So We Moved

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When Kate and I bought our first house together seven years ago this past May, we bought purely because it was on the water. We knew the house needed a lot of work, and the best that could be said of it aesthetically is that we wouldn’t get rained on. Our bet was that the house itself could be fixed, and that the location – and especially the view – were worthy of the effort.
 
So we got to work.
 
We repainted the whole thing. We redid the kitchen, but on a budget. The budget meant that I did the tile work, which was mostly acceptable because I started on the section that would be hidden by the range so my initial mistakes were largely out of sight. At one point the budget also involved me ripping out our kitchen sink and counters so that the stone counter people could measure, then putting them both back in for a week until the counter folks came back to install the counters they’d custom cut. That sounds crazy, even to me right now, but it actually happened.
 
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We did a ton of other work. One year I dug a french drain in the back yard so that the basement stopped flooding. Another year it was installing a new maple fireplace surround and mantle. Whether it was ripping out inconveniently placed closets or patching the holes in the hardwood floors caused by ripping out inconveniently placed closets, or building organizers for the closets we spared, it became a thing over time. The bulk of my summer vacation each year would be spent on home improvement projects.
 
Many of these projects left me with injuries of varying severity. I got shocked at one point and couldn’t move my arm for an hour. I almost lost the tip of my index finger when a saw horse collapsed and two heavy sections of melamine plywood crushed it. I ended up in the emergency room because an unfortunately springy piece of corner bead sliced open my leg and had me pulsing blood with each beat of my heart.
 
As an aside, in my defense on that, I wanted to just seal it up with duct tape and the doc who stitched me up agreed that that would in fact have worked. But my efforts to hide the severity of the problem failed when Kate caught me turning large sections of our deck red. After our friend Ryan took her side, it was off to Midcoast in his Jeep with my leg in a trash bag so I didn’t turn his back seat into a scene from CSI.
 
Point is, the blood, sweat and tears thing is true quite literally true with our old house. We worked hard to make it better.
 
Which we were happy to do because our plan all along was to be there for a long time. To that end, we engaged a designer to draw up plans to expand the house and give ourselves more breathing room. Three things then happened in succession, each of which changed our calculus with respect to staying.
 
  • First, our designer ghosted us. We liked him and his work very much, and his initial draft plan looked great and we were good to move to phase two where he delivered final construction ready plans. Except that he didn’t. He didn’t return calls, he didn’t return emails. For the better part of a year he was MIA, to the point that I’d started to worry that he’d passed away. At that point, he turned back up, said he’d taken on too much work and was ready to re-engage. The problem was that in the interim, the President of the United States had decided to pick a fight with, well, everyone. Between the trade wars with Canada and China alone, our projected costs for building had spiked dramatically. Building, suddenly, looked a lot less attractive.
  • Second, we had a kid. Besides making us really, really tired, our daughter’s arrival changed our calculus considerably. Suddenly school systems mattered, and as she grew so too did her impact on our livable space. What was a livable space for us as a couple was more and more cramped as a family of three. A living room overrun by stuffies and kid’s tea sets makes for some long days.
  • Lastly, there was the global pandemic our country is still in the midst of thanks to incompetent leadership. As it has for everyone, COVID-19 has dramatically complicated our lives. Both Kate and I were suddenly at home full time. So was our daughter, who we pulled out of daycare in March.
I remember volunteering to go get takeout in February solely because I wanted to get out of the house after working from home three straight days. If only I’d known.
 
The first two factors were enough to get us to at least entertain the idea of moving. So I did what I always do when I need help, and I turned to our local tech Slack. One of the folks in there – thanks Dan! – connected us with a local realtor (who was, as an aside, incredible). We met with her for the first time on February 13th. That meeting was encouraging, and she saw more promise and possibility in our little property than the other brokers we’d spoken with, and we decided to move forward.
 
Then came March, and COVID-19.
 
All thoughts of moving went right out the window as we struggled, like the rest of the country, to adjust to lockdown conditions and trying to juggle two full time jobs with a third job of being full time preschool teachers. We were doing the best we could to keep our heads above water, and the idea of adding additional burdens to our plate was just unthinkable. And even if we were ready to list, the market cooled considerably in the early stages of the outbreak.
 
That is where things sat until late July. By that point, we were still out straight but at least we had our routines down. After seeing so many people in our tech Slack refinance at bonkers interest rates, I pinged my ex-CFO little brother and asked for his opinion on re-financing or even, if such a thing could be accomplished, selling. After a few days of watching market numbers, he came back with a bunch of charts that I didn’t understand but a message that I did: that if we wanted to sell anytime soon, we should do it now and do it quickly.
 
The last time he gave a family member this advice it was to my parents in the run up to 2008.
 
So it was that we met in proper socially distanced fashion with our realtor out on our back deck the Monday of July 27th. She talked potential numbers, they worked for us and we asked about timing. She said the sooner the better. Kate and I, much to my later regret, agreed to list in just shy of three weeks.
 
For some homes, and in non-pandemic times, this would be a perfectly reasonable ask. For us, it was insane. The next three weeks were easily my worst in recent memory, as might have been inferred from my tweets at the time.
 
 
I spent my two weeks of summer vacation moving half of the items in the house over to storage using my hand truck and my actual truck. We had so much that needed to be moved we outgrew one storage unit and expanded into a second, much larger one, nearly filling that one too. Nor did we have time to pack properly; the night before the photographers arrived, in fact, we were basically pulling things off counters and throwing them into boxes (and when they were unable to shoot due to poor weather, I ran around the house shouting “DEUS EX MACHINA!”).

 

Some of those boxes even got labeled, if you can call these labels.

 
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I also spent vacation out in the blazing sun sanding our house’s long deck, then staining it twice before giving up and painting it once. I replaced the deck railings, a task which was substantially complicated by the fact that due to the pandemic there were massive shortages of pressure treated lumber, and when I finally found some I spilled it all over the road transporting it home.
 
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I installed a new dishwasher, spraying myself with disgusting bilgewater in the process. I replaced parts on the range, it worked for two days, broke again, after which I took everything apart again and found the actual problem. Kate and I painted the sun room in our house, including the cathedral ceiling, in spite of the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to work our borrowed paint sprayer and almost doused a floor and two cabinets with Benjamin Moore Decorator White.
 
It didn’t help that all of that sanding took place in August, which was the hottest month on record, ever, in Portland. It also didn’t help that I badly tore a muscle in my left rib cage less than a week into prep, and when I Googled how long that recovery would be the answer was 4-6 weeks.
 
Anyway, I could go on, but you probably get the point: this was not my favorite start to August ever.
 
The worst part of all of this, however, was the uncertainty. We were fairly confident, based on our understanding of the market, that we’d get offers. We had no idea whether they’d be acceptable offers, however. And even if we were able to successfully sell the place, we had no idea where we were going to be living, first because there were less than ten houses available in the four or five towns we were looking in combined and second because all of the available rentals had been snapped up by out-of-towners fleeing COVID.
 
The good news was that our effort, and the wise counsel of our broker both in terms of how to prepare and what to list at, paid off. We ended up listing late on a Thursday night, and were under contract by Sunday to a nice couple from Boston. Our broker – bless her – even managed to wrangle a rent-back from our buyers, so that we had up to two months to look before we had to move.
 
The better news was the miracle that was our purchase.
 
During one of the showings of the property we were selling, we were casting about for somewhere to be. These days, after all, you can’t just clear out to a restaurant for lunch because COVID, or visit with friends and family, also because COVID. The process of selling violated our respective quarantine protocols, so we were on the outs with our pod for the duration.
 
On a whim, then, we decided to go look at two properties.
 
The first was a rabbit warren and felt smaller than our then current house in spite of being almost three times as large. The second, on the other hand, was interesting. Really interesting. It ticked a lot of boxes for us. Right town, gigabit bandwidth, attached garage, and it was much larger than we would have wanted pre-COVID but perfectly sized in a world of pods, lockdowns and quarantine protocols. Even better, it was on a quiet, private street where kids can wander and ride bikes and families can walk out the driveway and make a left into nature or a right onto a rocky beach across the street. And did I mention that it was on an island?
 
The second property might not have been perfect, but it was as close to it as we were likely to find – certainly in this market.
 
The problem was that a lot of other people saw the same attributes we did, and we were outbid. Sad news, but expected because we, alas, were not paying in cash and needed to actually have our sale close first. Thanks to our broker’s relationships, however, and some serious coaching on her part regarding our offer, we ended up as the backup offer. Which we originally agreed to not out of any sense of real hope, but more because we had nothing better on tap, and by nothing better I mean nothing else period.
 
But remember how I said miracle? Late in the afternoon on Sunday, August 30th, we got a call from our realtor. Given that we were still finalizing a bunch of the details with regard to the closing on our old house, this was not unusual. The news was, however. The original buyers for the property we wanted, who were from California, had decided to renege on their offer and stay in California. The exact scenario, in fact, that our friend Corey had mentioned as a possibility of days previously. This left us, as the number one backup, as the prospective owners of the house that would have been – and is, in fact – such a good fit for us across a number of dimensions.
 
That closing was last Tuesday, and the movers arrived on Wednesday. Almost a week and a half later, we’re still living out of boxes, which is half us being totally depleted from the entire process and half the reality of working from home with no daycare thanks to the pandemic. But we’ll get there. Eventually. I hope.
 
In the meantime, I need to thank a few people:
 
  • First, a big shout out to our local tech community: we honestly wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the Computers Anonymous Slack crew. They got us curious about selling, found our realtor and our mortgage broker, and took everything from a broken dishwasher to an old electric log splitter off our hands so we didn’t have to move it. They also had to listen to venting about how miserable the prep was, poor things. 
  • We also owe an enormous debt to our realtor, who was the reason we decided to sell, the reason we sold for what we did and the reason we were in a position to land the house that we did. My experience with realtors has been less than stellar, generally, but she’s outstanding. If you’re in Maine and need a realtor, get in touch: this is who you want to work with.
  • My RedMonk colleagues, meanwhile, were incredibly patient with me. Already limited by my part-time childcare responsibilities, I added to that random and unpredictable absences for house prep, moving, closing and other responsibilities. And more specifically, as someone who’s self-employed, the documentation asks for the lender were incredibly broad, and Marcia got everything I needed efficiently and never griped once about my – or more accurately their – repeated demands. Couldn’t have done this without our team.
  • My wife’s family was amazing. With my parents out of action temporarily due to a medical issue, Kate’s parents went so far above and beyond the call of duty it can’t be properly conveyed. Kate’s Mom helped us pack, move and watch Eleanor. Kate’s Dad was a machine whether scraping and painting the side of our house or loading and unloading two and a half cords of heavy firewood with me. Kate’s brother-in-law, meanwhile, served as courier for our closing papers sacrificing a Sunday afternoon to get them executed.
  • Mom and Dad if you end up reading this, I know you would have been here if you could, so please no apologies. You’ve never shirked a job in your lives and you obviously didn’t here. Also, thanks for the advice that led us to pick the realtor we did, and for your support and guidance along the way.
  • To my brother for goading us into doing this. 
  • Our pod friends Shawn and Ryan for taking time that they didn’t have to come up and help us pack, but more importantly distract our kid so we could pack. Also for keeping us sane along the way. 
  • To Kate and Eleanor. The past few months have been incredibly stressful mentally and physically debilitating, but we got through it in one piece together.
  • Lastly, to our old house: you were good to us, and you will be missed. Here’s to many more fine years with your new family. 
And for my part, here’s to never moving again.

How to Build a Wheelchair Ramp (During a Pandemic)

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Every so often in life you have the opportunity to put whatever meager skills you’ve managed to cobble together over the years to work for a good cause. For me, in most cases that’s helping friends or family with the technology in their life: problems with their devices, issues with their broadband or trying to figure out how to get high speed access to an area in the foothills of the Sangre De Cristo mountains that has none.

Occasionally, however, I get called on to build something. Usually, and appropriately, I’m the option of last resort, because I seem to have inherited my grandfather’s fine carpentry skills, and he was an outstanding rough carpenter. This past weekend was one of those times, where I was tasked with building a ramp for a temporarily wheelchair bound family member who shall go unnamed in case they would prefer not to be included here.

Never having built a wheelchair ramp, or a ramp of any kind for that matter, I had many questions. Among them:

  1. How steep – or not – can a ramp be?
  2. How do I determine and cut the necessary angles?
  3. If I know the angles, how do I determine length?
  4. Can I build this solo?

The good news is that thanks to YouTube, I had answers to the first three questions inside of an hour. Specifically I relied on this one for the ramp construction and this one for the dark arts of using a speed square. As for the fourth question, that was the easiest to answer, which was that it didn’t matter because I didn’t have a choice. A number of people were amazing in their offers of assistance, but trying to social distance in the middle of a project being built in half the bay of a garage would be impossible, so as much as I appreciated the offers, this was on me.

If any of you find yourself in the position of having to build a ramp, then, hopefully the following is of some use. This is how I constructed the ramp in question. Before I proceed, because my wife is a lawyer, let me state here clearly that I am not a professional, and I offer no warranty on this advice whatsoever: use it at your own risk. Let me also be sure to thank said wife for watching our daughter the whole day so I could knock this out.

Step One: Determine the Height

The most important number you need to have is the height of your entryway. Everything will follow from that. In my case, this number was 31″, which was a lot higher than most of the videos I watched – they tended to be in the 16″ – 24″ range most often. The reason this is important is that the higher the entryway is, the longer your ramp will have to be because of the slope.

Step Two: Determine the Slope

Per the first linked video above, according to the ADA the maximum allowable slope for assisted usage of the ramp is 9.5 degrees. If you’re building a ramp for someone who will need to use the ramp on their own, unassisted, the max slope is 4.8 degrees.

Step Three: Determine the Dimensions of the Ramp

Originally I thought I was going to have to use the Pythagorean Theorem myself and do some actual math, but it turns out Googling “right triangle calculator” yields a large number of sites that let you skip the math. So I took advantage of this one because time was of the essence.

All you need to calculate the dimensions of a triangle are one side and an angle, fortunately. After providing height A and the opposite angle – 9.5 in my case – I had the dimensions that I needed. To come down from 31″ at 9.5 degrees, my ramp would need to be about sixteen feet long. The problem for me was that seventeen feet away from the door in question was a shop sink, so unless I wanted to rip that out from the wall, and I very much did not, I was looking at two ramps. One ramp down to a platform, and then a second ramp off that platform at 90 degrees.

Like so.

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I know, I’m quite the artist.

Anyway, the first one would step it down about 10″ to a 40″x40″ platform 20″, and the second ramp would pivot 90 degrees to drop that 20″ to the floor.

Importantly, there’s some play in both heights because I had to account for the height of the plywood sheeting. Basically what I did on the ground was recompute my right triangle dimensions for 3/4″ less than the original height and build the ramps accordingly. This allowed me to fit the sheeting in without issue.

At any rate, I now had everything I needed to begin preparing a cutlist.

Step Four: Prepare a Cutlist

Unlike the right triangle thing, I have yet to find an app that can prepare a general cutlist outside of specific, common use cases like decks. So I had to prepare a list of the materials I needed.

In my case, I went with standard 2×6 dimensional lumber and 3/4″ plywood. I picked up, or was supposed to anyway, 11 2×6’s, 3 sheets of 8’x4′ 3/4″ plywood, some 2×4’s in case I needed a railing and a single 8′ 4×4 for the platform legs. All in, it cost a little over $200 for the materials (I had a lot of 1 1/2″, 2″ and 3″ fasteners lying around so I didn’t need that).

Under normal circumstances, I’d just drive up to Home Depot, pick the stuff up and walk out. With the pandemic, however, we’re only doing curbside. I called the store to confirm, placed the order – though oddly only after it was nearly complete did it mention the curbside availability – and was done.

Step Four: Stage the Tools

Not having room in the truck for both tools and lumber, I ran the tools up the day before and set them up for usage. It’s nice having a pickup for things like this, I have to say.

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Step Five: Pickup the Lumber

This was an ordeal. I ordered Saturday afternoon in two separate orders because I’d forgotten the 4×4 initially. Sunday morning I got an email that my order was ready to pickup, and they only brought out the 4×4. Kind of tough to make a ramp just from one eight foot piece of lumber. After some haggling back and forth through the car window, he went back in, found the other order, and brought it out – only there was no plywood. After communicating to him that without the sheeting the whole thing was moot, I finally was able to order 3/4″ OSB instead which he went back in again to get. And came out with an extra sheet – thanks mobile app!, that I could not return without going into the store.

At which point, I gave up, thanked him and started loading the truck. So the ordering part was complicated, thanks to the virus. Also complicated was having to turn down multiple very kind people in the parking lot who saw me loading a lot of lumber by myself and offered to help. One even offered to drive it over because he doubted it would fit in my mid-sized truck.

They were wrong, it did.

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Between the messed up order and the loading, I was at the store for over an hour and then it took me twice as long as it should to get the project site because I had to stop every few miles to prevent the wood from sliding out.

Not good times, bad times.

Step Six: Unload the Lumber

Self-explanatory.

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Step Six: Build the Platform

Because I wasn’t sure of my angles yet and wanted something to physically test from, I built the platform. It’s just a frame of 2×6’s around 4×4 legs. Pretty straightforward.

Step Seven: Build the First Ramp

This is where the angles came in. I needed to determine what angles to cut on the joists to connect the platform to the entryway. With that, I turned to my speed square. You’ll notice on here that it has a table for common rafter conversions. This is how that works.

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  1. Find your angle on the table: in my case, 9.5 degrees.
  2. According to this table, that equates to a 2″ rise every 12″.
  3. Place the square on your lumber, and pivot it “2” on the COMMON scale. That’s your angle. Make a line, and cut to that. If you’re like me, you’re wondering about the angle for the floor – but hold that thought, we’ll come back to it.

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Once I had the angle process above worked out, I measured the distance of the platform to the entryway, and fixed the former to the back wall so it wouldn’t move. Then I cut 2×6 segments to that angle to the appropriate length and toenailed them to the entryway and the platform like so.

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You can’t see it because it’s behind the drill drive in that photo, but I had to bird’s mouth – that is to say, notch out – the far joist to have it seat properly. The process for that is simple. Make a mark with the same angle you’re cutting the rafter at – 2, in my case – and then make a perpindicular line connecting to that at whatever height you need to remove for it to seat.

Step Eight: Built the Second Ramp

One thing I was unsure of before I started the process was the angle of the joists that connect to the floor. I understood the process as outlined above for determining a rafter angle like cut, but what about the pieces connecting to the floor? As it turned out, this couldn’t have been simpler: it’s the same angle as the rafters.

The only difference is that instead of pivoting on the long side of the joist, you pivot from its end, like so.

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That gave me the long angle I needed to have the joists seat properly on the floor, as you can see.

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I went back later and added some cross braces between the joists for extra stability, just in case.

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Step Nine: Sheath the Ramps and Platform

Ideally, I’d prefer to cut my sheet goods on a tablesaw, but the cuts I needed to make here exceeded its maximum fence depth so that was out. Instead, I cut everything freehand with a handheld circular saw. The work wasn’t perfect, but for this project it didn’t need to be so long as it was workable. I worked from the entryway down, laying the OSB down on it as I went.

One other minor thing: I beveled the edge of the OSB where it met the floor to make it even slightly easier to get a chair up on to.

Step Ten: Install Edging

While the slope is gradual and ADA approved, I would prefer to not be responsible for someone careening off a ramp I built and therefore installed 2×6’s around the edges of the ramp. Where necessary, the angles were cut using the exact same process outlined in Step Seven.

Here’s the finished product.

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There are some rough parts, for sure, which I expect that one friend in particular will find and point out, and I would not expect this to last forever. But as a temporary measure to meet an immediate need, it should be serviceable.

Step Eleven: Shower Beer

The best reward for a completed project is a shower beer – Maine Beer Company’s Lunch in a travel mug, in this case. And as it turned out, the hot shower itself was necessary because having to crouch over for the better part of a day left my back pretty stiff.

Step Twelve: Takeaways

The net is that a ramp is not a hard thing to build. The angles are the only tricky part, but once you figure that out with a speed square it’s very straightforward. Some of the cuts – specifically the long cross grain cuts using a circular saw – were a bit of a pain in the ass, but those notwithstanding there’s nothing particularly complicated about the build.

Total project time was from maybe 10:30 in the morning working straight through to around 4:30 in the afternoon, and the cost as mentioned was in the $215-$225 range assuming you don’t actually buy an extra sheet of OSB you don’t need.

Bonus: The Only Injury

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Unusually, I had almost no worksite injuries on this project. Apart from some nicks and scrapes on my arms and legs from the OSB, the only notable problem was the blister I got on my index finger. Word to the wise: if you are having a tough time driving a screw in and the driver has worked on it for a while, do not touch that screw. Damn thing burned the hell out of me and hurt like hell while it blistered.

As my injuries in these thing go, however, I’ll take it.

Like Guac? This Will Change Your Life

With the rather large caveat that you may not want to take advice on kitchen gadgets from someone who, left to his own devices, would eat all his meals directly over the sink, let me recommend a kitchen gadget that will change your life.

If you like guacamole, anyway.

Which I do. But while I enjoy guacamole more than any other food that doesn’t involve raw fish wrapped up in some combination with rice, I am very particular about the taste of the guacamole. The nationally distributed artificial, ersatz packaged stuff is a non-starter. I’m more forgiving of local packagers, who can sometimes do a nearly adequate job but still tend to over-rely on preservatives. And even the fresh made onsite varieties such as at Whole Foods or our local super market, while night and day versus the abominable artificial stuff, are still not my cup of tea. Usually it’s the ingredient mix: some turn the guacamole into a veritable salad with peppers, onions and tomatoes all competing with the avocado for pride of place. Others use enough lime juice to make a half dozen gin rickeys.

I am not, in general, a food person in that I’m a lot happier eating whatever seems edible at a dive bar than I am at the kinds of restaurants where presentation matters and people take pictures of each course as it comes out. There are very few foods, therefore, that I care enough about to get snobby about. Guacamole is one of them, which is why I prefer my own.

My recipe is the opposite of fancy; it’s stripped down and simple, letting the flavor of the avocado do the work. For base ingredients, I use nothing but avocados, sea salt and a bit of garlic. If I know Kate’s going to be eating it as well, I’ll use a tiny bit of lime juice because she prefers that, but otherwise I skip it.

The only other thing I toss in which is admittedly non-traditional is a drop or two, depending on the batch size, of sesame oil. Years ago I was eating at my favorite Mexican joint in NYC with my parents and raving about the quality of their guac. My only complaint was that I couldn’t quite pin down what set it off. My Mom’s an excellent cook, however, and called it immediately: they use, or used to at least, a tiny, barely detectable amount of sesame oil. And so, after that revelation, did I.

By now you’re probably wondering what all of this rambling about guacamole snobbery has to do with a kitchen gadget, so let me explain.

For Christmas, Kate got me one of these.

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Technically it’s called the Prepworks Guacamole Prokeeper, but basically it’s just a plastic container you can vacuum seal. The idea is simple: you angle the top down, forcing out any trapped air thereby vacuum sealing whatever you’re storing in there – the guacamole, in this case.

I was skeptical, not least because most of the miracle kitchen gadgets I’ve seen are not exactly miracles. And to be fair, this one takes a bit of trial and error to get the angle right, and it can be tedious to clean. But the damn thing actually works, and works well. What that means in practical terms is this: I can have guacamole – my guacamole, made myself to my exacting specifications – all week with only one prep. On sandwiches, on eggs, on toast, even on actual Mexican food if that happens to be available.

I’ve never bothered to make much in years past, because it goes bad so quickly. Even if you use the trick of saving the pit with the guac, it doesn’t last more than a day or two in the fridge without developing a nasty brown skin. With this little gadget, it will literally last a week.

Most Saturdays, then, I now cut up four or five avocados rather than the one or two I’d normally use for a single meal.

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Then I grind up a week’s worth of guacamole à la sog, like so.

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And here’s what it looks like in the miracle kitchen gadget four and a half days later. First from the top.

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And then from the bottom.

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With the exception of some crust around the edges where it sealed, the guac is basically perfect even days later. If you like guacamole, then – like it enough to make large batches of your own – you should definitely grab this or one of the dozens like it.

It’ll change your life by adding more guac to it.

Disclosure: As always, the Amazon link above is an affiliate link simply because I enjoy seeing whether people take any of the recommendations made here.

My 2019 in Pictures

As has become custom, I’m late with my year end wrap-up this year – but not as late as I was last year, so there’s that.

As always, these are the moments – significant or mostly not – that characterized my year personally. So not much about work, and as little as possible about airports. Before we get to the pictures, however, a quick check-in on travel.

Travel

While it had some brutal stretches, travel was much more manageable this year. After ballooning in 2018, my travel came back down to a more or less manageable level – even with some unanticipated personal travel thrown in.

Notably for me, this was the first year since it was introduced that I did not qualify for JetBlue’s Mosaic program, as 2019 marked my first full year flying Delta. With the exception of a single New York to Portland segment after a Delta flight got cancelled, I didn’t fly JetBlue at all.

Delta, meanwhile, has been something of a revelation. I actually get upgraded to First Class now, for one, and every so often the cost to upgrade to one of those seats is reasonable enough that I can justify it. Throw in the lounge access – including showers for post red-eye flights – and the jump to Delta has been a huge improvement in my overall travel comfort. Big thanks to Kate who was the one who actually kicked me to do it.

In the meantime, a few other tidbits courtesy of and Openflights.org.

  • Distance: Clocking in at 69,312 miles I was off 19% on the year, which was excellent news.
  • 100K: This was the sixth time in nine years I failed to reach 100,000 miles. I will continue to try and keep it up.
  • Carrier: As mentioned above, I cut fully over to Delta this year. 52 of 56 segments were Delta; 3 were Norwegian to and from London, and one was the aforementioned JetBlue hop.
  • Airport: For the second year in a row I reversed last year’s trend, and spent more time this year in Portland (22) than Boston (9).
  • First Time: Visited Memphis, TN for the first time as you’ll see below. It’s fun, but I have no idea how people live past forty with that food.
  • Where To: San Francisco narrowly edged out New York this year as the destination I visited the most for the second year in a row. Here’s hoping the city that’s only 45 minutes away by plane makes a comeback this year.

With that, on to the pictures.

January 1

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Spent New Year’s morning helping my brother-in-law cut up a tree that fell on and crushed his car. The good news is that it was overnight and no one was hurt. The bad news is that the tree fell in several inches of ice cold slush.

January 30

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In London for the Monki Gras, learned to my surprise that the other investor in Mikkeller London is…well, I’m never gonna give that up.

February 1

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James continues to reset the bar every year. Biggest thing the Monktoberfest stole from its sister show this year was closed captioning.

February 14

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You know you’re in trouble when you’re getting ready for a talk – or in this case a panel with the IBM CEO, hence the abnormal attention to my appearance – and the makeup person looks at the scar on your nose and says “oh…oh no.” Ten minutes later and they made me as pretty as I was ever going to be.

February 23

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The Red Sox were back and someone was excited.

March 12

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Speaking of being excited, we ended up at the 21st Amendment in Boston due to every other restaurant laughing at us for not having reservations during Restaurant Week.

It is really weird to take your kid to a bar you used to close down regularly with your friends in your twenties. Cool, but like, really weird. Twenty something sog would not have expected this development.

March 22

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Went to Memphis for the first time for a Bachelor’s Party, and it’s a fun town. I could never spend much time here or the food would kill me, but it’s got a bit of a New Orleans vibe to it and the first place we went to randomly had goats walking up a jungle gym.

April 8

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A famous San Franciscan establishment in RedMonk lore, I hadn’t been back here in years. It’s changed, but still a quality venue.

April 15

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Was crushed to see Notre Dame – easily the most impressive human construction I have ever seen in person – nearly burn down.

April 16

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Finally bit the bullet and got a battery powered chainsaw. You can read the review at the link, but the short version is that it’s great.

April 26

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Took Kate to see the Avengers:Endgame for her birthday, and while it’s no Alamo Drafthouse, you can get a beer – or cocktail, in her case – while you watch. Totally worth it for the Captain America scene alone.

April 30

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Didn’t manage to get down to the Sangre de Cristo’s this trip, but always good to see the BFF.

May 18

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Our friends take rehearsal dinner beers seriously.

May 19

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Said friend got married in a beautiful spot up the coast, and thanks to me it was raining. Sorry buddy.

May 27

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Lot of firsts this year, including the first Memorial Day parade.

May 28

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After years of neglect due to having a tiny human to care for, we finally bit the bullet and tore up our sad, tired lawn and put down seed.

June 3

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With the exception of my parents and grandparents, no one ever had more influence on who I am today than my coach. He died on June 3rd, and he is missed.

June 30

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We managed to a) get to the Blessing of the Fleet and b) keep the various cousins from tumbling into the water and c) race back to the cars seconds before a massive thunderstorm rolled in.

July 3

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Lawns get better if you pay attention to them, it turns out.

July 4

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Fireworks at Bean’s.

July 10

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The last time I was in the Blind Tiger in NYC I lived there. In NYC, I mean, not the Blind Tiger. Not most of the time, at least.

July 27

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We got hops.

July 28

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Nothing better than a secret, locals only beach.

July 29

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Got a new truck, one with a removable roof and doors that can come off and actually be put back on. More on that here.

August 3

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This vacation week in this place is what gets me through the year. And yes, that unicorn is exactly as comically oversized as it looks.

August 20

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Annual pilgrimage complete.

August 22

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Vacation isn’t just waterfalls. It’s putting in new entry lights and trying not to get electrocuted.

August 23

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Vacation is also tearing apart your stove to replace the igniter without getting electrocuted or blowing up the house. So far, so good.

August 30

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First ride on the ride on with my Dad.

August 31

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First time camping. Ish.

September 6

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This was for sale literally on my way to daycare, and I neither bought it nor stole it. Somehow.

September 18

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On behalf of four generations of Kate’s family, I said goodbye to a beloved Boston institution closing its doors.

September 26

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En route to Vermont for Monktoberfest related activities, stopped by another institution.

September 29

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It was time, at least according to the friend who called the old hat “gross.”

October 3

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Survived this, once again.

October 12

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Said goodbye to a beloved aunt. Marcia, you are missed.

October 13

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I would have killed for something like this as a kid when I spent weeks on the Cape, but better late than never.

October 17

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Big storm, power goes out, generator kicks on, all is well. Until 5ish because, as it turns out, we were out of propane. Because the folks responsible for auto-filling our propane tanks hadn’t filled our propane tanks in a year. “Yeah, I know it’s late, but we’re going to need you get over here with some fuel.”

October 31

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Puffin randomly flew into our house, thanks to Kate’s handiwork.

November 8

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Opened my wallet at the store and was very confused to find none of my cards.

“Did you take daddy’s credit cards?”
“Yes! I put them in here because they were tired.”

In here = the paper drawer in the printer. Could be worse, I guess: she could know how to use them.

November 9

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Biggest little game in America.

November 16

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Wood dropoff.

November 17

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Woodshed loaded

November 30

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Can’t believe it’s been four years.

December 14

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First ballet recital went great until she tried to take off her leotard “because it was itchy” and almost pulled down the Christmas lights of the set.

December 24

There was a viral video going around this year about how to wrap your presents diagonally.

Do not believe it. Do not trust it.

December 25

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This is how you do Christmas morning correctly.

December 31

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“It’ll mostly be rain on the coast” apparently translates to a foot of snow.

What Even is a Jeep Gladiator?

A little over a month ago, I drove home from Westbrook in a brand new truck. It was not, as I would have assumed a year or two back, another Tacoma. It was instead the first generation of a brand new truck, a sort of franken-truck that was relatedly the first pickup Jeep has sold since the sixties. The truck I drove home was a Jeep Gladiator.

I got a lot of questions when I originally leased the Tacoma three years ago; I’ve gotten an order of magnitude more about the Gladiator. For those confused about why I picked one up, or even what it is, this is for you.

What Even is a Jeep Gladiator?

This is the first question that people ask. The day I picked one up, some rando in a parking lot literally asked “what in the hell is that?” Someone else walked by, did a double take, nodded once and just asked, “is it awesome?” – but we’ll come back to the reactions this thing provokes.

Anyway, while Jeep’s answer to the question of what a Gladiator is involves lengthy discussions of parts borrowed from other truck lines the parent company owns, the simplest and also correct answer is that the Gladiator is exactly what it looks like: a Jeep Wrangler with a pickup bed pasted onto the back of it.

That also, helpfully, explains why I bought one. But before we get there, why a pickup?

Why a Truck?

Much as it may seem otherwise if you’ve driven up here, you are not in fact legally required as a resident of the great state of Maine to drive a pickup. You can drive an SUV, a Subaru or anything else that has four wheel drive. Probably some other cars too. All of which implies that I am driving a pickup voluntarily, a fact that is likely to baffle the many sports car enthusiasts at a minimum.

Three years ago, I became convinced that – based on our lifestyle and more particularly the state of our house – a pickup was more need to have than nice to have. As someone who’d always driven sports cars or at least sportier sedans, however, I had less than no interest in driving one. So I set about convincing Kate that she should be the one to drive a pickup. That plan went about as far as you think it would, and she ended up driving a Volvo and I ended up with a Tacoma.

The good news was that the truck was every bit as useful as anticipated. The Tacoma conveyed plywood, sheetrock, 2×4’s and 2×6’s, 10 foot sections of walnut, 12 foot sections of hard rock maple and more. It picked up firewood (more than once). It picked up a tablesaw. It picked up a lawnmower. It emptied our house on trash day. It even got pressed into service for the Monktoberfest. And that’s just the special event stuff; the truck also did basic blocking and tackling like picking up mulch, mulch and more mulch in the spring or our weekly runs to the transfer station, recycling and bottle redemption places – it’s really nice to not care if your trash or bottles leak because you can just hose out the bed.

Point is, the truck got used as a truck all the time, and a truck had become indispensable. With Kate not having changed her mind about pickups, then, I was in the market for one.

Why a Gladiator?

This whole thing began with a single text from my brother – the car person in our family – from last November. It included a picture of the not-yet-on-sale Gladiator with the minimalist caption, “next truck.”

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That kicked off a long, winding road leading here which careened between extremes like “they’re reportedly going to sell them for $10K over list so I’m out” to “wait, they’re leasing it for what?” In the end, the reality was closer to the latter, and I got the truck for below invoice and within a couple of grand of what the Tacoma had cost three years ago.

But that’s just the logistics that made it possible; it doesn’t get at the actual why.

Back in high school, when I was approaching the age I would be taking my driving test, I spent hours upon hours pouring over used car classifieds (for my younger readers, that’s like Craigslist printed on sheets of thin, black and white paper). I had two preferred options: a Wrangler or a sports car. The results were disheartening. Wranglers hold their resale value absurdly well, so they were a non-starter. Sports cars were similarly spendy, unless they had some near fatal flaw. The good news was that I ended up with a sports car, a ’73 Mustang bought off a coworker of my Mom’s that was, well, let’s just say not one of the classics aesthetically speaking. But it was my car and I loved it, and from that point forward I drove fast cars right until the time I ended up with the Tacoma.

When my brother sent me that text, however, I was faced with an interesting proposition. If I had to drive a truck rather than a sport car as circumstances seemed to dictate, what if that truck was a Wrangler at the same time? What if I could get a truck that was also a convertible? What if there was a truck whose doors and roof would come off in ten minutes?

The answer to these and other questions is sitting outside in our driveway as I write this.

Oh, and as an aside, if you own a Tacoma whose doors were not remotely designed to come off, I highly recommend not confessing to your significant other that you’ve been Googling about how to do that.

Why Did I Order One?

Once people get beyond the shock of the thing – it’s a Wrangler, but it’s a pickup? – one of the other questions people had is why did I order one? Most people, after all, buy off the lot because dealers are more incented to move those. I had certainly never ordered a car previously.

Part of it was the fact that I wanted a stick, and part of it was timing.

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Since 2005, I’ve driven nothing but a manual transmission and had no intention of changing that. The good news was that the Gladiator’s default transmission was a standard. The bad news was that – default or no – virtually none of the early models that shipped out were manuals, and the few that were were far more richly optioned than my budget allowed for. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe what some people will pay for a pickup truck.

Under other circumstances, I’d simply bide my time and wait for manuals to start shipping. In my case, however, the Tacoma lease was up in June and even automatic-equipped Gladiators were few and far between at that point. I was able to extend my lease on a month to month basis, but the clock was ticking on the still expensive state registration. If I could get a new truck quickly, I’d be spared the hundreds of dollars necessary to register the old one that I’d be turning in anyway. If I waited for a suitable manual Gladiator to arrive on its own, meanwhile, I’d have to register the Tacoma for a full year, the majority of which I didn’t plan to own it – a waste of money.

Once I got one of the four Jeep dealers I was working with down to a workable number, then, I called it good.

What About the Environmental Impact?

Like every other reasonable, rational human being on the planet I’m desperately concerned about climate change, and its impact on the planet both near term but more for my daughter’s future. And while the Gladiator’s average mileage so far is a tick above what I was getting with the Tacoma and light years ahead of my old Mustang, there’s no way around this: the Gladiator is not in the least an environmentally friendly vehicle.

But for where we live and what we do, a pickup is a must have as discussed. Which is why part of the reason I leased the Tacoma was my hope that by the time that lease was up, hybrid or EV pickups would be available. The good news is that EV pickups exist now. The bad news is that they cost seventy grand, which is not only not in the ballpark of what I’m willing to spend, it’s not in the same league.

My hope with the Gladiator, therefore, is that three years from now, I’ll be able to get one that is an EV, or at worst a more efficient hybrid – something that looks increasingly plausible. Or failing that, that a Rivian, a Tesla or something similar has a pickup at a price point that is close enough to work (and has a dealership that is closer than several hundred miles away).

What About it Being a First Generation Vehicle?

A couple of people have asked whether I have any concerns about buying a first generation vehicle. The answer is an emphatic yes, and this is another reason I’m leasing. If Jeep’s first go round with the Gladiator turns out to be fatally flawed, I’m only on the hook for the early years and I can hand them the keys at the end of it and walk away.

How Does it Drive?

It drives like what it is, a truck. It’ll never be mistaken for my beloved old Volvo S40, let alone a true sports car, but it’s perfectly well mannered for a truck. One of the complaints about the Wranglers, from what I understand, is that because they’re short in wheelbase, they don’t track all that well, particularly on highways. The Gladiator, being a lot longer, has no such problem.

The manual transmission, for its part, is a lot closer to my Volvo than the Tacoma; the clutch is softer, and the throws are shorter and much more car-like. Once I got over the initial adjustment of not being able to feel the clutch engage because it wasn’t as hard as I was used to, it’s more pleasant to drive.

All in all, the driving experience is consistent with every other truck I’ve driven, and similar to at least the bigger SUVs.

How Big is the Bed?

It’s big enough for giant inflatable unicorns, at least.

More empirically, it’s slightly shallower, and thus easier to reach into, than my old Tacoma bed. Otherwise it’s a basically a standard midsize pickup bed.

The bed has one thoughtful little trick, though: you can suspend the tailgate halfway down to make it easy to carry full size sheets of plywood, sheetrock, etc.

What Don’t I like?

Let’s start with the bad stuff. The mileage is fairly standard for a midsize truck, but that’s another way of saying not good. While the Gladiator can tow an impressive amount of weight, the gear ratios are more oriented towards offroad usage than winding yourself up the gearbox. And even with the optional liners for the hard top, the road noise at highway speed is noticeable. A lot quieter than it would be with a soft top, but the truck is never going to be cathedral quiet.

The last thing to mention is not so much intrinsically bad as something that takes getting used to, and probably dependent on what you’re used to driving (and/or your personality). In my case, apart from my old Mustang which elicited comments – many of them not terribly complimentary – I’ve never driven a car or truck that was in the slightest way noticeable. They’ve all been fundamentally unremarkable, at least in terms of their outward appearance.

The Jeep, thus far, is the inverse of this. I have not driven anywhere without someone making some gesture or comment.

  • “Is that the new Jeep truck? How is it?”
  • “My husband really wants one, but I wanted to see one first.”
  • “My husband and I had one like that in the sixties; we had a great time with it.”
  • “I’m sorry, I just have to check it out.”
  • “So do you call it a Juck or a Treep?”

Then there are experiences like the following.

I was in our local hardware store picking up some caulk to seal up a new front entry light when I noticed that one of the staff members appeared to be furtively stalking me. This isn’t totally unusual, because they tend to assume you don’t know how to find what you’re looking for. Anyway, he poked his head around a corner, looked back and forth almost as if afraid of getting caught at something, then walked over. While I got ready to tell him I was all set and had found the caulk, he stammered out a question like he had to work up his courage to ask: “I, uh, sir, I…is…is that your truck outside?” Allowing that it was, we chatted a bit about it and I answered a few questions. 

Outside in the truck queuing up a podcast for the ride home, I happened to look up. The kid had pulled over two of the other kids working in there, and they were standing in the doorway gawking and pointing at the truck. They at least had the sense to be embarrassed when I caught them at it, however.

On the one hand, it’s nice that people are so enthusiastic about something you drive, but as someone who’s not generally in the habit of making random conversation with strangers, it’s also deeply weird. People really do seem infatuated with it, though.

What I Like?

Way more than I can list here, but as mentioned it drives well and predictably, the manual transmission is solid and the interior is both comfortable and can be hosed out and drained through plugs in the floor if necessary.

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I’m really enjoying Android Auto, meanwhile. At the time I leased the Tacoma, Toyota was still trying and mostly failing to compete with both Apple and Google on user interfaces (they’ve since given that up). Android Auto isn’t perfect, and I’ve submitted a bunch of bugs ranging from trivial (the steering wheel track advance hardware buttons occasionally don’t work) to actively irritating (phone calls routed to the handset instead of the in-car audio mic/speakers), but overall it’s a lot more functional than Toyota’s old interface. From the Google Maps native integration to the mostly reliable voice operation of Google Play Music, Pocketcasts, and so on, Android Auto’s been an upgrade in my experience. It’s also a timely upgrade because as of Thursday Maine is going to begin ticketing drivers using their phones and I can now navigate the entire entertainment system with the Google Assistant’s voice interface.

The interior of the Jeep is also surprisingly roomy. The back seats fit adults capably and even our off-the-charts tall soon-to-be four year old has plenty of room. Kate’s primary complaint with the Tacoma was that she felt claustrophobic in it; no such complaints with the Gladiator, and that was with the roof on.

Speaking of Kate, for those trying to sell significant others on a Gladiator, the spousal approval factor in our house is far higher than I had anticipated. The no roof experience was such a hit, in fact, that she requested an extended evening drive out in the country the day I brought it home.

There are a hundred other things I could mention here, but honestly the thing I like best is the reason I bought it in the first place: the roof and doors come off. The first time you’re driving around on a hot day in the summer in the open air, well, if that doesn’t put a smile on your face I don’t know what could.

What’s it Like in the Winter?

I’m about to find out. Check back with me next spring, could be I’ll have a Jeep truck to sell you, cheap.

So, Is it Awesome?

‘Tis.

How to Tell a Bedtime Story

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Several years ago – four, at least, because my daughter hadn’t been born yet – Kate and I were over in London for Monki Gras. The night before the event, we were out with James and his lovely family at one of those places where sushi cruises by at a stately pace on a conveyor belt. Dealing with some issue or another with one of his younger kids, he asked me to occupy his eldest by telling him a story.

As a kid who heard far more than my fair share of bedtime stories, this really shouldn’t have been too much to ask. But it caught me completely flat-footed. I stammered out something, I don’t remember what, and then trailed off Tommy Callahan-style talking about niners.

Neither father nor son appear to hold that failure against me these days, but it was an event that haunted me during Kate’s pregnancy. What if my daughter asks for a story and I can’t come up with anything? What if I miss out on an opportunity to bond with my child because adulthood meant, as Stephen King once put it, the “ossification of [my] imaginary faculties?”

Fast forward a couple of years and this is no longer a concern. I will never be mistaken for Beverly Cleary or Roald Dahl, and I have absolutely no business telling anyone else how to tell their kids stories, but at one before naptime on weekends and two before bedtime every night, I’ve told enough of them now to have some experience making up fictional adventures that only a kid would listen to. I’ve learned a few things over that time, things listed below which may or may not be useful to you.

In all probability, whoever you are reading this right now, you’re better at telling bedtime stories than I am. But this isn’t for you. This is for the few of you that get, as I did, a deer-in-the-headlights sense of impending doom at the sheer prospect of having to telling a story to a kid, yours or someone else’s. There might – emphasis on the might – be something here that can help you.

Before we get to that though, some brief background because otherwise you’re going to be confused when I start talking about Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon.

While my daughter will occasionally ask for real stories – how I met our cat, what happened the day she came home from the hospital, the time my best friend and I got in a shitload of trouble as kids for throwing several boxes of beads down three flights of stairs at my house – more often than not she prefers the made up variety.

Kate was the original creator of the Puppy and Kitty characters, and provided the foundation that everything below is built upon. When we were going through potty training, Eleanor got stickers for successful visits to the bathroom, and a bunch of the early ones were puppies and kitties. Kate used that as the basis for her stories, which are now colloquially referred to as Puppy and Kitty stories. I took her characters, added a raccoon and they’re now the basis – the stars, if you will – of our fictional, bedtime adventures.

With that out of the way, here’s what I’ve learned.

When In Doubt, Fall Back on What You Know

One of the more common phrases in creative writing courses is “write what you know.” The basic idea is that by relying on earned expertise, it will be easier to render greater levels of detail and you won’t have to work as hard for authenticity. I was reminded of this when I thought back to the stories I was told as a kid. My grandfather on my Mom’s side used to tell my brother and I stories about two brother donkeys who had a variety of fictional adventures.

But in between those adventures, this former shipbuilder would talk to us about how the magazine and ammunition/powder storage for the main turrets of WWII battleships worked in great detail. We ate it up, because we were little boys who thought battleships were cool but more because we just liked having time with our grandfather. You may not have a lot of expertise having built 16 inch guns on battleships – I don’t – but odds are that there is something you know well that your kid will find interesting. When all else fails, rely on that.

Crossovers are Popular

If you think crossovers are popular in superhero movies, you should hear your kid the first time they make a personal appearance in an otherwise fictional bedtime story. Or when Captain America pops in. Or your best friend’s veterinarian wife. It’s a simple mechanism for taking an otherwise absurd and non-sensical story and connecting it back to your child’s actual world. It can also be useful for taking people your kid doesn’t get to see too often or characters they may otherwise be too young for and giving them a relevance in the child’s life.

Morals Are Fine, But Not the Point

A month or two back, Kate thanked Eleanor for taking her plate in from dinner and putting it in the sink, and my daughter said, “You don’t have to thank me, Mummy, I was just doing my job.” This is the exact same thing, not coincidentally, that Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon say when they are thanked for saving a lost goose or returning an escaped peacock to its owner.

Besides making my heart burst with pride, this was a big reminder that bedtime stories need not be merely vehicles for talking animals having ridiculous adventures, they can also emphasize the lessons you want your child to absorb. Whether it’s a story about sticking up for each other when one friend is bullied, using whatever they have on hand MacGuyver style to show adaptability, a wild boar that Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon saved from starvation coming back to sacrifice itself by shielding them from the spray from a skunk, or one of them rubbing some dirt on an injury and getting back up to do their job, it’s amazing how adept kids are at picking up the subtext.

All of that said, however, the point of the story is still the story. As John D. MacDonald said, “Story. Story. Dammit, story!” The last thing in the world I want is for this bedtime ritual to turn into a tedious lecture about a particular moral lesson. I want her to enjoy the stories, and if I can find a lesson in there somewhere to highlight, great. If not, hopefully she’s at least entertained.

Nothing Has to Make Sense

When asked how he became a writer years ago, Gabriel Garcia Marquez replied that Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis was a revelation. Until reading it, Marquez had not realized that you could write about literally anything, up to and including turning into a bug overnight. Afterwards, well, we got One Hundred Years of Solitude.

No transcendent or even borderline average work has thus far resulted from this realization on my part, unfortunately, but keeping that lesson in mind makes telling bedtime stories, much, much easier. Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon are talking animals, not much older than my daughter, who attend a school with a playground (they’re partial to the swings, just like my daughter). But Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon also have built an ultralight plane, a dune buggy, a hovercraft, a jetpack, a collar that allows wild animals to talk, and a concrete tunnel with submarine-style hatches between their two houses. Oh and the tunnel flooded at one point so they had to build a sump pump using a concrete saw and a pump left over from a previous nautical adventure.

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An approximate count of the number of times my daughter has thus far complained about the fact that Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon have to ride their bikes to school but also have a speedboat that outran the coconut pirates from Moana would be somewhere around zero.

Don’t worry about anything making sense. It’s just kids stories.

Inspiration Comes from Everywhere

This should be obvious, given that two of the main characters weren’t my idea but Kate’s, but it’s worth restating: borrow from wherever and whatever you need to.

The Adventures of Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon have included a cage diving expedition with white sharks (on my bucket list), the line “I don’t like bullies, I don’t care where they’re from” (which is from here and which my daughter has watched probably fifty times), and two lynxes that got in a shouting match with each other (happened here in this great state). Even more fundamental than that, Noble Raccoon’s mechanical abilities have some strong similarities with another Marvel character. Hell, even the name “Noble Raccoon” is a Simpsons reference that I hope my daughter will get someday.

The point is that when you’re so tired while telling the stories that you fall asleep during them (guilty), you might not be able to come up with something on the spot that is fully your own creation. So borrow whatever you need from wherever you need to. Your kid will not care, and who knows, they may end up loving Captain America as a byproduct so everyone wins.

Recurring Characters are Huge

As mentioned above, Kate created the original duo in Puppy and Kitty, to which I added my own main character in Noble Raccoon. But they are joined by a literal fleet of recurring characters from friends like Brian Bear, Harry Hedgehog, Marty Moose, Party Penguin, and Rainbow Unicorn to bullies like Spike, Owen and T-Bone to teachers like Ms Giraffe to grownups like Mr. Turtle to the aforementioned crossover characters and, well, you probably get the point.

Much as series can be easier for audiences to follow than anthology alternatives, kids – or at least my kid – loves having a known, regular cast of characters she can get to know and treat like old friends when they make an appearance.

World Building is Also Huge

Over time, and both purposefully and by accident, we have built out a little world with our stories. Besides being populated by a regular cast of characters, the stories have some built in continuity, consistent elements from story to story. After building a tunnel between their houses, for example, all of the stories now start with Puppy and Kitty waking up and walking over to Noble Raccoon’s house via that route. The fort they built in the woods made of concrete and replete with a moat and drawbridge has made multiple appearances, as has the wild boar they saved from starvation and the whale shark they saved from fishing line and hooks embedded in its pectoral fin. Another time a hungry polar bear showed up at Noble Raccoon’s house, and the three of them had to trap it wearing suits of armor they made to fight the Big Bad Wolf and using the cage they used while shark diving.

Often as not, these story elements make a reappearance because she asks for it. When Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon were considering whether to build a “boarhouse” for the wild boar they saved, Eleanor told them to put on the animal translator collar that had originally been created to communicate with a “sad and angry” zebra at the zoo that turned out to be the victim of a bully.

The bad news is that if you indulge in a bit of world building, you’re obligated to remember enough details of the world you’ve created to at least fake it. This, in my experience, can be a challenge – it took a minute for me to remember what the collar that translates for wild animals was for when she first asked for it. The good news is that it allows your child to think beyond the boundaries of a single story, to consider the wider world it inhabits and solutions or challenges that that might present.

Make the Stories Collaborative Affairs

While most of the stories I tell are purely my responsibility, it’s good to solicit direction where and when you can. After we had a family talk about bullies and bullying, for example, my daughter requested little but “bully stories” for a couple of weeks. In them, her talking animal friends confronted bullies in a wide array of places and situations, and learned to stick together, let teachers know if they couldn’t handle it, and so on.

Eventually I had to put limits on the number of these I’d tell, because there are only so many variations of bully stories you can tell, but it was an opportunity to talk indirectly about something that was clearly top of mind for her. Similarly, asking her what she thinks characters should do gets her to put herself in different characters’ shoes and think about what she might do under the same circumstances.

Nine times out of ten I’m still responsible for everything from subject matter to plotting, but it’s nice for her to have input.

Make the Material Challenging

As with morals, our bedtime stories are intended to be entertainment, first and foremost. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t opportunities to learn along the way.

For example, while we have limits because toddlers, when I use an unfamiliar term she is generally allowed to see one picture of it from my phone. In this manner, Eleanor has learned, among other things, what fisher cats, mountain lions, humpback whales, manta rays and wild boars look like, what a suit of armor is, what a submarine hatch is for and more.

The key to this is not dumbing everything down (and, probably, having a curious kid). It would be easy to say “door to the tunnel” instead of hatch. But if I use hatch, I can be pretty confident that she’ll stop me and ask what that is, what it’s for and what it looks like. I have absolutely no idea how much if any of it she retains, but my theory is that it can’t hurt to drop references that are above her head in and let her develop an appetite for asking about what she’s unfamiliar with.

Of course I’m the same guy who used a stuffed shark’s Ampullae of Lorenzini to find her during hide and seek today, so it may just be that I’m insane.

If All Else Fails, Relive Your Day

As mentioned on Twitter, the quality of my stories is directly correlated with my overall levels of fatigue. Which is why every so often, there are no morals, no challenging materials, no wild adventures, but just Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon doing something like buying the ingredients for and then making homemade salsa as Kate does (which is really excellent, by the way).

While I have gotten comments like “that story was weird, Daddy” and even “I didn’t love that story, Daddy,” I haven’t yet gotten one that indicated an understanding that a particular bedtime story was merely a thinly veiled recap of my day repopulated by her talking animal friends.

Until I do, this will be my break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option.

You’re not going to have it every time out, but as Puppy, Kitty and Noble Raccoon might say, being tired doesn’t mean you don’t have a job to do, and in our house we always do our job.

 

RIP Doug Wilkins

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I played football in high school. Most of you don’t know that, because how I spent my fall afternoons and weekends in high school isn’t all that relevant as an adult. The game is viewed differently today than it was then, as decades of bad behavior from student and professional athletes along with an appropriate and growing concern for the trauma that the sport inflicts on the body and more specifically the brain have left players and spectators alike with questions, many difficult to answer.

While I don’t watch football anymore, my own experience with it was positive. Few experiences in my life, in fact, have had as much impact on who am I today.

For those whose exposure to the sport is limited, it is often understood through TV and movies. Programs as seen on Friday Night Lights, coaches like the one trying to get Pink to sign his pledge sheet in Dazed and Confused. Big stadiums, huge crowds, high stakes and nylon shorts-wearing shouting coaches whose one and only concern is winning games. These portrayals, or more accurately caricatures, are not without their basis in reality. But they were not my reality.

My high school, for one, was tiny. There were ninety some odd kids in my graduating class. Our stadium was a modest set of bleachers, our crowds about as big as our school. And the man who coached football at Mountain Lakes High School for 44 years – Doug Wilkins, always just Coach to me – was one of the finest leaders I’ve encountered in all my years, and a truly great man.

He died on Monday.

Now admittedly, when I said the media reality wasn’t my reality, that was true. Mostly. Some of the old high school football tropes did apply. Coach did wear those terrible old BIKE nylon shorts, and he could yell with the best of them when the situation required it.

The big difference between the coach I knew and the coach I saw on screens was that I never had any doubt, ever, where his priorities lay. He wanted to win, and was willing to put in the work to do it. But his priority was helping the players entrusted to him become better men. If that meant sacrificing his best chance to win, so be it.

He taught me many things in the years I spent playing for him, more than I can talk about here. These are a few of the most important.

  • You Have to Put in the Work:
    As a small high school, we were almost always outclassed from a talent perspective. The other lines were bigger, their skill players faster, their roster deeper. Coach believed that these inherent disadvantages could be overcome through the application of effort.

    I have never trained harder than I did in high school. The summer double sessions when I got to college were a cakewalk next to the triple sessions we endured in high school, training on a field that was half crabgrass and rocks and half baseball diamond. Coach made sure the first session in the morning was at a different time every day, to communicate the importance of an attention to detail. One morning it was 7:45, the next 7:15, 8 the day after.

    We hit, we ran, we pushed sleds, we did up downs (burpees, you might know them as) until people were vomiting. It was always a delicate thing, making sure you drank enough water to keep hydrated but not so much that you’d get sick.

    The lesson this burned into us was that while you can’t control of your talent level, you can control the effort you put in.

  • Hurt is Not the Same as Injured:
    Another common trope in football media is coaches that are willing to sacrifice their players health in search of a win. Coach never did this; he pulled me from a game with a mild shoulder separation that I certainly could have played through (and I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for that meddling Jay Moody – hi Jay, and belated thanks!).

    What he taught us was that there is a difference between being hurt and being injured. If you play a contact sport, you’re going to be hurt, in some fashion, more or less all the time. There’s always something wrong with you.

    The question was whether it was an injury, which is to say something serious and more importantly something that could lead to worse injuries. A separated shoulder was an injury. When I broke a finger, that, well, that could be taped up and wasn’t going to get worse.

    The winter my daughter was two, she had the croup. If you’ve ever encountered it, you know how bad the cough is. It’s so bad, in fact, that the doctor’s primary means of diagnosis is asking if your child sounds like a barking seal. One night, she woke herself up in the early hours of the morning sounding like a refugee from Sea World. As I walked in, she stood up in her crib, looked at me, rubbed her hands together, and said “I ok Daddy, I rub some dirt on it.”

    My heart almost burst in that moment, both because I was proud of her, and because I had on some level taught her what I myself had been taught by Coach: if you can’t fix it, rub some dirt on it and get back to work.

  • Leadership Isn’t Yelling:
    As mentioned, Coach could make himself heard. I still remember missing an assignment (I was an offensive lineman) in practice and seeing my friend Lewis (sorry buddy) get pile drived as a result. I could hear the yelling a hundred feet away, “GODDAMMIT O’GRADY, IF YOU DON’T HIT THAT END YOU’RE GOING TO GET SOMEONE KILLED.”

    But Coach also understood that sometimes we’re our own worst critics, and that he didn’t need to say a word. We were watching film after one game, a game we had lost, and I made a mistake and someone – our fullback, I think (hi James!) – ended up being tackled for a loss in the backfield.

    He slowed the film, which revealed my mistake in slo-mo, backed it up, watched it again, backed it up, watched it a third time, and then continued without comment. He knew that I knew what I’d done wrong, and that I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

    There are many buttons you can press with people, and few people were more deft at knowing which to push and when than he was.

  • It Takes a Team:
    1559761127775-f3ffcd79-9e97-4397-91a3-4a3171a1d718As an incoming freshman, at the beginning of the summer, you got assigned to a “squad.” Squads were small groups of players from a variety of classes, typically led by two seniors. Weekday nights all summer, your squad met for workouts. Some were grueling long distance runs. Others were fun distractions like the annual mud run. We did pushups, bear crawls, up downs – all the things that have since have been popularized by Crossfit.

    Squads accomplished two important goals. Most obviously, they left us in peak physical condition. You can’t run in the humid New Jersey summer heat for months and not get into good shape.

    But just as importantly, squads integrated classes. Freshman who would otherwise have no contact with seniors during the school year, worked alongside a few along with sophomores and juniors all summer. I still remember when a senior, Dan Shaver, stopped by my house when I was a freshman to pick me up and talked to my Dad about squads for twenty minutes. Squads broke down the artifical barriers between classes that the typical high school social strata establishes.

    He also wanted to instill collective accountability. If someone arrived late to triple sessions, all of the pads were piled up to create a comfortable seat for the guilty party. From this perch, they got to watch the rest of the team run a debilitating, crushing set of sprints.

    Coach understood that you can’t just show up and be a team: you’ve got to put in the work, and break down the barriers that would otherwise keep potential contributors separated.

  • Remember What’s Important:
    Every year, there were kids that attended every squad, made every practice, but just weren’t that talented. Coach would find a way to play these kids in big wins, or big losses. But by the time you’re a senior, garbage time in out-of-hand games is not much of a return for the work invested.

    Normally, that would be the end of it: if you’re not good enough, you don’t play. Simple. For those that stuck with the program, however, and gave the team everything they had for four years, Coach would find a starting spot somewhere.

    I’m certain it cost him many games over the course of his career. I’m equally certain, particularly early in his career, that he took fire for it. But he never wavered, and he stuck by the players that had done everything asked of them.

    That’s not how the world works, of course, because winning tends to be everything. But while it was something and something important for him, it wasn’t quite everything. Having his players graduate his program with confidence gained from seeing their hard work rewarded was, by his calculation, far more important.

    There’s a reason so many of his former players cared about him, and that’s because he cared about them in return.

So rest in peace, Coach. Apart from my parents and grandparents, there is no person in this world that had a larger impact on my life and career. I carry the lessons you taught me to this day, and I am doing my best to pass them on to my daughter.

There are many difficult questions still to be answered about football and its safety, but I can say honestly that I wouldn’t have given up my time with my team and my coach for anything. I’m glad I played football, and I’m glad I played for Doug Wilkins.

He is missed.

 

Five Travel Mistakes I Never Should Have Made

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As anyone who knows me is already aware, and anyone else reading this sentence is about to be, I travel a lot for work. Not nearly as much as some in my industry, but for seven or eight months out of the year I’m on a plane multiple weeks per month. August is the only month of the year in which I absolutely do not fly under any circumstances (unless those circumstances include seeing Pearl Jam play in Montana with my best friend).

Not only do I travel far more than I would like for work, I’ve been doing it for a long time. I won’t say exactly how long because it makes me feel old, but trust me, it’s been a while. Long enough, in fact, that I remember the days when you could waltz through security in 15 minutes with your belt on and laptop and liquids in your bag. And not because of Pre-check, because there was no Pre-check.

While I’ve traveled more than my fair share, however, I haven’t always been smart about how I did it. In spite of all of that time on planes and asleep on airport bench seats, it took me far, far too long to learn the lessons below. Which is why I offer them certainly for those who travel for work, but even for those who don’t and may find a tip or two to make their lives easier on the road. As an aside, here are 35 prior tips for those interested in such things.

One quick caveat, most if not all of these recommendations come with some cost attached, and the cost in a few cases is high. The costs are justifiable for our business because of the amount we travel, but we also have the privilege of having some wiggle room to make our lives on the road marginally easier. That isn’t true for everyone, obviously, so your mileage may vary with these suggestions.

Still, they may be of use to some of you, so enjoy.

Not Optimizing for Lounge Access

These suggestions are listed in no particular order, but if I had to pick the biggest mistake I made this would probably have been it. With the exception of my time as a systems integrator when I was largely an American Airlines customer, I’ve spent the bulk of my career traveling on JetBlue. In general, JetBlue is an exceptional airline with much to recommend it, which is why I spent well over a decade giving them thousands and thousands of dollars of my business annually.

There are two big problems with JetBlue for the business traveler, however. First, their loyalty program doesn’t show much loyalty to the frequent traveler – which is why I dropped them for Delta. Second, JetBlue has no network of lounges (technically, there was one they didn’t run at their fancy T5 terminal, but, well, things didn’t go well). This didn’t seem like a major issue until I switched to an airline in Delta that has an excellent network of lounges.

There are far, far too many benefits to lounges to document them all here. The free food can be nice. The free drinks, even better (with self-serve taps, even). But then there is comfortable, nicer seating – seating that invariably has power outlets. Regionally available full shower access. Bartenders that will set up TV’s for you during the Red Sox World Series run. Staff that will help you rebook when you unexpectedly get stranded in NYC during a surprise snowstorm. Some even have conference room space for meetings.

Even if you’re not like me and you don’t get to the airport two hours early – minimum, at some point if you travel a lot you’re going to get stuck at an airport for a while. At which point your choices are uncomfortable seating near a gate or an overcrowded and overpriced airport bar or restaurant. Unless you prioritize lounge access, that is.

I didn’t for years. We got AMEX Platinum cards for everyone who travels years ago, and the AMEX Centurion lounges they maintain are incredibly nice. Unfortunately they are less than common, and even some airports that have them (looking at you, SFO) they’re in the wrong terminal for me. It wasn’t until I switched to Delta this fall that I got the full experience, and it is legitimately life changing.

If you travel and don’t have lounge access, then, I’d find a way to make that happen. It’s completely worth it.

Not Prioritizing Loyalty Programs

I didn’t make this mistake for nearly as long, thankfully, but in the early days of RedMonk I was optimizing for route efficiency rather than loyalty programs and thus ended up with either a wide distribution of my business that afforded no status anywhere, or elite status on an airline (JetBlue) that didn’t offer much in the way of tangible returns.

After years of flying, however, I eventually realized that thanks to delays and the other vagaries of air travel, route efficiency was more of a theoretical advantage for me. In practical terms, the difference for me in a one hop flight to SFO out of my home airport in Portland versus a direct route out of Boston was negligible. Door to door, my actual elapsed travel time was similar enough, and breaking up a transcontinental flight into two shorter segments isn’t all bad.

When you start planning itineraries, then, think carefully about your strategy. Most of the people I know who travel a lot will take zig-zaging routes over direct alternatives if necessary in order to build up status, because that status is worth more to them over time than the perceived or even actual benefit of a direct shorter flight.

If you’re flying once a year, always take the direct flight. But if you’re traveling regularly for work, odds are loyalty will be worth some less optimal routes.

Not Optimizing for the Least Weight Possible

The single biggest difference between how I travel today and when I started is my bags. As something of a worst case thinker and occasional reader of apocalyptic fiction, my luggage would be packed full of redundancies: extra clothes, extra cables, extra chargers and a choice of computing devices. And those computing devices would, once upon a time, have been the most powerful I could get, weight be damned.

Which is how I spent so many years hiking around airports with sore shoulders from lugging around enough infrastructure to power a dozen Apollo missions.

Since then, I have steadily and methodically simplified my approach, stripping my inventory down to only what I’m likely to use on a given trip. With the exception of headphones, where I always carry a backup set, I don’t do backups anymore: no more extra clothes, cables and chargers – I carry only what is needed to charge what I carry. And what I carry is itself optimized for weight. I travel exclusively with an iPad Pro now, for example, because it’s half the weight of even ultralight laptops. Even better, the iPad Pro I carry (this one) charges via USB-C, which means I can carry just a single, small dual-port USB-C charger (this one, specifically) to keep both my tablet and phone charged.

This simplification accomplishes a few things. Most obviously, my bag is a lot lighter than it used to be, which is nice if you need to sprint to make a tight connection. But it also means that I have substantially less gear to wade through to find what I need and to potentially lose, damage or troubleshoot.

Not Getting Pre/Global Entry Sooner

Of all the things I dragged my feet on, this was one of the worst. Part of the issue was that I needed to track down documentation as part of my interview process, which took a while, and part of it was that I hoped against hope that my country would come to its senses about the pointlessness of security theater, but in general I just didn’t prioritize Pre or Global Entry as soon as I should of.

Anyway, a while back I finally got my paperwork in order, applied and was granted access to the Global Entry program. This means that I both have access to Pre domestically and then Global Entry while traveling internationally.

Pre by itself is worth it because you don’t have to be virtually strip searched to board a plane and because you can leave your laptop in your bag, your belt and shoes on, etc. The line is often shorter as well, particularly here in Portland, but that’s not my primary motivation.

Global Entry, meanwhile, is less useful to me because I travel internationally a few times per year max, but when I do the program is amazing. I can get off a full Aer Lingus flight from London, and be one of a handful of people with Global Entry who waltz up to a machine, feed it a passport and fingerprints, take the slip it provides me over to a border customs agent and be on my way. I don’t think it’s ever taken me longer than ten minutes to clear customs coming back into the States from abroad. And on several occasions, this has been the difference between catching an earlier bus home versus an extra hour or two at the airport.

Put those two together, and the benefits are obvious. Or should have been, at least, when I was spending all those years getting gangprobed by the TSA because I declined to go through the porno scanners out of principle.

If you travel only domestically, Pre is all you need. If you are abroad even once, the extra $15 for Global Entry is a no brainer.

One pro tip for scheduling your interview with Global Entry: if your home airport is booked way out – the wait for an interview at Boston was four months when I applied – find an open slot at an airport you’ll be traveling through and book it there. The wait at JFK was three weeks, and I found an opening the overlapped with a planned trip.

Not Getting a Platinum Card Sooner

As a small business, James and I have always tried to run a tight ship. We try to make our employees comfortable while traveling, but we’re not extravagant spenders. Because of this, we had to think long and hard about whether to invest in Platinum cards for our employees because they are not cheap – $475 at the time, and $550 now.

In retrospect, this was silly. We’ve easily recouped the value from these cards, not just in convenience and wear and tear benefits while traveling, but in hard savings as well.

The Platinum card comes with a number of built-in credits: the $100 Global Entry fee, for example, is waived. There’s a $200 Uber credit and a $200 airline fee credit. There’s also a Saks credit, though I admit I haven’t used it. Just between the credits, then, you’re close to offsetting the card’s cost.

Then there are the status benefits. You get Hilton and Marriott Gold status by default, along with entries into the Hertz Gold, Avis Preferred and National Car Rental Emerald programs. This means that I will get room upgrades and late checkouts at hotels (though not the 4 PM checkouts that used to be available from Starwood), and on the few occasions I’ve had to rent a car you get treated…differently.

At one point I missed a flight, and needed to drive from Boston to Portland in time to make a consult. The people at National, thanks to my status, told me to “just pick whichever car I liked.” Which honestly felt like theft, but explains how I ended up making a high speed transit up I-95 in an Audi for the price of an economy rental.

Perhaps best of all given the first item on this list, Platinum cards get you lounge access. Specifically you get free entry to AMEX’s own Centurion lounges (which are incredible), access to Priority Pass’ network of member lounges (though I’ve had mixed experience with that one), and access to Delta’s lounges if you’re flying on Delta.

Honestly, given how valuable lounges have been, the AMEX might have been worth it on that basis alone, but overall the value of the Platinum card is easily justified if you’re a frequent traveler. Our mistake wasn’t getting them, but rather waiting so long to do so.

 

Are Battery Powered Chainsaws Ready? The EGO CS1600

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Last summer, our lawnmower died. An old Toro self-propelled gas model, years of rough use had made it harder and harder to start until the day it just wouldn’t start at all. Having seen the writing on the wall, I’d already been looking around at mower reviews and come to the tentative conclusion that our replacement would be a battery powered model. Between advancements in battery technology and the small size of our lot, a battery powered mower seemed viable, and in the event that it wasn’t Home Depot’s return policies are excellent.

That’s how we ended up with an EGO lawnmower; this one, to be specific. I went with the cheaper of EGO’s two models which was not self-propelled, but given the size and slope of our lawn that’s not necessary. As expected, the battery powered model was more than adequate for our needs, and I didn’t need to take advantage of Home Depot’s generous return policy.

Besides having a new mower, it also meant that I had a reasonably sized 5.0 Ah battery – one that could be leveraged across a variety of other EGO outdoor power tools. After fighting with our little Husqvarna one too many times this winter, I started reading about the EGO battery powered saw.

My initial expectation was that battery powered chainsaws would be insufficient power-wise. We don’t exactly have a woodlot so I don’t need a full-size, rancher model, but we do have enough large dead trees that I need to be able to cut something thicker than large branches. It’s one thing to cut blades of grass, carving up the large oak sections left over from our last arborist visit is another matter entirely.

After reading reviews in the Wirecutter, Amazon, Home Depot and elsewhere, though, I saw enough to at least give a battery powered chainsaw a shot. My choice was made easier by the mower; once you’re in on a given battery system, it takes a lot to pick a product from another manufacturer given the cost of the batteries. That plus a Wirecutter recommendation made picking EGO’s 16″ chainsaw a simple call.

The question was whether it would be up to the job.

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The tl;dr is that it has significantly exceeded my expectations. I’ve been out with the saw three or four times, making a series of cuts each time in large, thick oak to produce rounds to split. I have yet to run out of battery power, have the saw seize up, or fail to complete a cut. The oak is heavy, dense and thick – some of the sections cut have been better than thirty inches in diameter, and the EGO’s bar is only 16 inches.

No matter.

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For those who want a more detailed take, here are some further thoughts on the saw in general.

Environmental Considerations

While the environmental impact of extracting lithium from the ground is clearly non-trivial, one less two stroke combustion engine in the world – or two, actually, counting the mower – seems unequivocally like a good thing. The sense of virtue wouldn’t justify a saw that wasn’t fit for purpose, but if I can cut through the oak I need to with a battery rather than gas at a reasonable enough pricepoint that’s an easy call.

Ease of Use

Here’s the really surprising thing, though: even if there was no environmental advantage to a battery powered saw, I’d still buy it. It is simply easier to use and maintain than a gas saw. Consider the following:

  1. You don’t have to deal with fuel mixtures. There is no more mixing oil with gas, trying to remember whether the saw requires 40:1 or 50:1, and which of the two is in the small mixed gas can.
  2. There’s no need to have to run the saw dry before storing it. With a gas saw, you have to be careful to not to put it up with fuel left in the lines lest you clog up the carb and render the saw inoperable.
  3. Perhaps its most important advantage, however, is on startup. Pull start saws can be tempermental, and in some cases can’t be started in the hand but rather have to be placed and braced on the ground. With a battery powered model, it’s a simple push button start.

Weight and Balance

The weight of the device with a battery is not distinguishable from the other similarly sized chainsaws I’ve used. The placement of the battery away from the blade and towards the rear of the saw seems to balance it nicely. The saw is not awkward either to hold or cut with.

Non-Issues

One of the most frequent complaints in reviews – and one that made me pause – was the assertion that the chain regularly came loose while in operation. After using the saw, however, I’m inclined to attribute those critical reviews to a lack of familiarity with chainsaws in general rather than a failure of the model. As anyone who’s used a chainsaw understands, when the saw sustains cuts the chain tends to heat up, which causes the metal to expand and become loose. This is an issue for all saws, not something unique to the EGO.

If anything, in fact, the EGO’s chain management is easier to use in this respect. With a lot of saws, including the Husqvarna this is replacing, when a chain becomes loose you need to first loosen the chain bolts, then use a screw driver to extend the bar until the chain is tight, then retighten the bolts. And if you don’t retighten the bolts sufficiently, they vibrate off and get lost (I’ve lost enough that I bought extras and have them in my kit).

On the EGO, there are no tools necessary. You have two dials; one that essentially unlocks the bar, the other which extends or retracts it. It’s pretty slick.

The other question that tends to come up is the thin kerf blade the saw comes with. I can’t speak to its long term performance, but I can say that thus far I’ve had seen no difference between it and the regular kerf blades I’ve used historically.

Areas for Improvement

One common complaint that is legitimate is the filter on the bar chain oil receptacle. It’s well intentioned to keep non-oil materials out of the oil reservoir, but it slows filling the oil to a crawl and isn’t necessary.

On a related note, the oil inspection window doesn’t seem to work particularly well in my case; it’s difficult to judge how much oil is in the saw in my experience.

The Net

If you have a wood lot and cut a lot of wood, this probably isn’t going to be the saw for you as the runtimes won’t be long enough and a 16″ bar has its limitations. Gas is still your best option.

For everyone else looking for a home owner saw, a smaller backup or camp saw, or just a tool to take apart the occasional downed tree, the EGO is something I’d strongly consider. I always just accepted the frustrations of running a gas saw because there wasn’t an alternative; now that there is, there’s a lot less friction in getting the saw out and up and running.

It’s also worth noting that the EGO outdoor power tools are getting high marks broadly speaking, so if you invest in one of the tools and a battery, the cost of the rest of them comes down significantly. I would recommend using at least a 5.0 Ah battery in the saw, however, as most of the reviews I’ve seen suggest that 2.5 Ah models are very limited in their runtime.

Overall, however, there are a lot of reasons to buy an EGO chainsaw and comparatively fewer arguing against the idea. If I had the chance to do it over, I’d certainly buy this saw again.

Disclosure: The product links above are Amazon affiliate links, included to see which if any recommendations people follow.

My 2018 in Pictures

As has become routine with these posts, my annual photo year-in-review is arriving late. Unlike in years past, however, I don’t have a ready excuse, unless you count interference from the time I now have to spend understanding and coming to grips with the slow-motion trainwreck that is the current administration.

Much as I appreciate and value the uncompromising, brutally honest takes of the women of Bombshell or the cautious, thoughtful analysis from the people at Lawfare, I often think fondly of the days when they would have represented more academic and less vital outlets for me.

But here we are.

Late being preferable to never, then, here is my year in pictures. These are the moments – significant or otherwise – that characterized my year personally, which is to say that there’s nothing in here about the aforementioned trainwreck. Before we get to the pictures, however, a quick check-in on travel.

Travel

Due to a number of different factors, we found ourselves down an analyst for the better part of the year, with the result that my travel went in the wrong direction in 2018 – particularly in the first half of the year. It was only two more extra trips from the year prior per TripIt, but it was a hell of a lot more mileage.

It wasn’t backbreaking, and poor James was the one to bear the brunt of the travel woes in the second half, but the intent for the year ahead is to scale my travel back down to something more manageable. I didn’t accumulate enough miles to qualify for JetBlue’s Mosaic program until September, which is worse than last year’s December but still a major improvement from my more typical June-timeframe.

In the meantime, a few other tidbits courtesy of Cemre’s TripIt Year in Review tool and Openflights.org.

  • Distance: Clocking in at 85,148 miles I was up 34% on the year, which was not the goal.
  • 100K: This was the fifth time in eight years I failed to reach 100,000 miles. That part was good, I will try to keep it up.
  • Carrier: After years of loyalty, with the odd dalliance here and there with a Virgin America, I finally gave up on JetBlue and made the jump to Delta. As soon as Delta matched my Mosiac status on JetBlue with a Silver Medallion, I cut over and put a bit over 20,000 miles on my new airline in the fourth quarter. My switch, as it turned out, would have been necessary anyway as JetBlue stopped flying into PWM year round, and instead is now only a seasonal carrier.
  • Airport: I reversed last year’s trend, and spent more time this year in Boston than Portland.
  • First Time: Visited Providence, RI for the first time, as well as Missoula, MT and Westcliffe, CO. Enjoyed all of them a great deal.
  • Where To: San Francisco narrowly took back its crown from New York this year as the destination I visited the most. Here’s hoping the city that’s only 45 minutes away by plane makes a comeback this year.

With that, on to the pictures.

January 4

Started the year off…by getting buried in snow. Quite the contrast with this January.

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meanwhile, on hoth

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January 17

Finally got frustrated enough with our old router that I swapped it out for brand new Amplifi gear, courtesy Ubiquiti.

amplifi

January 31

Maybe my favorite pub in London has now sadly closed. RIP Electricity Showrooms.

electricity-showrooms

February 2

Hit up Monki Gras, which was amazing and somehow keeps getting better every year.

monki-gras

February 10

Possibly related to the fact that they’re now in bankruptcy, after Sears no showed on us three times in a row wasting a month in the process, I finally got frustrated enough to try and fix our dishwasher myself.

February 17

Tough to top hitting up a local shark exhibit with your best friend and his family who flew in for your birthday, but we tried a few months later.

February 24

Signs that spring is near: Eleanor and I took in the first spring training game of the year.

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how i get through maine winters

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March 31

Made it out to Denver to help celebrate our friends Tess and Joe’s 25th anniversary.

tess-joe

April 10

Out in Santa Monica for work, took in a Sox/Yankees game at probably the best known Red Sox bar on the West Coast, Sonny Maclean’s.

sonny-macleans

April 24

Having seen Kate have to resort to keeping her sourdough starter in the oven with the light on, I built her a proofing box for her birthday.

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boiled linseed oil on cherry plywood

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June 3

Winter prep begins.

winter-is-coming

June 30

Portland joined the rest of the nation in protesting the appalling and horrifying family separation policy of the current administration.

July 11

Accompanying Kate on a work trip down to lovely Providence, RI, we took Eleanor to the zoo.

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still not as tall

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July 14

Also took her to the carousel, which went much better than her expression suggests.

July 18

En route out to Portland, OR for OSCON, overflew the wildfires.

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oregon wildfires from 35,000 feet

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July 29

The one week we get to spend up here every summer is what gets me through the winter. Perfection.

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day two: not fogged in

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August 5

After the old gas mower finally seized up, it was replaced with a battery powered alternative. Hopefully the first of many such replacements.

August 14

Maybe the only thing that could top having my best friend in town for my birthday was meeting him in Missoula, MT to see our favorite band play. Thanks for the assist, Jim.

August 21

Picked up a whole lot of hard rock maple.

August 22

Which is in part why I turned our living room into a shop.

living-room-shop

August 28

Taking a break from trying to work with the stone-like maple, made my annual pilgrimage out to my happy place.

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not a bad way to spend a hot afternoon

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September 6

Weathered an enormous storm that had power lines down on our street. Managed not to get electrocuted.

big-storm

September 12

After a decade plus of loyalty to JetBlue, I finally gave up and accepted that they were never going to return the favor with features such as lounge access or first class upgrades.

The hilarious thing? I got upgraded to first on my very first Delta flight, which was one more upgrade than I ever received from JetBlue in spite of my near million point mark.

status-match-delta

September 29

The family and I took one for the team and made the annual pre-Monktoberfest run out to the Alchemist in Vermont. Their beer is incredible, but if anything, the people are better than the beer.

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thanks again, vermont

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October 4

Survived the largest (but still small) Monktoberfest yet.

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why the @monktoberfest exists

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October 6

Part of the unwinding and recovery process from our conference was a quick trip up to Newcastle for Oxbow’s Goods from the Woods event.

goods-from-the-woods

October 10

Remember that storm in September? That was the last straw, and a full standby generator went in on October 10th. It got used four times in the two months that followed.

October 13

Three days after that, we had our first frost which meant our first fire.

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first frost warning = first fire

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October 16

This was the first time I’ve ever watched a Red Sox playoff game while hiding out in a speaker’s green room. God bless the sound guy for updating me on the score just as I came off stage.

green-room-sox

October 18

Two days later, I watched a Red Sox playoff game from a Delta lounge for the first time. For the record, we were 2-0 when I watched from the lounge at SFO.

sox-delta-lounge

October 28

I got a little excited when the Red Sox won the World Series.

October 31

Let’s be honest, as a parent, Halloween is basically all about what kind of costume you can get your kid to wear.

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that's my little owl

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November 4

2018 was the year my best friend and his family pulled the trigger and bought a sweet little place in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. November of 2018 was the month I first visited it, and it was totally worth getting my ass handed to me in Gin to see views like these. So happy for him and his family, and I can’t wait to get back.

PANO_20181102_155200.vr_

November 10

Another year of taking Eleanor to watch the Biggest Little Game in America. An unusual meltdown on her part was actually fortuitous in that we missed the Ephs getting throttled in the second half.

November 15

In spite of my best efforts – from leaving an event in Westchester four hours early to head for the airport, attempting to rebook myself into Boston and then looking at forgoing the plane entirely in favor of a train – I got stranded in NYC overnight. That was inconvenient. Worse, it meant that we had to pass on tickets to Elf, The Musical.

But, made the best of it with a Stranger Things marathon and a few choice selections from Beer Culture.

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stranded in NYC is as a good an excuse as any

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November 25

Later than normal, but finally got the woodshed loaded.

December 1

No idea where three years went, but here we are.

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party time

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December 14

Remember all that maple? The project it was intended for was scrapped at the last minute thanks to the problem of baseboard heating, but it turned this:

IMG_6787

Into this:

IMG_20181028_172858

December 22

With Kate’s lease almost up, we [no surprise] picked up another Volvo.

new-volvo

December 28

Poorly recreated a particular birdhouse for my Mother-in-law’s birthday.