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We hiked up to the park on Saturday to take some family photos before I start radiation and chemo treatment. I brought the Fuji and the Yashica, loaded with a half a roll of black and white film. We walked down to a wooded, open area beside the river and did some tripod shooting with the timer, which was difficult due to the sun going in and out of the clouds; none of the shots metered the same. Then, based on some advice from a nearby hiker, we walked up a nearby trail to a beautiful waterfall and shot some more.

I’ve been having problems getting consistent color with the Fuji and I don’t know if it’s how I’m working with the camera or how I’m importing and processing in Lightroom. I want to love this camera more but it feels like the results I’m getting are regressing the more I shoot with it. I’m also concerned that my skill level is regressing.

The Yashica is a crapshoot and I have no idea if anything I’ve shot will come out, but that’s been the fun part. I’ve got two rolls of 120 dating back to our vacation that I’m keen to have developed, two rolls I shot with the Minolta, and another roll I found in the Rolleicord I’d forgotten about. Most of the stuff I shot with the Yashica was guesstimated by using the meters from other cameras, but I’ve been working on getting a Gossen Super Pilot light meter to work for the past couple of weeks. After some confusion with the replacement battery I purchased, I got it working relatively well. I’ve still got to do some testing with a modern camera to see if the readings are correct.

All of the film is getting sent off to thedarkroom.com, who developed a handful of mystery film for us back in April. My fingers are crossed for a couple of good shots from each roll; I’d love to get some blown-up silver gelatin prints of us from each, if possible.

Date posted: October 8, 2017 | Filed under family, photo, photography | Leave a Comment »

I’m writing from an uncomfortable IKEA couch in the living room of our rental, which is only steps from the beach and is thus the most awesome IKEA couch in Delaware. It’s day 13 of our two-week vacation and I’m trying not to accept the reality of our impending drive home on Saturday; we’ve got one half-day on the sand left and then we are slaves to a typewritten sheet of directions on the fridge: make the beds, vacuum the floors, lock the windows, set the AC to 77˚.

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Our stay has been lazy and carefree and unstructured as possible, which is exactly the way we planned it. Slow mornings to rise, gather some breakfast together, form coherent thoughts, and begin organizing for the beach. Make some sandwiches, pack a cooler with water and alcohol, grab some cheesy-poofs and find a dry suit to wear. Grab a towel, drop clean clothes off at the outdoor shower, and assemble downstairs at the beach buggy.

We have experienced the luxury of a beachside house twice. It is the difference between carrying everything for a five hour stay out to the sand or just grabbing a chair and a cold beer. This house is perched between the road and the edge of the barrier channel between Delaware and the bay; the public access path is steps from the driveway across the road. It’s only just on the other side of the road, but it means we must pack like the Joads heading to California every day. The buggy carries our chairs, the tent, the umbrella, all the toys, the cooler(s), a couple of floats, and the kite. Wide wheels make it easy to pull over the sand, and it collapses into a packable unit. After a couple of days we got the assembly of our beach camp down to a science, and learned what had to come with us and what we could leave behind. I also learned that the Coleman half-tent I got on sale at Amazon was worth less than what I paid for it.

Jen, Rob, Karean and Me

The first week we shared with Karean and Zachary, and it was good for the five of us even though there was a giant empty space where Rob should have been. Karean brought a picture of the four of us, which we’ve kept on the shelf since we got here, and I find myself looking at it multiple times a day. For the first few days Zachary obsessed over Minecraft until the iPad mysteriously disappeared but once he’d forgotten about it he and Finn settled in to an easy working relationship. Our days were relaxed and the weather was excellent; the first few days the water was balmy and mild. We took a break from the sun on Wednesday to hit Rehobeth for some games and fun, and had some dinner in town to break things up.

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On their final day, Karean and I walked out to the beach to scatter some of Rob’s ashes in the water. I stayed several steps behind and tried not to intrude, terrified I would say something/the wrong thing. I watched her from the tide line until she beckoned me down into the water. She gave me a handful, which I gripped in one hand as I said a prayer to the ocean, and I let the wind take it from me.

Pensive Float Boy

Rob and Karis joined us for our second week, and we’ve integrated them into our loose routine. We got chased from the beach on Monday by high winds and Tuesday was nothing but driving rain. Wednesday cleared up, but the wind was still strong and the surf powerful. Thursday the water was placid, and Rob got Barrett slowly over his fear of the water by early afternoon.

Finn was lucky to find a friend a few houses up the beach, named Jenna, and they quickly went off together to collect horseshoe crabs, spin cartwheels, and jump in the surf. I walked over and chatted up her parents, who seem like lovely people, and Jen and I breathed a sigh of relief to know she’d have a playmate her age for our second week. On Wednesday they were nice enough to invite Finn back to their house, so we paid it back by taking her into Milton for some ice cream.

Harvey kicked the shit out of Houston but seems to have affected us only slightly; apart from Wednesday’s storm and the rough surf on the days before and after, we’ve enjoyed warm, calm weather with only a few overcast days. Overall, it’s been an ideal two weeks, and we’re already making plans for next year.

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Since hosting my parents earlier this year, I’ve been working on a recipe for Manhattans so that I could prove to my father they don’t need to taste like turpentine. I followed some recommendations from Esquire and wound up with a midlevel rye whiskey and vermouth, which made a middling Manhattan. When Matt came into town, he gave me some advice on better quality ingredients. When we hit the liquor store upon arriving in Milton I picked up some Bulleit rye whisky and a bottle of the only sweet vermouth I could find. This made a shitty Manhattan. Later I was able to get a bottle of Dolan vermouth and this made all the difference in the world. I’m now at the end of the Bulleit but will be looking for some Blantons when I get home.

Date posted: September 1, 2017 | Filed under family, friends, travel | 1 Comment »

I realize I’ve been sort of light on details around here lately. The weeks leading up to the 4th of July were a hot, sticky blur of activity as the family and I got the house put together for our guests. I spent several weeks on ladders scraping and painting the windows from the back corner of the house around to the front, and made it as far as priming the front windows before I ran out of time. Jen went nuts with mulch and cleaned up the entire yard. Our front garden looks healthy and lush this year, for the first time since we’ve lived here. All of the wood is cleared out of the backyard minus three big rounds, which are tucked up against the woodpiles waiting for a chainsaw. Unfortunately, the week before the parade, the original cradle, which was built over 10 years ago, decided to fall apart and topple over at about 1AM. I moved the wood off to the side, quickly made repairs to both cradles, and the girls and I restacked everything.

The day before the parade, our kegerator decided to crap out. It had been making a bubbling sound for a few months so I knew the time was near, but all of our beer was getting warm. I pulled all of the loose bottles and cans out and iced them in a cooler and left it for after the parade. The replacement I bought is 1″ narrower but both kegs fit just fine. I built a new collar around the top out of trex and got the lid mounted, and all of the beer is back to just-north-of-slushy 39˚.

This weekend we decided to spend some time on the cars. I made a quick dump run (old cooler: bye-bye) and then we busted out the cleaning supplies and aimed them at the CR-V. All the mats came out and everything got vacuumed. Then we got the soap out and washed the outside, sills, rockers, and roof. I pulled the spare tire off and scrubbed the leaves out from underneath. I even used some engine brite to degrease the motor. The clearcoat may be peeling off the hood, but the rest of it looks like a new vehicle. Finally, Jen asked if I would show the girls how to change a flat tire, so we held a clinic in the driveway.

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Then it was off to Oregon Ridge for our friend Jen’s client appreciation party, something we’ve done almost every year since she started them. She’s an old friend from the Cidera days and she has ice cream and bubbles and facepainting and Finley has always loved it. This year she had food and Kona Ice and we got to catch up with friends under a big pavilion in the shade.

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The whole weekend has been awesome weather, actually; Sunday the humidity was low so I took advantage and did a bike ride with my neighbors through Patapsco, stopped for a bloody mary at the bottom of the hill, and then rode home. My legs felt like jello but it was worth the workout. Then after Finn’s piano lesson we took the bikes across the street to get her rolling on two wheels. She was nervous at first but pushed off and within seconds was doing easy laps around the parking lot. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

Date posted: July 10, 2017 | Filed under family, finn, friends, house, photo | Leave a Comment »

Date posted: July 4, 2017 | Filed under family, photo | Leave a Comment »

Today I ticked off about ten things on this summer’s giant to-do list, starting with getting my ladder back from the brother-in-law. He’s had it since last fall when they were having some gutter issues, and I didn’t need it until I saw buckets of water coming down from the center section of our atrium gutter and knew I needed to get up there to clean them out.

But first, in the morning I loaded up the Scout with 6 months’ worth of crap for a dump run and got in and out of there in 20 minutes flat. This cleared out the garbage can area by the garage and a pile of brush that’s been sitting next to the driveway since last fall. Then Finley and I took a drive to the Home Depot to get a replacement canopy and some other small items for scraping windows.

Up on the ladder I got the gutters cleaned pretty quickly and then started washing and scraping the windows that are staying (5 out of 7). That got finished pretty quick, and I was about to bust out the primer when a friend stopped by so that I could shoot her headshot for LinkedIn. I’d brought home the Canon portrait rig from work and with a piece of illustration board as a light bounce we got some good shots of her, Jen and Finley in no time.

After that was done I headed over to the neighbors’ to help him finish splitting wood.  I worked for about 2 hours in the sun and we got a couple of big rounds split and stacked, then called it a day.

* * *

Having flown my Phantom 2 a bunch of times in the past couple of weeks, I can say I’m getting the hang of it, but I’m seeing some of the limitations of a 3-year-old product. The video monitor it came with is an odd variant of a DVD monitor with no inputs other than an antenna. I can’t dig up technical information on it and no manual exists online. It’s good but I’d love an HD monitor instead (this is a pitiful 800×480), with a stronger signal. The camera gimbal it came with is specific to the GoPro Hero 3, which is a fine unit, but doesn’t shoot at anything above 30FPS. I’ve read that the key to smooth video is shooting at 60FPS, which the Hero 4 will do. A new gimbal mount is $200. This is all stuff I don’t need to spend money on, but I’d love to tinker with it more.

Finley and I took it out for another spin on Sunday night and soon had attracted a crowd of local kids. Finley, who is always happy to invite total strangers to her birthday party, ran right over and told them about the drone, then started inviting the kids to fly it. Which then meant I had to break the bad news to them. I’m getting the hang of how it flies, and although I’m not Chuck Yeager I’m beginning to make it do what I want.

Meanwhile at work, my boss went to a networking function where a woman gave a presentation on 360˚ immersive video. He was enthralled, and thus I am playing with a Samsung Gear 360 this weekend. It’s a pretty nice little gadget, but because it’s Samsung and they want to try and play Apple’s game of keeping users within their ecosystem, their iOS app is isn’t as robust as the Samsung version, but I’m working out some of the bugs and learning about (if there’s a) production workflow.

* * *

I love Death Cab for Cutie, and I loved Soundgarden. Here’s a cover of Fell On Black Days by DCFC where Ben Gibbard just barely pulls off the high end of Chris Cornell’s insane high range, and their version is arranged perfectly for acoustic instruments and piano.

Date posted: June 12, 2017 | Filed under family, geek, house, photography | Leave a Comment »

When I tell people that I’m starting to exercise, I don’t tell them that I’m running. Because I’m not running. I went out and bought the expensive shoes, and even some expensive sport socks that are supposed to wick the sweat away from my feet. And even some sporty shorts that will replace the irregular basketball shorts I bought at a long-defunct Champion outlet in Binghampton 20 years ago. I tell people that I’m working up to running, because I can only get 1-2 minute spurts in before I’ve got to slow down and let the puking feeling subside. I’m following a very loose and forgiving plan where I run as long as it feels good and then stop to continue walking, as long as I keep walking and stick with a schedule. So far I’ve been out four days out of seven and I’m still alive even if all my joints are sore and it hurts to climb stairs; this activity on top of my regular weekly chores around the house adds up to continual soreness. However, I think I’m feeling an uptick in my overall energy level, and I think my brain feels a little less fuzzy. I’ll check back in at the end of Week 2.

Saturday morning, after walking, I jumped in the car and checked out the local yard sales while the girls slept. In the line at Dunkin Donuts I ran into a neighbor who asked what I was out looking for, and I told him I had my eye out for a cheap set of speakers, among other things. He looked surprised and told me he had a pair in his garage he’d give me. We made plans to meet up later, and went our separate ways.

Out on the street, I found a handtruck with two flat tires and got it for $10 (I’ve been looking for one for years but unwilling to pay $80 for it), a gravel rake for $2, and a half-size practice guitar for Finn for $9. The hope is that maybe I’ll dust off my guitar and she and I can sit and practice together, and get each other motivated.

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When I got back, the girls and I cleaned the weeds from between the bricks on the front walk and then swept two bags of sand into the joints, capping off that job. Then I went to get my hair cut and drove back to the house with six bales of straw in the Scout for use as a raised garden base. We gave up on the fenced-in mudpit garden a while ago, but Finley has been asking for a vegetable garden of her own for a couple of years. This approach keeps the weeds up out of the plants and is easier to work with; I sure hope so. We pulled the fence down, weeded the pit, and set the hay up as directed. Then I stopped over to pick up the speakers: a set of bookshelf KLHs, perfect for use in the garage with the dumpster Denon on the shelf out there. I enlisted Finley’s help to get the wheels on the handtruck pumped up, and they held air well until this morning when I found them both flat again. Upon further research, I need some tire bead sealant to paint the rims with first, and that should solve the problem.

Then we hit the shower and got dressed up to see a local concert: the Columbia Orchestra had a symphonic pops program with music from Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, Dr. Zhivago, and Rocky, among others, but we were really there to see the two selections from The Force Awakens. That was after the intermission, so we sat through the other performances, including two high-school students who did complex solo pieces with orchestral accompaniment–and were amazing. I will admit, the sound of the strings tuning at the beginning, and the lush sweep of a full orchestra had me thinking back to my days on stage, and I felt a strong desire to go find an upright bass on Craigslist and audition. But I’ve got enough stuff to do right now, thank you.

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Sunday I got the lawn mowed and raked wood chips out of the grass for the third time; there are now seven bags of assorted lawn debris in the backyard waiting to be hauled away. The patches of mud back there are looking better now, but I’m waiting for some grass to grow back in. I’ll have to seed it all and throw some more straw down next week to get things kickstarted.

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Then we joined some friends for a hike in the woods after lunchtime. The weather was cool, so we weren’t sweating our butts off, but we got out for a good three hours with some water time and a close encounter with a freight train before heading home.

Date posted: May 23, 2017 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

We’ve been cursed with rain for the past three weeks, with intermittent days of warm sunshine. Usually these days fall on workdays when I’m stuck in a pair of chinos at my desk in DC unable to take advantage of the situation.

Saturday was one of those rainy days. We decided to make lemonade by getting out of the house and spending time together, running errands and taking Finley to be tested for a gifted and talented program at Johns Hopkins. They want to see where the kids fall in their ability to think, not measure how smart they are, reasoning that this is a better predictor of future success. Finn was a little nervous going in but came out feeling good about the whole experience, so we did some clothes returning and then some shopping, where I scored a sweet pair of black wingtip oxfords, Mama a dress, and Finley some much-needed summer clothes. Then we stopped in at a favorite sushi restaurant and celebrated.

It’s been a long, boring road, but we’re beginning to think she might be coming out of the flavor desert she’s had us trapped in for years. Up until that point she was a fearless omnivore, unafraid to try anything new and in possession of a gourmand’s taste buds. At about four that ability dried up and she wanted buttered noodles all the time. We don’t negotiate with terrorists, so this made meals difficult to navigate. We basically had to find stuff we’d all eat within the narrow confines of her taste.

At the sushi restaurant Mama and I got daring and tried a couple of wild new rolls we’d never had before, and each found them delicious. Finley, who had her own California roll, saw what we were eating and asked to try one, and then the other. We then had to stop her from eating the rest of our dinner. This and a couple of other smaller signs could mean she’s beginning to come around again–which would be fantastic.

Sunday was sunny and warmer, so I got out in the yard and started cleaning. First up was to finish staining the playset, which got done at about 11. Next I cleaned up the woodpile and got the bark in one area and the rest of the debris into bags. There’s big patches of mud under there but it doesn’t look like a brontosaurus shat all over the yard anymore (well, except for the pile of bark).

Then I pulled the grape trellis stakes out of the ground and cut down three newer, taller ones to replace them.  I was at the point where I could put them in when we had to clean up and run across the street for Finn’s piano recital. She did great for a kid who had just smeared both knees across the sidewalk in front of the church, requiring disposal of her mangled tights and four band-aids before her performance.

We had the neighbors’ kids over for playtime afterwards, and as I was finishing the yardwork their parents walked over with some drinks and we enjoyed the evening sunshine catching up. They invited us for dinner, so we grabbed some drinks and steak fries and made an evening of it on their deck while the kids played past their bedtime.

 

Date posted: May 16, 2017 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »

Learning about airplanes

Last Friday I took a day off work to take my folks down to the Udvar-Hazy museum outside of Dulles airport. They’ve been in town for a couple of days while my Dad gets some more testing done at Hopkins, and there are several days in between each of the appointments. We decided to have Finn join us, so she got an extra day of spring break tacked on.

My Dad hasn’t seen the museum yet, and in his mind he thought we would be walking around outside in a big field. When we pulled up to the building, he said, “That’s a big airport.” I don’t think he was prepared for the size and scope of it.

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Since the last time we were down there (about 10 years ago), it’s gotten updated and they’ve added to the collection. The restoration hangar in back is now open, so we got to see the Apollo 11 Command Module sitting down on the floor, the fuselage of the Flak Bait, and the Sikorsky JRS-1, the only remaining plane that was present at Pearl Harbor during the attack.

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The space hall has been expanded upon, and they’ve dramatically increased the exhibits on either end of the main hall with commercial aviation, rotary wing aircraft, and additions to the warbird collection. We walked for about 4 hours, taking a break in the middle for lunch, after which Finn and I tried out the simulators. She was nervous at first, so we tried the one on hydraulic jacks, and it turned out that she loved it. Then we tried a dogfight simulator that spun 360˚ horizontally to simulate rolls and flips; I think Finn had fun but she was squealing too loudly to know for sure.

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Saturday I took the family out with me on errands to get everyone out of the house, so we hit the Lowe’s, the Target, and then the runner’s store so that I could get fitted for specialized running shoes. This took about 45 minutes, as they made me run in place, checked my arches, and then showed me some sneakers. I wound up leaving with fancy insoles and a pair of Adidas running shoes, which I intended to start breaking in this week.

We came home and took advantage of the weather to get out into the backyard and clean up the leaves; Jen cleared out the driveway while we were gone and I cleaned up the woodpile area after getting home. Sunday was more of the same; we got outside and worked in the warm weather. I’ve been throwing stuff in the garage since the weather got cold, and so I haven’t been able to access anything behind the Scout for four months. A couple of hours of organization later, everything was in its right place and made more sense.

Moving some car parts around, I was carrying one of the spare Scout windshields across the open area when my right foot came down on a piece of wood the wrong way. Because I was carrying about 100 lbs. of metal and glass, the effect was magnified, and I felt a searing pain on the outside of my foot below the ankle. At first I thought it was a sprain but a spot on my foot swelled up to the size of a golf ball, so we drove out to the urgent care to have it X-rayed. They diagnosed it as a fracture and sent me home with a giant ski boot, which I am wearing until I see the orthopedist on Friday.

Date posted: April 13, 2017 | Filed under family, house | Leave a Comment »

I’m sitting on the couch drinking an oatmeal stout with my brain turned almost completely off. The last week has been a blur, with family in town, a freelance gig, several appointments, and a large event happening at work all at once.

Family was the high point; my sister drove down from NY for Second Christmas and we all enjoyed opening presents in January (especially Finn, who had the lion’s share.). Renie had to bomb in and out due to work, and so only got to spend Saturday with us before heading home on Sunday. We did have a great afternoon, ate a delicious dinner, watched the playoffs, and went to bed early. Thus ends my season of holiday eating; I’m throttling way back on desserts and heavy foods because I feel like it’s gaining on me.

The kittens are settling in well with everyone; Bellatrix (hereafter known as Trixie) is chill by day but a raving terror at night. Nox will let me pick him up and lay in my arms like a drugged-out hippie for as long as I want to scratch his head. The two of them wrestle and fight and chase each other around the house, then pass out cold for hours at a time. As much as I hate cleaning a litterbox, it’s great to have the sound of paws on the floor again.

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I took on a freelance gig last Wednesday, figuring I could knock it out in a couple of days, but was only able to really get to it over the weekend. The sketch went together quickly but the client asked to change the view after I’d gone to final art, so I had to redo the whole thing Monday night. It was a pretty simple job but it could finance the purchase of something I’ve been thinking about for a while–an iPad Pro. This would allow for the use of a pen and real-time drawing on the screen for illustration, something I’ve been waiting on for 10 years. One of my self-improvement goals for the year is to commit to drawing again, and find a workflow to make illustration fast and easy from sketch to screen. I think this might be the answer, and my ultimate goal would be to make it another source of income by the end of the year.

We held one of our major events at work Wednesday morning, which was the culmination of two weeks’ work for my team and about a months’ writing time for the larger group. My designers are aces and knocked together a great deck, and the system we put into place for production a few years ago helped streamline the process. Meanwhile, during production last week, I accidentally spilled coffee into my laptop, thus frying it, and had to scramble for a replacement. The IT guys gave me a castoff machine that wasn’t booting, and after some work I got it up and running, set up my workspace, and scraped the stickers off the case. It’s two years older than the dead unit but it’s the same form factor and has more memory. With a larger hard drive it should be usable, and I’m not going to complain one bit.

Using my personal laptop in the interim, it became clear how painfully slow a seven year old machine is. I can still make good use of it–so I purchased a SSD to speed up the disk. At some point this year I’m going to have to bite the bullet and buy a new machine; the question is whether I go all-in on a Thunderbolt-only MacBook Pro or get one of the last multi-port models available.

 

Date posted: January 12, 2017 | Filed under apple, art/design, family | Leave a Comment »

Jen traveled to Southern Maryland to attend a funeral on Saturday, which meant Finley and I were on our own for the majority of the day. I told her ahead of time that we were going to be handling a lot of errands, and asked her to be my co-pilot.

We started out with some breakfast after seeing Jen off. Down the street we got some BE&C and then completed that day’s Advent activity: reindeer droppings for breakfast. This was more delicious than it sounds–a bagful of chocolate munchkins at Dunkin Donuts look suspiciously like the real thing. Next, we hit the bank. From there, we drove into the city to go pick up a company lens I had dropped off for repair at the camera store a few weeks back.

While we were there I looked at a couple of used Fuji lenses and then asked if I could see the 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 zoom. I’ve been looking at this lens online for weeks. I’m committing to building a Fuji kit that spans a wide range of focal lengths, and this lens fills the middle to long-range gap. I hemmed and I hawed, but the focus speed and range sold me, so I put the money down for it.

Finn and I returned home and took a short break before going back out again, which was fortunate because just then I got a call from the contractor, who wanted to come by and see the bathroom space. I walked him through the area and he took measurements on windows and square footage, and hopefully we’ll get an estimate in hand sometime this week.

Then we warmed up the Scout and went out Christmas shopping for Jen. After taking care of that task, we hit the Panera on our way back for a late lunch. As we looked at the menu, a nice man told me I’d left our headlights on, so we went out and checked. This was a false alarm (the sun’s reflection sure did look like it) but we struck up a conversation as Finn and I came back inside. It turns out he’s got a diesel Scout he rescued from a barn, and Peer Pressure is the first Scout he’s seen around these parts. I wrote my email on a napkin and told him to get in touch so that we can set up a day to meet up and talk Scouts.

Back home, Finn and I put the lights on the porch and then I put the candles in the windows to make the house look cheerier. We then made some warm milk with cardamom and watched Rudolph before bundling up for bed.

Date posted: December 13, 2016 | Filed under family | Leave a Comment »