Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Home Improvements Part Deux

Well we took another quick trip down to my house in TN. And by quick trip I mean quick. We left NY on a Thursday afternoon and were back on Monday by midnight.

Saturday was the busiest day as I got up and started working early. I changed the last of the locks and deadbolts so that now all my locks are the same key and all are the finish and quality I want. In total I changed nine locks and I now also know how to re-key locks (an added bonus).

A couple of weeks before the drive I had gone to Ikea to look for bookshelves. I settled on the Billy style and bought two large bookcases and two small book cases. So Saturday morning I started putting them together. Assembly went well and was pretty quick. All four together cost about $200.

As I am looking to furnish my house I have gone to a few stores looking for different ideas. I really like things I have seen at Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn. Sadly I'm not so much a fan of their prices. I went to Ikea figuring I would look there for book shelves and dressers so I could save on those. I never thought about Ikea for couches and chairs. I don't really know why I just always figured they wouldn't be as comfortable and wouldn't hold up well. While I was strolling around the Ikea showroom my opinion began to change. I saw one love seat/chaise lounge which had storage under the chaise lounge section and the loves seat could be pulled out to make a sofa bed. Not only did I really like the extra storage but the pull out feature would be great for when I have company. Now back to the bookshelves.

Assembly went well and I really feel like the quality of Ikea furniture has improved since the last time I bought furniture. To me quality shows not only in material but in little details and one detail really struck me in it's simplicity.

These are the shelf pins that stick into the side of the bookshelf and the shelf sits on top of it. Notice how they are rounded. Each shelf has a matching area chiseled out so that the pins fit into the shelf. It made the shelves much more secure and added stability to the overall book shelf. I didn't have time to unpack books onto them but my wonderful sister did so here are a few pictures showcasing her decorating skills.

When I finally get down to TN I will probably take a trip to the Ikea in Georgia and get 2 more of each book case and maybe even a couch. I will then have wall to wall bookshelves for around $400. Near where Meg works there is a furniture store and they had arm chairs with script writing on them. I figure add two of those and a side table and the room will be finished.

The next order of business was to put together a green house I had bought at the beginning of the year. I have great plans for gardening when I get down there. I figured starting the greenhouse will give Meg the ability to start on some herbs and with the greenhouse she will be able to grow them year round. The green house is 7x8x10. And after seeing it Meg is now thinking she might want to add a lime and a lemon tree to it. In the warm months they will enjoy being outside and then for the colder months they will still get lots of light in the safety of the green house.

Now while I was building the green house my Mom was outside trimming the numerous rose bushes I have around the house. The previous owner must have really liked rose bushes because there are at least three in the back and I think another three in the front. Anyway I kept hearing a dripping sound as I was building the green house and my Mom heard it too. Eventually Meg came out and pointed out the source of the noise. It was a bunch of Cow Birds. I took video and it might be hard to hear but if you watch you will see the bird puff up a bit and then hear the water noise.

The trip was a good one and it was nice to be at my house. It's crazy to think that I have now owned my house for a year and a half. Meg and I have made many plans for what we want to do with the landscaping and I look forward to being down there to do it.

Anyone have any good suggestions for the green house, other than herbs, a lemon tree and a lime tree?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Curling: A slip sliding good time!

I went for a Curling Open House yesterday held by the Long Island Curling Club at the Newbridge Arena in Bellmore. I learned some details about the game, got some of my guesses from watching the Olympics confirmed, and even got on the ice to try my hand at it.

So what I now know about Curling (a combo from researching the game and last night):

First it's origin is in Scotland dating back to medieval times. Apparently when an old pond was drained a curling stone was found in it with the year 1511 etched into it and that is the oldest existing stone.
Because I love art here are two works by the Flemish Artist Peter Bruegel the Elder showing people curling :-)
The Hunter's in the Snow

Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap

The equipment:

The stones are between 38-44 lbs and official stones are made in Scotland. This is not something a person usually buys for themselves rather the stones are the property of the club. The bottom of the stone is convex and then in the middle is concave so that there is actually only a small ring that is in contact with the ice.
The brooms used to be corn cob brooms but are now more like brushes with a sponge like fabric at one end. You use the broom to make the stone go further and curl more. As I learned last night a good sweep can add 8-12 feet to a throw.
Now for throwing the stone you need to slide across the ice. So Curling shoes have two different soles. One sole is rubber and this is for the dominant leg that you will be kicking off with from the hack. The other sole is made of teflon (cause you haven't been on ice until you have been on ice and teflon). This is on the foot that you will be sliding on when you throw the stone.
The hack is where you throw the stone from on the ice. It is just a metal support where you basically set up like you would before a race with your dominate foot against the hack. You hold the stone in your dominate hand (in front of the foot in the hack). Now yesterday I was holding onto a pvc support in my left hand but normally I think you would be holding your broom.

The Curling Sheet

Curling ice is not smooth ice like on the street or even in a hockey rink. After the ice has been smoothed it is sprayed to create a pebbling effect on the ice (tiny water droplets freeze making it feel like gravel).

The playing field is called a Curling sheet it is a long rectangle with a house (three circles) painted at either end. Starting from right to left on this picture:
HA: the hack is where the person throwing the stone starts and it sits 12 feet behind the house.
BL: The backline marks the end of the house which is made up of three circles 12 foot diameter, 8 foot diameter and four foot diameter. At the center of the circles is the button.
TL and CL: The Tee Line and Center Line divide the house into quarters. The button is at the meeting point between these lines (direct center). I think the point of this is like the circles in that they help tell which stones are closest to the button.
FGZ: I don't know? Hey I'm learning here :-)
HOL: There are two Hog Lines drawn on the ice (one for each side) which are 21 feet from the button.

Rules of the game

My understanding here is still very basic (and details can be wrong). Each team has four players (Lead, Second, Vise and Skip). The game is played in Ends (like innings). Each team throws eight stones in an end. The Lead throws two, the Second throws two, the Vise throws two and then the Skip throws the last two stones. Team members alternate between throwing and sweeping, except the Skip who (as they said last night) is like the quarterback. The Skip stands by the button directing where the stones should be thrown. Now when you throw you need to let go off the stone before you cross the closer Hog Line and the stone needs to get past the further Hog Line.
You score by getting your stone closest to the button. Only one team scores per end and you get as many points as you have stones closer to the button then the other team. So if you have three stones in the house but only two are closer to the button then the opposing team you score two.
Now when I was listening to the announcers during the Olympics they kept referring to the Hammer. I guessed this meant the last stone in the End and I was right. At another point in one of the final games they said the Skip had to decide if she wanted to do something (I forget what) and risk losing the Hammer. I didn't understand that at all. I learned last night that if the team with the Hammer scores then they lose the Hammer. If the other team scores or if no one scores then they keep the Hammer. So that was the choice. As the young man put it last night (I'm sorry I forget his name) they had to choose if one point would be worth losing the Hammer.

So last night we went into a room with the equipment and got an explanation of a little history and the basics about the equipment. Of course the first thing I did was pick up one of the rocks and yeah they are heavy :-) After that we moved on to the next station where we got a brief explanation of the Curling Sheet and some tips about falling on ice. Then it was time to step onto the ice. First we learned about how it feels to stand on teflon on ice. True to how it sounds it is a slip sliding good time. Then we learned how to position ourselves on the hack and to push off with the stone in our hand (but we held it instead of throwing it) and slide on the teflon sole. The first time I tried this I think I slide about ten feet before I tumbled to the side like a baby learning to crawl. (Yeah that is the best way I can describe it and I am not ashamed). Next we got a few tries at sliding and throwing (really letting go) the stone. We were told to hold on lightly to the stone and that as we start to slow the stone will pull away and we need to just let it go. Then we got to try sweeping. Now there are two people sweeping. One is closer to the stone and one is further and touching the stone will get it disqualified. When holding the broom one hand (dominate hand) is toward the bottom and your other hand is toward the top of the handle. This was difficult. You have to run along the stone not touching it while looking forward so that you don't trip on any other stones in play and sweeping. Sweeping is hard and a good cardio workout. I can see how one can easily be sore after sweeping for an entire game/tournament.

It was a lot of information for an hour of time and well worth ten dollars.

That about sums up everything I know about Curling except for one more thing: I want to know more! Immediately after the Open House was over I signed up (what turned out to be the last spot) for the 2 hour Learn How to Curl on April 5th. Now I hope to get more time on the ice and learn a little bit of technique and maybe an idea of strategy. The Long Island Curling Club has several articles and videos on their site which I will definitely watch before the fifth so I go into this ready to learn.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Mom

My Mom often jokes that my sister and I will some day end up telling a psychiatrist all about how she messed us up since it is always the parents fault. We usually just roll our eyes at it. However if she wants to insist she is to blame for all that is wrong then I must insist she is to blame for all that isn't messed up too.  I can't put into words everything my Mom has taught me and done for me, it's impossible. I can't thank her enough for everything she has done. And I can never tell her I love her enough for all she has done for me.

I have always been loved and always known I was loved. This may seem basic but it is the most important thing a parent can do for their child. I knew growing up that no matter what I did my Mom would still love me. I knew I might have made her angry and I might have disappointed her but she would always love me.

My Mom taught me what it means to work hard. When we were kids she worked nights so that when we came home from school she would be there with us. On top of that she helped at our grade school watching recess and working bingo nights.

My Mom showed me who I want to be. I was thinking about this a lot earlier. My Mom has always provided me with a great example of who I want to be. She is smart, honest, loving, hard working, understanding, and kind. She will stop to give directions to someone who is lost even when she is busy or in a rush. She works hard and cares about the people she works with. I can always go to her with questions. My Mom does things for the simple reason that it is right to do.

I am a combination of both my parents, their good and their bad traits and habits. There is no way around it. I hope I make my Mom proud because I think the best gift I could ever give her is to live up to the example she has set for me.

So every time she thinks she deserves blame for some bad qualities or for something she messed up I hope she knows she deserves credit for all the good qualities and ways she was a success.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Be Prepared

I think I am getting to the point where I can consider myself very experienced in long drives. The crowning achievement was a 14 state and 4k mile sojourn a few years ago across a good chunk of the south.

I have also driven the 1k miles to TN multiple multiple times now and done it in all kinds of weather. So here are some things I like to keep in my truck for long drives and bad weather.

1. Jumper cables have served me well! A couple of times I have had to jump my car and a couple of times I have jumped other people's cars. It's easy to do and a good skill especially on long drives.

2. A tire inflator that I just got less than a year ago but I thought it made a great addition to my emergency supplies. I haven't had to use this on a drive but I have used it just to give a quick shot of air to my tires. It works pretty quickly and the cord can plug into the cigarette lighter or a regular house plug.

3. A small auto shovel in case of snow. You know in case I turn a corner and get stuck a couple of quick shovels and I can work my way out.

4. I am surprised by the amount of people that live in the north east and need a new brush to clean their car every year or just drive around without one. Why?

5. An emergency blanket in case I get to stuck to get myself out and I am looking at an extended sty in my car :-) Thankfully hasn't been used.

6. Not pictured is a Hagstrom map of the USA. Because sometimes gps signals can get lost.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Internet Behavior: Why?

In my opinion there are three trends/phenomena of human nature that I think help to understand (not explain) the worsening behavior by many people online. We have all seen it ..... you go online to read a message board, article, blog, or social media feed and you see it immediately: nastiness and negativity that would not be tolerated in normal every day interaction. So how is it that we can behave ourselves at work and other situation and then we come online and become rude crass monsters? Because I have to assume a lot of people do not behave in real life the way they do online. They can't.

In-group Preference
In South Pacific Emile De Becque so eloquently sang:

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

But I don't know that you really do have to be so carefully taught. I think instead it comes naturally to humans to dislike/mistrust. Rather it is more likely you have to be taught not to hate. Studies have shown that babies and toddlers have a built in preference for in-group people. It's not mean; it's really just self preservation. Show a toddler two dolls (puppets). Have one puppet announce it likes cookies and another announce it likes spinach. Later bring out the same two puppets and the toddler will choose (most of the time) to play with the puppet it identifies with the most. Now this preference doesn't equal hating the other group but it can. That's what socializing is for, it teaches us to trust and realize we should not limit ourselves to the group.

Negativity Bias
I'm sure that our negativity bias has roots in evolution. We remember negative events more clearly and they are easier to recall, probably so that developing humans could remember the different perils faced while hunting and gathering. Studies have shown that we remember negative experiences/feedback four times stronger than positive or neutral events. Neurological findings show that negative experiences are held in awareness longer and imprinted onto long term memory faster than positive.

As children we are told to be nice to each other and that becomes a standard then all of a sudden you reach high school and the idea of critical thinking is introduced. Now you can be mean! You actually have permission to be mean. Because if you say something nice you are being childish and just following what you were taught to do as children after all if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all, right? So under the guise of critical thinking you can say anything. We even begin to give more weight to negative remarks and view those who give negative feedback as smarter. Somehow it seems more important when people are negative. We hear 'critical thinking' and focus on critical as in being disapproving instead of as in analyzing. We remember the negative criticism more strongly so it must have been more important, the details are clearer in our minds. That helps to explain a tendency to be negative but I'm not just talking about being negative I am talking about being down right rude. Negative comments have their place, we learn from them. But negative after negative and insults we see thrown around like nothing goes beyond anything that will teach a valuable lesson.

On many internet sites people have pseudo names protecting their identity. This gives them the sense that they can say anything they want in total safety. Even on sites like facebook where they do use their real name there is still a freedom to say anything because chances are you will never see/meet the person. Also there is a feeling that the people we are talking to aren't real. After all they are faceless unknowns not real people who we know.

On the internet you are your own in-group, all alone with just a computer. So you find yourself online talking with strangers, not members of your group. You want to sound smart and you want to make an impression. So the negative comments start. After all no one is ever going to see you or know who you are. Behind that keyboard you are safe to be as smart as you want. Not only do negative comments prove that you have 'critical thinking' skills but people will remember them better. You know this from your own experiences (no doubt). And the person who you are commenting too, who are they? They are a faceless person they might as well not even be real. In fact in one internet bullying case on the news that was exactly the sentiment of the aggressors. It was all said online. That isn't even real. But it is real. It is very real. And the behavior exhibited online is now spreading beyond the internet.

I wonder why is it that some need to see a face and hear a name to care about others. Why can't knowing they are another person with thoughts, feelings, friends, and family be enough for us? Maybe before we post online we should ask ourselves: "would I say this if I were looking this person in the face?" because if the answer is no then you shouldn't say it online.

This brings me to a question that I have found myself asking over an over: is our connection to others so fragile?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Home Improvements! (part 1 of many)

So my New Year's vacation at my house was very productive, I got a lot of decorating/repairs done.

First the decorating!

The first order of business was getting curtains for the dining and living room.

I got two red and cream and two cream curtains. The cream matches the carpet and walls and the red ties into the kitchen so I thought that would help keep the flow of the rooms. The red and cream are on the outside windows with the cream in the corner. My Mom and I discussed whether to alternate or do it this way. I think this worked nicely. It blocks some light from coming in, provides privacy, and helps to keep the hot air in the house (instead of escaping through the glass windows).

I moved the table a little closer to the kitchen and my plan is to put a couch across the room, at the end of area rug under my table,  and get a flat screen tv to mount above the fireplace. While we were there I sat on the floor where I would put the couch to make sure the tv wouldn't be to high. It seemed good to me. This way I will be able to see the tv from the kitchen. Then I think a nice two seater on the right side and an arm chair between the window and the corner.

Now for the large patio door and the side door I got a sheer red curtain. The rails at the top and bottom are magnetic which is nice because it means no holes in the door.

In order to keep them pinched at the center we bought napkin holders. They are silver with clear rings on them and will look very nice with the silver hardware of the doors.

The final bit of decorating was adding some storage to the downstairs bathroom. I went to the store thinking we were going to get a cabinet to stand over the toilet but then I saw a storage piece meant to fit around a pedestal sink.

Now to the repairs:
I mean some of it was pretty simple, like changing the batteries of every smoke detector so that they stop beeping and, you know . . . .work!

Also I found where the chime for the doorbell was and looked at it to see why that wasn't working. That also ended up being a simple fix of changing a battery.

I also changed a couple of lightbulbs to get my porch lights shining bright.

I was pleased to find that hooking up the water supply line for my fridge was much easier then I originally thought it would be. Thanks to the supply line having rubber washers in it I didn't even need to worry about plumbing tape.

Simple as it was it made me very happy to do this on my own.

Now when I bought the house the bank changed all the locks. I knew I was going to change them myself because they are brass and I prefer nickel. I also prefer handles over door knobs. However I thought they needed to be changed sooner rather than later because they are pretty crummy. One of the knobs broke while I was there. Luckily a few years ago at work I had to reset several door lock displays. As a result I know how to change locks. I changed two handles and a deadbolt. I have three handles and three deadbolts left to change. So when I am done it will be nine locks in total which saves me having to pay a locksmith!
my handiwork!

Now I am back to planning things to do :-)

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Family, Friends, and the New Year

Well the drive on Friday was one of the smoothest we have had in a long time. In anticipation of possible bad weather we packed the truck to avoid all extra wind resistance. I know I have done this drive a lot of times especially when I recognize truck stops, Denny's, Pilots, and other gas stations along the way. I found myself several times pulling in and saying "Oh I've been here". Also without the wind resistance of the last few trips we didn't use nearly as much gas. We got to TN Friday around 5pm which was just in time to unpack the car and have a nice dinner. Then we got to open Christmas presents with Meghan whom we hadn't seen in almost two months.

On Saturday morning we got up and headed to the store to do some shopping. We planned on having dinner that night with my Uncle and his family and another local family. In total there were eleven of us which definitely makes this the first large party at my house :-) In my honest opinion everything came out awesome. We had some pasta in a marinara sauce, spinach in oil and garlic, potato pizza (mashed potato with mozzarella cheese baked as a pie), artichokes and eggs, chicken cutlets, macaroni and cheese, and a nice salad. For dessert we had pfeffernüsse "pepper nuts" which are german spice cookies baked by Meghan and Panatone which is an an Italian cake with pieces of dried fruit in it.

On Sunday we headed to Atlanta to meet up with family from my Dad's side in what we have named "Not- Christmas" so far it looks like we are going to have a nice tradition of Not- Christmases which will always fall on the weekend after Christmas. We brought a baked rigatoni and cheesecake with us to the party which we had made the day before. The drive was about four and a half hours and is pretty easy consisting of mainly two highways. We only hit traffic when we got right up to Atlanta and two highways (75 and 85 I believe) began merging. When we got to the house there was family galore, some we hadn't seen in years. We hung out talked and caught up with each other for hours before heading back to TN.

On Tuesday we started cooking for New Year's Eve. Now Italian's (and probably a lot of other cultures) believe meat should not be eaten on New Year's Eve. The reason, as my Mom explained, is that you eat fish because fish come from the ocean (water) and is cleansing so that you wash away the bad from the year before and start out fresh. We had linguine in a red pepper, clam and lobster tail sauce, potato pizza, fried artichoke hearts, fried cauliflower, rice balls with cheese, crab cakes, black-eyed-pea patties, fried shrimp, fried scallops, tilapia, cold broccoli salad with lemon and garlic, gardineir and a regular green salad. The very full table looked something like this:

After eating and resting we moved the party from my house to Mom's condo which is outside down town Nashville. There we counted down the last hour of 2013 and waited for the fireworks from the Bash downtown. When we arrived we discovered my Uncle's family had slipped in at some point and set up balloons, and noise makers, poppers and party hats! Then the final seconds ticked away and the fireworks began!

After the fireworks we had a toast to the New Year with Osti Spumanti or sparkling grape juice. And then after some cards we had Italian lemon cake and coffee before heading back out onto the streets and to my house.

The next morning we popped another bottle of Osti for breakfast mimosas and panatone.

The night before I had written 2014 Nashville, TN on the cork in my Mom's condo and left it there for my Mom. On New Year's Day I did the same on the breakfast bottle and will keep it as a momento of my first New Year's in my house.

Basically my Mom put it best on Saturday when she said "It's nice to know we are moving here and we have friends and family already."