30 December 2014

52/52 - Christmas Dishwasher

A Christmas gift we gave to ourselves this year was a new dishwasher. (I know, exciting stuff.) Our old one was a hand-me-down that never did a great job and had recently gotten worse. So we decided to start over and get something that we would truly love.

We read lots of reviews and polled our friends and family. Along the way, I read a really interesting article on the changes to the dishwasher industry in the last 10 years, including a description of how you should be using your dishwasher. I recommend everyone read this article on what makes a good dishwasher (and how to use it). After an extensive search - including a trial dish loading in a store - we ended up with a Bosch.

We picked up the new dishwasher shortly before Christmas, but holiday preparations delayed installation. When Shane and Leif were here for Christmas, they offered to help install it. "We think we should be able to finish it in about 45 minutes." Unfortunately, once we pulled the old one out and tried to push the new one into place, we discovered that our kitchen island (technically a peninsula) wasn't quite deep enough at the bottom. It would have to be modified.

Our 45 minute project then turned into a two-day affair involving three kinds of power saws (oscillating, mitre, and jig) and two trips to the local hardware store. Thankfully, Shane has lots of experience in home building and contracting, so he quickly became our foreman.

We cut a new hole through the subfloor into the crawlspace.

We furred out the toe kick and trimmed it to fit over the hardwood, then reinstalled.

In the end, the effort paid off. We now put dishes straight into our dishwasher with no pre-washing. They come out clean, even when caked with egg!

Thanks for all of the help, guys!

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

16 November 2014

46/52 - Winter Without a Furnace

With the temperatures dropping and winter approaching, we finally broke down and turned on our propane furnace in October. But within the hour, it started emitting some loud banging noises. Not good.

We hate our furnace. Every several years, it seems to have one problem or another, requiring expensive parts ordered from the east coast. The majority of the local heating service contractors don't seem to have much experience with this brand (Heatmaker), so either they can't figure out what is wrong or they have to make multiple trips - one for diagnosis and a second after replacement parts have arrived. This time, I was going to try to diagnose and fix it myself.

Over the next week, I disassembled various parts looking for the culprit. I figured that there probably aren't too many moving parts that would cause such a loud noise. First suspect: blower fan. I ordered a replacement, and a week later when it arrived I successfully replaced it. But the noise was still there. My second hypothesis was that something was banging around inside the combustion chamber, possibly some buildup on the heat exchangers. But when I started to disassemble the chamber and realized that I wouldn't have any confidence that all of the seams were sealed up properly, I decided it was time to call in a professional.

After a week and a half calling contractors and getting nowhere, I finally got one to come out and take a look. (What is with contractors in the Gorge? You should at least answer your phone or return phone calls. Sheesh.) After 2 hours exploring, the prognosis was not good. Sure enough, it was buildup on the heat exchanger coils, but on the INSIDE. He described it like kidney stones, rattling around in the pipe and obstructing the flow of water. With no good way to clean it out, it would need to be replaced. The cost of the replacement part? $2,000 for the part alone.

This was it. This was finally the end of this furnace. We would pump no more money into this monstrosity. But what now?

With winter still on its way, we decided to take a chance. We're going to wait until spring to research and design the replacement heating system. So for this winter, we will have no furnace. We would heat the house with our wood stove, supplemented by several electric heaters as needed. We have some wood seasoned and split, but we had planned for "ambiance fire" wood, not "heat the whole dang house" wood. So we will be buying more this year, at least once.

Other than during power outages, this is the first time we're attempting to heat the whole house solely with the wood stove. And it is only our work-at-home jobs that makes this feasible at all. We can start a fire in the morning and tend it all day to get the whole house warmed up. I don't think we would be attempting this if we had to drive to an office.

Coincidentally, the first snow arrived at about the same time as the furnace death knell.

Here's hoping for a mild winter! Oh, but still with lots of snow, of course. That's not too much to ask, it is?

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

14 September 2014

37/52 - Plums, Paddlewheels, and School Tricks

Fall is arriving quickly! Some of our fruit trees are starting to drop their fruit, indicating to us that we should pay attention to them or miss out entirely until next season. The apple and plum trees are loaded, probably because we didn't have them pruned this year.

Our favorite trees to harvest are the plums, one yellow and three Italian. Time to get picking!

Between the three of us, we picked about 4 baskets each of yellow and Italian plums. When we were done, our plum trees were empty.

While we were picking, we found this crazy looking caterpillar in the tree. It looked just like the woolly bears that I was used to from the East Coast, but I'd never seen one with those crazy white spikes.

My instinct was to kill it immediately - after all, what kind of caterpillar is good for fruit trees? - but I decided to hold on to it until I looked it up. Sure enough, it was a woolly bear. And they aren't as detrimental to fruit trees as I had assumed. So this one was spared after all (though I did move him to another section of the yard.)

Rather than try to process all of our plums immediately, we decided to cram the plums into the refrigerator and freezer to save for another day. It looks like we will have some canning sessions in our future.

Here is the Anders quote of the week.

Donna was describing her latest computer-related woes at dinner one night, when Anders stopped her and said:

Grandma Donna, you should just S-M-I-L-E!

If that's what he's learning in school all day, then we're just fine with that.

Corinne and I did a quick trip to Seattle for a wedding, leaving Anders in the hands of Grandma. But before we left, we all stopped for the White Salmon Fire Department's Huckleberry Pancake Breakfast.

He ate the whole thing.

While Corinne and I were in Seattle, Anders took a trip down the Columbia on the Sternwheeler with Grandma Donna, Aunt Patsy & Uncle Jim.

Thanks to everyone who participated in last week's unofficial How to Get Anders To Talk About School idea contest. We had lots of different ideas and approaches.

Focus. Ask about something specific, like "Who did you sit with at lunch today?" or "What letter/number did you practice?"

Trickery. Make something up about their day and let them correct it with actual details: "Too bad it rained all day today. You probably couldn't play outside during recess." Or "I heard there was a monkey in class today."

Patience. Don't ask right after school. Wait until later in the evening. If they bring up something on their own, use that as a launching point.

And if all else fails:

Confinement. Put them in a confined space, such as the passenger seat in a car, and they will eventually spill the beans.

One person suggested asking the teacher for some sort of summary of topics and activities for the week, which seems like a good thing to pursue. Ultimately, the most important thing is that he still loves school. I'm sure we'll slowly figure out what he does there all day. We have discovered that during music they learned the S-M-I-L-E song (see above) and are dancing to the chicken dance. So, there's that.

In the public library; non-fiction section, of course

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

07 September 2014

36/52 - Anders Starts Kindergarten

We don't know quite how it happened, but the time has flown and Anders has started kindergarten. It seems like just yesterday when our little Rocket was having his first (unofficial) school photo taken when he was just two.

Anders has been looking forward to this day since before his preschool graduation back in June... primarily because he couldn't wait to ride the school bus.

When the bus arrived, Anders was ready. There was no hesitation or anxiety; he just walked right on.

Corinne and I had to drop off a few things at the school, so we followed the bus to school that day. Anders could barely contain his excitement when he arrived at school. Only 6 kindergarteners took the bus that first morning. For Anders, I think that the bus was the part that he looked forward to the most.

Trout Lake School is a small, K-12 rural school. Each grade has a single class of between 12-22 students. Here in the Gorge, it has a good reputation; in fact, about 20% of the student population lives outside the school district and has chosen to come here. A friend of ours from Trout Lake recently completed his PhD at MIT and had great things to say about how the Trout Lake School prepared him. We couldn't ask for too much more.

Anders' kindergarten class is 16 kids: 6 boys and 10 girls. In that small class, there are TWO other Corinnes: one of the girls, and the mother of one of the boys. (One is spelled differently, and we're not sure about the other.) And we have yet to hear of another Mike or Michael. What are the chances? For the next 13 years, our Corinne will have to share her name with two other people. Having never had to share her name before, she's not very happy about it. I sympathize with her, believe me.

Anders had a great time on his first day. That evening, we stopped by the school again for a quick photo.

Anders drew this picture to capture his new school experience.

Anders is on the driveway (brown/grey), with the irrigation ditch (blue) flowing underneath.

For Corinne and I, we have mixed feelings about this transition. It doesn't seem possible that Anders is old enough to be in school already. It wasn't that long ago that he was just learning to walk and talk.

On the other hand, this is the beginning of the anticipated 'hermit' stage of our existence. The school bus to the full-day kindergarten stops at the end of our driveway, so we no longer have the daily preschool commute to Hood River of the past two years. We work out of our home now, so we have no work commute at all. Basically, we don't have to leave the house until we run out of food. Our biggest problem so far seems to be that our motivation for working wanes quite a bit when Anders comes home at 3:30 each afternoon.

As a final note, we have a request to the other parents out there: how do you get your children to tell you about what happened in school that day? Anders is already giving the "nothing" and "I don't remember" answers when asked about school. He's growing up!

Congrats, Anders! Have a great time. You'll do great.

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

01 September 2014

35/52 - Last Week of Summer Vacation

I can't believe we did this much stuff in a single week. It was the last full week before Anders starts his full-day kindergarten at the Trout Lake School! Corinne took the whole week off to spend with her "little boy" before he grows up.

Discovery Center

One outing they took together was to the Columbia Gorge Discovery Center. The main draw was the raptor program; we met several of their raptors from this program back in April. On this particular trip, the raptors didn't perform their regular show, but that didn't stop Corinne and Anders from having a great time in the rest of the museum.

Anders, fitting in with the scene of an Oregon Trail river crossing

Hanging out in a replica of The Dalles in the early days

One of the museum exhibits featured maps of the ice sheets during the ice ages. After returning home, Anders drew this map of the ice sheets in Candyland.

Ice Sheets of Candyland


At a recent preschool library story time, Anders made goop. We had no idea what he was talking about, so we looked it up and decided to make it with him at home. What is goop? It's cornstarch and water. Oh, and food coloring "to make it more colorful". That's it. Sounds pretty uninteresting until you actually make it and see how it behaves. Sometimes it's a liquid, then suddenly a solid, then back again.

Why didn't anyone tell us about this sooner? And why didn't either of us make this when we were kids?

Anders quote of the week, while in a public restroom:

I like automatic faucets, automatic towels, and driver-less cars.

Seems like one of those things is a little harder to make than the others.

Anders's Art

One of Anders's summer activities was Kids' Creations Art Camp. They made some pretty impressive art pieces. At the end of the summer, some of the artwork was displayed at Ground, a local coffee shop in Hood River. We thought it would be fun to see his art hanging in a public place, so we stopped in. But apparently, Anders has done so much artwork recently that he doesn't recognize his own work.

Concert in the Park

Hood River hosts a Families In The Park every August with live music. We managed to catch the last one, featuring Hit Machine. They never disappoint. It was a fun evening of dancing (mostly by Anders), a picnic procured from the Farmers' Market, and happy music.

And to top it all off, we also purchased the winning 50/50 raffle ticket. Not a bad way to spend a Thursday night!

Fishing the White Salmon

Living along a river, you would think that we would have tried fishing it. But you would have been wrong. Until now.

Andrea and Shane stayed with us for the long weekend, and Shane brought his fishing gear with him, ready to teach Anders how to fish. (Okay, we admit it. He had to teach us how to fish, too.) The first morning they were here, Shane hit the river early and caught a decent sized rainbow trout. So now we had confirmation that fish actually did live in the river. Now it was just a matter of getting more of them onto our lines.

That afternoon, Anders and I joined Shane at the beach. Anders had a kids pole, and we actually had two poles and a reel that were left with the house.

We spent about three hours on the river, learning how to cast and finding the hot spots where the fish were hungry. We had some tugs and nibbles, but nothing stayed on.

The following morning, we head back out again and had even less luck. No bites, no activity at all. We tried jigs, different flies, and some bait worms, but to no avail. Until next time, fishies.

Thanks for the lessons and motivation, Shane!

Rummage Sale Finds

Each year, the Trout Lake Community Foundation holds a three-day rummage sale over Labor Day weekend. They collect donations from the community throughout the year and assemble an impressive spread of random stuff. You never know quite what you'll find. We have made some good finds in previous years, and this year was no exception.

Anders, of course, went straight for the toy section. He managed to score a couple construction vehicles. He even bought them with his own money: $1.50. He doesn't know what a bargain he got.

Our big finds were in the puzzle section and were decidedly more retro than his.

Lite Brite! There were actually three sets at the sale: one from the 70's, one from the 80's, and one from the 90's. We had almost bought Anders a new Lite Brite, but after reading the online reviews we changed our mind. As with many products, the manufacturers have tried to reduce their cost and have compromised quality as a result. And here, right before our eyes, it was easy to see the changes. The pegs of the 90's version were significantly shorter than those of the earlier models. Anyone with a basic understanding of physics can figure out what happens: the pegs fall out. We ended up buying the two older sets.

Who can forget the smell of warm construction paper? Anders was as excited as we were. After he put down his construction vehicles - which took a while - he wanted to play with the Lite Brite.

We picked up another even older retro toy find neither of us had seen before: Astrolite. It's older than we are. It looks just like a space age toy should.

A stack of old books also came home with us, including a Golden Books on Space Travel from 1958. Yes, that's right: it's a book about traveling in space written before humans traveled in space. Awesome.

And Corinne grabbed a few late 60's sewing patterns.

All told, we spent around $32 at the sale. And believe it or not, somehow our small purchase combines with all of the others to produce $20,000 from the rummage sale, all of which is used for scholarships to local students.

Unofficial Massman Family Reunion

On top of all of the above, several of Corinne's aunts/uncles were in town for the long weekend. We hosted several brunch events at our house, spent all of our dinners at local restaurants, oohed and awed over each other's rummage sale treasures, and just generally relaxed and enjoyed the late summer weather together.

And... I guess that's about as much as we could pack into the last week of summer vacation.

- Mike, Corinne, and Anders

19 July 2014

Story of an Awesome Cat

This is the story of an awesome cat.

Awesome cat, August 2007

He first came into our lives in January of 1998 when our friends Serg & Stef found him trotting down their rural New Hampshire road, meowing. He was estimated to be about 1.5 years old and had already been neutered, but no family came forward to claim him. We were introduced to him during the evening of Super Bowl XXXIII.

At the time, Corinne was living in a no-pets-allowed apartment. But she really wanted this cat. Having grown up with dogs and a cat-allergic father, I was not a cat person. But my apartment did not prohibit pets. So after several weeks of coaxing by Serg, Stef, and Corinne, the proverbial straw came when I discovered mice in my apartment. (I still have my suspicions that it was a setup.) Thus, I became a cat person.

We named that cat Max. Yes, it's kind of a boring name for a cat, and he was anything but a boring cat. We played around with other names, but none seemed to fit. Ultimately we named him after a popular song at the time, Kitty Kat Max. In our case, we decided that Max was short for Maximum. Since we didn't know his actual birthday, we celebrated it each Superbowl Sunday.

N.B. We've had Max for so long that our early photos of him are on what they used to call "film". We've had to dig through a closet full of photos for some of these. Enjoy.

Phase 1: City Cat
Max started his time as a city cat in my third floor apartment in Somerville, MA. I never saw mice in my apartment again.

Sharpening his killer claws, 1998

He had a series of adventures during his time as a city cat. My downstairs neighbor, who had a young son, used to steal him during the day while I was at work. I don't know how often this happened, but I came home early one day to discover him trapped in an unused stairwell between our two floors with the doors locked on both sides. I never did ask her about it. But I figured that Max was getting some extra attention, and he didn't seem to mind.

Somerville MA, 1998

For about a year, Max and I shared an apartment with our friend, Bryan. Max and Bryan used to play "can't get past me" where Bryan would try to fake out Max and catch him while he tried to get through a doorway. I don't think Bryan ever won, though he never stopped trying.

Max loved to sit on our shoulder, a bit like a parrot. Or at least like a four-legged parrot would.

The Parrot, 1999

Max would get "crazy eyes" right before he attacked you.


When Corinne and I got engaged in 1999, Max was already the third member of our family.

October 1999

Max would always greet us when we came home from work. In fact, he recognized the sound of my car and knew when we were home just by sound - an impressive feat on our busy city street. When we went on longer trips, he would scold us when we got home. I suppose he could have been telling us how much he missed us and was glad for us to be home, but that's not how it sounded.

Max was not a fan of sleeping in on the weekend; he used to wake us up by knocking something off the nightstand onto the floor. Corinne's ponytail bobbles could be easily picked up with his teeth, then dropped onto the hardwood.

Like most pets and children, Max didn't always pose well for photos.

Christmas 2001

Christmas 2001

Christmas 2002

In his early days, Max was not particularly social with others. He would usually hide under the bed or in the closet until about 30 seconds after any visitors had left. But he was social with us. His favorite holiday was Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving 2002

Is that turkey? Can I have some?

At night when we would get into bed to read, Max got into the habit of standing on our books for several minutes until he deemed that he had received enough attention that he could retreat to the foot of the bed to sleep.

December 2002

He liked to "help" whenever either of us were working.

June 2002

January 2003

City cat Max was a horrible traveler. When we would drive somewhere with him, he would invariably howl the entire time. On one particular trip from Boston to NJ, Max finally settled down after about 4.5 hours... which was approximately 15 minutes from the end of the trip.

January 2003

We did manage to teach Max a few "tricks." When food was involved, we could get him to sit on command. If it was a food he really liked, we could even get him to lay down on command, though that was much less consistent.

October 1999

He loved to sit in the window and watch the birds outside our apartment. So we thought he might like to spend some time outside. Against the general wisdom about cats, we tried to train him to take walks on a leash. We bought a harness that seemed to be his size and tried it out. To say that he didn't like it would be a gross understatement. As soon as there was the slightest bit of tension on the leash, he would start spinning and whirling Tasmanian-devil style. He managed to get out of the harness just about each time we tried it. We gave up.

October 2002

September 2003

Once while visiting in NJ, Max escaped through an open window upstairs and we found him quite a while later sitting on the roof. But Max would have to wait a few more years to spend any significant time outside.

December 2001

Phase 2: Country Cat
The next phase of Max's story began when we decided to move West in 2004.

Step one was to get this whiny traveler across the country. Since he was too big to fit under the airline seat - and would undoubtedly have howled for the entire flight anyway - we had to "check" him as baggage. The TSA doesn't use the X-Ray scanners on pet cargo, so the TSA agent had to remove him from his carrier and pat him down (to make sure that he wasn't a suicide cat, I guess.) And of course the best place to do that is in the main terminal of Logan airport in front of the ticket counters, where if he got loose he would be lost forever, right? Thankfully Max didn't get loose, and he survived the transcontinental flight. Several hours later we landed in Seattle and set off on the 4.5 hour drive to our new home.

Behind the kitchen sink, July 2004

After this epic travel day, Max turned a new leaf. Since that day he hasn't complained about traveling at all, no matter the distance.

November 2004

Many of Max's more recent exploits have been written about on this very blog. Here are some of our highlights.

At first, we weren't quite ready for him to become an outdoor cat. But only a few months after our arrival, Max got outside anyway. Max's escape was not in our plans, so we spent an entire day trying to coax him back inside using cardboard boxes and a garden hose.

It took a few years and a move to a more secluded location before we began letting Max outside on a regular basis. Max's first sanctioned trip outside was a new beginning for him.

May 2008

He even went outside in our winter snowstorms, at least at the beginning. Eventually he came to the conclusion that he was better off staying inside in front of the fire where it was warm.

December 2007

February 2008

Max learned quickly, though, that the outside isn't all sunshine and grass. One evening we found Max up a tree, probably chased there by a dog or coyote. We had to rescue him, though no firemen needed to be called. Only a few weeks after that incident, we witnessed a coyote hunting Max. Thankfully, the coyote was not successful.

A particularly traumatic event, for both us and Max, was when he was lost in Mosier for 3 days. Miraculously, Max came out of the incident just fine, and it was Leif who ended up with a severe case of poison oak from searching through the brush for him.

June 2008

Over time, Max became an excellent hunter. We began keeping his critter count each summer. His all-time record year was 2009 when he slayed 25 gophers including 3 in one day.

March 2008

June 2009

August 2010

For several weeks one November, Max became radioactive. But rather than give him new superpowers - as I assumed would happen based on movies and television - it seemed to significantly reduce his hunting tallies.

Phase 3: Max and Anders

August 2008, just 6 weeks before Anders's arrival

The third phase of Max's story with us came when his 'sibling' arrived, in the form of Anders. We weren't really sure what Max was going to think when we brought Anders home. Max had never really been around children much, and he also wasn't shy about defending himself if he thought he was in any danger. In their very first encounter, Max was confused by Anders, this little thing that was his size but like nothing he had experienced before. But to our great surprise, Max was as tolerant of little Anders as you could imagine.

May 2009

As Anders grew, the two of them became buddies.

November 2011

Anders "cooking" for Max, February 2010

As Anders began to speak, Max provided a live and (somewhat) willing subject for his anatomy lessons.

As I wrote back in 2011:

Anders loves Max, and Max will pretty much let him do anything to him: hugs, pets the wrong way, you name it. For a cat who at one time used to hide from just about everybody, this is pretty unexpected. After Anders was born, Max started to get more social with everyone; I think he realized that he now had some stiff competition for attention. But in reality, I think that it's a "win win".

Family music time, January 2011

June 2011

September 2011

February 2013

Phase 4: Old Max
Max aged. He slowed down considerably, and his excursions outside shortened to only a few minutes at a time. He slept.
He liked to sit between Corinne and I on the couch while we watched TV. He still sat on our books while we (tried to) read.

Alas, all good stories must come to an end, and Max's story is now complete. His kidneys failed, and his body just couldn't support him anymore the way he deserved. With many tears, we buried him along a trail at the edge of our forest.

July 2014

After 16.5 years together, our house doesn't quite feel the same anymore. We miss you, buddy.

- Mike, Corinne, Anders, and Max