Saturday, May 31, 2008

Housing Saga Chapter 42: Journey to Our American Dream

So, we survived the landlord visit. We were determined to loathe and despise the prospective tenants, our usurpers, but of course they seemed like extremely likable people, good looking, with a baby and toddler. I shake an angry fist at their niceness!

There are degrees of cleanliness and I believe we achieved a level best described as sanitary, safe and homey. *Homey* is my favorite euphemism... it can forgive a multitude of domestic sins. Scented candles are also handy.

Now we wait. Why is this a recurring theme in our quest for the American Dream? Some of you have asked about our trailer with land offer and the only answer I can provide is: We are waiting to learn more. It seems we chose a complicated fixer-upper... why is this a recurring theme in our quest for the American Dream?

Well, the landlord is gone, the house is sanitary and homey... time to bring the chicks out of hiding...

Friday, May 30, 2008

Home School's Science Fair: Alex's Tank-Bot

Yesterday was a full one, and we did make it to the science fair. It was the home school science fair, for students enrolled in homeschooling in our county. The woman who coordinates these events, seminars, classes and activities is wonderful. She is one of those dear people that extends herself and with sincere warmth and kindness she makes everyone feel special. I might ask for her number, so I can call her over summer and get good advice, affirmations and encouragement... for the children... of course, for the children.

Alex has been reading "Robot Builder's Bonanza," a technical and, for him, inspiring book all about designing and constructing robots. Not light reading. My favorite part about this book may be the suggestions to visit thrift shops and look for parts that can be rescued and salvaged for making robots. No need to flog the wallet on specialty kits and fancy sets. Alex decided to give robot thrifting a go and we headed to our favorite thrift store for supplies.

Here are some excerpts from Alex's report and presentation:

My objective was to make a robot from found parts and broken toys. I wanted to see if I could find a remote controlled device that was not working, repair it and possibly make it better than it was before. I hoped to make the toy operational again and was interested to see whether I could give it more power, greater range of motion and to add an arm to it.

I went to the thrift store and searched in the toy section, the home appliances section, and the electronics section. I was looking for remote controlled toys that were broken, that also looked salvageable. I found a 6-volt Radio Shack replica tank that had been discarded. It was missing a custom manufactured rechargeable battery pack, and its charger. In the other departments I did not find anything to help my experiment.

Process and Results:
The first thing I did to make repairs to the tank was to find a new battery pack. I bought 2 battery packs, to hold a total of 8 AA batteries. To prevent the total voltage from exceeding 6 volts, I had to parallel wire them. “Parallel wiring” is when you attach 2 positive wires, of the same color (usually red,) to a load. The “load” is whatever you are powering. I also had to attach 2 negative wires, of the same color (usually black) to the load. It is important for it to not exceed 6 volts to prevent the motors overheating. If the motors overheat they can melt the protective coating of the wires, and short circuit the motor; this can start a fire.

The antenna was glued to the turret and I had to pull it out. I measured the black wire that served as an antenna and cut a new antenna of equal length. I soldered the new piece to the section that had been cut. Instead of reattaching it to the turret, I raised it above the chassis by slipping it through 2 soda straws that were taped together. The new antenna stood vertical out of the center of the vehicle.

With the improved antenna, and the new battery pack, I am able to control the robot vehicle from over 100’ feet away. The vehicle’s base and drive system is extremely powerful and can carry 3 pounds, and possibly 4.

Next I decided to build a remote controlled arm to add to the vehicle. Inspired by suggestions from the book “Robot Builder’s Bonanza” by Gordon Mc Comb and Myke Predko, I designed a cable-operated grabber. It works by winding a string around a part of the gearbox that was intended to rotate the turret of the tank. Modified like this, the gearbox now opens and closes 2 arms or “fingers” that extend from the front of the vehicle. I built the arms from pre-cut steel brackets, 2 rubber bands, tooth-lock washers, and locking nuts, and I added a second antenna to link with the controller for the new arm. The arm needed a separate power supply, so I equipped it with its own 6-volt battery pack.

I hoped to build a robot from broken toys and electronic parts, to make it better and equip it with an arm. I wanted it to have greater remote range, be more powerful, and I wanted it to have additional features. The tank I found was not functional, but I was able to repair it. By adapting the antenna I increased its range, so I can control it from greater distances. The arm I designed and built allows me to retrieve objects, so that the robot can manipulate its environment.

I learned how to solder wire using a hand held electric soldering gun. I learned how to use a digital multi-meter; it tests voltage, it tests to see if circuits are complete, resistance and amperage. I practiced patience and diligence, reading the “Robot Builder’s Bonanza” for guidance, and I was able to successfully achieve my goals. In the future I hope to attach a video transmitter, so I can see the vehicle’s path from a remote location.

My heart swells.
Pardon me for a moment while I breath deeply and reflect on the joy I have thinking of my children. William helped carry in Alex's equipment. Max was on hand to keep an eye on everything. Maria took a nap, and was very cooperative and helpful when she woke. Alex was reluctant to enter the science fair, because of uncertainty, shyness and such, but William encouraged him, pushed him... I'm just trying to express how happy it makes me that these children look out for each other, they offer support and concern and they make me very proud. I cannot think of a better indication of success than having children that are creative, nice, inquisitive and a pleasure to be with.

This Morning:

Max: The dishes in the dishwasher look dirty. Can I use a fancy plate?

Me: Sure.

Max: I didn't know we could use these plates.

Me: You can only use them today and never again.

Max: Oh.

Me: Just yolking.

Max: Yolking?

Me: Joking. Yolking. Egg yolk.

Max: Why do people assume everything can be funny? Some things are just weird.

Last Night, Driving Home From Mom's Night Out:

Maria: I love dat pardee. And all the ladies are so booful.

Me: I loved the party too. Maria, you were a lady too, so good.

Maria: No. I'm not a lady. I'm jus' M'ia. And what dos ladies called?

Me: Linda.

Maria: Oh, yes, Leenda.

Me: Anne.

Maria: Anne. I like Anne. She's booful.

Me: Vera

Maria: Veela

Me: Jola

Maria: JoLA

Me: Janice

Maria: Janice

Me: Yanina

Maria: Fun-sheena

Me: Belinda

Maria: Buhlinda

Me: Josie

Maria: Joseee

Me: And Gigi

Maria: And Gigi, and the chockie fountain. And it was a pardee, and Lucas showed me the chockie fountain. I like Lucas. So fun.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Look What The Tide Brought In

A Full Day of Procrastination and Other Deep Thoughts

This photo and the video really belong with a post I made in January. It was low tide season... there were some great low tides last winter, and we kept making amazing discoveries. The most surprising being this shark. Was it a great white shark? I consulted the life guards in Solana Beach, after the recent attack on a swimmer. They were fairly certain it was a great white, and so were the people on the beach with us when we saw the little biter.

The shark was in very shallow water and obviously losing it's fight trying to get back the open ocean. It was fairly subdued when 2 young men carried it, in stages, back to deeper water, but if it had not been worn out, I don't think it would have been so cooperative. I guess I would say it was the size of a small, strong, willful toddler, but with more teeth. Here is the video I captured... one of those instances where I had to curb my photography appetite and comfort Maria, who was very distressed by the sight of the shark.

It was kind of surreal walking up to the pool and seeing an actual shark. The beach was not crowded. Next to us was another family, 2 college students, and 2 monks in flowing saffron robes. Everyone was concerned about the shark's predicament

Friends were asking to see the video of the little white we saw in the tide pools. Their children surf in the area, and I think most of us surf or swim in these waters too, so yes, it does give pause. I can't say whether I've decided to be freaked out about it or not. I guess I am not worried, which is not the same as saying "no biggie." I don't surf, or swim very far out. After witnessing a little blood experiment conducted in a shark tank by my brother, I can firmly say I would never swim while bleeding.

I am not the type of person that is comforted by statistics... more people are killed by bee stings etc... that sort of information only serves to make worry about more things, different things. Never bother me with replacing one risk for another; it only compounds fears. Truthfully, I could muster more alarm and panic seeing a swarm of media sharks move in and spread out... that was a feeding frenzy!

This was the final and successful attempt to get the shark back in the open water. I think that it is sweet to hear William remarking about this making 'an interesting blog post.' He knows my thoughts so well. Believe me, Chickenblog is a family effort that involves all of us in some capacity.

11:12 a.m.
Meanwhile, on the home front, things are starting to shape up. We have made inroads, sorted, reduced, diverted, recycled, dusted and spruced. The landlord inspection commences Saturday at 9 a.m., and despite frequent bouts of procrastination, mingled with depression and angst, the house is beginning to look respectable. As I cleared the dining table from breakfast, a thought bubbled to the surface: We should go out to eat, so the kitchen stays clean. No, we should stay in a hotel and go out to eat; that's the secret to keeping the house unlived-in clean. And finally, my mind produced this ultimate gem: We should move out of here. Then it would be really, really clean. Crap... I am procrastinating again.

1:11 p.m.
Paid bills. Served lunch. And hounded Alex. He needs to finish his wiring diagram. He is entering the science fair with a robot-remote controlled vehicle he has been working on. Last night he finished his report, and this morning he added the finishing touches to the illustration he made of parallel wiring. Do you know about parallel wiring? Tomorrow Alex will post on Chickenblog. And tonight we will all be at his home-school center to see Alex demonstrate his creation. All, except for Geoff, who is deeply immersed in crunch mode and working 7 days a week and coming home long after my bedtime.

After the science fair, energy permitting, I will hustle over to Linda's house for a bit of MNO... something I have not had much of this year. This means driving from point A to point D for the science fair, then driving back to point A and dropping off the boys. If Maria is still awake, she and I will head to point C for the company of friends. Point B is the place between Points A, C, and D where I stop and ask myself What is the meaning of life, and where am I going?

This may be point B: I seem to be avoiding something... must clean, must clean...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wordy Wednesday

Engraving the barrel was just a passing idea of mine, but my husband is a man of action. He set to it right away. It looks so pretty. By trade he is an engineer, but his skills are hardly limited. And now it seems he can add free-hand wood burning artist. Maria and I worked together turning the soil and adding more, then tossing in some ugly nuts. Never heard of ugly nuts? You'll find them under a rabbit's hutch! With the soil well amended, we were ready for planting: 1 cosmo, 6 marigolds, 6 zinnias and a French lavender. It felt good getting dirty and completing this memorial.

Amelia? It's a working title. Some names take time to fit. She flew out of her take-home box and we had to look for her in the van. A lost flyer... sounds like 'Amelia' to me. Pip and Lady Betty Orpington had settled into their dynamic and worked out their pecking order. When Amelia came on the scene it was pretty wild. She wasted no time in hen pecking her new found sisters, and she would actually peck their feet, lifting them off the ground. Pip and Betty looked stunned and pipped shrilly, with shock and dismay. Max intervened by tapping Amelia on the head. He reasoned that he would show her she may be top hen, but he was the disapproving surrogate rooster. We are happy everyone has calmed down and there is peace in the hen house once more.

Here is Pip, and she is about to leap out the door. She loves me. She runs up to me and settles in my open hand to fall asleep, then Betty joins her and eventually Amelia concedes and shoves her sisters over and squeezes in. Geoff says they're chilly. I say they love me.

This picture is all about tail feathers. Shooting up like tiny sprouts from Lady Betty's posterior are the tufted buds of her tail feathers. I think they are ridiculously cute.

Benjamin thinks they are ridiculously cute too, and mesmerizing and, and tempting and before he can think of 1 more adjective I have to remove him. His heart is not pure... lol.

Chango has more sense and keeps a safe distance from the chicas. Does he remember our Rancho days and the hens we had there, Gracie, Luna and Rosie? He never pestered, bothered, molested or pursued those hens, and hopefully Benjamin will learn to be as respectful as his older and wiser roommate, Chango.

Joe was with us when we lived on our 2 acres. Joe has been with us for 4 houses and 8 years. Sweet, shy Joe. Yesterday I took a moment to do one of my favorite things: Watch him chew. Watching a rabbit's mouth move is seriously one of the most amusing things I can think of, and it never fails to make me smile.

I kept trying to get a really good picture of the whole effect... the wiggling nose, the fast moving lips, the twitchy, cute bunnyness of it. Then I realized it's something that really should be filmed, because still photos are not fast enough... you just get a blurr. And I realized another thing, I was not being very respectful of Joe... snapping pictures while he ate his lunch. It was undignified. Why should I expect to get a decent picture of someone eating? Certainly, I would not want someone trying to make me look interesting or cute eating my lunch. So, I was about to drop the whole project, when I got this:

And I have to say this comes really close to capturing what I love about a rabbit eating. It makes me smile.

I should be cleaning. I should be cleaning. I should be cleaning. I should be cleaning. I should be cleaning, but it really helps to stop and smile.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Dynamic Light and Shade

We should get out more.
Saturday's cookout at Rich and Holly's place confirms my suspicion that we have become troglodytes, hermits, cave dwellers. We come out to work or to replenish our cave stores. We have Netflix. We have the internet and a garden in a wine barrel. Our parties are small affairs, where we invite the usual suspects, and I cannot remember the last time we even did that. It's to the point where I am not only a reluctant hostess, I am a pretty lame guest. I feel shy and out of the loop and tragically unhip. I didn't even remember to bring a dish or extra drinks... I offered to bring something and then nothing. We are out of sorts, out of practice.

Rich and Holly had us, neighbors, and James, Deanne and Parker over for some grilling, some great mixed drinks and laid-back relaxing in their beautiful courtyard. I think those few hours were the clearest and warmest of the entire winter the sequel weekend. The sun did shine and the rain/drizzle/wind held-off. So, with interesting conversations, delicious food, the light of the sun, children playing, bubbles drifting and those mixed drinks! I was feeling pretty good. Mighty, pretty good. Holly, what was in those drinks? I was recalling the divine epidural of '04, when I was so mellow I thought we should leave and find a better place to hang out, and Geoff gently reminded me we were there to have a baby.

Speaking of babies... Oh, Parker! If I showed you his full head of honeyed dark brown hair, you would be overcome with baby love... he is that adorable. Just a day shy of 4 months, and already tuned to everyone and everything around him. He studies the faces he sees and looks ready to make a statement, or recite an epic poem. He is that clever. You may say I am biased, but trust me: This boy is exceptionally yummy.

At the beginning of the party both Izzy and Maria were asleep. I think the happy anticipation of playing together wore them out, and luckily they both woke-up with plenty of time to eat and play and enjoy the gathering.

Grapes. Maria loves grapes. And strawberries, nectarines, watermelon, apples, blackberries, bananas and mangoes. No, not mangoes. I love mangoes.

For the sake of full disclosure, so that I can keep track of this, that, and the other... I am making a list. And my list goes something like this:

1. Garybob, our landlord, asked to come over with prospective tenants. Before fainting, I had the good sense to say, "No, you cannot come over in 24 hours. Please come next Saturday." Then I fainted. Then I woke up and cursed and cried, and then I fainted again. And I have been cleaning ever since I regained consciousness.

2. We had a quiet troglodyte funeral for Lola, laying her to rest in a bed of bougainvillea in the wine barrel. Everyone shared kind words and dear memories of our little chica.

3. Then we had to be brave ranchers and go back to the feed store for a 3rd chick. Not much of a mourning process, I know, but we want 3 hens and waiting is risky.

4. We brought home a barred rock. Also known as a Plymouth. She'll look like Luna, Chickenblog's banner hen. And it's good we did not wait. The chick dynamic was full of upheaval and conflict the first day. The new chick is feisty and aggressive and cocky... uh-oh... let's hope she is not cocky-doodle-do cocky!

5. Everyone in Chickville has settled down, and if I weren't teaching long division and cleaning Garage Mahal, I would be sitting in the yard, holding chicks and designing a darling hen house.

6. I should be cleaning. I should be cleaning. I should be cleaning. I should be cleaning. I should be cleaning. I should be cleaning.

7. We made an offer on a trailer. It comes with land and something that could be a house. I am trying to be indifferent and detached.

Must be like a cat. Cool and collected. Confident. At home, wherever I hang my apron.