Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Favourite Wall

[Oct 5 2014]

The kids count down the days until General Conference weekend because it is the biggest craft-fest ever. We pull out the little picnic table in front of the TV and then we hit the crafts hard for 4 hours/day each day.



This time, the kids had their sticker books and crafts that needed very little help from us, so we could work on a craft of our own. We repainted the kitchen, nook and family room. In fact, even the kids helped out when we got to the roller sections.



When we took a break from conference-crafting to eat a meal, Scott did his standard routine of getting out of his chair and leaning his hands against the wall--

D: Scott, let's not touch the wall because it leaves finger prints.
R: Right. This wall here has lots of finger prints.
D: Yeah, I think you touch that wall like crazy.
S: It's my favourite wall. Everyone has to have their favourite wall

Funniest thing I heard all day. I wonder if its still his favourite wall now that it is painted "smokey" colour.

Monday, October 20, 2014

First Lumberjack Job

On Thanksgiving Monday Scott and I went to work cutting wood.

First, he carried the bow saw into the back yard and we felled a tree. It was a spindly thing about 12 feet high that has been dead at least all summer and looking pretty sad. We were sure to call "timber" even though I could hold the thing up with one hand.



Scott slung the bow saw over his shoulder and we hauled our freshly-felled timber to the garage, where I was working on reorganizing the garage. I had laid out a set of shelves on the ground, so I put Scott's log across the shelf and showed him how he could safely use the bow saw to cut it into lengths. For the next hour he sawed away at that log, cutting it into 16 sections of 8-10 inches each, while I worked nearby building some shelves. He was nearing the end of his labour when the Bishop and his wife walked by on their way home (they live a few houses down from us). She immediately took interest in Scott's work. She said that she had been planning to make little placeholders for her grandchildren for Thanksgiving dinner and she had wanted to cut little discs from a thick branch of a tree. She said that Scott's logs would be perfect, and offered to BUY two of them from him. She dug around in her pocket and found a quarter, a loonie ($1) and a toonie ($2). She gave him the toonie.

For the next hour Scott could talk of nothing but his great fortune in getting paid so well for doing such fun and interesting work. He said, "I am such a lucky boy" probably 15 times. It was the cutest thing. Our own little professional lumberjack.

I had the power saw out for my shelf project, so I offered to quickly cut the logs into the smaller sections that she needed. I earned nothing for my efforts. I am more of a pro-bono lumberjack, I suppose.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Propst & Tuttle in Calgary

[Sep 13, 2014]

16 years ago I dropped Elders Propst and Tuttle off at the airport in Saratov at the conclusion of the trial where their kidnappers were convicted. I didn't see either of them again until this year, when they arrived at the airport in Calgary to speak to groups in connection to the "Saratov Approach" movie. Tuttle came out for opening weekend in January. Both Propst and Tuttle came out for our joint West/East Stake youth conference.



Apparently, no one had informed Propst that we had just had the freak summer snow storm of the century, because he arrived in sunglasses, shorts and flip-flops. The person next to him on the plane showed him pictures that people had sent him from the storm and Propst started to worry. Of course, most of the snow was already melting, but we there was still some left at the higher elevations -- like the Temple.



They flew just before noon, so we hit Tubby Dog for some lunch. Tubby Dog is a hole-in-the-wall spot on 17th Ave known for hot dogs with outlandish combinations of toppings. We all agreed that I probably got the best one, laden with chili, bacon, cheez-whiz and a fried egg -- elegantly entitled "Sherm's Ultimate Gripper".

We stopped in at the house for a few minutes en route to the youth conference, mainly so Propst could press a shirt and make himself beautiful. Scott was absolutely enthralled when Propst pulled out his iPad and logged into the Clash of Clans game, especially since Propst had all the fancy upgraded troops that Scott has been dreaming about. The whole kidnapping/movie thing might give Tuttle and Propst a certain amount of celebrity status, but it was Clash of Clans that really made Propst a star.



We arrived at the chapel near the end of the movie, which the youth were watching in the gym. We had the DJ who would run the evening dance handle the audio, and I had perched the projector at the top of a 10 foot ladder to hit the 40-foot screen on the stage. Waiting in the hallway, we bumped into a teary woman leaving the gym who has a son serving a mission overseas and just couldn't quite handle it, although she had seen the film before.



Once the credits rolled, the lights went up and I introduced our special guests, who opened it up to the youth for some Q&A with the comment that "there are no bad questions." That statement was immediately tested, as the first question was "Do you like waffles?" Strong start. Propst and Tuttle took it in stride and answered the question before moving on to perhaps a more pertinent question. Propst likes Belgian waffles and Tuttle is more of a pancake guy, for the record.



There were some really good questions, and Propst & Tuttle shared additional details that really put a personal touch on the whole experience. One thing that stuck out to me was how they said that they prayed constantly during the whole experience, and Propst said that he promised God that if he made it out there alive, he would take every opportunity to share this story with people to strengthen their faith. In the 15 years since he came home he has averaged at least 1 speaking engagement per month, more at the beginning and more with the film's release. Another message was that a missionary experience changes you, whether you get kidnapped or not. If you decline the opportunity to serve, you miss that chance to learn and grow as a person, and it is unlikely that you would have another opportunity quite like that in your life. They both said that they would not trade their missionary experience away, regardless how it turned out, and that's one big reason why they chose not to cut their missions short when they were released. In the Sunday service that that we had the next day, several people commented on the film that we watched, and one girl said that she had never really considered serving a mission, but now she wanted to have that experience for herself. Pretty neat to hear.



After the film was over, we launched Tuttle off to the airport asap to catch a plane to Portland, while Propst stuck around to pose for some photos in our Russian-themed photo booth. Who doesn't love a good Russian photo booth?



When it was all over, and once Propst and I had downed some delicious poutine, we retired back to our place to chat and play some more Clash of Clans.



Scott was supposed to go to bed, but shortly afterwards we saw a small hand jut out through the upstairs railing with a note (written on the back of a sticker) that read:

"Wath clan ar you in?"

Scott ended up coming back downstairs to sit with Propst and examine his elite-level clan. It was the start of an alliance, as Propst recruited his son Sam to be in Scott's clan, and Propst showed up in our clan periodically in the weeks that followed to hand out level 6 balloons and other awesomeness.

While Scotty was downstairs, Katie was upstairs, saying her prayers as follows--
Thanks that Travis and Propst could come to our house. And that Propst could stay for one night. Even though it's not two nights.
The next day Katie said "I love Propst. I wish I could live with him."
D: Do you mean you want to leave and live at his house far away.?
K: No, I mean he could live at our house, silly.

Propst and Tuttle aren't planning on moving in, but they might come back to Calgary visit us or at least to take a crack at Sherm's Ultimate Gripper.

Friday, October 17, 2014

An Afternoon in NYC

[Sep 29 2014]

After a weekend on the fringes of Pennsylvania Dutch country, we drove back to NYC in the old pickup, so Tay could survey the apartment damage and I could catch a plane out of JFK Airport. One the way out to PA it had been dark, so it was nice to see all the fall colours in the daylight. Dalton is at 1,000 ft elevation, and the descent towards sea level was evident in the foliage, which still hadn't really changed at all in New York.

Things got greener as we rolled toward the Atlantic, and things got more crowded as well. In Dalton the only neighbour in view was the empty fairground. In Harlem, we had to make two passes down Malcolm X Blvd before we found a place to park, and we could only stay there for 20 minutes. We passed a minivan full of Red Cross workers at the curb before passing the Mandatory Vacate sign on the door heading in.



There was a Disaster Recovery Guy in the apartment taking notes on the water damage when we got there. In every room it was evident where the water had come streaming down the walls and rippled the drywall and warping all the doors. The worst spot was in the kitchen, where the water had burst through the ceiling and rained debris down on everything. Fortunately, they have renters insurance that will cover cleaning and replacement of their items, and they had a place to stay until their vacation trip to San Diego in 2 weeks.



From Harlem I jumped the R train down to Madison Square Park to meet my cousin Kristy and her adorable little Pickle for delicious burgers and shakes at the original Shake Shack. The Shack was was seriously delicious and Pickle was seriously adorable, filling my hands with load after load of dusty little park rocks. And then suddenly the rocks showed up wet... with a hair in the middle. Sort of gross. Buy Kristy had some hand sanitizer, so I think we were good.





I tagged along with Kristy & Pickle for the afternoon while they waited to pick up Middle-Daughter Lolly from school. Apparently, Kristy and I have identical ideas about tourism -- when someone visits your town you need to feed them all your favourite snacks. She lined them all up and I knocked them all down. From a strong start at Shake Shake, we hit a sandwich shop for fresh oatmeal chocolate cookies. A whole bag of them. I took the top half off the bag while we Pickle climbed the silver orb at the playground.



After that I ate this super-amazing and famous banana pudding from the Magnolia Bakery, also famous for cupcakes and Lazy Sundays. Of course, Kristy didn't want to take a bite of the pudding. And Kristy wasn't going to have even a bite, because she had just been snack-binging on a girls' weekend in Rhode Island. I even ate some of her Rhode Island salt water taffy. I eat everything. She even tried to buy an Ostrich egg at the farmers market, but they were out of season. I was sort of relieved, because 1 ostrich egg = 5 chicken eggs.



Once we picked up Lolly, it was time for me to go. I had designs to do a bike lap through Central Park, and I was running out of time. I jogged down to the corner of the park and $15 later I was walking a Trek hybrid down the walkway for a 1-hour rental. Had I given the bike a cursory pre-rental inspection, I would have noticed that the chain was dangling down near the ground and both tires were nearly flat. I fixed the chain easily enough, but I didn't realize the PSI problem until half-way around a tight corner when the tires started bending over. Not to be deterred, I cranked through the 6 miles as fast as I could go, stopping for pedestrians at the frequent red lights. Good thing I did, because the guy in spandex who buzzed past me at one red light was parked on the side of the road talking to the park police when I caught up to him again.



It was cutting it all pretty close, but I hopped the train to JFK and got there about 1 hour before boarding, so the WestJet agent stamped my boarding pass 'Priority' so I could go right to the front of the security line. Pretty awesome. Oh, and I ate a huge hoagie on the plane.

Because I am a hungry tourist.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Dusk Run for Cinnamon Buns

Sometimes we go to the store for a snack if Mom is gone or busy for the evening. It is always an adventure.

Co-op is the closest store to us, but there is a big hill. Last time we were all on our bikes and it was hard to help Katie up the hills because I was a bit tied up with my bike. At one point, I took my feet off my pedals to slow down and help push her up the hill. I was still straddling my bike as I crouch-jogged beside her and I the edge of the pedal caught me on the ankles bone and took a massive gouge out of me. Katie was crying a bit, but when I pointed out that I was the one bleeding into my shoe and I wasn't crying, she stopped crying to think about that.

That was last time. This time, Scott suggested that Katie ride her bike while he and I run. He has taken to running quite a bit lately. After the success of the ward 2km run, he did the Terry Fox run at school, where they bring a $2 donation and run laps of the field for 30 minutes to see how far they can get. Scott did 13 laps (I think), which was about 1 lap short of 5km. That's a pretty good pace (6:30 min/km), and one mom who was there volunteering that day told R that Scott was noticeably fast, keeping up with the grade 4 kids.

Scott's suggestion turned out to be a good one for our trip to the store. Katie set the pace on her bike and Scott and I jogged along behind. Her pace was slower than is Terry Fox pace, so he kept racing out ahead and then waiting for us to catch up. Then he got a cramp and settled in behind the bike. After about 1.1km, we got to the top of the big hill and we ditched Katie's bike behind a fence -- just like last time -- and we all ran another 0.5km down the hill. Once again Katie was setting the pace (a little over 7 minutes / km), because Scott said his knee was bothering him from running so fast earlier. He has been complaining a lot about being sore lately. R wonders if it's growing pains. I told him to just slow down a bit and it would be okay.

After searching around and finally inquiring, we learned our bakery item of choice has been discontinued, so we had to find something other than a 6-pack of glazed donuts. We settled on a box of cinnamon buns -- plus a pumpkin pie that was so cheap I couldn't pass it up. Then we set out running back up the hill to retrieve the bike with darkness setting in fast.

The grade ranges from 5% up to almost 8% in places, but the kids managed a pretty steady pace of 8-9 min/km all the way up the hill. Katie started flagging with 1/4 still to go, but I pointed out how far she had come up such a big hill and that she was almost to the top and she tore off again faster than ever. By the top she was really running out of gas, but she never stopped running. We retrieved the cached bike and helmet and set off for the home stretch. Despite a minor uphill grade, Katie was even faster on the bike going home than she'd been going out, and she left Scott and me trailing far behind in the dark.

When we finally made the turn down the pathway to our house we couldn't see a thing. Scott started to get worried about Katie. I think he was more worried than I was, although I was a bit surprised that she was so willing to plunge through the darkness alone on her bike. Scott called out to her and she sang back a giddy reply that she was already waiting for us at the gate. I turned on my phone's flashlight feature and handed it to Scott while I navigated Katie's bike through gate to the back yard. Katie was ahead of Scott and was absolutely delighted at the size of her shadow, which started with tiny little legs on the grass and grew to an enormous body and head on the side of the house.

"I am so huge! Hahaha! Look Scott! I'm so huge!"

Total Distance: 3.4 km
Total Time: 28 minutes

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Weekend in PA

My brother lives in Manhattan (pop. 1,626,159). He and his wife have an apartment in Harlem, just a block north of Central Park.
My brother also lives in Dalton, Pennsylvania (pop. 1,234). He and his wife have a cute blue house just up the hill from the Dalton General Store.

Tay moved to NY in about 2005, got married in 2008 and they have slowly been moving upward on the Upper East Side as their family has grown and they have needed more space. In January, when my sister-in-law was pregnant with Sam (their 2nd child), they bought a 100-year-old house 2 hours west of New York, not far from Scranton, PA. I haven't been out to New York to visit him since we moved back to Calgary in 2007, so this new development was a perfect excuse to make the trip. I kept trying to figure out the best way to get plane tickets for the four of us, but in the end R told me that it would be a win-win if I just went out myself. I love to travel and she stresses out about traveling with the kids, so she was happy to take one for the team and let me go solo. I heard that my parents were going out in late September, so I lined up my dates to be there with them.



My parents flew to Philly and drove up to Dalton. I flew to Newark, which was along the way for Tay and Jamie to pick me up on the way to the Blue Goose Farm (that's what their place is called). I got to meet baby Sam for the first time.



I also got to hang out with my niece Ava, who is super-adorable. She is a year younger than Katie, and it is funny how alike they are. Ava and I played hide-and-seek and we played in the sandbox and we played catch and we played with a fuzzy caterpillar and all sorts of awesome stuff.



Tay and I managed to get in a round of early-morning golf. It was the thickest fog I've ever golfed in, plus it was the first time I've seen the hazards on a hole include a cemetery. The fall colours were beautiful out there in the Pennsylvania hills. Gorgeous scenery. Our play was less inspiring, but we met a great guy named John from Philly who was up visiting his in-laws for the weekend. He thought Tay's dead-pan humour was hilarious. John told his wife that he was going to be a bit late coming back because of the fog but he met some funny Canadians so he was in good hands.







Despite the golfing diversion, we focused most of our attention on the front deck. Apparently, there was a long history of water pooling in the corner of the deck and rotting the timbers underneath, causing the deck to sag on one end, along with the roof above it. As we pried back the layers, we could see how others before us had tried to patch the problems, but the rot marched on. We braced the joists with strong new beams and then jacked the deck up nearly a foot to make it all (mostly) level again. I was impressed how Tay attacked this project. I don't have any experience jacking up large structures. I have jacked up a car before. He didn't have any experience either, but he's got pretty good sense for this sort of thing and he just went for it. It worked out really well too. By the time we left he had the roof disconnected from the deck and propped up on posts and lots of the deck torn apart. He was debating whether he would patch it up or just rebuild it completely. There were 3 schools of thought represented in our team:
1) Tay likes to tear it down and built it up better than before.
2) Dad likes to cut away the bad stuff and come up with a new design that keeps the good.
3) I like replace the worst parts and keep the structure the same.

My approach is based on minimizing the chance of "surprises". Whenever I do a project, there's always an "uh-oh" moment when something I didn't think of at the beginning of the project suddenly rears its head and causes me all kinds of grief. I liked that I was not in charge of this project and I could just take orders from Tay and do whatever his idea was. It was fun to work all together.



Once we got to the stage where we were mostly climbing around under the deck to position cinder blocks and beams, Dad shifted his attention to Tay's truck, which he had acquired to help him with all his renovation projects. Dad is always excited about his boys getting trucks. It's an older-model pickup, but it's got a big 8-foot bed in the back and he can haul all kinds of stuff, which was Tay's main requirement. You have to crank the truck for a full minute to get it to start if it has been sitting, but Tay dealt with that by buying a strong battery that could handle all that cranking. That is pretty much how I would have handled it too. You see, with vehicles, Tay is no longer from School of Thought #1. He just does what is necessary to make it work, while Dad is the one that wants the thorough fix. Dad set to work changing the oil and tinkering with the truck in a few other ways. He was going to replace the fuel pump too but the parts store was closed.



Mom helped Jamie recover some chairs the first day, and then she helped incinerate most of the evidence the remaining days. There was a huge mound of shingles that we tore off the side of the deck as we worked, and those had to go somewhere. On our first day we had taken a load of debris to the dump but we weren't anxious to go back a second time for shingles. It was an interesting experience to visit the landfill, which also doubled as a rock quarry and a methane farm, but it was a long ways to go to pay $50 and there was a guy there with a thick coral choker and a neon green tank top who reamed us out pretty good the first time for driving to the wrong spot. Long-story-short is that we burned the shingles. And then we tossed the ashes in the compost pile by the shed and nearly burned the thing down because there were still a few hot embers hiding in the ash.



This is sort of ironic, because at that same moment Jamie was back in Manhattan with the kids, working with insurance adjusters and the landlord for their apartment, where a fire two floors above them had resulted in massive water damage down below. In most rooms, the water had coursed down the walls and soaked the floor, but the ceiling in the kitchen had collapsed completely, raining sooty bilge and debris down on everything. Their blender was filled to the brim with the nasty stuff.





My brother and I nearly burned down his house in Dalton, Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, my brother's wife was taking care of the insurance claim for fire damage on his apartment in Manhattan.