Weekend Wrap-ups

May 4, 2004

Well, apparently I continue my habit of being remiss with my blog updates. To compensate, let’s see if I can fill in the blanks all in one post. Let’s start approximately two weekends ago on the weekend of April 24th.

On April 24th, the wife threw a birthday party for me on account of me turning 70 and all. The timing of this event was appropriate, as it took place during my birthday weekend which is itself part of my longer birthday week celebration. I had a grand time, which was unsurprising. There’s not much to complain about when people are celebrating me. In any case, I had a couple of side notes:

* – First of all, I really have to thank everyone who attended. Your presents rocked! By last count, I received $0 in cash. I’m not quite sure if my recent purchase of a camper made my wants apparent but the result was that I now have a bunch of cool stuff that I didn’t before. Thanks.

* – I know I didn’t get around to everyone but that’s the nature of the beast. Hopefully, you got a tour of my new toy, as my brother convinced me to open it and show it off. Hopefully, your child (if you had one) or you (if not) got a chance to run through the tunnel a couple of times. If not, there’s always next year or, if I can help it, a summer cookout on the way. At the very least, let’s hope you found the cooler of beer. A couple of dark green bottles of Yuengling were available to help you forget the horrors of it all (this applies to those I did get around to greeting as well).

On the following Sunday, I attended the simultaneous birthday parties of both my stepfather and stepsister. I’ve never been a huge fan of simultaneous celebrations myself (as my birthday is mine, Mine, MINE) but the rapid-fire nature of their special days and the logistics of getting everyone together definitely favored the event. They didn’t seem to mind — no one blew out the other’s candles, for example.

Fast-forwarding to last weekend, the weekend of May 1st, a friend and I took off to Greenbrier State Park. A weekend of fishing, hiking, and generally being mountain men was ahead. Our wives and children were left home to tend to the fort. Here are a couple of short notes from that trip as well:

* – Take it from me. You don’t want to learn you are traveling in the wrong direction by inspecting welcome signs from adjoining states.

* – The answer to the question “How far are we away?” is not “Two thumbs.”

* – Thank God the weather help up. It was striking to find the park so empty on days as wonderful as Friday and Saturday (at least until nightfall). The beach was entirely empty. Note to self: make a reservation for this time next year.

* – A fishing trip is not considered a failure when all you catch is pity fish. For the second straight fishing attempt, my rod and reel remained almost entirely silent. However, the nice elderly gentleman who literally dropped three 12 inch trout in our lap kept our spirits up. A couple of fish decapitations later, our stomachs agreed.

* – It’s nice to get away. It’s nice to have a forum to express manliness between bottles of beer. It’s nice to know that two men can feed themselves for a weekend sans their wives and sans a stove.

* – It’s also nice to return home. It’s great to feel the welcome of warm arms and hear the giddiness of a couple of shrieks. Hey hubby. Hey daddy. Welcome back.

Ok, now I feel all caught up.

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Apr 23, 2004

I turned 70 today and, yes, I’m still counting down. It won’t be a habit unless I continue to do it.

Birthdays are great and, thankfully, I still feel young enough to believe that. I’m not concerned about any rapidly approaching expiration dates (beyond that of the milk I drank this morning) and I’m far from ready to spend too much time pondering the past or considering the future. The present is pretty grand in itself. It features all the things I really need – a great wife and kid, several lasting friends, a generous family, a paying job, and my health. I’m happy to hang out in it.

As birthday wishes rain down (I just received a personal rendition of Happy Birthday from my father. I believe he’s a baritone.), I’ll put all that getting old stuff aside in favor of playing with my toys. Oh yes, toys. What would a birthday be without them?

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Apr 13, 2004

Wow, I’ve been busy the last couple of weeks. It’s not hard to notice the lack of activity around here. Life got in the way of my time here and it shows, or doesn’t show depending on your perspective.

The real culprit is work. I’d love to be able to plan out the fits and starts in my schedule but that never seems to be. Work has robbed me of nearly all my free time over the last couple of weeks, leaving me with a bunch of half written blogs now aching to be revised with a eye toward the past tense.

It’s a bummer.

I like to keep the content around here fresh, both because it keeps me actively writing (and — imagine the horror — even thinking) and because I fear I’ll lose what little audience I have if there just isn’t anything interesting around to read (which, by the way, isn’t guaranteed even if I am actively updating).

In the near future, at least, it looks like I’ll be able to keep life at bay, allowing me some time to whittle away at the keyboard. Maybe I’ll even get off my butt and write a blog or two. Stranger things have happened, you know, like this.

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Mar 24, 2004

I just noticed that both my last entry and the first link in that entry feature a picture of my son wearing the very same clothes. This reminds me of the feeling I get when realize that I’m currently wearing the outfit found on my work badge mugshot and that my badge is three years old (not that this has ever happened). If you didn’t happen to notice this, it really isn’t true. I swear.

If you did, let me assure you of a couple things:

1) He has more than one set of clothes. Yes, I like this outfit – it says casual with just that touch of dressy stud that khaki pants brings – and, yes, I likely dressed him both days. But there are other outfits. Even if there was only one outfit, Christmas and his birthday would surely bring some other choices. The fact that he’d have until at least December is an entirely separate issue. I am not biding my time, mostly.

2) The pictures were shot at different times, presumably days and laundry tubs apart. He should smell wonderfully clean in both pictures, assuming that the hidden diaper in each shot was cooperating at the time.

3) I did not realize this coincidence ahead of time but, even if I had, the result would only have affected the planning. I have two incredibly cute pictures. How can I not share them both?

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Camping Blind

Mar 6, 2004

The wife and I spent the weekend playing with our camper. After a few laborious twists and turns needed to back it around our chimney, through the fence, and into the back yard on Friday night, we were more than ready to spend both Saturday and Sunday first playing with and then packing our new toy. It’s almost ready to go, and so are we.

The problem is we aren’t so sure where — exactly — to go. Don’t get me wrong. We’ve been exploring our options. We spent some internet time searching for destinations close by. We spent our final hour or so of the RV show, perusing a corridor of campground cubicles.

But a pamphlet or website only tells you so much. The good stuff is in bright letters. The negatives are left for fine print. A pamphlet won’t tell you how close the campsites are. A good pamphlet won’t mention the junkyard next door or that funny odor that comes from campsite T8. It surely won’t mention sinks or the bathroom floors, much less the nasty thing that crawls out of the toilet after midnight.

It’s hard to get a good feel for a temporary place of residence from three shiny pages. We want to know the kind of crowd the place attracts. We want to know if we are more likely to be running from a bear or running from a square dance.

We know of a couple of sure things. We already have reservations at Granite Hill in Pennsylvania. We’ve been there twice, both under the protection of my brother-in-law’s camper. It’s a nice place with a great family atmosphere. There is plenty to do and that doesn’t even count the Civil War town of Gettysburg that it borders.

Rocky Gap State Park is also high on the list. We’ve been there a couple of times under a tent. Lake Habeeb provides a nice place to swim, boat, and fish and the park itself is about the perfect distance from Baltimore. It gets just enough mountains between you and the city.

Other possibilities include Elk Neck State Park on the Chesapeake Bay, where we were treated to a weekend of rain last time out, and Greenbrier State Park, a place we’ve visited several times but have never bothered to spend the night. Other than that, we are largely in the dark with respect to camping choices and we are anxiously campaigning both friends and family for promising choices.

Probably the most important factor in our decision making is distance. Distance to the wife and I is now measured in the number of hours we believe we can keep little Cambell happy. He’s a good trooper in the car but every child has their limits. Spurts of about 2 hours at a time is probably expecting a little too much from him, without a good nap sometime in the middle. We know we can hit three hours without incident. That’s been proven. This year, we plan to stretch that number quite a bit. Still, a trip to the Grand Canyon is out.

I know I’ll have fun visiting some of the local, and semi-local sites around us but at least once (and, hopefully, more than once) we need to use our toy to do something entirely new. Niagra Falls has been brought up in conversation. A trip South is not entirely out of the question.

We expect to tour the surrounding countryside quite a bit this spring, summer, and fall and I’m looking for suggestions. Send some in, if you would. The rainy weather of this weekend may have temporarily soured my camping spirits but spring is on its way. Pretty soon I’m going to feel all dressed up with no place to go.

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Roughing It

Feb 21, 2004

The wife and I have decided to become one with nature. We want to experience the forest and the grass. We want to see the wildlife. We want to sleep under the stars and breathe fresh mountain air. We want a camper.

I know. I know. Some of you may question our techniques but becoming one with nature doesn’t mean you need to light your own fires or wake up with a stick in your back. Being one with nature is having your own potty. Being one with nature is having heat and a toilet. Or maybe not.

The wife and I have used all sorts of arguments to convince ourselves it is a good idea. It costs less than a hotel room (minus the costs of the camper itself, of course). We can take the dog (when he not driving the wife insane). We can go anywhere we want (as if we were somehow restricted before). None of these arguments are as good, or even as true, as the real one: we believe it will be fun — and not just fun for the two of us. It’ll be fun for the whole family.

I should blame the brother-in-law. He really started all of this. I was happy with our tent pitching ways and he had to show us how the other half lives. It’s not like I don’t remember. I spent a large portion of my childhood camping. My parents had a 28 foot camper that was my little playground. Bunk beds housed my brothers and I in the back. My sister got the converted dining room table in the middle and my parents slept in the big bed up front. It wasn’t vacation without loading up the Cadillac and towing that monstrosity somewhere West.

My wife, on the other hand, is in unfamiliar territory. Her family didn’t spend their time on the camping circuit. Our tent is really her first tiny home away from home. This talk of camp fires is more of an adult activity and largely my doing. Her brother was the first in her family to really step up to the camping plate. It turns out we won’t be all that far behind.

See, we’re past the thinking stage. Today, we put our money where our dreams are. We bought a popup camper.

2004 Fleetwood Niagra

Popup campers aren’t what they used to be. Ours comes with all the features of home. Heat and air conditioning top the list. Heat lets us extend the camping season without losing a limb to frostbite. Air conditioning lets us ignore the summer forecast a bit. I won’t be sleeping in a pool of my own sweat and, more importantly, neither will my child.

The bathroom and shower are next. The bathroom isn’t a necessity for me — I can use a tree — but the wife tends to squat when she pees. Cambell won’t be dressing for a cold trip to the campsite toilet in the middle of the night. That’s a huge relief to all three of us. The shower gives us easy place to find a warm rinse off if the campsite doesn’t provide one and a convenient place to wash the child no matter what the weather.

Probably the coolest feature is that it not only bumps out (the term for the two beds that shoot out the ends of a popup) but it slides out on the side. The whole dinette pushes out to give you floor space, space that can house a pack-and-play if need be (and need be).

Other features just round out the package. The kitchen sports a stove (in addition to a second stove for the outside) and a sink. There’s a ton of storage and even a cable TV hookup, if we really want to forget that were camping.  As far as popup campers go, this one is close to the top of the line.

To say we are excited is an understatement. We’re ready to hook this thing behind the Xterra. We’re ready to hit the road. We have visions of traveling far and wide. We’ll see the world! I tell ya.

Ok, we might start someplace a bit closer, like here or here. But we’ll get out there sometime. We’ll soak in the sun. We’ll visit new places and stay under the trees. And, yes, we might just listen to the light hum of the air conditioning. Ah, nature. Don’t you love it?

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Remote Dedication

Jan 22, 2004

A surreal thing happened to me last night as I logged into my home computer for some work at 11:00 pm. I realized I wasn’t alone. It seemed that everyone and their mother was doing the same as I: spending a quiet Wednesday evening working in front of their PCs.

My work night started with a little email. Quick replies came from both my project manager and the project tech lead. I sent an IM to a coworker that was mired in tasks to complete. His response made it clear that he wouldn’t be clocking out anytime soon. I assigned a problem to another coworker. A response to the issue was immediate. A little later a software problem report landed on my desk (figuratively, of course). It was entered by one tester and edited by another — all after the stroke of midnight. I was by no means alone. In fact, my virtual workspace was a little crowded.

One interesting aspect of the whole thing was that many of the folks I interacted with that night were in the comfort of their own home. The wonders of telecommuting mean that a view of the office is no longer a requirement of actually performing work. People could contribute their time without having to factor in their actual location and many took advantage of the opportunity.

I can’t say I was surprised — I’ve worked with several of these folks for a while and have no doubts of their dedication to the job — but color me impressed. I didn’t really expect the virtual workplace to work so smoothly and my coworkers again demonstrated why I hold them in high regard. That’s pretty cool and I’m always looking for cool things when 1:00 am is quitting time.

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I woke yesterday morning to a knock at my door. I might not have heard it if it were not for the dog. I’m not normally expecting visitors at 6:15 am.

I wandered downstairs in my very own sleep-induced walk and fumbled for the light switch. The Christmas tree lit up. That wasn’t exactly what I was going for. A flurried, and useless, look through the peephole revealed nothing of my visitor. I decided to take my chances and open the door. I had my ferocious dog to protect me. If there was danger, maybe he would lick it to death.

Danger did not lurk on the other side but what did was a good view of why I was awoken from my sleep. “I hit your car,” were the words that greeted me. Our truck had received a bit of a spanking, courtesy of a neighbor who couldn’t be bothered to scrape the ice off her windows; a simple porthole is not enough. “I’ll be back,” I said as I hurried upstairs for a pair of sweatpants.

Today we discovered the truck was undrivable. The tailpipe is bent over backwards. I spent the morning waiting for a rental car. I could hardly contain my excitement over the tiny Chevy Cavalier the family will be limited to this Christmas season. Is there a kicker to this whole episode? Yep. It turns out the neighbor was uninsured. Here comes Mr. Deductible. A very uncomfortable, but necessary, visit to the neighbor’s house will be in order.

All this came on the heels of a hellish weekend. The whole Wootton family got sick this weekend. The wife and child were very sick, as was I for a while. The result was a very quick indoctrination to real parenting. The flu epidemic got us and got us good. Thankfully, the worst seems to be over. We’re barely carriers of the plague anymore! Not only can we breathe easy, we can breathe.

On the (kind of) upside, we picked out a new front door today. It’s just one of the several projects to come at our home. The old door is beaten to hell and sports the oddest door handle I’ve ever seen. Someone mentioned to me the other day that if a thief ever got in our house, they’d never figure out how to leave; the handle would have them puzzled for hours. We’re hoping the new door is better at stopping thieves from getting in, not out.

I’m taking a weatherman’s approach (i.e. I’m making a wild guess) towards the future. I’m hoping I have time to finish Christmas shopping in between the phone calls to the bank, contractors, bodyshops, and insurance companies. I’m really looking forward to Christmas itself, despite the fact that the house looks much like all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are still standing around discussing the remains of a Mr. Humpty Dumpty. We’ll take our lumps and make sugar. And maybe if I whine long enough that’ll be just what we need to make a batch of the wife’s cookies.

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I’ve been musing about the light outside my basement door. A couple of weeks ago, I shattered the bulb trying to change it and, while trying to fix my newfound problem, I made things worse. Long story short, I need a new light.

If that little light behind my house was all I had to worry about, I’d count myself lucky. It’s not. If I was forced to rank my worries in order, I’d have to say that light is somewhere around 162, give or take two. Yep, that sounds just about right.

Topping my list is mold and I’m not talking about a science project left in the fridge too long. A couple of weeks ago, the sump pump in our crawl space overflowed. Oddly enough, the pump appeared to be fine. The basin that collects the water was the problem. It had disintegrated. Water wasn’t looking for an escape through the conveniently placed pipes nearby. It was spreading directly into the crawlspace. For a while — and exactly how long, I’m unsure — we had our very own creek located right under us.

This didn’t seem like a very big deal. I was able to get the pump working and we bought a humidifier to clean up the leftovers. A couple of days later, our designated builder (the wife’s brother) sent a crew (consisting of her nephew) to replace the pump (lock, stock, and, most importantly, barrel).

Obviously, that wasn’t the end of the story. Shortly thereafter, I discovered mold between the rocks in the crawlspace. I pulled up some nearby boxes (we use our crawlspace as a storage area) and found more problems. The bottom of several boxes revealed even more mold. This didn’t look good. We called in some folks to do testing.

The test results confirmed our fears. Mold had found its way into our basement. It was in the crawlspace. It was in the rafters of the crawlspace and it was all over a leak near our fireplace. It was bad mold — evil mold, if you will. We needed to take action and we needed to take action fast. Mold of the evil variety isn’t that big of a deal to the wife and I. Factor in our 11 month old son and you have another story altogether.

What followed was a whirlwind of events. We quickly found a contractor willing to come in and fix our problems. We needed the mold removed. We needed our fireplace leak repaired. We needed all of this now.

The leak would be fixed by waterproofing the basement. We knew about the leak. In fact, we believe we can prove that the previous owner maliciously sold us the house without mentioning the leak. However, it was expensive to fix. Pipes needed to be run between the leak and our sump pump. These drainage pipes would carry the water to the pump and, eventually out of the house. The problem was that everything between the leak and the sump pump would be damaged. The floor would need to be destroyed to place the pipes into the concrete. The built in cabinet would need to be removed to get at the leak. We decided to waterproof the entire wall, meaning the wall would be left without – well – a wall.

Sadly, the mold was a bigger deal, at least in terms of overall price. Specialists cost money and this was no exception. They brought in their equipment to contain the mold. They wore heavy gloves and masks. We lost a lot of stuff we stored in the crawlspace but that wasn’t our real concern. We wanted to make sure it didn’t come back.

We added a couple of things to the bill to accomplish this. The crawlspace lacked ventilation of any kind. A humidex would fix that. The floor of the crawlspace is made up of simple dirt and stone. An extra sump pump and plastic sealer would help us out there.

The total bill was rather impressive, impressive enough that we spent Tuesday at the bank acquiring a home equity line of credit. I’m still getting over the cost and there’s more work to do. The mold is gone but the construction is just beginning. We’re still redesigning the basement. Hardwood floors? Maybe. A whole lot less paneling? Definitely. And what about the bathroom?

So, I’ve been musing a bit about my light out back when I have no shortage of more important things to think about. Why? I’m of the opinion that when the least of my worries is finally taken care of, the bulk of my worries will quite likely be history. At least, I’m hoping.

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I brought a new mug into work the other day — something that was due, given that I lost my company mug about a year ago. I have a problem with it, though. While it just exudes coolness, with its Marvin the Martian motif, it’s considerably bigger than a normal mug. My cups of coffee are now 1/2 cups of coffee. I don’t know if I like having all that extra space.

The wife and I watched the return of 8 Simple Rules sans Jon Ritter this week. While I’d have to say the return episode wasn’t too shabby — it was emotional without feeling contrived, I don’t know how they’ll continue the show without their lead character. This isn’t like replacing a red shirt on Star Trek. He was the show. It’s too bad, really. Before his death, it was quickly becoming the only show on ABC worth watching.

The wife and I spent much of Saturday at a birthday party for the now two year old daughter of our good friends. I felt a little bad for our friends at the result; some of their planning backfired. A joyous pinata party ended up being a ritual hanging where all the kids took turns beating Sponge Bob with a stick. I hope she recovers soon. The birthday cake probably cheered her up. It contained what was left of his Square Pants after we carved him up.

We ended the night by catching the lunar eclipse. It was pretty wild to watch the moon and a star align. It’s like watching parent earth punish its unruly kids. You go to that corner and you go to that corner. It was first time I actually watched an eclipse occur. We got the telescope out and everything. I even got a long exposure picture, using the last of the film I bought specifically for photographing stars while I was in Hawaii.

After those fluffy things in the sky, quite literally, clouded our vision, the wife and I headed in from the sudden cold for some hot chocolate. Yummm. I was hardly surprised that we collapsed while watching Finding Nemo. This time my mug was completely full.

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