Archive for June, 2013

A Call to Arms…

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Well, perhaps a call to fingers. A case for buying Unicomp keyboards, one of the last of the mechanical-switch variety keyboards.

The Kids Can be Good

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One aspect of the progress I’ve made with the patio over the past couple of days actually has nothing to do with the project directly. And yet, without it, I could never have been so productive. The kids behavior has been exceptional.

Starting Tuesday morning, I worked straight through the day. Today, I went to my martial arts class and when I got home, worked straight through until it was time to get ready for the boy’s class. So we’re talking hours of time where the kids had little to no supervision, or refereeing.

During that time, they took time to get me water, since the past couple of days have been so hot. They also made themselves their own lunch, and also took the time to make me a lunch yesterday. They also helped prepare dinner last night, taking the food out of the freezer and doing the initial food prep. They’ve also aided in some quick grocery store trips, and trip to the pet store for dog food, emptied the dishwasher and put away their laundry.

Most importantly, they haven’t been fighting at all so I haven’t had to resolve any conflicts in a fatigued state. That rarely works well for them.

I don’t say any of this to brag, as I’m sure that in another day or two they’ll revert to their mean. But they’ve shown what they are capable of over the past couple of days. And that’s been encouraging.

1 Day of Pavers

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I’m pretty beat, so I’ll save any technical explanations for another day. Here’s a shot of the progress I made laying pavers all day. In the heat, which felt worse than yesterday, remarkably.

I’ve got shots of the individual pavers as well as the clover leaf pattern used to lay them down. Like I hinted earlier, for another day.

A Quiet First Day

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In many respects, today was like any other Monday. I had my martial arts class, I went to the grocery store, I did some chore around the house. Oh, and I sweated a lot because it was so ridiculously oppressive weather wise- not that that’s normal for a Monday. I just felt like complaining about it. The Wife left for a couple day business trip as well.

The main difference was I had the two shadows today.

I don’t think weekend really count in the whole Summer vacation thing, since they get every other weekend off during the year as well. Thus, today was the kid’s official first day of vacation.

It ended up being a pretty quiet affair. I let them watch some extra TV today since I figure a few days to decompress from the year is fair game. They’ve started watching back shows of Mythbusters on Netflix. This morning, they watched one of my favorites: the one where they blow up a cement truck. It was just as awesome now as it was the first time I saw it. The kids loved it too.

The day itself went pretty smoothly, with a minor hiccup in around lunch time where they got sick of each other. I broke them apart and had the lass doing some of her Summer work prep for 2nd grade and had the boy start reading The Magician’s Nephew. They spent about 45 minutes each on their work and then we got a surprise phone call.

The relevant background is simple- I was supposed to have pavers delivered here today. This morning, I got a call stating that they wouldn’t be arriving today. I was mostly OK with that, but then decided it better to say something to make sure that I didn’t continue to get bumped, so I contacted the rep I’ve been working with and he agreed. So to this point, I was expecting the pavers sometime tomorrow.

The phone call I got was from the rep telling me the pavers would be arriving in about 45 minutes. I was excited because now I wouldn’t have to worry about waiting tomorrow. The kids were excited because, well, something different. They had questions about the pavers- what the looked like, how heavy they were, how they went together and now they’d finally get a chance to see them up close an personal.

So that set off a flurry of activity as I shuffled some things around in the back and generally prepped to have the pavers on hand. The kids … got into their bathing suits and played with a hose. They were soaked from the hose. I was soaked from sweating and simply moving around.

After the pavers arrived, it was time for some dinner. We went with the old Summer favorite, hamburgers. Yum. The lass tried to weasel an ice cream promise out of me. I looked at her funny, asked “When did I say anything about ice cream?” at which point she gave me a goofy smile and shrugged her shoulders. She tried, but I wasn’t playing.

Our evening wrapped up with the boy’s martial arts class, a trip to the grocery store and a trip to Lowe’s to pick up a diamond blade for cutting the pavers. We finally settled down for the evening with more Mythbusters. We watched Adam and Jamie blow things up while some mild thunderstorms rolled through. The kids finally went to sleep in the basement, where it’s much cooler than their rooms. I’ll be sleeping in A/C tonight.

Not a bad day for starting the Summer vacation- no big fights, no major disciplinary actions, no real stress from the kids. But then, it’s only the first day.

Crappy Weather

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Ugh.

I’m sweating just walking around the yard.  Enough already.  I’m ready for Fall now.

What to Do?

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The Wife and I are sitting here, enjoying the quiet with the kids in bed, when she asked me “What are you going to do this week?” With school done for the Summer, I realized, she’s right.

I have no Cub Scout planning meetings or Den meetings. I have no softball games. I have no softball games to coach. There are no after-school activities to deal with or plan for or around. The lass’ dance classes are all done. There is no other sport league they’re involved in.

All I’ve got this week are pavers and martial arts. Well, and grocery shopping. And laundry. And dishes. And mowing the lawn. And dinner. And lunch. And the kids.

That’ll be enough.

Waiting for Pavers

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Almost all of the prep work is complete. All that’s left is the layer of sand that the pavers will rest on. That’s arriving today thank to our paver rep pulling some strings for me. The pavers arrive Monday- not sure when. This is the first picture where I think there is a feel of what it’s going to look like when the project is completed.

I noted before that actually building the walls took less time than all of the prep work. That’s going to hold true for the pavers as well- but even more extreme I think. Unlike the stone for the walls, the pavers are made to go together a certain way, so I’ll just set them and go. There will be details of course, but they’ll get taken care in due time. The majority of the pavers will be done within a day I’m willing to bet.

The Lass’ Author’s Night

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The following is a book the lass wrote for Author’s Night, a class activity where all the kids read a story they created. The kids have been keeping a writing journal for the year and were asked to pick one of the stories they wrote to work on it for Author’s Night. The final product was a book. I have transcribed the book exactly as it was written. The horizontal rules indicate page breaks in the source material. There is also artwork in the book, perhaps I’ll get that up at a later point.


My Cat, DC

My cat is the funniest in my house.


He eats dry food. My cat’s name is DC.


I like to pick him up. I like my cat because my cat is special to me.


I like to pet my cat. I like to cuddle with my cat. I like to play with my cat.


My cat is a sleepy head. My cat sleeps all day and stays awake all night.


He likes Fancy Feast that is his most favorite food.


My dog chases my cat. The cat runs up stairs into my mom’s and dad’s bedroom. My dad yells at my dog.


My cat’s favorite spot is on my mom.


My cat is fat. He drinks his water, he does not drink milk.


My cat stayed away for five days. My mom looked for him. When we found him, he was on the porch.


I have fun with my cat. Sometimes he hisses at me and sometimes he scratches me.


DC is silly, he rolls around. I can’t rub his belly because he will scratch me or hiss at me. I don’t like it when he scratches me or hisses at me.


When me and my brother and my mom and dad go away, DC is good. When we go away we have to keep my cat inside.


Once, he took over my pillow.


My cat is as soft as a dog’s ear. I love DC a lot.


He is so cute. When he rolls on his back he is even cuter.


My cat won’t run away from my family unless my dog chases him away. I am going to love him forever.

The End

Punch Buggy!

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At this point, I can’t remember how exactly the kids became aware of the Punch Buggy game. The Wife or I might have mentioned it at one point. Just as likely, the learned it from a friend. Either way, the game has caught on with the two of them and the Wife and I have had to dust off our old Punch Buggy spotting skills.

Because of the updated cars, we’ve made some simple modifications to the game. Original VW Beetles are worth twice the normal amount and are called “classics.” So the original convertibles are worth 4 points while the original Beetles are worth 2 and we call them out saying “Punch Buggy Classic Red!” Or green or blue or whatever color we spot. The updated Beetles are worth the normal amount.

The most interesting thing about the game is how many Beetles are actually out on the road around here. Even the Classic’s are more prevalent than I’d have imagined.

The kids are pretty good at the game as well. The Wife and I rarely see our marks before the kids, especially when they are on. It also leads to the occasional argument when one kid doesn’t buy that the other actually saw a Punch Buggy. Then accusations of making it up or making a mistake start flying.

It’s something to help pass the time in the car.

The Lass’ Talent Show

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It’s the end of the school year. I used to assume that simply meant school was getting out shortly. After this year, it will mean something entirely different- time for after school student presentations. We’ve had concerts and plays and assemblies. More recently, the lass had her First Grade Talent Show.

The Talent Show seems to be a rite of passage kind of thing for 1st graders. The boy also did it, and was The World’s Strongest Man. As I said at the time, who knew?

For the boy, we knew what his talent was going to be, if not how it was going to be presented. For the lass, we didn’t know what she was going to do. That was the way she wanted it as well. So she was a little upset with her brother when he unknowingly spoiled the surprise about her doing a dance. Apparently, he got to preview the rehearsal or something so he’d already seen her routine.

Even so, it didn’t really spoil the surprise since we didn’t know what her dance was going to be like or even what music she’d be dancing to. Turns out she danced to A Thousand Years by Christine Perri with a couple of her class mates. The were up there twirling and circling and moving to the music. She used lots of long, flowing movements which worked well because of her long limbs.

She got lots of complements from other Moms whom enjoyed the little routine. Unlike the boy, I wasn’t surprised by her ability to pull it off. She’s much more comfortable in the spotlight than he was at her current age. She looked perfectly comfortable up on stage in front of everyone and she was definitely the leader of her little group. When the dance ended, one of the other girls looked like she wanted to scoot off stage as quickly as possible. The lass beckoned her into the middle of the stage so they could take their bow as a group.

What else is there to say? That’s our girl.

The Hard Way

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Sportsmanship is a difficult lesson for kids to learn. I know this not due to my own experience with the kids, but also because I’ve gleaned it from other parents. We sit and talk about it and the same things keep coming up, the same problems encountered, the same stories are told with seemingly only the names changing along the way.

We had our year-end Cub Scout campout this past weekend and I was afforded an opportunity to give the boy a lesson in sportsmanship. Within our Pack, we have a game called Ga-Ga. It’s basically like a game of dodge-ball on a small court. The rules are few and simple and the result it that the games are fast and plenty.

My opportunity arrived when I looked over and saw the boy kicking the ball away from the court. There was a smattering of exasperated “Comeon”‘s from the other kids. I stepped into the fray at that point, ordering the boy to bring me the ball and hand it to me.

So when he walked over, picked the ball up and kicked it at me, I swatted it back at him and told him to HAND IT TO ME. He finally did. At which point I turned and handed the ball back to the kids playing in the Ga-Ga court. I then turned back to the boy and told him “You’re done playing for the rest of the day.”

I can’t say for sure, but I think he’d been prepared for me to ban him for awhile. But I’m sure he didn’t think I’d ban him for the rest of the day. It was only mid afternoon and there was still lot’s of Ga-Ga to play. The realization that it would all take place without him didn’t set well with him, to say the least. I finally had enough of his complaining and started in on him “This isn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation with you, and it probably won’t be the last. Your behavior was completely out of line and I won’t let you get away with it. So you are done, for the day. You don’t want to listen to me when I tell you to calm down; you don’t seem to understand that it is just a game and unimportant in the scheme of things. So now, you will sit and watch while your friends play.”

He continued to protest, even threatening to never play any sports again. I ignored his drama. He eventually found other things to do, though every now and again he’d ask if he could join the kids playing Ga-Ga. I told him the same thing each time he’d ask “I told you- you’re done for the day and I meant it.” Ga-Ga was played until it was almost dark out. At one point, the kids even lined the court with their flashlights so they could play “Night Ga-Ga.”

The boy watched.

The next morning, more games were started up just after breakfast and before we started packing up the camp. The boy asked if he could join the games. I told him he could.

At one point, I looked over while they were playing. A bunch of kids yelled that the boy had been hit. He quietly stepped out of the court and waited for the current game to end and the next one to begin. Perhaps he finally learned a lesson about sportsmanship.

At least for this weekend.

Official Property Owners

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Just a personal historical note of sorts. My first property was a small condo. When the Wife became the Wife, we actually lived in it together for a short period of time. I made a number of cosmetic improvements to it over time with the intent of renting it when we moved on to bigger and, hopefully, better things.

I’ve been renting it for over 10 years now, and have had a couple of real dud renters. That’s not been the case for a couple of years, thankfully.

Having mailed the final payoff check to the lender, I guess I’ll mark today as the semi-official day that we own the property outright. Which is nice.

The All In Point

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With the two retaining wall completed, the next phase is the pavers. Installing pavers, in theory, is pretty straight forward. Dig down, put a layer of gravel, followed by a layer of sand, followed by the pavers, followed by a final coating of sand to fill the joints.

The actual doing is a little more involved.

So that’s the result of the digging part. I had a guy who knows what he’s doing with a skidsteer do the digging under the deck. If I’d done it by hand, I’d still be digging into next year. He left it in piles and then left me the skidsteer to push the piles around for awhile. Since I had the machine, I also moved the remaining stone I had down under the deck. Saved me a lot of trip with the wheelbarrow. The result is the, uh, scene above.

There is no going back now.

From the Low Tolerance Files

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The boy was upset with his sister this morning.

In many ways, that statement is like the proverbial “man bits dog” statement. For the time being, it’s the safe way to bet that the two of them will be at each other’s throats in one way or another. It so happens that this morning the boy seemed particularly irked by the fact that, well, his sister exists.

First, it was arguments over breakfast and that she was constantly in his way. Then, he was upset when she reached for a bag of Doritos for her lunch because he also was having Doritos with his lunch. He was convinced that she was copying him and this naturally morphed into the more general complaint that “she always copies” me.

The Wife and I both told him to drop it and worry about himself. The whole exchange culminated with a trip to the corner for him because he “wished his sister wasn’t born sometimes.”

He finally had a little breakfast and subsequently hings quieted down until we got into the car. She was riding shotgun and he was directly behind her in the back seat. For whatever reason, she turned around to look at a car that had passed us. Suddenly, the boy jabbed his fingers into her face. He didn’t want her staring at her.

I yelled at him yet again, (“You could poke an eye out!” It felt so cliched.) including telling him for the millionth time that he needs to find other things to get annoyed about.

I remember my own days of being annoyed at things my younger siblings did. I realize now I really should have spent my energies on other things, though I’m pretty sure at the time whatever annoyance my brother and my sister were creating was the most important thing in the whole world. This appears to be the stage the boy is going through. Hopefully, he’ll take the nagging to heart at some point, finally realizing the truly minor nature of the annoyances his sister presents.

For Your Amusement

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One of the other Dad’s in our Cub Scout Pack told me about this video after our last Pack meeting with the model rocket launches. The kid’s expression is priceless. The Dad is too busy laughing.

Enjoy.

The Bandaid Fix

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A “bandaid fix” is a way around solving a problem. Rather than actually fixing the problem, another technique is used to either cover up or circumvent the real problem. A bandaid fix can be used for a variety to reasons, from not being able to determine the actual problem to not having time to being able to solve the actual problem.

Software guys know all about bandaid fixes- they use them regularly. Sometimes it’s entirely justified as a bug might have deeply rooted causes such that fixing it could have significant side effects and other ramifications. Carpenters too, are familiar with bandaid fixes. In fact, I’m willing to wager just about any engineer, technician or “Mr. Fixit” sort has used a bandaid fix at one time or another.

When I picked up my mower yesterday, bandaid fix was what immediately leapt to mind when they told me what they did. The reason I couldn’t pull the starter cord was because the engine had filled with fuel, so the compression required to turn the engine was too much for the start cord mechanism to handle. I knew this, the question was why was the engine filling up with fuel?

I never got an answer. The mechanic had already cleaned the carburetor and change the air filter and the spark plug and, I’m guessing, he wasn’t going to spend any more time figuring out what was wrong. So if too much fuel was the problem while starting, then he need to provide a way to stop that. So he installed a fuel shutoff valve which I’ll now have to use every time I use the mower.

Suffice it to say, I’m not thrilled with this solution. First, the mower is about a year old and shouldn’t be having this sort of problem, IMHO. Second, how do I know that the problem won’t slowly become exacerbated over time with usage to the point I’ll need to bring it in again and spend another $100 on getting it repaired? Short answer- I don’t know because I don’t know what the problem is. Rather, I’m left with hoping that usage with high-octane gas and some of the ethanol based fuel additives will help clean things out and return it to normal usage.

More likely is that the mower is a lemon and I’ll be having problems with it for years to come.

Tebow Speculation

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So Tim Tebow is now a Patriot. I’ve never really understood all the hoopla around Tebow and his supposed “religiousness.” I mean, if you ask a guy about it why should he be ashamed of his faith? I don’t recall him telling anyone else what to believe. There have been plenty of other players genuflecting after touchdowns, pointing their fingers to the sky and generally giving thanks to God for their performance on any given day.

But for whatever reason, when Tebow does it everyone loses their minds. Like I said, I don’t get it. He’s a below average quarterback (even in college!) with an above average work ethic and way-above-average heart. For whatever reason, people believe he can get the job done and he’s even done so on a couple of occasions.

So what’s he doing on the Patriots now? Well, first, Josh McDaniels almost certainly convinced the Pats to make the move. Almost certainly not to play quarterback though. I’d guess as another slot-receiver potential or even a gadget play enabler. I know the Pats already picked up Amendola as a Welker replacement, but I don’t think you can just replace a guy like Welker. But perhaps you can blunt his loss with a couple of guys with different skill sets that almost add up to the same thing.

Aside from that, I think he’s a gadget play kind of guy. Bring him in and run some kind of goofy Wildcat thing where he pitches to Brady, who then throws back downfield to Tebow. Or maybe he runs some kind of option offense in certain situations.

Of course, all of this is dependent on Tebow actually making the squad, which a lot of the speculation has forgotten about. So maybe we should just give him a chance to make it to the season.

Wall 2 Completed

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I can’t get a good picture of the whole thing, but these 2 should give the general sense of it. Having completed this one so soon after the first, I think it’s safe to say no two walls go up the same. Obviously, the shape changes. It’s more than that though- the material changes, the accessibility to the material changes (in other words, rocks on the top of the pile tend to get used first, rocks at the bottom last), plus the previous wall influences decisions about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. In this one, I used vertical rocks in a number of spots, versus the first I only did that in a couple of spots against the foundation wall.

That would be stage 2 completed. On to stage 3, which is the one I’ve been most anxious for.

Nagging Can Work

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I’ve written quite a bit over the past school year’s worth of homework about the boy’s writing assignments. He has his strengths, mainly in the creativity department, and his weaknesses which, initially, were pretty much everything else. Terrible spelling, terrible grammar, terrible structure.

Last week saw another type of writing brought into the fold: book report type writing. He’s been asked to read from a book and then write short summaries of what he reads each day, with a final summary to be turned in at the end of the week. There are also a group of questions which he can choose from which forces him to think a little deeper about what he read.

He’s been very studious about getting the work done. Mostly because it gives him an excuse to continue reading the Harry Potter series, I imagine. The assignment calls for him to read for 20 minutes, but the Wife and I both suggested he just read a chapter each day. He’s been happy to oblige.

The Wife and I have both been pleasantly surprised with his summary paragraphs. He’s finally seems to be getting better at organizing the thoughts in his head before setting them to paper and the results, while not perfect, are markedly improved. To the point where the Wife and I have just been pointing out spelling mistakes, as opposed to having him rewrite the paragraphs. I’d personally still like to see him write drafts and then do the final. But for the way this assignment works, he’s doing it well enough that I’m not going to pick a fight with him over that quibble.

That only took a year.

A Harry Potter Conundrum

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The kids watched the first Harry Potter movie this morning, The Sorcerer’s Stone. While watching the end, it occurred to me there’s a bit of a plot hole created by the circumstances of the first movie.

I’ll assume if you’ve read this far, you’re somewhat familiar with the Harry Potter-verse and I’ll get right to it.

At the end of the story, Harry Potter is convinced that Professor Snape is the culprit behind all the mysterious happenings at the school and is, in fact, trying to help Voldemort return to power. This turns out to be spectacularly wrong, as the villain is in fact Professor Quirrell, working in league with Voldemort. During the final confrontation between Quirrell/ Voldemort and Harry, it is revealed that Professor Snape was, in fact, consistently thwarting Quirrell’s plans behind the scenes. It was Snape whom thwarted Quirrell during the Moutain Troll episode, and we’re also allowed to see through Harry’s spying eye’s a clandestine exchange between Quirrell and Snape where Snape challenges Quirrell and his motives. In short, Snape seemed to know what was going on with Quirrell and wasn’t helping Quirrell/Voldemort to succeed.

Now, given that Quirrell and Voldemort are joined at the head, it seems logical that Voldemort would also be aware of Snape’s meddling and consistent interruptions of his (Voldemort’s) plans to return to power. Given Snape’s role at the end of the saga, where he poses as Voldemort’s right-hand man presumably with Voldemort’s full trust, these circumstances seem like a pretty big inconsistency. That is, it seems implausible that Voldemort should be unaware of Snape’s double-agent status given what Snape does in the first book. Yet, that is exactly the case.

I recognize the difficulty in keeping details like this straight over the course of 7 books and 10 or so years worth of creating a world and story. It just struck me as interesting inconsistency in the story. One that I couldn’t think of a plausible explanation for.

For instance- perhaps Voldemort suffers from some sort of amnesia after he returns to corporeal form, one might argue. But that seems pretty selective given everything that he clearly does remember, including all of his Deatheaters, Harry himself, the Elder wand and so forth.

Another argument might be that Snape is skilled at blocking Voldemort’s mind reading powers. I’d agree- but Voldemort shouldn’t have to read Snape’s mind. He simply has to assess Snape’s actions as they pertain to Professor Quirrell.

There are other possibilities I can come up with, but I don’t consider any of them convincing explanations. I think it’s just one of those plot holes that any epic tale, even LOTR has them, picks up along the way. Anyone else agree with my assessment, or am I off base entirely?

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