Monday, August 21, 2006

First, practice on dry land

First, practice on dry land
Originally uploaded by Larry13.

The Outdoor Discovery School instructors for our L. L. Bean "Walk-On Adventures" kayaking class led us step by step to make sure everyone would be sucessful.

Down to the sea

Down to the sea
Originally uploaded by Larry13.

Kayaking on Maine's Casco Bay

Kayaking on Maine's Casco Bay
Originally uploaded by Larry13.

The kayaking fun is over...for this time...

The kayaking fun is over...for this time...
Originally uploaded by Larry13.

It was a lovely way to spend the afternoon of a perfectly delightful day!

Anniversary Adventure

We left home this morning to sign up for an Outdoor Adventure with LL Bean: our first kayaking lesson. We arrived at the store to register plenty early for the 10:00 AM "first of the day" class. Or so we thought. However, reality came upon us when we found only one slot open for that class: the rest of the slots were pretty well taken between 7:30 AM (when the kiosk opened) and 8:00 AM. With other factors considered we decided that the last of the day class starting at 3 PM would keep us out of mid-day sun/UV so we visited the outlet store and headed home until time for class.

We left with plenty of time to park in the hinterlands, walk to the store, visit the WC and still be a few minutes early. We all clambered onto one of two dedicated buses which crept through thick traffic in downtown Freeport and was LATE arriving at the kayak site. We arrived, put our valuables in a bin that was locked in a room and then the building was locked with a padlock. We donned PFDs (personal flotation devices) - mine was a men's xsmall-small that was decreed "the right one" as they did not have any men's mediums, which is what I bought for the purpose. I was cinched in until I couldn't take a deep breath - the other instructor "released" me a bit when I commented that if vigourous activity was required I was in deep trouble!

We pulled on water shoes (I used my own) and were handed paddles. We listened to safety instructions and then followed single file down a path through a cow field (the organic beef cows were absent when we passed through the electric fence gates today) until we reached a 'paddle instruction area' just before heading down a gangway to the dock. After a few minutes demonstration and dry-land practice we filed onto the dock and were one by one dispatched in our tupperware boats onto the Harraseeket River which was nearing ebb tide.

I befriended a family from White Plains, NY, who were also in our class - the Mom, Dad and little sister (tandom kayak with her Dad) were great and the 13 year old son held his own and was near the front of the pack most of the time. I was toward the back but managed to nearly get hit by the 13 year old at least 3 - 4 times as he lacked finesse in controlling his boat. I tried to talk with him about proper technique and use of torso muscles to paddle - Jean said the instructors gave him the same talk while paddling. He used his shoulders and said at the end they were "tired" - I bet! I felt as though I had done nothing at all! No pain or fatigue in the arms or shoulders at all. But I was one of the slowest as I worked diligently on trying to get the technique right as slower speeds so that I would avoid straining my arms and shoulders.

My boat's seat was doubtless either not well adjusted for me or the boat is simply not the right one for me - it leaned me W-A-Y back and I did feel a small amount of back strain from trying to lean forward to paddle. Otherwise it went very well. Jean is ready to take a 1/2 day kayak trip with them out to Casco Bay islands. And they gave us a $12 coupon to use to help defray the $49 charge if used this summer/fall.

Financial Planning & Netgear Router

And you are saying, "Explain to me how those two things got included in the same subject?" Right. That's what I thought - this morning. After trying repeatedly to go online at my IRA company's website (unsuccessfully, I may add) on Sunday to sign up for a free financial planning consultation. I figured that one of the Microsoft Windows Updates had changed some settings in my browser and the company's website tech support could straighten things up in no time when they opened today.

I called at 8:01 AM this morning, right after they opened for business (after calling 15 minutes before they opened to be told their business hours). "Shannon" came on the line and asked me to delete the cookies and temporary internet files (to no avail), try Mozilla's browser (no improvement or access) and then excused herself to check with someone else. On her return she advised me that my firewall was causing the problem and I should turn it off. I confess that, although I remained polite, I was very frustrated and began spluttering about there had to be a way to access their website with a fire wall intact. She indicated that she would note in the call documentation that I was frustrated with the website (HUGE understatement) and said that was the only option. I indicated that there was another option: I could take the funds I had invested and transfer it to one of their competitors, whose website I can access easily to check my 401k that I have with my current employer.

It was time to depart to schedule our outdoor adventure for the day but on our return (after acquiring a pair of LL Bean dress chinos in my size at the outlet for $7.95 instead of the $48.95 + 5% sales tax it would cost at the retail store) I determined to give it another crack. This time, after trying the site with ZoneAlarm (our software firewall) turned off (again to no avail - see a pattern starting here, yet?) I contacted the INVESTMENT side of the business instead of the TECHNICAL side. The investment people, aware of my balance, set me up with a technical support individual.

"Tim" actually knew something and was willing to use his knowledge to troubleshoot my situation. After having me try various things (e.g. - trying to access the website through a special portal, resetting security and advanced options on the browser to "default", trying two different computers on the network, etc.) he determined that it really was my hardware firewall! He then had me download a small software program to "break up" the packets into smaller sizes so that my router could handle it and noted that if it was >2 years old, it likely needed to be updated: was there possibly a firmware update?

I knew that there had been one initially, but it took 3 tech support calls to get it working initially and THEN my son-in-law had to remote into my computer and change some settings before I could get it to work. So even though there was a firmware update at that time, I was not eager to mess with something that was "working".

He allowed that updating it might help - he couldn't guarantee it. But after changing the "MTU" to "1400" (only geeks understand what that is!) and restarting the computer(s) I was able to access the website!

I then took my digital internet access in my hands and went to Netgear's website to see about a firmware update. GREAT! There are 3 versions of the CPU all designated by the same model #! However, the serial # starting digit(s) distiguish them and I had the serial # written down previously: my CPU is the very oldest version #1. Off to check for updates to the firmware: there are 3! I eschewed versions 1.4 and 2.3 and downloaded version 2.4. I printed out that entire page with all the intstructions and faithfully hand wrote out all the setting in my current version before uploading the new firmware upgrade.

Then, the computer locked up! So I shut it down, restarted it, opened a browser and the configuration wizard opened up and the set up was flawless and smooth, taking only about 3 minutes or even less. I logged in and changed the password to make the firewall/router more secure. And it is working just fine! I have gone to my IRA website and completed the financial planning questionnaire and will have a financial plan to review sometime in the next couple months.

The lessons from all of this:
1. If at first you don't succeed, talk with someone else who understands the financial issues involved: the investment counselor I spoke with did not put me back to a cubicle dweller who does tech support by an algorithm! She connected me to a real pro who spoke with confidence and wheeled from trying one thing to the next with the confidence of a seasoned network engineer that I am sure he is.

2. A 3 - 4 year old VPN firewall/router is virtually obsolete without the firmware upgrades and is incapable of handling the more sophisticated security measures: my router wasn't capable of resolving the IP address for the new secure website: that range of IP addresses didn't exist and it wouldn't even try to resolve it.

3. Even firmware upgrades can, if one follows the directions faithfully when not completely wiped out with fatigue, go smoothly.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Kitchen Renovation

Kitchen Renovation
Originally uploaded by Larry13.

The new lighter countertop makes the kitchen look so much lighter and brighter--in spite of the dark cabinets.

The countertop is much lighter than the old "harvest yellow" counter tops, but in real life does appear to be a light chocolate brown with a whitish background.

The kitchen renovation was necessary due to the old faucet (possibly a 1950s era relic) was leaking around the cartridge (around the post that supports the handle) as well as spurting out a hole in the "arm" of the faucet that was completely corroded through.

Other improvements that were included in this very small renovation included :

1. a new range hood (the old hood was disgusting when we moved in 20 years ago and efforts to clean it were in vain and there was no insulation between it and outdoors!),

2. a new disposer (the old one did not work well after having a small metallic part dropped into it and not discovered for nearly a week when it sounded "loud" - it remained very loud and the new one "whispers")

3. less visible is the plumbing under the sink which was brought up to code and made water tight.

We re-used the stainless steel sink which still has a few years left in it (that saved nearly $500 making this project affordable this year.

Deb exploring the "pink" apartment

Deb exploring the "pink" apartment
Originally uploaded by Larry13.

Changing the PINK shades on the ceiling fan lights to clear shades went a long way toward "de-pinking" the bedroom. As did removing and storing some of the Victorian era brick-a-brac such as these lamps and making up the bed with a navy blue duvet.

Deb's kitchen is pink, too

Deb's kitchen is pink, too
Originally uploaded by Larry13.

At this point, the cupboards hadn't yet been cleared out and cleaned nor the oilcloth table cover removed (which exposed the lovely, light wood tabletop).

We Are Home - God Has Blessed!

I thought you would be interested in how things went and how we came to be home tonight (August 18), when we were not planning on even leaving TN until Sunday morning.
It turns out that everything fell into place for Deb! Granted, we put in some very long days of driving and running errands to get her settled. That included 3 trips to the Chattanooga WalMart within 24 hours for way more money that Jean wanted to credit.

We ran into great difficulty trying to update her cell phone contract and get her a new phone and the local sales office as well as the internet site and the telephone support for the internet site basically gave up on us and told us we couldn't do what we were trying to do. We were to go home and do it from home and then mail her the actived new phone (she would then be without a phone for about a week, wouldn't she?) or unactivated (now anyone could take that and activate to their own account couldn't they?) without offering any options to help us.

We gave up and went on to the next task somewhat discouraged. In the process of fruitless searching for the next item (Staples & Circuit City - just a few stores apart in a HUGE mall), we found a Verizon Wireless retail sales person who, when I offered to simply buy the phone for Deb, said, "No, that's a lot of money. Let me check some things for you." He took the phone #, checked her account and said, "Yes, she qualifies for a free cell phone and I think I can find a code to let me do an 'out of area' upgrade."

He worked on it for 45 minutes and got on the phone to someone higher up in the corporation to get it activated. But he did it! I called and gave him a very positive recommendation as we were ready to leave for another company, though I see that T-Mobile isn't the one to solve all the problems either. So Deb got a new contract and a new phone and is very pleased.

Many other similar events occurred: her TB skin test (done and read), her JCAHO online training (done in the last 2 days after she got settled), finding a great furnished apartment just off campus (very bikable in good weather) with LOTS of comfy seats for her friends to come for Bible-study groups, all the registration "stuff" (we were ALWAYS the next one to be seen - there were NO lines as we were nearly a week early), fixing things (closet door, fluorescent light over sink, outlet cover, frosted globes for ceiling fan to replace the HOT PINK ones in the bedroom) all went so smoothly and fast that we completely finished everything we figured would take 4 days in just 2 days!

So we left yesterday morning at ~8 AM and drove. And drove. And drove. When we got where we usually stop (~750 miles) it was just after 8 PM and I wasn't one lick tired. We decided to get around New York City and stop north of Hartford, CT. Just into CT we stopped at the rest area and met a Maine couple with their 4 children on their way home from Nebraska (wedding, reunion, etc.). They were stopping for the night - in PORTLAND!!! They are from Machaias and couldn't find a vacant, non-smoking room between south CT and Portland, ME. We drove on. And on. And on. Between Hartford, CT and Sturbridge, MA things got a bit dicey so we stopped there and napped for 1 1/2 hours before driving back home getting in at about 5:15 AM. We have unloaded the car, done washing, done finances, napped (of course) and gotten produce from the CSA.

We are thinking that because we got so much done today, we will both go to the walk-on kayak training at LL Bean early AM on Sunday! We did nothing to celebrate our 36th anniversary while we were helping Deb get set up (8/16/1970) so this would be a little something that we thought we might do and at $12 each, it won't break the bank. With Deb in grad school, we don't want to be profligate. We were listening to Michelle Singleterry read on personal finance on the way home.

That's the conclusion of our whirlwind trip to TN this week! (Except to add that our cat was VERY glad to see us and went outside and came back in 3 -4 times in the first hour we were home!)

Tuesday Update

Today's (August 15) activities included:

1. At the college we got Deb's photo-ID card, saw a financial counselor (no discount for pre-paying as she has 2 hr. above the limit to be consider post-graduate which is a lower tuition rate so we paid the semester with a credit card and got airline miles.

2. Stopped at Nursing Department: turned in RN license, signed for criminal background check and got the website to do JCAHO training (10 modules)

3. Went to the bookstore and bought all her books for this semester

4. Visited a woman with an apartment to rent - very close to campus, reasonable price, well-furnished (over furnished - Deb asked her to remove excess lamps, and will be storing a couple extra tables in a large closet) - rented it, moved 90%+ of her belongings in - some clothing in a dresser we brought down and will take back will need to be moved in tomorrow

5. Visited the hardware store for light bulbs, bolts for the woman's bed frame, outlet cover, etc.

6. Stopped at the dollar store for cleaning & household supplies, etc.

Since supper we have tried (fruitlessly) to order a cell phone for Deb (will do when back in New England) - Verizon Wireless in TN cannot access her account in Massachusetts where she was previously in college - too many people have the number including multiple departments at her new university, so she doesn't want a new number. Deb has gone online and ordered her parking permit for the university.

We are still hoping to stop at Staples and WalMart tonight and if we get her unpacked and settled tomorrow, we will leave for home early Thursday AM. Off we go!!!

Some Thoughts From Tennessee

We took a trip this week to the Chattanooga, TN area to help our youngest DD get settled in at a new university for graduate school for the next 3 years. We left on Sunday morning ~8:30 AM and traveled ~12 hours and made it >700 miles from Maine to Newmarket, VA - a grueling day. Deb drove almost the whole day with Jean relieving her for a couple hours so she could rest in the middle of the day.

Today (August 14) was a shorter day, as we didn't get in until after dark and then ate and put our feet up before we turned out the light at ~10:30 PM. Jean and I awoke ~5 AM (fluid drained from feet) and both of us finally got back to sleep and awoke just after 8 AM. We all showered and got out the door ~9:30 AM. Jean and I listened to "Sister Chicks in Sombreros" which Cheryl gave us (she had it mailed to her by mistake and the company told her to just keep it - and they doesn't have a CD player currently). Deb again drove all but ~2 - 3 hours today for which Jean relieved her and I drove the whole day. We are all a bit tired from the traveliing.

We arrived here ~6 PM and have already driven by one rental possibility near the college and have written down 5 more from the community "bulletin board" just off campus. We have visited the nursing building (open, no one there) we found Jean's Mom's class photo from 1942 hanging in the stairwell with all the other class photos up to the present as well as poking our heads into as many of the classrooms and labs in the biology/chemistry/math building where she will be having a couple classes this coming semester.

On Sunday night we were at our motel (free WiFi) where we had a (very) late supper and caught up on email and online forums.

SUMMARY: We arrived safely and though tired, are safe and we arrived in good time so that we are well oriented and set up for the events coming up tomorrow. We are very grateful for all of your prayers for our safe travel as well as for God to lead us to the housing He has selected for Deb.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Household Upheaval

No, not THAT kind of upheaval! It all started with the kitchen faucet which, as far as I can determine, dates to the late 1950s. We made one abortive attempt to replace it in the 1990s but could not find a replacement that would "fit" in the very small hole in the stainless steel kitchen sink which would could not (then or now) afford to replace. A stop-gap measure involved replacing the cartridge at that time and now it is once again leaking. As I contemplated replacing the cartridge once again, the faucet arm itself sprung a leak. The days of that faucet were once again numbered.

We needed a plumber and while we were at it, we might as well replace the countertop which was the late 1960s-early 1970s Harvest Gold (*reast-fed baby *oop yellow, is how I would describe it). And Jean decided (quite independently, though I wholeheartedly agree with her) that the disgusting (and was like that when we bought the house 20 years ago and has not improved significantly with age despite repeated incursions against its vileness) vent hood over the stove needed replacing. And while we are at it, the disposer doesn't really work very well any more since a metal object went around in it for days at a time before I had the stomach to stick my hand inside the slimy sleeve and pluck it out. ALL the other inhabitants of this house, past and present, have smaller hands than I but weaker stomachs, it appears.

We needed to call a halt there as the cost of gutting the kitchen to rid it of the Z-brick and dark cabinets was prohibitive in the context of daughter-going-to-graduate-school-for-the-next-three-years. But the minimum amount of work needed to be done to make the kitchen once again half way respectable.

Believe it or not, we found a color chip for a pre-made counter top (our contractor really wanted to make a custom-made one, "it will be a lot easier") but we are spoiled to NOT having water leaking down behind the counter, so we stuck with our guns.

The tear-out time was yesterday and the countertop is now assembled and more or less "in place". The hood has been install. The plumber comes next week to work his magic on our kitchen. To bad we didn't think to have him buy a faucet to replace the downstairs bathroom fixture. Sigh. Maybe we can leave him a note and he'll "humor" us as there is a hardware store that sells faucets just over a mile from our house.

What's that? You want pictures? Why, imagine that! Jean took some! She was most grateful for this project as it turned out that one of the cabinets was not properly installed and was held in place by only one screw and was tipped ~3/4" out from the wall at the top and was making a reasonable attempt to leave it's place in the line of cabinets for a more prominent spot...on the floor!

Technical difficulties: I tried to upload photos to Blogger 3 times without success. I have put one on Flickr and tried to upload from there. No go. I am finally, in desperation and out of time, giving you the link to the Flickr photo, in hopes of getting more photos up later when there is more time.

Kitchen Countertop