Tuesday, August 28, 2007

10 Things Tuesday--Where Have I Been?

A random posting, if you please, accounting for all the things going on at Wayfarer House.

1. School starts this week. Actually, it started two weeks ago in practice, but this is the first week all the staff are back in earnest. It's been a great summer for some, a tough summer for many (a lot of births and deaths), but we're here and we're getting stuff done.

2-4. The list of stuff to be done vis-à-vis number 1, above. Like I said, I've been back for all intents and purposes for two weeks. I've been to school several times and I've been working at home in the evenings to get things ready for school and soccer. My list before yesterday was extensive, but I was moving through it. I sat down yesterday to add to it after our initial welcome meeting (after everyone had tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Nice to see you! Can we meet?"), and I nearly shot myself in the face. Sweet Mary, mother of Jesus, I have a lot of crap to do! So much for giving up the evening coffee.

5. The porch. Our major house project of the summer was to repair and paint the porch. I don't have before pics (Wifeness might, and if you ask she might post them later), but suffice it to say things were rotting off as we watched. It was time. My part of the project involved repair and replacement of all the railings and the bottom 3' of one post that had rotted out. Wifeness gets to strip and paint. It took some 12 hours over 2+ weeks to do my part of it (with kid help), but it's nearly done. I have only a single decorative element to complete. Wifeness will be working on the stripping in the evenings, I expect, over the next little while. If we're lucky, it'll be all done and pretty by the end of September.

6. The tree. Wifeness posted about the excitement from last week. Check her blog out for pics of the mammoth branch that fell, missing everything it could on the way down. I still can't believe we rolled a 99 on that (pardon the D&D reference)! Saturday was taken up almost entirely by de-limbing and clearing debris (and a world of thanks to Mark, whose small chainsaw made that happen before the end of this year). There is a nice mountain of brush waiting to be moved, and someone is coming by in the next couple of days to talk about the possibility of milling the branch for lumber. It'd be nice not to have to just cut it up for firewood.

7. The baby. We took care of Caleb and Maeve's youngest (13 month old) girl so they could celebrate their anniversary away from home. This is really more on Wifeness' list because she spent the night with her, but I tried to stay up, just in case. They came back looking much more at peace.

8. Grocery shopping. 90 minutes and over $200 later. Before that there was...

9. Cleaning out the fridge. This is, without a doubt, the most distasteful kitchen chore there is! Damn, that shit was nasty! But, look at all the room! Oh, wait. It's filled with $200 of groceries. What the crap?!? Now I can't find anything again!

10. The laundry. Somehow, our entire stash of towels needed to be done. That makes the weekly count somewhere around 7 loads. How is this possible, especially since the kids are still running around like refugees from Kosovo? And will you guys stop wiping your blueberry faces on your shirts? There's just not enough stain remover for that.

Somewhere in here, I've managed to enjoy my children, have some small amount of time with my wife and bask in the love and fellowship of chosen family (Beth, Katie, Mark, Lisa, Ben). I have read only 3 pages of my book in the last two weeks, and I haven't even so much as taken a walk in that time (though Saturday certainly counts for exercise--that wood is heavy!)

Here's to hoping the routine of school provides more time for pleasurable pursuits. Yeah, I know. I'm not holding my breath either.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Arse Domestica

We’re leaving for NH today, and I have a list of things to do around the house before we leave. It’s Thursday Thirteen, so here’s the (uninspired and mundane) list:

1-3. Loads of laundry. Two darks and a light. There’s also a basket of stsuff in the living room that has been patiently waiting to be folded. I’ll do that while…

4. Finishing Pan’s Labyrinth. I’ve been trying to watch it for, like, two weeks. It’s a fabulous movie, even if you don’t speak Spanish. The imagery is stunning and the story thoroughly engaging. I recommend it already, even though I haven’t seen all of it. You should know, though, if you don’t already, that it is NOT a film for children. It has an R rating for a reason. There is graphic violence that disturbed even me.

5. Finish World Language ordering for the fall. Being the computer literate one in my department, I get to put the supply order into the computer. A simple task, you might imagine. Well, it might be if people got all the information right. Very often, there are part numbers missing, incorrect page numbers and descriptions that hardly match what it is they’re ordering. It took me a good 3 hours to find all the pieces in just half of the list. I’m hoping the second half goes faster, because I still have to…

6. Cycle through the dishwasher and clean up the kitchen. While I’d love to rip the whole house apart, I’ll settle for what keeps things moving. I still need to make time to…

7. Pack. This takes all of 15 minutes for me, but I also need to pack up the toiletries. Then I can move on to…

8. The next part of the porch. I have two sections of railings done, and the stair rails replaced, but I can’t do any more until I repair the south corner post. It’s all rotted out on the bottom. I picked up lumber yesterday to prop up that part of the porch so I can repair the post, and I’m committed to getting it done before we leave. Once the repairs to the post are complete, I can finish the railings on that side. Then it’s up to Wifeness to paint everything. Before I can get started on this, though, I’ll need to…

9.Make a run to Home Depot. I broke two drill bits and a Phillips head driver yesterday, and I need to replace them to do what I need to. Since I’m destined for an outing, I’ll…

10. Clean out the car. We’re taking my car to NH, so I need to make room in the wayback for luggage. It’s not like that! I’ve been very good about keeping my car clean enough to entertain. Once soccer seasons starts, my car will undoubtedly turn into a gym locker on wheels but, for right now, it’s as it should be, smelling of vanilla and with room for passengers. Finally, there’s some computer work to do…

11. Replies to email. I can tell school is about to start because my Inbox has new messages every time I check it. I’m impressed at the amount of time I spend replying to email. It’s not a bad thing; it’s the most productive and convenient way to get all that stuff done. I wonder how long it would take me to do it all if I didn’t have the technology to help?

12. Get a soccer announcement on the schools’ website. Tryouts for the Main Squad are supposed to take place in two weeks. There’s a mailing going out this week sometime, but I need to make sure that the notice is out there for everyone to find. I have the game schedule to post there also, but I haven’t finalized it yet. That’ll have to wait a week.

13. Get this blog post out. At least I can check one item off the list!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Scenes from a Job Site...

Scene One

“Hey, Papa! Can I help you measure?”

“Sure, kiddo. C’mere.”

Hands child the end of the tape measure.

“Hold it right there, k? “

“You mean like this?”

“Yes, just like that.”

“Can I hold it this way if I want.”

“Uh, sure. Hold it any way you like, so that this part touches right here.”

Runs out tape measure, looking to make sure kiddo is holding the other end in the proper place.

“Um, honey? Where are you supposed to be holding your end?”

Kiddo, absorbed with some other childhood activity, looks down.

“Oh. Right here. Sorry, Papa. What’s the number, Papa?”

“The number??”

“Yeah. The number on the tool.”

“Oh! You mean the measurement on the tape. It’s 79 inches. Can you remember that for me?”

“Sure! 79. Seventy-nine. Seeeeeeeeeventy-niiiiiiiiine. Nineninenineninenine…”

Kiddo wanders off. Papa writes number down because he knows what’s about to happen. Kiddo comes back.

“Papa, what did you say that number was?”

Scene Two

Smaller kiddo appears, holding ear protectors.

“Papa, can I wear your headphones?”

“Sure. Just don’t run off with them, k?”


Kiddo puts ear protectors on, resumes fantasy play involving a stick and a toy cell phone. Papa goes back to work. Two minutes later…

“NiNi, I need my headphones. NiNi... NiNi... NINI!!!

Scene Three

“Papa, can we hammer something?”

Papa looks around. Spies part of the porch that needs to have nails set.

“Sure. Here, you can try and hammer these nails in. Do you each have your hammers?”

Kiddos proudly display hammers.

“OK. Go to town.”

Kiddos throw themselves into the act.


“Papa, we’re done.”

Papa inspects, and determines that no progress whatsoever has been made. In fact, it is entirely possible that the nails have actually been driven OUT of the boards.

“Good job, you guys.”

“Papa, we’re tired and hungry. Can we get a snack?”

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The bugs are back in town, the bugs are back in town…

We discovered lice on the kids again this morning.


It figures that we would find this out just as we were getting ready to leave for a family reunion. We ended up over an hour late because we needed to drop everything and go through both girls’ hair with the fine tooth comb.

How is it possible that those bugs managed to survive, anyway??! It’s not like we weren’t thorough. We cleaned their bedding and clothes. We treated their hair with Nix (which we think was the source of SiSi’s illness a couple of weeks ago), and checked their hair every day for a week. We took care of them! Dammit!

Well, we will not allow them to come back a third time, that’s for sure. The thing about it is that we can’t really use the Nix anymore, at least not on SiSi. It's just not worth the chance of having a pukesick child in the house for another week like that. We decided to try a more gentle method this time.

The girls went to bed tonight in shower caps, with heads covered in mayonnaise. We’ll shower them in the morning and comb the crap out of their hair. We’ll investigate another application of something in a week or so. We’ll do a lot of laundry--in HAWT hot water. We will root out the buggers and we will destroy them. Not very buddhist sounding, is this? Yeah, well, Buddha didn’t have head lice. He didn’t have any hair (at least, not in the Chinese version). If he did, he’d undoubtedly have amended the rule a little bit. Fucking bugs.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Home Improvement Day

Today, Wifeness and I are going to paint and repair the porch. This, on its own, is not terribly challenging, but the children are around and this adds a special twist to everything like this we try to do. To illustrate this, I offer the following example:

My girls (6 and 4) helped me build a picnic table last week. We started at 10am. I measured; they held the tape and remembered the number. I cut lumber to size; they held it, then stacked it when it was cut. I disassembled the old picnic table; they carried the pieces away. I pulled nails from old lumber; they hammered the lumber to death after the nails were pulled. I laid out the legs for the new table; they held the lumber steady while I drilled. I inserted the carriage bolts into the legs; they put on the bolts and washers. They did a great job! By 2pm, we'd managed to actually build half of one of the legs, and they went down for "rest time". By the time they were done with rest, I'd built the rest of the table. It was a great experience for them, and they had a wonderful time. We just didn't set any speed records that day (except, perhaps, the one for the longest time it takes to screw in the nut on a 3½" carriage bolt while not actually stopping in the process).

I'll let you know how this goes...

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Happy birthday, NiNi!

My daughter NiNi officially turned four yesterday, so I’m a day late posting this. It’s fortuitous, though, that it falls on a Thursday. I can use a 13 for Thursday entry to talk about all (well, hardly all) of her wonderful qualities. Here goes…

1. She is incredibly charming, and knows how to use it well. I know a lot of charming kids, but few of these know how to work it to their advantage the way my youngest does. All she has to do is smile, and people do all kinds of things for her. It’s an impressive superpower, really.

2. She has a wonderfully unique laugh. It has developed from a near guffaw to something more giggly, but it still makes you smile even if you weren’t in the greatest mood before you heard it. It’s one of the reasons why she gets tickled so damn much. People just love to hear her laugh. She’s a “Tickle Me NiNi”!

3. She is teenie-weenie. The kid is 4 years old, and fights in the same division as Elena, the 12 month old baby of Caleb and Maeve, who live upstairs. She’s also really skinny. Like, I can nearly circle her leg with my middle finger and thumb. But all together, the package of this little girl is cute beyond words. I’ll look to see if I can find a picture to show you. If you haven’t yet, you need to see for yourself.

4. She can eat more pancakes than you. I’m serious! The kid doesn’t just break her fast, she smothers it! I’ve seen her eat half again the amount of food I do on Saturday morning. When she’s done, she’s got this belly that sticks out, and she looks for all the world like a refugee from some third world nation. Slap some dirt on her face and stick her next to Sally Struthers, and you’ve got an instant ad for CARE.

5. She cannot walk in a straight line to save her life, except in heels. I shit you not. It’s unreal. I’ve never seen anything like that before, and in a 4 year-old, no less. Who was she in a past life, that she can do this?

6. She eats beets. Have you ever known a kid her age to eat beets? In a ham sandwich? With wheat bread? C’mon!

7. She can sleep at the drop of a hat, and go for 12 hours easy. I think she gets this from my mother, who is a master at the art of sleeping. In a given day, she can sleep until 8:00am, get up and do her thing until lunch, take a nap at 2:00pm for two hours and still be perfectly ready for bed at 8:00pm. She fights rest time more now than she used to, but since she clearly has all the staying power of ice cream in Miami, I keep enforcing it. It’s good for her.

8. She leads a delightfully rich internal life. She is able to totally withdraw into an imaginary world when she wants, and is perfectly comfortable there for an hour or two. This is certainly convenient for the Papa, since he’s often able to get more done when she’s in that space than when she’s trying to insert herself into my to-do list.

9. She is a great snuggler/cuddler/lap kid. It may be her size, but you totally want to pick this kid up and bury your face in her neck. Unless it’s hot. Then she’s just sticky. Ewwww!

10. She is a true girlie-girl. Unlike her sister, who is much more physical in her preferences for entertainment, NiNi is perfectly content to go shopping. Especially if there are stores that sell shoes and handbags. The child is FOUR. YEARS. OLD. What the hell does she know from shoes and handbags??! I’m telling you, though, she knows her footwear, and she knows how to accessorize.

11. She can wash her own hair, beat an egg brutally into submission and put away her own clothes. I’m very proud of both my children’s independence, but particularly NiNi’s. Her size is such a limiting factor to so many things in her world: She can’t quite turn the water off in the bathroom because the faucet sticks; she can’t quite open the car door by herself; she is still in a 5-point harness carseat. Yet, she is still fiercely driven to do things herself whenever she can. Good on you, kiddo!

12. She has good instincts when it comes to trusting people. I’ve watched her latch on to people she’s never met, and be quite comfortable with them (Kizz is a good example). I’ve also watched her refuse to allow someone to take her, when she didn’t feel safe with them. Watching her in this behavior over time, I can see that she has well-developed radar for good people. Of course, that won’t keep me from teaching her how to protect herself from predators when we’re not around, but I don’t want her to ever lose touch with this ability. It will serve her well when the time comes to pick friends, go on dates and engage in business dealings. She won’t get screwed or heartbroken nearly as often, if she remembers to trust her instincts about human nature.

13. She is a true Leo, just like her papa. It leads to some conflict every now and again between us, but as she grows and I learn more about her, I think we’ll make an amazing team. With two powerful lions, Wayfarer House is, indeed, a force to be reckoned with! Rowwrr!

A pretty impressive kid, don’t you think? I'm glad she chose me to be her papa.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Value of Chosen Family

It's late, but I wanted to take a minute to say just how wonderful and thoroughly enriching it is to have someone you love, and whom you gladly count among your chosen family, bless you with their presence.

Auntie Fran is in the area on vacation for only a few days, but she made a point of setting aside this entire evening for Wayfarer House. She arrived just before evening meal and stayed until well past 11pm; every moment was like being wrapped in a warm, soft, goodsmelly* blanket. She is such a heartwarming person, and I cannot help be feel a little unworthy of such love and friendship as she offers without reservation. It serves to remind me of just how important it is to offer the same to her, and also to everyone else.

Do you have someone like Fran in your world, a member of your chosen (or blood) family who brings peace and love every time they visit^? Someone who can be gone from your world for a long time but, when they come back, it is like they've never really been far away? Please take this opportunity to share these people here, or on your own blogs. Just give them some love!

* "Goodsmelly" is a word in the Wayfarer House dictionary. It comes from one of my students several years ago, and is a great word to use when you don't want to communicate a particular kind of pleasing smell, and you want the gestalt of the adjective to focus on the person, not the object. Curious, isn't it, that there is no word in English that does this already?

^ The use of the 3rd person plural as a genderless singular pronoun is something that undoubtedly will offend purists of English grammar. I will defend its usage because there is simply no other convenient option in English that accomplishes the same thing. It is no longer politically correct to use the masculine to indicate both genders, and the use of both pronouns reads awkwardly, no matter what form it takes. The use of "they" to indicate "he and/or she" has crept into colloquial use because it makes sense. It is the only third person pronoun that includes both genders simultaneously. I accept it on that basis as an appropriate adaptation of the language to the needs of the particular society that uses it.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Tour de la Campagne--Stage 3

Friday, July 6

7h30: It’s a gorgeous morning, filled with sun and promise! I can’t believe I’m in as good a mood as this, given what’s ahead. Maybe it's that special New York air. Maybe it's that special blend of "continental breakfast" coffee. Maybe I’m just excited because I’ve worked myself up into a nice lather over the mountains I'm climbing today. In any event, I’m in good spirits and rarin' to go. I patched the flat from yesterday before I grabbed some of the aforementioned "continental" breakfast. I’ll pack up in just a second.

Today is the day Wifeness and the girls catch up to me. They’re supposed to leave Wayfarer House around noon with Auntie Alex (who is coming on vacation with us, the fricking weirdo). My guess is that they’ll find me somewhere around 3pm. I wonder where that will be?

A review of the map confirms that the directions for the first part of this stage are as simple as they can be. Route 28 West to Pine Hill. I think the sign in the background says “34 miles”. That’s 34 miles straight up into the mountains at 4%. Pfft! I got that. You like this show of confidence? It’s masking a lot of inadequacies right now.

8h30: I’m on the road and the hill starts out pretty much as soon as I hit the highway. Fortunately, the road is wide and well paved, with a broad shoulder and plenty of visibility. It’s also a consistent uphill grade, so I can settle back into the seat and just focus on the climbing. It’s helpful when you can just withdraw into yourself and block out everything but the act of pushing and pulling the pedals. It makes the time pass by as smoothly (and as mindlessly) as it can.

I have a scenic detour built into this stage: A short (8-mile) trip around Ashokan Reservoir, one of the many reservoirs in this part of the state that supply water to New York City. It’s only 4 miles up the road. I may pay for it later, but I’m feeling really good, so I think I'll take it.

The road up to the reservoir is perfectly tranquil. There are occasional houses here, but I can see more seasonal camps tucked back just off the road down little used rutted vehicle paths. I can appreciate why someone would want to come up here. It’s beautiful! I come upon the spillway for the reservoir in just a couple of miles (see photo, right). That mountain in the distance (below) is Pine Hill, I think. Looks tall enough, doesn’t it?

I little further on, I come to a bridge that crosses the reservoir. It’s a picturesque spot to stop, so I enjoy a snack and take in the view (pic at end of post).

It’s only a mile or two back to Route 28, where the climbing resumes.

10h15 (25 miles/40km//168 miles/270km total): I’m feeling tired. I’ve been climbing for almost two hours, so that could certainly be part of the equation, but it feels more like I’m in need of some electrolytes. I wonder when I’ll come across someplace that sells Gatorade? Ah! Here’s something.

Well, it’s not the Four Seasons or anything, but there’s a vending machine just behind that car on the left. That works!

11h35 (36 miles/58km//179 miles/288km total): Buoyed by my overpriced energy drink, I’ve managed to make it to Pine Hill. I’ve been told that I’m not done climbing yet, though. There’s a little bit more before I’ve reached the high point of the road.

12h00: There it is.

This picture doesn’t really show you just how steep it is. Hold on…

There! That’s about right. The lady I spoke to a couple of miles ago says this is the last section. Conquer this, and it’s (fairly) smooth sailing from here to Margaretville. Fine. Bring it, then.

12h20: Well, now, I don’t mind saying that this part of the climb certainly lived up to the hype. It was steeeeeeeep and about .9mi/1.6km. I also don’t mind saying that I totally kicked its ass! Boo-yah! That was empowering! It also drained me of about half my body’s fluid reserves. I’ll just stop here and drink six gallons of water. It has not escaped my notice that "The Final Countdown" by Asia is playing on mp3.

12h35 (49 miles/79km//192 miles/309km total): I’ve just passed Margaretville. I have a while to go before I turn onto the road that takes me to Roscoe, where we’ll be staying for the night. I could choose to ride all the way to Hancock (my scheduled end point), but that would put my mileage total up over 100 for the day. I’m just not sure I want to abuse myself to that degree with 200 miles still to go. Going straight to Roscoe is half the distance, and it would save the van an extra trip up to Hancock to drop me off to start. I can just leave from Roscoe in the morning.

One of those “scattered” afternoon thunderstorms hit just a moment ago. The picture I took after it passed doesn’t show it, but the rain evaporating off the hot asphalt created fog like conditions that were simply incongruous with a bright, sunny day. It was also strange because it was only from about 20 feet down to the road. The fog was thick, though, and I was forced to take a break for a good 30 minutes to allow the visibility to improve. I've taken off my shoes and I'm walking around to keep my legs loose. I really don't want them to turn to cement at this point!

15h35 (63 miles/101km//206 miles/332km total): Wifeness’ red van just passed me! It took a little longer than I thought it would for us to meet, but I’m excited that they’ve found me. I've missed them! Here are my kids expressing their excitement.

So much strangeness!

It’s starting to rain again. Wifeness backtracked to ask me if I just want to put the bike on the back and ride to the hotel in the van. It’s a tempting offer, but I really don’t. I don’t relish getting soaked again, but I really want to ride the whole way. I’ll feel somehow like I cheated myself of the honor if I don’t and it’s important for me to be able to say at the end that I did it all. No, I’ll bike it, thanks. We decide to meet up at the intersection to the road to Roscoe. It’s probably a dozen miles out. I’d better get moving. This rain isn’t going to make it pass any faster.

15h35 (70 miles/113km//213 miles/343km total): What the crap! I’m at the meeting point where we would turn to go to Roscoe, but the road is closed! There’s no indication as to why, and I’m immediately tempted just to ride it. The thing is, though, that the van can’t follow me. They have to drive all the way out to Hancock and cut back--35 miles or more. What’s more, if I get down the road and discover that it is, in fact, impassible, I’d have to backtrack and then do those 35+ miles. That’d put my mileage at over 115 for the day if I made a bad choice, and it’s already nearly 5pm. I’m not sure I’d finish the long mileage before dark if I had to do ride it, and I’m not well equipped for riding in the dark. I’m just not willing to take the risk. Bitterly, I put my bike on the back of the van, peel out of my wet, smelly riding clothes, change into something dry and climb in. I’ll end up leaving from Roscoe in the morning, and take it as equivalent mileage.

All told, this was a great day! I made it through the mountains in good form and, except for the road closure, had no issues to contend with that weren’t related to climbing. I didn’t even have to deal with a flat! I’m feeling good about my chances to make it the rest of the way. I won’t have to carry a lot of heavy gear, starting tomorrow, and I should be descending out of the mountains. Yay! Downhills are nice!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Cats are desert creatures (and so am I)

Overheard earlier this week, when the temps hit 96ºF/35ºC.

Wifeness: [flap, flap, pant] It is TOO f#$%-ing hot!

Me (waiting until Wifeness is out of earshot, so as not to offend): [sighing contentedly]

Thursday, August 2, 2007

As seen from a different viewpoint...

While I was trawling the web for a image to use in my new header, I came across an exquisite photo of a tranquil park and bridge.

I might have used this pic instead of my eventual choice had my wife not pointed out to me that it was already out there, being used on another blog. Some of you might be able to tell me from where, so I'll make it a contest. The first comment with a correct answer gets a free i-ching reading. And yes, if you own the blog, you can answer. Here's the pic:

So, do you recognize it? Where in Blogland have you seen it before? I'll wait a couple of days to see who can come up with an answer. Wifeness, you've already found the answer, so no helping. You get a special prize (::snicker::) for pointing out a potential blog gaff.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

May I borrow your eyes, please?

TMH inspired me to pretty up my blog a little. This is what I had time for last night. I want to play around with it some more because I'm not happy with the layout, but that's not necessarily why I'm soliciting opinions. I need the help of those of you who can see color (better than I can).

I like the picture in the header a lot, and I think I did all right in creating a color scheme for that is based on the colors in it, but here's the thing: There are a lot of funky shades of shit I can't see, and I just don't trust my work.

When I was a graphic designer, there were lots of ways I could verify that I had the right color for my artwork, even if I couldn't see it. Sort of like Beethoven writing music he couldn't hear, except that I didn't create masterpieces (well, they might be termed "pieces", but not of the "master" variety). In XML, the tools are different and the conversion between blog colors and the standard for digital work (RGB) is not entirely smooth. I'm curious to know from you, the fullychromatic population, if I managed to come close.

I recognize that, due to differences in monitors, lighting and environment, none of you will see the exact same thing. That's fine. My concern is only that you didn't look at it and go, "Creeping crunchy Christ on a cracker, that is the ugliest color scheme I've ever seen!"

Once I've got the colors down, I can feel comfortable futzing with the content and layout. That may take me the rest of the year, but at least I'll feel like it's possible. Thank you, in advance, for your help!

NOTE: SiSi is FINALLY eating again, and was much perkier today as a result. She's going to care tomorrow, so I'll have a chance to catch up on some email, blog replies and Stage 3 (I have the text written but no pics).