Bringing In The New Year of 2018

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New Year 2018

Happy New year of 2018 everyone! We all survived the horrors of 2017, with a promise that 2018 will be a better year for everyone. So, to ring in the new year properly we need a bit of holiday music.

For the new year of 2018, I think this lovely piece of music speaks for hopes of better times ahead. 

Believe it or not, this song was released way back in 1976. From the ever-wonderful Wikipedia:

Year of the Cat is the seventh studio album by Al Stewart, released in 1976 and was produced and engineered by Alan Parsons; it is considered his masterpiece […] While Stewart is known for his guitar virtuosity, the song is recognized for producing amazing interplay of multiple guitars, piano, saxophone, violin, and drums

So here it is, for your start of the new year enjoyment.

This and That, Christmas 2017 Edition

This And That

This And That

After a long writing hiatus, I’m back in action. Time flies when you’re having fun, time flies when you’re not having fun, time flies when you’re busy, and time flies when you’re not looking. So why can’t we ever catch time and stash it away for a rainy day? 

This Christmas I decided it’s time to catch up my loyal readers with all the news fit to print (and more) on the Virginia edition of the Charest family.  This has been a good year, and a busy year, for both Winnie and me.

In January we resumed our home improvement project of replacing all the worn carpeting in our home with wood flooring. We had started the previous January, foolishly thinking it would only take about four months to replace three levels worth of flooring. So this January, we only had the upstairs flooring and stair treads let to do. About the same time, I was hired by a Washington, D.C., language school as a part-time English Second Language (ESL) teacher, teaching an evening class. Winnie did the flooring work on weeknights and I made my home improvement contributions on weekends while working weekday evenings.  

I really enjoyed teaching again and enjoyed the atmosphere of working in a teaching environment. Over the next few months, I had students from Mongolia, China, Saudi Arabia, several South and Central American countries, and one student from the Gambia. However, with evening classes, my day job, and commuting, I was putting in eighteen-hour days. I started to realize that at 60, I just couldn’t keep up that kind of pace. So after several months, I dropped down to just tutoring a couple of students and being available as an occasional substitute teacher. This was a schedule I could manage long-term, and I’m still affiliated with the language school.

Meanwhile, Winnie and I finished out the upstairs flooring along with side projects of building a new closet, adding a door into an attic space, and repainting everything. We completed the work in June, just in time for our next big adventure of another vacation trip to China.

Winnie had gone back to China about three years ago, but on that trip, she spent all her time nursing her mother through a bad spell. I hadn’t been to China since 2011, and I really wanted to explore more of the country and visit Winnie’s family.

So in late August, we made a jammed two-week trip. We flew non-stop from Dulles, Virginia, into Beijing and then jumped to Xi’an, the location of the Xi’an Terracotta Warriors, for the first leg of our trip. From there we jumped to Hangzhou and explored the beautiful West Lake. We also toured the Leifeng Pagoda which is the source of the “Legend of White Snake.” From Hangzhou, we jumped to Liuzhou to visit family, then on to Luchuan, Winnie’s home village of Baijing, and then Nanning and home via Beijing. Interestingly, on this trip, our flight from Dulles airport took us east over Greenland, down over central Russia and Mongolia, and into Beijing. On our way home we left Beijing and continued east over eastern Mongolia, Russia, Alaska, then down over central Canada and back into Dulles. So we made an around-the-world flight as a bonus to our other adventures.  

During the year I also made a couple of quick weekend trips to Rhode Island to visit family and check on an aging Aunt and Uncle. We did have a big loss this year; my Aunt Noella Papangno passed away in November. One of my trips to Rhode Island was to attend her memorial service.

Over the summer we did our usual; Winnie planted and tended her normally fantastic vegetable garden, and I took either my kayak or powerboat out on the water whenever I had some free time. Winnie continued to go swimming at our local rec center several times each week and occasionally managed to drag me out with her.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Winnie and I made a quick trip out to Tennessee and visited other families including Mom, who turned 90 this past October.

So that’s pretty much been our year. We’re down to one major home improvement project left (finish out an attic) plus a few minor projects that we’ll probably take care of this year. My job continues to be stable, which a real blessing considering the Government contracting industry. Winnie is still working as a Physical Care Assistant (PCA) and mostly likes the work for the opportunity to meet interesting people.

Winnie and I want to wish all our family and friends a very Merry Christmas, and a New Year of good health, happiness, and prosperity!

This and That, Busy Spring Edition

This And That

This And That

It’s cherry blossom festival in our nation’s capital this week. Trees that survived the erratic winter are preening their all for hordes of gawking tourists who come from near and far to admire the temporary pink flowers. Meanwhile, chaos continues apiece in the Charest household eclipsed only by the magnitude of chaos in our centers of government power.

Winnie and I tend to do a bunch of stuff all at the same time, take a long hibernation pause, then jump back into doing another bunch of stuff again. Our current home improvement project is more of the same. As detailed in a previous story; in January 2016 we embarked on an ambitious home improvement project of replacing all the worn out carpeting in our home with wood flooring. We had three levels of flooring and two staircases of carpeting to replace, and we figured that by starting on January 1 we could be done by April, in time to start boating season.

It was a plan.

 By June we finished remodeling the kitchen, a previously unplanned project that became necessary when the new wood flooring made the old kitchen look really old. I also finished up my Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification program, earning a Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) certification that I could add to my collection of other highly important documents. We took off the summer for a few weekends of boating and in the beginning of September were ready to start the third and last level of carpet replacement.

 Then we discovered a leak in our main floor bathroom. In order to gain access to the piping, we had to tear out the fixtures and one wall. We hadn’t planned on remodeling this bath as it was in pretty good shape, but we ended up remodeling anyway. As we were finishing up the work in late October I managed to cut my finger in a table saw accident. Not as bad as it could have been; I didn’t permanently lose any body parts, but it did dampen our enthusiasm for home improvement projects for a few months while I healed up.

Winnie had quit her Personal Care Assistant (PCA) job in late September so she would have time to work an income tax preparation course. Course completed, she took off a few months to just enjoy being around the house. By December we were getting restless to finish up our home improvement project.

 Finally, in early February, we got back into the last (so we think) phase of carpet replacement, just about at the same time Winnie went back to work. This was also the same time I landed a part-time evening job teaching English as Second Language (ESL) at a private language school. This was something I wanted to do, but also meant that now neither of us had much free time to work our home improvement stuff.

We started replacing flooring in our upstairs hallway, then moved into the smaller of the two upstairs bedrooms. We couldn’t just replace the carpeting on account of that was too simple of a project. We have unused attic space over our attached garage, that Winnie wants to use for living space, adjoining the smaller bedroom so we made a door between the two rooms. Adding the door meant first removing a small closet we didn’t need anyway. Really. I also relocated an A/C floor duct after removing the closet, and then built a small dresser into one knee wall. Then we started the flooring.

While Winnie was putting down flooring I was busy in our master bedroom expanding our closet into the unused space under the eaves. This project involved removing existing walls, relocating electrical wiring, new framing and insulation, then putting in several sheets of new drywall.
As of today, the newly expanded closet is mostly completed except for trim work that I’ll do after the flooring is down. Next I’ll be adding another built-in dresser in our master bedroom to match the dresser in the small bedroom, then we can start the flooring. We finished the flooring and trim in our smaller bedroom, and Winnie is pushing to get the master bedroom finished.

 So, Winnie is putting in a couple of hour’s home improvement per weekday between her job and taking care of household chores while I’m working 16-17 hour days. We do major construction work during the weekends so Winnie can properly supervise me. The house is in home improvement chaos, and with our present schedules will probably stay in chaos for another month.

 The last major project for this year is rebuilding our main staircase with hardwood stairs to replace the nasty wood formerly hidden with carpeting. At which point it’s boating season again. I suspect next winter we’ll be working on finishing off the attic space we can now easily access. I’m excited.

Happy springtime everyone!

A Christmas-Time Vacation

Vintage Travel Poster Puerto Rico

Vintage Travel Poster Puerto Rico

Winnie and I decided we needed to do something different for Christmas this year. Our Christmases past have normally revolved around either staying at home in quiet celebration, or visiting family. This year, we gave each other a Christmas vacation trip to Puerto Rico.

Traveling at this time of year has typically been difficult for us as Winnie worked many years in retail. More recently she was working as a Personal Care Assistant (PCA), and neither job offered much chance for a holiday season vacation.  This year, she took a leave of absence from  PCA in early October, and didn’t see herself getting a new assignment until after the holidays at the earliest. So in early November we made plane and hotel reservations for a four night stay in old town San Juan, Puerto Rico. 

I found a decent hotel right in the middle of old town San Juan named “Da House,” which had decent reviews and affordable prices. I quickly learned that Christmas in Puerto Rico was peak tourist season and pricing reflected this. Winnie did some research on flights, and found us non-stop red-eye specials from Dulles International. Our schedule had us leaving Monday December 19 at about 10:00PM, arriving Tuesday December 20 at about 3:20AM. We’d leave Saturday December 24 – at about 3:00AM and land back in Dulles at 6:20PM.

It was a way to get there and back, and reasonable rates. 

Beyond these basics, we didn’t make any plans as we (I) prefer to take things as they come when traveling. That usually works out ok.

Arriving in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Da House Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Da House Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico

So Monday December 19 I did a day’s work at the office, came home, loaded up the car and we headed to Dulles Airport. We lucked out  with non-flight-canceling weather and our plane took off as scheduled. Winnie can literally sleep anywhere, anytime; but I cannot. So she slept well on our fight while I alternately dozed and stared out the plane’s window. We landed right on schedule, got our checked bag, and caught a taxi to our hotel. I had called the previous day to confirm that the front desk was a 24/7 operation, so we had no problem getting registered and to our room. Where-upon we got to bed at about 5:00AM.

We (I) dragged ourselves out of bed a few hours later, washed up, and went exploring in search of food and adventure. The front desk manager had given us a tourist map of the old town area when we checked in, and we saw we were literally in the heart of everything old town San Juan. We found a restaurant a few blocks from our hotel and had brunch at a lovely , then headed back out to explore.

Castillo de San Cristobel and Castillo San Felipe del Morro

Winnie at Castillo San Cristóbal

Winnie at Castillo San Cristóbal

We were right next to the Castillo de San Cristobel (San Cristobel Castle) National Historic Site, which loomed over that entire part of old town. So we headed there next. We ended up spending the day exploring first the San Cristobel Castle, then Castillo San Felipe del Morro (San Filipe del Morro Castle) at the opposite end of old town, and everything in between. 

This fortress system is incredible, easily surpassing every fortress complex I’ve seen anywhere else including in Europe. Between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, we walked around the entire structure. I was a picture-taking fool of course, and Winnie was seriously enjoying herself as well.  Once we wore ourselves out walking and taking photos, we found a small restaurant and had dinner. I investigated the local Rum Punch, and determined that what the Puerto Rican version of this drink lacked in the variety of fruit juices was more than compensated for by the amount of rum it included. 

Beach Day

Boca de Cangrejos Beach, Puerto Rico

Boca de Cangrejos Beach, Puerto Rico

Wednesday we hit the local beaches. Boca de Cangrejos Beach (offering rest rooms and life guards) was about a 30 minute walk from our hotel. I had really wanted to do some bicycling on our vacation trip, but lack of planning caught up with me. Tuesday evening I had called a local bicycle rental outfit that delivered bicycles, and discovered they didn’t have much in the way of not-reserved bicycles. Winnie has short legs and needs a small bike. This was peak tourist season for Puerto Rico. They did have a couple of bikes available on short notice, and met us Wednesday morning on a no-commitment basis to see if the bikes would work for us. Unfortunately they didn’t have anything that worked for Winnie.

So we walked to the beach. My excellent sense of direction took us the wrong way and turned a 30 minute walk into three hours. On the flip side, we saw a lot more of the old town area and Castillo de San Cristobel. Winnie wasn’t too pissed… We finally found the beach and spent the next several hours in the water and laying out in sunny 80+ degree weather. 

We caught lunch at a local hamburger place that was an adventure all in itself, and back to the beach for a few more hours. Then back to the hotel to clean up. We tried to reserve a rental car for the next two days but I quickly learned that every rental car on the island was already booked, on account that this was peak tourist season for Puerto Rico. So we made reservations for an eight-hour tour of El Yunque National Forest and Luquillo Beach for the next day through “E&B Tours.” Then we found a local supermarket and Winnie stocked up on fruit and healthy snack foods for us. We bought take-out and had dinner on the fourth-floor rooftop terrace of our hotel, enjoying the night breezes and views of old town.

El Yunque National Park and Luquillo Beach 

Thursday morning our tour guide picked us up nearby our hotel precisely at the agreed-upon 9:00AM time. Our vehicle was a one-ton van holding a max 14 people, and we ended up with 12 and our driver/tour guide.   Once we had all fellow adventurers on board we barreled on down to El Yunque National Park rain forest.

El Yunque is the only tropical rain forest in the US National park system, and a relatively new acquisition to the National Park system. We started at the visitor center, where our guide told us to check out the center and come back to the van. 

La Mina Falls, El Yunque National Park

La Mina Falls, El Yunque National Park

After the visitor center, we drove up to the top of the mountain, turned around, and came back to the trail head for La Mina falls. Our driver/guide let us out and pointed up the trail, explaining the falls and wading pools were a 20 minute hike up. So our group headed up and did find a beautiful small falls with wading pools at two levels of the falls. 

Our group hung out for a while, taking pictures of the falls and each other, while trying not to fall on the muddy trails and rocky wading pools. We finally made it back to the van, wet and charged up from the experience. Our guide then brought us to Yokahu Observation Tower for a visit and more pics. After we had our fill here we pulled into a local roadside “restaurant” and souvenir shop. I had a local Puerto Rican dish of rice with chicken and beans, pretty tasty, while Winnie had a tamale-looking Puerto Rican specialty.  After our lunch break we continued heading back down and stopped at La Coca Falls for more photos. This falls was right along the road so we didn’t need any hiking, just fighting other tourists for photos on the rocks of the falls.

After La Coca falls we headed down to Luquillo Beach, a 20-some minute drive from the park. Once at the beach our driver/guide announced we had an hour and forty-five minutes to hang out at the beach, and left us there. Winnie and I spent the time in the water, laying out on the (warm) sand, and hiking along the surf line checking out the scenery. At the appointed time we returned to the van, waited for the rest of the group to arrive, and returned to our hotel. 

Cruise Ship "Norwegian Gem," San Juan piers

Cruise Ship “Norwegian Gem,” San Juan piers

We cleaned up, rested, and went back out for dinner. We found a lovely outdoor seating area to eat, then walked around and explored the night-time old town area. The cruise ship terminal was close by and we spent some time admiring the majestic ships tied up at the piers. Afterwards I spent a couple of hours up on the roof-top terrace drinking beer and again enjoying the night breezes and views of old town.

Homeless in Old Town San Juan

Friday morning we had breakfast at a wonderful quirky restaurant called “Carthage Express.”   The food was excellent and served by a scale model railroad train that ran on a track around a central seating area. Background music was Arabian Rai, and the decor was strongly Arabic. We ended up talking with the owner for a bit, who explained his model railroad system as a German-made “G” scale system.  He was obviously, and justifiably, proud of his restaurant.

We had to check out of our room by noon, but our flight wasn’t leaving until 3:00AM the next morning. So we went back to the hotel, packed up, and arranged for the front desk to hold our checked bag for the afternoon. Winnie and I went back to Boca de Cangrejos Beach and spent the afternoon swimming, laying out, and having a beach picnic. That afternoon we picked up our check bag at the hotel, had dinner, and dragged our luggage back to an ocean overview to once again enjoy the evening air. About 9:00 we caught a taxi to the airport, worked our way through the USDA/TSA security gauntlet, and found our gate.

Once again the weather Gods were smiling on us and there were no flight delays home. We landed right on schedule at 7:20AM Saturday morning to rainy 38 degree weather, about 12 hours after enjoying warm sand Caribbean beaches. 

I decided that we really needed to make a Puerto Rican trip again. 

Home Improvement 2016 And Beyond

Fire Axe

Home Improvement Tool

Back in December, Winnie decided that we needed to do some major home improvements. To be fair, our house is about 30 years old and needs some upgrades. So our plans were to redo the flooring in our basement den first, along with repainting. Then we’d move up to the main level and replace the old carpeting with wood flooring and be finished by April. Take off the spring and summer for more important boating and outdoor stuff, then replace the upstairs carpeting  with wood flooring in the fall and be finished by Christmas 2016.

That was our plan.

So the basement den part went well. We did replace the old carpeting with a nice floating wood flooring, and repainted walls and trim work. This only took twice as long as we planned which I considered to be right on schedule. Then we moved up to the main level and mission creep set in.

Replacing Flooring

Replacing Flooring With The Old Kitchen

Different floors of the main level were either carpet, parquet wood tiles, or linoleum. We replaced all of this with a nice nail-down bamboo plank flooring. We also repainted the walls and trim work. After all this work, “we” decided that “we” really needed to redo the kitchen because the old cabinets looked so ratty in contrast to all the new flooring.

New Flooring

New Flooring

So we rebuilt the kitchen. This renovation project ultimately included ripping out all the old cabinetry and counter tops, installing all new cabinetry in a new layout, adding additional electrical outlets, moving a phone jack, and upgrading the plumbing and gas lines.

Winnie's Tilework

Winnie’s Tile Work in New Kitchen

The original kitchen was an “L” shaped layout which really didn’t offer enough cabinet or counter top space. After a lot of measurements and debate, we came up with a new “U” shaped cabinet arrangement and still had enough floor space for two people to work. We decided on a stone counter top and replaced the original double sink with a new, single basin sink and more modern faucet. The old stove was about worn out so we replaced it with a new, much nicer, stove. The overhead microwave died just as we were finishing up the renovations so we got to replace that as well. Winnie finished off the walls between the counter top and cabinets with some really nice tile work.

All-in-all, the new kitchen is much nicer than the original 30 year-old layout. But the work took us till the end of June to get enough completed so we could actually cook in the kitchen. As opposed to alternately cooking in either the living room or back patio depending upon the weather. At that point, I announced that I was now starting my summer recess and actually getting back out onto the water again. Except for work that I was able to do during the evenings and rainy weekends, and replacing our roof in mid-July (using a local contractor) we took a two month break.

We planned on starting the final push for the upstairs renovation in mid-September. However, at the end of August we started seeing water stains on the ceiling of our basement bath. We immediately knew it couldn’t be coming from a leaking roof because we just had the roof replaced. After some investigations, we determined that the valves in our main floor bath were not only leaking, but water was running into a void space behind the bathroom wall where all our heating ducts and water pipes run. And also ruining the drywall and bathroom vanity along with the downstairs bathroom ceiling.

Bathroom Tear Out

Bathroom Tear Out

So Instead of starting the upstairs we ended up rebuilding the main bath, which was the one room we didn’t plan on renovating this year (or ever). We had to rip out damaged drywall behind the sink and toilet, and cut damaged drywall about one foot up on two other walls. We got our duty plumber in to replace enough of the valves to stop the leaking. He ended up just capping off the pipe so we could replace new drywall easier, and promised to return when we were done to finish the plumbing job.

There was enough used space in the void area to build in a small closet, so “we” decided to add this project. This bathroom had never been tiled (except in the shower enclosure) so Winnie also decided to half tile the walls. Which made finishing off the new drywall much easier. We replaced the old water-damaged sink vanity, and the new sink made the old bathroom mirror and light fixture look old so those had to be replaced as well. This work only took the entire month of September, almost lightening speed.

So today the plumber is back finishing up the hookups. Once he’s done I’ll need to complete the trim on the new linen closet and then this bathroom renovation project will be finished. Then we move to the upstairs, probably about mid-October

So it’s looking like 2017 might be the year we finish our 2016 home improvement project.

A Bang-Up Kind Of Day

Generic Car

Generic Car

Recently I was involved in another auto accident in which I was hit from behind while not moving. To add insult to injury Winnie was also involved in an auto accident, abet much more minor than mine, in another part of town just about one hour later.

Not a great day at all.

My accident was pretty significant. I was driving my Jeep Cherokee to the local commuter lot as a typical workday routine. I was on the access road to the lot in the right lane, just a few hundred feet from the entrance, when traffic in front of me stopped dead for no apparent reason. The speed limit on this road is 35MPH so I had to push my brakes pretty hard to stop without hitting the car in front of me. I was looking in my rear-view mirror and saw the car behind me not slowing down. At all. So I grabbed the steering wheel and braced for impact.

The other driver didn’t appear to try and swerve away or even hit their brakes. At impact all the air bags in the other car were deployed, and my Jeep was pushed about two feet forward with brakes locked (as shown by skid marks from my tires). It was a solid hit, the worse I’ve yet experienced. I felt lucky that I wasn’t pushed into the car in front of me.
As I got out a passing driver called out to me “she [other driver] was texting,” then kept on going. I walked back to the other car as the driver was crawling out under the now-deflated side airbags and yelled “Where you texting!” She looked confused, said “no” and looked at our cars in obvious shock. I calmed down a bit, asked if she needed medical care and when she said “no” I called 911 for police. Then I called Winnie to let her know I was already having a really bad day.

Jeep Vs Toyota Camry

Jeep Cherokee Vs Toyota Camry

I passed the time waiting for the cop inspecting damages to my Jeep. It was apparent that the other car was totaled. It was a small Toyota Camry and had run under the rear of my Jeep, completely destroying the top of the engine compartment. My trailer hitch was embedded in the Camry’s radiator and fluids from the car were leaking over the highway.

There was a constant stream of commuters driving past in the left lane. I couldn’t help notice that despite the obvious significant damage, not one driver even slowed down to ask if we needed assistance or offered aid.

In due time a cop arrived, I exchanged insurance information with the other driver and the cop took a report. The other driver finally realized she was in bad shape and the cop called an ambulance for her, along with a Fire and Rescue crew. I had tried to drive my Jeep forward, under the cop’s direction, to separate our two cars but my trailer hitch was embedded in the other car so firmly I actually dragged the car with me. It took a couple of rescue workers using hammers and pry bars to get our cars separated. Winnie arrived just as my Jeep was freed, the cop dismissed me, and Winnie and I sat in the commuter lot for a few minutes talking. Then she left for work.

I drove home and let my client and Team Leader know I would be taking the day off, by reason that I lost interest in doing any useful work. I just finished informing them when I received a panicked call from Winnie. All I could make out was “I just got hit,” then she hung up. I called back, no answer, and was heading out the door to try and locate her when she called back.

While Winnie was driving to work a car was tailgating her, with the driver apparently talking on her cellphone. Winnie had to stop for a red light and the other car bumped into her. Winnie immediately jumped out, cellphone in hand, and the other driver back her car up and moved slowly to Winnie’s left, in the left-hand turn lane. As the car backed up Winnie got some photos of the license plate. The other driver pulled up next to Winnie, then kept right on going.

It was a low-impact “bump,” and Winnie told me her car was ok to get to work. So the rest of the morning I alternated between calling my insurance company, and calling the police non-emergency number to report Winnie’s incident as a hit-and-run. It turned out that where Winnie was hit was in a different county and different police jurisdiction, which was yet a different police jurisdiction than where Winnie actually worked. I made arrangements to have Winnie and I meet the county police after Winnie got off work that afternoon at a location in the county of jurisdiction. Then got my Jeep to the body shop to start the claims and repair process.

That evening we did meet the police and Winnie did make her report. Damages to her car were minor, mostly light scuffing and scratches on her rear bumper, so the cop and I agree we would not press charges against the other driver. We did agree that the police would “Install the fear of God” in the other driver over leaving the scene. The cop used Winnie’s photos to record the license plate number and identify the car model. We left, and went to a dinner at a nice Italian restaurant to celebrate the both of us surviving a really bad day.

I think what struck me, in both incidents, was the complete lack of empathy shown by other drivers not involved in our accidents. In my case, it was about fifteen minutes after impact before the cop arrived, and during that time not one single driver checked on us or offered any assistance. In fact, just as the cop arrived two drivers who had just passed us, side-by-side in the two lanes, got into a “road rage” incident; one driver started yelling at the other and both stopped their cars (blocking both lanes of the road going into the commuter lot) and got into a heated argument standing in the road. The cop arriving for us started walking down to the scene and both men jumped back into their cars and drove off.

I started wondering if it was a full moon.

In Winnie’s case, it was the other driver leaving the scene without talking to, or even acknowledging, Winnie’s presence. We’re hopeful the other driver is located and their insurance company forced to compensate our deductible for repairs to Winnie’s car.

I have to wonder just what is happening to our country, that people seem so callous and indifferent to those around them. Is this really a country we can be proud of?

This and That, Springing Ahead Edition

This And That

This And That

So yesterday we entered the time of year colloquially known as “Daylight Savings Time.” For those readers who live in a place civilized enough to not do daylight savings; the concept is that if you cut off the top two inches of a sheet of paper and tape it to the bottom of the sheet, you make the sheet longer.

The people who came up with this idea run the world.

Meanwhile, in the not daylight savings time world, Winnie and I have been busy as always having our adventures in living. Winnie continues to swim regularly. Her current routine is to get up early every weekday morning and get to the pool when it opens at 6:00AM for one hour of swimming and a quick soak in the hot tub. Then off to her job. She tries to get me to go but I’m already leaving for work at 6:00 so, regretfully, I am unable to exercise before actually finishing my second cup of tea.

Weekends Winnie is normally able to drag me, excuse-free, to the pool on both Saturdays and Sundays so I can keep in shape. We’ll see how this schedule holds up over the summer when my plans include being on some type of water-craft, in the water, on weekends.

I’ve also been busy with my Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certification program. I’m really enjoying the classes for their format and for the chance to meet interesting people as classmates. The all-day class format is structured but relaxed as the morning session is lectures, then in the afternoon we have group practicums of ten minute presentations using the day’s topic. I learn best by actively doing things, so this format is nearly ideal for me. So far all instructors have been excellent and my classmates seem to be open-minded and actively interested in helping other people as teachers.

My next big part of the program is to observe on-going English as Second Language (ESL) classes. I need a minimum of formal 18 hours observation in any of a dozen different programs around the area. I’ve applied and hope to be starting these observations this week or next. Graduation is at the end of May if I can complete all requirements by then.

Not to complicate our lives; we’re also actively involved in major home improvement projects. Over the Christmas holidays Winnie decided that this year we needed to do home improvement things. It’s been nine years since we last painted (at move-in) so we needed to re-paint as well as replace the nearly 30 year-old carpeting throughout the house.

Tearing Out Carpeting

Tearing Out Carpeting

We started with our basement den the day after New Year’s.

We emptied the room including everything on the walls. We repainted (same color as before), then ripped out the old carpeting and linoleum, and replaced it all with floating wood flooring. The engineered wood ended up being trickier to install than we expected and it took two full days over the weekend to finish. Then we had to put down the finish moldings, move all furnishings back in and re-hang everything. We did a complete redecorate with our wall hangings, with the result that some parts of the newly painted walls looked like pegboard by the time we agreed on the best arrangements. We also rebuilt the staircase, going from carpeted crap to nice hardwood stairs.

A Finished Den

A Finished Den

This past weekend we started replacing on flooring on our main level. This is a little trickier as we have carpeting, old and worn wood parquet flooring in the dining room, and linoleum in the kitchen. We’re planning on replacing it all with one style of nail-down bamboo flooring. As with the den, we’re repainting the walls, but probably rehanging everything the way it was before so extra holes in freshly painted walls should be minimal… At some point we’ll work our way upstairs to the bedrooms and redo them also. A kitchen remodeling project is under negotiations.

It’ll all look nice when the work is completed.

As an unexpected bonus Winnie already picked some fresh greens from her garden this past weekend. The winter was so mild plants that normally die off survived are already growing. Having fresh garden greens in mid-March is a first for us living in Northern Virginia. Cherry trees are already starting to bloom in some areas so we might get some fresh cherries this year (we lost last year’s crop to fungus). I also had my inflatable kayak “Nemo” out Friday afternoon for a very early spring paddle.

All of this portends a long and busy spring/summer season ahead. I’m looking forward to it.

Welcoming in the Year of the Monkey

The Year of the Monkey

The Year of the Monkey

Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year, ringing in the Year of the Monkey. Aside from being the biggest celebration of the year for Chinese people around the world, this year happens to be the year of my Chinese Zodiac sign.

Winnie and I had a quiet New Year celebration. We’re still working on renovations to our den (currently hanging up all my “I Love Me” Navy plaques and certificates), so after going for a morning swim at our local rec center we spent most of the day in the house. In the afternoon we went out for dinner at our favorite local Chinese buffet, then a bit of shopping. Winnie called her family a couple of times to join in the festivities via remote, and that was our celebration.

This particular year is significant as people born under the year’s sign are supposed to have good luck, and I’m all for getting good luck anyway I can. There are 12 animal symbols within the Chinese zodiac, and within those symbols there are five elemental variations for “water,” “wood,” “fire,” earth,” and “metal.” Each of these are variations have there own significance.

I was born in 1956 which was the year of the “Fire Monkey,” which also happens to be this year’s symbol. The monkey is a powerful symbol in the Chinese zodiac as the Monkey King (Sun Wukong) is a major figure in Chinese mythology. Sun Wukong is the central character in the Chinese classic “Journey to the West” which I’ve both read and watched via CCTV 9’s television adaptation mini-series.

Monkey people are said to be Intelligent, dignified, optimistic, romantic, sociable, quick-witted, confident, agile, motivator, curious, and gregarious. However, on the negative flip side monkey people are said to be egotistical, vain, arrogant, selfish, deceptive, reckless, snobbish, stubborn, suspicious, manipulative, and restless.

I’m happy to own both the positive and negative traits of the monkey.

Fire monkeys have the additional traits of dynamism, strength, persistence but also restlessness. The fire element provides warmth, enthusiasm, and creativity, but too much can bring aggression, impatience, and impulsive behavior. I have to say, all of this pretty much defines me for better and for worse.

So to Chinese people wherever in the world you may happen to live, I wish you a 猴年吉祥 (Hóunián jíxiáng, Good luck for this Monkey year)!


Back to School

Back to School!

Back to School!

I took another plunge this past week and went back to school. I started a “Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages” (TESOL) certification program at our local Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Workforce Development system. My first day’s experience was pretty positive.

I actually started this program two weeks ago, but the first day’s class (Saturday January 23) was snowed out. Modern education technology (stuff that wasn’t around the last time I took a college course) saved the day and class was held via on-line presentations and a short quiz. This past Saturday was my first day in an actual college classroom since about 1999.

The TESOL program is structured for 16 Saturday classes plus a final Saturday/Sunday practicum, which counts as the final exam. Assuming I complete the program with passing grade, I’ll earn a certificate for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) in adult education programs. The course is scheduled to be finished at the end of May, which is a good thing as any later in the season would seriously cut into my boating and summer activities schedule.

Some things are important.

My first day in a classroom was nice. My fellow students range in age from early twenties to my age and a bit older. Our teacher was obviously experienced as both a classroom facilitator and knowledgeable in TESOL. Most of the day was spent in group activities where we were involved in doing things, as opposed to death by PowerPoint presentations.

I was nervous about how the class would go, as my last experience in a community college back in 1999 was a disaster. I had just retired from the Navy at the ripe old age of 39 (long time ago), living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and decided to gain some formal education in computer programming. That was after I crashed and burned in a Master’s Business Administration (MBA) program, which is another story and shall be told at another time.

The programming class was composed of people in their teens and very early 20’s (except me), and the class was taught by an old guy who either knew nothing about teaching or didn’t care about teaching. Either way, after several times when the teacher showed up very late for class unprepared to teach, then taught the same topic several times over, I stopped showing up. A computer sciences class taken a year later was an equal disaster, when the instructor obviously knew less about computer sciences then me. Which prompted me to ask myself why I was there, then followed through on the obvious answer.

I’m happy to say that my first day back in a classroom was positive, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the TESOL program.

I spent a year as a volunteer ESL instructor in 2008-2009, working through our local Hogar Hispano ESL program run by Catholic Charities, and really enjoyed the experience. I enjoy teaching, and was overwhelmed with the dedication and interest the students exhibited. My single biggest regret from that experience was that I did not understand how to effectively conduct an ESL class, and could not give the students what they needed.

I’m hoping to use my soon-to-be TESOL credentials as either a volunteer teacher, or as a part-time retirement job in my much-anticipated retirement years. Although I look forward to not working full time, I still want something to help keep my mind active in between time spent on boats, hiking, and traveling.

We’ll see how this latest adventure turns out.

Watching The Snow

Caution: Snow Ahead!

Caution: Snow Ahead!

We’re currently experiencing our first major snowstorm since the “Snowmageddon” storms of 2010. It started snowing yesterday (Friday) noon in this area and has been snowing steadily ever since. I’d like to hang out in front of the TV and call for pizza delivery but with the roads covered in about 18+ inches of snow, I don’t think any pizza delivery person is going to be making the rounds for any amount of tip.

We started seeing the weather forecasts last Sunday of 12 – 30 inches of snow coming by Friday but no one locally wanted to believe them. We continued watching forecasts as the week went on pretty much the same way I used to watch hurricane forecasts when I lived back in Mississippi. Disbelief slowly gave way to resignation, and then about Wednesday morning panic set in.

I began hearing reports of stores selling out of snow shovels about Wednesday evening, which led me to wonder what the hell people did with the snow shovels they had from last year? Then I began hearing reports that supermarkets were selling out of groceries and had to wonder what people were expecting that I was missing. I mean, roads around here get plowed pretty quickly so how much extra food do you need to tide over one day in the house?

Whatever. Winnie did her emergency shopping Thursday on her way home from work and we had a really nice pre-storm dinner Thursday evening. As Hurricane Katrina survivors, snow isn’t all that exciting to us other than the exercise we get from shoveling. By now all federal Government offices in DC had announced they would be closing noon Friday. Everyone who worked in the district was encouraged to work from home.

So Friday morning I worked from home while Winnie had to drive to work in her Nissan Versa. Before she left I told her I’d pick her up in our new 4×4 Jeep Cherokee if the roads were bad when she came home. At noon I went out to do a little home-improvement shopping at our local Lowes. It was an event. The main floor area was packed with boxes of snow shovels and people were streaming out the door with their purchases. Rock salt was already sold out. The snow started as I was making my way home and while I was heading for home Winnie called to let me know she was driving home as well.

We did our usual Friday evening dinner and movies routine, occasionally looking outside to determine that yes, in fact, it was still snowing.

Snowzilla 2016

Snowzilla 2016

This morning we woke up to about 12 inches of snow covering our world. After breakfast we went out to clear off the boat and shovel a path to the driveway. We had to go out through the garage because the front door (screen door opens out) was blocked with snow. We managed to clear the snow off the boat and shovel a path from the door to driveway and decided that was enough. It was still snowing so we knew we’d be back outside again… Some neighbors were already out shoveling out their cars, for reasons unknown. The road hadn’t been plowed as of yet and I could tell even my 4×4 wasn’t going to get very far from where she was parked.

A Bearded House with Snowy Eyebrows

A Bearded House with Snowy Eyebrows

We finished and went back inside to warm up and wait. The snow let up a bit about noon, then picked up again with strong winds. At the time I’m writing this post it’s snowing a pretty good clip. I’m starting to wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have stocked up on additional groceries.

The weather predictions have been pretty accurate so far, and current forecasts show the snow stopping about 10PM tonight. It appears that we will end up with about 24 inches of snow from this storm. If the fallout from 2010 is any guide, Washington DC will be mostly shutdown until midweek at least and I get to work from home a few more days.

I’ll be sure to follow-up on this breaking news story from the Virginia edition of the Charest family adventures. I can’t help thinking about summer weather and being out on my boat.