Friday, February 27, 2009

Taking a Bullet For My Mentor

Just wanted to mention that besides the time and effort of getting his truck inspected-what should have taken half an hour took well over two-I rushed back home and forgot to put the garbage out for Bugbees to pick up. Now I've got to hold onto it for another two weeks. Luckily it's cold so all that cat litter doesn't have too much of an opportunity to ferment.

I'm not complaining, I'd do it again in a second for GL, because he'd do the same for me. I just like to highlight the hardships in my life because overcoming them makes me feel like a real man, and that's what this is all about in the end, isn't it?

Crazy Weather and Coming Through For My Mentor

Sometimes you just can't explain things to certain people, and I don't mean this with any disrespect. Yesterday I took GL's truck in for his yearly inspection because it had been expired since October, which meant that driving it was running the risk of being pulled over and busted. I told GL that I'd be happy to do it since it was parked at our house, and making it legit meant that, in the event that we needed it in a pinch, it would be road ready. The guy at the shop couldn't understand why I would be doing something for GL without him paying me, and the funny thing is, my perspective is the exact opposite. It's not about the money, because there is none, but because GL is our good friend and my mentor for becoming a real man. I guess you just can't explain these things, but our friendship has grown to the point where I don't want GL's money because he's come through for us in so many ways that I'm happy to help him.

Either way, it's personal, and because of that, cannot be fully explained to someone on the outside. Maybe that's just the way it's supposed to be.

For the record, the process of getting the truck inspected was a complete rigmarole, even though the thing is practically new and in good condition. The main problem is that some of the paperwork was missing, and I had to sit there and wait until the offices opened up so that the inspectors could get proper documentation. Sometimes even the most competent of people need a little hand-holding. I finally ended up just driving over to the office and getting a hard copy by hand. The person behind the desk was one of those nervous, easily flustered types who panics and shuts down. As she explained to me in detail why she hadn't faxed the paperwork over, I kept thinking, it doesn't matter, just give me the paperwork and let me be on my way.

Just goes to show you, sometimes you have to do the legwork yourself to get things done. Otherwise you just sit around relying on other people while you twiddle your thumbs, and nothing gets done.

BTW, what's up with this crazy weather? It's as if Spring were on it's way... but wait, it is. And it's showing. It's supposed to be in the 40's today, w/rain, and all of our beautiful snow will be compromised. Total bummer, but the idea of warm weather and sun and grass is appealing, even if I'm reluctant to say goodbye to skiing. Such is life, I'm grateful for the season we had, and the kids just took off. You don't get opportunities like this too often.

Now that the weather is getting warmer, I can take on the home improvement stuff that had to wait until the snow cleared, including fixing the clapboards on the back of the house (a gargantuan job), painting the trim all over, painting the two south facing sides of the house, repairing the gables (I love sounding like I know what I'm doing) on the front dormers, and of course, the barn.

For now, I'll try to finish the bookcases I started last year. They're just sitting there. AND, I've got to get firewood.

Life in New England, the fun never stops, and you've got to love it.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Preparing for Spring and Karate

Since experiencing the relief of finishing my blue belt test, I have to admit that I felt a bit of a letdown and dropped the ball completely by sitting back and doing nothing, but at class last night, I felt that it was a bit misguided on my part. Not unlike going to school for me, where life was really about just passing the time in between tests, when in fact learning should be a lifetime endeavor, filled with magic and reward. I.e., it shouldn't be about the end result, but about the journey, and rather than wait and sweat over intermittent milestones like exams, immerse yourself in the process and celebrate each and every day, especially when you're learning.

That's why we homeschool.

In all honesty, I don't think I'm approaching karate like that, it's just that after a particularly brutal week, it was nice to take a break. But like our sensei said last night, when you get a new belt, it is the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Our class was a little different last night in that it was led by the Grand Master, as Chip had family obligations to attend to, and it was a fun class, though we always miss him. As JH commented on, we have a good core group of people in the class who are serious about learning and make the experience rewarding and enjoyable. I feel lucky to be in there with them.

I also had a chance to bond a little with JH, and he's such an interesting person once you scratch below the surface. So many layers to the guy, besides that fact that he's a 5th degree black belt who could kill you with his pinkie nail.

The weather is getting into that crazy Spring state of indecision, with wide fluctuations from warm to cool. It makes life complicated because we tend to get that freeze-thaw thing going, making travel difficult, even for a real-man in training. Needless to say, it messes with the skiing conditions, and our time in paradise is clearly coming to an end, so we'll have to make the most of it while we can. I think there's still a good month to go, but you never know. It could go either way, so we won't fret over the future and we'll just live in the moment and enjoy what we can.

Still have to contact MJ about wood, and straighten out the our propane for the end of the season. Got another contact for log length wood from PD, but that would require me to get a chainsaw, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

More Snow and Taking a Break

I've heard through the weather rumor mill that we're slated to get up to 12-14 inches of snow, if you can believe that one. J at the ski hill is probably livid, but I have to confess, I'm into it. It means that our ski season will push on that much longer, and we might actually get to ski the Dartmouth Ski Hill before the season ends, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves. We do have to be in Hanover this week, however...

On the subject of skiing, we are taking what is probably a much needed break this weekend. Besides probably being a zoo at the Quechee Ski Hill, today it is snowing, and that makes skiing all the more challenging, at least for me. So on Sat and Sun, we'll hang out and relax, because last week we skied for six days straight. Don't get me wrong, it was awesome, and the kids really made leaps and bounds in their skiing, but I found myself getting into OCD/frantic mode and scrambling to ski every day. It gets a little crazy, and at some point it's good to take a step back and regroup.

I think we'll just sit back and watch the snow come down. What a great idea.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Resting on my Laurels and Spring is in the Air

Wow, since the big blue belt test, I've completely forsaken my karate and haven't given it much thought. Bad behavior, and very reminiscent of school and test taking, not to mention counter to our philosophy that life is about the everyday moments and not just waiting around for the big milestones. Even still, it is nice to take a break. Today I'll go through my katas to keep them fresh in my mind.

Spring is most definitely in the air, even though it was really cold yesterday, so much so that we actually bailed out on skiing because we were freezing our tushes off. It was that darn wind. I think we're slated to get a big load of snow in the coming days, so Winter is not done with us just yet.

In the coming weeks, I'll have to address the delivery of our propane for the next year and firewood, the ever present concern for us. I may have found alternate sources for the wood, though I'm thinking MJ is still our man. Not sure when I should give him a call, but I'm guessing the time is soon.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Busted at the Quechee Hill

I've got to confess to being a bad person at the Quechee Hill. We've been skiing there this whole season and most of the time we haven't been purchasing lift tickets. Not that there is any justification for our chicanery, but most of the time we only ski for an hour or two, and then go home, so it's hardly worth spending the money for an entire day.

Now that Audrey and Nicholas love to ski, we're spending more and more time on the hill, and the era of free rides is over, much as it should be. The reality is, I just figured nobody cared. We never had lift tickets and nobody said anything, but clearly they were noticing. I'm familiar with most of the guys who work the lift, and figured they didn't care and it wasn't such a big deal, but the other day Mike said he'd get me some comp tickets, and it really struck me. They not only notice, but I'm skating on thin ice over here. In retrospect, I noticed that some of the guys gave me dirty looks when I got on the chair, rightfully so, but I just figured that if nobody said anything, then all was well.

But something smells afoul in Denmark, and from here on in, we're going to have to buy lift tix. Kind of a bummer, but the right thing to do. And now I don't have to feel like a loser who is trying to buck the system. There is something refreshing about being official, however, and in the end, it's setting the proper example for your kids.

Until the next time, thanks for reading.

Blue Belt continued

Last night I tested for my blue belt and tried to convince myself that I would be cool and collected, but have to confess to feeling a bit of anxiety. It's in my nature, and I don't think I'll ever escape it. It helps when you have a fairly good grasp of the things you need to know, and that only comes through discipline and practice. It's interesting as an adult who is surrounded by kids to see how distracted the little ones are, and while it's perfectly natural for them to have their minds in a million other places, I can't help but think that we live in an increasingly distracted world.

Either way, I didn't have as much time to prepare for my test because I spent a few days in Virginia to see my cousins and pay my respects to my uncle. As I was driving up on Saturday, I envisioned my katas in my head, and believe it or not, it helped, keeping in mind that it was only possible because of practice. And a bit of anal retentiveness.

I did have Sunday and Monday to prepare, and the truth is, I try to keep the katas fresh in my head all the time. It doesn't take a lot of time to simply run through them as well as the one-step spars, and again, even ruminating on them quietly in your head helps.

Audrey and Nicholas must think their old dad is a little crazy, because sometimes I'll try to squeeze in some practice in any spare moment I have with them, even in the bathroom. Nicholas likes to have some company in the bathroom when we're in a public facility, so while he's answering nature's call, I'll do katas in what little space I have. Kind of crazy, I guess.

There were not as many judges at this test as when I tested for my yellow belt, and in a way, I'm glad. The last test, there must have been about five black belts watching over us, adding to the pressure, not to mention half a dozen family members. This time it was just Chip and Joe, and only four of us were testing. We've become a fun group to work out with, and I just want to mention that I feel really lucky to have Peter Carini in the group. Great guy, great karate student, and it's nice to have someone who is more on my level (vs. sparring with black belts like Chip) to spar with and talk to.

The test went fine, and there times I can't imagine they would ever deny somebody their belt, especially the kids. As intimidating as Grand Master Hammond is, he's got a warm heart, and he's a great guy. BTW, I called him Joe for the first time last night.

As far as the test, it was a good night for everyone and all my classmates did a stand-up job. I like to think that by coming out and trying our best and showing our sincerity in wanting to work hard, it makes Chip and Joe more inspired to teach us. The reality is, they devote their time and efforts with no monetary compensation, and as students we should not only be aware of it, but should be grateful for it, because it is an opportunity that should not be taken for granted.

One quick note-Joe did throw me to the lions a bit by making me perform a bo kata, which he clearly indicated was not required, but I managed to pull it off, thanks to practicing with a broomstick in the bathroom with Nicholas.

So now I'm a blue belt. I'm hoping Audrey and Nicholas will begin to show some interest in karate, and might even start coming to class, but we'll see. One thing at a time.

Until the next time, my name is Fred Lee, and thanks for reading.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Blue Belt

Tonight I test for my blue belt. It should be interesting, especially on the heels of my big road trip.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Weather, Our Wood, and Karate

I have mixed feelings about the weather. On the one hand, I'm bummed because I am not ready for Winter to be over. We want to ski for at least another month, but it's so warm the XC ski trails have taken a beating, and I'm sure the hills are not enjoying themselves, either. Oh well, it is warm, hovering around 40 degrees today, which seems unheard of for Feb.

If there is a silver lining to it, it's that we're consuming less fuel, and it's plausible that by the end of February, we'll still have half of our wood, which would be fine by me. Even still, it's too warm.

I just found out last Monday that I will in fact be testing for my blue belt next Monday. Nobody told me, and at first I wanted to be whiny about it, but realized it wasn't doing anybody any good. It doesn't change things, I just have to get my mind around it.

Until then, my name is Fred Lee, and thanks for reading.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Missing Out and Some Thoughts

So we never ended up making it to any of the local events, but I will say this. Having grown up in California and finding the wherewithal to complain anytime the temperature dropped below 60 degrees, I am impressed how active people are in the Winter and how they even go so far as to celebrate the season. You have to love that. We missed out on the Hartland Winter Fest and the Magic Show, which was kind of a bummer but it wasn't because we were lounging around the house doing nothing. Saturdays are just hard because we can't seem to forsake our day in Hanover and the library, though we did skip the skating part and our lives were all the simpler because of it.

Ruth and I have been thinking a lot about the current economic climate, and we want to be optimistic about the future, but we've really gone and screwed things up, and things really aren't looking so good. Then again, you have to believe in something, and one thing about living in Vermont is that it really nurtures a spirit of independence and self-sufficiency. Even if you don't achieve the maximum state of self-reliance, there are so many ways that your life moves in that direction just by virtue of living in New England, and we like that idea.

Until the next time, my name is Fred Lee, and thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Hartland Winter Fest, Skiing w/Our Neighbors, and Blue Belts

We're already knee deep into February and it's time to start thinking, not heavily, mind you, about getting wood for the Spring to split and stack. I'm always searching for a good source of wood, and my quest will never end, but more on this in the Spring. There's still seven feet of snow on the ground.

This weekend is Hartland's Winter Fest, and we didn't make it last year and will try to make it today, but there's always so much going on since Saturdays are market/Hanover days. I will say this, it wouldn't break my heart to skip Occom Pond for a day, but we shall see. Several of our friends are not only going to be there, but are actually going to be involved with various things like ice sculpture contests and chili cookoffs. It should be a lot of fun, though perhaps a little nutty, but a community event that Audrey and Nicholas are sure to enjoy.

We went skiing yesterday at the Quechee Hill, and I can't stress how much we love that place. Besides the fact that the grooming of the hill is first-rate, the people who work the hill are so cool, especially in lieu of the fact that they have to deal with second homeowners all weekend long. They can grate on your nerves. Then again, full time homeowners/parents can get pretty grating, as well, and calls for a lot of patience. Either way, as a former west-coast skier, I give them high marks all around. Definitely one of the best, if not the best, place to learn how to ski with the family. Though I'm not familiar with it, I'm told the ski school is excellent. We love that place.

And, we get the best of both worlds. Since they open on Fridays, we got there early and were literally amongst five or six people on the hill. We practically owned the place. After skiing on our own for much of the morning, the locals show up in full force in the afternoon, and we get to see all of our friends. It's really a nice setup, I can't say enough good things.

I'm in the process of training for my blue belt, and the intensive bo-kata training has mellowed out a bit because Master Hammond is focusing on Robert's black belt test. My practicing last week really paid off in class as I knew my one-step spars and my katas, though my bo-kata needs work. Also need to practice certain kicks and drills, but I know the score.

The testing is coming up, and apparently there's a contest in our future, though I'm not sure what to make of that. Just have to keep practicing and keep my mind on the important details.

Filed the permit with the city, so we are officially in the books for our septic system. And it only took six months!

Until the next time, my name is Fred Lee, and thanks for reading.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Crashing and Burning w/the Hartland Winter Trails

In the interest of helping out the community and being a good neighbor, I seem to be crashing and burning, though my intentions are there... at least in my mind. We are so lucky to have Hartland Winter Trails, who do an amazing job of maintaining the XC ski trails and ask for nothing in return. It really is about community involvement, either with your hands or your pocketbooks, and I've failed at both.

Case in point - the other day at the XC day, Andrea was serving cookies and hot chocolate and there was a donation box which I assumed was for the cookies, but in the end surmised was for helping out the trails. I only put a couple of dollars in thinking it would pay for two hot chocolates, but I noticed other people were putting writing checks! I felt kind of stupid, and want to rectify that one. Easy enough, if I weren't so broke.

My second screw up was in lending a helping hand. I am always offering to help out, but talk is cheap, and rather than saying it, I should just do it. Case in point, the other day when we had about 18 inches of snow, I forgot to clear the trail that went through our driveway. In all fairness, I was slaving away at shoveling our own yard and clearing the wood pile, but I felt bad that they were the ones who ended up working on the trail. I could have easily helped out and didn't.

Oh well, can't dwell on it, I've got to look forward, learn from the experience, and just do it right the next time, right? Then again, at least for me, it's often easier said than done.

Until the next time, my name is Fred Lee, and thanks for reading.

Appreciating the Small Moments

I'm beginning to think that being a real man is really all about being a good father to your kids and being a good husband to your wife. While there are plenty of classic images of what it means to be manly in this world, most of which seem to point towards his place in the pecking order amongst his peers, whether it be strength or looks or earning potential, it goes without saying that one of the most difficult jobs not just to assume, but to maintain, is being a significant presence in his family's life. It's also the easiest and most socially acceptable to blow off.

With this in mind, life becomes more centered on the little things, rather than the quest to attain the big milestones. That is not to say that you still can't achieve these things, it's just that you have to compromise a little more and modify your expectations, because it is no longer just about you. And, you come to appreciate the small things in life, and that's not a bad way to be.

I'm becoming more and more aware of this as the economy sours and we head towards difficult times. I see it all around me, and read about in the newspaper, successful men who are having to take a good look at themselves as their defining qualities (i.e., their careers) take a hit. Though I would never wish hard times on anybody, maybe it's a little misguided at times, and maybe it's an opportune time to revisit the notion that a man's place is really at home, with his family.

Sure, we all need to make income and have some means to define ourselves, but when it becomes the focus of our lives and displaces our priorities, then it begs the question, how much is enough?

My name is Fred Lee, and until the next time, thanks for reading.