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Showing posts with label life. Show all posts
Showing posts with label life. Show all posts

Monday, May 25, 2020 No comments

To disc, perchance to golf

I was tempted to file this one as pandemic-related, but it was more of a “last straw” thing than a completely isolation-related incident.

Disc golfing has been around for a while. I remember going to a park in Grand Rapids, with Other Brother, when we were either nearly done with high school or just starting college (so, 1977, give or take a year or two). Back then, everyone called it “Frisbee golf” and played with backyard discs. The goals were usually posts that you tried to hit with your disc.

Portable goal
I enjoyed it, but college, a move to Planet Georgia, and doing other things caused me to lose touch with the sport. It was only after I went to see The Boy in Manitowoc that I started to reconnect. One of the parks has a disc golf course, and he had taken it up. We got me a disc (there was a shop near the park that sold a variety) and had a blast. By then, of course, the official goals (or holes) were now baskets with vertical chains, like in the pic here. Except, of course, actual courses have their goals sunk into the ground to prevent mischief.

The vagaries of life kept me from taking it up much, partly because I didn’t know of any nearby courses. But when The Boy returned to Planet Georgia, he quickly found two courses 15 and 25 miles away. I bought a “starter pack,” four discs with varying flight characteristics and a carry bag, and I added my Manitowoc disk to the collection. When The Boy took his longest journey, Mason (who also likes to disc golf) and I got his bag. Mason has mostly taken it over, but I picked out one or two to round out my set.

Backyard goal
Now, with parks closed (or if they aren’t, it’s still iffy to go), I decided it was time to work with what I have—a large-ish yard with lots of obstacles—and ordered a pair of goals. I put them at opposite corners of the house, and chose some tee-off spots. I have a four-hole course: the first two counter-clockwise around the house, the second two clockwise.

The course, given the limited space I have to work with, rewards accuracy much more than raw power. Tee shots require threading a needle between trees, bushes, and the house. I’m getting noticeably better.

Going online, I’ve also learned a little about flight characteristics, and what to expect from a disc when you throw it. That has improved my game as well. Now I can step outside at lunch and throw two or four holes, depending on time constraints, and then play a little more once I’m done for the day.

Weather permitting, of course. It has been raining a lot in the last couple of months.

Thursday, April 09, 2020 2 comments

Life and Work in the Time of Pandemic (part 3, school)

We’re on spring break this week… like I said in the last post, we were supposed to be at the beach, but having to cancel a vacation falls into the #firstworldproblems bucket.

The two-week “online learning” got extended to next week… then just before break, they finally realized the wisest course was to finish out the school year online. It’s a pain in the rear, but better that than getting a bunch of people sick without need (or the resources to take care of them).

I need to say, the school system obviously meant the whole online learning program to be something used once or twice over the winter, maybe for a few days. Now they’re having to adapt it for a months-long outage. My biggest beef with it is that they couldn’t settle on a single app or website to manage everything—there are three or four apps/sites, and they occasionally roll out another one. Although my Mac has a built-in password manager, I’ve gotten account fatigue over the years. So every time I get a memo about Yet Another Account to set up, they can hear my eyes rolling all the way out here.

“Out here” presents its own online learning issues. This is farm country, and I still think it’s amazing we have DSL. It usually works OK, unless heavy storms take out a line card (which happens pretty often)… or everybody who can work at home is doing just that and their kids are also online trying to do their schoolwork. It gets where the connection can’t even support a low-bandwidth music stream. I can do the normal work things—email, edit a DITA file from the cloud, chat—because that traffic is mostly short bursts and can slide in between the school traffic. Conferences are more iffy, but I usually use my cellphone for audio and the video is showing mostly static images of spreadsheets or documents.

But I digress. Our school is swimming against the Zoom current (an app I only heard about after the isolation began) and using Google Meet (aka Hangout). We can often manage one hangout at a time, or at least phone in if bandwidth is an issue. Charlie’s therapists (and pre-school) is also using Meet. Most of the time, this seems to work out. The bandwidth is hitting Daughter Dearest even harder, because she’s a teacher and has to be online. It got so bad that she simply bypassed the wheezing DSL and used her phone to get out. Needless to say, that burned through our data cap, our reserve, and then some. Now we don’t have a cushion for this month. I suggested she go to Dunkin', get a coffee and maybe a doughnut from the drive-thru, then sit in her car and scarf the Wi-Fi from there.

Often enough, our connection is marginally good enough, so DD and her kids have been at the manor most school days. That means I’ve had AJ (or Charlie) in my lap more than once during a conference call. I can totally derail a meeting by turning on my camera with either one; they’re both cute.

While we’re on break, I’m trying to set up a place in the larger upstairs bedroom (The Boy’s old room) as an office space. We made some headway yesterday. But I can’t help but think that once I get upstairs, all the kids will wander (or be sent) upstairs so I can still deal with something. I guess that’s okay, as long as I hold my end up at work. So far so good!

How about you? Have you torn a bumper sticker off your van yet? Comments are open!

Wednesday, April 08, 2020 No comments

Staycation, pandemic-style

We were supposed to be in Florida this week, hanging out with Mom and hitting the beach. Instead, we’re at FAR Manor.

Over the weekend, I finally got the new front derailleur on the Fuji dialed in. Hooray, time to take a ride! Um, no. The rear inner tube had partly separated from its stem. Well, Solar had suggested I put wider tires on it to improve the ride, anyway. There’s not a lot of clearance at the front fork, but thought maybe I could go from the current 25mm width to 32mm. I have a pair of 47mm tires, but they’re definitely too wide and the wrong diameter anyway. So I made plans to run over to the bike shop on Monday, and maybe get Charlie a bike with training wheels. Meanwhile, Skylar’s bike (the one he has here) needed shifting and braking adjustments. I got him rolling as well.

In the vein of “don’t go out unless you have to,” I called the bike shop before going. Nope, the shop guy opined, there’s not enough room. And they didn’t have any Charlie-sized bikes in stock. I thought we had a small frame laying around, so instead of driving to another bike shop I thought I’d try to Frankenstein a bike from bits and pieces.

Needs a little cleaning along with training wheels
Instead, I found an entire bike with a 12” frame! It was one Mason had for a while, until he outgrew it. The tires, amazingly, still held air. Some WD-40 got the chain loosened up, and I regreased the bearings on one wheel. So it rolls, it pedals, and the coaster brake works. I ordered a set of training wheels, and almost added a Trailgator (basically a towbar to pull his bike behind mine). The price—$65 for a metal bar with clamps on either end—put me off, though. Anyway, I raised the seat an inch and it fit Charlie perfectly.

All that, actually, was in between the ceiling fans. Daughter Dearest had ceiling fans for each of the kids’ rooms (three in all), and asked me to put them in because Sizzle is still working while the rest of us are on spring break. I succeeded, only after multiple trips back to the manor to fetch hardware, tools, and at last I had enough and brought everything. That turned out to be the way to go, and the fans are all happily spinning away.

I mentioned Skylar… he’s been spending weekdays at the manor because his nominal guardians are both working. He brought his bike up (the one I adjusted) over the weekend, and an HP laptop. “Do you have a cord for this?” he asked, repeatedly, until I told him to knock it off and let me do it when I had a chance. Before the fans, I scrounged a power cord and had to shave a little off the female end to make it fit in the power supply. I pushed it in, using as much force as I dared, and a light came on when I plugged it in. He wanted to start it right away, of course, but I told him to give it a few hours to let the battery get charged.

Finally, after everything, we started it. Black screen, and the Caps Lock LED was flashing. I realized it was a pattern—three long, two short—and I looked it up. Memory error. “Well,” I told myself, “it hasn’t been run in a while. Maybe if I reseat the RAM, it will be OK.”

So I flipped it over, opened the little door on the bottom, and… no RAM at all! I found out later, from Skylar, that a house guest had scrounged the single memory stick to put in his own computer. Nice guy. So I couldn’t reseat the RAM, but I had a 4GB stick on my desk from when I upgraded the iMac. It looked to be the same style, so I used the “cat in a box” formula: if it fits, it sits. I buttoned it up, plugged it in, and hit power. It coughed to life and displayed a login screen for the Microsoft thing. Yuck. Of course, I didn’t have the PIN it requested, although I tried some of the common ones (1234, 9999, etc). I configured the BIOS to boot from a USB drive, stuck one on and rebooted, and I soon had a Kubuntu desktop. Things seemed to be working properly, and exploring the hard drive suggested there was little or nothing (besides the OS and apps) on it. Skylar thinks his grandfather (Big V’s widower) knows the PIN, so he should soon be off and running.

So that was my first day of staycation: mostly fixing other people’s stuff. But I’ll soon have a new inner tube for the Fuji, and I’ll at long last take it on its shakedown cruise.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 No comments

Life and Work in the Time of Pandemic (part 2, food)

Coronavirus (image credit: CDC, public domain)
Our “online learning” was extended through Spring Break, the first full week of April here, and they should probably close out the school year doing it. I suggested that to Daughter Dearest, and her response was “SHUT UP. SHUT UP.”

But whether we pull a Hong Kong and lift restrictions early (spoiler alert: it would be a Bad Move), or keep movement tamped down to prevent further spreading, the occasional grocery trip is a necessity. Maybe less necessary is occasional pickup from restaurants, although they might argue the “less necessary” part.

Restaurants are adjusting as well as they can, offering incentives like extra points for rewards programs or free delivery. Meanwhile, the wife and I have roughed out meal planning. We’re mostly digging meat out of our freezers, although we're short on ground beef and the hoarders (aka #covidiots) grabbed it all last weekend. Bread and milk are easier to find, now… both have a finite shelf life and hoarders might have a hard time using what they have before it spoils. Ground beef should soon be available as well, because even covidiots have only a finite amount of freezer space. (But they must be using all that toilet paper as mattresses.)

Meanwhile, the school system is still running the bus routes… except instead of dropping off kids in the afternoon, they drop off lunches in the late mornings. We don’t need the extra food, but they beg us to take it because we’re at the end of the route. Today, we got burgers. The kids eat whatever sandwiches are provided, but sometimes skip the veggies + ranch dip packages (add 1/4 tsp of onion powder to the ranch containers, instant chip dip). We’re going to cook the veggies for supper, if I keep my mitts out of them. Still, it’s starting to get overwhelming—we’re covered up with fruit, milk, juice, etc. We’ll need to make sure the neighbors get some of this if it continues.

Since the kids don’t drink all the milk, I have rediscovered the joy of drinking half-pints of chocolate milk from the carton. I have not yet tried my old trick of jabbing the side with a pencil, making a hole of the exact diameter of a straw; I could pressurize the carton and pump the milk into my mouth. One of my better memories of elementary school.

Fortunately, Charlie is expanding his protein sources, although he still strongly prefers his latest adoptions to be breaded and fried. Chicken nuggets (especially Chick-Fil-A) and fish sticks are winners. We thawed and baked a slab of salmon I had kicking around in the freezer earlier this week; the adults ate that, and Mason and Charlie gobbled several helpings of sticks. We got these corn dog bites, and Charlie ate half of one before he realized it wasn’t chicken, then ate the breading and left the mystery meat. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference between picky and intelligent.

We have a few days of not-rain this week (yay!) so I’ll likely pull some ribs out of the freezer and smoke/grill them.

Monday, March 16, 2020 2 comments

Life and Work in the Time of Pandemic (part 1)

Coronavirus (image credit: CDC, public domain)
Local schools are on “online learning” this week (and I’m sure that will be extended). I started working from home last week, and we all got a “recommendation” from a manager to work at home through March 27 (again, it’ll probably be extended). Oddly enough, Charlie’s daycare (a Petri dish if I ever saw one) is remaining open. His therapy office is also open, but they’ve moved the waiting room out to the parking lot… in other words, wait in your car until your therapist comes out. Our little church has moved its sermons online (unfortunately, to the Book of Face, which I don’t use) for the duration.

You’re probably seeing the same things in your locale, and I’m not here to provide dry statistics. I’m going to journal the mostly self-isolated life in a rural area, in case someone else finds it interesting now or later on.

Long-time readers might remember FAR Future, a long blog-novel I wrote starting all the way back in 2007. Although the chronic energy shortages that the whole story is built around have yet to materialize, some of the things I wrote about have had eerie parallels in real life. One episode (written in Sep 2008) discusses a serious flu pandemic, with a 3%-5% mortality rate, breaking out in… December 2019. We’re not laboring under a junta, but the administration in real-life 2020 is every bit as incompetent as was the junta in FAR Future. The difference is, the fictional flu was like the 1918 pandemic, hitting young and healthy adults the hardest. This one goes (mostly) after the elderly. We also have the Internet, a find way to find information (and plenty of misinformation) about what’s happening.

Saturday was “run errands” day, so I combined the trips to limit time out and contacts. Charlie had horse therapy, and we needed both some groceries and a UPS battery. Other than that, we were in all weekend. Wife and I keep talking about meal planning, so we can order pickup from the local Kroger, but haven’t quite done it just yet. Today, she’s out with Charlie for therapy. I’m not sure he’ll go to daycare today. If he does, I might run to the office to grab a laptop dock and some notes, then pick him up on the way back.

These first few days of (mostly) shelter-in-place are very strange. It’s like a winter storm, except that all the utilities are working and the roads are even more clear than usual. Our crappy DSL is crappier than usual, what with all the school kids with Internet doing their work online (not to mention people like me, trying to work). Structure is going to be important… along those lines, Daughter Dearest forwarded me a suggested schedule for families. Modify as needed, but a little structure will make everyone's day go better:


Meanwhile, I have a minor cold. I’ve never been so glad to sneeze.

Monday, February 24, 2020 1 comment

Bedtime follies

Getting Charlie to go to bed can be a crapshoot, especially if he hasn't had a lot of outdoor time to wear himself out… or if he has a cold.

Most nights, I'm the one who gete his pajamas on. As I am ever a hopeful soul, I’ll ask him, “are you ready to go to sleep?” He nods, which is a gigantic lie, but I'll put a blanket on him and turn off the light. Usually, he jumps out of bed after a couple minutes and does his thing until one of us reels him in and settles him down.

But yesterday night, he didn’t jump out of bed right away. After a short while, the wife called down the hall: “Is Charles with you?”

“No, I put him in bed…” Is it possible? I thought. Maybe he went to sleep! 

I went to his bedroom, and waited for my eyes to adjust. I saw a dark shape on the bed, and touched it… too soft. It was one of his stuffed bears. I felt around some more, then finally gave up and turned on the light.

And there was Charlie.

Sitting cross-legged up in the corner of the bed.

Stark naked.

Diaper at his side, pajamas a little farther away, socks at the foot of the bed.

Seriously. I have no idea what his thought process was for this… was he expecting me to find him like that? Or did he plan to sleep in his all-in-all? Or (more likely) would he have shortly wandered into the living room to make the wife wonder what he was thinking?

I re-assembled his nighttime ensemble, and put him in my bed until he gave up and zorched out.

That was one of the more off-beat things Charlie has done in his nightly battle against the Sleep Monster. It makes me wonder what he’ll do to top it, later on.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020 1 comment

Four!

Wife observed: “Now that Charlie is four, he’s entering his Terrible Twos.” He’s definitely four, Terrible Twos notwithstanding. He’s curious about everything, he can reach the top of the dressers in our bedroom, and he’s trying so hard to talk. He invented a sign for Play-Dough, hands inverting over each other (I should probably post a video). Daughter Dearest got him to make the “d” sound, and the “oh” sound, but he just can’t quite seem to put them together. Hey, at least he’s starting to use consonants. The rest will come.


Bread with pizza sauce… perfect!
We had a sort-of pizza party for him this evening, to mark the occasion. He can’t actually eat pizza, but he’s fine with the crust and sauce. So one of the pepperoni pizzas I made this evening had a fourth of it missing cheese and 'roni. Sauced bread was just fine with him. We also had a veggie pizza, but that didn’t last the night. I’d have liked one with 'roni, ham, and bacon, but hey… it’s not my night.

There was also bowtie pasta (Charlie’s favorite) with marinara sauce. Instead of a birthday cake, we had assorted doughnuts. Charlie likes plain ones, and I think he got two of them. (“Hey, it’s his birthday.”) As we’re working on the theory that he sleeps better on a really full belly, we were okay with letting him eat. Besides, there are a few doughnuts left over for tomorrow morning, and I fully intend to grab one to enjoy with my coffee.


After the food (and cake, or cake doughnuts in any case), what comes next with a birthday? Presents!

Charlie got the hang of opening presents during the Christmas craze, and he obviously doesn’t have a problem remembering how. His favorite was a Play-Dough activity set (have I mentioned he loves his 'doh?). He got a set of Baby Shark puzzles and games, and only got interested in that once we put up the Play-Dough.

He’s not really into the Grand Acquistion of Stuff phase just yet, and Mason didn’t get there until he was six or so. If he has attention, cars, or Play-Dough (roughly in that order), he’s fine. Mason complains about him being annoying, but the two of them aren’t all that different. Mason gets massively annoying when he wants attention from us, and Charlie gets massively annoying when he wants attention from Mason (or us). Both of them torment the dog, and I think Charlie learned some of that from Mason.

Anyway. Big news might be coming in slightly less than a month. Stay tuned for the latest from the free-range insane asylum!

Friday, January 03, 2020 No comments

Goals vs. resolutions

A new year has arrived, and perhaps people are asking you if you have any resolutions.

Perhaps you reply, “I don’t do resolutions,” and add some variation of “they never work out.” The reasons they don’t work out could be greater than one per person, but here’s a couple common ones:

Too vague. “Lose weight” or “Have a cleaner house” are things many of us can aspire to, but where’s the finish line? Being one pound lighter on December 31 is technically losing weight, but is that really going to satisfy you? Do you really have a cleaner house if you binge-clean twice a year and otherwise let it go like usual?

Impossible. You might try biting off too much. “Lose 40 pounds” or “get out of debt” aren’t vague, anyway. But if you’re honest with yourself, you know what the odds are of achieving something that big.

Maybe this year, instead of making sweeping resolutions you’ll blow off before February, set goals. I wrote about setting goals on my writing blog a couple years ago, and how much they help. But your goals should be SMART:
  • Specific (I would say Short-term is as important)
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Results-oriented (I would add Rewarding)
  • Time-bound
(Yes, you may give this an epic eyeroll. I know I do.)

Some of these run together. M and R especially can be variants of S. To me, they’re not as important as the other three. Let’s run with the examples I used earlier.

“Lose 40 pounds” checks most of the boxes, but is it achievable? The implication is “by December 31,” and that’s nothing like short-term. These days, our attention spans are eroded by all the input we’re bombarded with, and focusing on a goal for an entire year might not be achievable. If you’re not 40 pounds overweight, it might not be achievable in any case. So, lower your sights and go short-term: Lose 7 pounds by Feb. 15. Don’t forget your reward; you want an incentive to stay focused on your goal(s). There’s nothing wrong with wanting a pat on the back or an effing cookie, even for doing what you know you should. If you’re too demanding of yourself, never satisfied, you could end up asking yourself “What’s the point?” and giving up.

Once you’ve achieved that first 7 pounds, reward yourself and then set your next goal. Just keep it realistic, and remember, it takes longer to lose less as you go.

“Have a cleaner house” is results-oriented, but how do you measure it—in other words, how can you tell if you’ve succeeded? It’s certainly not specific. Maybe it’s achievable. It’s an end, and your goals are the means. Develop the habit of putting stuff away this month is a goal. You can measure it by the lower amount of clutter. It might not be your only cleanup-related goal; things like give away kitchen stuff I don’t use this March or install shelving in the garage next week are short-term, achievable, and will help get you to the cleaner house. Break things down into smaller chunks whenever possible.

“Get out of debt” is a noble aspiration, and it’s even specific and measurable. But is it achievable? Besides having sufficient funds to do it, can you stay focused on that for an entire year? If you have a partner who likes to splurge, you’ll need to get on the same page, too. I actually had a three-year plan to get rid of everything but the mortgage, and of course things happened in the second year.

Some credit bites your wallet harder than others. You might have one card with a 12% interest rate and other with a 30% rate. Get more specific, and get achievable: Pay off RipOffBank Visa by March, then cancel it. If you don’t think you can pay it all off by March, specify the goal balance; once you’ve reached it, set the next goal.

Big resolutions have a place—they guide the goals you set—but they aren’t what you actually do. Do the goals, and the resolutions will come along for the ride.

What are your goals for 2020? Sound off in the comments!

Monday, December 09, 2019 No comments

Moving to a Big Boy Bed [[UPDATED]]

AJ is doing very well. She had her first church visit yesterday, and that went well. She has put on a pound since she came home from the hospital (that was like >20% of her take-home body weight, people… babies grow fast).

So we sent DD and AJ the mattress out of Charlie’s crib, which meant we had to get serious about updating his sleeping arrangement. The crib is a “4-in-1,” which in practical terms means it converts into toddler bed, daybed, and finally (using the back as a headboard) a full-size bed. The wife thought a full-size bed would fit in Charlie’s small room at first, then realized it wouldn’t. That was the bad news. The good news was, the bed frame width is adjustable. We slid it down to twin-bed size, I cut a piece of 1/2" plywood I had in the garage to fit, then (temporarily) inflated the air mattress and layered a foam topper over it.

As long as you don't expect me to actually go to sleep…
The body pillow behind him goes on the floor for actual night-night time. He still has a habit of rolling off the bed, and we’re trying to provide him with a soft landing. He made it to about 5:30am this morning, so I think his bod is starting to program itself to not flip and flop all over the place. Then again, I remember falling out of the top bunk a couple of times, when I was 4 and 5, onto a floor (no carpet, and certainly no body pillows to cushion the landing).

Next stop is to replace the air mattress, but we’ve found he does like a soft bed. I guess we can go with memory foam if nothing else.

UPDATE: We got him a cushy mattress with memory foam. He loves the way it feels, but not so much that he’ll go to sleep by himself. :-P

Thursday, October 31, 2019 2 comments

Sunset, sunrise… (2019 edition)

Together again!
And when I die, and when I’m gone,
There’ll be one child born in this world
To carry on, to carry on.
—Blood, Sweat, and Tears


The father in law passed away a couple weeks ago. This was something he’d wanted for a while, but especially after he fell and broke his leg a couple weeks after The Boy took his longest journey. He was mostly interested in reuniting with his wife, who has been gone about seven years now, but I like to think they also hang out with The Boy (and my dad).

So the wife has been at the manor a lot more than usual, and that’s a good thing. Daughter Dearest, Sizzle, and their kids have been coming by a lot as well (also a good thing). One of us cooks supper, we all eat, and sometimes we’ll hang out and play cards or whatever on the weekends.

And, coming soon, to a blog you’re reading… Granddaughter Dearest!

Hi!
She's a lively kid, so says DD. Since she and I were both a month early (for much different reasons), I told DD she ought to have GDD a month early and maybe we could share a birthday. “Don’t even go there!” was the response I got.

So besides that, it’s the usual crazy at FAR Manor. The furnace went out to lunch, just as the weather decided to get serious about cooling off. With any luck, we’ll have that fixed tomorrow.

Friday, August 16, 2019 4 comments

The Boy takes the exit

This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write: The Boy has begun his longest journey. A permanent TB01. You-know-what this.

A walking Father's Day card;
My oldest and youngest;
The last pic I have of us together.

Mikel lived for 31 years and change. We might think of that as a short lifespan nowadays, but he lived more in those 31 years than do some who get three times that. Even on the day he was born, he wasn’t messing around. At age 5 minutes, he launched himself right out of my arms—fortunately straight at the pediatrician. (That inspired the birth scene in Pickups and Pestilence, of course.) On the way to the hospital room, I noticed how he was watching everything.

He never let up, really. He said his first words at 9 months: “ite” (light), “da-dahhhh” (me), “uht-ohhh,” and by 18 months he was speaking in complete sentences. He was also climbing before he was walking. He hated barriers—and would always try to figure out a way to get around, over or through—but loved the challenge.

And man, did he ever tackle the physical challenges. By age 4, he thought nothing of being 30 feet up in a tree. I used to joke that he was born with a No Fear sticker in his hand. At a birthday party back then, a bunch of boys were climbing a tall pine tree in the host’s front yard. A 12 year old shouted “Get out of the way!” at Mikel, as he was climbing up. “No!” Mikel retorted, and scrambled even higher. The older boy started after him, then looked down… and back at Mikel, continuing to gain height, back down, back up (he was still climbing)… and decided he was going to sit this one out. Fortunately, early on I taught him that whatever he got up, he could get back down. That probably saved me a few heart attacks, and one or two calls to the fire department.

Intellectual challenges were tougher. He and his mom (and Mason) love to butt heads, and they went at it with gusto in his teen years. But in the end, those are emotional challenges. Part of his many problems, that I chronicled in the early years of this blog, likely were because Sector 706 doesn’t exactly abound with intellectual challenges. I don’t have to repeat those years here; you can go check out the archives if you want all the gory details.

I believe the turning point was his two years in Manitowoc. When I went to see him in 2012, it was obvious things had turned out the way I had hoped they would. He had become the adult of the house, perhaps because he no longer had the old safety net to rely on. It also helped that he finally made a permanent break with Snippet (who wasn’t and isn’t an evil person, it’s just that Mason is about the only good thing to come out of that relationship). Wednesday, my sister in law said that she noticed how happy I was during the time I spent on the east side of Lake Michigan after I got off the ferry.

Some time after, he returned to Planet Georgia, and it wasn’t long before he met his wife to be. They got married, and I keep laughing every time I re-read the phrase “we smelled like dead water buffaloes by the end of the evening.” August on Planet Georgia is not the time to spend hours outside.

Actually, it would be best if one could sleep the entire month away. Like the song doesn’t quite say, August in Georgia is just no place to be.

But I digress.

The marriage was fitting for Mikel: another challenge, but one they both overcame in the end. We have Zoey (aka Grandkid #2), and (like Charlie) she adores Mason. Good people, and I won’t let anyone diss my daughter in law. BTW, Daughter Dearest has Grandkid #3 on the way…


Last year was the beginning of the end. In prehistoric times (aka before I started blogging), Mikel became diabetic at 16, and he wasn’t happy about it (is anyone?). I can still remember that day he kept going down, and going down, and I finally made an executive decision to take him to the ER. I had to help him walk into the hospital, and that wasn’t easy because he was a heavy kid back then. Turns out I’d not helped things by giving him sports drinks to fix his dehydration symptoms—his glucose level measured around 1600 (normal is below 100)… so his blood was basically fruit punch. His survival was touch and go, but once again he overcame the challenge. One of the funnier things I remember about that whole ordeal was the presentation the hospital put on. I don’t know if Mikel paid attention or not; I just remember a black girl a couple of rows up turning around to check him out. A lot. (She was cute, but I think Mikel was too busy trying not to pay attention to anything to notice. I hope she’s doing OK, whoever and wherever she is today.)

But again, I digress.

In the last year or so, Mikel finally found his purpose. He got a job with Hewes Family Movers, and was soon a crew chief. I need to call this guy and thank him. He encouraged Mikel to start his own moving company, Let’s Get Movin’. We helped him get a truck—and he was by-God paying us back for it. Mr. Hewes would loan him trailers if he needed them, and Mikel was working on getting one or two trailers of his own. That didn’t come to pass, which might have been for the best under these circumstances. But it was obvious to us that Mikel had finally found his niche in life. He not only had an occupation that didn't keep him in one place, he was THE BOSS. We had planned to set up his website in the next few weeks…

Mikel’s pancreas did him in, in the end. In the last year or so, he started having seizures. The seizures got really bad last November, and he spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. That’s when my wife and his really got together and made sure he was getting the care he needed. His short term memory got clobbered, even worse than mine, in the end. The neurologist told them Mikel would probably not survive another one. And then…


Lately, Mikel had been coming up to FAR Manor a lot to visit us. I don’t know if part of him knew what was coming, and who cares if it’s important? The fact was, he was around. He and I got to hang out mostly on weekends, and he and his mom got to hang out on weekdays. When the engine in Sizzle’s truck lunched out, and they found a motor somewhat north of Nashville, he and Daughter Dearest took a road trip to pick it up.

He made a point of telling us he loved us—one could say it was redundant, because his presence made that clear, but it’s always good to say it. We had been talking about things we were going to do in the upcoming months: he had costumes for all of us picked out for the Ren Faire (he as a barbarian, daughter in law a wood elf, me as a mage, and Mason a hobbit). In turn, I planned a trip to a campground/microbrewery/disc golf course in North Carolina next summer, and even talked about a Big Road Trip to Montana (my dad did that for a few summers to fish). Mikel said he always wanted to go out West to try snowboarding. Obviously, none of that will happen exactly as planned. But I want to at least do some of those outings in his honor.

It was a hard thing to tell Mason about it. Mikel had called his mom Thursday night, telling us he was going to go to Zoey’s orientation, then come up. So we all had expected him to be at FAR Manor Friday evening… but he never woke up. Mason took the news very silently, but cried later that night. The wife laid down with him after dropping a restless Charlie off with me.

There’s a lot of him in Mason—especially the intelligence, and the love of butting heads—and maybe there are at least some token intellectual challenges for Mason nowadays. Mason has the head for numbers that might have skipped Mikel (the way visual art skipped me), and he fortunately hasn’t started to put on weight the way his dad and aunt did.

Tonight, or maybe tomorrow night, I’m going out to the graveyard with a lawn chair and a couple of beers. I’ll have one, and give him the other one. I’m not sure what I’ll tell him, but I know he’ll hear it. He probably has a busy schedule right now: helping the wife’s mom in the garden in the mornings, fishing with my dad in the evenings, and snowboarding and disc golfing in the afternoons. Then at night, he jams with the Heavenly Choir. I hope he tells Johnny Cash how much I appreciated his music during the breaks. God willing, I’ll have 20–30 years before I join him.

Thursday, June 27, 2019 2 comments

Adventures of a #techcomm Geek: A Cautionary Tale of an Acquisition

Pull up a chair, young’uns. Today, I bring you a tale from a time when years started with a 1. It was a technologically backward time, before email had yet to completely replace paper memos and USENET or BBSes were how most people “went online.” But the technology we had, we used well. It didn’t require LinkedIn to help empty out an office when things went to #3||.

The 80s were in our rearview, although its music lives on to this day, and the corporate merger and acquisition binge was starting to cool off. Still, buying and selling is the lifeblood of a corporation, and sometimes what they sell is pieces of themselves. So, on to this particular place. None of the players are around anymore, so let’s call it Don’t Care Anymore (DCA). It was a “coulda been” company—I’ve worked at a couple of them. DCA, with some vision and luck, coulda been Cisco. The founder held the (now expired) patent for statistical multiplexing, and they did good business building and selling serial port multiplexers. (Remember, this was a technologically backward time, when some people still had serial terminals on their desks).

But even then, Ethernet was beginning to worm its way out of the server rooms and developer offices, and into the office as a whole. There were competing networking technologies, most notably Token Ring (mainly in IBM shops), and Ethernet at the time required relatively expensive coaxial cable. Many companies still thought serial terminals connected to a VAX or IBM mainframe were adequate; some had PCs for word processing and spreadsheet software (“Lotus 1-2-3,” look it up, kiddies), but the PCs still had a serial connection. You see, networking applications like email, file sharing, and (for forward-looking companies) USENET were things that ran on mainframes.

There were some good ideas going on—the serial concentrators got an Ethernet card, and DCA bought a company making a T-1 transceiver (basically a really high-speed modem that could carry data, voice calls, or any combination). The developers were also working on what amounted to an Internet router. Had executive management given it more focus, things might have been different… but what they called “networking” was only one part of the company, and the execs considered it the unimportant (if original) part. They were focused on selling a hardware/software combo that allowed a PC to emulate an IBM3270 terminal. It was an amazingly high-margin product for the PC market, and the execs had little headspace for anything up-and-coming (despite handwriting on the wall, like a declining market for IBM mainframes and chipsets that would slash the cost of the hardware component to nearly nothing).

So, the execs found a buyer, and sold the networking division to another company. Let’s call that outfit Really-Moronic (R-M), for reasons that shall soon become obvious. Long story short: there was a lot of goodwill on our part, because we felt like we were actually wanted, and they threw it down a rathole.

You see, DCA had a pretty decent benefits package. The Boy and Daughter Dearest were both born when I worked there. Wife-unit was working as well, and her benefits were on par with mine. The upshot was, “childbirth” was covered at 80% for each of us. So one package picked up 80% of the bills, and the other got 80% of the remaining 20%… which meant a $10,000 hospital bill became $400 out of pocket.

It was a good thing we had our kids before the acquisition. R-M’s healthcare package, compared to DCA’s, was terrible. I ran the numbers, and it amounted to a 7% pay cut. It didn’t help that R-M’s VP of HR (are we choking on the acronyms yet?) both misled and outright lied to us about the benefits:

  • We got yearly bonuses at DCA. When asked about that, he replied “Sure, I get a bonus.” He neglected to mention that only management got bonuses. Deliberately misleading. So on top of the 7% pay cut on the healthcare front, we lost a bonus averaging another 7% per year.
  • Asked about the healthcare package, he replied “it’s comparable to yours.” An outright lie, unless he meant “our package looks terrible by comparison,” or management had a better package.
  • They moved our office to Dunwoody, claiming it was a more central location—another lie, they chose the office to avoid building out a computer room. One of the things people liked about DCA was that exurbia had little traffic. It was an easy commute. People moved nearby to take advantage of low(er) housing costs. Dunwoody added a good half-hour or more to the commute time, each way. We shared a high-rise with a couple other companies, including AT&T. Ma Bell’s kids were really nice people, who invited us to their company BBQs and the like. Having good corporate neighbors took some of the edge off the relocation, but certainly not enough to make up for the increased commute time.

The benefits disparity had to come up during the due diligence that any company has to do when they’re buying another company (or a large part of one). Did R-M think that people would just shrug and take a pay cut on top of the overt disrespect, especially the highly-talented engineers and support staff who do the magic that makes a tech company profitable? Did they really believe that skills aren’t transferable? Or were they so arrogant that they thought it wouldn’t matter?


A round of layoffs hit. One manager, told he had to cut one person in his department, laid himself off. After that, no layoffs were needed; the talent started draining out the door. R-M made a few half-hearted efforts to stem the outflow, paying out a token one-time bonus and hiking the raises to cover some of the difference in the benefits packages. But we were still taking a significant pay cut for a longer commute, and word got back that the new owners considered us “losers and whiners.” That, as you might imagine, did nothing positive on the goodwill front.

Our boss was the first of the documentation department to depart. The new boss was several hours away (by plane), which meant we mostly managed our own affairs. We became Resume Central for the rest of the office, in between our own job hunts and departures. After a few months of searching, I hooked up with a reputable contract house and spent about a year bouncing around from place to place. R-M sank like a stone, and nobody remembers them. Ironically, the parent company retooled and is an important customer of the place I work at now. DCA also disappeared, bought by a competitor who did a better job of understanding the changing landscape.

Moral of the story: employees aren't stupid. They recognize a significant pay cut when it happens, and they recognize a lack of respect. Combine that with a robust tech job market, and you might find money you spent on that big acquisition going down the drain… and taking you (and your CEO’s reputation) with it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 No comments

The Dresser Purge

In the brief two years I was on my own, I concluded 15 changes of clothes was the ideal number. It let me do laundry every two weeks, with one extra pair just in case I had to postpone laundry day.

Clothes accumulate, like everything else, and these days I have a lot more than 15 changes. And somehow, laundry day is twice a week—actually, that makes sense. Four people in FAR Manor means four times the laundry, right?

After the Great Closet Purge, I started putting out of season clothes in a storage bin I kept in the closet, to relieve pressure on the bulging dresser. This worked for a while.

De-bulging the dresser
But the warm weather got to Sector 706 couple weeks ago, and I got the bin out to swap stuff around. Being about 35 pounds lighter than last year, I tried on shorts… and if I could pull them off without undoing them, and half of them fit the description, they began the purge pile. Then I tried shorts that wintered over in the dresser (because the bin was crammed full). All in all, I shed eight pairs of shorts, including one that still had tags on it. There were also eight pairs of swimsuits between the bin and dresser… where did they all come from? I decided three pairs was plenty, and added the rest to the purge pile. I got the now-too-big pants out of the closet and tossed them on.

Then came the T-shirts. I weeded them out, and finally the purge filled a large garbage bag. Except for the three remaining swimsuits, my bottom dresser drawer was empty and the other drawers had headroom. And there was plenty of room for the winter clothes in the bin. But I think the shirts in my closet have decompressed, because now it feels as packed as before. I should probably weed them out again; if I lose a few more pounds, I might be able to go from XL to L.

I still have way more than 15 changes of clothes. Even with more frequent laundry, I probably don’t need to cut down to 8 or 10, though.

Sunday, March 24, 2019 1 comment

Losing a Charlieweight

About six months ago, my weigh-in at the doctor’s office was not a happy occasion for me. I came in around 234 lbs, the most I’ve ever weighed. The doc didn’t give me too much grief about it, but suggested I try to get more active.

Fortune was looking out for me, though. Work and the group insurance team up to sponsor a program called “Naturally Slim.” “Lose weight while eating the foods you love,” the website proclaims. Yeah, by not eating very much of it, I thought, but figured I needed to do something. So I signed up.

Turned out I was right. But the part I missed was, they give you the tools to eat less… or at least remind you of what the tools are. What makes it work is, they tie the tools to their purpose (which in this case is getting to and maintaining a healthy weight without starving yourself). It boils down to three core principles:


  1. Eat when you’re hungry (but before you get to that RAW MEAT NOW!!!! stage).
  2. Eat slow.
  3. Stop when you’re full.


There’s more to it, but all the “more” is to support those core principles.

Yeah, yeah, so how’s it working?

Together, we weigh what I used to weigh
on my own. (Photo credit: Mason)
Quite well, actually. There have been times I’ve fallen off the wagon, but all that means is that you jump back on. I can now wear all the pants I couldn’t before because they were too tight, and have had to ditch some that won’t stay on anymore. My belt is at the tightest notch, and in the last week I’ve been trying to pull it in yet another notch… time for a new belt. I passed my current goal, 199.9, this last week. Since Charlie is 34 pounds right now, I’ve lost an entire Charlie worth of weight.

I had to celebrate with an “oil change,” that is, a chili dog and onion rings from Varsity Jr. I ate it slow and enjoyed every bit of it… and it was just enough to get me full. And that's another advantage: if you go to a restaurant, you can often get three meals for the price of two—or even two for the price of one. Or you can order off the value menu and save about half what you would usually spend. For example, I hit upon a "mini" quesadilla and nachos combo at Taco Bell that costs about $4. I can order it on my phone from the office, and it's ready (or nearly so) when I arrive to pick it up.

Next goal is 194 lb, which is the lowest I’ve weighed since moving to FAR Manor. I’m not sure I’ll be able to reach my final goal of 185 lb, but it’s something to aim for.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019 No comments

A weekend at Camp Driveway

It has been a wet winter so far. We’re currently getting a few days of dry (and reasonably nice, for late February) weather… in mid-week, of course, when we’re all working or at school. But a couple weekends ago, we had a mostly dry weekend—that is, the rain didn’t arrive until Sunday afternoon. It was seasonably cold—around 50°F for highs, not quite freezing for lows.

Roughing it in style
If you ever end up with a popup camper, Popup Portal is a deep hive mind that can tell you pretty much everything from the most basic tips to walking through complete rebuilds. Now the Starflyer (I can’t improve on the name that Starcraft gave it) doesn’t need anything close to a complete rebuild, but there are a few maintenance issues that the previous owner (and perhaps those who came before) neglected. The Portal has been very helpful in that regard.

One thing the hive mind recommends for new popup owners is to do what they call “Camp Driveway.” In other words, set up the camper in your driveway or back yard, and spend the weekend in it. You get to test it out, and figure out what you need before you go “live.” Mason was wanting to try out the new camper, so I opened it up and Camp Driveway was on!

Fortunately, I’d ordered a bunch of accessories from Amazon—an extension cord, an adapter to plug an RV into a house outlet, leveler, heater, 12V LED bulbs (they’re brighter and draw less power, important if you’re using a battery for lighting) and a few repair and maintenance things. I was pleased to find that everything worked as intended. The interior lights did a fine job of illuminating the camper, the stove fired up once the air got worked out of the lines, the outlets were happy to charge my phone and Mason’s tablet (and keep a night light glowing). The “Little Buddy” heater, which uses the same small propane cylinders as lanterns, was a big help because the electric space heater that came with the camper wasn’t too helpful. With both heaters going, the digital thermometer I brought along inched up to about 67°F at tabletop level (not nearly as warm along the floor, though!). But still, with the beds a little higher yet, I figured that was going to be just fine. Besides, we had the same sleeping bags we used for Mason’s Polar Bear Camping outing a couple years ago. If we kept warm enough in an unheated tent, a popup with (some) heat would be at least as warm.

It was. My first night was restless, with the electric heater kicking on and off every 15 seconds or so, but I stayed warm enough. Mason, wrapped up in the down mummy bag, had no trouble sleeping at all. For us old farts, I think we’ll need a memory foam topper on our bed. The camper came with a literal Porta-Potti, a little self-contained toilet that sits in a cabinet during the day and Only Comes Out At Night. It turned out to be very handy—after I turned off the Little Buddy at bedtime, the temps inside the camper dropped to around 55°F, but that was still better than the 34°F outside. Especially if you had a post-midnight necessity.

In the morning, putting a kettle on the stove and cooking bacon&eggs helped to warm things up. The French press I bought myself for my birthday finally got its first run, and there’s nothing like a good strong cup of coffee on a cold morning. The Starflyer has fairly primitive plumbing—a hand pump at the sink, and no hot water heater—but the Popup Portal hive mind had a solution for that. Get a pump pot, fill it from the kettle in the morning, and you’ll have hot water to wash the evening dishes (and an afternoon coffee, if necessary). Actually, we used bottled water, since I’d put RV antifreeze in the water system to prevent serious issues until spring.

The second night went better for me; I turned around to put my head toward the center of the camper, and for some reason I found that more comfortable. I left the Buddy Heater going until it emptied its canister, which saved me the hassle of getting up and turning it off. It went a little longer than I expected, which is nice. We got to air out the bacon smell for a few hours, and I folded up the Starflyer as the first sprinkles came in mid-afternoon.

Camp Driveway was a success. I came out with a list of stuff we need, and am holding out some hopes of hitting a local campground next month when Mason has another no-school Friday. A 3-1/2 day weekend would be a nice warmup to our Spring Break trip to Mom’s…

Wednesday, January 02, 2019 No comments

Campy New Year!

I think a lot of us are relieved to see 2018 in the rear-view, and perhaps are directing a forest of Meaty Middle Fingers its way. But it had its moments. Charlie’s continuing to learn new signs, even if he isn’t speaking out loud yet, and is starting to put two-word sentences together (often things like “eat sandwich”). At any rate, the year ended well.

I’ve been looking for a popup camper for the last couple months. The wife is on board—she won’t tent-camp, but she actually encouraged me to buy a (far smaller and less-equipped) popup some years back. The money didn’t shake out then, but a couple months ago I had a surprise moneybomb—the workplace is being acquired, and I’d had a standing order to sell some stock if it hit $30. So, all of a sudden, the hunt was on. I set a budget, found Pop-up Portal, and started learning all I could from a deep hive mind.

Searching Craigslist, I immediately found one local to me; it was 20 years old, but solid and a lot roomier than I remembered them being when the parents rented one (the slide-out dinette probably had a lot to do with that). The price was well within my budget.

There were snags, though, and it was probably all for the best. I thought I’d set up a transfer from the broker to my checking, but I hadn’t, and doing the setup (of course) took longer than I wanted it to. I was annoyed with myself, because I felt like I was stringing the seller along, and told them to go ahead and sell it if someone else came by with cash in hand. Meanwhile, I used the time to research what I could. Good thing: turned out our vehicle can pull 2000 lbs, and the camper weighed in at 2600. That wouldn’t have ended well.

Off to Craigslist again. This time, I had a specific set of criteria. Absolute requirements: 1800 lb or less, A/C (Planet Georgia summers can be horrid without it), camp-ready. Nice to haves: 1600 lb or less, a toilet, full 12V setup. The latter is not a given; all the sellers I talked to always camp at places with full hookups and don’t have battery power hooked in.

After tossing obvious scams, newer campers that were way over budget, and big amenity-laden models that blew away my weight allowance, I ran out of local options. Expanding my search radius turned up a promising find that checked all my “must” and “want” boxes, but it sold before I had a chance to go look at it. Another one turned out to be a scam (“I sent it to an eBay dealer in Omaha who will deliver it for free”)… yeah, right. I reported that one to the FTC. There were a couple of promising leads in Alabama and South Carolina, but the logistics (especially around the holidays) and the weather just wouldn’t cooperate. I decided to give it a week and see what happened next, and seriously considered upping my budget.

So Friday, a new listing, um… popped up. It was slightly over budget, but I thought “hey, that map looks familiar.” Turned out it was local! I called to check it out on Saturday, and the seller said “I thought that listing went away. But I’m on my way over to the storage unit now, we can meet there.” It was, like many of the days have been around here, rainy and crappy, but we did crank up the top so I could have a look at the not-actually-canvas (it’s called Aqualon™). It was intact, if slightly grimy.

He said, “the rain is supposed to let up tomorrow, why don’t I bring it over to your place and we can set it up?” Sounded great by me, especially since our car has a hitch but no wiring just yet.

So here he came, in a gigantic diesel 4-door pickup (white, imagine that), big enough to pull a gooseneck trailer, with a 1500-ish pound popup behind. I doubt the truck even felt it. Negotiating our horrid driveway involved him rolling his front wheels onto the grass, which dug some pretty deep divots. Couldn’t be helped. We unhooked and pushed it in front of my Miata, then commenced to setting it all up.

It was less grimy inside than out, except for the floor and ceiling. The upholstery is intact, and there’s already an outdoor rug—one less thing to get. There’s also a space heater and a case and a half of bottled water. I worked the hand pump at the sink, and to my surprise water came out. Turned out the 10-gallon water tank had about 3 gallons in it.

2001 Starcraft Starflyer
Long story short, he knocked the price down to exactly my budget, and I cut him a check. We had a break in the rain today, so I spent much of New Year’s Day attacking the ceiling and A/C unit (I don’t think anyone ever cleaned those filters) with disinfectant wipes while Mason cleaned up the beds with a Dirt Devil.

The dining table is the size it is, because it doubles as a spare bed (spanning the dinette benches), but it makes things a little tight. I’d like to include something narrower for our trips. There are a few minor repair items to address as well, but it’s supposed to be sunny this weekend. Mason is already wanting to set up and sleep in it. Charlie likes clambering around in the bunk ends as well.

I’ve got it folded up for now, because I needed to get the Miata out of the garage tomorrow. Still some cleaning to do—mainly the cabinets on one side, vacuuming under the seating area, and scrubbing the floor. I’m going to have to graft in a battery system, because a couple places I want to take it don’t have hookups. Holiday’s over, but we’ll have a few of our own holidays in the months to come. Sooner than later, I plan to clean up the other side of the detached garage so it has a dry place to live.

For the future, we may do some remodeling. I’m looking over Pop-up Princess for ideas. For now, I’m digging on the geeky model name, “Starflyer.” Not only did it come with a name, the shelf in the king-bed front bunk is called a “Space Station.” I added a bunch of accessories to my Amazon wish list, as much to remind me what to get as anything else.

So we should have some new vacation destinations in 2019. I’ll be glad to share. Maybe I won’t have to burn off a bunch of vacation time at the end of each year…

Wednesday, December 05, 2018 No comments

When you go to the delicatessen store…

I’m one of those people who like liverwurst. Always have. I gave it up for a while, what with the weight gain and high blood pressure, but Boar’s Head came out with a lite version the has lots less fat and sodium, and is still pretty tasty.

A few weeks ago, I got a quarter pound. As the deli guy was slicing it up, I thought, “Hey, Charlie likes food with this texture. I wonder if he’d like this.” So the next evening, I made him a sandwich and offered the corner.

NOM!
Charlie likes sandwiches okay. But when he got a taste of this, he grabbed it out of my hand and gobbled it down. Now up to this point, whenever he got hold of a sandwich, he would open it up, remove the meat, and eat the bread. Not this time, or any time since! The experiment was a roaring success, and I might have got one sandwich out of the batch.

So I found myself at the grocery store a few days later. I got half a pound this time, figuring maybe I could sneak a sandwich or two for myself. I came home and told the wife I got Charlie and me some liverwurst. Charlie heard this, and pushed me into the kitchen. “It doesn’t matter if I just ate or not, I want some of that good stuff!” Next time, Charlie was with me, and he got the sample slice (plus a slice of beef bologna, which he also liked pretty well).

Once again, we were out. I picked up Charlie from daycare on the way home from work this evening, and decided to grab a whole pound this time (because I still only get two sandwiches out of a half pound after Charlie gets through with it). We headed toward the deli, and he pointed and hooted, remembering how he’d scored a freebie last time. Once again, he got the sample. He finished it while they were slicing the cheese, and he signed “more.” Sure, why not? A couple pieces of liverwurst won’t hurt anything.

But he wasn’t through. As I rolled through the store on the way to grab a box of diapers, he wanted another piece. And another. And one more at the checkout. Then, when we got home, he devoured all but two bites of a peanut butter sandwich.

So when you go to the delicatessen store, grab another pound of liverwurst for Charlie and me. What we have now won’t stay around long.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018 3 comments

The World's Cutest Pirate 2.0

Six years ago, Mason was the world’s cutest pirate.

Well, Charlie has to try to do everything Mason does, so…


The kids at church did a “reverse trick or treat” (in which the kids dropped off treats for the seniors) at a local assisted living center over the weekend, which explains the background. Charlie, of course, charmed many of the residents with his sunny disposition and curiosity. I was surprised that he mostly kept the headscarf on.

His granddad is still ready to plunder some booty, if he gets the chance…

Monday, September 03, 2018 2 comments

Gazebo life

As spring began to slide into summer, I told the wife, “I want to get one of those screen gazebos to put up down at the patio.”

“That’s a good idea,” she replied, “but let’s put it in the front yard where the grass doesn’t grow anyway.”

I was okay with that—it was more likely to be used if it was near the door. We got a 10' by 12' model, and I spent a weekend putting up the framework. The wife got some of the farm help to put the canopy over the top (it's close to 15' high, almost 5m), then I put up the screens.

Done, yay! Until the first rain, and the shade finished killing off the rest of the grass, and the floor got kind of mucky around the edges and sticky in the middle. I thought about de-commissioning the patio, since it doesn't get much use these days, and using the rubber tiles to put in a floor. Then I remembered when Mason's soccer practice moved to an artificial turf field during a long rainy spell in the spring, and started looking up turf on Amazon. I found a reasonably-priced roll of turf ($45 for 6' by 12') and ordered two. I still put some of the rubber tiles to use, filling in the space between the front sidewalk and the turf.

Play area
With a dry, mostly clean floor surface, I started taking Charlie out there in the evenings. The screens keep the bugs out, and I moved in some patio chairs and a couple of outdoor tables. Back when Mason was about 3, we bought a little slide/pirate ship/castle thing, and its new home became the gazebo. Life was good… except that it started getting hot, and we didn't have any way to run a fan.

For whatever reason, FAR Manor has a major dearth of outdoor outlets. This is something I'd wanted to remedy for a long time, and I finally got to work. I bought a GFI outlet and cover, let them sit for longer than necessary, then gathered tools and pulled an outlet in Mason's room. I drilled through the wall to give me a point of reference, then used my Dremel to carve a GFI-sized hole in the siding. To my surprise, when I ran the power cable from Mason's room up and to the right, I hit the hole on the first try! Soon, I had everything wired up (and pushed some silicone caulk into the drill hole).

Light strings
With an outdoor outlet in place (at last!), I rummaged through the Christmas light stuff and found what I needed: an outdoor power extender. The cord was the perfect length to run from the outlet, under the fake turf, and into the corner of the gazebo. The box has a stake to keep it in place. I grabbed a small fan off the shelf and plugged it in, then went to Five Below and got some LED lantern light strings. Soon after, Amazon ran a sale on a 33' LED light string (with remote) for $10 and change. The lanterns spread out to the corners from the center of the ceiling; the LED string runs around three sides of the gazebo. The combination is just barely adequate for reading, but that has not been an issue until this weekend. The days are definitely growing shorter.

The outdoor office
More importantly, the fan keeps things tolerable during the muggy evenings. (Except last week, when we had a couple of absolutely gorgeous days while I was working at home… I plugged the work laptop into the outlet and enjoyed it while it lasted. Pleasant days in August are rare on Planet Georgia.)

Charlie loves to hear, "Do you want to go out to the gazebo?" I found a tote bag that's perfect for carrying my iPad, a couple of Charlie's books, sippy cups/water bottles, and other incidentals. We can do one trip for both out and back inside. While we're out there, he plays on the slide, pushes cars around on the artifical turf, climbs into my lap to read a book… and hones his misdirection skills. Last week, as we were getting ready to go back in, he put his face up to the fan. While I watched carefully to make sure he didn't try to push fingers through the tight screen, he palmed the remote for the LED string. I had no idea until he came down the hall with a big grin, holding the remote to his ear and pretending it was a phone.

He showed the wife his misdirection skill this evening. While he was in her lap, he pointed to the couch. She looked that way; he swiped the toast off the top of her BLT, and commenced to nomming. Little rat. He's gonna be a stage magician if he keeps this up.

But I digress. I think, once October starts getting close to November, we can hang shower curtains over the screens and use one of those outdoor heaters to extend the season. Mason's old play table (with sand) might be a good addition for the colder times… especially since cold doesn't bother Charlie much. Maybe I can get Mason to show Charlie the play table, and maybe he won't teach Charlie to scatter the sand in all directions?

An outdoor space, especially without bugs, is a welcome addition to FAR Manor. Let's hope it can last for a while. And if you're in the US, I hope your Labor Day weekend was long and pleasant.

Monday, April 30, 2018 3 comments

Weekend Roundup

Most of Mason’s soccer games are at the local park, but each season they have two or three out of town matches. Saturday’s game was up in Towns County, pretty close to the North Carolina border.

I had Maps plot a course, which skirted Helen (probably very busy on a warm spring weekend) and took us up GA75 toward Hiawassee. We put the top down and I thrashed the Miata up that winding mountain road, a very enjoyable trip once the passing lane opened up and I got past the slowpokes.

Our destination was Foster Park, on Foster Road. Fortunately, Mason wanted to leave early, because Maps treated us to one of its rare hiccups, finding us a 1.5-lane Foster Rd. that ended in a church parking lot. After turning around and driving right past the place we actually wanted, I pulled up Google Maps and got the right directions. (I’ve had Google Maps totally fail as well, which is a good reason to have both.) The upshot was, we got there in plenty of time.

There’s not much to be said about the game itself. Mason took the goalie position for the second half, and only allowed one to get past him (which was pretty good because his teammates were offering little to no defense, and not a whole lot of offense). Since the game started at 4:30pm, I figured we’d find a place to eat there before coming back home—and when the coach texted all of us to welcome us to her alma mater (Young Harris College), I figured she would know a good place. Her son is Mason’s best friend, except for the matter of this one girl (c’mon, they’re all 8!), so hanging out after the game was a no-brainer.

Supper, then home. Maps knows where I live, and helpfully plotted a nice set of backroads. We went down Track Rock Rd, where some of my relatives once lived, and then thrashed the Miata down US19/129 before heading home. Despite having only all-season radials, I never felt like we were going to spin out or anything… so maybe I wasn’t pushing it that hard after all. We only had a couple of tire chirps and one squeal, which was probably because I was on the paint on the inside of a right-hander. It got chilly enough that Mason (who is even more of a top-down fiend than me) was ready to put the top up early on in the drive home, but we did keep the windows down. Definitely a case of the journey being more important than the destination..

And there was evening and morning, another day.

Swingin’
Sunday after church, the wife suggested we take the boys to the park after lunch. She couldn’t stay past lunch, but I figured Mason and Charlie would have a pretty good time. As it turned out, I was right. Mason alternated between the jungle gym and riding his bicycle in the parking lot.

As for Charlie, he enjoyed the swings. He liked the slides. But the big attraction was the large fenced-in playground space. He spent most of his time running loose, and all I had to do was follow him around and make sure he stayed out of the one muddy spot under the big-kid swings. His random sort-of orbit would occasionally take him to the picnic table, where I had left his sippy and diaper bag, and he would guzzle some lemonade before taking off anew. At one point, a bunch of girls started screaming, and Charlie turned around and joined in. If you heard a chorus of Joyous Ear-Splitting Shrieks™ over the weekend, that was probably them.

Of course, like Mason at that age, he generated an Atomic Diaper. I just laid him on the picnic table and took care of it. (Mason, despite being the same age I was when I first changed an Atomic Diaper, has not worked up the nerve to try. Kids these days, y'know?)

At last, the wife returned from her errands. To my surprise, both Mason and Charlie put up no fuss about going home. I figured, in Charlie’s case at least, he had worn himself out with all the running and would zorch out pretty quick. No such luck—he was wound up, and it was closer to 10pm before he finally gave up for the night.

Looking at the extended forecast, spring has finally chased the last vestiges of winter back to the Arctic. The sun is shining, birds are singing… and I got video of Charlie talking back to the birds. Stay tuned.

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