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

Monday, December 09, 2019 No comments

Moving to a Big Boy Bed

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.

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.

Friday, April 06, 2018 2 comments

Here's Your Sign

“More” (hungry kid)
While Charlie is still non-verbal at age 2, his speech therapist says he understands a lot more than the average 2 year old. Meanwhile, the speech therapist, daycare, and the wife are teaching him some sign language (ASL). I remember reading about kids who skip the baby talk until they’ve figured out how to speak in complete sentences, and I kind of hope that’s what Charlie will do.

Still, he usually manages to make himself understood. That’s a lot easier when your surrogate parents have raised a handful of kids, and been around a bunch more. I can often tell when a baby at a restaurant is hungry or just wants attention by the edges in the crying. It’s hard to explain, but I’m usually right, judging from what the kid’s doing after quieting down.

Anyway… back to Charlie. A lot of times, he’ll start to fuss when I put him in the playpen (a/k/a “cage”—a nice roomy cage with lots of toys, but it’s still confinement). I’ll say, “You know the drill; I’ve got to get stuff ready to go,” and he’ll calm down and start playing. He really does know the drill.

One recent morning, I was getting him ready for the ride to daycare, and his shirt rode up. Belly blast (blowing loud raspberries on his belly) time! He laughed, then signed “more.”

"More what?” I asked.

He pushed his belly out. More belly blasts!


This evening, I was getting his bottle ready. (He drinks out of a cup now, but still likes his bottle for nighty-night.) Back when Mason was a baby, I'd count down the last ten seconds before the microwave finished up, and I’ve been doing the same with Charlie. Somewhere along the way, Mason started whispering “Tin!” and pointing at the timer, trying to get the countdown to speed up (I point to each number as it counts down). Tonight, Charlie grunted and pointed at the display for the first time. He’s not saying “ten,” but it’ll come.

Sometimes, I wonder if Mason’s fascination with numbers partly stem from those late-night microwave countdowns. Speaking of Mason… as this is Spring Break week on Planet Georgia, he’s spending the week with his dad. He was supposed to come back yesterday, but asked if he could stay until Saturday. Skylar stays with us most evenings, to provide some surrogate noise, but it’s mostly been a quiet week. I’ll be glad when the rugrat is home, though.

Thursday, March 22, 2018 2 comments

Back in the Saddle

Mason got a mountain bike a while back, and lately he’s wanted to… well, go mountain biking. Imagine.

Raleigh M-60… 1998?
Well, gee. I have a mountain bike, too. It has even been featured on this blog in the past, riding exotic routes like the Pinellas Trail or the Silver Comet Trail.

I hadn’t ridden it much in the last few years, and even less so after Charlie and the knee replacement. But it has been in the dry garage, and even moved around from time to time. It was a gorgeous weekend—we were all running around outside with shorts—and Charlie wore himself out riding a push-truck on the driveway. After he went down for a nap, at Mason’s incessant urging, I rolled the Raleigh out into the sunlight along with its air pump, a few tools, and the tires.

Off with the on-road,
On with the off-road!
The tires, you say? Yup. It came with a pair of off-road tires, with an aggressive tread that made it sound like an old pickup truck when riding on pavement. It turned out I rode a lot more on pavement than off, especially when The Boy and Daughter Dearest were old enough to ride on the roads. So I bought a pair of hybrid tires, swapped them on, and hung up the knobbies for later.

Later, it turned out, was last weekend. As Mason watched with great fascination, I pulled the wheels off, swapped the road tires for the knobbies, then hung the road tires up. This was made easier by dint of the tires being quite flat. Fortunately, the inner tubes held air when I pumped them back up. We took a shake-down cruise: down the driveway, across the expanse of yard alongside the road, around the gravel pile, then back to the manor. You know the old saw about “it’s just like riding a bicycle.” Yup, it all came back to me really fast. The tires and tubes were fine, and Mason was ready to start his adventure ride.

There’s a trail that leads from the back yard down to a garden area (a previous owner cleared it, although I wonder why they didn’t clear an area closer to the house… oh well). Mason found the trail on the other side, that runs to the fence between FAR Manor’s grounds and the in-laws’.

“Want to ride down to the pond?" I asked Mason. He was enthusiastic about the idea, so we went through the gate and I led the way.

The pasture was pretty rough, between all the rain we’ve had recently and the cows walking on it, and it jounced us thoroughly. Through a gate on the other side, past the campsite, and down to the pond. There were some poles and tackle left behind by one cousin or another, so Mason decided to do a little fishing:

Just as well they weren’t biting
I’m kind of glad Mason didn’t catch anything, because it would have been rather difficult to bring the catch home.


You may have noticed I said we rode down to the pond. That was a deliberate choice of words: FAR Manor is on a hilltop, and there’s only a dozen yards or so that isn’t downhill between the house and the pond. Now you can guess what that means… yup, uphill all the way home. This was the part Mason hadn’t really considered. Even in low gear, he complained a lot and had to take a few rest breaks. Surprisingly, I only needed a brief rest, and I never went below the middle chainring on my bike.

I hope Mason elects to continue riding around the manor and farm, though. It’ll build up his legs and his stamina, and he’ll be able to hustle harder in his soccer games. As for Charlie, I have a bike seat that clips onto the rack. I bought it for Mason when he was little, but he wanted nothing to do with it. I expect Charlie will have a more positive reaction.

Oh… and I need a new helmet.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 No comments

Horsing Around

BIG doggie!
Charlie continues to get therapy for his developmental issues. Besides the occupational therapist who makes house calls on Thursdays, he goes to a clinic for speech and physical therapy.

Part of the latter involves horses—they say it helps with his balance. The clinic has a large indoor area where they can control the situation as well as the climate.

Charlie’s first encounter with a horse went rather well, I’d say. At least he didn’t freak out. i could imagine some kids being intimidated by a critter that size.

So he was comfortable getting face to face with a horse; how about getting on and taking a ride? That went pretty well, too. He sat up straight and enjoyed it:


Check out that big grin as he goes by the wife. He’s loving every minute of it.

Of course, with so much excitement, he didn’t get a nap today. I finally finished a work project that has been dragging on FOREVER, and we celebrated with a night out. Charlie was enamored of the service dog at the table next door, and managed to eat fairly well. But he refused to go down for the night until he had his bottle. Priorities! But he did go down early…

Friday, October 20, 2017 1 comment

Four O'clock Charlie

Image source: openclipart.org
Of course, I’m riffing on the classic M*A*S*H episode Five O'Clock Charlie here, but it’s not terribly humorous at the moment.

After last week’s “July in October,” this week has been more seasonable. It was cold enough, yesterday morning, that I had to start the furnace. But it seems like, with fall actually feeling like fall, Charlie decided to level up in Sleep Fight Club. He has developed quite a few techniques for keeping himself awake lately, including slapping himself over the head and the classic refusing to sit still.

Then, when we finally get him to sleep, he wakes himself up around 4 a.m. and howls until someone comes and gets him. Wife has been bringing him into the bedroom and letting him lay with us… which might have been a mistake, because now he expects to sleep with us.

Needless to say, neither the wife nor I have slept well this week. Charlie likes to flip and flop, and we’re constantly worried he’s going to roll off the edge. One of us bails for the living room, not that it’s much more comfortable on the couch or a lounger.

Worst case, I’m traveling on business Monday through Wednesday, so I’ll have a couple nights in a quiet (I hope) hotel room. Maybe he’ll settle down and go back to sleeping all night. Maybe pigs will fly out my, um, jet exhaust.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 3 comments

Happy #1, Zoey!

I haven’t blogged much about Grandkid #2, mainly because I haven’t seen much of her, mainly because The Boy lives about 120 miles from FAR Manor. (Smart move, that.) But she had her first birthday party over the weekend, with a “Wild One” theme. Zoey isn’t terribly wild—she’s not quite walking yet—but her parents…

Anyway, I expected Charlie to get a good nap on the 2-hour drive down… nope! He was fascinated with the 18-wheelers and transfer trucks on the freeway. When we got all the way past one truck, he would crane his neck to look out the windshield for the next one. We got to the pavilion, and he was ready to party!

A good time was had by all. Especially the birthday girl. There was cake. With icing, of course:

Now why did someone give me this spoon? Who needs a spoon?

Charlie thought the party was fun, too. He even tried to steal the show by turning loose and trying to walk away once—for the second time that weekend. As with the first time, he got two steps, keeled over, and I caught him. He wasn’t too sure about me holding Zoey; but while the wife had him, I carried her over to say hi to Charlie. He grinned at her, she stuck her tongue out, and Charlie cut loose with the Joyous Ear-Splitting Screech™. Zoey suddenly decided she’d had enough, and started wailing for someone she knew to come get meeeeee!.

One of the cool things they did was to put out a stationary pad for everyone to write Zoey a letter. She’s supposed to get them all and read through them when she’s 18. That involves a lot of confidence that someone will be able to hold on to that correspondence for 17 years, but it’s still a cool idea.

After the party, we hit Golden Corral and hung out for a while before heading back. Once again, Charlie kept a lookout for trucks… at least until it got dark. But he refused to give in until we got about 10 miles from home. Then, he crashed. It didn’t take much longer for me to do the same.

Friday, September 22, 2017 4 comments

Boys, Books, Birthdays, and B…

Get the shot, Granddad, I’m about to pull it off!
Somewhere along the line, I’ve become Charlie’s favorite. It might be because, most days, I’m the first person he sees in the morning and the last at night. I also spend a fair amount of time with him through the evenings, usually either reading to him or helping him walk through the house. He likes to go from one end of the house (door to the garage off the kitchen) to the other (shower door in the master bath), then back. Several times. It’s beneficial in several ways: he enjoys it, it helps to wear him out and get him ready for bed, and his (supported) walking has improved greatly over the last couple of weeks. No more drunken stagger, although he does do the pigeon-toe thing.

Most mornings when I drive to the office, I drop him off at daycare. He likes riding in the Miata because there’s always someone next to him. He also likes for me to lay my right hand over on his car seat, so he can touch it. I also keep a little toy car for him to play with. When the sun shines in on his side, he starts squinting, so I grab my hat (much like the one in the pic) and put it on him. He gives me a big grin and pulls it off… I guess he’d rather squint than have something on his head. But that’s what gave me the idea for the picture, and the knowledge I’d have to be quick on the shutter.

Charlie’s favorite book
Oh, and Charlie has re-discovered his joyous ear-splitting screech. He doesn’t reserve it for Mason, either. If he’s enjoying whatever he’s doing or seeing—the dogs tug-of-warring over a chew toy, walking around, Mason doing something silly—he cuts loose. (I’ve often joked about looking forward to going deaf as I get older, even if I wear ear plugs when I mow the lawn, but I’ll likely get a chance.)

I’m sure the hat is a coincidence, but this is his favorite book. When I’m reading this one to him, he doesn’t try to flip to the end to read the blurb or whatever. Personally, I think it’s because he loves the water so much, he’s always ready for a story about a little boy getting to play in/near the water. It’s a blast to watch him in his float, screeching with joy and splashing water everywhere. I want to get him and Mason up to the resort to play in the pool before it gets too cold.

Speaking of Mason, I kind of get the impression he’s been feeling left out lately. I’m constantly taking care of Charlie most evenings and weekends, and the wife is constantly taking care of her dad, so where does that leave him? I take him to soccer practice twice a week, wife takes him to school and occasionally has a dinner date with him. But of late, he’s been hostile, demanding, and often doesn’t want much to do with Charlie. It didn’t help that I couldn’t get out much from May into the first part of August (the resort trip in July taxed my knee and relaxed most everything else). Now that I can do most of what I could do before the knee started acting up, I’m working on changing that. That’s one reason I want to get them both up to the resort.

It will also help (and cause trouble) once Charlie starts walking on his own. The physical therapist that will soon start working with him thinks once he’s fitted with leg braces, he’ll be walking in less than two weeks. On the other hand, the daycare people told me he took one step today, then got really wobbly and sat down. I figure once Charlie starts walking, he’ll be beelining for Mason’s room (his personal concept of Heaven)… the only thing that will slow him down is deciding whether to get into Mason’s Legos, cars, plastic army men, or the rest of it. Angsty teenagers got nothin’ on Mason when someone starts messing with his stuff. Mason turned 8 earlier this month—I told him now he could learn how to change Charlie’s diapers, because I was 8 when I learned how. I think only the father-in-law could have given a better “deer in the headlights” look when I said that.

Will he have the patience?
We got Mason his own book from the book fair. It’s a pretty good how-to on creating stop-motion animations (making a movie one frame at a time), and Legos are a great way to get started with that. Mason, however, is definitely a child of the wife’s side of the family—no patience, and will argue with a fencepost. First, he expected me to read the entire book to him, when he’s quite capable of reading it himself. (THIRTY-EIGHT PAGES? *rage quits*)

Once he settled down, he went through the book, and learned how to storyboard a movie. He sketched out an idea for a simple “cops and robbers” story, and did a pretty good job of it. But (lack of patience again), he tore one of the backdrops included in the book… the one he wanted to use, of course. I taped it up and it works okay. We’re experimenting with a hybrid of stop-action and motion video, and hope to make some good progress over the weekend. Maybe I’ll have a new Weekend Cinema post for y’all soon.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017 2 comments

RIP, Big V

It happened on eclipse day, but it took me a while to process. Then I keep putting off the post. Still in denial, I guess.

Big V in better times
Up until evening, Eclipse Day was one of the best days I’d had, recently. It had been a pretty good day, by all accounts, for Big V and her family as well—no quarrels, lots of smiles, all was going pretty good for a change. The only problem: she had recently had gone back to home dialysis, after not being able to do it for a while, and the drain cycle wasn’t working well.

So her hubs got out of the shower, and heard her call him. By the time he got to her, she was already on the floor and not breathing. He called 911, started CPR, and kept it up for a heroic 15 minutes until the ambulance got there. They kept working on her until they got her to the hospital… to no avail.

One of the doctors said, “in her condition, 98% of the time, it’s a heart attack.” So we all went with that. Between the diabetes (not controlled well), leukemia, and kidney failure, this was going to happen sooner or later. I expected much later, after a prolonged decline, but maybe it was better for her to go out on a good note.

Since her widower works nights (truck driver), Skylar spends most school nights here and spends afternoons and weekends with his “papa.” Mason’s glad to have him around, even if they argue a lot. Charlie’s always up for another older kid who will play with him.

But I’ll hand it to Big V. She gave it all she could to stay with Skylar. In the end… maybe it was enough.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 5 comments

Totally Eclipsed!

Since I was Mason’s age, I’ve always wanted to see a total eclipse in person. So when I learned that it was going to pass only an hour’s drive from FAR Manor, I was stoked. Then August came in with rain, and more rain… I’ve always considered August an unlucky month.

But then the usual August dryness started moving in. Some things are stronger than bad luck, after all. I checked the maps, and found that US23, the GA/NC border, and the center of the eclipse path all intersected. There's a rest stop a few miles into NC, so I thought maybe I had my plans set.

“They said on the radio that traffic is going to be horrendous,” said the wife. I don’t listen to commercial radio much these days, but the wife does and passes on stuff that really matters. It made sense: a lot of metro Atlanta could make the same daytrip I was thinking about.

But Wednesday, I woke up with the solution. The resort we have a membership at was in the path of totality, it’s an hour from the manor, and there are lots of sunny areas. Woohoo, we’re on! I put in for Monday off, warned Mason’s teacher that I’d be getting him out early, and started making a list of stuff we’d need.

Crude but effective
First thing, I decided to make a pinhole viewer. I did something similar for the annular eclipse in the previous millennium, but got a little fancier since I had time and materials.

I taped a piece of paper in the bottom, cut a square hole in the top, then sacrificed a broken plastic plant pot for the cause. A 1/16" hole in the plastic piece, taped over the hole, projects an image of the sun onto the paper (if you have it aligned properly).

With all that taken care of, all you need is a way to look inside. I cut a slot, hoping maybe I could get decent cellphone shots of the projection. That didn’t turn out so well, but it did the job otherwise.

After going through all that, I learned that the school was going to give all the kids direct-sun viewing glasses. Still, I figured, my efforts were not all in vain. Mason could use his glasses, and I could use my viewer.

With the partial eclipse phase sorted, I Googled for optimal exposure settings for a total eclipse. Google obligingly turned up a chart. The National Weather Service provided times for the eclipse, and I was set. All I needed was a little luck to get there.

Everyone turned out for this one
Luck, in the form of Siri plotting a route over some backroads, was with me that morning. I loaded up the camera, tripod, pinhole viewer, sunscreen, and swim gear (I figured we’d want to cool off in the pool afterwards), picked up Mason from school, and away we went. The backroad route worked better than I expected, and we arrived at the resort almost ten minutes sooner than I’d hoped.

The resort had decided to throw an eclipse party, with hot dogs, drinks, and even a DJ! He never did play “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” but I did LOL when he played “Bad Moon Rising.” I found a place to park in the corner, but there was plenty of space on the grass. One guy thought the pinhole viewer was a pretty neat idea, once he saw how it worked. (I learned to tilt it up until the shadow on the backside just goes away, and that gives you the angle.)

Mason looking cool in the heat
It was a hot day—August on Planet Georgia, duh—and the heat had Mason dashing into the clubhouse a few times to cool off. I got him a hotdog, and water for us both… and then the sun got a chip taken out of it. Over the next hour or so, we alternated looking through the pinhole viewer, taking brief direct peeks through the sun viewers, and I tried in vain to get a decent shot with the phone camera through both the pinhole viewer and using the sun viewers. It cooled off as the coverage increased. I looked for the weird shadows, like I saw during the annular eclipse, but never did catch them. The wife, who stayed closed to home (in the 98% coverage zone), did though.

Of course, I envied the several people who had brought telescopes to the party. None of them, though, matched the rig I saw during the annular eclipse: a sun-scope with motor drive and camera attachment, taking shots at set intervals.

As the crescent sun grew ever thinner, I turned up my own camera and pointed it sunward—then put the lens cap on, loose, until the main event began. I looked at my chart one last time, making sure turning the clickwheel left was what increased exposure times.

Total!
At last, things got really dim. I looked up, saw the corona ring, and got going with the camera. Click click click click I went, working down through the chart from Baily's Beads to the widest corona. Finally, I grabbed up my phone and got a shot of Mason with the eclipse in the background. Being a cellphone camera, it gave me a bright disc instead of a ring, but it was still an interesting shot. The sky looked really weird.

The last two shots, 1sec and 4sec, suffered from camera shake. Had I used the self-timer, I probably could have avoided that, but I might not have had time to get the shots anyway. Had I been closer to the centerline, I would have risked it.

Then things brightened up really fast, and we retreated to the pool. I was already thinking about the 2024 eclipse—Charlie will be 8 by then, and maybe he’d like to see one. It might be too early to book hotels and the like, but not too early to save up for the trip…

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