Monday, May 25, 2009

Apple Store Workshops for Kids

Hey, this is kinda neat. Apple is holding regularly scheduled workshops for kids to teach them how to make a movie with iMovie, music with Garage Band, etc. They are scheduled throughout the year, and are free. Too bad our local stores don't seem to be doing this, but maybe in the future...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hurricane Natalie

Much of my current at-home time has been spent either job-hunting, or wiping up the aftermath of my daughter. Like a typical 8-year-old (or so I'm told), Natalie has what I guess you could describe as a very narrow area of focus when she moves about the room. To put it in simpler terms, she doesn't pay any attention to what the heck she's doing. Be it shutting the bathroom light off when she's done brushing her teeth, leaving her poor little sister standing there in the dark, or grabbing something she wants out of the refrigerator only to cause a cascade of vegetables and Tupperware to come tumbling from the shelves, she's like a Tasmanian Devil on caffeine pills.

Case in point. A few weeks ago, she innocently walked out of our master bathroom, and somehow managed to take the entire closet door with her...along with the hinges, the door frame, and the drywall. As I entered the planning stages of THAT home improvement project, while watching a squirrel scamper across the front yard she leaned a little too hard on the curtain and somehow managed to rip the curtain rod out of the wall, leaving hole 2" in the drywall. And today I noticed that her ability to inundate the bathroom with water whenever she washes her hands is doing wonders for the paint job in that new bathroom. So despite my grand plan for the construction of workshop cabinets to be my first big project during my time off, I've had to put that project off just to keep the house standing.

I learned a few things during my door replacement project. First and foremost, you know those Project Starter coupons that Lowes sends us in the mail and includes in their circulars? Home Depot accepts those! You're welcome.

The door she ripped off was an inexpensive luan bifold door. I decided I wanted something a little nicer than that to replace it, and I also did not want them to be bifold. So I framed the doorway with some good quality pine, and then hunted for a new set of doors. Given my drastically reduced buying power as of late, I decided the best bet was to buy a set of solid pine bifold doors, remove all the bifold hardware, and trim them down to the right size.

One thing I discovered early on was that the door frame was not truly square; the faces of the frame were "splayed" out, such that if I hung a door on its hinges the door would not close flush with the frame. I got around that by trimming the hinge-side of each door at a slight angle, so they would close all the way.

Additionally, here's a handy tip for buying bifold doors off the rack at Home Depot. Inspect the doors before purchase EXTREMELY carefully. Notice, in the picture, the left hand door, about 9 or 10 slats from the top? Yeah, nice warp there. I didn't catch that until after I'd cut and stained the doors.

Also, bifold doors like these are not meant to be cut down to narrower widths. I took about 1/4" off each side of each door. As a result there are now exposed dowels, and the hole at the very top where the bifold pivot was to go is now exposed. Luckily all those defects are on the sides or inside of the door. Also, when screwing the hinges on I had to take a bolt cutter and cut about 1/8" off the ends of the screws or they'd stick through and ruin the slats.

It turned out that the doors were also narrower than the hinges. It looks fine in the end, but you can see how the doors are set back from the face of the door frame a bit rather than being flush, to account for the fact that the hinges were wider than the door was thick.

Despite all this hackery, I think they came out pretty nice. You might ask why I didn't order custom-to-fit doors to begin with, to make life easier? Because it meant the difference between a $48 pair of doors and a $248 pair of doors, that's why. And given Jessica will be turning 8 in only three short years, I figured I'd better save up for her inevitable destructiveness.

Oh, on a final note. I just read in the paper that our local town council gave developers the go-ahead to begin building a Lowes that will be within WALKING DISTANCE from our house. Dear lord, I need to get a job and FAST.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Damn you, John Grogan

Until last weekend, I had my wife right where I wanted her...thinking I was a heartless robot, unable to show emotion. As all men know, showing emotion is a sign of weakness in a spousal relationship except when presented with a gift of a new power tool. "Oh, honey, you bought me the DeWalt DWM120 Heavy Duty Deep Cut Band Saw with the dual bearing blade guides??? Sweetie, you're the greatest! I love you SO MUCH." But then John Grogan had to enter the scene and screw up all my plans.

Who is this meddling Mr. Grogan, you ask? He's the "Me" behind Marley And Me. Grogan started off as a writer/columnist for a Florida newspaper, and gained fame when he and his wife decided to purchase the world's worst dog. This yellow lab, named Marley, quickly proved to be a holy terror, destroying every piece of the family home it could get its jaws around, humping the legs of innocent obedience trainers, and tackling UPS drivers on a daily basis. Grogan's life with Marley became the subject of his regular column, which eventually turned into a book and then a movie with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.

And why do I have a problem with this man? Well, for the simple reason that his story was the first movie to bring tears to my eyes since watching Old Yeller back in my childhood days. And now my wife knows my weak spot. Yellow dogs.

I should first explain that I grew up with dogs. First there was Ogelthorpe, a beagle that was around when I came into the picture. All that I remember about him was he loved eating toilet paper and eventually went blind (two things that were in no way connected). Then there was Dusty, a violent dog that loved to eat children. More on Dusty momentarily. After Dusty we had a brief stint with an Airedale named Sheeba, a hand-me-down from a relative that for some reason didn't last very long. And finally, there was Magnum. Magnum was MY dog. Sure, my parents originally picked her up as a pet for my sister, but from the moment Magnum arrived at the house she was MY dog. Magnum was THE dog. The one you grew up with, the one you had all the fond memories of. And while we don't currently have a dog, it's likely next on the list after I find myself gainful employment. But for now I have to envy other peoples' dogs.

Okay, if you haven't seen the movie Marley And Me or read the book yet, stop reading now and go out and rent the movie before continuing. I don't want to be blamed for spoiling it for you. I'll wait.

Take your time.

Really, I'll be right here.

Okay, good you're back.

The story chronicles the life of Marley and, more importantly, his death as well. As the movie progresses, Marley grows up but changes very little, always leaving a path of disaster in its wake. But that also makes the dog endearing to its owners and to the audience, and in the end when the dog dies (of old age), it's sad. Really sad.

There were a couple of scenes in this movie that brought out some seriously repressed feelings in me. In one scene, Marley falls ill and is loaded into the back of the van, wrapped in a blanket, headed to the veterinary hospital. Jennifer Aniston believes this is the end for Marley, and says her goodbyes to him before the van pulls away. That scene instantly reminded me of Dusty. Back in seventh grade, an hour before leaving to present my findings on the Space Shuttle's human waste treatment facility at the school Science Fair, Dusty got loose and met up with the underside of a Pontiac. My sister witnessed it, and I still recall her scream a block away. The last time I saw Dusty, I said goodbye to her as she was lay still a blanket in the back of our monkey-puke green Buick Century Station wagon. Yeah, that scene hit a little close to home. Granted I'm no Jennifer Aniston, but still.

The other painful scene was when Marley's time finally comes, and Owen Wilson has to say goodbye. Marley lay on the vet's table, obviously aware of his own fate. This reminded me of Magnum, to whom I never had a chance to say goodbye because I had moved to Pittsburgh. But I remember my mom telling me about her demise and definitely hurting later.

At the end of the movie, my wife glanced in my direction. I attempted to say something thoughtful and poignant, but all that came out was some sort of a blubbering sound.

"Are you crying???" she exclaimed.

"" I believe I said while slobbering on my shirt sleeve and averting my teary eyes.

"Sweety! You are!! Oh my gosh! You ARE human and have feelings! I knew there was a reason I loved you!"

Suddenly, she was all huggy and kissy and crap. Jeez, it sucked. Now she's going to want me to watch chick flicks and shop for clothing with her. Next thing you know she's going to want me to help host a Pampered chef party or something. Damn you John Grogan! I need to get my butt to Home Depot and buy ten bags of cement immediately before it's too late.

P.S. In case you don't believe that I we ACTUALLY had a monkey-puke green Buick Century Station Wagon, I've attached a video with a somewhat embarrassing voice-over done by an 18-year-old me as I follow my dog around the room. The car is there too. And yes, that's the Alan Parsons Project playing in the background.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

This is how bad it's gotten

Anyone recording this morning's conversation with my daughters will definitely hold my parental decision-making abilities against me in the future. So, I might as well get it out there in the open now to avoid complications later.

Thing #2: Dad, can we turn on the TV?

Dad: Yes, but no Hannah Montana, No Zack and Cody, and no Wizards of Waverly Place.

Thing #1: Awww.....

Dad: No! You guys have been watching way too much of that trash, and it's rotting your brain.

Thing #2: We haven't watched Spongebob in a while.

Dad: Fine.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Define "progress".

I'm still here. Still unemployed. Yesterday, a friend very hesitantly asked me, "um, can I ask how it's going? Do you feel like talking?"

Jeez, it's not like I'm Bernie Madoff, or my wife dumped me for another woman. I got laid off. Just like around 8% of Americans today. Of course, I'd love to talk about it. In fact, let's face it. The more I talk about it, the more likely it will be that someone who has an immediate need to hire an innovative and creative professional type with stunning good looks will overhear the conversation and swoop in like a prince with a glass slipper on a white horse...jeezuz I gotta stop watching Disney Channel with my kids.

So in answer to the question, how's it going? Quite well, in fact. After a little more than three weeks, I've been busier than I ever could have imagined, getting my professional house in order, my resume spit-shined, and my tie collection dusted off. I've spent numerous days working with an outplacement service by attending classes on negotiation tactics, career assessment, and networking. I've taken over my wife's desk, converting our friendly iMac into a resume generation machine. And I've actually found a few moments here and there to look out for #1, and do the things that I want to do.

Everyone always talks about how, after getting laid off, you get a chance to do all those big projects you've been putting off for years. Well, so far that's pretty much proven to be a myth. If I'm not following employment leads, I'm scheduling networking meetings, preparing cover letters, or searching for jobs on the internet. Sure, I am able to accomplish a few things. I mulched the yard for the first time in 5 years. I scrubbed all four bathrooms to a point where Mr. Clean himself would have put on cloth slippers before entering to avoid making footprints. And I've taken a bike ride virtually every day that weather has permitted. But frankly, this situation is proving that life's daily duties tend to flow like water, filling up every bit of available space. I'm sure that once the outplacement work ends this all will change, and I will find myself climbing the walls with boredom. But right now my to-do list is longer than the Unibomber's manifesto.

In these few short weeks, I have discovered one blessing to being laid off. I've erased virtually all signs of attention deficit disorder. After 15 years of my job, I'd learned to multi-task while multi-tasking, something I'm sure many of you are familiar with. I recall days where I'd sit down and say to myself, "Alright I'm gonna finish up this document" and, before even getting a chance to open MS Word, the phone rings and all hell breaks loose. Those days are gone. I can sit down in front of the computer, and spend an hour cleaning out my address book, uninterrupted. I can read several chapters of a book and not think, dang, I really need to go clean out my inbox." Well, at least I can do that while the kids are at school. Basically, I've rediscovered time and concentration. I could get used to this.

And so could my wife. She's even noticed that I actually tend to listen to her once in a while, without being distracted by the latest buzz made by my Blackberry.

As for the job front? I've sent out a couple of resumes, with little positive result. This was expected. More importantly, I'm talking with everyone I know, and finding more and more new opportunities to network and to meet people than I ever knew existed. For example, I learned for the first time that there's an actual non-profit organization dedicated to certifying professionals in the field of Project Management. My calendar is chock full of meetings and lunch dates, so much so that I find myself checking my calendar more often than I used to check my Crackberry when I was working, as I never know what's coming up next. It's been a very energizing experience.

On that note, I've got my shirt pressed and my tie selected, and I'm off to a recruiting event held by a large corporation in the area looking to hire about 4 gazillion people, most of them nuclear scientists. While I am not a nuclear scientist, I can pronounce "new-clee-ir" correctly, so I figure I've got a leg up on some folks. Wish me luck.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Potbird's reason for squatting

As suspected, Potbird's on a mission. If you look closely at the picture below, you can see offspring. Plus, it turns out there's an egg underneath her. How do I know? Because like a dorkus I accidentally hit the pot with my head as I was mowing the lawn, frightening the bejeebus out of her and forcing her to fly away. While she was debating what to do next, I took a peek in the pot and saw both Thing 1, as well as a Thing 2 still in the oven.