Friday, May 31, 2013

Our Family Is Growing Again

As many of you know, I'm part of an international family. That means I was born in one country, my wife in another, and we have blended together our cultures and traditions and made something of a hybrid family in this country. We are soon going to take that to the next level.

My mother-in-law will retire from her job in a few weeks and will begin the next phase of her life. She has applied for and received her U.S. Greencard allowing her to come and go as she pleases and in a few months, she will be coming via a one way ticket for an undetermined length of stay.

In the Philippines, it is common for parents to live with their children in retirement but not so much here in the U.S. though from what I have read on the subject, that is changing rapidly. I think that is why a part of me is instantly scared at the thought of living for an extended length of time under the same roof as my mother-in-law. The only thing scarier would be doing the same thing with my parents! But there are lots of advantages to this kind of living arrangement which I suppose is why it is becoming more popular here.

The biggest advantage is that there is more of a village to help raise our children instead of just myself. Not only does this give my wife and I a little more freedom to do some adult oriented things without having to track down a babysitter who you trust with an infant, something we have yet to do, but it frees up time for me during the day. I will be able to speed up some of my plans for fixing up the house and perhaps starting up a business of some sort. Of course, both of those things are easier said than done.

Right now, we don't know if my mother-in-law is coming over for a month, months, or forever. I don't think she will stay longer than the winter myself because she still has a son and three grandchildren back in the Philippines (along with siblings and their families) and I think the winter will be pretty hard on her. I remember how hard it was on my wife when she first arrived here and she only had to live through a couple months of it that first year before spring arrived.  Saying that, she may just stay here until the first cold snap hits and then skedaddle for warmer tropical islands like back home. Time will tell.

But I do know, the past year of my life has been full of lots of major changes, enough for a lifetime, and they are still not over with. It is a good thing I am a fairly adaptable creature!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Popcorn Redux

When I last wrote about my textured ceiling problem here, I wasn't sure what direction I wanted to take. If you recall, I had just painted a stained and dirty looking texture ceiling when at the very end, a large section had delaminated. Past experience of trying to patch damaged popcorn ceilings has told me that any repairs will always look just like repairs were made. Research showed that removing the popcorn was easy if it hasn't been painted but if it had been painted on, it seemed sketchy about how easy it was to remove.

After mulling it over for a bit, I decided that worst case, I tear the whole ceiling down and start over if things looked to bad. So I grabbed my sprayer, filled it with water, grabbed a variety of scraping tools and dug into the project. I quickly found out that though the popcorn had delaminated fairly easy when wet with paint, it was an entirely different beast trying to remove it dry. So I experimented with spraying with water and letting it sit for various times before scraping and met with decent success. Fortunately I had used latex paint to paint the ceiling so it would absorb the water I sprayed on it and if I let it set three to four minutes before scraping, it would come off fairly easily.

I thought about going to buy a scraper with a long handle so that I could scrape from the ease of the floor but in the end I didn't do so for various reasons. The biggest reason was that my angle of attack to get it scraped off the easiest was about 30 degrees from the ceiling plane which meant that any such scraper would need a long handle to be comfortable and then it would be so long it would flex a lot making things harder. I started off using a ten inch drywall mudding knife and that worked well until I discovered that the ceiling had all the joints and screwheads mudded before they had applied the popcorn. While this was a bonus for me since I wouldn't have to do that after removing the popcorn and before painting, the popcorn stuck to those areas very tightly and made it hard to remove.

So in the end, I alternated using the ten inch drywall mudding knife and a stiff bladed four inch putty knife and made pretty good process. Of course since it was a very messy job and I didn't have enough time to do it during my daughter's naps and then have to shower down to get all the dust off before she woke up, I had to wait for a couple weekend afternoons when we weren't doing anything else and I had some free time.

When my arms felt like they were about ready to fall off due to all the scraping of the popcorn, I found that I was more prone to mistakes and gouging of the drywall. So once all the popcorn was off, I ended up going back in and mudding over the gouges and sanding the entire ceiling to smooth out my new mudding, some spots on the existing mudding which was done as you might expect when you know it was going to be textured over and also to remove some spots of popcorn that no amount of wetting down and scraping could remove. This latter was almost always over some of the existing mudding. The result is what you see in the top picture.

One coat of primer and two finish coats of white ceiling paint and the whole things looks a lot better. There are a few defects that I missed finding while sanding and mudding which always seems to be the case with ceilings and why I suspect textured ceilings were once all the rage. But they make the ceiling fit in with a thirty plus year old house. So finally the ceiling is done and I can move on to the walls which are much easier and straight forward to do.

Monday, May 27, 2013


My sharp eyed wife spotted this fox this past weekend as he was actually walking out of the woods and into our yard. I had to use my biggest telephoto lens zoomed all the way out to actually determine it was a fox. I took a few blurry pictures from the house through the window but decided that in order to get a better picture, I need to try and sneak outside and get closer.

I went out the front side of the house and walked to the little valley that separates our two little knobs on our property. Our house is on one knob and this fox was on the other. The fox had by then laid down in the grass and all I could see was it's head as it looked at me unconcerned. I kept snapping away and walking down the ridge toward the bottom of the ditch and the fox seemed unconcerned. By the time i had taken the picture above, I had cross half the distance between our house and him. I took a few more pictures and then with him in my viewfinder, crept a few steps closer and that is when he had enough and slipped into the woods but not before I got one more decent picture of him.

Foxes aren't rare for our area but they are rarely seen. I can count the number of times I have seen one in my life on less than ten fingers and I can't think of a time when I have seen one this close. They are skittish animals that generally stay away from populated areas. Since our property is on the edge of the city limits and mostly forested, I'm guessing there are a few foxes in the area. Our neighbor up the street recently caught a bobcat on record and they are rare for our area. I enjoy seeing the wildlife and because I didn't know if this was a lone male or a female with some kits down in the draw, I refrained from following her into the woods to find out.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tornado Proof Homes

I've written on here more than once about Monolithic Dome homes and the subject always comes to mind when you hear about tragedies like in Moore, Oklahoma. Why don't more people in tornado prone areas build houses that can withstand a direct hit from a tornado with minimal damage? I'm guessing the concrete shell doesn't appeal to a lot of people but the dome pictured above is proof to me that they can be made to look appealing. Coincidentally, the dome pictured above survived a direct hit by a huge hurricane in Florida which did some cosmetic damage but suffered no damage in the living areas. In fact, people sheltered out the hurricane inside. Another dome survived a California wild fire with firefighters inside taking refuge and yes, one has even survived a direct hit by a tornado. It is my hope that someday soon, I shall make my home inside one of these dwellings that will still be around and just as safe decades after I am long gone from this world.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Last Morel Post This Year... I Think

With some of our last bucket of morel mushrooms, my wife made the mushroom sauce that you see above, seared some chicken which she sank into the sauce, added some more stuff and turned it into what you see below. We ate it over some linguine and I must say, it was delicious. The last of our mushrooms I made into a pizza and scarfed down last night so fast that I forgot to take a picture. So I'm fairly certain these will be the last morel mushroom pictures to tease you with until next year.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Grandmas On the Internet

I remember the first time I was exposed to the beginnings of the internet. I was in a computer lab in college working on some project and a fellow student told me to come over and look at something. He showed me how he could go to this address and follow directories down to this particular folder belonging to someone and it was full of pictures... dirty pictures, if you know what I mean. So I understand when others have said that the first two areas to utilize a new form of media is porn and religion.

Back then, when you found a site that you wanted to return too, you wrote down the address as a series of numbers and dots on a piece of paper. Eventually those address got emailed around to a group of friends websites became famous by word of mouth. Soon though a browser hit the scene and made things much easier to find. I remember Netscape as the browser I was first introduced too.

Decades have gone by and I am amazed often at how much things have changed. My daughter is growing up in a world that I never knew at her age and will never be able to imagine a world without the internet. But the world changes and so we must... that is unless we have a finite time left in the world and choose just to ride things out the way they are... or were.

That brings me to the reason for this post. My grandparents are getting along in years and a handful of years ago, made it into the cellphone age. They still turn the thing off when home in Florida and only turn it on occasionally if they need to make a call.  Because of this, I assumed that they would just avoid the whole computer and internet thing altogether. They probably would have if not for another lady in their retirement village who convinced my grandmother to give it a try. My grandmother bought a laptop and someone else was able to connect her up to the internet.

Last Christmas during our visit in Florida, we spent time showing her the ropes of connecting to the internet, what the internet was and how to email people. Once we all got back home, several of us in the family sent her an email to give her some practice. In the response I got back, the entire body of the email was typed in the subject line.

A few weeks later, my grandmother tried to forward me something via email but whatever it was never came through. I emailed her back with general directions of how to forward emails to other people and two tries later, she succeeded. Her first forwarded email to me was one of those spam emails telling some touching story and warning people to forward it on to ten people less the chain be broken. It kind of struck me humorous. Several months have passed and other than the occasional picture I email to her of her great granddaughters, life has continued. Then last week I received the first email from her since the chain breaking spam one. This time is was one of those emails full of pictures on some cute subject like mothers feeding their young of various species. I got to give it to my grandma, at least she is still trying.

This and That

After last week's posts about blues in dealing with service providers and one about dead trees, I thought I would let you know that not all service providers in my life are duds. I did recently hire an electrician to diagnose a problem with two outlets that I couldn't quite figure out. They had no power to them nor could I figure out how they ever had power to them yet I figured that nobody would build a house with outlets that didn't work. As it turned out, a previous occupant had cut the wire to them up in the attic and used it to power some additional light switches added after the fact. The remnants of the wire going to the outlets they conveniently poked down into the stud cavity and left. The electrician was able to route a new power wire through the stud cavity and get it working again. Most surprisingly to me after my recent experiences, he called me ten minutes before he had told me he would be there to say that he was running fifteen minutes late and wondered if I was okay with that. So refreshing.

Baby Abbey is growing so fast. Any day now she is going to roll over completely and thus will be the start of the hard-to-keep-corralled phase. Already she is showing a much different personality than her older sister Little Abbey. Baby Abbey seems to pay lots more attention to her surroundings and her head is always bobbing this way and that checking things out. She seems a little bit more easy going than her sister about things too. Although they look like two peas in a pod when comparing pictures of the same age, I'm positive that their personalities are going to be totally different.

My mother-in-law is in the process of interviewing for her permanent greencard so that she can come and go as she pleases here in the United States. This means that she will be spending lots more time living in the same house. So I keep beating down the feelings of looking forward to this thinking that it will allow me to get a lot more things done that I want to get done while she looks after a mobile Baby Abbey. I keep beating them down because hey, who wants to live with their mother-in-law for more than an afternoon at best! I think that perhaps long term cohabitation might be slightly better once I get her room finished in the basement. That way I can look forward to at least eight hours of mother-in-law-free time plus more if I count the periods of time I will most definitely spend out in the garage and outside during the day.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Morel Madness Has Ended

Note: Dozens of morels WERE harmed (and consumed) in the making of this blog post.

That seasonal madness that hits this part of the world in spring has finally ended. I came staggering from the woods with bags full of mushrooms and headed home to pick off stray ticks and to dream of feasts to come. In all, we had seven and a half gallons of cleaned mushrooms, three and a half have already been consumed as of this writing and perhaps maybe five will be by the time this posts. It was a good year for morel mushrooms.

We went down to the family farm on Mother's Day to celebrate the day by going mushrooming. To me, it seems like the perfect way to tell mom you love her. Although my daughter 'found' some mushrooms last year if we guided her in the right area and did the old hot/cold routine, this year she actually found some on her own. I'm so proud of her. Her patience for tramping for hours in the woods is not quite what it needs to be but she will get there.

It is hard to teach the art of finding morels. I can teach how to find a mushroom machine which is a recently dead elm tree with dozens of mushrooms growing underneath. One only must know what an elm tree looks like and see that it died last year sometime. Teaching to find morels outside of the reaches of a dying elm however is a much harder art to teach. Sometimes I've found them under living silver maple trees but most often times not. Sometimes I've found them in a grove of young boxelder trees but most times not. Many of the mushrooms I find are just there, out in the open in a place that only experience can tell you they are there. I sense the mushrooms many times before I ever see one. I just know that I'm in the right area, the ground cover looks perfect, the amount of sunlight reaching down through the leaves is perfect, the slope of the ground is perfect. It just feels right so I will stop, slowly scan the ground and more often than not, will find wild morels popping out of the ground.

They are not easy to see and blend into the ground cover which is why I miss many of them. Sometimes I find them recovering the ground on the way back to where I came from, other times my wife will sneak behind me and find them but most of the time, they probably remain behind, dry up and spread their goodness for next year. At least I hope they do.

Back home, we soak them in old ice cream buckets and salty water to kill any bugs though this year's crop has been bug free. Then we rinse them and consume them. My favorite way is to lightly bread them with a little flour and Parmesan cheese and fry them. But I will often saute them in a little butter and serve them over burgers, steaks or just about any meat for that extra BAM. Once when we found mushrooms as far as the eye could see in a young boxelder grove, we dehydrated pounds of extras and used them in recipes for the next couple years. However, I've never since been able to find that many and thus we consume what we pick. A couple days ago, I had a mushroom sandwich with a bit of dijon mustard with some leftovers not eaten from the fry the night before. Life is good. Since we have quite a few this year, probably more than we can eat but not enough to bother with dehydrating, I've been contemplating making a wild morel mushroom soup of some sort.

Soon they will be gone and the last of those spores will be consumed by my body and life will return to normal again. It is hard to believe that I've been hunting and eating those things for over three decades now, soon to be four decades. I can't imagine life without morels. I'm certain it wouldn't be worth living in such a world!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

(Graphic) Wild Morels In Captivity

This was last weekend's haul.

For some reason, I made the mistake of encouraging my oldest daughter to try one of the fried morels during supper. She loved it. From that point on it was a free for all to see who could consume their share of fried morels the fastest!

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Dead Oak Blues

I suspected last fall when I cut down 16 dead trees and then hired four more next to the house cut down in early winter, that I hadn't seen the last of them. After several extremely wet years followed by one of the driest in history, the stress put on the trees was just more than they've seen in decades. Unfortunately, it seems as if the hardest trees hit were the black cherry and red/black oak trees. Of the 20 I have had removed, I think 14 were black cherry, 5 oak and one hackberry. Technically the hackberry was a living tree but it was an extremely poor specimen that was leaning way over my garage.

I had three more large oak trees that were losing bark all winter long. All three had leaves on them last fall and all three had buds on them this spring but I suspected that they were all three dead. Two of them were in locations that even I could fall them without endangering anything but one was in a tight spot. It was near a city light pole and the street out front and perhaps of worst of all, was leaning heavily in that direction. I wasn't comfortable with my skills for falling it without landing it across the street or taking out the light pole or both.

A couple weeks ago, my younger brother was up for a visit and as it happens, he is an expert when it comes to falling trees having taken lots of classes and then used those skills for decades with the forest service. I decided to ask his opinion on the oak in the tight spot and he volunteered to help me fall it down the very next day. The next afternoon, he and my father came up and within about 15 minutes, he had fallen it exactly where we wanted away from streets and light poles. It took us another 2 hours with two chainsaws running to cut and stack everything up.

What surprised me was that though the oak tree had buds, it had died after that because all the branch ends were dead and brittle. Based upon that knowledge, I was fairly certain that the other two oaks were also dead but we didn't have time to cut them down so I decided to just wait for everything to leaf out and make sure. Two weeks later, all the oaks have now begun to leaf out except for those two suspect trees. Now I have two more to cut down and process. If I play my cards right, I may be able to time things so that I'm free to do so this fall when my brother is back up for another visit.

Fortunately I still have quite a few living trees scattered around the property and now that things are getting thinned out, the remaining trees should get much stronger since they don't have to compete so much. Next spring, I hope to do some repopulation measures but scattering out some red bud and service berry trees along the perimeter to get some color into our spring.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Air Conditioning Blues

I'm beginning to think either one of three things is happening in my life whenever I hire something done.

A. I am too demanding in wanting things to be done right the first time.
B. The service industry is just gone to hell and doesn't really care if they get repeat customers by providing good service.
C. I'm just the unluckiest guy on earth.

Now I've never been lucky so C is partially correct and I do like things to be done correctly the first time so that it lasts a long time and I don't have to spend a lot of time fixing those things that shouldn't have been done incorrectly the first time around. Despite A and C being partially true, I suspect that B is the biggest factor in my recent fortunes.

Last summer when I moved into this place, the nearly 40 year old air conditioner and heater had seen their better days and were horribly inefficient. I called another local dealer and after three months of calling him and asking him, he finally got me a quote. I paid him some money down and he scheduled my new heating and air conditioning system to be installed the following week. Nearly two months later and after several phonecalls and appointments that he never followed through on, he showed up to install it on the very day my wife went in the labor and I was in the hospital supporting her, the very reason why I had been pushing to get it done two months earlier.

They finally got it installed and in his parting words, he mentioned that he hadn't plugged the air conditioner in yet but that he would be around before spring to get it plugged in and working. Six months later with spring already here and the day forecasted to be very warm, I went outside and plugged in the air conditioner since the installer had never been back yet. The thing ran but didn't cool anything down and I suspected that he hadn't charged the system yet. So I called him and asked if he could do so.

He said he was extremely busy that day (which is why I thought he should have done it on one of those days in the last six months when it wasn't so hot out) and that he would be there the next morning to fix it up. I told him I appreciated it because the next day was forecasted to be just as hot. So I sweated all day long and well into the night thinking that the next day would be cooler for me. The next day came and went and ten minutes before five, typical quitting time, I finally called to see where the installation guy was. I was told he would be paged and a half hour later he showed up and said that he didn't have the equipment to do the job and that he would do it the next morning.

Again the next day passed by, fortunately cool enough I didn't want the air conditioner, and the installer still didn't show up. Again I called to inquire if he was going to show up and this time he called back to say that it was raining so he couldn't do the service required. It indeed had started raining about four o'clock in the afternoon but had been dry all morning. He told me he would definitely get it done sometime in the next two days.

I'm not sure what the deal is but if I were running a business and someone paid me completely for a working system six months ago, by gosh it would be working... at least before they needed to use the various components. If by some chance it needed some work and they made an appointment with me, I would not have them wait for me for two days and never call them once to let them know that I wasn't going to be there. I would be afraid that this person would never give me anymore business for my atrocious customer service.

Eventually both days passed without any sign or word from the dealer and a third day in the form of Sunday passed by also. I called him up yet again on Monday and told the same secretary that the first three appointments I've made have been a bust and I want to make a fourth one that morning or else. She promised to page the dealer and have him call me back... as always. The fourth time must have been a charm because about an hour later, a guy whom I've never seen thus far, showed up and started charging the air conditioner. He didn't call ahead of time as promised and had I not been around, I'm guessing I wouldn't have gotten any word that work had been completed. But at this point I don't care. The air conditioner is finally working and I can use it at my convenience instead of some dealer who obviously doesn't care about his reputation. I hope it works for many years to come because when it doesn't, I'm definitely not going back to this guy.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dishwasher Blues

When we moved to our new-to-us home, one of the first things that caught my eye was the dishwasher. It was one of those prehistoric looking beasts that came out about the time man first learned that washing dishes could be done by a machine. It had seen its better days and washed about one step better than my old dog and his tongue was able too. But wash it did and thus is survived in our house for almost a year until one day it finally died.

I stopped in at a local mom and pop owned appliance store which as it turned out was about to be moved lock, stock and barrel to a new location. Thus I was able to score a sweet deal on a show model so it was one less thing that had to be moved. Two days later it was 'installed'.

I am a somewhat handy guy but when it comes to plumbing, I try to avoid projects involving it at all costs. It involves trying to squeeze my way too tall frame under tight sinks and other assorted spaces and having to make repeated trips to the stores to find all the various fittings needed to hook things together. I replaced a faucet set on our sink soon after moving in because it was leaking and I think I ended up making four trips over three days to finish that project. So I paid for installation of the new dishwasher which also had the bonus of them disposing of the old one.

Two days later, the installation man showed up and spent a couple hours installing the dishwasher. We decided to spend a few extra bucks to get one with hidden controls on the top edge of the dishwasher to match everything else in the kitchen so when I walked into the kitchen near the end of the installation process, I was surprised to see that the 'hidden' controls were about two inches from being under the counter top. I asked the installation guy if there was some reason he couldn't push the dishwasher back another two inches to hide the controls as they were designed to be and he gave me some bullshit excuse about a gasket on the side that needed to seal the dishwasher to the cabinet and hide the small gap there. At the time, I thought it was a bullshit excuse but since I am not a dishwasher guy and am not familiar with the latest and greatest designs, I bit my tongue and let him finish up.

Soon after he left, I read through the instruction manual and found nothing stating what he had told me. In fact, it plainly stated that you were supposed to push the machine back until the front of it was flush with the front of the cabinets. So I undid two screws, pushed it back, reinstalled the screws and thought all was right with the world. It looked nice but I soon found that pushing it back caused it to tip forward due to a crappy tilting tile right under the front legs and that caused the racks to come hurtling out at you when the door was open. So I leveled it all out again and all was right with the world... again.

But within about two or three openings of the door, the door stopped opening level anymore. I inspected it and found that the insulation around the tub was interfering with the hinge and binding it up. I pushed it back a few times with a small screw driver but it would never stay out of the way. So I pulled out the dishwasher one more time and cut a corner off the insulation like it showed in the manual, shoved it back in place and all was right with the world... again... for a few more openings.

The insulation started binding again so I pulled it out yet again and enlarged the cutout generously this time and got everything pushed back, reinstalled and leveled out. All was right with the world... again. But after nearly taking out my shin, I realized that whenever I opened the thing, the heavy door just fell open. It wasn't like the restrained opening of all the other dishwashers I have been familiar with in my life. After reading the installation manual again, I discovered that there was a procedure for tensioning the door opening springs to ease opening and closing the door but it involved pulling the dishwasher out yet again.

Once I had the thing pulled back out from under the cabinets, something I was getting surprisingly good at, I discovered that I was missing one of the two springs that I was supposed to tension. I called the dealer and told him that I was missing the spring, (and biting my tongue on the poor installation job to begin with) and he promised to take care of it. He hired another appliance dealer here in town (not sure what kind of deal they have?) to come out and see what was the matter, not believing me when I told him that the spring was missing. The other dealer showed up and within about two seconds, told me that it was missing a spring and he would have to order one and come back again.

True to his word, the other appliance dealer showed up a couple days later and soon had the missing spring installed. He was incredulous when I told him about them not shoving the dishwasher back underneath the countertop as it was designed and also the fact that they didn't clip the corner of the insulation to prevent interference with the hinges. He also pointed out that the original installation guy didn't install the drain hose up above the sink drain height as per code. It is nothing serious but if my sink were to back up for some reason, something I have never had happen, it could drain back into the dishwasher. So finally I have a perfectly working dishwasher once again and I've learned a valuable lesson. Not all local appliance dealers are created equal.

P.S. A couple days after writing this, the insulation once again got caught on the springs. Definitely a design flaw of making the springs without some sort of shielding from the insulation. Fortunately by now I was a pro so I had the sucker slid out, the insulation pushed back out of the way and slid back in, all in about fifteen minutes.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Garage Selling

No I'm not selling my garage but we did spend a day selling out of our garage. Back when we sold one house and bought another one, technically we bought a second house and then later sold the first, we thought about unloading some of our stuff first before moving. But in the end, we decided that since we got a bulk moving rate and it would cost us the same whether we unloaded some stuff first or not, that we might as well move it and decide later. In other words we punted and decided to see what stuff we would use at our new home.

After shuffling cardboard boxes of extra stuff around all last fall and all through the winter, we chose a nice spring weekend a couple weeks ago as D-day and advertised a garage sale. It went well and we made a little over $300 in just under 4 hours which isn't too shabby, especially for stuff that I probably would have paid someone just to take it all.

We advertised as beginning the sale at 8 in the morning but by 7:30, we already had a dozen cars parked in front of our house. By 7:45, we had gotten through with breakfast so I went out to open the garage doors to move all the furniture outside onto the driveway. It was about like opening the car door while under water. I had to wait for all the people to pour through the opening of the garage before I could shuffle the furniture outside.

Because we weren't in the sale for making large amounts of money, we had things priced to sell fast and sell fast it did. I'm guessing that 50% of what we started with was gone in the first hour and about 25% of what we started with gone in the next hour. We probably sold only another 20% of what we started with over the next two hours. Because the trickle of people by then slowed to only one car every fifteen minutes or so, we boxed up the last 5% of stuff, put it in three medium sized moving boxes and it will be going to good will. Besides that, I had a half trashbag full of mostly price signs and some debris that went into the trash bin. There is no doubt about it, holding a garage sale is the environmentally friendly thing to do.

Since we live on the very edge of city limits and for all practical purposes, out in the country, I wasn't sure what kind of crowd we would get. We probably got 300+ cars stop and check out our garage sale which I think was a fantastic turnout. I suspect part of that reason is that we bought the cheapest house in an upscale neighborhood. So when people read the location, they thought we may have been one of the other much much nicer much much bigger homes in the area and suspected we had better stuff to get rid of. They were probably disappointed to see our tiny run down home that I'm fixing up but probably stopped to check out the sale since they were already out here. The other reason I found out belatedly, that one of our neighbors holds a huge annual garage sale every year in early summer and gets people to bring stuff for it from several nearby states. She said her net sales last year was around $4000! Before she stopped by and told me this, I heard several different people mention that when they read our ad in the paper, they thought it was the neighbor's annual garage sale. So we got a few people out here on someone else's reputation. Since she does her sale annually, we gladly told her that we would coincide our with hers if we have another one in the future. It helps us get more customers and we can save another $20 that I paid for the classified ad.

Secretly, I love trying to entice people into buying something they probably don't need but something I want to get rid of. On some of the furniture and other things, we would put a higher price on it than we needed from it and then just kept an eye on it. When someone showed interest, I would tell them that I would make them a deal and slash the price by 25 or 50% right on the spot. They almost always bought it then because it was too good to pass up. Other things though we priced just right and I didn't haggle over them. I sold my push mower since my lawn is way too big to use it to mow unless I have 10 hours of walking up and down the steep hillside free to spend. I priced it to move and within 15 minutes after I opened the door, I had three people digging in their pockets to be the first person to cough up the money I asked for it. The man who hurriedly thrust it in my hand walked away with it and I had another 20 people throughout the day ask if I still had it. I should have asked more.

My daughter has been given an amazing amount of toys for birthdays and holidays over the years and is loathe to part from any of it. I know they were given to her because I certainly didn't buy all that stuff! So I gave her an incentive and told her that any money she made from selling her toys, she could keep and spend any way she desires. She spent a week agonizing over which toys to sell and what to price them for with a little help from us on the pricing part. She was hoping for enough money to buy a barbie doll that she has had her eyes on and by the end of the morning, she had sold every single toy she put up for sale and made $31, more than enough for her doll. I'm proud of her because it teaches her the value of possessions and the power of money all in one fell swoop. I suspect if we have another sale someday, she will be selling a lot more stuff. The downside is that she has asked me several times when she can go shopping!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Dead Squirrel

What do you get when a squirrel crosses a line fuse and touches both sides? A dead squirrel and a power outage at my place for a couple hours until the electric company could pop in a new fuse. It made a bang so loud, it had me diving for cover thinking someone was unloading a shotgun in my direction. My daughter enjoyed poking this guy with a stick and commenting on why he was so stiff. Since there probably wasn't enough time for rigor mortis to set in (how long for a squirrel anyway?) I'm guessing the electrical current did a number on the muscles because this guy was rock hard. Perhaps he was just cooked well done inside. Either way, he won't make that mistake again.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Mrs. Z

After the previously mentioned dinner where I had the priceless moment with the person responsible for taking my job away, we continued on to the reason we had come back to our old town, the surprise party for Mrs. Z. Mrs. Z was the daycare lady who came to our rescue when nobody would and took our daughter in.

When our daughter was born, I started looking for daycares to take care of her when my wife's maternity leaved ended in three months. I quickly learned that I should have started when we first discovered that my wife was pregnant because daycares were full all over town and had waiting lists. After much calling, begging and pleading, I finally found someone who agreed to take my daughter but she left a lot to be desired. She didn't seem like someone you would trust with ten bucks much less your flesh and blood. But with no choice, we decided to give her a chance until we could find someone else. A week before my wife was to go back to work and the very day we were supposed to introduce our daughter to her, she called and said she wasn't doing daycare anymore. I had a week to find someone else when it took me a month of calling to locate her.

I started calling all the daycare providers around town pleading my case and again, I was rejected. Most wouldn't take care of three month babies or by law were restricted to only two and they already had two. Several recommended Mrs. Z when I asked for recommendations and so I called her one day. She said she already had one baby and wasn't really interested in two at one time. However, she told me that if I couldn't find someone else in a few days to give her a call back and she'd maybe reconsider.

Two days later I called back and she agreed to meet us and decide. We showed up to the meeting nervous as all get out because she truly was our only hope. It didn't help that in the middle of the interview our daughter had a huge poop that blew out of her diaper and left us with a mess that we had to clean up all the while pleasantly chatting with Mrs. Z and trying to put on a good impression. Fortunately the poop didn't phase Mrs. Z and she agreed to give our daughter a try for a week to see how things would go. Fortunately our daughter was easy to take care of and she agreed to take her full time. That began our five year relationship with Mrs. Z.

Eventually when our daughter began school, we had to take her out of Mrs. Z's daycare because the school bus wouldn't stop at her house. I either had to put our daughter in a commercial daycare or shuttle my daughter a dozen times a week while constantly excusing myself from my job. I chose the former. It was sad to leave Mrs. Z but I didn't have much of a choice.

So when we got the call to a surprise party for Mrs. Z, we were delighted to show up. Unfortunately, we were the ones surprised. Oh Mrs. Z was surprised and thrilled that we showed up and she got to meet our newest daughter but she surprised us with the news that she has terminal cancer of the bile ducts. She was diagnosed in January and told that 50% of people with her diagnosis die within six months and the other 50% die within a year. Her husband had just retired the year before and she had been flirting with retirement so that they could spend time traveling and now she could die at any moment and for sure before the end of the year. It kind of put a somber tone to the party.

I hope she is able to make peace with herself and everyone around her before she goes. I wouldn't wish that diagnosis on anybody, even the division president who took offence to my frankness and took my job away. It did get me thinking though that perhaps everything has a reason. When I lost my first job due to the tech bubble crash, I found an even better job and a girl whom I later married. When I quit my second job due to an alcoholic boss who was running the business into the ground, I found my last job which guaranteed my desired retirement plus some in nine short years of working there. Perhaps me opening my mouth and losing my job worked out for the best. Had I still been gainfully employed, I would be in the situation of trying to find a new daycare for two daughters, one who is still a baby and thus runs into the legal issues of how many a daycare can have at any given time. On top of this, I would have to do this while still working with Mrs. Z with a terminal disease and plans to continue running her daycare until she checks out or is unable to continue. Definitely a sticky situation, and one that would cause me untold amounts of stress.

So fortunately, I don't have to make those decisions or find a new daycare provider that I feel comfortable with for my daughters. Instead, I just have to pray for Mrs. Z and for a peaceful end to her disease. I will still have to explain to my oldest daughter Mrs. Z's death when the times comes and I'm sure that will break Little Abbey's heart as it will mine, but hopefully she beats the odds and that day is still many months yet to come.