Up Too Early?

I couldn’t sleep.  The clock said 5:30.  Then my son stirred and I went in to see him.  He went back to sleep.  I didn’t.  I considered sitting outside for a while.  It’s too wet.  It rained and rained last night.  More rain.

I finished reading Steinbeck’s Winter of Our Discontent recently.  It takes place in 1960.  A different time.  I can’t stop thinking about it.  The story line is not particularly complex but the characters are so deeply drawn that the story is a deep one.  Our hero leads a happy life, one of simplicity and ease but his family and others, and himself, point out how his family was once a great one in the town and how he once had a fortune.  This leads him to make some choices to “get rich.”  I figured, half way through, that the story would have one of two endings.  Either he succeeds at getting rich and shows everyone that being a good guy can pay off, or he crashes and burns and we learn how only the ruthless can succeed.

Like life, the ending isn’t so simple.  He does manage to overcome some challenges and find a way to increase his financial resources.  He “gets rich.”  The story, however, tangles with two big questions for me.  What is really important in life?  And what is the nature of morality?  Before he began to make any changes to make his new fortune, our hero is a grocery clerk, the only one in the local store (remember this is 1960 and the interstate highway system that feeds today’s supermarkets is in its infancy), and he is happy, mostly.  His relationships with his friends and neighbors are genuine and positive.  Those become complicated and darker.  He keeps secrets from his wife.  His son, who already has the idea that one can make it in the world by cheating, sees that maybe hard work isn’t necessary after all.

The hero, Ethan Allen Hawley, has two teenaged children and a devoted and loving wife.  I couldn’t help imagining my own life when my two children grow just slightly older.  What will my relationship with those three most important people in my life be like?  How will the choices I make affect them?  What will I teach my children with the choices I make about work, money, love, friendship?  Ethan makes some decisions that today would seem acceptable to most people, almost 50 years later, but he struggles with them so much he considers suicide.  Can one get rich and maintain a true moral compass?  Can one do business with someone and still remain friends?  Why do we need to get rich anyway?

I guess part of the reason Ethan stands out for me is that he is a thinker.  He really thinks about all the pieces of his life.  He carefully considers how every decision, every act, will affect otehrs.  When his world is the simple one of a grocery clerk, the answers are simple ones.  Once he starts making big changes, his thinking becomes tangled.  He still thinks a lot but it means lots of mental wrestling, rather than mental play.  Things aren’t so simple.  I guess I can relate to that.  I tend to think a lot as well.  If I were the one opening the grocery store, I can imagine myself, like Ethan, sermonizing to the canned goods.  Talking aloud helps me think better, as it does for our hero.

I keep thinking now, about the book, about my own choices, about where I might be headed.  I think about morality.  What is good?  How does one live the decent life?  And what is that anyway?  I am going away for a week with my family.  I will have some time to ponder these questions.  My children are awake now.  Water still drips from the eaves.  Time to make coffee.  This day, at least, will be one filled with thought, but hopefully, no great choices to make.  Drip drip, the rain falls.  Then everything dries.  And then, at a time no one can say, it will rain again.


My daughter really wanted a bouquet for dinner.  She and her brother had pulled the small table from the porch onto the lawn and had spread out a blanket.  She wanted, in fact, a picnic bouquet.  “We’ll set out everything on the little table here and then just take what we want,” she explained.  And she and her brother worked to make it all happen, albeit with a few spills on the way.  Dinner was a fine and fulfilling buffet.

Sick of It Then Ready to Crank

If you have ever done any painting then you know how much prep needs to go into getting it done right.  I have spent a lot of time prepping to paint the trim on our house this summer and a little time painting.  I plucked away all day at it and did do some final painting.  I did everything to prep another side of the house and it is finally ready for some real paint.  By that time, however, I was sick of it.  I had had enough for the day.  I called it quits.

I was hoping to be further along by now and I was hoping to paint all the trim by the end of summer.  By the time I dropped the roll of masking tape next to the paint cans I was feeling like that is just too daunting.  I want to get it done but I want to do other stuff as well.  Luckily I have been doing other stuff.  I have had a good summer so far.  Nonetheless, my mood was a little blue as I headed to the kitchen to make dinner.

That cheered me up.  I grilled up squash and onions and make paninis of sorts on the grill.  They turned out dang tasty.  The herbs and the zucchini were from our garden, so it was a double deal.  I love to whip up a good meal, so that, plus a beer, made me feel good all over again.  Then I headed out to the garage to start peeling tape off so at least one section would be done with the painting.  That perked me up as well.

The final product looks good.  Whoa, I thought, maybe there is some reward here after all.  If I can make our whole house look like that, then sign me up.  I was newly motivated to get up and get started tomorrow.  The forecast for sunny skies helps as well.  I need to get a good rest tonight so I can work faster and better than ever, and get farther along than I have yet.  For the first time, I am excited to get painting.  As long as I still feel that way in the morning, I should get mucho done manana.

Shelf Project Underway but Not Finished

Lower Shelf Installed, Upper Shelf Waiting

Lower Shelf Installed, Upper Shelf Waiting

While this will not be a surprise to anyone in the Champlain Valley, it was raining again this morning, with showers forecast all day.  So much for painting the house.  It would be, however, a good day to work on the shelves I wanted to build in the garage.  I was stymied a couple of weeks ago by my missing level.  I did finally find it, hiding behind the paint cans.  How it got there, I can’t say.  I found it when I took a trip to basement with the children to see what paint we had that might be acceptable to paint their rooms.  Another project.

I am glad I had the level.  Someone made a comment on my earlier post that I could just measure from the floor.  I was tempted.  The level was key with the imperfect lumber I had, however.  I was determined to use the lumber I had on hand and not to buy any.  So far so good.

I would have finished both the upper and lower shelves, but I had to take my daughter to the doctor.  She got a cut on her hand a couple of weeks ago and today it was clearly infected.  She and her parents tried to clean it and bandage it but it got the nasties anyway.  She was afraid to go to the doctor.  She didn’t want anyone to poke it and she was afraid the doctor would want to look at her throat.  She hates that.  I’m not a fan myself.  She had no throat inspection, however, just a confirmation that it is infected, a recommendation to come back in a few days to make sure it doesn’t need to be lanced, and a prescription for Amoxicillin.

By the time we got home it was a little late to keep plugging on the shelves.  We had to stop to get the prescription filled (they didn’t have what we needed in stock so had to find a substitute) and shop for a few things to go camping at a state part tomorrow.  I agreed to take the advice of a store employee and use the self-checkout.  That was a bad idea.  I have not had much luck with that approach.  There seem to always be issues.  The system doesn’t like when people bring their own bags, and the slightest shift on the scale sends it into a fit over the fear that one might be heisting some chewing gum.

We paid for the gum.  I am chewing some now.  The shelves wait for me.  Maybe I’ll get to them after our little camping adventure.  Or maybe I’ll just paint.

Bouncy Castle

A couple of years ago, Santa brought this big inflatable bouncy toy thing. The kids ended up calling it the bouncy castle. We tried to set it up maybe a year ago, after a decent hiatus, but it had too many holes. Last week, however, my wife motivated to patch the holes and blow the thing up. It has gotten lots of use since. My daughter the photographer took a series of photographs yesterday from an insider’s perspective. This short photo essay is the result:

Rushing at it from outside

Rushing at it from outside

Leaping in

Leaping in

Working to avoid co-bouncers

Working to avoid co-bouncers





Isn't this fun?

Isn't this fun?

Slow Day

My boy is asleep in the chair next to me.  He had a fever.  He just woke from an hour long nap.  Then he fell asleep again.  The kid is out.

My daughter had a rough morning, feeling homesick about this half day art camp she has been attending.  It is three hours in the morning during the week.  She has had a blast.  Today she was afraid of the dog she met yesterday and concerned about the number of kids and other stuff.  She went anyway.  She came home and said it was the best day yet.

I installed three new smoke detectors today.  I also installed two carbon monoxide detectors.  The ones in the house might be twenty years old.  Who knows?  That was a satisfying project.  It rained again so no painting today.  I also dealt with a bunch of eBay sales.  EBay sales don’t exactly rake in the cash here but it is kind of fun, I have to admit.  And it pays for our Christmas presents.

I was ready to tackle a few other tasks but they involved making too much noise.  I need to finish taking out the bush I started tearing up yesterday, but it is right outside the window where my son is conked out.  No need to wake him for that project.  It can wait until tomorrow.

So I didn’t get much done today.   It felt like a Sunday.  It is amazing how a day can slip away when you are worried about a sick kid and you have a bunch of other days ahead of you.  The sun is finally out so it is good weather for some outside projects.  Oops, time to make dinner.  That’s a project I won’t put off.

Trimming the Trees

Yesterday my wife mowed the lawn.  That was a bit of a messy task, given how wet the lawn has been.  She left tire tracks all over the place.  But it had to be done.  It is raining again as I write this.  The amusing bit, however, was when she tried to mow under the silver maple tree.  We have this beautiful tree, maybe 25 years old, and it grows, like all silver maples, faster than most trees.  The branches have been hanging lower and lower, some of them almost reaching the ground.  The mower has taken a wider and wider path around the tree.  It just gets too scratchy trying to blast through the low branches.  So I took some action.

I started yesterday, clipping the lowest branches.  I had a good pile of branches going before I quit.  Today I busted out a ladder and finished the job.  Well, I finished the trimming part.  I had a big honking pile of brush by the time I was done, and my son was having a blast playing in it.  He has the peddle ride on tractor and he started by hauling the branches into the woods.  He got tired of that after, I don’t know, one load, and then just romped in the leaves and sticks.  He sat neck deep next to his “crashed” tractor.  He wanted to have a picnic in the pile.  I got him a cup of pretzels.

Later, once the sun had dried things a little, I started in on the endless house painting project.  One corner of the house has some lovely lilac and pine trees surrounding it.  It looks nice but it was a bear trying to move around them.  So I busted out the saw.  I have been meaning to prune these anyway.  Last winter we would be kept awake by the pines scraping the side of the house whenever it got windy enough.  Those wily branches needed to go.  I lopped and sawed and now I’ve got some room to work.

I had one other issue, however.   We had two bushes on the south side of the house, the same one I am trying to get painted first.  One of them succumbed to what we think was some kind of fungus.  I cut that puppy down in the spring.  The other one is now kicking the bucket and I need to cut it down before it gets too far gone.  It right in front of a window I need to get at.  The problem is that is it an evergreen with needles.  When the needles are green, they are smooth and soft.  When they get dry and brown, each tiny needle is just that–a needle.  Those babies are so sharp and so persistent they make me just about cry.  Getting one of those in a shoe is painful I tell you.

I started in on this bush but I had to be careful.  I was wearing shorts and Crocs, of all things.  This was fine for scraping and sanding, but not so fine for cutting back the needle bush.  I did manage to cut enough that I can now maneuver at the window.  Of course, the thing looks truly wretched now–a hacked and mangled, jagged, green and brown protrusion.  Now I really need to get that thing out of there.

Since it is raining again, I won’t be able to sand first thing tomorrow.  Looks like I’ll need to slide into some pants, put on my heavy jacket, don the gloves and goggles, and have at that bush.  It’s tough, but I’ll show it the what for.  I’ll make sure to wear some better shoes.

Sharp Pencils

Crank This Puppy Up

Crank This Puppy Up

We all have our quirks.  Some people are particular about how the toilet paper roll hangs.  Some people have to load the dishwasher just the right way.  Some people never use their turn signal.  I like sharp pencils.

I know a lot of people don’t even use pencils.  They yse pens, if they write things by hand at all.  It’s not like people tend to keep journals these days, or write letters.  Even the words I am writing now are not being written by hand, unless you count typing on a keyboard.  Pencils seem so elementary school.  But I love them.  If I start a grocery list, I reach for a pencil first.  Crossword puzzles?  Gotta be in pencil.

The thing is, I like sharp pencils.  A dull pencil is like a dull knife.  Sure, it can get the job done, but it isn’t fun and it isn’t easy.  A dull pencil makes for work.  A sharp pencil makes for pleasure.  A fine graphite tip scratching across paper–that is simply a joy.  And those mechanical jobbers won’t do.  A newly sharpened wooden pencil is a fine and incomparable thing.

I got a pencil sharpener from my grandmother a few years ago.  She moved out and so cleaned out and gave me one.  It hangs on the wall and has a hand crank.  It is one of the most used tools in our house.  I use it almost every day, in fact.  I attached it to a post next to our desk downstairs.  A few pencils sit in a bin above it.  When my pencils start to wear too much, I crank it and start writing again.

One thing of which I am not a fan is an electric pencil sharpener.  That seems like a waste of energy.  That seems like it was designed for sloth.  You can’t even wrap a couple of fingers around a little knob and make a few turns?  You need electricity to sharpen a pencil?  How lazy can you be?  I guess if you have to sharpen hundreds of pencils (SAT test administrator?) it would come in handy.  But otherwise, come on people.

We have been trying to weed through all of the random crap in our basement lately.  We have boxes with art supplies, kitchen supplies, office supplies, all of which are half unpacked.  I keep wondering how one couple could have gathered so many damn writing utensils?  We have hundreds of pens and hundreds of pencils.  I kid you not.  I have to keep changing the system for how we will store them to accommodate more.  We have a whole bin of pencils on the kitchen counter, tucked behind the telephone.  My sharpener has been busy.

This doesn’t count, of course, the pencils that my daughter brings home.  Apparently someone at the National Education Association convention recently announced that all teachers will be condemned as half-ass slackers if they do not provide dozens of pencils for each pupil to bring home each month.  And the National Halloween Federation must have passed a ruling that since candy is bad for you, the safe and smart alternative is to hand out pencils.  As a parent this isn’t all that bad–hey, less candy to rot my kid’s teeth.  But if I were a kid I’d be pissed–A pencil?  Do that again next year and I’ll poke your eye out.

In summary:

  • I like to write with pencils
  • I have scores of pencils, some of which are older than Thriller
  • I like sharp pencils
  • Electric pencil sharpeners are for lazy people
  • I sharpen my pencils with a tool that is older than Michael Jackson himself
  • I support, although I do not necessarily agree with, the idea that pencils are better than candy, even if they are sharp
  • If you happen to need a pencil when you stop by, and I’m not home, you can find them behind the telephone
  • Satellite television is the biggest ripoff ever

OK that last one has nothing to do with pencils.  Got a problem with that?  Write me a letter.  In pencil.

Rain Again

I made some good headway on the old house painring project today.  I sanded and made, generally, a huge mess.  I ended up covered in dust.  Those respirator masks are brilliant I tell you.  I am working on two sides, already scraped, and I got a good deal of the way to sanding all of it when the sander busted.  The pad that holds the sanding disks flew off, spinning into the oregano plants.  That was the end of it.

I went into town and got a new pad, and some more sanding disks, and while I was at it a piece of lumber to replace one corner board on the garage.  Rain started falling on the way home.  This is turning out to be a slow project.

It keeps raining.  We did have a clear day on Thursday, and yesterday it rained just for a brief shower.  But it has been wet.  Not ideal for an outdoor painting project.  Maybe tomorrow will be dry again.

For now I will kick back with an adult beverage and wait.  Summer is a time to get things done.  It seems also to be a time for patience.  I guess that means chilling for a bit.  I can live with that.