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Showing posts with label photo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label photo. Show all posts

Sunday, August 18, 2019 2 comments

All the boys

I found this after the fact: Mikel, Mason, and Charlie, all in one pic. It was from last December, when he came up to spend Christmas with us. This is one of the few shots I have of all three of my boys in one place… and almost certainly the latest.

The boys hanging out

Gotta love the Pocahontas pillowcase that I gave Mikel that night!

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.

Monday, December 03, 2018 No comments

Mason Minecraft Mondays

Mason took to Minecraft like a natural-born bricklayer. He comes up with some rather interesting constructs from time to time, and we’ve talked for a while about posting some screenshots. Today’s the day…

The aerial view of his seaside croft, built around a waterfall. Left to right: barn, house, garden.



This is the barn at the entrance. Mason tells me the chimney-looking thing on top is decorative. I suppose it makes it easier to spot from out at sea.


Over on the other side of the house is the garden. The stream runs alongside it, leading to the waterfall. This POV is over the stream, looking toward the ocean.


In the house, Mason has a spacious kitchen. His rooms tend to be large, and why not? In real life, it would give him more room to run around flat-out, with Charlie right behind him.


After filling up on pork chops and a variety of fresh veggies, and racing around the place, perhaps a nap is in order. The bedroom is appointed with the necessities. Left to right: computer, bed, storage containers for clothing and such.


Looks like a peaceful place to spend a long vacation to me. When I come back, I’ll bring you some more Mason Minecraft Mondays.

Thursday, November 29, 2018 3 comments

It Don't Mean a Thing

Some cleanup required
I was bonking around in the garage Sunday afternoon, not doing much important, when I ran across Mason’s old porch swing. “Too bad I don’t have anything to hang it on,” I thought. “Charlie might like to swing in it.”

Then I remembered…

Some years back, we had a yard swing. It moved between the front and back yards as the whim struck whoever was sitting in it, until a bored and unsupervised Skylar destroyed the canopy with a stick, along with the sling that kept the upholstery against one’s sitting parts. The frame sat in the back yard, until someone decided to raid it for the hardware. The pieces have been sitting out back ever since.

With Mason looking on, I started to work on the jigsaw puzzle; it clicked after a couple minutes. Next was to find suitable hardware: 3” bolts and nuts. Amazingly, the first drawer I looked in had the bolts, and they were the perfect thickness! Could it really be that easy?

I've been framed!
Anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows the answer: nothing at FAR Manor is that easy. The bolts had two different thread pitches—finding nuts for one pair was easy, the other… not so much. But I refused to believe I had bolts without matching nuts somewhere. Finally, a prolonged scrounging session turned up one, then another, along with a set of bent washers (meant to follow the contour of a pole), so that was useful.

It took far longer, of course, to find the parts than to assemble them. I used a couple disinfectant wipes to clean off the swing bucket, then hung it on the frame. The bottom of the swing was about three inches off the ground, if that. So I pulled the ropes out of the bottom and tied them to raise the swing off the ground.


It works, Granddad!
With that, Charlie tried out the swing and seemed to enjoy it. It’s now sitting next to the gazebo.

I’m not done with the project just yet. My first thought was to hacksaw about 18 inches off the top bar to bring the hooks a little closer together. Wife had another idea… which I hope to show in Part 2.

Friday, November 02, 2018 3 comments

Friday Charlie blogging

Charlie knows it’s important to accessorize when you’re hitting the town on Friday night…

I’m going to regret this when I’m older.
A big string of shiny beads—and, of course, Mason’s colorful undies as headgear!

Note: He did this without my help or encouragement. I just took the picture afterwards.

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…

Tuesday, October 23, 2018 No comments

(Partially) Disconnected

A couple weeks ago, I noticed my phone was starting to discharge a lot faster than normal. Thinking I had issues with an app not being cooperative, I checked the app consumption levels in Settings and made a couple of adjustments. I usually could get a day and a half out of my phone with normal use, plugging it into the car charger on the way in or out of the office if needed. But it got to where normal use gave me about five hours of battery life.

I finally set up a call with Apple support, and the tech set me up with a repair ticket. In case you weren't aware, Apple is replacing batteries (if needed) on certain iPhone models (including iPhone 6, my particular phone) for $29… and $5 shipping if you do it by mail instead of bringing it in. Seeing that a DIY battery replacement was $25 about three years ago, I figured this was a no-brainer.

Fits in the palm of your hand… with room to spare.
I was now temporarily phone-less. Or was I? When I got the 6, I retired my iPhone 4, the one I'd replaced the battery in, repurposing it essentially as an expensive iPod touch. The SIM won't fit in it, which I expected, so it’s Wi-Fi only. I can still message the wife and DD, and even make and take calls using FaceTime. I was hoping to use it for Skype, but the app only gives you the option to upgrade and the current version won't work on the older phone. (thankyouverymuch, Microsoft)

Whatever. Where there's Wi-Fi, there's the ability to contact family, anyway. I spent the weekend weeding off old pictures and older messages (this phone was in service from 2012 to 2016), and got a GB or so freed up to download podcasts for the commute. I'll probably start deleting apps soon, starting with Twitter—it crashes too often, and of course I can't upgrade it. Next up will be stuff I never use or works equally poorly. That should get me through the week, then I should get my primary phone back.

Quite the size difference
One nice thing is getting re-acquainted with several games that are no longer supported on the newer systems—Bejeweled 2 and Sudoku Mania, to name two. Some newer games still work on it as well… Smash Hit is a surprising example that does occasionally hit a frame-rate stutter. But it feels so tiny, reminding me of my skepticism about a phone that was too long to nestle down into a shirt pocket. I guess I adjusted quickly.

The other thing I like is the speaker dock. It, like the 4, has the older dock connector. So I can't put the new phone on it. I guess when I get my primary phone back, I'll erase the old one and find someone who needs it more than me. They can also take the speaker dock, since it doubles as a charging station.

But it'll be nice to hang out with the '4 for the week ahead. Our last hurrah, so to speak. Charlie glommed it this evening, and was adamant about not giving it back, so I pulled up the Bubbles app for him (one of those that doesn't work on newer phones) while he clung to it and fussed. (I guess he figured a little bitty phone is meant for a little bitty user.) He played with it for half an hour, maybe more. I remember letting Mason play with the phone when he was like 3 or 4, and he discovered the Camera app. I locked my '6 when I got it, but he had access to an iPad mini (and an original iPad) by then. He still tries to wheedle my passcode out of me, though.

I had a bit of heartburn this evening, when I received a shipping box from Apple (2 days after I sent the phone off!). I got on the chatline with Apple Support, and they verified the box had been shipped by mistake and everything was in the queue. Oh well, now I have a SIM remover tool… no more paper clips!

'Course, this means I'll be hard to reach this week. Email me… or leave a comment here!

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.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018 1 comment

Give Peach a Chance

Soon after lunch last Sunday, Daughter Dearest caught me in the kitchen. “Can you take these and toss 'em in the woods?” she asked, handing me a bowl of peelings and similar.

“Sure, I’ll dump it in the composter.” I hadn’t been out there in a while, and judging by the overgrowth between the driveway and the composter box, neither had anyone else. Oh well. I stomped down some weeds, keeping a wary eye on the briars, and so I was almost at the composter before I saw what was next to it:

Quoth 3 year old Mason: “Too heavy!”
A peach tree, bent to the ground under the weight of its own produce. The peaches are a reasonable size, but still pretty hard, so I figure they were taking their time ripening in the deep shade around the composter.

As far as I can guess, a peach pit must have been tossed in (or near) it at some time—the trunk is not two inches from the base of the composter. I was delighted, as you might guess, nearly as much as when we started getting persimmons from the tree near the road.

Wife is all, “They probably won’t get ripe. There’s too much shade.”

“All I’m saying,” I replied, “is give peach a chance!”


Wall to wall and 10 feet tall
One life lesson I learned from playing D&D: always keep a 50-foot length of rope handy. What I have these days is clothesline, but I knew it was in the deck box with the inflatables. I grabbed it, and the hatchet, and got to work. Some trimmed branches piled nearby became stakes, and I enlisted a nearby oak. It has held up for over a week, now, during which we had a pretty substantial gust front ahead of some rain.

We’re already plotting a transplant operation come winter. There’s a gigantic white pine across the driveway from the front door, that seems to be dying from the top down after a lightning strike, and a couple of trash pines next to that. Those will meet the chainsaw (and become firewood for campsites and other outdoor fires), we’ll pull or dig the stumps out, and hope for the best with the transplanting.

So, on occasion, we do get a pleasant surprise at FAR Manor.

Thursday, July 26, 2018 4 comments

Stay on, your toes

The Boy continues to embrace the whole home ownership thing. He has a pretty decent garden spot (mostly hot peppers, with a few other things) and is talking about adding a room. A really good thing, he's been keeping up with his glucose and insulin for the last six months or so.

Of course, there are downsides. About a month ago, a bad storm came through and dropped a tree limb on their newest car, totaling it. At least it was parked, which means comprehensive kicks in (lower deductible) and no ding on his driving record.

Then there was the garden incident… at least, as best as we can figure. He was weeding when his foot started burning (wearing sandals), but the pain faded quickly and he kept at it. He saw a blister later was all.

A few days later, he had a pretty heavy-duty infection in his foot, and ended up in a hospital in Carrolton. We grabbed a hotel to spend the night down there. The surgeon told everyone, “we’ll do what we can, but he’s probably going to lose four toes.” Yeowch!

So they wheeled him in, and we flipped out our tablets to wait for the news, whether good or bad. Finally, a nurse called us into the consultation room. The surgeon said, “the infection hadn’t gone to the bone, or got into the tendons, so we cut out the infected tissues.” So far so good… everything was still attached. For now. Even better: “he still has pretty good circulation in his feet, that helps.”

They wheeled him back to his room, and the surgeon came by to tell him what was next: they would leave his foot wrapped up for a few days, then the wound care specialist would come by and check for any further infection. At that point, they would decide whether his toes could stay attached a little longer. The way he talked, it sounded like a 50/50 proposition.

This is the GOOD side!
We went home, but kept in touch via text, until we returned to the hospital for The Unveiling.

No infection! Yay!

The wound care specialist came in and said, “three things if you want to keep your toes: don’t smoke, don’t walk on that foot, and keep up with your insulin.” There were other particulars, including a special boot he wears to walk around safely, but those are details.

The wife took a pic of the bottom of his foot. I really don’t want to inflict that one on you… there was basically a trench about 1/2" wide and deep, running across the joints. Top view is bad enough (the bruised big toenail came from him dropping something on his foot while doing a moving job).

Last week, we got a report (and a pic): the wound care specialist says it’s healing up faster than expected. Indeed, the pic showed a small oval of raw flesh surrounded by new skin. Woohoo!

So what caused all this? The symptoms were all consistent with a brown recluse bite. We may never know what happened, but I’m willing to blame spiders.

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 29, 2018 1 comment

Patching Things Up

Charlie is mostly laid back, but he definitely has a lazy eye. A few weeks ago, we got to head down to the 'burbs to see an eye doctor—whether they specialize in pediatric eye care, or have an “in” with the state, what does it matter? Wife wanted me to take a day off work and come along… since it was on a Thursday, I also took Friday and made it a four-day weekend.

I was curious how they would get a squirmy toddler to look where they wanted, and I found out. They have a number of gadgets designed to get a child’s attention—a mechanical owl on the other side of the room, a clown toy that does jumping jacks when you push a button—yet another one of those it’s obvious when you think about it things.

yawwwwwn uh… arrrrr.
The upshot was, Charlie has to wear a patch on his left eye for two hours per day for the next month or so. They gave us a handful of samples to get us started, and (of course) you can get nearly two months’ supply on Amazon for $20 or so (and we did).

The cool thing about the big box is that it has an assortment of patterns—camo, wizard (robe, wands, Harry Potter-esque glasses), rockets… and, of course, pirates! By the time I got this picture, Charlie was well on the way to lala-land. I ended up peeling the patch off (which woke him up a little, of course) and putting him to bed soon after.

It only took a couple days for Charlie to mostly stop picking at the patch while he has it on. Once it’s on, if we keep him occupied for a couple of minutes, he pretty much forgets about it unless he gets bored. So far so good. Getting daycare to remember the patch is kind of hit-or-miss right now, though. Oh well. One thing at a time.

When it comes time to take it off, though, I guess Charlie knows to keep his eyes peeled…

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…

Thursday, January 11, 2018 2 comments

Brace Yourself

With Charlie’s second birthday, he’s finally starting to take those all-important solo first steps. To give him a little more practice, I’ve been walking with him some, trying to get him to hold only one hand and walk beside me. (Besides, I’m less likely to step on his feet that way.)

A while back, one of the therapists said he would need braces to get his feet aligned properly. I immediately conjured a mental image of the hardware Forrest Gump wore in the early part of the movie. But when he came home with them, I had a surprise:

Ankle brace, really
Just a foam-lined plastic cup that goes around his ankle, and a Velcro™ strap to hold it on. To be honest, I'm not sure how they work. They’re called Supra-Malleolar Orthoses (or SMOs), and are designed to be worn with shoes.

Now shoes were an interesting issue. Charlie’s feet are still pretty thick, although not as blobby as they used to be, and he’s supposed to wear shoes over the braces. The orthopedist suggested a wide shoe, a little oversize with laces, and we figured he would need an 8W. Surprise! Most shoe stores didn’t have anything suitable. After a few attempts, I gave up and went to the nearby Target. We soon found out why the orthopedist recommended laces—between the brace and Charlie’s thick foot, the Velcro straps barely reached across at best.

Amazingly enough, I found a pair of shoes that fit the bill:


High-tops, no less!
High-tops? Well, they fit. The zipper on the side turned out to be the key there—unzipping it gave enough room to slide the braced foot in without having to unlace the entire shoe.

Unfortunately, the shoes aren’t very well-balanced… something one might expect from a big-box shoe. They’re too heavy in the toe, so Charlie was dragging his toes when we walked with him. The orthopedist gave us a set of shoes that are made to work with the SMOs—at least the Velcro strap goes all the way across. They’re kind of clompy-looking, but they do seem to work. We’ll keep the high-tops for when he’s older and no longer needs the braces.

Let the Games Begin

Now this is the world according to Charlie:

Paper is treasure.
Bread is dessert.
Anything on his feet is an abomination.

Keeping socks on his feet has always been a chore. Any time he gets a moment to think, off they come. One morning, I was taking him to daycare in the Miata (he likes riding in the little car, because I’m always within reach). He made his “heyyy” noise, and I glanced over. He had one foot in the air, and his hand on the end of his sock.

“Don’t do it,” I told him. He grinned and yanked it off. Little rat.

Now, to get his socks off, he has a couple other things to remove first. Developmental issues my rear; he may still be non-verbal, but he figured out how to pull those Velcro straps quick enough. Ah, and the satisfying ripping noise they make! Rip, and the shoe can come off. Rip, and there goes the SMO. The sock doesn’t make any noise, but bare feet in the breeze makes up for that. Usually, he works one foot at a time. Given a trip of any significant distance, and he’s either asleep or barefoot (or both) at the end of the journey. With the cold (by Planet Georgia standards) weather we got with Winter #2, it was often a mad scramble to get his footgear back on before getting him out. Sometimes, like at the grocery store, we just left the gear in the car and took him inside barefoot. Cold doesn’t bother him.

He still prefers to crawl—but as his balance continues to improve, he often free-stands and will walk short distances (four or five steps). His biggest problem is he’s trying to lean forward and run before he can walk. It won’t be long before we’re shoring up all the old baby-proofing and hearing Mason rage-scream about Charlie messing up his stuff.

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