House Miscellany

Weekend update

Kind of a lazy weekend so far. It’s too cold to really want to go out and do anything, so everyone is just puttering around the house. Yesterday I drained the pool water back down below the tile line. First time doing that so far this winter. Since closing, the water had crept back up several inches. Before that, we hit Macaroni Grill for an early lunch to celebrate my b-day, and I picked up some telecom equipment at Home Depot so I can work on rewiring the phone jack in the master bedroom. I have never wired a 66 punchdown block before, so this is going to be a learning experience. I think I am going to use the 66 block to replace the existing screw-terminal phone junction in the boiler room, which is a bit of a bird’s nest. It’s going to take a little planning. I will probably end up taking a day off work to do it, on a day when I can have the house to myself.

Today I have mainly been working on spackling and sanding the trim in the master bedroom, in preparation for painting. Most of the prep work has been concentrated on the trim. Years ago, someone decided to mount a phone jack near the entrance to the bathroom, so they tapped into an existing jack behind the bed and ran phone wire along the trim to the new jack. The wire was meticulously tacked along the baseboard, up one door opening, over three doors, back down, across more baseboard, up and over the bathroom door, and finally back down to the jack. It was really quite impressive, especially considering they could have run it through the basement, which would have taken about half the time, used about half the wire, and resulted in a nice, concealed wiring job instead of a massive eyesore. But, I digress. Anyhow, I pulled out all the wire, which was (of course) covered with several layers of paint, leaving me with a big patch and spackle job. But it’s almost done now, and soon we’ll be painting. Can’t wait.

Homebrewing Miscellany To-Do

Back to the grind

The holidaze are now in the rear-view mirror, I’m back at work, the kids are back in school, and we’re back to our normal, boring day-in day-out routine.  For me, unlike the previous two years, the break didn’t feel too long.  That may have been because it was only two weeks as opposed to 16-18 days in past years.  Or, it may be because this year’s break was punctuated by a nice, whole-house case of the stomach bug.  Mmm, fun…  pass the Immodium, please.

Measured against past holiday breaks, this one was fairly productive, which I know is not saying much.  Got the tractor more-or-less winterized, the leaves more-or-less cleared, the house more-or-less grounded, and the master bathroom sink drain more-or-less fixed, and started prepping the master bedroom for painting.  All in all, not too bad.

I cracked a bottle of homebrew on Christmas Eve, 8 days after bottling, and it was pretty good, although still in need of a bit more conditioning/carbonating.  It compared favorably to the 2007 Anchor “Special” Holiday Ale I drank around the same time.  I imagine by now it’ll be fully carbonated and really good.  Will probably try another bottle this weekend at some point.  Need to get my taste for beer back first 🙂
Painting the master bedroom is the next big project on the docket.  There’s a bit more prep work to do (sanding, spackling, relocating a phone jack) but all in all, it’s about ready to paint.  Just need to come up with a good day to do it, and put it on the calendar.  Once that’s done there’s the laundry station.  These two should take us up to late winter or early spring, at which point we need to do something about the basement walk-out steps.

All of which brings us to…  this weekend’s to-do list.  This weekend is kinda booked up, so this is an accordingly brief list:

  • Install new fill valve in toilet in kids’ bathroom (never got around to this over the break)
  • Sanding and other prep work in master bedroom
  • Retirement portfolio rebalancing & 2008 tax planning

Summer’s almost over

Well, here it is late summer again. And I must say — I’m ready for fall. If you’d have told me 20 years ago that I’d be writing that now, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy. But it’s true.. I’m just not crazy about summer these days. It’s not really the heat — being a profuse perspirer, I’ve always disliked the heat, but I haven’t always disliked summer. I think the main culprit is our house. Now, you’d think our house would be the ideal place to spend summer, with a big yard and a pool. And yeah, I guess it is ideal if you’re a kid and don’t have to take care of the place. But the upkeep on the place, combined with working full time and helping care for two small kids, doesn’t leave much time to enjoy the amenities. What it boils down to is, it never seems like there’s enough time in the day, and after a couple of months, it starts to get old.

Owning a pool has proven to be interesting. I do enjoy getting in the pool, particularly with my son. But it’s funny — when you spend a certain amount of time and money on the upkeep of a pool, and the pool is lightly used, you actually start to feel obligated to get in the pool to make it seem worthwhile. And when the pool sits unused for more than a few days, you start wondering why you’re putting so much into it, and then you start entertaining thoughts of having it filled in. People have told me that my best pool-ownership days are ahead of me, when the kids get to the age where they’re swimming all day, every day. I’m looking forward to that, but once the kids are past that age, I want to move — seriously. Because at that point, pool ownership just won’t be worthwhile any more.

But anyhow… I want to like summer again. I dislike it now, but I still get a little sad when it ends. Everything is a phase. Eventually, life will be less crazy and I’ll be able to kick back and enjoy summer again. We may need to move, the kids may need to get a little older. But it’ll eventually happen.


What a week

Timeline for last week:

Monday, April 3: Our second child, Andrew Charles, is born via c-section. Birth weight is 8 lbs, 4 ounces. Length 21″.

Tuesday, April 4, really early A.M.: Our older boy, Michael, comes down with the “Stomach Bug Of Death” (hereafter referred to as “SBOD”). Frequent projectile vomiting, diarrhea, malaise, and general unhappiness ensue.

Tuesday, April 4, late A.M.: our newborn has successful surgery to repair a minor abdominal wall defect. Much relief ensues.

Wednesday, April 5, A.M.: I take our still-ailing 3 year old to the doctor. SBOD diagnosis is confirmed. Treatment plan: Just give him fluids and wait it out. Fun fun.

Wednesday, April 5, Evening: Yours truly catches the SBOD.

Thursday, April 6, Morning: Grandma picks up Michael (who is slightly improved, as in, no longer puking his guts out) for the day, so that I can lie around all day groaning and hurling.

Thursday, April 6, Evening: I finally stop throwing up. Hurray. Michael spends the night at Grandma’s.

Friday, April 7, Morning: Feeling a bit better, finally up and about. Still not much appetite. I work a bit on getting the place ready for Mom and Baby, who are coming home the next day.

Saturday, April 8, Morning: Mom and Baby come home.

Saturday, April 8, Evening: Grandma’s turn to get the SBOD.

Sunday, April 9: I’m finally back to a normal diet and off the Immodium. Michael still has the runs. Mom and Baby doing great.

The fun never ends…

Finances Miscellany

Maryland’s iFile

Well, I filed the taxes this morning, and for the second year I filed the fed taxes electronically with TaxCut, and for the Maryland state taxes I used TaxCut to prepare the return and then filed online with Maryland’s free iFile system. Net cost: $15.95 fed eFile fee – $15.95 H&R Block eFile rebate, + free Maryland iFile, = $0. The iFile system works very well, and the numbers I get from it match the numbers I get from TaxCut, which I find comforting. There are a couple little niggling problems with it; namely, you have to pick a password and then remember it from year to year, for an app that you only use once a year (so of course, I couldn’t remember the password I chose last year, and had to reset it); and the PDF form download they provide doesn’t work with my Mac or my Linux boxes. But aside from that, I’m happy with it, and they claim that using it saves taxpayer dollars. I’m all for that.

On another note, I’m fresh off attending the most exciting college basketball game of my life yesterday, the D.C. Regional final where George Mason upset UConn to reach the Final Four. This is what college basketball is all about, it’s why we buy the tickets, and I’m already lining up to get tickets for next year. And the game had quite a local angle to it, with 70% of the starting 10 players from Maryland. It’s too bad all this talent has to go to out-of-state teams. There are a lot of Division I teams in Maryland (UMBC is one of them), none of them much to write home about. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Terps, but it’d be nice to see some other strong local teams.


The TracFone Activation Saga

My family bought a TracFone prepaid phone as a Christmas gift for my Grandmother. I got the fun job of activating it. Most of these prepaid phones are self-activated using the carrier’s web site, and TracFone is no exception.

Christmas Day, around 1:00pm: Installed the SIM card and battery into the phone, a Nokia 1100. TracFone must be using a GSM network. Maybe Cingular’s? Anyhow… Went upstairs to the parents’ computer, and went to the TracFone web site to attempt to activate the phone. Nope… TracFone has every URL within their entire web site redirected to a message to the effect of “Sorry you schmuck, we’re too busy to even serve your HTTP request right now, let alone activate your phone.” Tried again around 4:30…. same deal.

Christmas Night, around 10:15pm: Decided to try again. Now, the phone won’t power up. It seems to be completely dead. Removed SIM card, tried again. This time it powered up and asked for a SIM card. Reinstalled SIM card, and it seemed happy at that point. Hmmm, not too sure about this phone now. Oh well, let’s try activating. Hey! The TracFone site seems to be working now. It prompted me for a couple of long numbers (SIM, ESN, whatever) and a zip code. Then it prompted me for an airtime PIN, which I dutifully entered. Then I get “Sorry, we’re unable to process your request at this time.” Mouthed a few expletives and gave up for the night. Not terribly impressed with the TracFone activation process at this point.

Day after Christmas, around 6:45am: Phone is dead again. Didn’t initially respond to last night’s trick of removing and reinstalling SIM card. Wondering if the phone is defective. Eventually it decided to power up. Great! Nothing like reliable technology. Tried to activate it again. This time it worked! I was able to program the phone using the instructions on the web site, and it assigned me a phone number. Ten minutes later or so, the phone power-cycled, and immediately thereafter I received a text message confirming the activation. I’m assuming the power cycle was a result of the activation process, and not the phone being flaky.

Anyhow, I haven’t tried placing a call yet, but it appears to be working now. Jury is still out on the phone itself, though. I think we’ll hang onto it for a few days to make sure it continues working. The powerup issues could have been a result of the phone not being programmed/activated. I guess we’ll see.

Followup – well, immediately after writing the above, I went upstairs to find that the phone had switched itself off and would not power back up. I’m officially calling it defective. Moral of the story: Don’t buy “reconditioned” mobile phones. I’ll let someone else handle the fun job of calling tech support and spending eternity on hold. My job here is done 🙂