Saturday, January 10, 2015


I didn't know what I'd find.

It had been sometime before my children were born that I saw my brother. Sometime after I married. So more than fifteen years, fewer than twenty-one. Still, a long time.

For much of that time I didn't know where my brother was, exactly. I didn't hear from him, nor did I seek him out. We were both living our lives as they presented themselves. I started a family, forged a career, grown older and softer and wiser.

Now, my wife was facing a milestone birthday. It's at those round numbers where you ponder mortality, look back and judge your younger selves. She, wisely, chose something different. She wanted to go to Las Vegas for her birthday.

This is a wonderful idea that she had. We have plenty of things. If we want a new thing, we get it. We are struggling to rid our house of useless things. So let's make memories. Let's have fun. Let's stay on the Strip, gamble away the money we'd use to buy things, and drag the kids along for the ride. It was a very good time.

Las Vegas is where my brother is. I hadn't been there for, what was it, fifteen to twenty-one years? I can't not see my brother.

So we set it up - a breakfast meeting near his home. We set aside that time in our schedule and, when the time came, we went. I didn't know what to expect, but I had my family with me; those people in my life that help me make my way through. My family gives me purpose and strength.

We met in the foyer. I saw my eyes, our mother's Irish eyes, looking back at me. It was like looking at my reflection.

What we discussed was largely mundane and inconsequential. We talked for hours. He also met us at the airport while we sat around waiting for our flight to be repeatedly delayed. This was the highlight of our trip.

My daughter has those eyes. Maybe some day she'll look into mine and see herself, too.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Salsa and Guacamole

We have too many tomatoes. Bunches of cilantro. Onions. And my family likes the spicy, so here we go.

Let's start with the heat. A large jalapeno, a couple red chilis, and a small can of green chilis.
Cut the tops off the peppers and remove the seeds.
Next, grab the tomatoes.
The ones for the guacamole get their innards removed. The salsa ones stay juicy.
Lets make that guac! Grab the avocados.
Slice them, peel them, put 'em in a bowl.
Dice the tomatoes. Grab some of the green chilis, and dice half a red chili. Throw them in, but only half the green chilis.
One clove of garlic and an onion. We'll use about a third of the onion and save the rest for the salsa.
Those things are diced. Put them in the bowl and grab a fork. Add salt. Add lime juice.

Mush it all up with your fork. The guacamole is done.
To the remaining ingredients, add a lime and more garlic. Oh, and another tomato that I found.
Throw most of that in the blender. Leave out a half jalapeno, some tomato, some onion, and the green chili. We will dice this and add it last, so the salsa has some chunk.
Add some salt. Oh, and some cilantro then blend. Pour the result into a bowl, add those set-aside ingredients, and stir.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Gettysburg, Hershey, New York City

Nothing extravagant this year. My wife wanted to visit her mother while her brother was there, so we built a little vacation around it. I had just finished a major project at work, so the timing was good for a week off.

Since I used my phone to take pictures, Google put together a little story of the trip by itself. It's not perfect, but it'll do.

Trip to New York and Gettysburg

I didn't take any photos during our beach day (you're welcome) and the locations are a bit off at times.

I had not been to Gettysburg since I was a child. At the time, I understood next to nothing. Before this trip, I studied the battle and read a book about it, so I could regale my family with stories appropriate to our location. As such, I became expert in such topics as the Parrot Rifle, the Minnie Ball, and General Sickles stupidity.

The next day, after visiting the Gettysburg Museum, we went to Hershey on our way to New York. As everyone knows, it's not the same as when we were kids. We didn't have time for the amusement park, but we did visit Chocolate World to learn how chocolate candy is made. Bought some gifts and moved on.

The following day, we went to Jones Beach. it was hot and we made the mistake of not applying our sunscreen spray indoors. We waited until we were at the beach. The wind dispersed the spray, making it ineffective (except for a line right under the nozzle. The result was sunburns, with curious unburnt lines snaking over our bodies.

It was fun, though. My daughter, an excitable type, went absolutely bonkers for the first hour or so. Back and forth between the blanket and the surf. Such a delightful fool. My son, played in the water some, then retired to the blanket for the duration. He was content to bake in the sun.

The next day was our big day in the Big Apple. We each had chosen one thing to visit: Times Square, Staten Island Ferry, Central Park. So we each got to do the thing we wanted. We had time to visit the 9/11 memorial at the Twin Towers site and got back to Times Square to see it lit up at night. Lunch was in an Italian restaurant under the Late Show with David Letterman marquee. Dinner at a dark, loud Irish Pub near the Freedom Tower.

On our last day, we simply visited my mother-in-law and her beau, Sherman, along with my brother-in-law. We did a bit of swimming in the pool and had an early dinner. That evening, we drove across the city to Stroudsburg, PA, to make our trip home relatively short. That way, we could avoid driving across the Bronx on a Friday morning.

Certainly not a very fancy or expensive trip, but we had fun.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Kids' Bathroom Remodel

You've seen the vanity and shelf box we made. Now that the kids were out of school for the summer, it was time to perform the upgrade to their bathroom.

The first task, as always, was demolition. Out came the vinyl flooring, old toilet and sink, lighting and other fixtures.

Vinyl and underlayment out 
Light fixture and medicine cabinet removed

Out comes the old vanity

Going to need to mud and prime those walls

The toilet is gone - grocery bags help keep sewer gas out

Once the walls were patched, we painted the room and started to rebuild it from the floor up.

The floor is a porcelain tile, the same as what I put in our master bathroom. Daltile Continental - charcoal with Tuscan blue and rust accent colors. We used a charcoal grout.

DITRA underlayment installed w/ modified thinset

Tile installed w/ unmodified thinset

The tile is grouted

Once the floor was done, in went the new light fixture, toilet, vanity, and sink.

Light fixture installed

New Cadet 3 toilet installed and shimmed

There is the cherry vanity, screwed to the wall

Back on the wall is the cherry shelf box

Using a jig to drill the holes - quicker and less accident-prone than measuring

Refinished base trim, new air duct diffuser, new bathroom fixtures and items completed the project.

The whole think took about a week to accomplish but the results were worth it. Gone are the particle board cabinets and, in their place, are custom built cherry ones. The faucet and toilet both work better than what they replaced while using less water. The one-piece vanity top and sink is easier to clean, as is the tile floor. An elegant oval mirror replaces a cheap wall-mount medicine cabinet.

Kids' bathroom completed

I hope my daughter learned something working with her father. Something in addition to how insanely driven I can be when working on a task. At every step, I was asking what we should do next. When waiting (for paint to dry or thinset to cure) I was always thinking about what we could do in the meantime to advance the ball.

By the time we grouted the tile, there wasn't anything left to do in parallel. We had to do nothing. (Well, I mowed the lawn then I did nothing.)  Good thing, because by that point I was exhausted. Of course, at dawn the next day it was time to install all the things!

Right now, I'm basking in the afterglow.

The piano room can be cleaned up again. My shop is a disaster since we just threw things back down there. It'll take an hour or so to put everything away where it belongs. The side of the garage is littered with cardboard boxes that things came in. But the job is done, and so am I.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

First Blood

We have a dog, named Mika, that we rescued. She's two years old and some type of beagle mix (rottweiler? coonhound? anyway, something black and tan). Coming out of this bitter winter, she has been very happy to just sit outside whenever possible. She lays under the yews, her black back blending into the sharp midday shadows rendering her invisible.

She is a wonderful family pet. Very submissive, if a little inattentive. Her beagle nose gets her in trouble at times.

So I was relaxing this afternoon, having spent the morning raking out old leaves and mowing the lawn for the first time this year, when my wife screamed for me. "Come outside. Put some shoes on and come outside!"

She was distraught and a little incoherent. Something bad had happened and she could not tell me what. All I could get out of her was that she was backing out. That Mika was out. There was a squeak. But she couldn't speak. She just pointed.

Mika was there, and was fine. Her usual, inattentive self. At the edge of the yew line was something else. A squirrel. It seemed to be missing its tail and was silently opening and closing its mouth to reveal its incisors. The squirrel was Mika's first kill.

Dead and near-dead animals creep me out. I don't like clearing mouse traps. I was no fan of removing the dead bird from our kitchen wall we discovered during its remodeling. This was no different. Ick. However, my wife was near tears and needed hugged to keep from falling apart. As is often the case, when one of us goes noodle, the other takes the load. It was my job to be the rock.

So off she went to the corner store. Once she was away, out came the shovel and I buried the thing. Mika looked like she wanted to snatch it back from me and did not like me taking it out of her range. After all, she would gladly dig the dead squirrel back up again in a couple weeks and roll on it. We can't have that. So the squirrel is buried deep enough so that we shall not see it again.