March 2008

Friday dawned with two sickos in the house.  I fell victim to another cold and didn’t feel much like going to work.  I could have done it with the help of my DayQuil caplets but Erin was also feeling poorly.  One of her eyes was red, swollen, and painful.  I decided to stay home and get her to the doctor.

She has been supporting a busy schedule lately.  The high school is producing “Kiss Me Kate” in which she is in the chorus.  They are rehearsing from 6 till about 11 every night and she’s been exhausted.  This is the excuse she give for sleeping in her contact lenses.  Apparently digging them out of her eyes in the morning resulted in a scratched cornea.  It was plenty painful – enough to remind her not to sleep in her contacts again.  Or to at least be more careful in getting them out.  She was instructed by the doc to stay home the rest of the day with an eyepatch on to keep the eyelid from rubbing around on the cornea.  She was thus costumed in pirately fashion when she showed up for rehearsals.

Showing up to rehearse a play with an eyepatch is not the disaster that it would be if she showed up at school; after all, every person in the place is dressed up in some strange way.  Still, it had an adverse affect on her peripheral vision.  But she made it through Saturday’s rehearsal as well with no ill effect other than to bump into a few things.

Saturday night was the night of the big Winter Formal which was delayed to the point that it was no longer in winter.  Erin had gotten a dress back before Thanksgiving and unfortunately, due to the rehearsals, did not get to attend.  So with a party dress waiting, she wore it to an after party.  No way was she going to miss an opportunity to wear that dress – with an eyepatch.  If it were anyone else, I think they would have just gone home but not Erin.  She has enough strength of character to stand up straight and show up to a party in a long formal dress and and eyepatch.  She was met at the edge of the driveway by a crowd of about five friends.  For some reason, everybody was out in the yard.  A party is held at a huge house and they all end up in the front yard.  WTF?

This formal was a pretty big deal.  Mel and I had volunteered long ago to help out and were thus a bit miffed that we had to be there even though we had no child in the dance.  We worked the concession stand.  There were probably 300 kids there; all of them dressed up as adults.  All the girls had bare shoulders which meant that they felt “funny” and were constantly hitching up their dresses around the boobs.  They would show up at the concession stand to buy water with an elegant dress, fancy hair, fancy manicure and then pull gum out of their mouths in a string and wind it back around their finger.

The phrase “casting pearls before swine” comes to mind.

Most girls left their shoes in the coat room but some kept them on and many of those walked around with the strange gait of the high-heel-rookie.  They all appeared to have fun though.  Without Erin.

Many kids stopped to ask about her.   When the thing ended, the place cleared out remarkably quickly. It amazed me how fast the student council kids ripped down the decorations and got the place clean.  We had barely counted our money and put the excess away when the principal showed up with his keys ready to go home to bed.  By that time I was away to pick up Erin from rehearsal to shuttle her to this “after” party.

After all this hoop-de-doo, all we did Sunday was sleep the afternoon away.  I finally shook off my cold but not until after a nice long nap.  Erin slept 12 hours in the afternoon/evening and then slept all night.

Saturday was long and distracting since both kids were due back from mission trips at very different times.  We showed up at the airport to pick up Evan who was returning from Guatemala.

He was predictably jazzed up about having been to an exotic locale as well as pretty greasy from the lack of a proper shower all week long.  Indeed that was one of the first stories he told – hot water in other countries is apparently not given the same priority that it is at our house.  He also told of visiting a volcano which is worth the entire trip right there.  Apparently the concept of park rangers, signage, and guardrails hasn’t made its way down there either so his trip to the volcano rim was pure explorer type stuff.

Erin rolled in at around 10:30 pm.  She was also pumped about everything but soon got sleepy and conked out.  We spent Easter Sunday hearing their stories.  They were remarkably similar:  mixed concrete, tied rebar, put on roofing, went to worship.  Evan pointed out that when we go to church on Wednesday for the reunion slide show, if his photo doesn’t show up it’s because he was working.  Those people in the photos were not doing anything; that’s why they were in front of the camera.

Easter Sunday was the annual ham hoop-de-doo for Mel’s family and thankfully we did not have to host it this year.  It was plenty fun though.  It was notable also because my sister drove up from south Arkansas for a rare visit.

She stayed Monday and part of Tuesday and so she got the opportunity to go to the Pride Banquet  which is the marching band’s big party to celebrate the year.  In Evan’s case it is to say goodbye to marching band which he is not terribly sentimental about.  It was fun though.  My sister viewed it as a substitute for attending his graduation which will be way more boring and no sit-down dinner provided.

In the off-hours when visiting was at low ebb, I did homeowner type stuff which unfortunately included discovery of a broken water pipe in the wall.  More on that as the situation progresses.

So the kids are gone and Mel has decided to give their rooms a huge cleanup.  This involves mostly taking things out; some things to the curb for the garbage man, some things into the attic for some vague future yard sale or donation.  Probably the latter; now that our kids are no longer little, nobody buys our crap at a yard sale.

But another job that has been lurking in the background for a long time is to have the cars fixed.  Both have nagging little problems.  Mel’s car has been making a moaning sound for the past year and now that the tax refund is in the bank and the kids are off from school (and as a result, Evan is not using his car and that gives us a spare), we put the old minivan in the shop to see what was the matter.  I had done much googling of the problem and so had a fair idea of what was up and it made me all warm inside when the mechanic called me up this morning to tell me that that was the exact problem.  Not only that but it’s cheap to fix.  cha-ching!

Now I must turn myself to the issue of replacing the windshield on my other car as well as having the dashboard lights looked at.  I have two warning lights that are on all the time so they should be dealt with.  Plus my CD player doesn’t work and a replacement can be bought off Ebay for $50 so that’s a no-brainer.

Mel got a bit sentimental when she hauled out all of Evan’s old Legos from the closet, bound for the attic.  We’re keeping those – Legos always come in handy in the future.  Evan loved those Legos but they aren’t very cool for a high-schooler any more but he still wants to keep them around.

Most of Erin’s castoffs are clothes.  She’s been either growing up physically or growing up in the maturity sense and so her clothes have been changing a lot.  Many is the black plastic trash bag full of shoes that I have seen lately.

Hopefully when the kids get home from mission trips on Saturday, they will have clean rooms to start filling again.  They don’t need to know what fun we had while they were away; for example, we ate excellent Chicago-style pizza last night at the place they hate to go.  Both my kids say they don’t like pizza with “chunks” in it.  By that they apparently mean large pieces of tomato and/or meat.  So when they leave, we eat chunky pizza.

Evan does not know it but I have an evil plot to make his room into an office/computer room when he’s gone but I suppose I should wait until he’s well and truly gone and out of college.  It would be bad form to start painting the walls the day after he moves to campus in August.  But I can dream.

December’s ice storm was legendary in its scope.  Since then, tree services have been working full time and there are several woodyards throughout the area where piles of brush are legendary in scope as well.  The city of Tulsa is mulching theirs and the mulching machines are these gigantic funnels that cranes drop tons of sticks into at a time.  Broken Arrow has chosen to burn theirs and you can drive past the woodyard at night and admire the huge bonfires.

I was waiting until the rush was over but our city’s last brush pickup starts today so I hired a tree service to come out last week and trim the broken stuff out of my three trees.  It didn’t look like much when the branches were up in the top of the oak trees but when piled on the ground, they seem much larger.

As usual I decided that I could save a little money by telling the guy he could just leave them laying on the yard and I would drag them to the street.  He was only too happy to let me do that and so yesterday we had to get on the stick (so to speak) and get them piled on the curb so that the giant claw can get at them.  Now you can barely see the house from the street.

It’s all worked out but I’m starting to reconsider a lot of the things I do for myself.  I love the feeling of self-reliance I get but I’m starting to decide that I’m satisfied enough with myself and to consider hiring out a lot of services to make time available for things that I enjoy doing.  Dragging limbs around the property is not my idea of fun so next time, I’m letting the tree guy handle it; presumably he does enjoy it or at least has figured out how to minimize it with the use of either machines or cheap labor.

I guess this is why the lawn tractor was invented – for people like me that want property and stuff but don’t want to waste a lot of time maintaining it.

On Saturday we dropped off both kids at the church so they could be whisked off on a mission trip for the week of spring break.  Normally I write a blues song at this point but after all these years of doing the same thing I’ve finally become convinced that they will in fact return.  I still miss them though.

Erin was the first to go; they were required to show up at 5:00am Saturday.  The buses rolled out at a little after 6:00 bound for Reynosa Mexico just south of McAllen, Texas.  There they will apparently help build some sort of facility for children of prostitutes.  No sugar-coating the social problems this year.

Evan actually got to get on a plane this year for his jaunt to Guatemala so we took him to the airport.  They all showed up simultaneously at the American Airlines ticketing counter but the agents were unfazed.  Those agents have seen Thanksgiving weekend and winter storms; one hundred well-mannered teenagers all going to the same place were nothing to them.  The lines went quickly.  Likewise the security checkpoint agents didn’t even look up.  And off they went, not to be heard from until they come back (all cellphones were banned).

Melissa and I now have the entire week to ourselves during which I suspect we will attempt to get the house clean and watch movies.  We already started on the movie part.  But first, on Saturday, we drove around the entire afternoon with her sister who is looking for a new house.  It put us in mind of a different house since we’ve never really liked ours all that much.  It was cheap and in a good school district and so we put up with it but now we can consider something better – like something with a workshop – yeah!

Anyway, we’ve already eaten out twice and smiled at how the bill was less than half what it usually is.  We’ll take turns with the movies; first a guy movie, then a chick flick.  First, we watched “Cars” (OK, that was a kids movie) then we watched “A Walk in the Clouds”.  It’s gonna be a good week.  Except for the deep cleaning of the house part.  Still, I installed a new DVD burner in our computer yesterday and the dust bunnies that came out of the case were scary.  And, I accidentally hit one of our ceiling fan blades while strapping on my guitar and again the dust bunnies that came down were scary in size.  I think the cleaning is past due.

I had ample opportunity on Saturday to go shopping with the family and I ruthlessly refused. I just didn’t want to go to the dancer’s supply store and look for “character shoes” for Erin. Good or bad? Who knows? I chose to stay home while one of the cars was gone and use my new tools. And I got quite a bit done.

I get logjammed quite a bit; I build up a number of small projects that I want to do and often they are inter-related until I have a total logjam of projects which depend on each other in various ways. So it was this weekend. I really like the new table saw but I’ve wanted to replace it’s insert with a “zero-clearance insert” which you typically make yourself. The easiest way to do that is with a router table but mine is in transition so I felt I need to deal with that but to deal with that I needed my table saw. That’s fine; I could use the existing insert but that’s an example of the corners I paint myself into often.

I started out by dealing with the router table. Several months ago I had an accident in which the router fell out of the table while running and so I decided to enclose the base to catch any more falling router motors. I had enough scrap wood laying around to do that if I decided that I didn’t care what the final product looks like. (I didn’t.) So I began the process of creating a Frankenstein of a cabinet with pieces of plywood, pine, and MDF. I even married two pieces; one of MDF, the other of plywood to make the base of the thing. If that ain’t unnatural, I don’t know what is.

I eventually got most of it done; all but cutting the door to size, hanging it, and adding a magnetic catch. I’m thrilled by the way to be ridding my floor of a large number of scraps that were large enough that I couldn’t bear to throw them away. When this is done I will have a cleaner garage.

I needed to use the router table at one point but realized that I really already had one. The router lift I bought from my friend is still there and it came with a small table – I wanted to move the lift to my old (much larger) table but I had failed to make the obvious connection that I could just put it back together and use it until I could get the lift installed into my large table base. So off I went.

I also managed to complete not one but two zero-clearance inserts for my table saw so that now, whenever I want to cut small or narrow pieces, they won’t fall into the saw. They could use a little fine tuning but so could we all I guess. I still need to cut a narrow piece to use as a splitter but I kinda need the insert for that. There I go again…

It snowed last night.  This morning, Evan’s car had about six inches of it piled on the roof.  The weird part is that as I drove west to go to work, the snow got more sparse and by the time I got to work the ground is dry with no trace of snow.  It only snowed south of a very definite line.

Very strange.

I was looking forward to a weekend of garage things; I had a list of projects and two days of forecasted good weather and no lawn to mow.  Killer conditions!  But no.

Melissa had found a long dress for Erin to wear to the “formal” and it needed to be altered to fit her.  Mel’s mom is an old hand at such things and so we needed to be off to Fort Smith to get that done.  I didn’t see that it required my presence so I was all ramped up to have a weekend in the garage alone!   I was stoked.  Alas, Mel insisted that I tag along to “have family time” which can be translated to “I want you to drive home when the sun is in our eyes.”  Nevertheless, I remembered that there are photogenic things in Fort Smith and so I just changed my plans to adapt.

It turns out that the alterations did not take long at all and so we all got up and went to Van Buren.  Actually, only Mel and I and her mom went.  Evan was at a concert band thing in Indianapolis and Erin had had a rough few days and was sleeping them off.  So let’s go back in time for a bit.

Erin’s play performances were this past week and so she had four performances to support in two days.  She was pretty beat after that but Friday night, she went to a sleepover at a friend’s and got more beat still what with the staying up till 2:00 am and all.  Mel and I picked her up to go to grandma’s at 8:30 so she was pretty incoherent most of the day.  Some time during the night, she had managed to kick one of her shoes up onto the friend’s roof.  They had no ladder and so I guess it is there still.  But because of this we got off to a rough start. So by the time alterations were over, she had fallen asleep and the rest of us went over into VanBuren to stroll the renovated downtown streets, browse the antique stores, take some photos (stay tuned for a flickr album), and have pie at an excellent restaurant.

The day after (Sunday) we decided to take a brief road trip to a museum in the old home of a local congressman.  It doesn’t sound very thrilling and indeed it was not but it was a pleasant drive so the time was not wasted.  We managed to get out of the house without bringing the directions which made for some interesting navigation.  We also got a call from Evan; we had thought that he was going to be home late Sunday night but he had misinterpreted the itinerary and he actually got home early Sunday morning so he was home wondering where we were. So it was actually him that got the house to himself to relax in.

Our journey to the environs south of Poteau, OK took us to the town of Wister where we stopped at a bait shop/cafe to ask for directions.  Hopefully the unused food was becoming bait and not the other way around.  This was interesting because it was such a quintessential picture of how rural people navigate their world.  We asked the head waitress but she had to call in the other one on this because even though she knew exactly where the Kerr Museum was, she did not know how to tell a stranger how to get there.  Like most rural people (I grew up this way myself), she knew how to get there instinctively without any reference to street signs or odometers.  She navigated by feel and by landmarks.  So after much discussion, we told to get on “this” road (i.e., the one we were on), go into town and go past the Post Office but don’t go around the curve – just go straight and go right at the stop sign.  That’s the Old Wister Highway even though it is not labeled as such.  Then you’ll see the signs down on the right but she didn’t know how far.  She was tempted to tell us it was just past somebody’s house but we obviously didn’t know those people or their house so that wouldn’t have worked.  We followed their directions and we did indeed find the place.

It was closed.

We went into the conference center next door and found only one individual present.  He told us that the girl who normally worked Sunday was sick but that if we wanted, he would try to find another key.  He seemed to not have much else to do so we agreed.  He found one that worked, let us in and then told us to look around as long as we liked, turn the lights out when we were done, and tell him before we left so he could lock up.  But he was sorry he couldn’t sell us anything from the gift shop; he didn’t know how to work the cash register.

And right there you have another picture of typical rural life.  It was actually pretty cool.

It was like an antique store inside except that everything was labeled as to what it was rather than having little price tags. We browsed awhile then went back to Fort Smith and from there Mel, Erin, and I returned home.  I didn’t get my projects done but we all had a nice time.