Saturday, December 30, 2006

Out with the old

The Academy decided it was time to update the look.

Creature Feature

We used to have a saying in software development. It goes like this: "That's not a bug, its a feature!"

Realtors take that concept to a whole new level. Want a good laugh? Wait until you've been in your house for about a year, then go back through the advertising materials they gave you for the house. Actually, it might not make you laugh at all.

Having paid top dollar for this house at the peak of a market frenzy, it did not make me laugh. Although I suppose the choking and beet red face may have made it appear that I was laughing. And the thing of it is, we knew that everything was crap, decided to buy it anyway and fix it up - and it still feels as though we'd been swindled.

That "charming updated bath with art-deco fixtures"? HA! Well, they're updated now - since I ripped them out of there. That "brand new third bath in the basement"? Yeah, I suppose you could call it a bath, if you were really into cinder-block rooms with shower heads that leak and drains that don't work.

That "fifth bedroom with closet"? Long gone. I learned from the neighbors they used to have a nanny living in there, and they affectionately referred to it as The Dungeon. The "closet" was a very small wardrobe, apparently purchased from the Dollar Store. Also long gone.

That "walk-in cedar closet" in the basement? Long gone. It was an ill-constructed... box, that I suppose you might walk into - if you were brave enough. It had what can only be described as cedar-scented particle board randomly tacked up on the walls, and mouse-doodoo everywhere.

So anyway, back to that "art-deco" fixture, which is what got me going in the first place. Was it considered art-deco, in the 20's and 30's, to have all the PVC plumbing exposed, with a sloppy plywood box built around the supply lines? Ah, no matter - its all gone now.

So today I've been instructed to get rid of the ugly broken mirror in the former "art deco" master bath - the mirror I inadvertently whacked with a 2x4. But I'm thinking maybe we should just leave it there - it might be a great selling point. "Charming updated master bath with multi-faceted, full-length mirror!"

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Of Mice and Marriage

The Headmistress is displeased. Has been for months now. I don't get it. I mean, what's the big deal with having several dozen holes in our walls? C'mon man! That's a small price to pay for getting rid of electrical hazards and eyesores like the one pictured above (Headmaster pet peeve #1: painted-over electrical fixtures). I've replaced them all, but the old electrical boxes had to be cut out of the walls with a reciprocating saw - each one leaving a gaping hole in the wall, and fine powder-dust covering the entire contents of the Academy.

As a result of this complete rewire job, we have more than 36 holes in our walls - some large, some small, all hideous:

Our Kitchen Ceiling

Crop Circles in the Kitchen

Oh yeah, we have LOTS of these

My personal favorite. You can only improve a "stippled" ceiling.

Dining room wall - where the old service panel was located.

Ok, they look bad, but its something we can live with for a while, right? Now, instead of 39 hideous, painted-over wall outlets, we have 84 brand new ones.

Anyway, we've lived with the mess for over a year now, so I was in no hurry to undertake this massive patching project. Until last night. A small fuzzy rodent has managed to motivate me, where years of marriage had previously failed. This rodent kept us up for hours, scritching and scratching its way around the upstairs walls, apparently having unrestricted access to just about anywhere it cared to go. The Headmistress believes that all these holes in the walls were to blame. I am unable to convince her otherwise, and she rejected my suggestion of opening up even bigger holes and stuffing the cat into the walls. Therefore I've been put on a mission to close them all up by week's end.

Someday they'll find that darn mouse at the bottom of a bucket of joint compound, little cinder blocks tied to its ankles....

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The physics of cappuccino

The faculty and students of the Academy were very excited to receive an espresso-maker for Christmas. The Headmaster decided to try a physics experiment to determine what happens when the espresso carafe makes contact with a marble floor from a distance of approximately 30 inches.

Faculty and students are feeling neither edified, nor amused.

The Substitute

The Academy is proud to introduce its substitute teacher, Miss Rachael Tillery, who will be providing math instruction for the remainder of the week.

She LOVES math. Mwahahahaha. The boys have no idea what awaits.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nailed it!

Oh yeah, baby - I nailed it. We were livin' on fumes! FUMES!

A novice would look at the gauge and think that it registered slightly below 1/16th of a tank. And they would be WRONG. It takes an expert to know that it was really saying the tank was on fumes.

The fuel company delivered 251.2 gallons of fuel today. The tank has a capacity of 250 gallons. The fill pipe has a 2 inch diameter, and runs approximately 96 inches. Using the Academy's volume formula for cylinders (Volume = pi • radius² • height), the fill pipe holds approximately 301.59 cubic inches. Extending that with the Academy's cubic inch conversion formula for liters (inches / 61.023), the fill pipe holds approximately 4.94 liters, or 1.30 U.S. gallons.

So the very MOST the tank could have held when the headmaster caved in, was .10 U.S. gallons. Ha! We're living on the EDGE baby! NAILED IT!!

sigh... these are exciting times, are they not?

postscript - the Academy wishes to thank 14 year-old Rachael Tillery for providing all of today's formulas.

Christmas Bliss

Without question, the Holy Eucharist is the best part of Christmas day. Consider a place where:

- there are no crowds
- there is no cover charge, and payment is discretionary
- there is no clutter, only CLEAN
- there are no toys
- there are no kids, only adults
- no one expects anything of you
- everyone treats you with utmost kindness and respect
- nothing requires AA, AAA, D, C or 9-volt batteries
- there is no creative "packaging" to solve
- people serve you bread and wine, then sing for you
- you can get right with the world, and with yourself


Monday, December 25, 2006

Help Wanted

Tired of being pushed around? Are you a sadistic individual with pent-up frustrations? Do you have experience with knot-tying? Have you worked in bondage and torture? Do you seek long hours in poor conditions with low pay? Do you love kids but hate adults? Toy-maker has opportunities for manager-trainees in the packaging department.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Livin' on the Yuletide edge, baby

On occasion, the headmaster has attempted to get the oil tank down to the very bottom before filling it. He takes it as a personal challenge - how low can he go? Last year, he caved at 1/8th of a tank.

In this, his second winter at the helm, he boasts of a better grasp of the oil gauge's accuracy. And he believes he can virtually take it to fumes. On this Christmas Eve morning, the gauge reads almost 1/16th of a tank. The oil company cannot deliver until the afternoon of the 26th, at the very earliest. The weather calls for near-freezing temperatures overnight, with rain likely. The firewood is all soaking wet. The Headmistress has no idea he is conducting this experiment.

Can't you feel the excitement building?! Fasten your seatbelts - this one could get rough.

postscript - The Academy regrets the possibility that a headmaster may be harmed in the making of this blog entry.

One more sleep...

The first thing out of the kids' mouths at 6am this morning: "How long before it gets dark?"

Friday, December 22, 2006

And on the fourth day...

...she said, "let there be light".

"And make it recessed."

"Oh, and dimmable, too."

And she saw the light, and it was good.

ok, so I'm blogging about a few recessed lights. You can tell that things are pretty boring around here lately. Well, except for scalding kitty cats. And snakes in the attic, which made for some excitement on the lighting project. The kids were startled when they heard me yelling "WHO PUT THESE MOTHER..." Well, never mind.

Chat de Café

Things started out well enough this morning: I got up. It went downhill from there.

While I was folding some laundry, the Academy's mascot hatched an ill-conceived plan to visit the top of the dryer and check things out. Of course, she came up an inch or two short, which is normally an entertaining diversion - claws out, eyes wide, clamoring for traction and eventually succumbing to the effects of gravity. But on this particular occasion, the juxtaposition of certain objects - specifically, a cup of hot coffee perched on a white turtleneck above, and a basket of folded whites below - made for a catastrophic ending.

What, at the time, seemed like a very peaceful exercise, quickly turned to hell in a handbasket. I didn't even see it coming. I heard a little meow, the sound of claws scratching metal, and turned just in time to watch the cat, turtleneck and cup of coffee land in the basket all at once. This was followed by the wails of scalded cat bouncing around the laundry room like a rubber ball.

I was horrified! Thoughts raced through my mind like lightning - what if it had done some real harm?! I bent down to check it out. After some poking and prodding, and close examination, I am happy to report that the load of whites was undamaged.

I must admit though, as I loaded them into the washer AGAIN, that the thought of throwing the cat in with them did cross my mind. Then I remembered the pain of our last visit to the veterinarian.

postscript - no cats were harmed in the making of this blog entry.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Where in the world is Bela Karolyi?

I feel like one of those gymnasts who, after having a perfect routine (with Mr. Karolyi cheering from the sidelines), completely misses the landing. I mean, I came so close. Ok, so I didn't get the recessed lighting, crown molding or ceiling fan installed, but I got everything else done. Well, except for painting the case molding. Oh, and painting the doors. Actually, I guess I kind of blew the whole routine also. Bela, I think I need a hug.

But the project was a success nonetheless - the Headmistress is pleased. So all of you who bet that she'd hate the color, pay up. I take checks.

I'm very disappointed that I didn't get any "before" photos. I mean, it was positively hideous. I'm surprised that we made it a whole year without having some kind of spastic seizure from peachy-pink overload. Yes, that's right. Peachy-pink. Actually, very dirty peachy-pink. Walls, baseboards, casework - all the same.

The previous owner painted EVERYTHING either battleship gray, or pink. Kitchen, dining room - gray. The entire exterior - gray. Master bedroom - pink. The entire basement - pink. All bathrooms - gray and pink. What's with this combination? White is the potential for fullness, while red helps you to achieve that potential. Pink combines these energies to create contentment and happiness. Gray symbolizes a void, emptiness, inertia, a detached and isolated feeling.

I have no idea what it all means. Seems like a cry for help. And if you're reaching out for help, what could be more effective than peachy-pink? I don't know, I think you cross some kind of threshold with that. Its like the 911 of decorating.

But its gone now. Replaced with Caramel Toffee. So Ive gone from feeling happy-content-isolated-detached, to feeling kind of... I don't know... hungry.

This weekend, in between wrapping gifts for students and faculty, I'll be installing the lighting and crown molding. And I'll start counting the days until I can replace those hideous windows. The mind and body are willing, but the endowment is not.

Lighten up, Francis...

Ok, so even I have to admit that its a bit dark. But, I really, really like it.

I got the main entry door hung today, painted the ceiling, finished the final spackle coat, sanded, primed and applied the first coat of paint.

Any bets on whether this color, which appeals to my New England sensibilities, will appeal to the Lanham, Maryland sensibilities of the Headmistress? We'll see - tomorrow.

I gotta go crash....

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dumpit to Crumpit

Two strange sayings we have in our household:

Dumpit to Crumpit - What I say when I have to go to the Howard County Landfill.

Aw, pickles - What the boys say when they are disappointed.

So we often have the following conversation:

"C'mon boys, get yourselves ready. We have to go to Crumpit to Dumpit".

"Aw, pickles".

What's with kids these days? I used to LOVE going to the dump as a kid. I guess I haven't changed much. Not only am I on a first-name basis with all the employees of the Howard County Landfill, but I'm actually getting to know some of the seagulls, as well. Today I only unloaded $25 worth of tonnage, and I likely won't have anything to dump tomorrow. In fact, I gave them all the day off.

I remember going to the dump with my grandfather, Fat Leon. He'd bring a gun and let me shoot at stuff. Sometimes we'd see bear there, only I wasn't allowed to shoot at them, on account of the No Hunting signs. Not that I'd ignore my grandfather, or those signs, but its a good thing for those bears that I was a lousy shot.

Before I got married, I'd frequently spend weekends at my brother's house near Solomon's Island. Every Friday evening he'd put me straight to work loading the truck for the Saturday morning dump run. He has video footage of me, still in my suit and tie, loading dripping, oozing bags of trash into his truck. Garbage is kind of a social equalizer - at the dump, we're all the same.

My sister's partner Deb has a dump story that will have you in tears. She had a bit of a run-in with the gatekeeper at the landfill near her home in Maine. Yeah, dump stories with a Maine accent are the best. Of course, Deb could tell you what she had for breakfast this morning and she'd have you in tears. Last summer, we had a poolside family reunion, and there was a photo session. Everyone was posing and getting their pictures taken. Now I'm not saying my Mother in Law is stern and straight-laced, but, well I guess I am saying that actually. And if you act uptight around Deb, you'd better expect the unexpected. During the photo shoot, Deb parks herself next to my MIL, whom she'd never met, and sat watching the photography for a while. Finally she leans over and in a confidential tone says "You know, I'd like to lather Felix up and do a nude shot with him". Now THAT'S an ice-breaker, you see what I'm saying?

Ok, now I'm just rambling. Focus, FOCUS. So anyway, I didn't get as far as I'd have liked today, but all drywall is taped and skimcoated, and the door is framed and hung, complete with lockset, but minus the threshold.

Tomorrow, paint. You know, I just realized something. Who's gonna feed the seagulls tomorrow? Aw, pickles. I'd better go make some phone calls.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Man, oh man.

Sometimes, a man just has to connect with his feminine side.

The Headmaster tries not to intervene. He just retreats to the Man Room. Which for now, of course, is.. the laundry room. sigh....

Collapsible Headmaster

The construction crew at the Academy has been working overtime. It seems the Headmaster promised the Headmistress that the master bedroom would be painted for her birthday this week. Three days should be plenty of time, no?


That's the sound of the house laughing. No seriously. The house mocks me.

Now where was I? Oh yes, speaking about myself in the third person. So the Headmaster's simple paint job got complicated, real quick. First, if the walls were going to get painted, all interior walls had to get insulated for sound. That meant two walls had to come down entirely. Then, since the Academy's 5-year plan contained a project to widen the dinky little master bath door, NOW would be the time to do that. Except that in order to reframe the bathroom door, a whole bunch of new wiring had to be rerouted and redone. Yes, nothing excites the Headmaster like double work.

Then the whole project had to be put on hold for hours while the Headmaster went to Camp Springs to clean out the Father-In-Law's shed. It costs $65 per ton to dump debris at the Howard County Landfill. We paid $40. The math paints a bleak and tiring picture.

So here is the progress as of 11:30 pm. Tomorrow is another day - the door frame goes in, the door gets hung, the drywall gets taped, and the first skim coat gets applied.

The plan was to replace all the window and door case molding, build window sills, and install crown molding. But at this rate, the Headmaster will be happy with a single coat of paint.

And now, I have to go collapse....

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oh Yeaahh! Hallelujah!

We all drank some more kool-aid this morning. Here are some things I like about church:

- its an opportunity to catch up on the latest gossip, as the people sitting behind you talk through the entire service

- its quite an effective method for picking up lots and lots of germs

- stimulating architecture and detail

- dressing up, and looking like a family that has its sh#% together

- the walk from the car to the church feels so quaint and old-timey

- I can practice my socialization skills, which are sorely lacking

- I can drink wine early in the morning

- I get to refocus my thoughts and get right with the world.

- Pastor Rick. He's awesome - he de-politicizes Christianity, takes a more global view of it, and preaches acceptance (then backs it up). With three Phd's, he is one of the most knowledgable people you'd want to meet, yet SO down-to-earth. His sermons move me every week. And that's not an easy task as it relates to religion. Tired of all the in-your-face bullsh@# surrounding Christianity these days? Terri Schiavo? War on Christmas? Stem cell research? Gay-bashing by hippocrites? Lobbying to legislate values? America is the "chosen nation"? Are you expecting the second coming of the Inquisition any day now? Pastor Rick is the cure for what ails ya.

Now if I could just make it out of the parking lot without losing all that good karma.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dude, come out of the closet

I recently delved into the obscure underworld of hanger manufacturing. I did not emerge unscathed. It is an oft-overlooked, yet apparently vital part of our economy.

Its also a cut-throat world of international intrigue. And Ambassador Peter F. Allgeier may just be its James Bond. He recently testified before the House Committee on Appropriations. According to Allgeier, President Bush had observed that, despite stiff competition from China, U.S. producers still accounted for 85% of the U.S. wire hanger market, and further, that he (President Bush) remained resolved to uphold section 421 of the Trade Act of 1974, as it related to wire hanger production. And I say, thank goodness for that.

Why have I allowed myself to get sucked into the black hole of the hanger market? Having recently completed the construction of the master walk-in closet, I had my own observations about wire hanger production and distribution: they're messy and ugly. And we simply cannot have that. I have enough things keeping me up at night.

Resolved to upgrade my extensive hanger collection, pictured above, I set about to research the market. What I discovered was shocking. There are more types of clothes hangers than one could possibly imagine. Want to buy a gross of plain wooden hangers? Not so fast, Sparky. First, do you want 16", 17" or 18"? Do you want those in lotus wood, chestnut, mahogany, pine, birch or maple? Classic trouser rail (plain or non-slip), clamping trouser rail, or no rail at all. Wide shoulders (8cm), or tapered (4cm)? Curved body, or flat? Do you need skirt clamps, belt hooks, strap notches? What about the hanging hooks - do you want brass or stainless? Anti-snag tips? 6cm neck, or 8cm neck? (Hot Tip - better measure your closet pole support brackets, and think carefully before answering that last question.) Hotel or residential curve? And most importantly, don't you want them certified to ISO9001 specifications? Just imagine the horror of having a guest discover that your hangers are not certified to those standards. Talk about an awkward moment.

Look, we haven't even gotten to the logos. You can purchase wooden hangers with clothier logos (Jos. A. Bank, Burberry), sports logos and custom logos. You can even have them monogrammed. Be prepared to spend approximately $25 per piece. I would love a closet stocked with Red Sox hangers, but then 99% of my wardrobe would thus be hanging on an item that cost more than the article of clothing itself.

You can buy hangers (retail) in lots of 24 (a bundle) and up to 500 (a gross). One supplier in China claims they can keep you supplied in fine-crafted wooden hangers at the astonishing rate of one million pieces per month. Can you imagine? Some folks take their wardrobes a little too far.

I seriously believe there are people out there who have spent more on hangers for their well-dressed closets than I spent on the entire closet, clothes and all. But, after much careful consideration, I happened upon some plain flat wooden hangers in Target for about $0.50 each. They even have non-slip pant rails! Ok, now we're talking. I've finally found my little corner of the hanger market.

Now that its all done, I have found the closet to be a kind of sanctuary. Its the only all-adult room in the entire house, its the most isolated, and also the most quiet. I've become fond of spending lots of time in there. With an internet connection, I might never come out of the closet. Heck, I might even do some laundry.

Hammer time

The old tree just doesn't do it for me anymore. I feel a complete makeover coming on. I've done patriotic (before "patriotic" became a political hammer), angelic, fruit, floral, tin, and dried flowers. What I have now is kind of a mixture.


I've never done power tools..

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ghost of Christmas Past

More random Christmas memories.

One year, when our older kids were just 'tweens, we had a Christmas wreath on the front door. It had a hand-painted ceramic, fluffy-bearded Santa face hanging down in the middle of it. I got home one night to find an Anne Arundel police cruiser parked out front. Diane and the kids were home, and they'd heard someone picking the lock, trying to get in. They were all quite terrified. Diane bravely went to the door, looked out the peephole and saw some activity out there. She immediately called 911 and told them that someone was trying to break into the house, and that she was taking the kids upstairs. Fortunately, the police got there in time to catch the guy right in the act. The little fluffy-bearded man was being taken away and locked up just as I arrived. And he is still locked up, in a box in the attic.

Before K.C. the Kitty Cat was hired as the Academy's mascot, in fact, before the Academy even existed, we owned two of the most ill-behaved cats in the history of cats, with the possible exception of the Smilodon fatalis that used to lock Fred Flinstone out at night. A brother and sister set of barn cats, the female would have very little to do with anyone, and the male, named Jordan, was the feline embodiment of Stanley Kowalski, minus any redeeming qualities. He would park himself at the front door and howl to go out in the wee hours. Then, after cruising the neighborhood to fight all other males and impregnate all other females, he'd schlep home with whatever diseases he'd managed to pick up, park himself under our bedroom window and howl to come in. On a good night, perhaps he'd drop a beheaded bunny or two on the front porch. Once inside, he'd knock his sister around and then howl until someone fed him. Having gorged himself, he'd lounge for a bit, then get up and start the whole business over again. It was nearly as bad as living with two colicky newborns. His howl was similar to those small dogs that people train to bark out sentences, like "I love you". Except they're not really saying anything - they're just trying to get a treat. Jordan's howl sounded eerily like a plaintive "STELLA!" I went out to go to work one morning, and found him locked in my car. Yeah, the neighbors loved him. The neighbors loved US for having him. Anyway, our Christmas tree was very close to the front door. One day, after returning from some holiday shopping, we discovered that we were unable to get into the house. The cats had knocked the tree over and somehow lodged it between the front door and the closet door in such a manner that the door simply could not be opened. I had to break in through a window. Jordan very nearly became acquainted with the Ghost of Christmas Present that year.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Hey, this guy's just doing what the rest of us are only thinking.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Closed-Door Policy

During the holidays, the Academy adopts a closed-door policy - doors must be kept closed so K.C. the kitty cat doesn't terrorize the Christmas tree. Talk about "War on Christmas". The problem is, we didn't have any doors to close.

Above is the first of two doors that had to be installed before the Christmas tree could go up. French doors are so practical with the toddler set, n'est pas? Clean the little glass panes, and within the hour they appear to have been visited by a pack of miniature, rabid St. Bernards.

Below is the second of two doors that had to be installed. Pay no attention to the holes and patches in the wall - I just finished rewiring the entire house, and those little holes and patches are EVERYWHERE. This door was donated by a friend of the Academy. I have a dozen more, just like it. They're slab doors, which means its just a door, without a frame. In this situation, you have two choices:

1 - build your own frame, and chisel hinge-mortises into the frame to match the door hinges exactly.

2 - use the existing frame, trim and shave the door to match it, chisel hinge-mortises onto the door to match the frame exactly, and remove/replace existing door stop molding.

Both are a total pain in the threshold, but you save a ton of money.

Anyway, the room is now properly congigured to prevent the Academy's mascot from entering. This should work out great with four kids, right? You know how a cat always wants to be on the other side of a closed door? Yeah, kids are worse. Its highly likely the closed-door policy will have the effect of locking the cat IN with the tree, thereby guaranteeing its complete and utter destruction.

At any rate, construction begins tomorrow, as soon as I pull the county permits.

Oh, you see that molding on the second door frame? The plain cove molding with peeling paint - just like ALL the other molding in this house? I lie awake at night, thinking about replacing it. Oh, you think I'm kidding?

Stream of Yuletide Consciousness...

Some random holiday memories, in no particular order......

Life was stressful for the first couple of years after the boys were born. I mean, unhealthy stressful. I don't think I got two hours of sleep on any given night. I can't recall much about those years - the mind has a way of blocking out unpleasant experiences. But I do remember putting up a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve one year, and if you've ever seen my tree, it is a huge undertaking. After hours of work, I slid underneath to push it back against the wall, and it tipped over. Funny, I didn't have much Christmas spirit when I'd started the project. And at that moment, it wasn't so much sleigh bells jingling as it was a yuletide GONG that signaled my freefall over the edge. Ever seen the Incredible Hulk's Christmas Special? I took the tree, ornaments and all, dragged it through the dining room and out the back door, and tossed it as far as I could into the back yard. The headmistress wouldn't talk to me for several weeks after that episode.

Each year my older brother and I always try to outdo each other with gifts or calls to mom. You don't want to be the last person to make the phone call on THAT day. This year, he claims he really outdid himself. Told me that it wasn't even worth trying; that I should just send no gift and start focusing on next year; that if I do send a gift, I'll only embarrass myself. Oh, he's made a big deal over this one. And he won't tell me what it is. But he made one KEY mistake. Flying at 36,000 feet on his way to Norway this week, he crafted an email to mom telling her to expect a large package, and explaining the shipping arrangements, etc. Then he realized he didn't have the email address, so he sent it to me requesting that I forward it. What, are you kidding? Have you ever MET me, brother? You trust ME? Ha! After some clever editing, mom now expects a package from BOTH of us. Have fun in Norway 'Bro! Don't worry, I've got your back.

A friend once got a photo of my sister sitting on the potty. It was a classic pose - pants right down around the ankles. Yup, it was a sight. So this friend, she had the photo made into Christmas cards that year. You know this "War on Christmas" thing? Yeah, it started right there.

I used to love going to Grammy and Fat Leon's place in the winter time - we called it camp, they called it home. It was a small, dark brown house in Ossippee, New Hampshire, isolated at the top of a steep grade up a dirt road. If the snow was too high, you sometimes had to park at the bottom and schlep a mile or so up the hill on foot. We never went there for Christmas, but I do remember some winter visits. The thing I remember most is Fat Leon's Ford Galaxy. It was dark blue, with a purple haze from too much sun and salt, and it had two things on the dashboard that simply fascinated me - one was a tartan-plaid beanbag ashtray, and the other was a statue of the Virgin Mary. But what I really remember about winters there, is how the car sounded. In summer, he'd speed down the dirt road like the blazes, rocks rattling 'round the wheel wells like coins in a clothes dryer. It was a "hell of a racket", as he would say. But in winter, it was like you were driving on plush carpet. The car made no noise, except for the snow crunching under the tires.

The last time I ever saw my dad was the Christmas of 1991. I flew to Florida to spend the holiday with Mom and Dad, a brother and a sister. Christmas in Florida - very strange, especially for a Down-Easter. In his later empty-nest years in Florida, Dad got a real kick out of pretending he was a big kid at Christmas. He'd put a poster in the window every morning as the big day approached - 3 MORE SLEEPS! 2 MORE SLEEPS! Which is what we used to say as kids. Anyway, that year, the Christmas of 1991, we got my dad a new bicycle, and outfitted it like we used to do as kids, with clothes pins holding playing cards on the back rails, so that the spokes clicked the cards and made this motor-boat sound. We put streamers in the handlebars, and mounted a holster with a cap gun. Dad hated Muskovee ducks, and used to chase them all over the yard with a cap gun, trying to scare them away. He got a good laugh out of that bike, and we took his picture standing next to it in the driveway. It was the last picture we ever took of him. I'd never spent Christmas in Florida before that year, and I don't know what made me go. But I'm sure glad I did.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Brake Pads and Gumdrops

Normally, I pay way too much for stuff. Never been a good shopper, no sir. It runs in the family. We're all lousy with money. A few recent examples come to mind (and these are the simple, non-interest-bearing variety).

Recently, the Washington Post contacted me to inform me that they intended to print one of my many letters to the editor. So when I stopped the next morning at the gas station (of course, there is no such thing as a gas station anymore - only grocery stores that also happen to sell gas), I started the pump then ran inside to purchase the morning edition of the Washington Post. Behind the counter was a new trainee who knew perhaps less English than I know Spanish. Directly ahead of me in line was a hungry contractor with conceivably the most complicated transaction in convenience store history. The collision was unavoidable, and spectacular. By the time they'd cleaned up the mess and I finally paid my twenty-seven cents for the paper, the total back at the pump was $87. Since I'd planned to purchase only $15 of gas, I figure that morning edition of the Washington Post cost me seventy two dollars. And they didn't even print my letter.

Recently, I'd taken the man-truck to the dealership for scheduled maintenance. I really think there is a typo in the owner's manual though, because the only thing you get when you take your car to the dealership for "scheduled maintenance" is unscheduled maintenance - things like "breather valves" and "ballast resistors" and "adamantium condensers". Whatever. So the dealership informs me that the vehicle requires new brakes. Stange, since it only has 40k miles on it, but what the hell, it sounds better than a valve job. Except the price was $750. I began to figure I could save hundreds of dollars by doing the job myself. So I went to the parts counter instead, and purchased the necessary parts for $179. At home, I got the front wheels taken apart, removed the rotors, and took them to the local machine shop to have them turned (don't ask - its like a shave). They informed me that only the dealer could turn them. I took them to the dealer. They informed me that they lacked the equipment to turn these high-tech rotors. Um.... excuse me, but weren't you just trying to SELL me a brake job? How would you have dealt with the rotors? "We would have replaced them." Well, that explained the price tag, but I wasn't buying it. So I begged and they turned them on the low-tech equipment for $75, but refused to guarantee the work. I finished the job, and drove around for weeks with the satisfied smile of one who'd just saved hundreds of dollars. Except after several weeks, every time I applied the brakes the vehicle would shake to the point where all occupants' teeth would chatter. So I returned to the dealership and got the work done correctly. Not bad - a $750 brake job for over a thousand dollars.

Every Christmas, I purchase the largest poinsettias I can find and put them in the front window with spotlights on them. This year I bought some from Home Depot of all places. I was so proud that I'd found these enormous poinsettias for just $18 each. Except that the Academy's mascot got into them, and several trips to the veterinarian later, we were able to bring the kitty back to life from comatose toxic shock. Two poinsettias? Five hundred thirty four dollars.

Hey, the list goes on and on.

But today was the exception. Today the entire student body of the Academy went on a holiday field trip to build gingerbread houses at another regional school. We had the best time, and it cost us nothing. You might think that a such a party, put on for small children, might be held in a dark basement with card tables and wooden benches, bags of gumdrops placed unceremoniously on the tables. And you would be wrong. This party was prepared by perhaps the world's most gracious host, and it was phenomenal - magical. The table was set for a king, with dozens of silver bowls filled with different types of candy and assorted house-building goodies. There was food and drink for the adults. Christmas scents and Christmas music filled the air. What a treat for adult and child alike.

Morning edition of the Washington Post - $72
Brake job for the man truck - $1,004
Two holiday poinsettias - $534
Sharing good times with good people - Priceless

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tool Time

Many times, in the middle of the night, our dormitory monitors have had to intercept sleep-walking students as they fumble around trying to locate the bathrooms. They walk about aimlessly, yet seemingly with great and urgent purpose - that's the sure sign of someone who desperately needs to relieve themselves, yet cannot manage to understand why the toilet isn't to be found in the kitchen.

And so it was tonight. I, the headmaster, was in the kitchen watching my daily.. well, Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Suddenly I became aware of a presence behind me, and turned to find one of the students standing there, staring at the ground with a troubled look, and holding a part of his anatomy in a manner that suggested a prompt visit to a potty was recommended.

I took his hand and led him to the bathroom. On the way, I recalled that earlier in the evening I'd turned off the breaker that controls the bathroom lighting circuit. I was rewiring a switch, and hadn't finished the job. Poor thing, I thought to myself. He'd probably gone into the bathroom and found that the lights weren't working, then came looking for me. I escorted him into the bathroom, and then discovered that I'd left a pile of tools on top of the toilet seat. "Ha! Sorry buddy!" I said, as I reached down to pick them up. The poor guy might even have made his way into the bathroom, only to find that he couldn't use the toilet because of all the tools on top of it.

As I scooped the tools up into my hands, the reality of the situation hit me...

He hadn't so much come to me to ask for help going to the bathroom, as much as to inform me that he'd just pissed all over my tools.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

We will tell no time before its time

The students here have been analog-deficient for so long that its become embarrassing. Clock-time is one of those sneaky questions traditional school parents use to test the knowledge of homeschool kids. Its innocent enough - "Hi Junior! How do you like homeschool? Oh, that's nice - what time is it on the clock over there?"

For the Academy's students, that's a deer in the headlights moment. We've just not spent much, um, time on it. Ask 'em the time on a digital clock though, and DAMN! they nail it every time. Of course, its more of a new-agey interpretation, but everyone knows what "six-two-seven o'clock" means, right?

Anyway, today we decided it was high time to take a leap backwards, technologically, and get right with the analog world. It went surprisingly well. By building our own clocks, we were able to really understand the concepts. Here is the technique we used.

We created three clocks, each with onehand. The first clock was the hour clock, the second was the minute clock, and the third was the seconds clock. Each had an identical "hand". The hour clock had 12 marks on it, and the corresponding numbers 1-12. The minute and seconds clocks had 60 marks on it, with the 5-minute interval marks standing out, and the corresponding 5-minute numbers on them, 5-60. The actual making of the clocks was where much of the learning took place. When they were complete, we discussed the differences, and noted that the minute and seconds clocks were identical, and also noted how they differed from the hour clock.

Then we got comfortable with how each clock worked, starting with the seconds clock, and working our way up to the hour clock, tying each into the next, and then discussed speed. All this really helped them understand the relationships.

Then we tried some relationship exercises. I'd rotate the hand of the seconds clock some number of times, and then ask them to set the hand on the minute clock accordingly. When they were comfortable with that, we moved onto the minute/hour clocks.

When they were comfortable telling the time using the three-clock arrangement, we discussed the impracticality of a three-clock system. We took this to the extreme by putting on three watches and pretending they represented the hour/minute/seconds clocks. We then set out to combine our clocks.

Obviously we started with the hour clock as the base, and added in the elements of the minute clock - the hand, the additional "tick marks", and the numbers of the 5-minute increments. When we were done, the clock looked very messy. We cleaned it up by removing the numbers for the 5-minute increments, after noting that they corresponded with the hour increments/numbers. What we had at that point was a clock where the numbers (1-12) represented the hours, and the tick-marks going all the way around represented the minutes, with special markings for the 5-minute increments, and special markings for the quarter-hours. In other words, a normal-looking clock, with the exception of having two identical hands.

We then set out to merge in the elements of the seconds clock. The students recognized that there was nothing to do but bring over the hand from the seconds clock (again, identical in every respect to the hands from the hour and minute clocks).

Now, with our merged clock complete, I would set the hands and ask the students to tell me the time. They had paid good attention to the merging of the hands, and did a good job of remembering which was the hour hand, which was the minute hand, and which was the second hand. But I mixed them up and they realized they could not tell the difference. So we set out to make the hands different - one they colored black, one red, and the other orange. At that point, they were doing a decent job of telling the time. The method we used was to get the hour straight first, then get the minute, and then the seconds.

At this point, we looked at an actual clock. They recognized how the hands were different, and understood why. We discussed the absence of the seconds hand, and talked about why many wall-clocks don't have one, while many watches do. We discussed clock purpose and usage, and tied that to the presence or absence of the second hand. They did a great job of understanding all this.

From there, it was a simple task to help them understand the general standards of hands (short and fat; skinny and long; skinnier, long and red). We remade our clock hands to fit the standard. Then we talked about how to actually SAY the time, and WRITE the time. And then we used the apple-pie method of discussing quarter hours and half hours, using our minute clock, and tying back to the actual clock. It took about an hour and a half, but they have it down cold now.

So I say, bring the clock questions on, baby! I have no doubt that the Academy's students will look at their interrogator with the blank stare of a deer caught in the headlights...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Muchas Gracias, Hermana

The Academy wishes a joyous Christmas to all those who celebrate our GDP. More and more each year, the holiday seems to resemble fiscal year-end contract cramming from my corporate days. I'll be glad when this one is in the books. I'm sorry, but the joy in the children's eyes would look a lot better if there were more joy in the Academy's endowment.

So, today marks the day when the Christmas tree begins to go up. More shift work looms ahead. We have a very strict approach to the tree here - no kids are allowed to touch it as it goes up, or after it is complete. How did I get to this place? When I was a kid the tree went up with the misguided efforts of 7 Ritalin candidates throwing time-worn ornaments and tinsel at it. Now, it goes up in carefully crafted stages of lights (small white, non-blinking only), ribbon phase I, ribbon phase II, raffi, floral spears, eucalyptus, dried fruit, beaded ornaments, angelic cherub ornaments, bulbous ornaments, paper ornaments, and then, finally, several time-worn sentimental ornaments that I struggle against a tide of protests to locate in the back of the tree, out of sight. Last year, a number of students, aligned with the headmistress, threatened to create a splinter group with their own tree. And that is how the time-worn ornaments landed a prime spot in the front of the tree, under the crisp glare of several carefully-placed halogen spotlights.

On a different note, the Academy wishes to dispel recent rumors of holiday impropriety on the part of its headmaster. It has come to our attention that certain individuals, whom shall remain nameless (except they live in upstate New York), have been spreading stories about our headmaster. The stories vary, but the theme remains constant - at gatherings of friends and relatives, he is fond of saying goodbye to his guests and/or hosts in a manner that leaves them agape, agog, and otherwise stunned as he bends with his backside to them, drops his pants to his ankles and leaves them with the lasting memory of his bare behind. In fact, there are several unauthenticated photographs of said guests, mouths agape, basking in the warm glow of the headmaster's gluteous reflection.

These rumors are simply not true. The pants are only dropped to mid-cheek.

Yesterday, the Academy received a special holiday delivery from these same upstate New York zealots. It is a statue of a talking Santa Claus, on a pedestal. Push the button, and he speaks, turns his backside to the unsuspecting holiday reveler, and drops his pants. The students here love it. Two of these students are 2 and 4 years old, and the other two are 7 years old. Teaching them such behavior, and using a cultural icon that represents childhood innocence and wholesome goodness. Special night? Beard that's white? Milk and cookies? See, I'm just saying.... maybe the headmaster isn't the bad influence around here? Thanks, sis.

On the subject of full moons, the headmaster wishes to submit, for the approval of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, his Christmas wishlist of a Maksutov-Cassegrain 102mm telescope. This morning's moon was fantastic. The picture below was taken with the naked camera at full 40x zoom. With some Nikon binoculars held in front of the lense, one can actually pick out rock formations, craters, and a shocking amount of detail. However, it is impossible to hold them steady enough for a good photograph.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Lace and Lachrymosity

Who'd have thought a spinsterly group of 18th century women could affect my lachrymal glands so? I mean, we're not talking mere weeping, folks. No, this is a full-on mucous extravaganza. Something about this movie simply sweeps me away, no matter how many times I've seen it (which is, maybe.. 20 times). Each time it has the same effect. I've never seen such a successful investment in a final scene - it makes me cry like a baby.

But don't tell the drywall guys.