Wednesday, December 30, 2009

First movie date in 6 years?

We were trying to think of the last time we went to the movies together without kids.  I remember going to see Xmen 2 and Return of the King, both of which came out in 2003 (prekids).  We did try a movie date in 2008 for the Batman sequel, but due to unfortunate circumstances ended up taking a foster kid with us.  Not the same.

While it is difficult when you have babies/toddlers, the biggest cause of the gap is not the kids, as you might expect, but distance.  We are 115 km from the nearest year-round movie theatre.  It's quite the drive, and makes movies prohibitively expensive.  $26 for tickets, another $10 for junk food, $40 for a babysitter, $25 for gas, $8 for enough Tim Hortons to withstand the drive...  Lets face it, nothing Hollywood has churned out, ever, is worth over $100 bucks and 3.5 hours of driving to see.

Figured Avatar was one that wouldn't be the same as... a rental, so we decided to see it while Leaf was off on break & we could leave the boys at the sitter's.  It was definitely eyecandy.  I was less impressed with the 3D than I thought it would be, I felt it wasn't quite incorporated naturally.  At times it made me think of the old SCTV "Dr Tongue's 3D House of.." skits.  Look, look, here's an awkwardly placed 3D moment - looks cool in 3D, but doesn't do much to advance the film.  Other times it seemed like scenes weren't in 3D at all.  What most impressed me about Avatar was the digital effects - the first time I've seen a movie where the digital effects weren't obvious compared to the live action stuff.  From what I gather, though, the whole film is digital, & all the characters were filmed in front of a blue screen.  Still, a technological marvel.

The rest of the film - plot, characters, theme, were nothing special.  I wrote a film studies essay many moons ago with the thesis that Hollywood movies have reversed Aristotle's theory of tragedy.  (Plot is most important, characters second, then theme, diction, music, and least important spectacle.)  Avatar fits that thesis like any other Hollywood blockbuster.  Spectacle is most important, followed by soundtrack.  Characters and plot weak.

Still, glad we went and saw it in 3D.  Appreciated the groundbreaking technology.  Nice to get away with Leaf & even nice to have the drive time to talk.  However, I don't imagine there will be another film for quite some time that we'll spend $100 on seeing.  We'll stick with ... rentals...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy Retail Shopping Season!

Hope you all had a good one. Although I guess I'm a little early in using the past tense, since the new tradition is that Boxing day sales just didn't cut it, so now its morphed into Boxing Week sales. This year the crass commercialism also started earlier than ever. Since advertising flyer day is Friday, and Hallowe'en inopportunely fell on a Saturday, Retail Shopping Season started the day before Hallowe'en rather than the usual day after.

Sigh. I know I'm a curmudgeon, but really people. I'm amazed to hear myself say this, but I think I like commercial christmas even less than I liked christian christmas. Although I do appreciate the irony (and hypocrisy) of celebrating the former while espousing the beliefs of the latter.

On the drive back from christmas day get-together, Leaf and I talked about the 'traditions' we remembered from our own childhood. Stores were closed by law on boxing day, so none of the crazy post christmas shopping frenzy nonsense you see today. We both talked about family, and the joy of spending a few days together. Fewer presents were more meaningful presents, and they were handed out and unwrapped and appreciated one at at time rather than an orgy of opening.

We both agreed that one of the highlights of our trip down to see her family was how much fun Mars had playing with his cousins. Running, jumping, tumbling, wrestling... He loved every minute of it. That's what he will remember about christmas.

Two other little Mars moments that make me feel we are doing a good job raising him. Christmas eve dinner he and his two cousins raid the drink fridge and come running to the table with their chosen spoils. Cousins both have the caffeinated pop they aren't allowed to drink. Mars is all excited with the bottle of water he picked for himself as a special treat!

Boxing day he is upset for something or other and wants his toys. He got a crapload the day before. Beeping ones, talking ones, big ones, fancy ones... All he is interested in is the handful of glow-in-the-dark tiny dinosaurs that 'Santa' picked up from the dollar store knowing he'd like them best.


Monday, December 14, 2009

My first ebay sale!

I'm a relative latecomer to ebay. My first purchase was less than two years ago. I was never keen on the idea, and found that paying shipping and handling fees made every 'deal' too expensive. Haven't bought much on ebay. Mostly retro video game consoles and games. Think Atari XE, Colecovision, Pong, and whatnot.

As a compulsive bargain hunter, I've often bought things from yard sales and thrift stores that I might not need, or have doubles of (think video games again), with the rationalization that I could sell it on ebay for more than I bought it for. Of course I never do. I'm a packrat at heart I guess. You should seen my office. It is a constant battle just to keep enough space on the floor to get across the room. Mostly books and video games, my two collecting passions. Closet is stacked to the roof with games and systems. Bookcases overflowing with more games, gadgets, and books. I wonder if I subconsciously want to open a book/video game store one day and am collecting stock.

Six or eight weeks ago, we drove down to the city to do some winter clothing shopping for foster kid James. As usual, first stop was the thrift store on the way into town. I was poking around and found a knotted plastic grocery bag in a bin of junky electronic stuff. Had a peek and found an SNES (Super Nintendo) with some games inside. My personal collection already includes an SNES, but hey, I could convince myself I would one day sell it on ebay, and I don't have a heck of a lot of games for the Super Nintendo. No price, but the nice lady at the cash asked if $6 was OK.

Went home happy that day, since the SNES system is still relatively valuable considering it is approaching 20 years old. I figured my find was worth $40 or $50 depending on the games, I had my hunter-gatherer rush, all is good. Right? When we got home I quickly ran the half dozen game titles through ebay. Not terribly familiar with titles, but they weren't sports games, so might be worth a few bucks in themselves. Turns out one of them was Earthbound, an RPG with a cult-like following, that regularly sells for $70 to $100. I'd never heard of it, but hey, super score!!!

Fast forward to today. I've bought a bunch of things on ebay in the last few weeks. A new Wii remote/nunchuck set, some rechargeable phone batteries, and of course Mars' christmas presents. Been looking for Wii games as well. Figured I'd finally try and sell something from my stockpile to in effect 'trade' for something I'd rather have. Chose the Earthbound game since it is small, valuable, and in demand.

Took me at least an hour to navigate through setting up my first item for sale. Holy complicated, Batman. I'm pretty good at math, but all the various fees made my head spin. Options, more options. Way too hard, which is one of the reasons I'd been putting off the attempt. I did a lot of back and forth on setting a price. Finally got it set up for a "Buy it Now" at $140 US. Quite a bit more than some recent auction wins for Earthbound, but if it didn't sell it would have only cost me a five cent listing fee. I offered free shipping and hoped that someone would splurge for christmas. It sold in 90 minutes. Should've asked for more!

Shipped it the next morning, it was delivered 24 hours and 16 minutes later. Less assorted fees and shipping (and the $1 I arbitrarily decided it cost me out of $6 I paid for the bag), I netted $118.09 CAD. Probably my third sweetest bargain find ever! (First I've already talked about, second was a Vectrex system for $7 at a yard sale). I had some mild guilt since I profited off a 'good cause' thrift store. Rationalized it because I didn't buy it knowing it was really valuable, just knowing that the bag of SNES was a little better value than normally found at a thrift store. Of course, my 'net' doesn't count the countless hours and even more countless litres of gas invested in the bargain hunting hobby. When I think of the number of completely crap yard sales we've been to, or fruitless thrift store trips...

Still, it was fun to make that first sale, and Leaf is amazed. Too late for the christmas presents I've already bought on ebay, but it will be handy to have money in a paypal account for next time.


Saturday, December 12, 2009

The ice age is upon us!

Friday was another snow day at the high school. It was a "major snow squall event" according to environment Canada. We've gone from bare ground to almost two feet of snow in the last three or four days. Amazingly, we missed out on the worst of it. Minden, about 75km west of us, was reporting 121 cm (a whisker under 4 feet) of snow. By the time I finished shoveling the driveway Friday (the first time), I had to redo the walk and stairs because they had accumulated another two inches. Had to redo the whole thing Friday afternoon after the school was closed and Leaf got to come home.

Mars is happy. He likes the snow. We've all just been outside in the back yard cutting down a christmas tree. Daddy with a saw, Mars with a lightsaber. I think Odin might like snow. Except when it gets on him. He mostly stayed in the scoop and was happy to get pulled around looking like the kid who fell down in his snowsuit and couldn't get up again in "A Christmas Story". Which was in the news yesterday. Real kid gets tongue frozen to flag pole. Kid makes international news. Slow news day?


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The secret lives of teachers - snow day

I'm no longer undecided about snow. Its sucking already. I think I had just developed nostalgia because I didn't have to do any shoveling last year and my dorm, the cafeteria, and my classes were all less than 100m from each other. Today, we are under a winter storm watch, the van wouldn't start, and I forgot all about wind chill.

A digression. When I was a kid, I didn't literally think that teachers slept in lockers at school and only came out on school days. But it was easy to forget that teachers had outside lives. Marrying a teacher has given me a look at the secret lives of teachers and schools. Its been enlightening.

A segue-way. Today is a snow day for all local schools. I bet you didn't know that teachers have been known to do a secret 'snow-dance' to incite the snow gods to ramp up the precipitation so that they will get a snow day. Of course you didn't. Its hidden in teacher offices behind closed doors.

The rationale behind a snow day is that it is unsafe for kids to take buses to school. However, teachers are expected to be at school. Irony. We talked about it on the way in this morning. Our theory is that while either a bus crash or a teacher car crash is tragic, a bus crash is newsworthy, but a teacher car crash is just tragic.

Monday, December 7, 2009

First real snow & global warming

We've had a dusting a couple of times before, but nothing that lasted the day. Unseasonably warm fall this year. Incidentally, today was the first time that I've worn a jacket this fall. Just sweaters/hoodies until now. Reminded me of the year Doug and I wore shorts all winter. It was a big story down in the big city a week back about being the first recorded November without any snow at all. I'm undecided. Not that I haven't liked the warmer than normal weather, its certainly cheaper on furnace oil, but maybe I secretly kind of like snow. This time of year particularly, it does a lot to brighten up the short dull days. As an added bonus, snow tends to stay whiter here. Mars in enthralled. I asked him and he said he remembers snow but I'm never sure with those kind of questions (he'd say he remembered flying to the moon if I asked him in the right tone). Took forever today getting into the sitters because he had to stop and make hand prints all along the walkway.

Lack of snow also makes me think about the global warming thing. I don't believe in "global warming". Before you eco-freak on me, hear me out. Meteorologists/climatologists can't accurately predict what the weather will be three days from now. This summer, I pretty much started planning on it being exactly the opposite of Environment Canada's predictions. Because they were always wrong.

If it was Monday, and they said warm and sunny on Thursday, I'd plan for rain. The annoying thing was how they would keep revising their model until they got the 'prediction' right. On Tuesday, the Thursday prediction would have been changed to "A mix of sun and cloud". On Wednesday, the Thursday prediction would have been changed to "Cloudy with a 30% chance of rain showers". On Thursday, the prediction would be "WARNING: SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH IS IN EFFECT". By then of course it isn't a prediction, since you're looking out the damn window.

So, if scientists can't accurately model weather 3 days from now, how can they accurately model weather 3 years from now? Simple answer: they can't. Model, revise, model, revise, model, fudge, model, what it comes down to is a big guess. Albeit educated. Will this coming Thursday be warmer than it is today? I don't know, and neither does Environment Canada. They guess, I pick the opposite, we're each correct 50% of the time.

Which brings me to my next beef. Global "warming". That was a mistake. You can't predict the weather, you know (or ought to know) that you can't predict the weather, and then you go and predict the weather will get warmer and expect people to believe you. Global "warming" is and absolute and thus is bad marketing. All it takes is one moronic talking head on FOX to say "Well I heard that up there in Fuktyuktuk the average temperature went down" and you have been proven wrong to the great unwashed masses. From the beginning, it should have been "Climate Change". Will the weather on Thursday be warmer than today? Maybe, maybe not - that's 50/50. Will the weather on Thursday be different than today? Yes - that's as close to 100% as weather prediction can get. You'll never hear "worldwide, weather and temperature was exactly the same as last year - Aha - Climate change is a lie!"

So, while I don't believe in global warming (I'm going to go opposite again and vote for an ice age), I do believe in climate change. I also believe climate change is affected by human beings. It would be naive to think otherwise. So please don't crucify me on a sustainably grown bamboo cross and pummel me with organic carrots.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Birthday present disappointment

We haven't bought real presents for Mars' birthday before. We kind of figure that Mars wouldn't know the difference anyway for 1st and 2nd birthday. Plus he has enough 'stuff', we certainly don't need more toys. We've gone so far as to ask family and friends not to give them gifts for birthday/retail shopping season. A two year old does not need need hundreds of dollars worth of toys every birthday/xmas, and we are not trying to raise some little sheeple consumers.

For some reason we decided to buy him and Odin 'new' toys for birthdays. I think the first store bought new toys ever for both of them. From us at least. Yard sales and thrift stores have provided more than enough wooden blocks, lego, cars, dinosaurs, books, and action figures.

Shopping for presents we were surprised at how expensive new toys are. I was also amazed at how many need batteries - a pet peeve of mine, since they are wasteful, environmentally irresponsible, and cause toys to make the most annoying noises. When we are gifted noisy toys, they usually end up 'broken' after the batteries mysteriously disappear.

We bought Odin a rocking horse on springs. A nice old-fashioned toy. Way, way bigger than expected. A disappointment as well. It functions, but both stirrups are broken, capped nuts are broken exposing threaded bolts, and one of the spring holders is cracked. Thought about taking it back, but there was a toll free number in the instructions to get replacement parts. Of course a couple weeks later, when I get around to calling, the number was no longer in service. No replacement parts for me, and too late to return. A waste of money even at the 50% off we paid for it.

Thought we had found the most amazing present for Mars. "Crazy Forts". A set of balls and rods that plug together like giant tinker toys - throw a sheet over top and you have a play fort. You can build all different designs. Who could resist that? I loved building forts as a kid, Mars' favourite activity when visiting my dorm last winter was building forts with the cushions from the couches in the common room. Unfortunately, while a perfect idea, it was sorely lacking in execution. The rods don't go into the holes in the balls far enough and subsequently don't stay in place. So you build a big complicated fort, it keeps falling apart every time he touchs it. As far as I'm concerned, if you have to say "don't touch it or it will break", it is definitely not a toy. He lost interest in any use other than using the rods as swords to whack people, and Odin enjoyed hiding the little balls everywhere. Collected up all the parts and put them back in the box. Another waste of money.

Sigh. At least we had a nice little birthday party for Mars. Rented the gymnastics room for him and all his little friends from playgroup. Lots of running around and giddiness, throwing balls, somersaulting, and other fun. Then back to the house for cake and ice cream. Leaf made a really cool volcano cake with dinosaurs. Cousin Jovin was also up for a visit that weekend, and I think that was the best part of birthday for Mars.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Mars shocks himself

The little monkey climbs up onto the bathroom vanity, reaches up as high as he can, and tries to shove a clump of dad's combed out beard hairs into one of the empty sockets of the vanity light. The things you think of when you are three. It hurt enough to call for mum to come look, but fortunately not enough of a zap to knock him off the counter. Empty socket now duct taped over, hopefully he's learned his electricity lesson.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hallowe'en Pumpkins '09


I really like carving pumpkins for Hallowe'en. Did the Scooby Doo pumpkin yesterday. Had intended to do one of Tinkerbell today, which is Mars' favourite right now. Unfortunately, didn't have time to make up a stencil, so did the Star Wars that I already had instead. Slowest Hallowe'en ever. Two knocks at the door, six kids in total. Leaf took the boys down the street, only five of about 25 houses were 'lit'. Mars decided he didn't want to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costume we had ready, so Mummy did some great mods to turn it into a Dinosaur.

Pumpkins 2012: Master Yoda Pumpkin, Cookie Monster Pumpkin

Pumpkins 2011: Batman Pumpkin, Batman Logo Pumpkin

Pumpkin Carving 201: Skin Carving a Pumpkin and Finding Free Stencil Instructions

Pumpkins 2010: Tinkerbell Pumpkin, Transformers Pumpkin with Autobot and Decepticon logos

Pumpkins 2008: Ernie and Bert Pumpkin, Soccer Ball Pumpkin
Pumpkins 2007: Calvin and Hobbes Pumpkin, Spiderman Pumpkin, Toronto FC Pumpkin
Pumpkins 2006: Darth Vader Pumpkin, Homer Simpson Pumpkin 

Friday, October 23, 2009

Vengence of the plumbing gods

Yay, a nice big puddle of water in the basement. Since we did some soldering and changed valves yesterday, checked them all for leaks. All dry. Turns out its dripping down through a heat register in the kitchen. The dishwasher has stopped working, didn't drain, and flooded out a small hole in the bottom of the door seal.

We've had this problem before due to a clogged filter. Took it apart pretty quickly, cleaned out the gunk - leftover french fries on your plate go in the garbage, not the dishwasher - and reassembled. No go. More flooding because I was trying to get the boys to nap and figured it would work.

Checked the hoses. Also had a problem there before - a cherry pit somehow worked its way past the filter, up the drain tube, and was the perfect size to completely seal the hole at the end of the drain hose.

Still no go. Taking the whole thing apart again, although simple, is getting to be a pain in the wrist. Went a little deeper, found that it was a broken belt. We have a really good appliance repair shop in town, so I went in to find a replacement. Its a weird clear plastic belt with a round cross section that also needs special silicone lubricant. $34.95 plus tax, which is about 20% of what we paid for the dishwasher. Crazy. None in stock, so dishwashing by hand until Monday or Tuesday.

Odin was a big 'help'. When he wasn't trying to climb into the dishwasher, he was trying to eat screws, or running away with the tools. Too cute, and had to copy daddy with the screwdriver. Don't know what I've done to mess up my plumbing karma, but hopefully we won't get any more flooding for a while.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I am not a plumber

If I were, things would go much faster and easier. Had quite the plumbing adventure today. Started as an easy little job - replace a cartridge in a leaky faucet, replace the wax seal on a leaky toilet. An hours work at most. Went to Canadian tire, grabbed the parts, started. Shut off water behind toilet and unhook. The shut off valve is leaking. Crap. Water is trickling onto the floor. No problem, there is another shutoff for the bathroom in the basement.

Run downstairs to turn that one off. Righty tighty, lefty loosey. Just as it is about to close tight, pssshhshhshssss, its spraying water like mad. Water is not supposed to be spraying out of a valve all over the laundry room. Its a tap in the middle of a length of copper pipe - there is no 'out'. Crap again. No problem, I'll just run over to the main shutoff at the pressure tank and shut that off. Crank, crank, crank, tight. Good. Wait... water is still spraying out of the valve in the laundry room. And what is that puddle on the basement floor over there? Isn't that right underneath the bathroom? Apparantly the main shutoff valve doesn't do off.

How do I turn off the spraying in the laundry room? I very counter intuitively turn on the tap. It works, mostly. Now only a fine spray misting the laundry room. I shut off power to the well pump, run the laundry tub sink until the pressure tank is empty, and water stops spraying and dripping onto the basement floor. Step 1 is now accomplished, water is shut off.

Then unbolt and lift the toilet off the flange. I see where the problem is, some gunk missed being cleaned off the bottom of the toilet and the old wax hadn't sealed properly. Cleaned it up with lighter fluid - an excellent solvent - shine it up nice, and apply the new wax ring. Beautiful. Lift 50 pounds of pocelain, manoever carefully over flange bolts without the bottom of the toilet touching anything... just so... not quite... oops. Knock flange bolt out of flange and down into pipe. Crap.

Well, I do need another trip to Canadian Tire for some valves to replace the broken/leaking ones. I'll get another bolt. Make list, check twice. No valves in stock. Go to Home Hardware. Get valves. Forget to check list, forget new flange bolt. Not wanting to make another drive, I head to the basement again, open cleanout below toilet. Crap. Literally this time. There is flange bolt. Reach in with screwdriver and manoever it out. Close cleanout. James is now home from school, so I get his help to put the toilet back in place. It really works better with two people. It just plops into place. Hardy har har.

Then valve time. A giant pain the butt working on our ancient plumbing system. The whole thing really needs to be redone, properly, in something bigger than 1/2" copper. I was very concerned that moving or changing anything would open up more leaks in new places. Desoldering valves, resoldering valves, replacing lengths of pipe, resealing unions, yet another trip to Canadian Tire for another union. Burn hand with drop of molten solder. Turn pump back on. Turn water back on. Forget that the bathtub hot water tap is on because I had just replaced the leaking cartridge. Spray water all over the multitude of paper towels I had temporarily put there after cleaning toilet wax and other nastyness under the toilet. Turned it into a nice soggy mess. Brown in colour, since much of the crap lining the water pipes was flushed out.

Gah. Sigh. Why is it that a simple job always leads to more problems? Oh, well, at least we now have a working main water shutoff. That could come in handy one day. I think the gate valves were just really, really old. We're on a sand point well, so no doubt some sand has got into over the years and messed up the seals. Changed to ball valves. Better flow, quicker and easier to shut off, and less susceptible to seal failure.

Good time with James, showed him how to solder copper pipes. Told him never to forget to put the union nut on the pipe before soldering. Of course I then forgot to put the union nut on the pipe, but he reminded me before I soldered! He learned to use a tube cutter, a propane torch, and desoldered and soldered a joint. My one hour job had turned into an all afternoon thing. Can't wait for my next fixit project.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Parent's worst fears: Mars' medical emergency

Saturday night, Mars wasn't feeling too good. He'd had a cough, lots of crying for daddy at bedtime, complaining of a pain in his tummy, he didn't sleep much. Very clinging and crying in the morning for mummy. We decided to take him to the hospital early Sunday morning. He threw up first time waiting to see the triage nurse. A quiet morning in emergency, he was pretty much sent right in with Leaf while while I amused Odin in the waiting room.

She came out to get me after a while. They had pretty quickly put Mars in a mask and were having a hard time starting an IV. Five tries without success, he was screaming and traumatized by it. Finally they got a small needle and managed to draw some blood but gave up on IV. Resisted the mask, but I convinced him it was a cool Darth Vader mask. The ventolin helped him but doctor was very concerned. He was in respiratory distress, oxygen levels low, and though he perked up after meds, quickly back to difficulty breathing.

Doctor told us that she wanted to transfer him to the city hospital. By ambulance because of the risk. Thats when it hit me - until then I was in 'just a sore tummy' mode, and this was something that could be fatal. A quick chest x-ray first, crew arrived, gave him a teddy bear, strapped him to stretcher, wired him up with five or six leads, oxygen mask. He looked so tiny and helpless. A sight no parent should ever see. We decide I'll travel in the ambulance with him, Leaf heads home to pack some clothes, find somewhere for James to stay, & follow down with Odin. They load Mars in & he says "I'm ready to go home now Daddy." I still mist up just thinking about it. I think he was in shock - wasn't fussing or crying, just a wide eyed stare.

Thankfully he soon fell asleep in the ambulance. The crew were great, trying to be reassuring, but getting the intubation equipment made me more scared. Lights and siren the whole way, I wouldn't have thought it was physically possible to make the trip in an hour. Still the longest trip ever. Mars woke up as he was unloaded into emergency. More poking and prodding, but very busy, so he was watching all the goings on. Pediatrician came to see him, thinks most likely asthma attack, but wants to keep him for observation and safety. My mum had come down, and Mars perked right up when he saw grandma.

We're transferred up to pediatric ward, but in isolation because it is a respiratory problem - due to swine flu, they don't want to take chances. Good because he gets a private room, bad because nurses are all in gowns, masks and gloves whenever they come in, and he has to get tested for H1N1. Mum and Odin had arrived in the meantime and were waiting in the room. Mars said later that he liked the needles least (from Bancroft emergency's crappy attempts to IV), but I think the nasal 'swab' was worst for him. When the doctor said swab, I figured a q-tip rubbed around the nostril. Instead a 6 inch probe that probably poked all the way to his brain and came out bloody. Nurses had to wrap him in a blanket first to prevent struggling. Other than that, he was so willing to put up with everything. My little trooper.

Steroids and ventolin masks for the rest of the afternoon, he's in and out of bed playing with star wars figures and dinosaurs. Nurses very nice. Another big upset when mum, Odin, and grandma leave that night. Lots of cuddles and stories about the brave knight Sir Mars from dad, he fell asleep very quickly and slept soundly through the whole night. I didn't. He was hooked up to oxygen/pulse sensor which was supposed to beep madly if oxygen or pulse dropped below a set rate. First beeping was about 5 minutes after I finally managed to get to sleep. My heart jumped out of bed before I did. Sensor had slipped on his finger, or he had fidgeted and it went off because it wasn't getting a reading at all. Of course that managed to happen about 10 more time through the night. Combined with two more nurse visits for ventolin, I didn't get much sleep.

Mars woke up ready to go home. He was still coughing, still a little trouble breathing, but he is a smart kid. Up until then, when asked if it hurt to breathe, I got a yes. This time, there was a slight pause, then "No", having figured out what the 'right' answer was if he wanted to go home. He was looking better, more colour, and more active, don't know how many times I stood all his star wars men up so he could knock them down. Lungs still a little raspy according to nurses. Pediatrician came again that afternoon to check him over & said his lungs sounded better enough that we could go home. Swab came back negative for flu, most likely diagnosis was asthma attack, but Mars is too young for standard testing.

He gets to be on steroid inhaler until flu season ends just to be safe, then a followup to see where we go from there. A ventolin inhaler as well, plus his very own 'darth vader mask' to help administer it. Just glad to be home. My mum came and stayed again too, which was a great help. We figure it probably is asthma, Leaf also had it bad when she was little. Used to turn blue and have to be in an oxygen tent. We'd like to find out triggers. Maybe the dogs (I knew they'd regret eating his birthday cake off the table - would make the decision to find a new home for them so much easier!) Maybe seaonsal pollen, mold, or some environmental thing, but most likely a combination. We picked up a hepa filter for the bedroom on the way home. We'll get an allergy test done to be sure.

Mars had a nice day yesterday, lots of distracting from grandma. Today was tougher. My mum left yesterday afternoon, Leaf had to go into school early to catch up, and Mars wanted mummy more than anything. I think the trauma of the whole episode has really affected him. Had to drop him at the sitters this morning and he kept yelling that he wanted to go find mummy instead. I was very tempted to just bring him home again. Even Holly had a hard time & she is quite the master of distracting upset kids.

Spending the day cleaning and vacuuming and looking for mold. Found some in the bottom of the bedroom garbage can, some in an old jug. Unable to get an appointment with family doctor until November, so we'll be a little nervous until then. We have the inhaler, but not sure when another emergency room visit would be indicated. Err on the side of caution I guess. Lots of cuddles for Mars and Odin.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Another soccer refereeing season done.

The too short high school boys season has ended. It was my first time refereeing boys high school soccer. I quite enjoyed it and overall, I thought I did well. My first match was the only one I was truly unhappy with. It had been a five week layoff since the end of summer soccer and I was unpleasantly surprised at how much my fitness level had dropped off in a relatively short time. Affected my game and my positioning and I think I missed a handling foul or possibly DOGSO-H off a corner kick. I should have moved a little wider when the ball went far post, & my view was obstructed.

Late in the season I did see the most sportsmanlike act I've ever seen in a HS soccer game. An early low shot from distance skips through the keepers hands and into the net. Definitely should not have been a goal. Team that scored didn't taunt, laugh, or instruct to shoot straight at fumble fingered keeper. (Typical at a high school game, and one of the reasons I don't coach any more). Instead, Captain of scoring team calls out to his bench "the Keeper doesn't have any gloves, give him our extra pair". So they did. It warmed my heart and reminded me why I love the game.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

My 14 inches of Manhood

One time at the urinals in a public washroom, guy leans over and says "Wow, that's really long!". I knew he had to be talking about my beard because... well lets just say I knew he was talking about the beard. Writing about the demise of my sandals made me realize that this summer my beard also celebrated its tenth birthday.

Wasn't originally intending to grow a big long goatee. It was more of a how big a beard can I grow this summer in PEI. Went out to Vancouver for Y2K new years, figured to have a laugh about it with the gang, then shave it off. While I was there, getting off the ferry, saw a guy with huge long braided goatee, thought it was neat, decided to give it a try.

Managed a short little braid after 6 months, it was six inches long after the first year. Maybe nine after two years. Then growth slowed down quite a bit. Seemed to be stuck around a foot long for the last few years. Decided to take better care of it - unbraiding more frequently to comb, so now up to 14 inches after a decade.

Living in a small town, don't get as many stares as I used to as most people have seen me around by now. Except from kids, they always find it fascinating and its often funny to see them try to point it out to parents or friends without being obvious about it. Stopped in Leaf's class the other day and there was a general uproar. She's been on mat leave and I haven't been supply teaching, so the kids hadn't seen me in school before.

Surprisingly few people make any kind of comment about it. The occasional 'neat' or 'cool'. A tour group of little old asian ladies in Ottawa asked me to be in a group photo with them. Driving in Toronto once, a drunk jaywalking prostitute pointed and laughed... (as tempting as it was, I didn't return the favour.)

I think it fulfills my long hair wish. I had nice long hair a couple times in my youth. Sadly that isn't an option any more. Follically challenged and all that. I sometimes tell people I'm growing the beard long so I can then comb it over my bald spot. I can almost do that now. Ten years has flown by.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

RIP Beloved Sandals

I'm a function over form kinda guy. Particularly when it comes to clothing. Does it fit? Is it comfortable? Is there more fabric than holes? If I can answer yes to those three questions, I'm wearing it. I'm known for my ancient and occasionally ratty clothing - old patched combat pants, frayed hoodies, constructions boots with more steel than leather showing. My old cycling jacket, faded on the back from a prairie crossing trip, road rashed, elastic stretched, is still going strong as it enters its teenage years. My favourite 1982 army surplus shorts, patched more than fabric, had to be retired a few years ago.

Sadly, I must announce that my sandals have bit the bullet after a decade of hard use. Got them for the summer trip to PEI back in 1999. They've seen a lot of hard use. Uncountable hours of hacky sack, spattered by many colours of theatrical paint, chewed by a very naughty puppy, soles worn almost smooth, elastic ties long gone, they've been cut, torn, and burned by acid. The end came a few weeks back when Mars stepped on the side of them while we were playing around and the upper tore right out of the rubber sole. My sandal started flapping around my ankle. Irrepairable. Sigh. Of course I'll never find another pair like them. Naturally I tried, but the woman at the store laughed at me. Even with a product number & the catepillar catalogue it was no good. Out of style. Probably stopped being made the year after I bought them. I may find a substandard physical replacement next summer, but after so many memories I'll have an empty spot in my heart. Goodbye, noble sandals!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yet more Lego!

So a follow up from my greatest yard sale find ever. Saw a yard sale ad in the local paper that mentioned "lego castle", checked the address and discovered it was the same place as my big lego score at the beginning of the summer. A priority yard sale stop again, except we were away for the weekend visiting Leaf's family. Some google-fu, tracked down and email address, happy to find out the lego hadn't sold, made the trip out to buy it.

This time he wasn't getting rid of loose lego, but the castle and keep he had built from scratch. The castle is huge - probably more than 3 feet tall, and absolutely brilliantly made. Plus it has a little village 'keep' around it. Did I mention the castle also opens up like a dollhouse? Also a big pirate ship that Mars loves and has already managed to break apart several times. Managed to add another 85 pounds of lego to the collection, and will keep the castle/keep together until kids are big enough to play with it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Am I a TV Freak?

I remember the excitement of getting cable for the first time. . I remember getting up early Saturday mornings to watch cartoons with my brother. As a kid I also remember begging to stay up that little extra bit to watch a television show. Maybe it was the A-Team, Dukes of Hazzard, Knight Rider, or Airwolf. Or maybe it was The Love Boat or Fantasy Island, which I seem to remember came on later.

It sounds like a lot, but we certainly didn’t watch tv every night. Once, when I was a kid, the television set was 'broken'. We didn't watch any tv for over a year. Turned out the picture knob was cranked all the way to dark. I don't recall missing it too much. Various other times, for various other reasons, I didn't watch a heck of a lot of tv, including a big chunk of my teenage years.

I had a media studies class in high school. I saw my first and only episodes of The Cosby Show, Murphy Brown, and Rosanne in that class. The seemed to be pretty popular shows at the time. When I headed into the world on my own, I watched even less tv. I didn't even have a set. Various roommates did, but cable was usually deemed a luxury rather than a necessity. I frequently went months or even a year at a time without watching any television at all.

Even when Leaf and I shacked up in Maynooth we didn't watch TV. We had a set but mostly used it to watch movies. The 3 movies 3 days 3 dollars kind. We had an antenna that let us get 2.5 fuzzy stations depending on the weather and I watched an occasional hockey game. After three years like that, we got satellite for the first time. Just in time for World Cup 2006 (cough, cough), when I came down with a thirty-day fever and watched 58 of 64 matches. We've cancelled it a few times since then, including for almost a year after we moved to our new place (much to the dismay of various teenage foster kids!).

We mostly stick with the $20 a month 'basic' that the satellite company doesn't seem to promote much. They claim we get 40 stations, but I don’t think ten different feeds of CBC should count as ten different stations when ninety-nine percent of the time the exact same shows are on. CPAC and the Shopping Channel are not real channels either. Ignoring those and a big handful of other duplicate feeds or unwatchable stations (Gospel TV or CMT) I figure we really get 15 channels. We have tried a 'bronze' package a few times. Although I can't imagine the research dollars that went into ensuring that each of the 'bundles' I can pick has only one station I would actually watch.

Recent article says Americans have tv on more than 8 hours a day, Canadians almost four hours. Per day! I watched Bones the other day with Leaf. That put me at a little over four hours of tv in the last three months. (Along with two football games. Note football meaning the game where you kick a ball with your foot, not that stupid sport where you carry a giant leather egg shaped object with your hand.) Spending time with other people makes me realize that makes me a tv freak. We have one tv set. Well, two actually, but only one gets any tv stations. Neither is a flat screen, or HD, or connected to a sound system. The one we watch is actually getting pretty sucky due to its planned obsolescence, but can't see the point of spending a thousand dollars on a freaking television.

Other people we know watch more tv. They have giant flat screens in the living room, little flat screens in the kitchen and the den and the office and the basement and the bedroom and a million stations on satellite. They talk to people about their favourite television shows. When they get together to spend time with family and friends the television is on. It’s on during meals and during conversations (which are often about episodes or storylines or 'famous' people I've never heard of from their favourite televisions shows). I am especially flummoxed by "Have you seen that commercial where...". Sometimes I want to say "Hey, did you see that commercial where they tried to brainwash you into buying that thing you don’t need and can’t afford but still makes you fat?"

I'm not sure if I don't watch tv because my brain is wired differently than everyone else, or my brain is wired differently than everyone else because I don't watch tv. If I choose to believe the various statistics that can be found online, I've seen 350,000 fewer acts of violence than your average person. I've also seen almost a million fewer commercials. That makes me pretty different from 'average', or as I prefer to say, 'lowest common denominator'. Television certainly doesn't appeal to me the way it seems to the masses. I found a list of the 100 most popular TV shows of all time. I have never, not once, not ever, seen a single solitary episode of 83 shows on the list. There are only 5 or 6 there that I've seen more than a handful of episodes.

What is the up side of not watching tv? I haven’t been bombarded with brainwashing for the last 20 years. Thus I’m not a consumer - we have zero dollars of consumer debt. My attention span is longer than 30 seconds. I get more exercise. I have hours and hours of extra time for my other addictions. I’m smarter. I’m not obese. I don’t turn off my brain four hours a day. Most important, I don’t sound like a F’ing idiot talking about faux famous people, stupid tv shows, and moronic commercials all of the time. By the way, apparently today is the last day of TV turnoff week. I know you missed it… try it for the next week instead.

Post Script 1: Reality TV? I saw exhibit at AGO years ago that had some photos of people in the American south. Morbidly obese people sitting on a couch in front of a television drinking beer and eating junk food. In a trailer park. I’d like to see a tv show that shows that reality.

Post Script 2: Photo is Emma's old television. Television as art. I wanted to keep it, knock out the tube, and put an aquarium inside instead. I think Marussia ended up with it instead though...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fat belt to skinny belt!

Woohoo! After a number of years, I've finally managed to strap my 'skinny belt' around my waist. Had it for ages but had to replace it with a bigger one after I put on the pounds. Good, because my 'fat belt' was starting to wear out. It was a cheapy... stamped "Genuine Leather" but only about a millimeter of leather covering cardboard or some crap like that. Realized this weekend that I needed a new hole in the fat belt, figured I'd try skinny belt instead, and voila!

I weighed myself for the first time in a few weeks, I'm down to 177 lbs. For some reason its been easy this summer to lose weight, 33 lbs since I came home from school. Nice. Still a little bit of a belly but I feel much healthier.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What the heck happened to my counter?

I was all pleased to be at 275, suddenly pushing 12,000. What the heck?

Harvest time

Driving the dogs to the kennel the other day (another story in itself) and noticed leaves had started to turn at the very beginning of September. Growing season is so short here.

It certainly doesn't help that we don't get full sun anywhere. South side of the property is fully treed, as is the west. Eventually I'll figure out where to put a garden for the most sunshine yet still away from septic, but for now its container planting on the deck.

I started seeds inside this year, then moved them to the little plastic greenhouse, then to pots on the deck. Also cheated and bought some seedlings as well. I plant mostly tomatoes, peppers, and herbs. Some other stuff to play around with. My broccoli flowered the first week it got hot, my cauliflower formed heads (the first time I've managed that at least) but rotted, as did the cucumbers and zucchini because it was such a wet year. Everything was beaten up by the hail storm. All in all, not the most productive season.

Yesterday I went out and picked some stuff to make some salsa for nachos. Neat because I grew everything I needed. It was very delicious, tomatoes were especially good. Heritage varieties that I got as seed from my MIL and seedlings from a local farmers market. Strange to realize how little food I actually manage to grow, and how our yard could easily (in theory at least) grow all the food we needed to be self sufficient. Gardening is more of an occasional hobby for me. Fun, but I don't put enough effort in.

At least my basil varieties turned out better than last season. I love pesto and have started making and freezing my own. I'm thinking I would like to try growing basil and other herbs indoors under fluorescent lights. Nothing beats fresh herbs for cooking, and it will keep me entertained for the 3/4 of the year they won't grow outside. I figure a four shelf wire rack unit with a 3 foot multi-spectrum light at each level would do well. We'll see.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Trip to Kelowna: Airport security

First time flying for the kids, and strangely (considering how much I used to travel), the first time I've flown in almost eight years. Since shortly after 9/11 actually. September 11th 2001 I was at the library to book airline tickets online (also for travel to Kelowna). All the airline websites were basically saying flights were canceled & no new flights would be booked, and it wasn't until I overheard people talking that I found out something was going on. I've successfully avoided air travel and travel to the US since then. A cross Canada trip by train and another by car, but didn't have the time or money for a slow trip to my brother's wedding.

"Because of 9/11" has become my most hated phrase. On my September 2001 flight I had a dull plastic camping knife confiscated (of course I got a nice metal one with my in flight meal...). Seriously though, "because of 9/11" no airplane will ever again be successfully hijacked with a boxcutter. Not because they are all confiscated, but because anyone who tries again will get pummeled to death by angry passengers. So why bother confiscating scissors or nail clippers or string? Safer flights, or the illusion of safer flights? Airport security is like locking the door of your house. It will discourage honest people, stupid people, and incompetent people, but not someone who is organized and determined.

Spent hours checking out requirements, double checking contents of suitcases, and putting gels and liquids in zip lock baggies. Its a bit of a scam. I can't bring a bottle of water, but I can pay $3 for one on the airplane. Talk about passengers held hostage. At the 'pre-screen' table I started to put containers of pudding into a ziplock. We had searched to find ones under 100ml, kept them seperate, and were ready to present them to screeners first thing to comply with the regulations. Guy at the pre-screen says not to bother. "Just tell them it is for the baby" (they weren't, but we did, it was faster.) Return flight however, screener guy was full of questions about a little carton of milk - allowed for infants - because he thought Odin was too young for real food. Personally, I was expecting the anal probe. Strange looking guy with long beard shows up sweaty and nervous looking at security checkpoint. Sweaty because I just downed an extra large double double I couldn't take thru in a rush because we were late and and nervous because I had just heard the pre-boarding call as we arrived at security. I didn't even beep. However, two year old Mars got wanded and had to remove his boots for closer inspection. He took it pretty well, but seemed confused by it all, despite many stories and explanations before we travelled. Leaf and baby Odin were also wanded.

I like Benny Hill's old joke: “The odds against there being a bomb on a plane are a million to one, and against two bombs a million times a million to one. Next time you fly, cut the odds and take a bomb.”

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Fixing the RROD on Xbox 360

James, our foster son, has an Xbox 360 that hadn't been working due to the infamous "Red Ring Of Death", or RROD. Shoddy design or shoddy workmanship, my google-fu showed there seem to be a lot of problems with the 360.

Poor design lead to overheating of the 360, which caused cracks in the solder between the CPU and the motherboard. Presto-chango your Xbox 360 is a $400 door stop. There is a fix though, so I figured we'd give it a shot.

Lots of guides online for fixing, some free, some you pay for. Read up on the free ones, then spent an afternoon hitting every hardware and computer store in town looking for the parts. It is incredibly difficult to get uncommon sized metric bolts and washers in a small town. I ended up ordering a parts kit online for under $10 shipped. Came with a one page instruction sheet plus links to videos. A later edit - some fixes recommend a nylon washer. We used a metal lock washer that won't soften or melt due to the heat of the processors. The conductivity is not an issue if they are the correct size.

Cracked open the 360, it was filthy dusty inside. Heat sinks covered in dust, fans also dust covered, dust and crap throughout. I wasn't surprised it wasn't working. Disassembled further, got the heat sinks off the chips, and found the CPU was less than 1/3 covered with thermal paste. Nice workmanship, Micro$oft, no wonder it overheated. Cleaning the paste off the CPU and GPU was the most time-consuming part of the whole operation. Left red circle in the photo shows the brilliantly shiny clean CPU, right red circle shows start of GPU cleaning. We tried q-tips dipped in rubbing alcohol, then toothpicks, it was taking forever. Diaper wipes turned out to be the magic trick. Folded one over a q-tip, finished the GPU in a few minutes rather than an hour.

New paste, new machine screws instead of the crappy "x-clamps", put it all back together, and then some deliberate overheating to remelt the cracked CPU solder. A couple hours work, would have been 45 minutes if I had known about the diaper wipes. Xbox 360 in working condition again, haven't seen James since.

Overall, it was about 3/10 on the difficulty scale. Didn't even need to watch the online videos, the one page instruction was enough. If you can read, use a screwdriver, and be careful, you shouldn't have any trouble at all. Have to emphasize perfectly cleaning the chips though. While inside, you should also liberally dose everything with compressed air and wipe dust off smooth surfaces.

Did have a generation gap moment with James when I asked him to get something out of a milk crate. "What's a milk crate?" One of those things you store records in...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Adventures in Pottysitting - Episode Four - The Mystery of the Disappearing Poo

Nothing works for potty training than a little bribery. The promise of a treat improved Mars' potty success rate unbelievably. Potty action = special treat, that was something Mars understood very well. We ended up using caramels because they are small, individually wrapped, 'special' because he'd never normally be allowed one, and Daddy can sneak a few 'cause he likes them. After he warmed up to the idea, Mars would do his bit, then start demanding his special treat.

Still resistance to pooping in the potty, but close to 100% with pees and he would volunteer to pee in the potty rather than be reminded or asked. He'd even do it unsupervised. Mostly success, but Mars being Mars he quickly figured out how to work the system. If one pee = one treat, then two pees = two treats. Rather than emptying his bladder in one go, he'd ration it out in little spurts. A wee little pee, caramel, and after eating it another little pee and another caramel. I think he even figured out that he didn't actually have to make the second (or third!) pee if he finished his first caramel fast enough. There are no beaker-like gradations on the potty, so if he claimed to make another pee before the first one was emptied...

We ran into a little trouble after I realized this (I can hear that there was no new pee, little dude!). One day he ran up to me in the office demanding a special treat for making a poo in the potty. If it had been a pee, he would have just got the treat, but a poo, that was special. Special enough that the treats had been upgraded to a kinder egg for making a poop in the potty. Special enough for heaps of praise and Daddy coming out to inspect the evidence and praise some more. But there was no poo in the potty.

Obviously my first thought was that the whole episode was faked for a kinder egg. But he was getting pretty upset that he wasn't getting his special treat after going to the effort of making a poop in the potty all by himself. I took a closer look - there were poo marks inside the potty. Ah, what a good little boy you are Mars - made a poo all by yourself, took the potty to the toilet to dump it and flush it down! Nope, he said he hadn't done that. A quick check with Mummy in the living room, she hadn't flushed it either. His being upset combined with the poo marks in the bowl convinced me that he had made a poop. The poop had mysteriously disappeared!!!

Mars got his treat. Jake, our coprophagous hound, apparently got his too.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

The monetary value of books, yard sale advertising tip

Went yardsaling today by myself. Leaf and the kids are down in the city visiting family, and James sleeps in like your average 14 year old. Managed to find a nice maple toy box with one of those hydraulic closers to avoid crushing little fingers. We had been meaning to add a closer to the existing toybox for a while now. Funny that a nicer box with closer was cheaper at a yard sale than a new closer by itself.

Also scored a book that I've been looking for - "Native Trees of Canada". We did a tree identification walk while we were at Geneva Park last month and the book was highly recommended. I've been wanting a tree guide for years and years, but didn't want to pay new book prices. Cost me a buck. The only tree I remember from the dozen or so "simple leaf" trees we examined at GP is Red Elm. We have a small one in the back yard, which is nice, but now I plan on figuring out all the different species on our property. I love how things that I want or need almost always show up at yard sales. Eventually! Delayed gratification is so much more rewarding.

Found a stack of books for Mars. Some great educational ones - bugs, leaves, minerals, gems, cystals, microscopes. Plus some Robert Munsch (a great children's author who came and read books to my class when I was a wee lad), and a stack of Magic Schoolbus books I'll probably give to my nephew Jovin who loves them. All the books were in like new condition. I happily paid the asking price of ten cents each. Two dollars and fifty cents. Adding up the retail cover prices comes to about $250.

One cent on the dollar is a pretty good yard sale price. I don't understand though. Books are valuable, but so many people don't value them. I see it all the time at yard sales. Ten cents, twenty five cents for mint condition books with retail prices as high as fifty dollars. Even popular novels are usually only 50 cents or a dollar. Compare that to DVDs. Your standard older or B-list movie is about the same price as a new softcover book ($9.99 to $12.99). New release movies and tv show box sets are similarly priced to new hardcover books ($29.99 and up).

If I offered a dollar for a used DVD at a yard sale, I'd either be laughed at or be the insulting lowballer they talk about for the rest of the day. But offer a dollar for a book and most people will figure you for a sucker. Which is why I never offer on books - the asking price is almost always lower than what I'd happily pay.

What is it with books that they aren't valued? I think its because books take time and effort and intelligence to enjoy, and they expand your mind. TV/movies/videogames just kill time and expand your waistline. I'll take books any day.

Incidentally, one of these days I'm going to write a post about tips for holding a yard sale. People are so stupid sometimes. Often. All the time? Here's a tip: if you're advertising your yard sale in the newspaper, spell your street name correctly so people can find it on a paper or online map when they don't know where it is. Same people also had the wrong street number in the ad.

This very same yard sale also committed the other cardinal yard sale advertising silliness - tiny printing. One of those store bought neon signs with "Yard Sale" in big letters. The space underneath was crammed with address, directions, dates, times, whats at the yard sale. I'm sure the font size 20 printing looked great on your computer monitor or when the sign is six inches in front of your face... but how are people supposed to read that from 20 feet away while in a moving vehicle? It also didn't help that the sign was at an intersection one kilometer and three turns from the sale with no other signs in between.

Day-of "yard sale" signs should only ever have one of two other things on them - your street name and number in giant letters, or a giant arrow pointing out every turn from the closest main road or highway to your yard sale.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Body Shop greenwashing?

Dumped a new load in the compost today and while turning over dug up the Body Shop bag. We don't shop there, I think we got it as a reused bag from a thrift store. I filled it with compostables and put it in the pile two years ago because I was curious about the claims on the side of the bag about it being degradable. Its still in excellent condition though.

So much for "will have completely broken down in as little as one year". Other than the holes where it was stabbed with the garden fork, it could be reused.

There are some other biodegradable bags visible in the picture. I use them to carry compostables outside, and they have been breaking down in a few months.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A quarter million steps

I wear a pedometer while refereeing soccer. Today while I ARed the U16 final, I passed 250,000 total steps as a referee. I always wondered how my steps compared to actual distance, so at last weeks tournament for the younger players, I also wore my GPS to measure and then compare to the pedometer. Works out to about 1666 steps per kilometer, so as a referee, I've run a total of 150km over two seasons. My first thought was "Wow, 150km!" but then I thought it doesn't seem like very much when spread out over games and 2 years. No doubt there are runners who do 150km a month. I know on the cross Canada bike trip years ago, I'd do that in a day.

I drew rough approximations of fields on the GPS track. This is three games before the battery died. Big rectangle was my field. I had no linesmen, so not exactly picture perfect diagonal system. Leaf and the boys came to visit at one point, the side tracks to the small rectangles are playing with Mars when he had to kick a ball in every net on the tiny fields. Curvy bit to the bottom leads to snack bar, playground and washrooms.

U16 final today was brilliant, a very exciting and close game. I was an AR (linesman) for the first time, and Center wasn't used to having ARs. Red team was undefeated all season. Blue team scored early to go up one nil, then should have had a PK but for confusion between referee and myself. I didn't raise the flag because he was five feet from play and I thought it should be his decision, but his angle was blocked so he looked to me. I should have done a better job discussing signals before the match. Anyway Red scored an equalizer, then the go ahead goal with seconds left in the first half. Blue with a equalizer in the second half. 2-2. Red coach calls a time-out! Ah, the delicious irony... For non-soccer fanatics, there are no time-outs in soccer. Delicious irony because it happened to be the only coach I've ever had to expel from the field of play. Earlier in the season, he disputed an offside call (it is not an offence to be in an offside position, coach!), then went on a ten minute profanity laced tirade at a U12 game. Anyway, a big part of his ranting was about the rules and how he understands all of them and tries to teach his players the rules but alas the stupid fucking referee doesn't know the rules, blah blah fucking blah. Nice knowledge of the Laws, Mr. Timeout!

Game ends up going to extra time, Blue scores the golden goal to win the championship. I feel bad for red! I coached them the last three years and had the same thing happen the first year - undefeated regular season, then a first and only loss in the final. Heartbreaking. Only one more game as a ref for me this summer, the Geriatrics Final (17 and older) on Monday. Then a break for 6 weeks until high school season starts up.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Adventures in Pottysitting - Episode Three - The Streaker

We were missing a lot of potty action due to the diaper delay. Well, mostly Mars delaying long enough that the pause to remove diaper rendered the debate moot. It's been a while since I pooed my pants... does it feel all nice and warm and comforting? Because he still prefers dropping a smelly load in his diaper to sitting on the potty.

We tried diaperless and it seemed to work reasonably well. Particularly for pees. It also had some drawbacks. Particularly for pees. The poop problems are contained in a small area. Pee mistakes spray droplets everywhere. A few times I was reminded of my childhood dog, Farley. Farley liked to mark every upright object when taken for a walk. He produced copious amounts of urine and often forgot to shut the flow off between targets. His package would swing back and forth, the droplets of pee would swing back and forth too. You could look back down the sidewalk and see a big sine wave of wet pavement.

We did get a pretty good success rate with Mars' peeing though. Nine times out of ten in the potty. Night times usually in the diaper, a few times on the carpet or on the chair. He's become quite fond of running around bareass and resists having a diaper put back on.

Mars passed out after a hard day of rollerskating bare bum. For some reason it makes me think of the Simpsons. Is there an episode where Homer rollerskates around with no pants on? I can almost picture it in my head, right down to the "woohoo!".

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Adventures in Pottysitting - Episode Two - The Invisible Man

After that first successful trip, we had relapse. Mars would not go to the potty. Do you need to go to the potty? "No". End of discussion as far as he was concerned. I thought I had a breakthrough a few times when he would say "I want to go potty!", and I'd rush him over and start on the diaper and he'd throw a fit. Turns out he was really saying "I want to go party!" and it sounded the same to me. He had been to a birthday party and received cake, so he wanted to go back again.

We started to watch him closer to try and pick up the potty time cues so we could encourage him to use the potty when he needed to go. Always a step ahead of us, he'd turn into the invisible man. We'd be doing whatever and then suddenly notice he was gone. Hiding in the closet, in a cupboard, behind the chair, behind a curtain. "Hey Mars, do you need to go potty?" "NO!" Hard to believe that when he's squatting, grunting, and very, very smelly. A small measure of success, because after he was done in his diaper, he'd say "I need to go potty!"

Hail storm

A big hail storm this afternoon. Biggest I've ever seen at least. Started with pea-sized chunks, then marble sized, then as big as the ones in my hand. I know I saw a few golf ball sized, but too chicken to retrieve any while it was ongoing. Had to leave the sunroom at the peak because the noise of them bouncing off the tin roof was unbearably loud. Loads of rain, huge claps of thunder, and half a dozen power outages. In places, the grass was covered with a layer of hail. Nice damage to the VW, I'll have to add 'dented by a million pieces of hail' to the for sale ad. My garden isn't too happy. Could smell smashed tomato plants from the sunroom, but hopefully they will survive. Orange trees at least were safe in the greenhouse. The rhubarb that wasn't sheltered by the house took the worst damage, pounded to pulp. River is up over the third step with all the rain we've had in the last week.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I hate people

To be more precise, I guess I should say I hate ignorant people, but it sometimes seems like more and more people deserve that adjective. Admittedly, I've been grumpy this weekend. I'm an introvert, not an extrovert. The best description I've ever heard explaining the difference says that people are like batteries. They get run down. Extroverts get recharged by being around other people, introverts get recharged by being by themselves.

Needless to say, Leaf's annual family reunion at a campground is not recharging for me. I come back needing a vacation from the vacation. Seriously though, if I offered to rent out a tiny patch of ground with no electricity, running water, or plumbing in an overcrowded shanty town in a third world country for $30 a night, I wouldn't get many takers. But if I throw in a few trees, name my third world country 'Muskoka' and call my shantytown a 'campground', people would be making reservations a year in advance.

Campgrounds attract a lot of ignorant people. If you need to be told that sleeping families with children don't appreciate drunken shouting from 15 feet away lasting until 3:00 am, you are pretty ignorant. If such drunken shouting is mainly stories about drinking or being drunk in the past, present or future, sprinkled profusely with racist, sexist and homophobic comments, and one word out of every four is 'fuck/fucker/fucking', you have issues. If I ran the world, which sadly I don't, those type of ignorant people would be permanently sterilized for the good of the gene pool.

Ignorant people also blast their crappy music over the radio or stereo so that everyone within 50m can be disturbed by it. Maybe sterilization is severe for that one. But a few days locked in a room with 10,000 watts of stereo and the complete discography of William Shatner on shuffle play non-stop would cure that ignorance.

Let us not forget the ATV riders. Not just ignorant, but mostly fat. Sorry, I guess that is rude. Ignorant and gravitationally challenged. Smelly, loud, and dangerous. The ATVs are too. Used to be the rule at the 'campground' that ATVs were not permitted. Now, they can be used, but "only to get from site to site". I guess walking 100 metres is too taxing when you desperately want a $3 scoop of ice cream at the camp store. Sterilized to prevent spread of the LAZY gene.

Also, if you are stupid enough to shoot fireworks across other campsites, or throw them into a fire so you have no idea where they will go, then threaten to fight the guy who tells you not to... Lets just say sterilization is not drastic enough.

Cigarette smokers, the most ignorant of all people, deserve a post of their very own. I'll just say how sad I am that cigarettes don't kill faster.

Mars at least had a good weekend. Odin probably did too. Lack of sleep and long car drives have made them both cranky and screamy enough that I'm considering sterilizing myself.

Mars chilling in the ubiquitous camp chair.

Daddy and Mars getting ready for the 3-legged race.

BTW, none of Leaf's family had sterilization wished upon them this weekend...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Showing my first yellow card

My second year/third season as a referee and finally had to show my first yellow card. One of my former players of course, and she should know better... Asked her to remove her earrings before the match started, noticed in the second half she still had them in. Which was weird not to notice earlier, but she was playing defence on a team of 11 vs a team that only had seven show up, so I didn't get close enough to notice until she was moved up to forward for the second half. Yellow for USB.

Jewelry is one of those things that is starting to annoy me. It is on the registration forms that no jewelry is permitted. Its in the laws of the game, and the intention is to prevent injury to self or others. Before every single game I have to tell players to remove jewelry, I tell the coaches to remind their players that they can't have jewelry, and yet every game I'm sending players to the sideline to take off earrings or watches or bracelets or necklaces. Which makes me the mean old referee. There is the usual litany of excuses. "I've always worn it before", "The other referee lets me" (unfortunately, this one is true), "I can't take it out/the hole will close over", "They are only little ear/nose studs". I even had a coach ask me what could be done to change the rules. I told him to appeal to FIFA.

I was getting lukewarm support for my 'strictness' using the argument that someone could get hurt. So now I use the magic word "liability". If someone gets hurt I get sued, you the coach gets sued, you the player gets sued, the player's parents get sued, and the league administrators get sued. Since none of the above have liability insurance (even if we did it wouldn't matter because the laws clearly say no jewelry) that argument worked.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Refereeing my first Adult game

Our local league is very small. Its all co-ed, there are only four teams in each age division, and multiple ages play on the same team. I used to coach 'Old Timers' and had a range of kids from 12-17 on my team. After grade eleven they are supposed to move on to the 'Geriatric' division, where there are four adult teams.

I had been refereeing U12 and U10 this summer, but was finding the littler ones didn't present much of a challenge or much exercise. Their enthusiasm for the game was a refreshing recharge after giving up coaching, but I wanted some more competitive games to warm up for the boys high school season this fall.

I was extremely nervous beforehand. These guys (and girls) have never had a referee before! All our adult refs play in the division so there has never been someone available. They called all their own fouls, ball in/out, offsides, and whatnot themselves according to the collective understanding (or misunderstanding ;) of the laws of the game. Hard to walk into that and establish a presence.

It was not my best game by any means, but serviceable. I've been off for two weeks with a vacation and then the stomach flu, so didn't feel I had my legs yet. I did better than expected with keeping up with play, but much room for improvement there. It was a very back and forth game. One team would pressure, then the defending team would pound it down the field to their high forwards and off I'd charge to the other end of the field. The ball would turn over and be blasted back to the other half and I'd run all the way back again. I use a pedometer in all my games, I had as many steps in the first half as I normally do in a full match. More than a couple times in the game I didn't have the gas to get to the penalty area as quickly as I should have. Missed a few fouls and what probably should have been a penalty kick by being out of position.

I had coached about half of the players on one team, and maybe a quarter on the other, plus played recreationally with a handful more of the older players. Knowing the players, I went in expected an amount of dissent from certain ones, but turns out I expected it from the wrong guys. Blue team was playing with only 10 but made a very good game of it in the first half. Green's outstanding keeper was unbeatable. As his former high school coach, I wish I could take even the smallest amount of credit, but I can't. 2-0 Green at the half. Blue scored early in the second to make it close, but then Green got a third, and the wheels fell off.

That's when the chirping started. From some of my favourite boys I coached in high school. Nothing overt, but careful conversations within hearing about the unfairness of the ref and he called this why didn't he call that and blah blah blah. Funny how players always forget the calls that go their way whan complaining about bias. I unleashed one of the most powerful tools in my arsenal - selective listening. Figured ignoring was the best bet since they didn't use profanity and was quiet enough to not listen to. Ironic how much it reminded me of coaching them on the high school team. When we struggled, which was often, these were the guys who could never say "I need to work harder", or "I can do better". It was all about blaming teammates, the coach, the 4-4-2 system, or the referee. Hard to come back with that kind of attitude. 5-1 the final for Green.

The other thing that reminded me of coaching high school was the total lack of midfield presence by both teams, particularly in the second half. Used to drive me nuts as a coach. Drives me nuts as a referee because all the extra running. The attacking team would have all their forwards and midfielders up in the penalty area against the defending team's defence and some mids, and all their defence back in their own half marking the defending team's forwards and a mid or two. 30 yards of basically empty space in between the two groupings.

Anyway, things I need to work on for next game. Fitness obviously. 33 pounds down from my high, but another 10 or 12 would be a big help. I'm thinking some cycling so as not to put wear on my knees. I also need to work on foul recognition. I've had a lot of trouble with this. I'm still a new enough referee that it isn't instinctive. I see a possible foul, I process the possible foul, I consider if it was a foul or not, I think about blowing the whistle, but 3 seconds have gone by and the play has moved on. I'm hoping that as I gain experience I will instantly recognize fouls and not have to think about it. It would be nice to have an assessment or some kind of mentoring system in our league, but believe it or not, I'm the only certified referee in the league. I also want to get a little stricter next game. I'm usually a firm believer in letting the players play if both teams are happy the level of physicality, but there was a fair amount of fouling going on, not all of which I called. I figured I'd let them get used to the idea of having a referee before I start calling all kinds of fouls they've never seen fit to call themselves.

BTW 11550 steps at end of match. Not sure how this works out to distance. I have a GPS that I've been thinking about pocketing for an U12 match and then comparing linear distance on that vs steps on pedometer. I would guess each step averages out to about half a meter, or about 6 km over the course of the game.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Greatest Yard Sale find EVER!

Leaf and I love yardsaleing. Which apparently isn't a word. We go on an outing most Saturday mornings to look for treasure. Yesterday we hit what I would consider the best yard sale ever! It had been advertised in the paper and mentioned lego, so of course I had to be there first thing. I love lego. Not as much as the young man there though! He was downsizing his collection, and he was an artist with lego. Saw some of his work, it was some of the most brilliant stuff I've ever seen - better than most official lego sets and legoland displays. He had a castle keep surrouded by houses that were spectacular. Accurate to every detail in period architecture and colours. The castle, about 3 feet high, also opened up and was fully detailed inside. I was in awe.

I wish I had been ten minutes earlier because there was a woman ahead of me filling a big box with loose lego. I had to settle for second pick, but still managed to fill a few boxes of my own. An incredible selection of pieces of every kind. Turns out she had scooped most of the 'basic' building blocks, so I got mostly good stuff that is harder to find. Space pieces, castle pieces, boards, minifigs... A big microwave box full, a medium tupperware box full, and a lego box full. Weighed it when we got home. Eighty-seven pounds of lego!!! I basically doubled my lego collection in one fell swoop.

If you've ever bought lego, you'll know why that's is my best yardsale find of all time.  A real treasure that I'll keep until I have grandkids to play with it. A somewhat deceptive photo of Odin sitting on the pile - he's actually about 18 inches off the ground. I sorted through it last night until my eyes blurred, reveling in that soft clinky sound of lego being stirred up. It will be a few years until Mars is big enough to play with it. Luckily, it turns out James, our current foster kid, is also a lego lover. So I have an excuse to play lego!

Lego aside, it was also a great yard sale for toys. Mars loves Star Wars - a post for another day - but I had been looking for some Star Wars toys for a while. Again, I was ten minutes late, there was a guy there with his grandson who scored a box of Star Wars action figures, but I still managed to get a dozen leftover ones, a landspeeder, y-wing bomber, imperial shuttle, the Slave 1, and a pair of lightsabres.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

I've lost 20 pounds since April!

Which is pretty exciting, even though 10 of them were 'relost' since my last "I've lost 20 lbs" note in October '08, just before Odin was born. I ended up gaining 10 of those back eating cafeteria food while I was back at school for the winter. Getting under 200 has been a long and arduous battle, but I'm down to 190 pounds (from 220), my lightest in years. Still a long way off my twenty year 'normal' weight of 155. I think I'd like to be a healthy 180. Leaf has had a hard time losing pregnancy pounds this time, rather than just me. Dieting together is much easier. We made a deal that if we both meet our target weight, we'll buy a Wii.

Haven't really followed any special or fad diet, because they are all stupid and don't work. Cut out chips and candy, still drinking a lot of tea, and moderate exercise. I referee soccer twice a week (six to 10 thousand steps on my pedometer each game), and try to get out kayaking once or twice as well - usually about 6km each time. My secret for the last 5 pounds was stomach flu. I should start my own fad diet - the barf diet. Seriously, I'm surprised there aren't clinics where people can go to be deliberately infected with stomach flu and jabbed with an IV in order to lose weight. Maybe I should create one and become rich and famous and have Tom Vu-like infomercials. "You so fat!" "You come now I make you skinny, fat boy!"