Sunday, December 31, 2017

Walk-In Refrigerator

I don't know if you're following the weather lately but it's been ridiculously cold up here, even by New England standards. Not just in terms of temps, but duration, as well. When we first moved up here we would get a few days when the thermometer dropped below zero, with some days in the double-digit negatives, but again, it was a day or two. We've had what seems like about a weeks worth of bitterly cold days, and there's no end in sight. What exactly is going on? I like cold weather, but when it's below zero, with consecutive days at -20, that's pretty serious stuff. You realize how much you need a day or two in-between to thaw out. Starting the car has been a bit of a challenge, but so far we haven't had any major issues, at least not yet.

We haven't done much in terms outdoor activities, including a family favorite - skiing, it's just too darn cold. I would even go as far as to say it's dangerously cold, you really can't spend too much time before you have to come in. I've had to shelve my fleece gloves and wear heavy ski gloves all the time because my hands take a beating. To add to this drama, yesterday morning our power went out. I couldn't believe it, I was up getting the day started and around 6:00AM everything went dark. Fortunately we heat with wood so the house stayed warm, it was just dark, but it got me to thinking about people who don't heat with wood, which is most of us. During harsh winters like this, losing power could spell trouble. How do you keep your house warm? Everything is dependent on electricity, even if you heat with oil or propane.

If there's one silver lining to this, it's that our mudroom has become a walk-in refrigerator. We can store all our food out there and it stays fresh, or at least it doesn't spoil. We had the baseboard heating disconnected in that room, so freezing pipes are not an issue. Actually, they were in issue when we first moved in, bursting our first winter, so we had them disconnected. Boy did we learn a lot our first year living up here.

The forecast seems to indicate that the cold will stick around for some time, with some relief hopefully coming by the middle of next week, where it's supposed to rise to a balmy 18 degrees. That's when you know winter isn't messing around.

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Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Mattijs Vormer for the pic.

Happy New Year

Happy new year to all, hope 2017 was a good one and that 2018 will be better. I can say that this year has been a crazy one for us, for a number of reasons that I won't go into. There have been a lot of positives and some negatives, with some important milestones, lots of hard work, kids (and parents) getting older, and some significant changes on the horizon. I feel like the season seemed to come out of nowhere, especially Christmas and now the New Year, mainly because of so many events on the personal front. Throw in these crazy frigid temperatures and it has been interesting, to say the least.

In years past we headed up to Quebec City for New Year's Eve, but due to extenuating circumstances, we won't be making the trip this year. One of the extenuating circumstances was dad refusing to make the drive, it's just too brutal, but that's a minor one. Suffice it to say that it's going to be a quiet New Year's Eve in this household.

Whatever be the case, while I'm not one to make a big issue out of it (it's just another day, after all), I do hope things work out on your end. So Happy New Year and rather than hope it will be a good one, why not just make it so?

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Thanks for reading, and thanks to daan mardana for the pic.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Olympic Spirit

Last week while mom was away we headed up to Lake Placid NY for a hockey tournament, and though I had reservations about going because of the expense and time away, we had a really good time. We always do, so I don't know why I'm such a wet blanket... actually, I do know, it's in my genes. Either way, I often have a bad attitude for anything that forces me to get off the couch, and I was a little bummed about the costs associated with weekend tournaments, but anything that costs more than $20 is going to make me whine.

I wasn't about to impede on the team experience with N's new teammates, however, mainly because I think they are some really cool dudes. I don't know the parents that well, being the new guy on the block, but I think he's jiving with his mates. They're pretty decen kids, despite being part of the affluent big-city intense demographic. More on this later. Anyway, we took a few days off and made the 3 hour drive; for the record, I wasn't thrilled about that, either. What a stick in the mud I am.

First off, the drive wasn't that bad, though we passed through a snowstorm, and it's a rather circuitous route to get there (blame Google Maps). There is nothing for the last 30 minutes of driving, so being the neurotic traveler that I am, I began to wonder if we were lost, though sure enough, as we got closer, there were signs telling us we were in the right place. The hotel we stayed at was really nice, much nicer than something I would have chosen, but we got a group rate, and it was walking distance to the rink, which is key. The food in the town wasn't that expensive, and they had a really nice variety of interesting choices. The hotel didn't come with breakfast, so I had to get creative. Finally, and most importantly, N hung out with his teammates and really jived with some of them, and I hung out with the dads and bonded over all sorts of topics. A win-win situation if there ever was one.

The teams in the tournament were all evenly matched, and N's team just missed playing in the final, where the team they beat won it all. It could just as easily have been them. They weren't too stressed about it, and they had fun grabbing pizza for lunch and hanging out in the hot tub and pool. I sat with the dads during games and we chatted about guy things like careers and lawn equipment. One of the selling points of the tournament was playing in the Olympic hockey rink where the Miracle on Ice took place, and I wasn't so impressed going into it, but in the end, it was pretty cool. I think the guys got a kick out of it. We also had a nice team supper where the players all sat together and got crazy while the parents sat together and talked about who knows what. It's always a little forced, though I've found the parents of this team to be very affable. The coaches sat with us and I bet they found us all to be a little stiff - they're younger (and single) than all of us by probably 20-25 years.

Breakfast was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to get out and pick up some breakfast burritos before his games. For supper we got burgers or Mexican food, though one day he had an early morning game and nothing was open at that hour. Of course this spoke loud and clear to my OCD, so I spent a few minutes walking up and down Main Street trying to come up with a plan. I'm a big believer in the importance of him having some food in his stomach before a game. I finally got some breakfast bagels with eggs, cheese, and sausage and some juice. I put them in the fridge and in the morning I nuked the bagels and they came out pretty darn good. Good enough to fuel a high performance athlete.

I purchased Olympic “passports” that allowed us to tour the Olympic facilities and see where all the events took place, and we did not go to a single one. N just hung out by the pool and with his buddies, and I stayed in the hotel and wrote, read, took naps, and watched TV. What a life.

On the last day they won their game but they were locked into third place and were not going to play in the final. I had mixed feelings, because I thought they could have beat any of the other teams and a championship medal would have been nice, but it was also nice to leave Lake Placid in the morning and get home before it was dark.

All in all we had a really nice time, and I'm glad we went. I think N had fun, and that's the most important thing, right?

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

Calling All Real Men

As I mentioned in a previous post, we came home from the Lake Placid tournament to a cold house because our boiler had failed. I was talking to mom and she said the Amazing PR Man said to look in the manual for trouble shooting tips. Of course I ignored this and simply turned the thing off and then on, and I could have sworn the thing re-booted itself and was on it's way to heating the water before it fizzled out and died again. There were some flashing lights which were trying to tell me something, and had I read the manual I would have figured it out, but I didn't. Instead I did what I normally do in my time of need - I called someone who would know what to do. I called my friend and neighbor, JP, who is a licensed electrician and a senior facilities manager at the college. He was home and had some time so he came over with his tool bag and did exactly what the Amazing PR Man said to do, he looked at the manual.

In that manual it said that the flashing light that was seeing meant that the igniter to the boiler was not working. This would explain why the boiler was initially starting but then petering out. JP took it a step further and examined the flow chart of the electrical circuit to determine the proper steps to ignition, thus confirming where the problem was occurring. He then, like any real man, went about taking the boiler apart (I watched in awe) and removing the igniter, which was clearly fried. Truth be told, if I had the huevos to do it, I probably could have followed the same steps, but I never would have had the wherewithal to just do it. I would have been way too neurotic.

The next step was to find the part. JP got on Google and he located it on SupplyHouse.com, which has a warehouse in New Jersey. It said we could get it on Tuesday (this was Sunday), but JP said it was worth seeing if I could find it at a nearby plumbing store. On Monday morning I stopped by one of the big ones, FW Webb, and they said nobody around here deals with our brand of boiler, so finding that part was going to be hard. Say no more - I came straight home and ordered it. I just wanted to mention that I got amazingly good service from SupplyHouse.com, they said the part would come on Tuesday, and I ordered it on Monday. I almost didn't believe it, but sure enough, it came the next afternoon, and I didn't have to pay for expedited shipping. I used standard shipping at $5 and got next day service. That is a company I would use again.

Now I had to install the igniter. I'm always wary of fiddling with things that involve propane, fire, and electricity, but someone had to do it. You can't live in a house with two kids and not have hot water, so I dove in and did it, and it wasn't that bad. In fact, re-installing the igniter was very easy, though something I hope to do only once in my life. We'll see how that goes. I hooked up the wiring, re-opened the propane valve, crossed my fingers and held my breath, and flicked on the switch. The boiler came top life and stayed on. Success!

Boy was I stoked. Not only did I not destroy the house (or boiler), but we now had hot water. And best of all, we managed to do it for about $50 in parts and no labor costs. We have a service plan with our gas company but they (over) charge for parts and who knows when they could make it over. As I mentioned, days or weeks without hot showers when you're tragically hip is just not acceptable.

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I also managed to fix the toilet but that's a story for another time. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Laura for the pic.

Double Edged Sword

Life has been a little complicated lately with mom going back home over the course of the last month. With her away, it means that I need to be at home, which in turn means that I can't really go to work. This is fine when you're a SAHD as me because the jobs I do are all part-time and flexible, though it probably doesn't win me any points with the powers that be at the Inn. And, of course, it also means that I'm not earning the big bucks to support our fabulous lifestyles. Fortunately, with it being the holidays and all, work on both fronts is pretty slow. Things at the Inn have been reduced to a trickle because people just don't get married in the wintertime, and posters are pretty much on hold with the school break. Plus, poster-boy work is very flexible, as long as the work gets done.

And looking at the bright side, it's good that my presence is not a must because I really have been needed at home. While being destitute is never a fun thing, it has been nice being at home and not rushing out to get to work. Plus, work at the Inn has become a bit of a chore, with a bunch of good people leaving and the work becoming increasingly demanding. I'm finding the work environment somewhat depressing for several reasons, not the least of which is that the shifts are really long, morale is low (I'm not alone in finding it all depressing), the staff is shrinking, and it's really not that much fun. I'm definitely not excited about going in, and several people I've spoken with share the same sentiment. It's almost as if they see us as replaceable, which of course we are, but do they have to make it so obvious?

Sure, the paycheck is nice, but one thing I've learned as I've gotten older is that money isn't everything. I generally make a bigger paycheck with the Inn than I would with private caterers mainly because the Inn shifts are longer, usually twice as long, so I usually make twice as much at the same rate. Problems arise, however, when the rates are not the same, and this happened this year. We worked a few weddings and made the same amount as a private gig (while working twice as long), so it begs the question, is it worth it? My thinking goes something like this - no thank you.

I guess what I'm saying is that I'd just as soon work a shift that's half as long, in a nicer work environment that can actually be fun (go figure), and have more of my day for my life. Another bonus with the private gigs is that we basically set up, serve the meal, clean up, and we're done. At the Inn there is a lot more setup and breakdown, which includes moving tons of furniture, and then we have to set up for the next event the next day. It's a lot of heavy lifting and believe me when I tell you that it's a drag knowing that once the event ends, there are 2 more hours of work ahead of you.

Okay, I've gone off on a tangent of epic proportions, but it's something worth thinking about for next year, especially if I want to maintain our fabulous lifestyles. I will say this - I don't think I need to save up for any new surfboards... I think.

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Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Amir Zhafri Abdullah for the pic.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Pet Care, Inc.

We do a fair amount of pet sitting, and for N it works nicely because it's sort of a job for him. It's not a constant situation, but enough so he can make a few bucks here and there. The people who “hire” him are usually generous and understanding that he's just a kid trying to earn some extra dough (to support his fabulous lifestyle). I'm more than happy to help out by driving him to certain locations, though in some instances he can simply ride his bike, which he does. We don't expect payment from our friend, HH, because she's practically family, so how can we possibly charge her?

Interestingly enough, every now and then we get the perfect storm of pet care and are watching over upwards of 3-4 households, sometimes with chickens, as well. That's when things get a bit more complicated. This holiday season we fell into this routine, and coupled with mom being away, we were jumping through all sorts of hoops just to get these pets cared for. One of our regulars, JC, lives a little far away, so we have to drive over on remote dirt roads to get there. Our good friend HH was also leaving town, as well as S&T and their three cats and chickens. There were only a day or two of overlap, but even when things are staggered, it can get a little crazy. Again, when you add chickens to the mix, it brings with it a whole new dimension of responsibility and worry.

On top of all that, we had to feed the animals on Christmas Day, and we got slammed with a big snowstorm. I woke up this morning to see all the white stuff and thought, “There's no way we're getting out of our driveway.” This presented us with a problem for HH's animals, because they have a dog and he needs to be walked twice a day. You figure he's gone all night with a bathroom break, so the morning walk is important. With the snow raging outside, I contacted HH and told her we were in a bit of a bind, and she contacted her neighbor who said he could do the job. Boy was I relieved, I really like HH's pets and felt like I was letting them down. Also didn't want to have a doggie accident in their house. I mean, can you blame the pup?

That leaves us with doing S&T's cats and chickens. Their situation is complicated by the fact that they live on a massive hill, and their driveway is a long sheet of ice. We park at the end and walk in, and even that's a challenge with the conditions as they are. Sometimes on Christmas Day, all you want to do is sit around the house and eat Christmas treats.

Oh well, at some point we're going to have to make the sojourn up the hill. I just hope our car makes it.

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Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Ramon Bataller for the pic.

White Christmas

Merry Christmas to all out there, hope all is well with you this year. We've had a strange and disjointed holiday season, with mom gone for almost a month taking care of important stuff, so it's been hard to fire up and really get into the holiday spirit, but now she's home and we'll get to enjoy the holidays. She flew back on Saturday, so we got to spend Christmas Eve together baking cookies and watching holiday movies, and today we'll have our usual Christmas supper together - this year we decided to make a ham, which is unusual because I never think of cooking a ham. It's not usually high on my list of meal favorites, but we found a nice nitrate free ham at the Coop and we should be able to make it work. We'll go heavy on the vegetables and sides.

And, to help fuel the Christmas spirit, we're getting loads of snow! I can't recall ever having a white Christmas, but this year we've been getting a fair amount of snow, and sure enough, a storm rolled in last night we woke up to loads of the white stuff. As of this writing, it's still coming down in a steady stream. They're saying we're going to get 4-8 inches, but it usually ends up being more than they forecast. As long as the wood box is full and the fire is raging, we're good to go. I think it may be time to hit the slopes.

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Until the next time, thanks for reading. Merry Christmas and thanks to Peter Bihr for the pic.

Home For Holidays

We've been having to get used to life without mom, and it's a crazy and a little bit disconcerting and depressing. We're more than capable of dealing with the logistical stuff of running the household, but mom is definitely the glue that holds us together. I think the best way to put is that we can survive with her absent, but when she's here, we can really live our lives. We sure do miss her.

She was away for about two weeks about a month back, then she came home for what seemed like a couple of days before she had to head back to her parent's house again. Talk about a whirlwind - here today, gone tomorrow. She'd been away for another couple of weeks before she returned home for Christmas. Traveling has been a challenge recently, as well, because the weather has not fairly rough, with lots of winter storms. Her first flight back had several cancelations, and she had to change her plans this last time because yet another big storm came through, but she made it safely (thankfully). Today, Christmas, we have yet another storm, so she just squeezed in to get home. Whew!

Now that she's home we can resume our normal lives, which to some may seem boring but suits us just fine - just hanging out and enjoying each other's company. Nothing fancy or crazy, at least not most of the time, but when you really get down to it, when you can celebrate your time together doing next to nothing, then you're really onto something, because that's what most of our lives are really about, right?

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

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Rock Stars

A's band jammed out at the local school this past week, and it was a cool show. Being the boring and out-of-touch parent that I am, I'm not completely clued in as to what's cool with kids these days, but when I was growing up, being in a band was the thing. It didn't matter if you could play or not, just getting up there on stage and making an appearance was enough to make you too cool for words. It sure earned my respect. A's band rocked out and they did a nice job. In fact, all the bands played well, and most of them were comprised of the audience's classmates. I enjoyed the show, but on some level I couldn't help but think the crowd had other places to be. It's a shame because it takes a lot of courage and wherewithal to get up there and play. These performers deserve the audiences respect. They sure as heck would have gotten it when I was a kid, but times have changed.

Today kids seemed to be more jaded about what I thought was cool, maybe because of technology, or maybe because they're just more sophisticated. I can't say for sure, but these guys didn't seem as interested or enthused. Even still, I give the bands top marks for just doing it. Like Woody Allen says, 87% of life is just showing up. You're not always going to get the response you want, and maybe that's just an important lesson in life. You can't always play just for your parents, who will give you unflinchingly enthusiastic support. Life, as we all know, just doesn't work that way.

We had a good time, nonetheless, and I was stoked because N got to hang out with his hockey teammates, most of whom attend the school. What's cool is that they recognized and acknowledged him, enough to where he broke off from me and sat with them, despite them being surrounded by kids he didn't know. That's pretty huge.

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

Puzzle Master

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This may not be a big deal to some, but to me it's pretty amazing - N figured out how to solve his Rubik's Cube. I think he may have had some online help, but even still, it's pretty impressive to me. Not only that, but now that he's figured it out, he can solve it over and over again. In fact, when I'm laying in bed at night I can hear him twisting and turning the thing. Just a small note about our lives, proving once again that it doesn't take much to impress me.

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Jauy Salikin for the pic.

Snow Tires - Ouch!

We decided to put snow tires on both cars this year, and suffice it to say that it wasn't pretty on the pocketbook. In fact, it was downright ugly, but you just can't put a price on safety and peace of mind. Driving in the winter is always a sketchy proposition, but with a new driver in the house, we felt like we couldn't mess around and put money over safety. Last year mom went with just her all seasons, while I had snow tires that were on year 3, which was really pushing my luck, but it sure was nice saving that wad of dough. Mom benefitted from brand new all-seasons at the beginning of winter, and it went pretty smoothly. When the weather got really bad, we just didn't drive.

I, on the other hand, had older snow tires that were high end when they were brand new, but again, 3 years is a lot to ask for a snow tire. In my defense, in the spring when I switched out my winter tires for summers, the tire store said I could get another year out of them. However, in the winter when I put them back on, the same tire store said I would probably be better of with the all-seasons because they had more tread (the all seasons were new). This information, which was delivered to me at the zero hour when I was sitting in the lobby, inflamed my OCD and fueled my neurosis. I literally sat there quaking in my boots trying to decide what to do. Finally I said to just put the winter tires on because they were probably going to charge me for the labor, anyway, so at least I'd have something to show for it. How's that for stupid, twisted logic.

Fast forward to this year, and with A now driving, we figured the time to mess around was over. Of course I shopped around and did some research, and decided to go with Sumitomo Ice Guards. In the past I've always gotten the Nokians, which are amazing tires, but a little pricier. Those Scandinavian engineers know how to manufacture quality cold weather equipment. I figured that since mom did fine with all season tires, buying the best snow tires probably wasn't necessary. Then again, I didn't want to buy the cheapest ones, either.

The Fit has a small and unusual tire size, so our choices were somewhat limited. Our all season tires are Yokohamas, which are good quality, and Yokohama make a good snow tire. Plus, I trust Japanese quality. I wasn't prepared to go cheap with Nexens, which are made in China (also, not much of a track record). In the end, the Sumitomos were a good compromise, and I later learned they were made in Finland, which gave me the Scandinavian connection. Say no more. They have an aggressive tread like the Bridgestone Blizzaks, which I've purchased in the past - great tire in the winter, though they don't last long.

So far our Sumitomos have been fine. We haven't been hit with a major storm just yet, but we did get some snow and they handled well. It helps when you drive as slowly as I do. In the end I was bummed at dropping all that cash on 8 new tires, but I'm also glad we did, because money isn't everything, right? Fortunately I'd been saving up for just this occasion, so despite the pain, I was ready.

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

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Welcome Home?

As I mentioned, there's been a lot going on, and we are without our team leader, mom, so we're kind of winging it over here. Mom had to abruptly take off and return to see her parents after a short stint back home, so at least we got to have her for a few days. With her gone, we had a very busy weekend in store, with N having a hockey tournament in Lake Placid (LP), and A having a school dance and big music weekend with her band. We managed to connect all the dots, but not without some serious hoops to jump through.

On Friday of last week N and I headed up to New York to play in this tournament. I have to confess, I wasn't completely thrilled about leaving, what with all that's going on and the fact that I haven't been working at all these past several weeks. It's a double-whammy going away because not only am I not making the big bucks (to support our fabulous lifestyles), but it also requires spending loads of cash on food, hotels, and countless hours at the spa... just kidding. A arranged to stay at her friends house for the weekend, so we were good on that front, but the timing just wasn't that ideal. Then again, is it ever ideal? It's this kind of thinking that makes it hard to even get out the front door, so if you're a whiner like me (hopefully not), you just have to get over it.

Anyway, for the record, we had a great weekend, with N bonding with his teammates, and me bonding with the dads. Talk about a guy's weekend - hockey, fried foods, and beer. What more could you ask for? There's more to tell about the weekend later, but suffice it to say a good time was had by all. The drive up there was a little sketchy, but coming home was a breeze, except that we returned to a freezing cold house. I left the heater on but when we walked in the door, it felt really cold. The thermometer read 40 degrees, which is about 20 degrees too low. I went down into the basement to find that our boiler had taken a dive. Total bummer. I just had the thing cleaned and inspected (which it passed), how could this happen?

To throw salt on the wound, this also meant we had no hot water, so we couldn't shower, as well. AND, our upstairs toilet was leaking. Fortunately, I didn't sit and whine about it (well, maybe a little) and went into action. First thing is getting the fire going, and then trying to figure out what was wrong with the boiler, which means turning to the Amazing PR Man for advice. I got some tips but nothing really worked, so I was going to have to break out the big guns and call the gas company for a service call. We have a service plan, so it wasn't an outrageous idea, but who knows when they could have made it over, and we still had to pay for parts. Meanwhile, we're grungy and miserable, though at least we had the fire.

The toilet was easy enough to deal with - I just shut off the water intake valve, though that hardly solved the problem, it just temporarily ameliorated it. Clearly I was going to have to break out my tools and be a real man for a day... or at least a real man in training.

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Things actually worked out pretty well, but more on this later. Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Rick Umali for the pic.

Pardon Me Again

Happy holidays to everyone, hope you're enjoying them more than this guy, and please pardon my absence for being away for so long, our lives have been a bit crazy, to say the least. Several weeks back mom had to go home for two weeks and then she returned, but only for a few days, after which she had to fly back home, leaving us to hold down the fort. It's very doable, the kids have been very helpful, but it happened to have coincided with a couple of very busy weeks. I've barely had time to take a breath, much less write this blog.

On top of all that there are the holiday preparations, which for us have been pretty sparse. It's just not the same with mom not being here, and with all that's going on, the holidays have to unfortunately take a back seat. That doesn't mean that we can't spread the good cheer of the season, especially now that we have snow on the ground.

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So with this in mind, Happy Holidays to everyone, and best wishes for the new year. Stay tuned for more and thanks for reading, and thanks to Tim Bouwer for the pic.

Friday, December 8, 2017

(Oh So) Fashionably Chic

There's a winter dance coming up at school and A is going with her friend and confidante. While I think there is always romantic potential when a boy and girl hit the dance floor, I won't delve any deeper into this because it's not my place to say. Either way, she needed a dress for the dance, and mom isn't around to help her pick one out, so she set off on her own into of our version retail hell and got one. All by her lonesome. She also braved the awful traffic that is so characteristic of that area, not to mention finding parking, but she did a stand-up job. And, the dress she chose was fabulous - classy, chic, alluring, but not trashy. She looked really good, and I think mom, who will see it soon enough, will approve. To paraphrase Coco Chanel said, every girl needs a little black dress, though not too little.

When I was a in high school, the girls wore incredibly provocative and inappropriate clothes. Bear in mind this was over 30 years ago in LA, and as a teenage boy, I wasn't complaining. Values are different up here, and I think they've changed over time. Plus, it's cold. You just don't see the kind of outfits I grew up around, which were more plausible in the southern California heat. The influence of Hollywood, for better or worse. Worse, in my opinion.

Whatever be the case, A did a good job. She's such a big girl now. I'm not sure when the dance is but whenever it happens, I think she'll look great.

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Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to I Brekelmans for the pic.

California's Burning

These wildfires in CA are crazy. Having grown up there I am fully aware that wildfires are, like earthquakes, drought, and mudslide, a regular thing, but the current fire is actually within striking distance of where my mom lives. The evacuated the area directly adjacent to her and it was only a matter of time before they moved out her neighborhood, it was that bad. The entire 405 freeway was shut down, and if you know anything about commuting in LA, you know that shutting down the 405 is like cutting off a major artery, slowly choking the city to death. I can't even imagine what traffic was like on the side streets. What's crazy about the videos you see online is that the entire hill is an inferno, it looks like a scene out of hell, and yet all the commuters are driving along as if it was business as usual. In a way, that is exactly the case. Why let a little brush fire prevent you from getting to work?

I spoke with my mom last night and she said things were calm where she was, though my brother and I thought she should have gotten out before the actual call to evacuate came down, but she wasn't having it. She had many options but opted to stay, and fortunately nothing bad happened. I spoke with a couple of her neighbors who actually live closer to the fire zone and they seemed to have come out of it unscathed, as well. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

In the meantime, everyone is keeping their eyes on the wind. If it kicks up and starts blowing in the wrong direction, it could spell trouble. Despite the calmer conditions, nobody is out of the woods, yet. I read that conditions in California were ripe for this disaster because they got so much precipitation this past winter that all the plants thrived and grew like crazy. Add to that a dry spring and summer, then throw in the Santa Ana winds, and disaster ensues. It's pretty scary.

What they really need is a massive rain storm, but as anyone knows, it never rains in California... it pours. Keeping my fingers crossed for the Golden State.

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

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Just Us

This past week has been a bit of a marathon because mom is away on personal business back in her home town, so there's a big missing link in our team effort. No question we miss her for a million reason, but we're also fairly adept at just dealing with things. Daily life, including mealtime, family time, and just hanging out, are not the same without her here, but as I mentioned, stuff like cooking and shopping for food are covered. Things get a little more complicated when you add in hockey games and practices, school, and teenage social life. Fortunately we have another driver in the house who can handle short trips around town. Plus, the weather has been fairly mild, so driving is not as precarious.

We miss mom but don't want her to fret over us, we're hanging in there. We just want her to take care of herself and get home when the time is right.

Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to 0Four for the pic.
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Car Repair

As I mentioned, I hit a deer a few weeks back and it was a total bummer on all levels. I feel terrible for the deer, though there was little I could do, and of course, our car got banged up. Body work is a drag because it's usually really expensive, and it's hard to get it back to looking exactly the way it was, unless of course you want to pay the serious big bucks. Plus, once the body of the car gets damaged, you can't really let it alone because up here in New England, exposed metal takes a beating. Even tiny scratches in the paint will begin to rust and corrode. It's pretty striking.

With that in mind, I knew I had to take care of the hood. I ignorantly thought (something I excel at) that they would just take a hammer and knock the thing out, but I soon learned that this is not the case - total replacement was in order. I did a quick search and found hoods for our car running about $250. Factor in labor and you can about double that. There were also internal pieces and mechanisms, like the latches and hooks that held the hood on, that were probably going to have to be replaced. It wasn't looking pretty, and to rub salt in the wound, you can't buy a replacement hood that's painted, they all come primer black. Painting it the right color was going to cost, as well. One bright note - it looked like the frame and radiator were intact.

I first went to Gerrish Honda and they basically said I should go to an auto body place. They could order the hood, but didn't really do the body work. I then went to Kidder, a reputable body shop and the same place that did our undercoating, and the owner came out and did a quick look-over. He did mention that this has been a particularly bad year for deer, and he had cars lined up outside that needed body work because of deer collisions. He told me that for our Fit, the best case scenario was about $1000, worst case scenario (replacement of internal mechanisms) about $2000. Total bummer.

I told mom the bad news and we were resigned to the fact that this was going to be painful. I then called our good friends over at Meunier and RM said to bring it over and he'd have a look. They have been undergoing changes over there and a lot of the mechanics I knew are gone. The new guys, however, are super competent, and one used to work for Honda. They took a look, did a quick assessment, and said they could probably get a used hood from a salvage yard. It wouldn't be perfectly beautiful, but it would be perfectly functional, and we could always paint it at a later date. RM made some calls but couldn't find an exact match, i.e., silver. He did, however, find a gray one, for about half the cost. I said to move forward and in the end they put the new hood on for about $450, including the internal parts that were broken.

Boy was I stoked. I love Meunier, they're always coming through for us. That's what happens when you develop a relationship with a local business, the personal service is huge. What's really cool is that they got it done within a couple of days, despite their really busy schedule (Kidder couldn't take us for another month because they're so busy), and the gray hood doesn't look that bad. Sure, it's a bit off, but really not strikingly. There are a few chips in the paint that we can take care of with some touch-up paint. The ideal plan would be to paint it some time in the summer.

All in all it was a bad experience but the aftermath wasn't as painful as it could have been. I'm stoked we have friendly local businesses that can help us in a pinch, and of course, save us some money.

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Losing My Teeth

I think this is the year to get all my bodily processes healed and up to speed. That's what happens when you hit the big 5-0. I had my physical, though I still need to tie up a few loose ends, get some blood work done, and deal with my teeth, which have been a bit of a thorn in my side, or in this case, my mouth. As I've mentioned, one of molars is in bad shape, and I was hoping that my dentist would just yank it, but no such luck. After the failed root canal attempt, it was decided that extraction was the next step, so off to the oral surgeon I went (can't my dentist just pull it?)

To be fair, the tooth was cracked and in bad shape, but waiting to see the oral surgeon was only prolonging the inevitable. What made it hard was that I couldn't really chew my food on that side because the tooth was so thrashed. I went to the oral surgeon (very nice, I liked her a lot) for an initial consultation, and then I had to make an appointment for the actual procedure. They miraculously had an opening at the end of the same week, or I could wait until January. I was hesitant because like all things in my life, I like to put them off, but I realized that sooner was indeed better.

So a few days later, I went in and she yanked the thing out. It was easier than they anticipated, which actually made the procedure cheaper, and I got a refund. Don't you just love when that happens? The tooth itself was so gnarly, I won't horrify you with the details. It was good to get it out, and since the area was infected, she put me on systemic antibiotics for a week. This was some serious stuff.

Now I'm on the road to recovery. I still can't really chew on that side, but eventually it will be all systems go. They inquired about dental implants, but that's apparently an option I can pursue at a later date, and she didn't push it hard. Besides, she said plenty of her patients live happily ever after with just one molar, and I'm all for happily ever after. They tried to accommodate an implant on the other side when they took out the molar, and it didn't work, so I wasn't very hopeful this time around.

For now, there's no more pain and eventually I can go back to eating a normal diet, which means food 24 hours a day.

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

Hockey Drama

Even though we've left our old lame hockey program, N's new program is not without its share of drama. One of the big issues is that several of his teammates are freshman in high school, so they are eligible to play high school hockey. The big city hockey program is legendary so they are all just biding their time to make the team, though it's very difficult for a freshman to make it. They have the option to play JV or do their second year at the Bantam level. The big city program actually requires them to choose, they cannot do both, though almost every other program allows this.

With this in mind, a couple of the stronger players, and dare I say one of the best guys on the team, want to play for their respective HS. It's not the big city program but a neighboring school, where they are sure to play on the varsity team. Given the choice, of course they're going to go for that option, but if they do, then they can't play for this team because this team won't let them. I think it's lame, and everyone is up in arms over this decision, but I guess rules are rules.

So now, this team that's been depleted for various reasons, is now going to lose even more players. It's really hard to even fathom, but such is life. I guess you just have to roll with it, though our time in the big city program is really not what I had expected it to be.

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

Closet Carpenter

Word has come down from above (i.e., mom) that A needs more useful closet space, with “useful” being the key word here. A has a small walk-in closet in her room that we have been using for storage, and the time has come to open it up so that she can put her clothes in there. This is a two part process, with mom taking the reigns on the first part (cleaning the closet), then leading the way (cracking the whip?) on the second part (installing a bar), which will require my involvement. The reality is that she's already taken care of the first part, so turning this closet into useful space is really my job, and that will require installing a bar (an maybe a few hooks) so that she can hang her clothes properly. As it is now, I think she is using various wall appendages to hang hangers, and needless to say this has limited utility. At some point a girl needs a proper bar to hang things.

I had to come up with a plan. It's not the most challenging of projects, and I've done similar things in the past, but seemingly in the distant past. Not only will this require me to get off the couch and actually do something, but I need to locate my tools (must inquire with N), and then get the necessary supplies at Home Depot. Then I have to devise a plan, then actually do it, which I've found is one of the hardest parts. Fortunately I have mom there to motivate me.

I headed over to Home Depot with N in tow and we got the lumber, got the bar, as well as the necessary hardware, and I was good to go. Getting the first step accomplished was key to placating the powers that be, but needless to say, I can't be complacent and rest on my laurels, or risk losing my laurels. I need to take the supplies and put them into action, which shouldn't be so hard, should it?

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Then again, you just never know. Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to aarondfrancis for the pic.

Multi-Instrumental

As a completely unbiased parent (yeah right) I've always thought A is competent on a variety of instruments, and recently she's begun dabbling in yet another one - the bass. Over at the Dojo she was asked to stand in for one of the bands because their bass player was away. It turns out that she was competent enough for them to ask her to continue to play bass for said band, and I for one think she should go for it. Of course there are issues of school, other musical commitments, and a teenage social life, but she'll figure it out if need be.

If that's not enough, her high school music teacher also asked her to play bass in their little jazz ensemble. She has a number of musical projects at the school, including jazz band, orchestra, and a special side jazz project mentored by her music teacher, IG. He's very supportive of the kids branching out, and originally A was going to play guitar, but he likes her bass playing and wants to make it a jazz quartet (bass, drums, piano, sax), with a bass instead of a guitar. Could this mean it's time to get another instrument? I won't go there... for now.

All in all I think it's very cool. All of these bands are slated to do assorted gigs throughout the coming year, so stay tuned for more.

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

Friday, November 24, 2017

Friends Down South

N has a new friend that lives a bit south of here, and when I say a bit, I mean about an hour drive away. Also, when I mean friend, I could mean more than that, but who am I to say?

Either way, the distance is an issue, but not an insurmountable one. We've made the trip a few times, and the whole family is very nice. They live near a big city (Concord), bigger than our own “big city,” so there's lots of stuff to do down there. It's actually the state capital (NH). Plus, if you can believe this, certain aspects of our lives actually place down there, including surfing (we pass through Concord en route to the beach), one of A's bands (the singer lives down there), and of course, hockey. Sure, it's not ideal, but all things considered, it's not so bad. I figure that as long as he's into it, we'll work towards finding a way to make it work.

At the very least, it's another good motivating force to get us to hit the waves, and you have to love when that happens.

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

Tire Neurosis

This year we've decided to put snow tires on both cars, and as you can imagine, I'm not too thrilled about the expense, but you can't put a price on safety. This winter has sort of crept on us with the warm fall, and already you can read stories about cars losing control on the roads. It's not even that cold and slippery, but as I mentioned, the cold weather seems to come out of nowhere after days of warmth, it really takes you by surprise. It's much better when it gradually eases you into winter, we're just better prepared on all levels.

Anyway, with A driving the car more and more, I feel much better having snow tires on both cars. It's a given on my car considering all the driving I do for hockey, but I want them on mom's car, as well. Of course I'll feel the $ pinch, but nothing new for me. Best of all, searching for a good deal on good snow tires is a great way to feed my OCD. If money was no object, I'd just take the car over to my mechanic and put on the best, Nokians. I won't even attempt to spell the name, it's Scandinavian (Finnish, I think), which means there's not enough vowels for an ignorant Californian like myself to pronounce.

Either way, after some tireless research (about 15 minutes), I think I've found a good tire. In the past I usually put the Nokians, but they're about $40 more per tire. Sure, they're great tires, but that's $160 per car more. I've also purchased Blizzaks, which are also great tires, but they're a little pricier, and they have an aggressive tread and don't last long. Last year mom decided to stick with her all seasons over the winter and it worked out because she's a good and careful driver, and employing a little common sense as to when to even attempt to drive is always a good approach. I know a few people who just use all seasons year-round, but most of them have 4-wheel drive.

In the past I've employed the wisdom that was shared to me by an acquaintance who said get the best winter tires you can get. I can completely see the merit to this approach, but given that we got along fairly well with just all seasons, I've deviated from this line of thought and now think that most snow tires will do just fine. I'm still reluctant to buy bargain basement tires made in China, but I'm a fan of Japanese tires. And of course, Scandinavian tires. Factoring in all this thinking, I'm going with a Japanese tire, the Sumitomo Ice Edge. I learned that the owner of our tire provider uses them, and I trust Japanese products, especially when it comes to cars. I also just recently learned that the tires are actually made in Finland, which is sort of weird, in a very good way, of course. I had pretty much decided on the Sumitomos, but the fact that they're manufactured in the same region of the earth and Nokians is just a little frosting on the cake. I love when that happens.

Do other people torture themselves like this over tires? Sometimes I think it's a wonder I can even make it out the front door, but that's the beauty of being a parent - your kid's needs force you to stop feeling sorry for yourself, get off your butt, and out the door. For someone like myself who excels at self-pity, this is a very good thing.

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Taking Advantage of the Weather

Okay, so I tend to whine about the warm weather (to say the least), but despite my dislike for warm humid temps, the fair conditions have definitely been a bonus for me in terms of getting ready for winter. In years past I've left things out too long and then the snow comes. By that point, it's too late and they end up outside all winter. While this seems like the easy way out, it tends to come back to haunt you, especially when it comes to power tools.

With this in mind, with the recent warm up, which for the record is highly unusual (50 degrees near Thanksgiving? Gimme a break), I was able to run the chainsaw and lawnmower dry, and get the hoses drained and stored. I left the hoses out and once the freezing temps hit, the water inside them froze. I figured it was all over at that point, but with warmer temps forecast, I laid them out, let them drain, and then wound them up for storage. I also moved all the kindling blocks and fat logs into the basement, and got year two of the woodpile stacked and covered. Rock and roll!

I failed to do any raking this year, or for that matter last minute mowing, but I can definitely do that in the spring, when cabin fever makes doing crappy outdoor chores a joy (sort of), or at the very least, less miserable. Then again, I always seem to find a way to complain about something... just ask my family.

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Until then, thanks for reading, and thanks to Blaine French for the pic.

Learning Lit

We need to do more literature work for A, and I've been furiously searching for some venue in this regard. Almost every other subject seems to have a great deal of resources online, but literature is a bit more complicated, mainly because it usually involves writing essays and getting critical feedback. This isn't so easy to do on a website, and often involves some human interaction. Good luck with that online. There are online classes that include teacher oversight, but more often than not, they are a little pricey, and as anyone who knows me knows, this is a big turn-off.

Thus the search begins for a lit resources online. My feeling is that it's really about choosing some classic and seminal books to read, hitting on a theme to write about, and then having either mom or me read and review it. Then hand it back to A for proper revisions. Truth be told, A already took the SAT Literature subject test and did very well. She's a good writer, but we need to have some organized and structured learning to gain some credibility. Unfortunately, my word just isn't enough to appease the powers that be.

We'll see where this one goes. Why does life always seem like such an adventure? Probably because I can never do anything the easy way, like sending your kids to school.

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Silver Lining of Nature's Wrath

The weather has been more than a little crazy, with cool summers, warm autumns, and the occasional storm that seems to come out of nowhere. We got slammed with just such a storm a week or two back, and it was a little precarious, to say the least. We got some rain but the big deal was the wind, which knocked out power to much of the area. We lost it for about 3-4 hours, but some people were without electricity for as long as a week. Boy what a drag.

While we're never fans of big windy storms like that, if there was ever a silver lining to them, this might be it. We had an old hemlock that had died a few years ago but was still standing, so it needed to be dealt with. The big concern was that it would fall somewhere we didn't want it to, though it was too far from the house. My Mentor had a look at it and wanted to cut it down ourselves, which would have entailed tying it to his truck and gradually cutting the thing down. I think we could have done it, but he was insisting that we drop it onto the grass where we hang out laundry, thus necessitating the removal of our laundry line. Not a big deal, but would require putting it back up, and it wasn't that easy because it's long. I thought it would have been easier to drop it in another direction, but he was having none of it.

As with many things in my life, I sat on it and eventually my Mentor went back up to his winter home in Maine, so the tree was still standing, allowing me to put it off for yet another year. Yay... or not. Then this storm hit, and mom had mentioned that she thought she could hear trees falling in the woods. As luck would have it, one of those trees was the dead hemlock, and it fell back safely into the woods. Boy, talk about getting lucky, not only did it do no harm, but it's tucked away in the trees, out of sight and out of mind, sort of. You can see it, but I could probably leave it as it is and nobody would care, or for that matter, even notice. I will probably at some point cut it into blocks to facilitate the decaying process, but for now, we're in good shape. Besides, I've already put my chainsaw in storage, so I have an excuse.

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Until the next time, thanks for reading, and thanks to Hoads Wood Cottage for the pic.

Mold City

Now that the weather is cooler, the moist and humid conditions have passed. However, while it was warm, in combination with all the rain we seemed to have gotten, things got rather moldy. It wasn't as bad as what we used to get during the scorching hot and humid summers, where dampness affected just about everything. With this, it mainly affected stuff outside, especially our firewood, which seemed to be procure this nasty black and slimy mold. Not a huge deal, but a big unsightly, to say the least. Plus, it made splitting a bit of a challenge because the wood was so slippery.

Now it's cooler and dry, but from what I can gather, it's supposed to warm up a bit this week. Sometimes you just can't win.

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

Making the Switch

In the words of Oscar Wilde, the best way to deal with temptation is to succumb to it. With this in mind, I took the leap and upgraded my smartphone, though upgrade should be taken with a grain of salt. I really liked my first phone, a Motorola, though it suffered (or rather, I suffered) from having too little storage. As a result, it couldn't hold too many apps and seemed to always be at capacity. This, despite the fact that I rarely downloaded apps and didn't take too many pictures. Otherwise, l liked the phone and its graphic interphase, and it was solid and looked good, but it only had (you're going to laugh) 3GB of storage. I guess you can't be too picky for a $39 phone.

In the quest for more storage, and thus more apps, I got an LG smartphone, which has a whopping 8GB of storage. This is paltry compared to modern smartphones like my daughters, but for me it is plenty. And, unlike my older Motorola, my LG has a selfie camera because I'm a selfie maniac, and it has a flashlight, which the Motorola did not have. Either way, it's a more up-to-date phone, but interestingly enough, it was actually cheaper than the Motorola. I don't get how all the pricing works, but the cost of smartphones, if you don't want the top of the line, can be very affordable.

So now I have a phone that has a light, can take selfies, and has enough storage so that I can download apps to my hearts content. What more could I ask for, other than maybe a smartphone that costs $50?

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Mucho Splitting

With the winter weather right on the horizon, both literally and figuratively, I wanted to get as much splitting done with the splitter before the snow hit the ground. AM is very cool about not only letting me borrow her splitter, but not putting any time pressure on when to get it back. She said she'd done with all her wood for the year, so I could take my time. I did, however, want to get it back to her before it snowed, though I'm not sure why.

So with that in mind, I decided to get as much splitting done before the snow came, which was this week. For the record, it was only a dusting and as always I overreacted, but what else is new? Either way, I have a pretty major pile of logs that needs to be done, including a pretty significant pile that I'd determined were too difficult to split by hand. Or should I say would require too much time and effort. I sort of believe that given unlimited time, eventually I could split most pieces, but who's got the time and energy for that?

I also have a massive pile of logs that I haven't sorted through, so it includes splittable and non-splittable pieces. With time an issue, I decided I didn't have time to be picky. The plan was to split the un-splittable pile, then just start splitting everything in sight. It actually worked out pretty well. I managed to get the first pile done, and then I got started on the second massive pile. During the latter process I was able to separate out pieces that were clearly splittable, and just focused on big knotty pieces. By the end of last week I had a massive pile of split wood. Best of all, I was able to conveniently arrange transport of the splitter with none other than the other owner of the splitter. It's complicated and I won't bore you with the details.

All in all, a pretty smooth process because I split a ton of wood and borrowed and returned the splitter with minimal complications. Don't you just love when that happens?

I will say this - I think a splitter is in our future, maybe like the one in this pic... yeah, right. As much as I love to swing that maul, I'm getting old and my body can't always handle it. Total bummer, but such is life.

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