Life in the Calabria household without fire on which to cook is a very scary prospect. Jeanine cooks food from scratch every day and the microwave is nothing more than a convenience for heating left overs. It will be at least a week and possibly two before we receive and I can install a new cook top. The fear of Jeanine embarking on a homicidal rage before then inspired me to find a way, against all odds, to return our existing unit to temporary service. I will spare readers the gory details which involved the use of crow bars and a hacksaw but I managed to gain access to the interior of the unit. Once inside, I removed the damaged and no longer necessary components, pictured here. When all was said and done, I was able to return 4 of the 5 burners to manual operation.
gas-tra-tion : the frustration experienced when servicing a poorly designed gas appliance
I installed this GE gas cook top seven years ago. Recently the automatic ignition system failed and we have been lighting the burners manually. Today I set out to repair the problem. What should have taken an hour or two turned into an all day affair and unresolved outcome. In order to access the electronic ignition module, the most likely source of the problem, you must first gain access to the inside of the unit. This involves removing the range from the counter top, releasing two screws and the five burner tubes. When I attempted to loosen the final burner tube it would not budge. All the others had come out easily so I continued to apply more torque. Eventually the tube began to rotate but not because it was backing out of the casting below. Instead the casting had broken free of its mount and was rotating in place, wrapping the associated gas lines around itself destroying the assembly and associated control valve. To make matters worse, with no possibility of removing the final tube, access to the interior and any hopes of a repair are out of the question. If it were just a matter of replacing the unit with a new one this story would have a happy albeit expensive ending. Even though our kitchen island counter top has a standard size cutout for the range, it is also equipped with a telescoping side draft exhaust system which sits flush along the back edge. This creates a dimensional constraint on the cook top rear flange which as luck would have it does not conform to any model currently available on the market. It will now be necessary to cut a larger opening in the one and a half inch thick slab of granite along the already narrow front edge to fit a replacement. Not a great note on which to end the year.
One of the items I retrieved from my parents home when my mother and I began preparing the house for sale was a 48 inch flat screen TV that I purchased with my father shortly before his death. As of today it hangs in our breakfast nook where it displays my photographs in a random sequence with a new picture every 30 seconds. This wall has always been used to display artwork. We painted it with magnetic paint before it was papered allowing us to use magnets to “hang” flat artwork and photos. During the holiday season it is used to display the cards we receive. This location in our home can be seen from the kitchen, living room, and my office making it the perfect spot. I completely underestimated how much joy this little project would bring me and the family.
Jeanine, Susan, her friend Jean and I decided to spend the afternoon at Plum Island. The air temperature, in the low 40s, was unusually high but this was offset by sustained high winds which easily gusted over 30 knots. Everyone was dressed for the weather but even so we all were rosy cheeked by the end of the outing. We arrived at high tide and enjoyed a massive display of power as the wind driven waves assaulted the shore. After a brief walk on the ocean side of the nature reserve we finished our excursion touring the salt water marshes where we were fortunate to see a bevy of swans. After ample fresh air and exercise we returned to Concord with a few stops along the Merrimack River in hopes of a bald eagle sighting which was not to be realized.
Maya, over the course of the day, baked and decorated a giant cupcake utilizing a special mold she received as a Christmas present from her Aunt Lauren. The resulting treat was quickly devoured by a small army of boys (friends of Kyle and Nicolai who were gathered at the house) and members of the family except for Nico who is dieting to make a target weight of 112 pounds.
Nicolai and I made an early morning visit to Emerson hospital for additional testing to confirm that it is safe for him to return to wrestling. The first series of tests passed small electric currents through his body to confirm that his muscles were properly reacting to stimulus. The second series was far more painful. A tiny metal wire was placed deep (2 inches) into his muscles while the doctor monitored the electrical signals present when he flexed the muscles. The good news is that the test appears to confirm an absence of nerve damage or muscle weakness.
Today I put down my camera and simply enjoyed being immersed in family as we celebrated Christmas day with each other. We enjoyed Jeanine’s famous popovers for breakfast before beginning to share gifts. We took our time, enjoying each surprise, which occupied us well into the afternoon. Jeanine’s sister Susan, who we are always delighted to spend the holidays with, brought the movie Saint Ralph with her. This uplifting story of a boy in pursuit of a miracle made for a perfect finish to our celebration. Having spent the better part of the day nibbling on snacks and treats we unanimously opted to postpone Christmas dinner until tomorrow.
It would not be Christmas Eve without Zippoli Balls. These fried spheres of dough are coated with honey and sprinkles. They have been a part of my Christmas tradition since I was a small child (50 years). Jeanine prepared the dough, Maya and Nicolai working as a team formed the balls, and I did the deep frying. A more recent tradition (only 20 years) has been dining out after Church service. We were joined this year by the Budris family at Chang An’s our preferred Christmas Eve restaurant.
Jeanine’s sister Susan drove down from Burlington, VT and will be spending the holidays with us. Celebrating Christmas with family makes the holiday that much more wonderful and we are thrilled she is here. If the weather cooperates next week I hope to get her out on the Sudbury River for her first kayaking experience. Launching from a dock and wearing the proper clothing is the key to enjoying kayaking during the winter months. Throw in a couple of inches of wet snow and you have the makings for a winter wonderland on the water.
Nicolai has been invited to become a provisional member of Team USA by the American Amputee Soccer Association. They have been following his career since we contacted them years ago and he is now of the size, age and skill to compete at the international level. Nicolai has distinguished himself on the field against 2 legged opponents. It will be very interesting to see how he fares against other one legged players. Sadly, the popularity of amputee soccer has been on the rise due to the increased use of improvised explosive devices and the effects of natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti. Provisional membership is essentially an invitation to practice and compete with the national team. Full membership is conferred if a player is deemed sufficiently skilled to join the starting roster. I took this portrait of Nicolai for the Amputee Soccer website and we are looking forward to his first opportunity to play with the team.
Yesterday Nicolai received some very encouraging news during a second opinion consultation regarding his cervical spine disc issues. Although the initial bulging disc and congenital defect findings were confirmed, the new doctor, based on an additional x-ray view, offered two welcomed observations. First, that he saw no reason why Nico could not continue to play soccer. Second, that should Nicolai decide to wrestle he was at no greater risk than his opponent of paralysis. The doctor still recommended against wrestling, however, because Nico will eventually suffer permanent nerve damage and associated loss of strength in his arm if he continues to get stingers. New testing was ordered to confirm the revised diagnosis/prognosis and we are planning to get a third opinion to validate these latest findings. With the threat of paralysis off the table Nico is hell bent on wrestling. We discussed the situation and have agreed, for the moment, to allow him to begin practicing with the team provided he does extra work to strengthening his neck muscles. Should he suffer any further stingers we will reevaluate the decision.
Although it will be several weeks before Nico is ready to compete, the team was in action this evening against Lincoln Sudbury. I photographed the varsity dual meet for the team’s soon to be published brochure while Jeanine manned the concession stand.
Kyle is feeling much better and no less intelligent than last week when his four wisdom teeth were removed. I am not sure which was more painful, the multiple extractions or the news he received today that his truck requires $1300 of repair work (new gas pump and brakes). On a much welcomed positive note, Kyle received and shared with us his first semester college grades. They were exceptional and we are very proud of the great start he has made. This photo with Hannah (back from Emory for her winter break) was taken on Friday last week when she joined us for dinner.
Every so often we are treated to a magnificent if fleeting sunrise. I have learned to run for my camera on such occasions as the intense colors can dissipate in a matter of seconds. With all of the activity over the weekend I returned to work today with my batteries only partially recharged and a longer than usual list of things to be done (the toll for Friday’s team building excursion). I didn’t return home until well past 8PM and opted for sleep over dinner.
Looking almost fully recovered my mother enjoys some of her favorite music streaming from her iPod Shuffle. My brother took the time to set her up with and train her on all the latest technology including an iPad which she uses all the time to check e-mail and visit family blogs. The morning was spent filling my car to the brim with old photographs, several of my mother’s sculptures and Chinese water colors, old tools, electronics, a guitar (for Maya), books, and memorabilia. We joined my sister Alissa for lunch and a discussion of next steps as my mother continues down the path to sell her home. Tentatively, she will spend the winter months in warmer North Carolina with my other sister, Mayela, before transitioning to live with my brother Mark in Minnesota. We returned to Concord in time for dinner and thoroughly exhausted from our 24-hour round trip to NY.
Maya performed in a ballet recital early this afternoon and I secured a front row seat for the event. Jeanine really wanted to attend as well but she is at the University of Brockport completing her final anatomy class (update: she scored a perfect 100% on her final examination). Between soccer and ballet Maya moves with both power and grace propelled by legs with muscles of steel.
My mother has been recuperating from bronchitis with us for almost two weeks now making steady progress each day. As a result of this health incident, she has decided it is time to move from her home of close to 50 years. The three story house in the historic General Electric plot of Schenectady, NY where I grew up has 8 bedrooms and a 4 room basement apartment. For a family of four it was huge. For my mother living alone it is positively cavernous. Most difficult to leave behind will be the magnificent Japanese style garden, a perennial centerpiece in the city’s annual garden show, that she created over the decades. After Maya’s performance, my mother and I made the three hour drive to Schenectady where we began the process of preparing the home for sale. Despite fond memories of my childhood home, I felt like this was the beginning of a new chapter for the family rather than the end of an era.
For the second time this week I participated in a team building event led by one of my direct reports. Our mechanical engineering team faced two challenges that rewarded teamwork, collaboration, planning and communication. The first was a pit stop competition in which teams of four serviced an actual race car (positioned floor jack, simulate lifting car, adding an exact amount of fuel, washing the windshield and headlamps, and replacing two tires with pneumatic wrenches). The second event featured a 60 minute endurance race with 8 driver changes and a strict set of rules and time penalties for violations. Everyone was a winner and I could not have been more pleased with the event and the outcome.