly, is often at wit's end trying to do everything under the sun while training to be a real man. It's also good for the kids to have some responsibility while also gaining an appreciation of all the little things that go into making the day run smoothly. It also affords dad a brief moment right after lunch, when he happens to be the most drowsy, to grab a quick snooze.

One final and important perk is that it forces me to lighten up and let things happen as they may. Sometimes I get all uptight and anal retentive about how the dishes get done (I know I'm not alone on this one), and having the kids do it teaches me that things don't have to be done a certain way, or rather, all ways are generally fine. As the saying goes, "Lighten up, dude."

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

Fan Club

It's truly amazing what can happen if you give a kid a soldering iron. I know when I was a kid I loved soldering things together, and I had a sense the same would be true with N. I had it in the back of my head to get him one, but put it off because I figured I could get it cheaper online. However, I just sat on it and at some point it became clear that he wanted to do some electrical work. I finally broke down and got him a decent one and from there he just took off. For the record, it's a nice soldering iron because it has LED lights that illuminate whatever you're working on. How cool is that?

Either way, with soldering iron in hand, N went to work and started wiring all sorts of things together. We have countless wires and parts lying around and I told him to help himself to my tools and whatever extraneous parts he wants to play with. One of the results is this fan, which is pretty darn cool. He plays it down and thinks it's no big deal, but I for one beg to differ. He took some wire and attached a motor to it, then fabricated a fan from an old CD (remember what those are?). He then spliced a USB wire so that it can plug into his computer and run off it as a power source. All in all a pretty cool device.

I'm interested to see what else he produces. Until then, thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Screen Time

In the spirit of being a DIY maniac, I am attempting to fix something that needed to be fixed from the day we moved into this house: the screens on the windows in the basement. There are four windows down there and because they are at ground level on the outside, they are extremely exposed to the elements. Consequently, they get really dirty and the screens take a beating, so much so that they are falling apart. Some of them literally have no screens left on them, which is a little puzzling now that I think about it. Either way, they are in need of replacing. This is especially true since N has become a gadgetry wizard and is down there a lot cutting, drilling, and soldering various projects in the works. I think it's good to get some ventilation down there.

I was at LaValley's and decided to pick up what I needed to do the job, which I assumed was just some screen. Little did I know that there is a process to putting new screens in that require a special tool and some practice and a whole lot of patience. The first order of business, however, was getting those screens out. At first glance I had no idea how the things came out because it's not obvious. Plus, it's so dirty down where the windows are that I'm not exactly enthused about putting my hands down there. Finally, the windows and frames themselves are covered in dirty, cobwebs, and dead bugs.

I had to break down and get my hands dirty (an understatement if there ever was one) to clean up the windows, but that still left me with the problem of getting the screens out. Again, it wasn't obvious, and I toyed with the idea of breaking the frame to allow the screen to come out. This is not a good idea, but I was clueless as to what else to do.

Since I was also busy toiling away at finding the darn septic take, I did what any self-serving dad would do in the situation: I had my kids do it, specifically N, who is mechanically inclined. After I made lunch I originally asked him to come outside and help me with the digging to find the septic hatch, but I managed to locate it soon thereafter. By the time he came out to help me it was done, so I instead asked him to tackle the screen situation. For the record, I admitted to him that I couldn't figure it out.

He went ahead with it, initially coming to me and saying that he thought it was just one big unit that didn't come apart. Basically he was saying that he didn't think the screens were removable and that we would have to take the entire window out to accomplish said job. I told him not to give up so easily and keep trying. Sure enough, a few minutes later he returned with the screen in hand. I, for one, was impressed. He said he just worked with it and realized how to remove the thing. How cool is that?

Now that the screen is removed, the next job will be to actually put the screen in, which I'm finding is not as simple as it seems. Then again, what else is new in my life? There will surely be a story to come out of this, so stay tuned for more.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Art Appreciation

Being the totally objective dad that I am, I think A is a pretty killer artist, and at the very least, she enjoys it. From a very young age she's just been naturally drawn to... actually drawing. It's pretty cool to see. She would wake up and come downstairs and immediately start to draw and doodle. Now that she's taking classes in school she's had a chance to get some instruction and feedback, and I think it's been positive for the most part. She has a good relationship with her art teacher, and I'm glad she's found someone who is as completely and thoroughly objective as her old dad.

Just recently they had an opportunity to meet with some admission counselors over at the AVA Gallery from some art colleges. I wasn't sure where the schools were but I was guessing they were from the New England area, though I later learned one of them was from Chicago. The schools were all small and specialized in art, and I'd never heard of most of them. The prospective students were to bring a portfolio of their work and meet with the counselors and talk about their art. It was also a good chance to get some constructive criticism about their work and some insight into what they should do for the future.

I'd heard they do similar things in Boston but that they are heavily attended and the students only get a minute or two with each counselor. Up here in our small town there are fewer students so they can more one-on-one time. At mom and dad's encouragement, A put together a portfolio and went with a few of her classmates. All in all it was a good experience and A came away from feeling good. She enjoyed talking to the counselors and giving some thought to college, though in reality it's a ways off. She was one of, if not the youngest kid there and even the counselors commented that she's got a good head start and a lot of time to keep fine tuning her craft, though their feedback was positive.

I think it was exciting for A to get a taste of big college life, and at the very least it gave her an opportunity to organize her work and get some constructive and objective feedback from people in the know. Dad's opinion will only get you so far, though on that note I'm very proud of her.

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

Up and Running

After all that drama and angst, it turns out the lawnmower was not as bad as I originally thought. In fact, there was nothing even wrong with it. As I mentioned before, I did everything I was supposed to do as a real man in training: I changed the oil, replaced the air filter and spark plug, put in a new blade (this was extra), and I even cleaned the carb. After all that, the thing wouldn't start despite repeated tries on my part. I took it into Joe's and the person helping me tried and couldn't get it to go, either, so I had to leave it there for repair.

A week and a half later I called them and they said there was nothing wrong, after all. The mechanic primed it and gave it pull and the thing started. Can you believe that? It's a bummer because I had to sit and watch the grass grow during that time, which was a warm spell, and I had to drop $30 for their time even though no repairs were done. I think he tightened the pull cord, which I guess is not nothing. On a bright note, however, it also means that I'm doing everything right and at the very least had not destroyed it. Sometimes you just have to look at the bright side of things.

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Weather Permitting

We had a crazy day planned yesterday and the hardest part is for mom to go to work and have to leave earlier than she'd like to because we need to do child transport. The way it was slated to work out, N had LAX practice, A had to be a party, mom was at work, and I had to be at work, as well. The plan was for me to bring A back home from school, have lunch, then take N to LAX while A got ready for her party. N's LAX was in the early afternoon but I had to be at work in the early evening, so I was going to have to drop him off and then head out. That meant mom was going to have to leave work earlier than she wanted to, drive across town to get N, then get A and take her to her party. I was going to pick up A after work and bring her home. That's a significant amount of back and forth.

The easier plan would have been for me to take both A&N with me to work in the big city, drop them off with mom, then head to work. Mom would then take A to her party, which was nearby her work, then bring N home, which all in all is a much more streamlined and efficient approach. The biggest setback was having to be at LAX. I was thinking N could simply skip practice, but he enjoys it and I like to watch his team. The thing going against it was that all the older kids (N's age) were away on a school excursion so half the team was absent. They were all returning that day, but in the afternoon, so there was a good chance they would be too tired to head straight to a LAX practice, or more to the point, their parents were too tired to deal with it. Then, I heard on the weather that morning that there was a 90% chance of rain, and while LAX players are hardcore and will practice or play in a hurricane, it was another reason to stay at home.

As the hour approached to head to practice, I really didn't want to go, but N was still keen on attending. I was scrambling to find an excuse to skip out and started calling around. I learned from EP that her husband, who is the coach, was out of town, and that the other coach was out of town, as well. The third coach's son was on the school excursion, so he probably wouldn't be there, so that meant half the team gone and three coaches missing (there are four). Even still, I called the rec center and they said that practice was still a go, and N was still into it, so we headed out to practice. For the record, I went begrudgingly.

Then, as luck would have it, the rain that was forecast starting coming with full force. It was pouring when we hit the road, and all the while I was thinking how stupid this was to be going to practice. Half the team wouldn't be there, probably none of the coaches would be there, and anyone who showed up was going to get soaked. Even N said he didn't realize it was raining so hard, and about two miles into the drive we decided this just wasn't going to happen, so we turned around. I was so stoked, and even N seemed a bit relieved, not so much about missing LAX, which he loves, but because he didn't want to get soaked. For the record, when we got home, I checked my email and the rec center had in fact canceled practice, albeit at the zero hour. At least we made the right decision.

This also meant our plan was going to be simplified. I called mom and we revised our plan. I would take the kids with me, mom would meet us, and it meant one single round trip versus a lot of back and forth. Happy planning, happy family, happy home. I love when that happens.

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

Too Much of a Good Thing

Once again I can't do something without complicating it or getting neurotic, even when it's something I want. Things are heating up in catering and at the Inn with an increasing number of hours available for me to work, but I can't fulfill some of them because of my other life working my day job and being a dad, not to mention a real man in training. At first glance it's easy to get seduced by the allure of making money, but at some point you have to ask what you're doing it for, especially when it infringes not only on the time of your spouse and kids, but on the quality of time you get to spend with them. Too much of a good thing, as the saying goes.

We could do some crazy juggling and finagling to enable me to spend more time at the Inn, but it would make our lives intolerably crazy, and it would be at the expense of that is most important to us, namely our time together as a family. Plus, mom and I would be at wit's end and it would make for a less than pleasant home environment, i.e., dad stressing out and losing it around everyone... not fun. This past week they put out the schedule for work and I was stoked to be included in several events because it meant a fat paycheck. However, as I looked at the schedule, I realized that some of the shifts were in the morning, and that the total number of hours was putting me at 40+ hours for the week. Again, it would have meant more money but I just can't work long day shifts because I have too many obligations that take precedence. I felt bad having to tell them I couldn't work, and wouldn't blame them if they wanted to tell me to take a hike, though I hope it doesn't come to that. Somehow I don't think it will. Besides, sometimes a real man in training has to do what he has to do. In the end, I'm fine working a couple of events each week, which amounts to about 10-15 hours.

This means less money, but as I've gotten older I've learned that the most important thing in life is time, especially when it's spent with the ones you love. No amount of money can take the place of that, though we don't realize this fact until it's too late.

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

Septic Search

The time has once again come to pump our septic tank, and I think if anything I've put it off longer than usual, not that I have a lot of experience with it since I've only had it pumped once before. I'm not sure what the standard is for pumping intervals, but needless to say, I think it's time. With that in mind, I need to locate the tank and more importantly, the hatch that accesses the goods... or bads when you really get down to it.

The last time the guy came to pump he kept lecturing me on how I should install an access unit to make it easier to not only find the tank, but access it, thus the name. It would require obtaining some concrete tube sections with a hatch on top, if you can envision that. It would be like a septic bunker. The previous owners never put one in, I'm thinking for aesthetic purposes, and I sort of went along with it, but this time around I started wondering about the merits of such a unit. The reason for my change in heart was that I sort of forgot where the tank is. I was sure it was in one place but when I dug it up, I was a little off. I actually found the tank, just not the exact location I needed. Plus, it was hard work digging that hole, it is fairly deep and there were some substantial rocks that I had to excavate. Anyone who has experience with this can relate to how hard it is to dig up heavy rocks in a narrow opening. It makes a big difference if you can stand in the hole, but I don't want to rip up our backyard. Then again, it may just come to that.

We'll see how this one goes. Until then, thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Lawnmower Woes

Our lawnmower is on the fritz and if we don't get it up and running soon, I'm going to have start making hay out of our lawn. Every year I do routine maintenance on the mower and every year it fires up and goes, except for this year. I changed the oil and filter, put in a new spark plug, cleaned the carb, and I even changed the blade. When I pulled that cord, there were no signs of life, which is a total bummer. My first impulse was to call someone who might know how to fix it, and the only person that I personally know who fits this description is JH and His Magic Bag of Tricks. Unfortunately, he was feeling under the weather and not really feeling up to dealing with my own personal drama, so I ended up taking it over to Joe's. I bought the mower there and they are good for service issues, it's just that at this time of year they are busy and there is usually a wait of at least a week or two.

So now I sit and wait. I've called them a couple of times and I think they are totally sick of hearing my voice. I can't say I blame them, but sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the oil, or simply gets replaced with a non-squeaky wheel.

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

Nowhere to Hide

I've become the semi-official timer for N's LAX games, and I don't mind doing it because I not only get a great seat to watch the game, but I get to converse with the referees and coaches to get an insider's view of the game. This benefits of LAX neophyte as myself. The only problem I run into is that standing there for an hour (or two if it's a doubleheader) can wreck havoc on my back. Plus, it's a little stressful being charge of something that affects everyone in attendance, and it definitely makes it a bit more challenging to follow the game.

With this in mind, the last game the kids had I was a little reluctant to keep the time, and with minutes to go before the face-off, I figured they had found someone else and was off the hook. This, it turns out, was not the case, and I saw the coach LP approaching the spectator section for what I assumed was a search for someone to keep time, i.e., yours truly. I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I took the cowardly route and stood behind JL, thinking they wouldn't see me. When LP called out my name, however, I knew there was nowhere to run, so I manned-up and accepted my fate.

I figured all was well until one of the other coaches, JW, was teasing me about hiding behind JL and that they wouldn't ask me to do it all of the time. Talk about being mortified, I felt like a big fat loser. My son also gave me a hard time about hiding. At that point, I told the coaches I'm happy to keep time and help, thus solidifying my position at timekeeper. How do I get myself into these things? At the next game, not only did I come forward and volunteer to keep time, but I brought my own stopwatch. How's that for making a statement?

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Firewood Therapy

Chalk it up to being a real man in training, but my outdoor ways have actually proven to have tangible health benefits. As you may know by now, I suffer from an assortment of physical maladies stemming from old age and the fact that my body is falling apart. One of the big ones is my back, specifically my upper back and neck. It has been aching and sore since the new year, with not much in the way of respite from the constant nagging ache that I've resigned myself to (apologies to my Mentor). Even though I'm good at whining and feeling sorry for myself, that doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of things that need to be done around the house, especially with the weather warming up. Many of these duties require some brute force and muscle, which worried me a bit with my injured spine and all.

This includes splitting wood. I confess to being a little worried about the consequences on my back, so I was avoiding it a bit. At some point, however, you just have to deal with life, so I went out and cautiously started to split wood, gearing up for next winter. Initially there was some pain in my shoulder and neck, but by the end of my splitting session, I actually found that I didn't feel that bad. In fact, I might be so bold as to say I felt better. Maybe the jerking motion of the maul aligned my spine, or something like that, but whatever be the case, it went pretty well. Not only did my sore neck and back feel okay, but I got some stuff done that needed to be done. I love when that happens.

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

More Budding Engineer

I think N is getting really into modifying and building RC vehicles, and mom and I think it's awesome. He gets into it and it really piques his interest, and I can't say I blame him because it's pretty cool stuff. When I was a kid I used to love machines and gadgets and one area that I really loved was electronics. All that stuff with batteries, wiring, and electrical machines just fascinated me, and I'm not sure why I didn't pursue that line of interest more, though in retrospect, I do know why: my parents squashed my interest in anything that wasn't pre-med, but I won't get started on that path.

Like most boys, N has always been interested in machines and gadgets, initially turning his attention to big ones like tractors, trucks, motorcycles, and airplanes. He's always been interested in RC vehicles and gradually began to collect various cars and helicopters, but it wasn't until the got this higher-end Traxxas that things really took off. It's actually a pretty cool truck, mainly because it goes really fast, is very responsive, and best of all, you can modify and upgrade the components. The last part is the best part.

And modify is exactly what he loves to do. He's upgraded various parts of the truck to make it faster and more maneuverable, and now he's turned his attention to an RC boat that he got a year or two back. He hasn't used the boat much because it's not as optimally responsive as it could be. Let's just say it's not a Traxxas. He is now in the process of modifying the boat to make it faster and more responsive. He is going to take leftover parts that came off his truck when he modified it and use them in the boat. This will entail installing the parts and ordering new ones, all of which are way beyond my understanding, though I can appreciate it all. He's basically building the thing from scratch. How cool is that?

It helps that we got him a soldering iron, and a nice one, to boot. When I was a kid I loved soldering stuff to make various electronic gadgets, and the one we got him is pretty slick because it has LED lights on the base to illuminate his work. He's pretty stoked about it and he went to work immediately. In fact, he's set up shop in the basement and his work space has all sorts of projects going on. I love it.

On a side note, he also made a boat trailer out of legos and other toy parts. The trailer hitches to his Traxxas truck and the idea is that he can tow his soon-to-be RC boat with his RC truck. How cool is that? It sure beats watching TV all day. I was down in the basement this morning and saw a RC helicopter on the bench, so I'm guessing something is in the works.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Season Opener

Not in terms of sports, but weddings. The season of marital bliss has begun, and it looks like it's going to be busy as usual. Last year I started working in catering in the fall when things were busy but were definitely winding down. I get a sense that summer is the hot season (no pun intended) for getting hitched, and I wasn't really around for it, so this should be interesting, to say the least. This past weekend was the first one for this year, and not only was it a pretty big one, but we are employing new methods to serving them which basically entail more formal attire and more efficient service.

This wedding was actually a very nice one, with a big contingent of sophisticated Canadian city-folks, I believe from Montreal. There was a lot of French being spoken, and they went all out on the decor, renting furniture and linens just for the occasion. It was actually very nice, and I think the crowd was pretty civil despite the copious amounts of alcohol that are always consumed. One thing that struck me was that the young people, who were all painfully hip, had an appreciation for fine wine. I think they were all going into banking.

Either way, it was a crazy night, and I had to work the next morning at the breakfast buffet. The bride's family was amazingly friendly, and they lucked out on having beautiful weather on their wedding day because the next morning at breakfast it was rainy and bit dreary. Then again, the young couple were a pair of go-getters who wouldn't let a little bad weather ruin their day - they ran a 10K on their wedding day. How's that for grabbing life by the horns?

And so it begins. Things are picking up with my other catering job and I have another potential gig lined up in the big city, so I may have to start being selective about what jobs to take. Suddenly I'm so special and important... yeah, right. In a perfect world I'd like to be able to take all the gigs so I can make more money to support our fabulous lifestyles, but you can't have it all, can you?

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

So Lonely Again

Every spring we seem to go through a little drama in our house on a few key fronts, and this year seems to be more of the same. One of the issues I have to confront is the old quest for firewood, which doesn't play well into my OCD neurosis because I have to obtain the wood well in advance of actually using it. It not only has to dry, but I need to cut and split it, and it takes awhile to get all that done. If, for instance, someone says they can get me wood and then at the last minute the deal falls through, then I'm out of luck. Actually, that's not completely accurate, because in a pinch I could purchase cut, split, and even dry wood, but that costs an arm and a leg; at least 2.5 times per cord compared to what I pay for log length, and the shock and pain of buying 5 cords at that rate would cause irreversible damage to my emotional well-being. Plus, it wouldn't allow me to continue my real man training of cutting it up.

For this reason I am very neurotic about getting all the wood in order, and there's nothing quite as comforting as seeing that pile of logs out in the yard. Better yet, having 10 cords split and drying in the sun, but that's in the realm of dreaming (a guy can dream, can't he?). Our usual wood guy, TB, has been reliable in years past, but he has a tendency to disappear and not return my calls. I usually have to call him three or four times, and in the last I have to tactfully allude to contacting my other suppliers if he can't come through. This of course is a complete bluff because I don't have other suppliers. In fact, log length wood can be hard to come by since it's more profitable to sell split wood, or better yet, sell it for pulp.

This year TB hasn't returned my calls, and it sure is a lonely feeling when your wood guy is blowing you off. I requested in my last message to at least let me know if he can get the wood since things change from year to year, which usually elicits at least a reply, but this year I heard nothing. Mom says to just be patient and keep trying, but at some point it seems like someone is trying to tell me something. Plus, there is the issue of courtesy. So, I started sending out feelers for other people who might have wood, and I probably contacted 7-8 potential suppliers and 3 of them got back to me. One is too far and too expensive, even for log length, but two are actually in town. How can you beat that? Not only that, but I am pretty good friends with one of them, which is even better.

One of them has a smaller truck so it works out well because I can buy smaller truck loads, which means less money. Granted, I have to buy more of them, but it still ends up being less money, I think. At this point, I'm not in a position to be too nit-picky. I'm just happy to have found some wood. I won't, however, start celebrating until I have the logs in our front yard.

On other fronts, I dusted off the lawnmower and tried to fire it up, but it showed no signs of life. That, however, is a story for another time.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to jacki-dee for the pic.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Solar Options

I've been noticing that solar arrays have been sprouting up all over the place and some of them are impressive in their scale. They just put a massive one up at the dump, and of all places they put one up at the farm near us. Our neighbors and good friends B&KJ informed us of this long before the fact in case we were interested in being a part of it, and I said we were. Right before they installed the panels they had an informational meeting to gauge interest and have people sign up for the "solar cooperative," which of course we couldn't make for assorted reasons.

Either way, I told them we were interested, but when the time came to sign up, it turned out that it was not completely worth it for us because our electricity bills are, of all things, too low. The share price for being in the co-op were around $75 while our bills average about $35-40, which is not to shabby when you get down to it. So on the one hand it's nice to think that we're good at moderating our usage of electricity, on the other hand we can't be a member of the solar cooperative.

Then again, maybe I should paraphrase Groucho Marx when he said he would never be a member of a club that would accept him as a member.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Solar Energy World for the pic.

Side On

I managed to finish the siding project on our house (it looks slightly better than this) and if you can believe this, it only took two days. That has to be a new world record, because as usual, I set out to replace 3-4 boards and ended up replacing at least a dozen. The back of the house gets southern exposure so when you throw in all the wind, snow, and rain, the wood really takes a beating and warps over time. When the wood warps, even slightly, the paint tends to wrinkle and crack, and then it starts to look bad. That's when yours truly has to step in, though it would be preferable to get to it before it gets to that point.

One of the problems I ran into was due to my laziness or cluelessness, or a combination of the two. Last time I painted, which was about 4 years ago, the paint was cracking and chipping off, and rather than properly clean the boards, I simply painted over them, much to the chagrin of my Mentor and the Amazing PR Man. Of course, I paid for my sins because when you paint over paint that's chipping, it all just chips off, anyway. I watched this process occur over the course of a few years and finally I got off my butt and did something about it.

This time around I'll hopefully do it right. Not only did I replace the warped boards, but I got a steel bristled brush and am scraping off the chipped paint. With all the new boards nailed in and the scraping done, I'm ready to paint. I even retrieved the paint and brushes from the basement and am ready to roll, so hopefully it won't take all summer to get this done. Then again, at least two other sides of the house need to be painted, so this could take a while, especially when you add in trim. Oh well, the work of a real-man in training never ends, does it?

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

April Snow

I'm trying not to whine about this, but the weather really has been slapping us around this year. We had a disappointing winter, spring can't seem to make up it's mind whether it's coming or going, the landscape is an unsightly brown, and on top of all this, it actually snowed a day or two ago. This is crazy. When I heard on the forecast on the radio, I was floored, though I know this is not without precedent. The weather in New England is completely unpredictable, but this still seems a little crazy.

The day of the big snowfall, it was actually raining when we woke up, so I figured that we were out of the woods and would just get a good soaking. However, by late morning, it had changed to snow and we got about 2-3 inches, which ain't nothing. I was so bummed when I walked out to the car and had to actually clear the snow off the windows. The funny thing is, it wasn't even that cold.

For all it worth, the snow melted by early afternoon, but they canceled LAX and it was still a little surprising to a flatlander like myself.

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