Category Archives: Life

Banjo Odyssey

Way back when I was a kid, I played trumpet and french horn, and was actually getting reasonably good at it. However, in eighth grade, wrestling practice got in the way of trumpet lessons, followed by football, then rugby, and I gave up my fledgling musical career for the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Over the next baker’s dozen years, my musical participation was extremely limited, and I always had a gnawing feeling way in the back of my mind that I left something behind that perhaps I should not have. As I approached the age of thirty, I decided to do something about this, and rented a saxophone, since it seemed in band practice when I was tooting away in the horn section, the sax players always had better parts and more fun. However, after about six months of playing around with the sax, I had a kid and then started a company, and I returned the sax to the music store so I could spend the next fifteen or so years focusing on family and career.

As the kids got older, the musical urge surfaced again, and I decided to give it another go. I tried and abandoned the following, in order: piano (way to hard, it would take a decade before I could stand to hear myself play), drums (too boring to play by myself), blues harmonica (too boring, again), and guitar (too hard, just like piano). I thought about going back to trumpet or sax, but I was thinking (rightly, I suspect) that they were just too damn loud.

About this time, Karen and I saw the band Barenaked Ladies at a charity event. On one song the guitarist, a good-natured Canadian, pulled out a banjo and started picking. And suddenly it became clear… BANJO! Banjo was the instrument I was looking for! And I could not figure out why I had not thought of it before.

As a kid, I always thought the banjo sounded really cool. Mainly because of this:

And, when I got a little older, because of this classic scene from Deliverance:

Banjo has some great advantages… it is quiet enough that my awful playing and practicing will not disturb the neighbors, or my wife. The banjo is tuned to an open G chord, which means it sounds OK even when you hit wrong notes. And, it turns out it is reasonably easy to learn. And fun.  It makes a happy sound, as Steve Martin memorably discusses at about the 11:55 mark in the following…

So, anyhow, I have been playing the banjo for about two and a half years now, give or take. I try to play thirty or sixty minutes each day, and I watch plenty of instructional banjo videos on Youtube. I am certainly NOT a natural at this, as I seem to have a difficult time getting my fingers to go quickly to where I need them to be. I suppose that is why I am not very good at typing, either!

While I certainly will not claim yet that I am competent, I am finally reaching the point where I can play well enough to get genuine pleasure out of it. My aspirations are simple… I would just like to be able to play the banjo as well as a nine-year-old. THIS nine year old!

I’ve got a ways to go, I’m afraid…

Adventures in Underwater Construction

Way back in 1929, my great grandfather built an unusual boathouse on Lake George. Ever since, the Boathouse has been a touchstone for all his descendants. It is currently owned by his grand-daughter (and my aunt) Julie, and her husband, Ken.

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The Boathouse

In 2015, Julie and Ken had the Boathouse inspected. Specifically, they were interested in the condition of the underwater parts of the foundation that are not easily visible from the surface. Not unexpectedly, the inspection indicated that substantial restoration work should be done in an expeditious manner. Since Ken and Julie have little experience working with contractors, and Karen and I have a fair amount, we were invited to act as sounding board, moral support, and comic relief throughout the process, which is still ongoing. This blog will show, primarily in pictures, the remarkable work that is underway.

First, some quick background on how the Boathouse is built. Starting from the top and moving down: the Boathouse is built around over a dozen 12×12 inch vertical timbers. These timbers in turn sit on steel plates that sit on large concrete blocks. In turn, the blocks (and we are under water now) sit on cribs, which can best be visualized as log cabins filled with stones (you’ll understand when you see the pictures a bit further down). Finally, these cribs sit on the bottom of the lake. The entire structure is built over the lake; it touches land, but does not sit on the land in any way.

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The closest I have to a “before” picture. The columns you see are the 12×12 timbers

The execution of this design back in the 1920’s was nearly flawless; almost 90 years later, the Boathouse is still within one inch of being perfectly level. In contrast, my house in San Jose was out of level by far more than that within three years of being completed! But after many years of a very harsh environment, some materials have simply reached the end of their expected life.

The process to repair the boathouse can be described with ease, but accomplished only with difficulty. The process is as follows:

  • Lift the Boathouse just a little bit, essentially putting her on “stilts”
  • Demolish and remove the old concrete
  • Reinforce the cribs
  • Pour new concrete
  • Gently put her back down

Of course, things are complicated a bit by the fact that most of this work must be done below the surface of the lake. And in the harsh Adirondack winter!

So, now that you have the general idea, let me show you some of the details, in full technicolor…

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The first step was to get the water out of the Boathouse. This was done using a “coffer dam”. For reasons known only by the contractor, they started work in mid-December

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The coffer dam is basically a steel frame covered with a large, thick plastic tarp

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The tarp extends along the bottom of the lake for 25 feet, and is held down with sand bags

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Once the coffer dam is in place, it forms an impermeable barrier, and the water is pumped out. Amazingly, it works!

OK, now that the water is gone, lets see what this foundation looks like!

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Here’s a pretty good example. As you can see, the crib sits on the bottom of the lake, and the concrete (which clearly has seen better days) sits on the crib. And finally, the timber sits on top of the whole thing

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I was curious why the wood does not rot. As it turns out, wood does not rot under water, because there is no oxygen. That is the same reason why Spanish galleons are found on the bottom of the sea, several hundred years after they sank.

You might be wondering how they manage to lift the Boathouse…

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Smaller beams are attached to the large 12×12, and supported on the bottom of the lake

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Small but powerful jacks are places at the bottom of each auxiliary beam to do the lifting

Now that the Boathouse has been lifted, it is time to remove the old concrete.

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Demolition in progress

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Demolished concrete pier, with timber suspended by the auxiliary supports

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Pier’s gone, time to take a well deserved break

The Department of Environmental Conservation would not allow ANY concrete debris to be left in the lake – even though it had been in the lake for 85+ years. So, we had to figure out how to get it off the lake bottom, out of the Boathouse, and into trucks for disposal.

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Conveyor from the work area, through a window, and outside

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The start of the conveyor, inside the Boathouse

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The rubble is piled in the emptied lagoon, for removal at the end of the job

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Lots of old concrete. Unfortunately, the canoe boathouse will need to be removed so that the concrete can be loaded into trucks

Once the old concrete was demolished and removed, it was time to strengthen the cribs. The cribs are held together by steel pins, which have largely corroded and weakened. They  were reinforced substantially with some serious lag bolts.

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Now THAT’s a serious lag bolt!

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One problem with cribs is that the corners can separate, allowing the crib to collapse. Bolts in the corners will prevent this from happening

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Lag bolts visible on the corner of this exterior crib

Now that the cribs are solid, it is time to replace the concrete piers. Concrete technology has come quite a ways since 1929; this time steel reinforcement will be used.

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Rebar laid out and ready for placement in the forms

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Plywood forms under a couple of the suspended timbers

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Looks about ready for some fresh concrete!

It was tough to get the old concrete out, and it certainly was not easy to get the fresh concrete inside. I wish I could have been there to watch this!

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Pumper truck getting ready for action

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The best way to get the concrete in turned out to be to go over the boathouse and in from the lake side

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Up and over!

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The view from the lake

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Masons working on a new pier

For anyone who loves this Boathouse, it is truly a beautiful sight to see the lovely, smooth concrete on which she now rests.

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Completed pier to the right of the workers

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Completed pier. If you look closely, you can see that the timber is still suspended about an inch above the concrete

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The same pier, prior to restoration

And that’s about where she stands at the moment. Since these photos were taken, she was gently let back down onto the piers. There is plenty of work yet to do, but the end is in sight. The walkways need to be reconstructed, the rubble needs to be removed, the water needs to be pumped back in, and the coffer dam needs to be removed. But the heavy lifting, so to speak, is complete!

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A Dog’s Life

We lost our dog Roscoe this week, after over thirteen years as a furry member of the family. It was not a surprise; he lived a very full life, and had been slowly declining over the past year or so. It made us sad nonetheless; it is amazing how attached you can become after so much time!

I spent some time this weekend going over some of our favorite pictures of Roscoe, and thought is would be fun to collect some of them here and tell Roscoe’s story, in pictures. So, if you knew Roscoe, or just like dogs, read on!

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We picked up Roscoe from the breeder in Oroville, California in September of 2003

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Yes, he was a cute pup, full of energy and mischief

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Roscoe and Brian quickly formed a very sweet bond. I think Roscoe could tell Brian was the youngest, and was extra cuddly with him. Here, Brian is asleep, using Roscoe as a pillow

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A boy and his dog

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While Brian was the snuggler, Tyler was more of the playmate. Here, Roscoe is giving Tyler some kisses

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Tyler and Roscoe hanging out

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A nice lake was Roscoe’s all-time favorite thing…

 

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… closely followed by snow! There is some debate about whether dogs can smile; Roscoe provided a conclusive answer to this!

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Roscoe was a herding dog, and took his job seriously. Here, he is trying to “herd” as we start a toboggan run

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He felt pretty strongly about herding the canoe as well

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And swimmers too, of course!

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When part of the herd got away, he would chase them down and bring them back

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And when part of the herd got TOO far away, he was not happy until he saw them return

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There is no doubt he was the happiest when the herd was assembled

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He loved his Grama almost as much as he loved his boys

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Baseball was one of his favorite pastimes. We tried calling it “executing code C” rather than “playing catch”, but he quickly figured that out, and would insist on playing too.

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Roscoe played hard, and was not afraid of getting dirty…

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… or of getting a little wet…

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… or of collecting a few snowballs in his belly fur!

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Tuckered out after a big day

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Roscoe loved paddling, whether in a kayak…

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… an inflatable…

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… or a canoe

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In his later years, he took a fancy to hiking, as long as he was [1] off leash, and [2] in some nice woods somewhere

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He loved going to the beach…

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… particularly his favorite beach on Lake George

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He loved his road trips. Roscoe made it to thirty states in his thirteen years!

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Although he didn’t always stay awake

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Roscoe had his own twitter account, and tweeted one of his road trips

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While he did appreciate art, he seemed a lot less impressed by his portrait (done by my good friend Jed Duncan, and currently hanging in our family room) than Karen and I were.

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Roscoe spent his last summer at Lake George, and I think he believed he was in heaven

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A serious moment. This is one of the last pictures of him that I took

Now that our last, furry child has moved on, we are truly empty-nesters! Certainly the end of a major (and wonderful) chapter in our lives…

 

What I Did This Summer, Part 2

In my last post, I told the story of our new place at Lake George and of our major remodeling project. And while the construction did rule our lives to a degree, we did manage to find time to take advantage of the other pleasures that the Adirondacks have to offer.

To start with, one of the advantages of living in a construction work site this summer was that it forced us to wake up early and get started with our day. There is nothing like knowing that the painters will be knocking on the door at 6:30 to get you out of bed and into the shower! Thanks to this incentive, we saw many Lake George sunrises – and that, in my opinion, is the most beautiful time of the day around here. Take a look at these pictures, and see if you agree…

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Red sky at morning…

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Sun just about to peek

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Sun rising as storm clouds dissipate

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Our sideways oak, and its reflection

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Boathouse at dawn

One interesting thing about Hague is that there is only one supermarket within 15 miles… and that is a Walmart. Long before we left for New York, we vowed NEVER to buy food from Walmart (due to previous bad experience and general principle!), a pledge we lived up to. Instead, we would escape the dust and mayhem of 51 Pine Cove by hopping in the truck and hitting fruit stands, farms, and small markets all over the Adirondacks and Vermont. A day’s circuit could include a stop at the little farm next to Tractor Supply in Ticonderoga, followed by raspberries and a cider donut at Gunnison’s Orchard in Crown Point, then up the Champlain Valley to the Essex Farm  to get a chicken. We’d have lunch in Essex along the lake while waiting for the ferry to Vermont, then after a pleasant half hour on the ferry we would meander through the Vermont countryside to Green Pasture Meats and to Champlain Orchards for produce and hard cider. Then, across Lake Champlain again on the charming Ticonderoga Ferry, and finally back home, with a quick stop at the Hague Market for a freshly baked cookie. Not the most efficient way to shop, of course, but mighty pleasant, with some lovely sights along the way!

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How could we NOT stop?

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Storm brewing, as seen from the Essex ferry

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Champlain Orchards, where we became regular shoppers

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Covered bridge on Swamp Road in Vermont

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Essex Farm CSA

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Lake Champlain shoreline

Our constant companion through the summer was Roscoe, our thirteen-year-old Australian Shepherd. Definitely well into his advanced years at this point, we were hopeful but not sure that he would survive long enough to see the Adirondacks. However, he revived remarkably once we arrived – Lake Therapy, we called it. As long as he was hiking, wading, kayaking, digging on the beach, or sleeping, he was a happy dog!

Roscoe is not the only one who enjoys paddling – Karen and I like it too! We had some lovely times on the water, both with and without Roscoe. We paddled mostly on Lake George, but also took a few expeditions here and there. Looking forward to more exploring next year, when we are not under construction…

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Evening paddle on Lake George

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Storm’s brewing

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Picnic in the canoe, on Cedar River Flow

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Resting on a small island

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Ford-tough canoe transport

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Chasing loons on Jabe Pond

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Loon-chase successful!

Our original plan for this summer had been to limit our boating to paddle-driven vessels, but we quickly discovered a flaw with this strategy – the flaw being that it was not something easily done with friends and visitors. So, it did not take us long to rationalize the idea of purchasing a boat. And, for me, that meant a wooden boat. It’s in my blood, I guess! Anyhow, we did some looking around, and came across an under-loved Chris Craft in very nice shape. And, the rest is history!

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1947 Chris Craft Sportsman Utility 22, perfect for relaxing evenings on Lake George

In addition being famous for boating, the Adirondacks are renowned for hiking. We took advantage of this as much as we could, taking very short, flat hikes with Roscoe (whose hindquarters are very weak), and longer, more strenuous hikes without him. Saw some beautiful places, and got a little sorely-needed exercise in the process.

All these activities were really fun just by themselves, but were made all the more rewarding by the constant presence of family and friends. We enjoyed frequent visits from some great people who we rarely get to see much of! Some pictures of this fine cast of characters is shown below, roughly in order of appearance…

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My aunt and uncle, Julie and Ken, who were kind enough to provide us with refuge when the cacophony of power tools became overwhelming

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Hiking with my cousin Ginger, who lives here year-round, and provided all sorts of great guidance for us

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Ginger’s grandson Josh, fisherman par excellence

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Jed and Jane Duncan, longtime friends and our brave, first visitors

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My sister Lisa and her husband Tim, who were kind enough to arrive with soft shell crabs from their dock on the Chesapeake

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My son Tyler and his old man

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Hiking in the High Peaks with the Rueppel clan

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Karen with Bricker, Julie and Ken’s grandson, and the world’s happiest and most gregarious nine-month-old

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My Aunt Vee, who at age 85 felt that living on an active construction site was “a great adventure”

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Julie, Vee, and my cousin Oey from New Hampshire

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Patrick, friend of mine from college, learning how to drive

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Brian with a soft shell crab and leftover ribs for lunch

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Kelsey, Brian’s girlfriend, who spent every possible moment in the water

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Judy, Karen’s mom, from all the way out in California

Like all good things, summer must come to an end. And indeed, as I write this, it has. Days are getting shorter, nights are getting cooler, and it is time to start thinking about our trek back home to California. We are taking the “long” way, however, and will be making lots of visits along the way, so I’m not complaining!

What I Did This Summer, Part 1

For many years Karen and I have shared the dream of spending summers on Northern Lake George in upstate New York. And, with Tyler living full-time in North Carolina and Brian firmly established at school in Connecticut, we decided that 2016 was the year to pull the trigger. After investigating summer-long rentals and discarding them due to high cost and lackluster availability, we got the harebrained idea of purchasing an under-loved property and fixing it up.

After a couple off-season trips to Hague, and some stellar negotiating on Karen’s part, we found ourselves to be the owners of a very humble one bedroom, two bathroom cottage in a fantastic location on the shores of the lake. In late May, we hopped in the truck and drove across the country to our new summer abode.

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Little House on the Lake, vacant for seven years before we bought it

Karen was very busy in the weeks before we left for New York, and had a landscaper, a tree guy, and a remodeling contractor all queued up to start work the week after we got there. And we were not disappointed! The contractor, CGM Construction, told us he would have the job done in three months, and with a 12 month and a 24 month remodel under our belts, we privately smirked a little. But we were thrilled to see work begin!

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The kitchen was the first room to get demo’d. “Looks better already”, said Karen!

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Debris piled up quickly…

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… and we got a dumpster, the first of three that we filled, with our mailbox on it!

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Dead trees were one of the first things to go

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Chainsaw cowboys taking care of business

We had a flat area of the yard that was largely unused, my guess is that it was a septic field at one time. Anyhow, I got it in my head that it would make a great place for a fire pit, and decided to build one. Eight 6×6 landscaping ties, 48 fifty-pound bags of gravel, and a couple loads of boulders from a nearby brook later, the firepit was built. It did not disappoint! A firepit with a world-class view, with smoke that always blows out over the lake, not in your face!

In case you haven’t guessed, we lived in the house throughout the remodel process. Which was no big deal, really, we’d done it before. But, as with the last remodel, cooking was a challenge! Our cooking style suddenly got VERY simple, usually a piece of meat grilled outside, with steamed or sauteed vegetables cooked on the stove. And, we ate out at least once a week, at the Firehouse Grill, the only restaurant in Hague.

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They were kind enough to leave us a stove…

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… and not much else!

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Counter space was at a premium

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Cabinets, but no appliances

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So close, yet so far!

One thing we know we were going to need was a dock. Fortunately, we got hold of The Dock Doctors early in the Spring, figured out what we would need, and placed a deposit. However, I underestimated the bureaucratic maneuvering it would take to get the necessary permits. After all, we were just replacing the decrepit dock that was already there! Anyhow, one day about six weeks after we arrived, we were thrilled to see a barge approaching with a crane on it. And, by the end of the day, we had a dock!

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Yay! The barge is here!

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And a few hours later, most of the dock was built

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Dock in foreground, worksite/home in background, with firepit to the right

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THIS is why we wanted a dock! One of many sunrises we watched, as the workers always arrived at 6:30 or 7:00

Work continued throughout the summer, there was not a weekday where at least one worker (and sometimes up to a dozen!) paid us a visit. And, by August, things really started to come together.

A little aside… early in the summer, we had paid a visit to Sub Alpine Coffee in the High Peaks on one of our many day trips. We saw some cool handmade stools, and found out they were crafted by a small furniture maker in Westport, on Lake Champlain. We paid him a visit, Courtney Fair was his name, and got him to make some stools for us, too. And, a handcrafted counter made with cherry wood to go with it!

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Wood Counter and Stools

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Kitchen and Family Room. Domestic Bliss!

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The Final Dumpster Departs!

If we had been bold enough to voice a prediction on when CGM would finish the job, we would have been eating crow big-time, because they beat their three-month target by over a week, even while addressing some serious complications. Needless to say, we are thrilled with how the whole project went, and are looking forward to spending a few relaxing weeks in our completed home!

Shown below are a few before-and-after pictures, to give you an idea of what was accomplished. Huge improvement! Not bad for a summer’s work…

Here is the view from the landing of the stairs, what used to be a living room is now the “dining” portion of a great room:

Dead trees and the warped, rotting deck are gone, replaced with a new deck and an awesome view:

Tired, cramped kitchen expanded and modernized:

Completely unfinished upstairs converted into three nice bedrooms and a laundry room:

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As much as we liked the workers, it is oh-so-nice not to have to wake up early every morning to greet them! Just have a bit of landscaping work to do now, and the project will be complete. Then, unfortunately, it will be time to pack up, and start the long drive back to California!

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Ever since I grew old enough not to be scared to death by it, I have been a big fan of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. And, while I recognize the necessity of having the ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Future, the Ghost of Christmas Past has always meant the most to me. Perhaps this is due to the fact that every year I myself am visited by this very ghost.

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The Ghost of Christmas Past, Magoo version.

The Ghost of Christmas Past that visits me does not take the form of a spirit, however, but rather takes the form of extraordinarily strong memories – memories that can brings lovely sounds to my ears, sweet smells to my nose, a poignant smile to my lips, and even tears to my eyes. I suppose I would have to say that this Ghost brings me the most physically tangible memories in my experience.

 

For some reason, this year the Ghost has been even more present than usual, and she (for I am certain that the Ghost is female) has walked me through some early Christmases from start to finish. As we all know that memories have a tendency to fade over time, I have decided to put pen to paper (so to speak) and document some of these memories, which are rooted in the rituals and traditions of my childhood.

Most of my Christmas memories seem to have a musical soundtrack; maybe this is part of the reason why they are so vivid. Both my parents were accomplished musicians; my dad played both piano and harpsichord, and my mom majored in music in college. My sister and my brother were both accomplished, serious singers; I was the slacker, having abandoned my musical talents in their early development stages to pursue athletics.

In the evenings leading to and following after Christmas, we would often sit in the living room by the tree and sing carols. Lisa had a lovely soprano voice, Mom was an alto, Dad was a bass, and Bobby and I would trade off on tenor and bass parts as the mood struck us. One of us would choose a carol, all would sing, then someone else would choose one. “God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” were my favorites. We would always end on Silent Night, to the lights of the Christmas tree and the flame in the fireplace, and would hum the last verse.

My mom and my brother were scrupulously traditional. My dad and I would sometimes advocate throwing in some variations, but we never got anywhere with that, and eventually gave up. Our traditions straddled the border between custom and ritual, and while we paid a price in spontaneity, we gained benefits in deeper meaning and emotion.

The festivities would start in earnest on Christmas Eve. That was when we would have our big Christmas dinner, rather than on Christmas day. My grandparents would always come over, and we would have a turkey dinner, finishing with a flaming plum pudding garnished with holly. After cleaning up we would head to my dad’s cousin’s house for their annual Christmas Eve party. As a kid, I was always resentful that we had to go to this, as it was definitely an adult party. But, it was somewhat of an obligation, and I do have very fond memories of everyone clustered around the piano singing carols.

Once we got back from the party, it was time to go into full-on Christmas mode. Ten o’clock at night, and SO MUCH to do! The main event was the hanging of the stockings. In my family, the stockings were NOT hung by the chimney with care, they were hung from the posts of the bed in the master bedroom. And, they were not pretty Christmas stockings, but were long nylon stockings, usually supplied by my grandmother I believe. We hung the stockings, and when we were little (I stopped being little by the time I was six) we were allowed to jump on my parent’s bed; the only night of the year we were allowed to do so, I can assure you! We would then nestle together on the bed and my mom would read “The Night Before Christmas” to us, followed by the Christmas story from a book called “The Christ Child”. We were then given strict instructions on when we could knock on their door in the morning (originally eight o’clock, eventually negotiated down to seven-thirty), and sent off to bed.

Of course, being kids, and being very excited, we could never sleep until the allotted hour. So, we would usually congregate in Bobby’s room to wait impatiently together, comparing notes as to what we had heard during the night and what we thought might be under the tree. Finally, the time would arrive, we would knock on the door, and we would be told “just a minute!” and asked whether we had brushed our teeth (to which we would invariably answer “yes”, of course!). FINALLY, the door would open, exposing to us a most surreal scene!

We would rush through the door headlong into the brightest light we would ever see, as my dad would take movies on his super-8. As our eyes adjusted, we were able to make out five amazingly overstuffed nylon stockings. We would all climb onto the bed, and my dad would hand our stockings one at a time. These stockings were filled to the brim, with a couple toys, some candy, some other sort of special snack (my favorite was smoked oysters that come in a can, for some reason), the upcoming year’s supply of underwear, a few pairs of socks, three or four paperbacks, and other sundries. There was always an orange in the bottom of the stocking.

After collecting our loot and taking it to our rooms, it was time to head downstairs. Not for presents, however! We were not allowed to see the tree yet, or any of the stuff underneath it. We would play with the toys and games we got in our stockings while my dad would prepare breakfast. We would finally sit down to a nice breakfast in the dining room, with fresh squeezed orange juice, which was always a special treat. After breakfast, we would attend to our kitchen chores, then head upstairs to get dressed (in “nice” clothes) and to clean our rooms (yes, this was required).

At this point, of course, we kids were ready to burst with impatience and anticipation. Dressed, teeth brushed, rooms cleaned, and much of the morning’s take of candy already consumed, we were ready the main event. At that point, we would get the OK that everything was ready, and we would rush downstairs to see the tree, surrounded with more presents than seemed possible, with Santa’s “main present” to each of us unwrapped under the tree. We would then sing “Joy to the World”, and get ready to open some presents!

Unlike many of my friends, opening presents was a very deliberate exercise. It was one present at a time, one person at a time, with Mom as chief choreographer. Presents for us kids were wrapped in coded wrapping paper so that she knew who was opening what, and when. Each present was followed by a personal “thank you” and hug and kiss from the recipient to the giver. As you might imagine, this took place over most of the morning, but as a kid I always viewed the way we did presents with pride. There was true appreciation, rather than simply an acquisitive rush that was over by breakfast time.

Just as we were running our of steam (and out of presents!), Grandma and Grandpa would arrive with one more present for each of us – and usually a pretty good one! That would usually cap things off for a while, as we would kick back, play with our new toys, try on new clothes, etc. Then it was off to the kitchen for turkey sandwiches and leftover desserts. Then, my grandparents would leave, and my parents would head off to their room for an afternoon nap – the only day of the year that this every happened. We kids never understood why they were so tired on Christmas day… but once I became a dad I understood!

WIN_20151225_11_55_03_ProLate in the afternoon, it was time to put the new loot down for awhile, and get ready for our Christmas visit with the Karlsons. Nip and Wes Karlson were some of my parents’ oldest friends, and we would get together with them every Christmas evening, alternating between their house and ours. This was another mostly-adult party, as the Karlson boys were a bit older than us, but we would bring a toy or two with us, and there was always great food like cheeseballs, various chips and dips, and plenty of candy. The grown-ups invariably had Tom and Jerry’s, while us kids had egg nog. The party would last until bedtime or after, bringing to a successful conclusion another Beekley Christmas.

So, there you have it, a Beekley childhood Christmas, in a thousand words or so. There is so much more, though, much of it is difficult to put into words. The awe and joy of finally seeing the presents under the tree. The gleam in my mom’s eye while singing carols by the tree, a look of love, pride, and pure joy. The great feeling that came with giving someone a gift that they really loved. The memories only become warmer, sweeter, and more visceral when viewed through the rosy lens of elapsed time.

My Favorite California Lake

I have always been a lake guy. Lots of people prefer the ocean, but I’ll take a nice mountain lake any day. It’s in my blood, I suspect…

Once I had kids, I decided that it was my moral obligation to share this love of lakes with my family, so I started looking at California maps to find an appropriate lake within striking distance. Of course, I was well aware of Lake Tahoe, and had been there many times. And Lake Tahoe is incredibly beautiful, and has lots of fun stuff to do. But, my goodness, Tahoe is crowded, incredibly expensive… and has casinos. I envisioned a lake that had neither crowds nor casinos.

I got a big map of Northern California, and started looking for my lake. My gaze settled on Lake Almanor, a good sized, heart-shaped lake well north of the Tahoe madness, near Lassen National Park. As summer aAlmanorpproached, I talked Karen and the kids into taking a camping trip up that direction. We had a really nice time, and Karen started to swing towards my lake-oriented point of view. Lake Almanor was beautiful, nice for swimming and boating, with deer, grebes, big beautiful pine trees, and osprey everywhere.

After a few more camping trips, we rented a house a couple times, and started thinking about maybe getting a lake place of our own. Our requirements for a lake house were pretty simple. It needed to have a really good view of the lake (on the shore was out of the question, way out of the price range!), had to be usable year-round, and had to have good access to fun things to do. Above all, it had to be an inviting place for the family to spend time together.

Calm lake and puffy clouds.

Calm lake and puffy clouds.

Bill and Ines Haas, previous owners of 806 Lassen View.

Bill and Ines Haas, previous owners of 806 Lassen View.

We looked around for a while, and actually ended up buying a place. It was a little more than we were looking for, to be honest, but the view was spectacular and the retired couple that were selling the place were so sweet that we simply couldn’t resist! So, in September of 2003 we became the proud owners of 806 Lassen View Drive.

We’ve had lots of great times there over the years, as you can see from the few pictures I have posted below. Sad to say, with the boys growing up, it has been a couple years now since we have been there as a family. However, Karen and I still make it there when we can; it is still a wonderful place to visit on a long weekend, and the house itself is filled with great memories!

Sunset on the lake.

Sunset on the lake.

Winter provides epic toboggan runs!

Winter provides epic toboggan runs!

Fishing expedition. Didn't catch anything!

Fishing expedition. Didn’t catch anything!

A forlorn herding dog watching part of his flock.

A forlorn herding dog watching part of his flock.

Winter snowshoe expedition.

Winter snowshoe expedition.

Hors doerves on the porch, a nightly institution at the lake.

Sunset dinner on the porch, a nightly institution at the lake.

Winter wonderland.

Winter wonderland.

A dog and his boy.

A dog and his boy.

Lake Almanor, from a kayak's point of view.

Lake Almanor, from a kayak’s point of view.