Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Almost time to go curling

I bring it up every once in awhile, but I am a member of the Schenectady Curling Club. Yes, that game one ice with brooms and rocks that is strangely hypnotizing every 4 year at the Winter Olympics. Sure, it is kind of a silly game but games by definition are silly. Anyone can throw a dart or hit a golf ball. The hard part is making the dart or ball go where you want it to go more often than not.

Anyone can push a stone on ice. Getting it where you want to go is the challenge. To me, the best shot is one that requires everyone on the 4 person team. The skip (team captain) calls the shot, the shooter takes the shot, but the shot can't get there without help of the sweepers. In some cases, I think the ideal shot is not within the realm of physical possibility without sweeping.

And like in Bull Durham: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes there's a blizzard. Think about that for awhile.

However, it doesn't matter if you win or lose. After the game you hang out with the team you just played, have a drink, talk about the game, life, tell jokes, stories (especially curling stories), whatever...win or lose it's still a good time. The club members really couldn't be nicer.

I'm bringing this up because if you have ever had an interest in curling, this is the time of the year to look into it. The Schenectady Curling Club is having open houses this weekend (October 2nd and 3rd). At the open houses you'll get a little instruction on how to play, get out on the ice and throw a few stones. Pick up a broom and give sweeping a shot. The open houses a free and you can pre-register with EventBrite. Then, if you like it (you're going to like it), you can register for Curling School. At Curling School, you'll get some more instruction and on ice practice so you'll be ready to play in a league. Curling school costs a few bucks, but if you join the club that cost goes towards your membership.

Here's a link to the club's Open House webpage with all the details.

Maybe I'll see you out on the ice.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Playing WIth Concrete

Well, when I wrote last, I had some compacted stone surrounded by sand. Today, there is a pretty damn level 6 foot square concrete pad.

When the guys building the pool had a trench open to run gas and electric, they also put in a conduit line to bring electric to the oven. I started by digging a trench from where that line ended to where the oven was going to be built.

The conduit got glued up, and I back filled the trench. I had made a box out of 2x6s, picked up steel rebar. The box had to be set and leveled, which was actually a little harder than I thought. I made some stakes to keep the box moving and tightened everything up with some deck screws that I already had. I decided to stop chasing the square-ness of the box. I was pretty close. Definitely less than a quarter inch, probably closer to an eighth. And it doesn’t really matter because it’s just a base. Level, would be nice too, but not absolutely critical.

Once the box was squar-ish and level-ish, I put down some poly that was left over from the pool construction and laid out the rebar. The goal was to cheat a little toward the edges of the slab since it will be the most loaded area. The rest were spaced at about a foot. After they bars were laid out, I used some steel wire to tie most of the intersections together then lifted the rebar mat up to a handful plastic stands to keep the bars higher in the slab. Not too shabby. And surprisingly level.

When I posted a similar picture of the form on Twitter, I got this from Gary Dake (President of Stewart's Shops).

Still can't believe he saw the picture and then took the time to comment. Gary, if you're reading this, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE bring back Butterscotch Blonde ice cream.

By my calculations I needed a little less than ¾ of a yard of concrete. I’m not sure why, but concrete is ordered in cubic yards and no one ever includes the cubic part. Yards. It’s kind of like a square of roof, but volume. This works out to a ballpark 30 bags of Quickcrete, 80 pounds each. I lined up a mixer and was preparing to make half a dozen runs to Home Depot or Lowes to get 30, 80 pound bags of concrete mix to my house. This did not sound fun. It actually sounds kind of crappy. By the time I actually put each 80 pound bag in the mixer, I’m guessing I would have had lift and move each bag 4 times - onto a cart, into the car, out of the car, over to the mixer.  I have a dolly that might have helped. I gave one of the larger concrete plants a call. One yard delivered would have been a little over $400. Ouch. I get it. While they were delivering a tiny amount of concrete to me, they could have been selling 10 times the amount to someone else so there is a premium on small batches for one time customers.

While I mentally prepared to throw out my back moving bags of concrete, I heard about another place. Clifton Park Concrete. I think I’m kind of blabbing out a well kept contractor’s secret here. Clifton Park Concrete is a small operation. One guy. One truck with a 2 yard capacity. Compared to the bigger trucks, it looks kind of cute. And the owner/operator could not be a nicer guy.

I called and set up a time. He called about an hour before the delivery to confirm. I had originally planned to do all this myself. Another one of those self imposed tests – if I can do this on my own, maybe I can build an oven. The guys at work convinced this was a bad idea in case something went wrong – flat tire on the wheelbarrow, screeding (leveling the top) is much easier with two people and more hands makes lighter work. So Ryan offered to come over with a back up wheelbarrow and some other concrete tools.
The concrete truck came about 10 minutes early. Ryan wasn't there yet and I started moving concrete without him in my brand new trusty wheelbarrow. This was its first workout. I had about half of the form filled and I was raking concrete to fill the corners, when the truck driver asked if I wanted help screeding. So we ran a 2x4 back and forth across the form leveling the concrete. I think I got another wheelbarrow of concrete into the form when Ryan appeared. He took over moving the concrete while I raked concrete into the corners of the form. We leveled up the rest of the pour and I went to get a little more concrete in the wheelbarrow for “just in case.”

Turns out Ryan is much better with a trowel than I am. After he left, I covered the concrete with plastic to try and slow down the water evaporation. Latter in the afternoon when the kids got home, I made them feel the warm concrete. The heat of hydration is part of the chemical reaction of concrete curing. They were as impressed and as young girls get touching a warm sidewalk get. So, unimpressed.

A few days later I broke off the forms. Ta-Dah! A slab of concrete waiting for an oven.

To celebrate, I made pizza Saturday night. Here's a Utica Greens (with homemade pancetta) pizza. It's a little bit of extra work to make this pie, but I really like it once in awhile.

If you have a small concrete pour – the minimum order is a yard – I can’t recommend Clifton Park Concrete highly enough. For just under $250 (tax included), he delivered a yard of concrete and drove off with the extra. Yes, it could be more expensive than the Quickcrete. Figure 30 bags of Quikcrete is about $130. But if you add $75 for delivery or have to rent a mixer, the price is actually pretty good. And it is significantly faster and a lot less labor. We were done, everything cleaned up and the slab covered, in under two hours. I doubt that would have happened mixing 30 bags one or two at a time. So for all your kind of big but not huge home concrete projects, call Clifton Park Concrete. I plan to call again in the spring for the upper slab of the stand.

Clifton Park Concrete (518) 348-1044. (No credit cards).

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Base

I get it. It looks like a sandy mess. But this is big.

This is the very beginning.

In the never ending saga of having our backyard redone, the patio has been installed. And at one end of the patio, there is the little 3 foot by 7 foot bump you see in the picture. For most people, those bump outs are where you would put a propane grill so you wouldn't lose patio space. In this case, the bump out is in front of where the future wood oven will be built.

The patio builders left me a nice pad of crushed stone for a sub base. I've already got wood for a form and yesterday I picked up some reinforcing steel. An aside, should you ever need a little bit (or a lot) of any metal, you should contact the Metal Supermarket on Broadway. They're pretty much across the street from the new Druther's restaurant. Very friendly people, reasonable prices and quick service. I called after 4 on Friday and my bar order was ready before 9:30 on Monday.

Earlier tonight, I dug a trench into the pad where some electrical conduit is going. The base will have an outlet or two and if I choose to install lights, the power will be there. Tomorrow, I'm going to try to build the form.

The current plan is to put in this slab and then finish the landscaping. I'll use the winter for research, planning and drafting. I'm also keeping my eye on Craigslist for a wet saw. There's one that sounds perfect, but it's in Corning. Anyone heading out to Corning?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Kindness of Internet Strangers

A few years ago I stumbled onto the pizza making forum and I love it. I could spend hours and hours sifting through posts there. I’ve learned invaluable pizza lessons. I’m more of a reader than a writer on the forum but I do chime in once in awhile.

This spring I spent a lot of time doing searches on pools and maintenance. In the course of those searches I found another forum - pool forum. Trouble Free Pools. Turns out that pool forum people are just as nice and helpful as pizza forum people. Who knew? Ready for something else that blew my mind? You can pretty much take care of a pool with a testing kit, bleach, Borax and baking soda. The active ingredient in bleach is the same active ingredient in pool store chlorine – just different concentrations. If you are in a Walmart or Target and you see someone buying 16 gallons of bleach, they are most likely taking care of their pool and not cleaning a crime scene.

Now, I don’t want to bash any local pool stores - don’t have any experience with them other than a quick pickup of chlorine. But…I have read many stories where people have gotten terrible advice from professional pool people. I guess like anything, all pool experts are not created equal. According to the forum, the test strips you dip in pools are very unreliable and having your water tested at the pool store can often be wrong too. The home testing kit I got from the forum is pretty easy to use. I kind of feel like a chemist using it. There is a lot of add 5 drops of this, swirl then count the number of drops it takes to change color. I've also kind of matched the colors on the test strips to better numbers from my test kit so I sometimes still use the strips as a quick ballpark check of the water.

I’ve read through the pool school a few times and I think I have the hang of it. I’ve learned about cyanuric acid (a stabilizer that helps keep chlorine in the water). The right amount of cyanuric acid is good – and necessary. Too much is less good. Way too much and it’s time to drain water from your pool. Without the forum, I think my cyanuric acid level would be rising into the less good category now. I’ve also read up on the forums way to shock a pool (SLAM – Shock Level And Maintain) in case I ever need it. So far so good. I haven’t needed it. There's also the pool math calculator which gives pretty good estimates on what adding something to your pool will do.

When the forum talks about clear pool water, they mean you should be able to drop a quarter in the deep end and be able to see if it’s heads or tails. This picture was taken with my phone. The quarter is in front of the sneaker on the floor of the pool. The zooming in isn’t the clearest. What do you think?

Standing there, I could tell it was heads. Not as easy with the phone picture. So far, the only problem I’ve had using the Trouble Free Pool forum’s maintenance methods is that I can see every speck of dirt on the floor of the pool. And since the pool is surrounded by sand, it’s been driving me nuts. But that's slowly changing. Some more construction started this week.

Anyhow, if you have a pool – in ground or above ground – you might like looking around the Trouble Free Pool forum. I’ve learned a lot there.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Some thoughts on The Valley Cats at the Joe

I've been to 2 Valley Cats games so far this summer. The first was with the elementary school on opening day. The second was tonight with a group from work. So in no particular order, here are some thoughts:

The minor glitches seem to be getting worked out at the stadium. On opening day, our tickets came with a hot dog, bag of chips and a small soda. I waited in line, got everybody's food and asked for one of those card board carriers. I was told they were out of them. I guess it happens, but the ball park had been open for less than 2 hours at this point in time. Someone behind the counter very kindly helped me bring the food to our seats. Also at the home opener one stand ran out of beer, the soft serve ice cream was coming out of the machine kind of melty and it seemed like the new register system was having issues with credit/debit cards. I didn't see any of that tonight.

The food at the Stadium is not good. It could be good, but it is not. Granted you're not expecting a delicious meal there, but I don't think it would take much effort to make the food significantly better. My advice would be to eat a sandwich before heading out to a game.

The guy that is dressed up like Uncle Sam has a lot of energy. But not as much as Charlie the bat boy. Charlie never stops moving. And most of his moving is running. A local newspaper should do a piece on Charlie. Part of it should be having him wear a pedometer to count how many steps he takes during a game.

During a break in the game tonight, there was a condiment race between Ketchup, Mustard and Relish. On their way off the field, Relish wiped out on his bike. Looked like it hurt, but Relish popped right back up. I hope Relish is OK.

People LOVE tee shirts that are launched using a 3-person sling shot. On second thought, I'm not sure LOVE is a strong enough word. 

Nothing happened at either game, but if you are close enough a ball could easily come at you very quickly. Like serious injury quickly. For the opener, we sat in Section 250. Tonight we were a little closer in Section 230. Section 230 seemed riskier to me. Less reaction time. I felt like I had to pay attention to every pitch in case a foul ball came at the kids so I could try to knock it down. I'm not sure why parks don't put up more netting.

If you are going to a 7:00 game, get seats on the 3rd base side. If the sky isn't completely overcast and you are on the first base side, be prepared to spend at least 90 minutes staring directly into the sun. We learned that lesson the hard way last year. I don't think I'm ever going to sit on the first base side again.

During another break in the game tonight, there was an ad for the Recovery Room on the big screen. My kids say the kid in the ad also appeared on a recent episode of KC Undercover on the Disney Channel. Apparently he was the boy that liked the little girl who isn't actually a little girl, she's a robot.

Overheard this interaction between a father and his son:
"Wait. No. No. Stop licking things."

I have successfully convinced my kids that the tennis ball thing after each game is a complete waste of money.

My kids don't like fireworks. We take off before they start.

The Valley Cats are very good a capitalizing on the other team's mistakes. When the other team makes an error, The Cats score at least one run. Happened in both games this year. Saw them do it last year too.

For those of you keeping score at home: In the program, the Cats had two players that are number 8. Tonight, one of them was actually number 9.

The shortstop for the West Virginia team made a beautiful play followed by and incredible throw to first. I would have liked to see an instant replay of that one.

I enjoy heading out for a game with the family and the Valley Cats are an entertaining team to watch. So far, they are undefeated this year while my family is in the crowd. Maybe we'll head out for another game or two. But next time, I think I'll introduce the kids to tailgating and we'll do most of our eating in the parking lot.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Made up definitions

Every now and then you hear a word used in a way that isn't a Webster's Dictionary definition of the word (or even an Urban Dictionary word). What makes these words special is when that definition is clearly understood by several people and frequently used.

Powderize is a real word - make into a powder by breaking up or cause to become dust. My family has a different definition for the powderize.

Powderize: the act of adding powdered detergent to a dishwasher.

I powderized the dishwasher. Can you start it when you're done with that glass?

My new favorite kind of made up word turns gluten from a noun into a verb by adding "ize" - glutenize. To glutenize is to take a food item that was originally gluten free and cross contaminate it with gluten making it no longer safe to be eaten by people with celiac disease. Most of the time, it's butter.

I just glutenized this butter.
That's OK, the gluten free butter is over there.


Friday, July 17, 2015

Theater Camp

My kids have attended a few camps offered at Hudson Valley Community College. A bizarre side effect of these camps is that every now and then one of my kids receives mail from HVCC. Nothing makes you do a double take like getting the mail and seeing college flyers addressed to your 3rd grader.

Over the past two weeks, my oldest daughter attended a theater camp at HVCC. At the camp, the kids were split into two groups and each group of kids wrote a short play that was performed this afternoon. There was some adult directorial guidance, but for the most part the creative process was kid driven. The first group, which was mostly elementary school kids, wrote a play about good kids and bad kids and how the bad kids had a secret cave with a button that caused some earthquakes. In the end, every one was friends again, but the bad kids were starting to plan turning Iceland into Greenland and Greenland into Iceland. The play was complete with a song and dance number.

Maybe I'm over analyzing, but the play appeared to be strongly influence by what's going on in elementary school pop culture. Coming to the Disney Channel later this month is a made for Disney TV movie called the Descendents. It's the story of the children of the worst Disney Villains that grew up in exile and are being welcomed back into "good" society by a progressive prince or king or whatever. The control panel in the evil cave wasn't unlike the control panel in the movie Inside Out and everybody getting along is pretty similar to the anti bullying message these kids see on a daily basis. Which brings us to the mostly older group (with some younger kids mixed in):

The name of the second play was "It can Wait." It's about texting while driving. While there were definitely some comedy mixed in with the drama, the play opens with a group of girls driving to a movie, the driver is texting, and all of the passengers in car are killed in an accident. My kids aren't old enough for me to have experience with this age group, but I believe the same analysis of present day influences holds true.

My main takeaways from the second play:
1. I think most kids that are going to learn how to drive in a few years have been bombarded with enough "texting while driving kills" messages to scare them out of texting while driving once they get on the road.

2. The reporters in the play were working for "YNN - Your Nosy News" which makes me think that the preteen age group is unimpressed with television news. The reporters were nosy, a little rude and were played with an "anything for ratings" attitude. Television news isn't going to cut for that generation. Maybe weather reports, but that's probably it.

3. In a town council scene, the vote is tied at 2-2. The town council leader stands up and declares she will have to cast the deciding vote and then wonders which way to go. Two council members pass her some money and she quickly votes with them. Wow.

I didn't become completely disillusioned with politicians until my late 20s these kids are making bribe jokes before 13. Jaded before they can drive. In five or six years, there is going to be a wave of voters that aren't going to watch television news so they won't care what politicians say on television news and they are already under the impression that elected officials are routinely bought. Not sure if any politicians stop by this corner of the web (not sure why they would), but 6th, 7th, and 8th graders are unimpressed with you.

I wonder what kind of play high school actors would have written.