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.

Glutenize.

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.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Variations on a Theme

I like diners. They usually have huge menu's with something for everyone. Although, why some one would go into a diner and order a seafood and pasta dish is beyond me. Stick with the classics.

I'm fairly repetitive with my diner orders. If I am going for breakfast fare, it's usually two over easy with home fries and rye toast. Maybe some pancakes get thrown in there depending on the diner. When I'm not having a diner breakfast (which has nothing to do with the time of day), it's a turkey club with fries.

As luck would have it, I wound up in different diners on Friday and Saturday night. When I was eating on Friday, I had no idea I was going to have the same dinner on Saturday, so no pictures. And I wouldn't have given it much thought except the two turkey clubs were so different.

The sandwich construction was identical. Basically a BLT on the top half of the club and turkey on the bottom.

Toast: On the first club, the toast tasted like it had been salted. It was as if the fries got put on the plate and then everything got hit with salt out of a shaker. The second club had toasted white bread. Although, one time at this diner I didn't specify "toast" and it came out plain white bread. That's never happened anywhere else. I specify "white toast" now but that's the kind of thing that would make a veteran diner waitress look at you funny. "Of course it's toasted! We've been a diner for awhile now."

Turkey: The first club's turkey tasted like deli meat. The second club's turkey tasted and looked cooked in-house.

Lettuce: The first club had very pale looking iceberg lettuce. The second had nice, dark green leaves of lettuce.

Tomato: The first club had that food service Styrofoam tomato. The second one had juicy, red tomato which was actually a pleasant surprise  after having seen crummy tomato wedges in a side salad.

Bacon: The bacon on both sandwiches was your typical diner bacon. Club #2 was a little chewier than Club #1, but the difference wasn't as stark as the other components.

When I was eating the first turkey club, I knew it wasn't anything special. It really wasn't until I started eating the second one that I realized how bad the first sandwich was. Now granted, turkey Club #2 wasn't the greatest turkey club I've ever had. Not really close. That distinction goes to a long gone diner/cafeteria in Boston. There is a special place in my heart for Anne's Cafeteria-I loved that place. But Turkey Club #2 was definitely a decent representation of the form that brought shame and dishonor to turkey Club #1.

Turkey Club #2 come from Capital City Diner on Western in Guilderland.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What I think about late at night

The pool is mostly finished. Not quite, but mostly. Work is supposed to start up again soon. Once the pool is done, the patio gets installed. Part of patio plan includes putting in a sub base for the oven oven I've been saving up for, thinking about, talking about and daydreaming about for years. I think the first I wrote about it on the blog was in May of 2010. Well, that's the first time I tagged it anyway.

As I approach the reality of an outdoor oven of my own, my brain has been in overload. In the beginning, there was Phase 1: build it from scratch. Get a wet saw, a pallet of firebrick and start building. The reality of the time needed to build an oven set in and I moved into Phase 2: build a base, install a kit oven, build a quick house around it for weather proofing and get to cooking pizza faster. Then I started pricing out the cost of the gable house around the oven. That cost can be all over the place depending on how you want the house to look. Hell, just the stone veneers at Home Depot range from $4 to are you kidding? For not much more than the cost of the kit and the gable house, I could move into Phase 3: Instant gratification: a delivered, ready to go oven on a cart. Just wheel it into place, and start a fire.

Unfortunately, I have a windmill for a mind so you can probably guess what comes after Phase 3.

We're back to Phase 1: Build from scratch. I keep thinking that this will be the one chance I get to build an oven and I'll regret it later if I don't just go for it now.

Phase 1 has me staying up late reading threads about building ovens. I was reading one last night and then realized it was 1:30. Yeah I was groggy this morning.

I've reached out to handful of people that I've never actually met to ask for their thoughts on ovens. Everyone has been incredibly nice. Here's a typical example: I messaged one guy on the pizza forum with a question about the oven at the center of Phases 2 and 3. His reply was his cell phone number for me to call so we could discuss it. We talked for about half an hour. Then to clarify a few things, about 5 minutes after we ended the call, he sent some oven photos. Pizza people are awesome.

Phase 1 is exhausting. Aside from the sleep deprivation from getting lost online looking at oven construction, there's the mental side. The planning, constantly thinking about the best way to build and the self doubt. The number of bricks I have put mortar on and placed is...well if you count the time I...no, there was no time - it's 0. I am very confident I can build the stand. Maybe too confident. Once the stand is built, that's where I get concerned. I'm starting to think I could build a dome. The entry and vent are where the oven construction loses me. Then the house...some days I think no problem. Others, I'm not sure I could make it weather tight. Especially if the chimney goes through the peak of the roof. I've seen a few solutions but I'm not sure I could build them. Maybe I'll just cover the whole thing in stucco and have it look like an igloo.

While taking a break from the forums and looking for construction grade wet saws on Craigslist, I found some masonry arch design software. I typed in the parameters of the oven du jour and it spit out the dimension and number of bricks to make the arch. I drafted them out and everything seemed to fit. Yesterday, I grabbed some lumber and a few other things at Home Depot to try and make a confidence building arch.

Using a piece of 2x3, I cut out 20 wood "bricks." The cuts on the sides of the bricks are slight angled for the curvature of the arch.


Then I cut up some shims to be the mortar in between the bricks. When I laid it out, I was off a little bit. I think I cut each brick about a blade width too wide. I can either try to shave each brick down a little, or just make the keystone in the center smaller to get the width I want. This current design was for a 42 inch oven and now that I can really see how it would be laid out, I think it might be too big. There's that indecision again.


Since it wasn't exactly how I wanted it, I held off on gluing it together. But once the arch is done, I'd like to glue it together and add some tall, outer "bricks" that would make a cross section of the dome. All in all, not bad. Still not sure I can build this thing. Maybe I should call this Phase 1a: Build from scratch and when the oven falls down, get the kit.