Sunday, July 31, 2016

School Assessments

Time for dad to whine a little more about homeschooling because we have to do our end of year assessments, not to mention enrollment for next school year. It's a little stressful and kind of a bummer, but we've been here before, haven't we? Plus, whining will get you nowhere, though that hardly discourages me from employing it.

This year is a little different, however, because of several factors. First off, A is going to regular high school part time, so that changes the assessment process, though it lends some degree of legitimacy that I feel is missing when mom and dad teach a course. Second, we do not have to submit curriculums because we've fulfilled some sort of requirement that now makes us exempt. Finally, and this one is a biggie, our regular assessor is no longer doing assessments, which is a big bummer and meant that I had to go out and find another person who is not only qualified to do it (i.e., a licensed teacher), but is willing to do it.

For whatever reason this year the state requested that we submit them by the end of July, which is not going to happen on this end. In the past we relied on the month of August to tie up loose ends and get all we needed to get done before the Labor Day deadline. A month beforehand is a big stretch. It did, however, get the ball rolling sooner and that's not a bad thing. I am currently in the midst of getting things together but it's always a chore at first. Plus, there's a lot going on.

Maybe I just need to whine a little more. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Jan for the pic.

One Window At A Time

Like everything in my life, painting the windows presents me with this incredibly time consuming task that somewhat overwhelms me to the point that I simply try to ignore it and hope it goes away. The unfortunate fact remains, however, that these sort of things never go away, and the longer they are put off, the more they seem to fester and wound. Such is the case with these windows, which really need to be painted on a regular basis, at least more regular than I have been doing.

I started out gang-busters painting the house, only to realize that I did it backwards and should have painted the windows and trim, first. I made this same mistake last time I painted and it bummed me out so much that I just stopped the whole endeavor. This time around I'm suffering a similar consequence but have vowed to get the windows done; there is simply no choice in the matter, and the way I'm getting around my mental block is by simply painting one window at a time. The path to realization is paved with realistic goals, especially for a whiner like myself.

With this in mind, I'm finding that it's slowly but surely happening. It doesn't help that it's so hot outside, but if I can work around the peak sunlight, it's not so bad. Besides, it's only one window at time, surely I can pull that off. So far I think I've finished the first floor windows, and now begins the fun part: painting the second floor, which means standing on a ladder and doing battle with the hornets. This should be good.

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

Living in Harmony

Maybe I just need to lighten up and live in harmony with this squirrel. It seems like every effort I make to prevent him from devouring the bird seeds is thwarted by the bionic gerbil, so maybe I just need to go with it. In fact, the other day I just left a small container of seeds on the ground near the tree and lo and behold, everyone was happy. It was like a scene out of a Disney movie with all the little woodland creatures living the dream. In the end I don't mind the squirrels eating some seeds, it's just that they're so darn greedy and deny them from the birds. If they have their own stash, then it all works out beautifully, right?

Actually, no. I realized a little later on that there are bear problems in this area, and several people have reported losing their bird feeders to them. I think leaving a pile on the ground for the squirrels is just asking for trouble, so I had to scratch that idea, meaning that the battle continues.

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

Friday, July 29, 2016

Serious Theater

Talk about hardcore, A and her crew over at N. Stage are working some pretty serious hours, and when I say serious, I'm talking 10 hour days. It's pretty serious stuff. It just goes to show you that they don't mess around and this is pretty serious theater. N. Stage puts on first-rate adult theater and they carry that over into the kid's programs. It's nice to see because there aren't that many avenues to see serious drama in this area. It ain't New York, but that's point, right?

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Vincenzo De Palo for the pic.

Free Upgrade

As anyone who knows me will attest to, I sure do love me a good deal, especially the ones that are free. Most of us know that high tech improvements can be expensive, especially when you deal with the brand Apple. Even though I have an old computer, ancient even by modern standards, doing various upgrades still costs some money in terms of parts and service. There's something about Apple products that just cost more, and you know how I feel about spending money on myself. I don't mind spending it on the kids, but for myself, if I can get by with the bare minimum, why not? Such is the martyred life of a parent. Besides, all I really do is do word processing.

As I mentioned, my computer is on the old side and it runs pretty smoothly. I'm reminded of this fact every day because I use my computer all the time, and whenever my kids want to use it they comment on how slow the thing is. Then again, why don't they just use their own darn computers? For whatever reason my computer has become the de facto movie-watching unit.

I upgraded the kids' computers a few months back because they are using more state-of-art features that require lots of memory and speed. They both noticed the difference, and I toyed with getting more memory for my computer, but then thought that maybe I could just use the old memory from their computers on mine. Since my computer is so crusty, using my kids' old memory is upgrade from what I have. So I took my computer and the memory into the computer store and the guy installed it and it worked. Best of all, he didn't charge me for his time, he was cool about it because in reality it's a pretty simple process, they just scare you into thinking you can't do it yourself. Now I've got double the memory, I was able to recycle the old memory, and it cost me nothing. Don't you just love when that happens? I sure do.

Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Seb Lee-Delisle for the pic.

Tee Time

This seems a bit crazy to me having had little to no experience with golf my life, but I have recently taken a sincere interest in the game. How crazy is that? Not only are we going on a fairly regular basis, but I'm actually getting into it, trying to be thoughtful about my game and taking time to slow down and focus on my swing. I've found that being thoughtful and embracing the finer qualities of the game actually makes it much more interesting, and at the very least, makes it a good challenge. Then I'm not just going through the motions taking up space and time.

It kind of all started when I began working at the Inn. The reason for this is because we get to golf at the Country Club, and it's a lot nicer than the public courses we've been at previously. Not that we need some sort of high-end golf course, which this is, but the layout is much nicer and the space and beautiful landscaping make it a more enjoyable experience. Somehow I don't feel like everyone is on top of each other, and thus far it has not been stressful in terms of holding people behind us up, which is my biggest source of anxiety.

N has been a golf fan for a few years and he's been interested in going to the Inn course because it's the real deal. And since I'm his regular golf partner I usually go along, as well, albeit begrudgingly since I'm not such a golf fan. N will mention it now and then but to his credit he doesn't make a big issue out of it. We made a reservation a couple of weeks ago and got rained out, so we tried again last week and had fun. A lot of fun. The course is 18 holes and is designed to be pro-level, whatever that means. Apparently it's been rated one of the top golf courses in New England, or something along those lines, so it's not some cheesy golf course. Even I have to admit that it's nice.

And best of all, golfing was fun. I usually just drive the ball as far as I can and just do my best to get to the next tee, but after a few holes I decided to take my time and work on my swing. You realize that golf takes a lot of concentration and skill, and when I put my mind to it, it can be fun and rewarding. The enjoyment comes from the challenge. I think N approaches it that way because he is very earnest when it comes to things he enjoys. He's really a student of whatever grabs his interest, and he takes these things pretty seriously.

Now that we both enjoy golf, we can put some time into our game and get better. In fact, that's our goal, to become good golfers by the end of summer, or in my case, at least marginally competent. For the record, our first time doing the front nine (listen to me), I lost three balls but found 4 in the woods, so I came out ahead. I love when that happens.

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

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Fixing the Fit

We've had this ongoing problem with the Fit that's been around for a few years, if not more. Now I (incorrectly) attributed it to some bodywork that we had done several years back, when our mechanic RM was closing the back hatch and being the massively strong guy that he is, put a major dent in the door. He took full responsibility and referred us to a guy who does bodywork. I felt bad because it wasn't completely his fault, but again, he took responsibility and offered to pay, so we went and had it fixed.

Shortly thereafter the latch on the back hatch started having problems, and it became stiff and difficult to move. The spring action on it was gone, and over time it became very hard to use. If you didn't go to great lengths to make sure the latch was back into place (since the spring action was gone), the hatch wouldn't shut properly, thus risking it flying open while we were driving. You literally had to push hard to get it back into place. I tried using WD40 with no luck. I figured it would be really expensive to fix so I lived with this for a couple of years and while it was a complete pain, it was manageable. One of the major drawbacks of the problem, however, was when we locked the doors, the hatch would lock and then it would not unlock. It took a lot of fiddling with the key, sometimes applying a bit of force to get it to work. I was afraid of breaking the key in the lock, so as you can imagine, it was far from ideal.

Finally I decided to deal with the problem and took it to Meunier, figuring it would cost a bundle to fix because they were going to have to dismantle the entire back side to get to it. Well, as it turns out, it wasn't a problem with the internal mechanism but rather with the hatch itself. It had rusted out so the spring action was gone and eventually it stopped working altogether. They replaced it and lo and behold, the thing works beautifully. It still cost me about $100, but not only can we use the hatch with ease, but I'm not concerned about locking the doors anymore. Thanks a bunch to Meunier, my heroes. Apparently this is a common problem because the dealer sells a fair number of these latches on a regular basis. Go figure.

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

Squirrel War II

Just when I was feeling all smug and satisfied with myself in dealing with the squirrels, Mother Nature gives me a healthy dose of humility. I had this crazy notion that I was in control of the squirrels and the bird feeder, but it quickly became apparent to me that they were able to circumvent my barriers with absolutely no problem and devour all of the seeds. It wouldn't be so bad if they weren't such greedy little buggers, they clean the seeds up in a very short time.

Not being one to give up once my OCD kicks in, I'm thinking I may have to elaborate on my initial plan, but am not sure what my new course of action will be. I noticed that the squirrel can still get to the feeder either by reaching down from the branch or jumping from the tree trunk. I have seen him jump from the feeder back to the tree and it seems to be no problem whatsoever for him, which I guess makes sense; he's a squirrel, after all. This could be a good place to start.

We'll see if my new plan has any effect. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Doug Brown for the pic.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Squirrel War I

I was feeling all happy and self-satisfied with myself about feeding the birds and bringing them back to our neck of the woods when the squirrels came out of the woodworks and have invaded the feeders. The question is, is that such a big deal? Well, sort of. I don't mind squirrel and chipmunks when I see them in another context, like in a tree or foraging for nuts and seeds in the woods. However, when I see them sitting on the bird feeder eating all the goodies, suddenly they're not as cute, and I have the urge to take them out forcibly. Mind you, I don't want to kill them because it's not that big of a deal, but they are a nuisance because they have voracious appetites and prevent the birds from getting anything. It might not be so bad if they weren't so greedy.

I decided to try to do something about it, and we'll see how it goes. Something tells me that this isn't going to be easy. First off, I put up a barrier on the branch to impede the squirrel's progress. I also noticed that one of the ways he gets to the feeder is by hanging down with his back claws locked onto the branch, whereby he just drops in on the feeder. So I put a 2 inch PVC pipe over the branch thinking that it would not only prevent him from getting a grip, but might also rotate if he stands on it, thus stopping him from making it over the feeder in the first place.

My final option was to unleash the wrath of our cats, Dusty and Misty, who would take that squirrel out in a matter of minutes. Then again, they'd take out a few birds, as well, so I'll hold off on that one.

We'll see how my plan works out. It's sort of fun in a nerdy way, Man vs. Nature, where Nature almost always wins out.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Birds Are Back In Town

We used to have bird feeders in our yard but stopped when we realized that we were leading them to their deaths with our cats prowling around. While the cats cannot reach the actual feeders, the seeds inevitably end up on the ground and the birds naturally fly down to them and eat them up. Meanwhile, our cats simply lay in wait and pick them off one by one. Like lambs to the slaughter. Consequently, we got rid of the feeders, which is a bummer because we all like birds.

Now that our cats are indoor cats, I thought it would be nice to put the bird feeders up again. We got two of them, and surprisingly they were fairly cheap, i.e., less than $10 each. One of them hangs from a branch while the other has suction cups that you stick to a window. The hanging one works fine, but the suction cups kept failing us, so I asked N, our resident engineer, to modify it and make it a hanging feeder, which he did in about 5 minutes. Granted, it wasn't reinventing the wheel, but it's still cool that he's willing to work on it and get the job done.

It took several days before the birds returned, and I was continually looking out the window for any signs of life. At first a nuthatch or two showed up (one of my favorite birds), and then a bluejay. After a few days the chickadees came, and then it was pretty much a avian party. Now that the birds are back, I'm stoked to see them frolicking about. I'm guessing our cats are just itching to get out there, but that's not going to happen any time soon. We just have to be extra vigilant about keeping them in, not to mention keeping an eye out for squirrels.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

All the World's a Stage

Our lives seem to be one big stage, and it's a little bit crazy... in a good way, of course. A has been involved with a big local play production and believe me when I tell you they don't mess around. They expect a lot from these kids, and I think they respond to the challenge and do a great job. The production company does not mess around and in reality they are a professional company, not some amateur volunteer group, which for the record can put on amazing productions. I've just noticed the level of professional commitment with these guys.

The entire month of July has been pretty much dedicated to this play, and A has been enjoying herself because she's in the band so she gets to do what she really enjoys, mainly play guitar and perform on stage. Personally I think she's a very good actor and a natural performer, but I don't think it's a passion for her. She's more comfortable being in the band. Fair enough.

The rehearsals have been all day affairs, starting from the morning and going until the evening, mainly because they have to work with the actors/directors and then the band has to rehearse the music. It works out for me because I can take her in the AM then head off to work, and then mom can pick her up after her work. It's a lot of juggling and organization but definitely doable. Most importantly, she's really enjoying it. I was pondering getting N involved in some of the production/crew aspects, but not only is he uninterested (it's always his first reaction), but I'm thinking it's good to get him involved in things that aren't always connected with his sister. There is, however, the convenience of dropping the kids off at the same location. Oh well, you just can't have it all, as every parent is reminded of each and every day.

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

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Back to Work

With the summer holiday and time off to visit family, it seems like I haven't worked much in the past two weeks. They have ample summer staff at the Inn, so I have been able to take some days off for assorted reasons, including travel. Now that we're back and things are starting to heat up on the catering front, it's time to get back to work, which is always a bit of an adjustment for yours truly. Now granted, there isn't much idle relaxation going on around this house, but somehow things are different when I have to shower, shave, and wear clothes that are reasonably presentable, none of which I have to do when I'm working on the domestic front.

Mind you, it's not a bad thing. As most people can attest to, it's nice heading off to work, not only to make the big bucks that fuel our opulent lifestyle, but to get a break from domestic duties and interact with the outside world. Getting a little complimentary food and dessert is not a bad thing, either.

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

Tech Camp

This is a bit after the fact, but a couple of weeks back we managed to enroll N into a tech camp over at one of the local high schools, and he really enjoyed it. Tech camp might be a bit of a misnomer because it wasn't all about computers. I think the name derives from the fact that it was held at what they call a "technical high school" or technical center, or what I grew up knowing as a trade school. We had heard about the camp but weren't sure how to go about enrolling in it, and of course we were behind the curve and submitted our application late, landing him on the waiting list. Since we were new to the system we weren't really sure what we were potentially missing out on.

I had pretty much written it off and told N as much when three days before the first day I got an email explaining to me what we would need for his first day of camp. I contacted the person in charge and inquired about the wait list and she informed me that he had in fact made it into the camp. Very cool. We were all excited but also unsure of what to expect. After all, we were, or rather he was entering into new territory, and that's always a call for anxiety. To his credit, he didn't seem nervous at all, he never does.

On the first Monday morning, I made him a lunch and got him ready to go, with the usual ceremony of sending your child off to camp when you're a neurotic and overbearing parent. And then we were off. I didn't know this but the camp is pretty big and draws on kids from a pretty wide area. There were probably 100 kids in attendance, and we knew several of them from homeschooling group and even our own neighborhood. I dropped him off and went about my day, returning after lunch to pick him up.

As it turns out, he had a pretty good time, and for good reason. The camp is really geared toward a lot of things he enjoys, including 3D printing, working with computers, and making and breaking down gadgets. They even got to work with an excavator simulator. He really enjoyed it, and I think he jived with some of his camp-mates, though it's hard to tell with him because he doesn't give up much info. Suffice it to say that he was excited to go back, despite the early morning start time. Plus, he informed me that he didn't need lunch, sparing me the need to pack one for him in the AM. It also gave us a chance to go get some lunch on our own away from the junk food authorities, which meant pizza and cheeseburgers.

All in all it was a great experience, and I only wish it were longer. Since it was sponsored by the town it was a bargain, as well. I love when that happens.

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

Chains Revisited

After all my shame and frustration over my ability to sharpen my chainsaw, I've come up with a new plan, thanks in part to YouTube as well as the good guys over at Joe's Equipment. I did something I should have done from the beginning and sought out advice on how to sharpen a chain. I incorrectly surmised that it was a straightforward and easy process that I could figure out on my own, but soon learned that this was not the case. Several chains later I finally asked the pros what needed to be done, and they were happy to tell me. Again, I thought it was a simple case of just running the file or Dremel through the gap, but they told me the key was to lift the file a bit to ensure that it was grinding the upper curve of each link. There are implements that will help to ensure this happens, or you can just consciously make sure it happens when you file. It requires a little more touch, and it's slower, but apparently that's the key.

I then went on YouTube and watched some videos to glean more information and picked up a few more valuable nuggets of wisdom. Interestingly enough, the experts recommend sharpening your chain more frequently than I realized, on the order of every fill up of the gas tank. This seemed excessive to me, but I heard it again and again. The reason that I avoided this was because if, like me, you sharpen the chain incorrectly, you do more damage than good, meaning you actually dull the blade. So a moderately sharp chain can become moderately or excessively dull if you mess with it. I experienced this on a number of occasions so avoided sharpening it until it was absolutely necessary. Then, when I screwed up the chain, I simply replaced it with a new one.

I asked the guys at Joe's about the frequent sharpening, and they were somewhat elusive about their answer, saying it depended on the type of wood and how clean or dirty it was. Fair enough, but I interpreted this to mean that they on some level agreed. Next I learned (via YouTube and Joe's) that you should file each link the same number of times. This, too, was a revelation for me. Apparently you want each link in the chain to be identical, so you treat each one in the same manner.

Finally, I learned of the importance of a vise (vice, too, but that's another story). Whenever I sharpened a chain, I would hold the blade with one hand and work the file with the other. The problem with this approach is that it's a challenge to hold the blade steady and it ends up moving all over the place. This can also potentially put some strain on the body seal, which can subsequently compromise the running of the saw. The way around all this is to secure the blade with a vise, and they make these cool small vises that you drive into a block of wood and simply leave outside. I got mine at Joe's, of course.

Armed with all this knowledge, I think I may have finally figured out how to sharpen my chainsaw chain. I've been doing it for the past few weeks and as far as I can tell, so far, so good. It's still hard to match the sharpening quality of a brand new chain, but at least I don't think I'm ruining the chain. For now, I'll take it. Not only do I save time and money by not having to buy new chains, but I can feel like a capable real man in training by doing it myself, and I sure do love when that happens.

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

Sunday, July 10, 2016

All That Jazz

It pleases me to no end that A auditioned for a place in the jazz band at school. She is hoping to play guitar or bass, but the key is to get a spot and just get a feel for free-form jamming with other musicians. Plus, it's a way to find her clan. We had learned about the jazz band over the summer before school began, and of course my OCD kicked in and I went to great lengths to contact the music teacher, who happened to be new to the school. He was very cool but couldn't really answer all my questions because this was all new to him, as well. Needless to say this made me all the more neurotic.

When school started I even paid him a visit. He mentioned that he was still figuring things out and that he had all sorts of ideas of having a jazz band, including a more casual setup in addition to the formal arrangement. He did mention two things - that freshman did not usually take part because the auditions were at the end of the school year, and that jazz band members were required to be in regular band, as well. I wasn't sure what role A could play in that, but figured we'd cross that bridge when we got there.

Well, as the school year wound down, the music teacher, MP, contacted us and told us about the auditions coming up. There was a spot for a guitarist and A was going for it. MP also mentioned that he had some ideas about how she could fulfill the role in regular band, so we'll see how that one works out. The most important thing is that she's interested and she's going for it. It's a bit of a challenge because a lot of kids are auditioning, and it will be a reasonably competitive process, bit A does well in both camps. She's not intimidated by performing in front of an audience, and she's not put off by competition. I like to think it's her confidence in her abilities, but only she can answer that question. We'll see how things turn out.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to hippi16508 for the pic.

No Rain

With the exception of this weekend, it's been a pretty dry summer, and when I say dry, I mean dry and hot. In all fairness the heat has not been miserably constant, and we've had some nice breaks in the heat, but the lack of rain has been taking its toll. I've heard this sentiment from people who have gardens, which this year (thankfully) excludes us. That is not to say that we have not been affected by the dry weather.

In fact, it's forced us to deal with some things that we've managed to ignore in the past. In addition to our high maintenance blueberry plants, we have several shrubs and bushes that have not required much in the way of maintenance and suddenly we're having to prune and water them. Funny how that works. I think certain trees suffer, as well, but they are a little hardier than some of the smaller shrubs.

Even though it's a bit more responsibility in a our already busy lives, I rather enjoy taking care of the plants. There's something satisfying about giving them a good drink, maybe because I enjoy a cold beverage myself whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

Back in the Maelstrom

Boy, talk about hitting the ground running, or jumping back into the vortex (whichever cliche you prefer). We went away for a few days to visit family and immediately immersed ourselves in the madness that we know as life. Then again, what else are we going to do with all of our free time?

We were off in Ohio visiting mom's parents and it was a nice stay though it's always nice to get back home. This time around we returned and pretty much from the moment we made it back we were rushing around to make it to assorted events. We had missed the big 4th of July parade that is an institution in this town but returned in time to catch the fireworks, which in my opinion are very well done. Maybe it's because we're so close, but the show is pretty impressive and really fun to watch. It is loud, though.

The fireworks usually start at dark, which falls around 9:00-9:30. We landed in Boston about 5:00 and caught the shuttle back to the hotel to get our car. We were thinking of just heading home, which would have given us a cushion of time, but some of us were hungry and wanted to get Cambodian food at our favorite restaurant in the city, Thmor Da. It meant getting home later, but the opportunity doesn't come around often, so we seized the moment. We had supper of killer spicy noodles and then made the long trek home. We were exhausted, traveling is tough in New England because once you land you often have to finish the trip in the car or bus, and it usually takes about 2-3 hours. We walked through our front door about 8:45, which meant we had about 10 minutes to unload the car and head over to the rec center for the fireworks.

We got there just at dark and staked out a spot. One thing about living in small town is that you get to see lots of people you know, and sure enough we were surrounded by friends and neighbors, which is nice. We chatted and caught up, and within about 30 minutes the fireworks began. What a great show, it's really impressive, and again, since it's so close, it's booming loud. Once the show was over we had one more thing to do. A had given her guitar to one of the sound engineers SH at the Dojo to fix the tuning, and we were supposed to pick it up (I was, actually) the previous week but forgot. We arranged to meet him at the fireworks show because A needed her guitar the very next day for her big musical. Needless to say, this was a bit of a challenge considering there were hundreds, if not thousands of people out there watching the fireworks.

Amazingly enough, we found him and got her guitar. We had to walk over the lot, which we managed to avoid, and got to see how crazy the scene actually was. For the record, it's a big event and people come from all around, but this year they left tons of garbage on the ground, and I seemed to notice people all around me smoking cigarettes. Kind of a bummer.

In the end, we got to see the fireworks, got A's guitar, and made it home safely, so all is well. The next day A had her first day of rehearsals for the big musical that she's in, so there was no time to really catch our breath. Then again, who needs to breathe?

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