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Sponging It Up

May 29th, 2005  · stk

If I've been silent lately, it's not because I haven't had enough time for writing, as Alex has been in day care for two weeks solid. If time isn't the issue, what is? As it turns out, I've had back-to-back colds and because I feel so crappy, it's energy and motivation I lack.

I couldn't carry a tune if it had a handle on it, but I can catch a cold if it's tossed anywhere in my vicinity. I blame our cute, innocent daughter, for my recent misery. Why? Well, anyone who has school-aged children knows that sending kids to school is like mopping up the gymnasium floor with sponge. They're gonna sop up whatever germs they come in contact with and graciously bring them home.

Alex has been sick too. Ever since she started going to day care, she's been congested, had a runny nose and a low-grade fever. (I'm the parent of a snotty-nosed kid!) She's still cute and it doesn't seem to deter her enthusiasm for play, though she naps longer and harder than normal (often 'snoring', which is kind of amusing, because of her congestion). On the plus side, I suppose that exposing Alex to the plethora of germs will build up her immunity system.

The underlying problem, for Alex, is that her fingers are constantly in her mouth and if it's not her fingers, it's whatever she's holding in her hand. I don't think there's a 60-second period where she doesn't have something in her mouth. She also rubs her eyes, sucks her thumb and jambs her stubby index finger up her nose (which she can get in amazingly far, by the way. At dinner, the other night, she found it amusing to stuff inch-long grains of wild rice up her nose, which made her sneeze, but didn't stop her from trying again. Rachel and I both agreed that wild rice would be subtracted from the Oop's menu!)

When she first began sucking her thumb, over a year ago, we found it a relief, because it meant she could soothe herself and sleep through the night. Now ... it's driving me nuts because I can just IMAGINE all of those germs at the day care, entering her mouth, nose, eyes and even her ears. She's a sponge, I tell you, a bloody SPONGE!

We're sending Alex to day care so that I can have more time during the day to do things, not lay me up in bed. So far, however, it's having a hugely unanticipated and non-productive side effect.

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Updated: 31-May-2005
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Filed in:Scott
Our Life

Dandelion Days

May 14th, 2005  · stk

When we rented this house and moved in last summer, we inherited a large backyard, which we thought would be a great playground for the Oop. It had a swing set (which she seems to be using much sooner than we thought) and plenty of green grass. Unfortunately, the green grass was being crowded out by a growing field of yellow dandelions, as to which this early photo will attest. After we moved in, I began a crusade to eradicate these pretty, pesky vermin. By the time we had moved in and tended to all the chores associated with making a new house a home, there was precious little summertime left to mount an assault. Still, armed with a flat-bladed screwdriver and a glass of wine, I would, in the fading light of evening, content myself in the task of plucking dandelions - by the bucket.

Of course, there are many ways to rid oneself of these broad leaf creatures. One can hire a team of lawn professionals, armed with the latest technological, geneological and other logical, solutions. But that costs something that we haven't much of - money. Another solution would be to spread broadleaf-killing herbecide, which isn't quick, but is effective. We weren't too keen on plastering chemicals across the very lawn that our barefoot daughter would be playing in. Besides, where is the sport in that? It's like catching fish with a net. No, I insisted on plucking out each and every creature, armed only with the screwdriver (and a glass of wine).

War raged and it appeared that I quickly gained the upper hand. It was as if the enemy had grown complacent, sure of their ultimate victory. By autumn, I had rid the front yard, and most of the back, from dandelions. Only the area under the swingset, beside the house, and in the alley, remained. Winter came, blanketing the yard with white and the war was put off until another day.

Well, now that the snow has melted, it seems that we've gone from winter to summer in three short weeks. There have been a few very warm 26°C (78°F) days where we've needed to wear shorts. (OMG! When I converted Celcius to Farenheit, I had to laugh ... nothing like what "warm" would be considered in Bakersfield, California! Ha ha.)

Dandilions are making a ferocious sprintime appearance and the war is on once again. This time, they're prepared and have called in the reinforcements. The pesky troops are popping up all over the back yard! Battle lines are drawn and this time, I have a secret weapon - the Oop. Of course, the only problem is that I'm not sure if she's MY secret weapon, or the dandelion's! I appreciate that she wants to help, but in some ways, she's not helping at all.

Rescuing the bucket: I measure success by this device, which is the portable recepticle for the dandelion carnage. It's not unusual to collect two, three, maybe even four, driving-range-size buckets of beheaded dandelions every day. The bucket sits at my side, willing ... no EAGER ... to accept new offerings. That is, until the self-appointed "bucket monitor" (the Oop), stealthly usurps it, taking it to the far corner of the yard, often dumping the contents (either deliberately or inadvertantly) on the ground. Some help! Half my time is spent chasing down the bucket.

Oop pulls her weight: These dandelions are now sending their offspring into battle. The only way I can identify the juvenile warriors is by their yellow flower, a forewarning of the soon-to-come, dangerous seed pod. (One seed pod can scatter 250 or more new recruits - I shudder at the thought). In order to eradicate these youngsters, I must extract them, root & all. And now, here comes "my assistant", who is beguiled by the flower. She knows I'm hunting. Wanting to help, she PICKS the flower, hiding the location of the enemy.

Perfect little angel or the devil in disguise? As helpful as the Oop is trying to be, I'm not certain that she's increased my kill record. She's a cute helper, there is no denying, but helpful? Only if I can keep her away from the bucket and the tempting yellow flowers.

So, the war rages. Armed with a srewdriver, wine and the Oop ... I am slowly winning the battle. The number of dandelions with thumb-sized taproots is dwindling, though I am amazed that some of the lesser creatures have roots that are nearly a foot in length. (It's SOOO satisfying to get the whole root!) Most of the ones with trunks for root are too difficult to extract intact and instead, are broken off. This means that I will have to return, because one unbroken root, can yield a dozen clones, all clustered together.

Counting buckets is how I've been measuring the days. If I collect four buckets, my hands are ragged and dirty from the battlefield. If the Oop dumps four buckets, I consider myself lucky! Still, the dandelions spring forth from the ground, wave upon wave of seemingly endless recruits. Ultimately (and perhaps, despite my "assistant", I shall prevail ... or become a wino in the process).

Ah yes, I almost forgot. There was a recent event, which happened only a few days ago, that highlights the capabilities of my assistant. As the Oop is drawn to yellow dandelion flowers, she is also drawn to Tuxedo, our cat (who is also thankful that winter is over and can go potty in more places than the one boothole off of the shoveled walkway - which is now a large area of dead grass, by the way). Anyway ... the Oop is so enamored by our furry feline that she often pesters him so much that he leaves the back yard. He's been forced to hang out on the front porch, which isn't too distasteful, because it catches the warm afternoon sun and Alex can't (yet) climb over the short fence across the driveway (that doesn't mean she doesn't try, though).

Putting a long spin on a short story, we had a bit of an emergency when Alex tried to follow the cat through a large gap between the house and the fence (not the one I built, but the pre-existing one on the OTHER side of the house). Alex tried to squeeze herself through, but only managed to put her head into the front yard, the rest of her was still stuck in the backyard. I looked up (from my dandilion digging) when I heard the loud wail, to see poor Oop, stuck between the fence and a hard place. "Should I call the fire department or whip out the butter tub?" I wondered, as I ran to assist. It took a minute to dislodge our poor tot, as her head and ears were jammed firmly between the 4x4 post and the rough stucco. All turned out well, though I'm sure that Alex would tell a different story if she could talk. No blood, but there were big gulping sobs and alligator tears that spilled forth as she clung to me, her momentary hero. She eventually calmed down, but decided that a nap was needed to put all the trauma behind her. My poor dandelion assistant.

Sorry to say, but as distraught as our little girl was after "the sticking" (as it's become known), I'm afraid that once may not have been enough to deter her from trying it again. After all, it took two or three handfuls of dirt, last summer, before Alex realized that the Earth wasn't very delectible.

So that's life, here in Edmonton, in springtime, at our house. Dandelion days and blogging nights.

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Updated: 20-May-2005
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Knee Knocker

April 14th, 2005  · stk

Finally, spring has sprung! It's raining today (sleeting, actually), but the past 5 or so days have just been beautiful. Glorious sunshine, warm(ish) temperatures and a snow-free ground to walk upon. We are happy. :D

It's been a great relief, to take Alex out-of-doors. She knows what 'going outside' means. She toddles down the steps (crawling backwards down them still) and into the mud room. She makes a valiant attempt to don her jacket or sweater and now knows to put on her 'sun hat'). Once outside, she heads down to the swing set, hoping that we get the hint and give her a push or two. Maybe a ride down the plastic slide, which has rapidly become one of her favorite 'thrills'! She'll climb on the glider and can even manage to get it rocking by herself. When she's not swinging, she's exploring. The problem with this is that she has no fear of anything and is more willing to expand her horizons than Mom & Dad are comfortable with. Combine this curiosity with a backyard that isn't fenced, too many cars going by, driven by people that are 5 minutes late for their very important date and you have the makings of a disaster.

So, Scott built a knee-high knocker fence that spans the width of the driveway. It's short enough for adults to step over, but tall enough to keep Alex confined to the backyard. Because we're in a rental home, we weren't too keen on dumping a pile of cash into the solution, so we ended up stealing :oops: liberating some wood pallets (though I mock, they were, indeed, destined for the trash). Busted apart and with the nails removed, the pallets provided the raw materials. Scott designed it with a pull-out section, so we can get the lawn mower and other large objects through.

Thus, the very first spring project: "The Oop Containment Field", has been completed.

That's where we've been for the past few days ... outside, enjoying the sunshine and the warmth. We've thatched the back yard (getting 10-12 large trash-bags full of dead grass ... amazing). Built the fence (and painted it white). Pushed Alex about a million times on the swing and sent her down the slide, screaming with glee. Scott even managed to fly the $1 plastic helicopter a few times, before (idiot pilot that he is) crashed the thing into an electrical wire, breaking off a rotor. Until that time, Alex had great fun watching it fly and retrieving it. (Repairs have been attempted, but it is doubtful the thing will fly right again). We've raked up the garden, dusted off the deck chairs, had two BBQ dinners and gulped plenty of fresh air.

Ah... FINALLY, one of the mildest winters in Edmonton (but still the worst winter either of us have EVER experienced) is over! "You hear that snow? Stay AWAY!" we say.

Rachel even managed to avoid massive amounts of studying and joined in the family fun. This is her last week of classes and final exams are just around the corner. She's already bemoaning the effort that will be required over the next couple of weeks and the fact that she'll have only 5 days off before the madness begins again.

Unfortunately, during the building of the containment field, Scott (the old bugger that he is) managed to hurt his right knee. Probably nothing that time won't heal, but he's hobbling about, downing ibuprofen like candy and constantly complaining of pain. (Rachel can't wait for his knee to get better, as she is tired of him using it as an excuse to get out of tasks that involve kneeling - like diapering the Oop, bathing the Oop, putting the Oop's toys away.) Scott's worried that this acute knee pain just might become a chronic problem. ;) ha ha

ENGINEERING SNAFU: Rachel pointed out a design flaw in the containment field, yesterday. She noticed that IF I hadn't placed the 4x4 post in the CENTER of the driveway, but instead, had placed it closer to the existing fence and made the whole middle section removable, we could get the Honda Accord (which is being stored) out of the garage. As it is now, we'll have to dismantle the fence when we move from here. (Of course, fixing it now would mean dismantling the fence, obtaining more lumber and rebuilding the majority of the fence). Hmmmm. The fence stays, but Scott is kicking himself for not thinking of this earlier! ;) "D'oh!"

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Updated: 15-May-2005
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Filed in:Our Life

Taxes - Yuck!

March 13th, 2005  · stk

Here's me, finally getting around to paying my taxes. I get my hands on a free copy of TurboTax Deluxe, so I start. One of the places where I report income is from mutual funds. OKAY, they have a way of automatically doing this. I pick my fund - American Century. Then I see:

Enter SSN: [ ], Enter PIN:[ ]

OKAY ... I'm not certain if the SSN needs to have dashes or not, but I figure, what the heck ... I try without dashes. "Not Valid". (Not valid because the SSN is supposed to have dashes? -OR- Not valid because the PIN is wrong? It would be nice to know.) I try dashes. "For your protection, account access has been disabled. For more information, contact us at our web site"

What the ...? OKAY ... I'm game. I go to the web site and log into my accounts, only to discover that the PIN I need is different than the password I use to log in. Boy does THAT make sense? I check to see what I need to do to unlock my account. "Contact Us" They have a 'Chat with Us' means of contacting them, but it' only open M-F and a few hours on Saturday. It's Sunday. Wonderful. Finally get around to paying taxes and BOOM, dead in the water 5-minutes in.

I know this falls into the category of "little things that upset us" and really, I should let it go. But, sometimes, it's the little things that really get under our skin. So, I decide to 'let fly' and get this one off my chest (knowing that I'm gonna have to manually input the information for American Century to move forward today, anyway). But aren't computers supposed to make our lives EASIER?

I contacted them ... and vented (read - carefully crafted and wordsmithed suggestion). [paraphrased & shortened]: "I'm all for security and protection, but it's only protection during office hours. Any other time, it's a combination of protection and 'customer inconvenience'. You should have a mechanism in place to reactivate accounts after-hours. (Couldn't I do it myself, after logging into my accounts, thus "proving" my identity?)."

Sometimes it feels good to get stuff off your chest. Even the little things.

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Updated: 1-Dec-2007
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A Paying Gig

March 13th, 2005  · stk

You can't beat the regularity of a paycheck from a 40+hour work week. Of the very few things I miss about working, the paycheck, sits, lonely, at the top of the list. (If I could only figure out a way to get a paycheck, without working, then I'd be crowing all day!)

Money can come from odd sources when you're not working. Perhaps it's because you're home to answer the door when opportunity knocks. Mind you, such sources are not nearly as steady as they are diverse, but it makes for nice 'mad money'.

Recently, Mr. Opportunity has knocked twice, or as it is in these cases - Ms. Opportunity.

The first came about via the Internet and the open-source software that we use to write our journal - b2evolution. I often participate in the online forum dedicated to this software. It was a place to get answers when I was new to the software and now that I'm not new, I return the favor, answering questions and helping out the new folks (newbies, or noobs, in computer lingo).

I guess people consider me an expert of sorts and someone sought out my help, then offered to pay me to help them redesign their journaling website. I agreed to do it and was flattered that someone thought me proficient in CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), which is the 'new way' of formatting web page code. (The truth is, I only started learning CSS at the beginning of the new year, so I've only been at it a couple of months. But with a career in UNIX computing behind me, this stuff does come rather quickly.)

It was a positive experience. It was a real boost to my ego and fattened my wallet by $250(US). I got to know a really neat woman living in Minnisota and advanced my CSS learning (some of which I will share in more technical entries). I also got to be creative. Here's a static picture of the site design. It challenged me, because it's not a style I would have done for myself, preferring lighter colors and less bold graphics. I got to play with a couple of CSS tricks that I've been dying to try and both worked out very well. (One is the "page-turned tab" effect, on the upper right of each brown journal entry. The other is the pink 'double quote background image' in the quoted text.)

I put in way more than a $250-worth of time into the project, so from a pure business sense, it wasn't very efficient. But I don't mind, because I learned some things along the way and can't help wonder, "if I was MORE proficient at CSS, wouldn't I have been ABLE to bang it out sooner?"

The technical aspects of computing has been a real draw for me since Rachel started her second term. I think it was bugging me that she was off LEARNING, while I was at home with Alex, catering to the puerile needs of our daughter. Don't' get me wrong. I love Alex to death and I'm very thankful that I'm bonding with her in a way that most Dad's don't, because they don't have the time to be at home. However, or should I say, even still ... the most intellectual conversation I have with Alex all day runs along the lines of, "Can you say 'ba - ba - ba - ba'?" There's a tendency for the mind to mush-out after facing this, day-in and day-out. I can see why house-moms turn to day-time television (soap operas excluded ... I'm thinking more day-time 'talk' shows or 'morning' shows here). Soaps aren't much better than 'ba - ba - ba', in my opinion.

I've spent the money already. I figured it's mad money and by gosh, I'm going to use it as such (very un-Scott like). I've been eyeing a CSS book lately, by Eric Mayer (sort of the guru of CSS). What better way to spend my CSS money? And ... I'll use the remainder to purchase that Riva Producer program, so that we can continue to share snippets of video with our web-readers (also an appropriate use of web-design money, I'd say!).

So thanks, Whoo, for the vote of confidence and I'm glad you're psyched about your new web design! When you get it up and live, I'll change the static image to a link ...

Oh yeah ... I mentioned two sources of income. The second is more in the 'planning stages', but I got a telephone call yesterday from some company that sets up focus groups for companies. They put me on their list of folks to be considered when a company is seeking opinions and consumer feedback on their products of services. Generally, they pay between $50-$100 CAD and it takes an evening of my time, from 7-9pm. They serve refreshments and generally give a pitch, or have group members try a product and then provide opinions about the marketing or an opinion about the product. Why not? Might as well get PAID for offering opinions, right?

So, you see ... the money is just ROLLING in! ;)

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Updated: 1-Jun-2005
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