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.