Wednesday, December 31, 2008

As Cindy and the kids call it a night, I thought I'd close out 2008 recalling some of the memorable events of the past year here at Chateau McDougal:
  • It certainly was a rough year at work. My mother retires, my brother gets his hours cut, my Dad is laid off for the first time in his life. Where once we had six family members at the same job, now we have two.
  • We made a lot of improvements on the house. The living room, dining room, and back bathroom are remodeled.
  • Liam's emergency surgeries, Cindy's unexpected hospital stays, and my neck gave us brief scares.
  • We managed to take our first vacation without the kids.
  • Both of the kids picked up new foods to eat.
  • Doctor Benson fixed my torn rotator cuff without any invasive surgery.
  • We nimbly dodged Ike & Gustav.
  • I read a lot of books.
  • I watched a lot of movies.
  • And Tales From The Eye was able to hit #1 for a Google query. (If only briefly.)
Not such a bad year, all things considered.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Guarded By Baby Meg

Though she looks sullen, Cindy sleeps well knowing that she is being guarded throughout the night by Baby Meg.

Top Tooth

Uncle D pulled Meg's wiggly top tooth today. She had been wrestling with it all weekend and finally let us give it a tug today. Cindy couldn't get it. But her brother could. And now Cupcake is lighter by one baby tooth.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Green Drinks Gulfport #1

The first Green Drinks in Gulfport didn't go as well as I hoped. I'm going to attribute it to bad timing on my part. I'll tell myself that everyone was wrapped up with their own holiday plans and couldn't squeeze one more invent into their schedule. I should not have wedged it between two holidays. I timed it poorly and had a poor turn out as a result.

I'll have to cast a wider net. Get more direct contacts with people for the next time. And plan it better.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Friends Revisited

One of the milestones in each of my years is marked by Peter's return during the holidays. He flies down from D.C. to stay with his parents. We hang out at his house for a couple of hours. Then drive over to Pat's, eat his food, drink his drinks, and game his games.

Today we had lunch (heaping plates of fresh lasagna) then sat around playing Kingdoms, Puerto Rico, and some Poker derivative based on cats and bags and angry blue dogs.

And that's how I spent my entire day. Not the most glamorous life. And I didn't win anything we played. But good laughs with good friends are a hard combination to top.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Beetle Build - Day Two

It was raining today, we didn't have much time to start on prolonged or intricate work, and Roger didn't have any small plans. So we only did demo work. But today did have one interesting exception: Liam came to help.

First on the list was the dashboard. It had clearly been removed at least once. And the last time it was put back in place,  it was done only half-assed.  Whomever did it ruined the screw holes and used all different screws. Not to mention that it wasn't very attractive any more. Cracked and faded. If it could be salvaged, it was waaaay beyond our limited skills.

Liam helped track down the screws and removed all of them. Then it was a matter of angling the dash correctly and lifting it over the steering wheel. Finally we had to disconnect a couple of wires and the radio. And it all came out, destined for the quickly growing junk pile.

Mister Super Helper stayed busy, grabbing pieces and hauling them over to the side of the house or putting stray stuff into trash pile. Being old and lazy, both Roger and I were glad to have him there.
For his effort, I took an action shot of Ol' Slick. Him and his screw driver and the dashboard he helped conquer. Oh, for the energy of our former youth. And hopefully he learns something from the experience. It is all new for me. I never helped my father do ANYTHING when I was a kid. Didn't build anything, didn't work on the car, didn't work around the house. Nothing. Yet thirty years later, I find it all interesting and relaxing. Strange how things have a way of working themselves out like that. And these days I'd rather work with my hands than work on a computer. God-only-knows where My Boy will be thirty years hence. Maybe he'll have the flying car that I always thought I'd have by the time I was out of school.

Anyway, once the dash was out, we targeting the seats. While extremely comfortable, the front ones didn't work very well. The passenger side took an act of Congress to get it in reclined correctly. And the driver's side wouldn't adjust forward or backward. It was pretty much rested into place. So Roger gave me the stinkeye for photographing him in action and we got to work removing everything.

The Germans did a good job of fixing things in place. We had to unconnect the cable mechanism used to adjust the seats' position, bend a metal clasp that was cleverly concealed under the rug, pull a retaining bar backwards from under the seat, and skid the seats off their rails. Fortunately, the backseat was easy breezey mac n cheesy to remove.

Ripped up the stanky old carpet. Scraped up the accoustic pads. Peeled off most of the cracked firewall. Cleaned up our mess. And called it a day.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas '08

It is Christmas in South Mississippi. Seventy Five degrees! And I'm wearing shorts.

Meg woke up at 0330 last night. She bolted down the hall and woke up her brother. Together they came to wake us and asked if they could open their presents. Denied. So we all slept for a couple of more hours and opened presents at 0630.

Ate lunch with my parents, my Grand Mother, my Uncle Earl, and Aunt Susan's family. We had the buffet at Island View Casino. It would have been good if it weren't $20/head. We won't be doing THAT next year.

Then we opened presents at Grandma's house with my family, and my brother Jason.

Then we opened presents at Gigi's house.with Cindy's family.

Then we spent almost two hours playing Rock Band on the Wii with Darren's brother and his crew. Amazingly good time. And everyone was in awe of Liam's ability to instantly pick up all the new songs and play them on the HARD level, without any apparent effort or fear.

Aside from the enjoyment of spending time with our families and absorbing the Christmas spirit, Rock Band was unquestionably the highlight of almost everyone's day. Even the teenaged Neices were digging it.

A good way to end a bad year. Bring on 2009 already!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Silent Night - '08

Liam and Meg are in the church choir this year. It's Liam and fifteen girls. (Good odds, I tell him.) They're both talented singers. I, of course, sing like a lizard. And I'm complete tone deaf. Cindy's genetics, however, has a rich history of exceptional singers. Both of Cindy's parents were in a traveling gospel group. Cindy's mother often sings at events. And Cindy's brother is one of the best singers in the adult choir. (Cindy usually only sings after she has been drinking. (Which means she almost never sings any more.) But on those rare occasions, she completely hypnotizes me with her voice.) That whole side of the family tree have golden voices. And it wasn't lost on the kids.

So, tonight is "Silent Night," at the church. Both of our children sang. Meg instinctively her the pack. She knows all of her lyrics, knows her dance moves, and when to pickup/put down her little jiggle bell thing. The rest of the kids in her group all follow her lead. And her voice is clearly audible above the rest. Liam has a solo during his portion. He did a phenomenal job of keeping his composure. And of course his has an angelic singing voice like a beautiful little girl. (That's an inside joke hearkening back to when I was in choir 30yrs ago.) We were all extremely proud of them and happy that they were able to contribute to the nights' events.

Otherwise, service was quick and painless. I took communion for the first time in my life. Cindy asked me politely and said it would set a good example for the kids. So, wearing my fancy green Santa tie, I ate of the flesh and drank of the blood without any protest. All in good fun and in honor of the rest of my family and their beliefs. Fortunately I didn't combust or turn into a pillar of salt.

Hopefully we'll be able to sleep tonight. Santa is far from done. And we're waiting for him to do his deeds so we can call it a night.

Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Meg's Designer Rudolf Chow

Meg: "Do you think reindeers like oatmeal mixed with crushed fruitloops and green glitter?"

Jon: "..."

Meg: "That's what I made for them."

Jon: "..."

Monday, December 22, 2008

Ruby Anniversary

Quietly, covertly, my parents celebrated their 40th anniversary today.

Usually considered the "ruby anniversary." Dad said, "Yeah, another one. Right." Mom said, "Already?"

Two children. Three grand children. Six beloved dogs. One less Harley. And no more mortgage. Some interesting mile stones for two people to pass.

They have a twenty eight year head start on us, but Cindy and I will get there. One day.

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad. I, for one, am proud of you. Thanks for keeping the ship afloat through all the rough waters.

Beetle Build - Day One

So we're only three months behind schedule. But finally started working on the Beetle. The engine is gone. Also removed the starter and some kind of strange charcoal device that cleaned the fuel before it entered the engine. The picture reveals the vast space we have for the new motor. Faintly visible are the tubes for the AC. Cleverly conceal, on the left. Air conditioning is a deal breaker. And I'm betting it will prove to be one of the more problematic elements of the build. Only time will tell, but I'm trying to plan ahead for it.
Next up is a picture of the actual motor. It took six weeks to get it ordered. A couple of weeks to find a fabricator willing to custom make the adapter plates and coupler. And three weeks to actually get the motor back. The large, all-silver metal bit on the right side of the motor is the custom built hardware. High grade aluminum. A bit outside my budget, but hopefully it was a learning experience for everyone involved and we'll do better next time.

The holes will mount up with the existing holes on the transmission bell housing. And the shaft on the new motor should line up directly with the splines on the existing transmission. As a side, the motor we're using is a Warp 9" and for the price, it is king of the hill. It is also a heavy sucker. Just over 100lbs. And feels like a solid hunk of iron.

With the back tires on some blocks, we balanced the motor on a jack, rolled it under the tail, and slowly jacked it into place. I wish I could say it took a Herculean effort and taxed us to our limits. But it didn't. It was surprisingly easy and went better than planned. The only thing we forgot to do was put the LockTite on the bolts the first time we screwed everything down. So we had to repeat that process a second time. Otherwise, no problems.

Then we moved to the front of the Beetle. Since we don't need the fuel tank, it has to go. Unfortunately it rests under the AC. So we yanked that out first. The balding dude is Roger. My oldest friend. He and I met in 5th grade. Had to be like 1981. Almost three decades later we're building an electric Beetle. Anyway, we found the well-concealed screws, disconnected the tubes, and pulled out the AC, which I doubt we'll re-use due to its age.

Finally with the air conditioner out of the way, we were able to take out the fuel tank. I either forgot to take a picture of the final product, or I deleted it. But now there is a very sizable empty space that is available for additional electronics or computer parts. Something will go in there, one way or another. We're planning on getting some sheet metal to cover it, and then work on getting some kind of replacement AC.

Almost forgot to mention the remnants of a bird that we found in the front. I voted for bird. Roger voted for mouse. Given the sharp angular look of the skull, I'm sticking with avian. 

We left it there, for good luck. We'll need it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Then there were two

I've been away from the blog for a while. Part of it was due to multiple crashes on my PC. The first crash came from a motherboard failure. A week or more before I got a replacement installed. The second crash was due something around the Master Boot Record (MBR) failing. I ended up having to do a "Windows Repair" to fix it. A weekend to recover from that one. And this past Saturday it died again. Not sure what exactly caused it, but Dell says the error could have been related to a hard drive problem. Except I was using Mirrored drives. And they passed every test we put them through. In the end, I resorted to installing a fresh copy of Windows on a different drive, and pulling the untouched data off the original drives. I'm still not done re-installing everything I need to install and it will likely be next weekend before I'm finished.

The other reason I was gone was due to pure depression and fear. At my day job, I survived Layoff v3.0. But my father didn't. After 8 years of service and being voted Employee Of The Year in 2005, they fired him. And my younger brother had his hours cut back. Since both of them are hourly, they have no recourse and no severance. Of course Layoff v3.0 was neither quick nor clean. We all saw it coming and had to stand there, waiting. For weeks. Pretending we weren't scared and depressed. I couldn't really work out. I certainly couldn't write. This time last year there were five of us working for the same property.

And then there were two.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gym Time With Boo

Liam went to the gym with me this morning. He wanted to work out. To try the weights. I was doing legs & shoulders. So he joined me. Aside from trying to keep his attention sometimes and trying to explain the weights to him, we had a great time. And Liam did a great job. He listens very well. And takes directions well. Made me very proud to see him put a serious effort into everything and challenge himself.

He had great form on the squats. After I took the photo I helped get his feet under his shoulders and his toes pointing straight ahead of him. He did great with about 40lbs. And he really enjoyed the leg press. The sled weighs about 45lbs. So he was almost pressing his own body weight.

Our first time together. I hope we have more in the future. I'm not going to push him. But if the spirit moves him, I'll be there waiting. And we can tackle the gym together.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bonfire Party

Here is recipe for certain, unrefined chaos: take about twenty third graders to the beach, at night, hype them up on sugar and carbs, then give them fire. My beloved bride couldn't even stomach the THOUGHT of it. So she sent me along to protect Liam from inflammation or decapitation.

It was supposed to be a birthday party. Turned out to be quite the event. Most of Liam's class. A couple of siblings. Very few parents. Dark waves lapping at the sand. A fire leaping taller than any of the children dancing around it. High pitched squeel of girls. Bow Head following in Liam's every footstep. Hotdogs. Burgers. Delicious home-made chili. Smores. Or, would-be-smores, but mainly marshmallows getting broiled in the fire. Two hours of seething moshery with everyone running and screaming in every direction. I laughed all night.

In the end, we sang happy birthday. And the lucky girl decided to decorate her face with her cake. Smeared it around like war paint.

The kids thought it was brilliant. The parents cringed. When did we trade our bright glowing souls for these boring, ragged things we have as adults.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dreaming Girls

Like clockwork, around 8PM every night, the girls drift off to sleep. (Even if they're watching TV on the sofa!) And the house grows very quiet.

Cindy. Meg. And Baby Meg. My three dreaming girls.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Back To Life

My PC had a rough couple of weeks. But it is (seemingly) back to life. It is a happy PC.

The first problem involved the SATA controller for the hard drives. I'm fairly sure it quietly died one morning. Dell had to dispatch an entire new motherboard, since the SATA controller isn't a seperate card.

The second problem stemmed from the first one. The MBR (Master Boot Record) was hosed. (That's a technical term we use these days.) The hardware on the PC didn't know how to bootup the PC properly because it couldn't find the bootup files on the disk. It didn't know where to look until I rewrote the MBR.

The third problem was likely related to the first one. Some of the Microsoft Windows files (mainly the HAL.DLL) died when the SATA controller crashed. Unfortunately it took two hours to repair all the damaged files and a couple more to run a multitude of Windows Updates. And then I had to wrestle with a corrupt installation of .NET.

Needless to say, I haven't been keen on working on the computer much. But I'll get back on track.

A Hero Remembered

March 11, 1942: General Douglas MacArthur reluctantly abandons the Philippine Islands. He departs vowing:, "I shall return."

In October of 1944, two and a half years later, MacArthur did return. And he brought my Grandfather, A.E. Kranz. Their new tactic was called it, "Island Hopping."  They rapidly proceeded from one area to another, taking each island as quickly and painlessly as possible. An amphibious blitzkreig by the Americans. My Grandfather was in charge of a "tank destroyer." His longest campaign was taking, "the Great Walled City Of Manilla," in the Phillipines.

Once they finished honoring MacArthur's promise, they packed up and targeted a new island. They were en route to Japan when they heard: we had dropped two bombs on the Japanese. A new kind: atomic bombs. And after the second one kissed the sky, the Japanese politely and quietly gave up.

My Grandfather returned a hero. He fathered three children with my grandmother. They gave him five grand children. And before he gave up the ghost last year, he was able to spend some time with his three great grand children.

Thank you, Doe. Not only for the family you helped create and nurture, but also for your sacrifice for our country. The world needs more heroes like you.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Highland Games 08

Took a trip to this year's Highland Games, today. Been a couple of times. Last time it was freezing. We had jackets and were hudled together for warmth. Better this time. Nearly perfect.  We arrived just as the joisting started. Meg and Liam found a good spot right next to the action. They could reach out and touch the knights. In the picture, there's a boy with a blue baseball cap. That's Liam. To his right is a radiant red-headed girl. That's Meg. They had a great time. Cindy (imagine this) was worried about flying pieces of wood breaking off the shields or lances and slicing through the air into the kids' sweet neck meat. Of course, all that worry was for naught.

Next up on the agenda: sheepdogs and (imagine this) sheep. And these weren't small animals, either. Full grown ones. About the size of the kids. Anyway, the show was cool and the rancher talked about the dogs desire to herd animals. How he whistles at some. Calls in Spanish to others. And calls in English to the rest.

He also said the matriarch of the group, the smartest dog in the pack, was a girl dog. Named Meg.

Speaking of dogs, we caught sight of one of the biggest ones in South Mississippi, if not the world. An Irish Wolfhound. As in: a dog that is gnarly enough to fight wolves in its spare time. I'm betting if it stood on its hind legs, it would be able to slam dunk a basketball. And it probably had twenty or thirty pounds on me. One ungodly huge son-of-a-gun. I wouldn't want to be on its bad side. And I wouldn't want to have to clean up after the hulking beast.

To end the day and further increase Cindy's blood pressure, I found some antique guns for the kids.  Maybe civil war era weapons. Not sure how it fits in with the Highland Games, but there were historically clad dudes there with these wicked cool rifles and pistols. They let the kids fire them. Meg had a little pistol. The report from the shot was like a shock wave, catching us all off guard. And Meg said, "Cool." Liam hoisted a rifle. It stood taller than he did. But he hoisted it. And when he pulled the faux-antique trigger, thunder filled the air. It was gloriously loud. And the kids loved it.

All in all, a good day for Clan McDougal.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween 08

YAR! Here thar be pirates! A whole cut-throat family of them. Even a dashing and swarthy Pirate Mom. They, of course, all went to school in their full pirate glory.

I, of course, working for a lifeless and emotionally bankrupt corporate succubus, couldn't do anything remotely interesting. So I went to work dressed up like a computer geek. Somehow, everyone saw through my disguise.

We'll have to plan something clever for next year. I vote for robots.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Unbroken Thumb

Never a good sign when my phone rings, and upon answering it, the only sound I hear is Liam screaming his lungs raw. Not a good start to the conversation.

The backstory was that Liam got his fingers smashed in a door frame while playing around at Meg's ballet school. As can be expected, he thought it was broken and swore to every god and angel that would listen that his thumb was broken in multiple places and it was the worst pain a nine-year-old could ever experience.

Flash foward a couple of hours. I'm sitting in the Emergency Room with him. After two hours, we get into a room. An hour later, we get an x-ray. And after a total of four hours (during which time Liam took a nap and I caught up on email) the doctors determined he had an unbroken thumb. Swollen? Yes. Painful? Yes. Broken? No.

And that is how I spent my night.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Oddities In The Atlanta Airport

On my way to Savannah, to visit my buddy, Chris Miller. Grabbing a connecting flight and find myself surrounded by oddities in the Atlanta Airport.

First up, a counter where you can roll up and get a flu shot. As if air travel isn't painful enough?

Next, some lady completely passed out and draped across a couple of chairs. The angle of the feet scream, "Kill me, now. Please!"

Finally, going down an escalator, this girl in front of me had her neck pierced. Let me say that again: HER NECK WAS PIERCED! First time I've ever seen that. Probably a reason for it. And I was very tempted it thump it, just to see her wince. I bet her parents are proud.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Out Of Order

My PC at home blew up.

The hard drives are not visible to the rest of the system.

So nothing boots up.

And I apparently have no data.

Hope to fix it soon.

Life without a computer isn't as bad as I predicted.

Monday, October 20, 2008

So Long Sabrina

My friend and cohort, Sabrina, had her last day at work. It is rarely good to see a friend go, but in this case Sabrina has found a much better position, making significantly more money, and she's also moving closer to her family.

I'll miss her. A lot of people at work will miss her. But she found a great opportunity and it would be a mistake to let it go. Good luck, Sabrina. You know how to find me if you need something.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Always Patsy Cline

“Always…Patsy Cline” is a play about the real life friendship between the show's namesake and Houston housewife Louise Seger. Glenda, Cindy's Mom, co-starred as Louise. We took Alex to see the last show, today. And it was great. Glenda completely rocked the house. That is her with the very big wig, in the picture. The singing by the girl playing Patsy was incredible. (She is on the left in the picture.) And the live band (in the very back of the photo) completed the effect. It was such a good show that our kids loved it, too.

Afterward, we went backstage and huge out with the cast for a bit. Took some pictures with the stars of the show. Let them know how much we enjoyed it and listened to the producer tell about the time he met the real Louise Seger.

Absolutely wonderful show. The first time I'd seen Glenda play a lead role. And I hope it isn't the last. Great way to end the weekend.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


A boy, his tractor, and his dog. That's what is best in life.

The strapping young lad is Tolar. My nephew. Doesn't talk much. But when he does, it's powerful.

I'm going to keep an eye on the kid. Hair like that spells trouble. Mark my words.

Gulfport Fall Faire

Gulfport School District had a big Fall Faire today. Cindy and I took Cousin Alex, Meg, and Liam. Beautiful weather and good company made for a fun day at the park.

First Liam got to meet a bunch of real firemen and put out a pretend fire with a real hose. (I like the little rainbow coming off the nozzle, in the picture.)

Then the kids were able to climb into the firetruck and see what is like to sit behind the wheel and steer the whole thing. Of course they wanted to flip every switch, blow the horn, and talk on the radio. Meg also wanted to see "the fire dog." I couldn't bear to tell her the truth, so I said they left it at the firehouse to guard everything while they were out. That won't her approval.

Next, the tattoos. On their face. Liam got a big orange G, for Gulfport. Meg got a bunch of colors and swirls and flowers. Not sure what Alex got. But she got her ink, too.

And then we treated them to some cotton candy. Which scored big points.

There were also some rides and information booths (one showing a simulated pair of lungs after a couple of years of smoking.) Meg and Cindy had some pizza. Liam fired a robot-mounted air cannon at a bail of hay. And the various schools gave away books and magazines to encourage reading for everyone.

We escaped with our sanity and without anyone crying. That's a major victory, in my book.