Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fireplace Blues

We are buying a wood burning stove insert for our fireplace.

Actually, we are replacing the one we had for 15 years. It was "installed" by a previous owner and by installed, I mean three large guys picked the behemoth up and slammed it in the 1970's era prefab metal sided fireplace. No flue connection. No insulation. Just a giant metal thing sitting on the brick.


To open and close the flue of the fireplace you used to have to shimmy the 1000 pound behemoth to one side and then reach into the sooty darkness and open (or close) the flue. The steel insert would screech like nails on a chalk board and inevitably your arm came back out covered in soot. It was kind of like the old board game Operation except it was dark and a buzzer and light didn't off if you hit the sides - you got soot arm.

I got quite good at this crazy task over the years. By the end I could yank that black stove back, swing my arm up there with a paper towel and close the flue with out a mark getting on me. I got so good that I could do it in good clothes before work without worrying about it.

We would light fires on only the coldest nights of the winter and since the thermostat for the house was in the same room as the insert, it would effectively turn the heat off for the night. This was great if you were in the part of the house heated by the wood stove but if you were outside of that area you froze. By "outside that area", I mean the 11 x 17 living room.

Of course this just made you put more wood in the stove until the stove reached a temperature near that required for making steel.

My wife enjoyed the fire especially if I needed to chop wood for the fire. She found this absolutely hilarious as I would go out in the cold and try to prop up a piece of wood, take the heavy maul over my head and then bring it down hard on the defenseless wood only to have it bounce a mile high off the wood. Ha, ha, ha, ha, boy is that ever funny. It's cold and I'm sweating. Ha, ha, ha, ha.

I thought nothing of making fires like hades. The hotter the better. I would sometimes have a hard time sleeping if we had a fire that night - thinking that it could some how light the house on fire. But for the most part, I didn't worry about.

Until the chimney sweeps came one year. We had the chimney cleaned like we did every year only that year the chimney sweeps told us that the stove was a fire hazard. They told us that the stove wasn't designed for that "type of fireplace" and we should get rid of it, now.

We somehow had no issue for 15 years but now all of a sudden I had the crap scared out of me and we tried selling it for scrap. Of course no one wanted it, but several scrap dealers were willing to take it off my hands for $100. I'm sure it's sitting in some old place in Camden, happily heating a scrap dealers office or garage every winter.

Now, after two years of heatless fires in the prefab fireplace, we want our warmth back and have been looking at professionally installed inserts. We visited one dealer two weeks ago and he made it sound like it was a piece of cake. He installs tons of them every winter.

Today my wife went to another store only to hear a familiar refrain. It was like "A Christmas Story" where the kid wants a Red Rider BeeBee gun and all he hears is "you'll put your eye out kid". This second store told us "You can't have an insert in a non-masonry fireplace - you'll burn your house down"

This second store wants to tear out the old "zero clearance" fireplace and install a masonry one for big bucks.

Now we are totally confused.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Its now the Fall of Paul

I'm declaring the summer of Michael officially over as of 9/9/09 and we are now in the fall of Paul.

Like the chill in the air and the cooling of the pool, each season brings with it something new and something old departs. So just as when the sidewalk vendors on 15th street took down their Obama shirts and put up Michael paraphernalia in June, I'm moving into a Beatles phase.

Hail to all things Beatles again.

My wife was one of the first to buy the new Beatles Rock Band game and she and youngest son played the first day on 9/9/09 (and shouldn't they have released on 9/10 or the "one after 9/09"?).

I haven't played but I have been listening to a lot of Beatles on the iPod.

I usually have the iPod on a "random order" mode where the iPod selects what song will play next but yesterday I listened to Abbey Road in track order.

It amazed me that I still knew what the next song was going to be from years of forced vinyl ordering. As soon as "Something" ended, I just knew that "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" was starting up next. I had forgotten that as much care was put into the ordering as the songs themselves. John-George-Paul-Paul-Ringo order the songs are etched on the album, the way that they were intended to be listened to.

I once heard Mick Jones, formerly of the Clash and now a member of Carbon/Silicon, say that downloading a single song from an album is like cutting the eye out of the Mona Lisa because "that's your favorite part". While having a former punk artist reference classical art might seem a little odd, it's true. On good albums, it's best to listen to the whole thing.

On the weight watchers front, I lost two pounds this week and my tip of the week is "buy a scale". I bought the "Biggest Loser" model for $20 on Labor Day at Kitchen Kapers. I bought in frustration over how much "3 oz" of cooked pork roast was. I had guess about 1 oz per slice and had 3 slices on my plate. When I bought the scale and weighed it, it was more like 0.5. I had given myself a small portion! I also had been over estimating rice and pasta portions. Now the portion control is crisp and precise with the mass in g on each product. That is if you know the difference between g and oz. My wife misunderstood and attempted to pour 29 oz of Cheerios into a bowl.

Let's just say it overflowed.

A bonus tip this week on eating out. I got in and out of Olive Garden with a 6 by checking the menu ahead of time and selecting the Venetian Apricot Chicken and a salad with fat free dressing. Check the menu ahead of time or just go to Seasons 52 in Cherry Hill. Everything on the menu is 475 Calories or less.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Morning Swim.

It always amazes me how the weather in Philly can turn on a dime on the first day of September. Last week it was jungle hot and then Monday morning came with temperatures in the low sixties and massive dew on the cars. Every morning was even cooler that the morning before it with great "sleeping weather".

During the days we had what I call "9/11" weather. Bright sunshine with cooler temperatures. The only difference was planes in the air. Only the cicadas that procrastinated in August remain and even their rhythms are half-hearted. At night the chirping of the crickets is slowed near the rate of the breathing of a hibernating bear and the sun struggles to warm the day with less direct sunlight. Like a rockstar that has kicked heroin, summer is trying to make a comeback.

Of course all this cool weather sucks the life right out the pool temperatures. While the week before it was in the mid eighties, it now registered 74 by weeks end. Still warm enough for the determined or the really, really hot. I was both after two early morning bike rides this week. On Thursday I was called crazy for jumping in at 6:30 AM after a bike ride. It was still sort of warm though.

The Weightwatchers thing is going great - except for turkey burgers err ahh Soylent Green. I just can't stomach them (literally) and after two attempts I am throwing in the towel. They just taste like cardboard and after figuring out the point difference was minimal for lean ground beef and turkey, guess what.

I guess I never got over the musshy "meat" in my hand and the keeping back the vomit. But I may try Zach's recommendation of ground turkey for tacos once fall hits for real. I think the spicy seasons can mask the nothingness that is ground turkey. Until then turkey and I are "taking a break". I may wait until Thanksgiving for that much turkey again.

While the change in eating habits are becoming more and more familiar, the weekly WW meetings are getting old. As predicted there were even fewer at this weeks meeting while we were going over goals. Fewer people also means fewer guys at the meetings and this week I was the only man to hear one of the ladies share that her goal was to be able to walk around the house naked.

Too. Late. Must. Think. Of. Something. Else. That image is now burned into my memory, thank you.

The well intended leader is trying to breathe life into the group with enthusiasm and cheer leading but I'm not sure it's working. There is a lot of "Beuler? Bueler? Anyone?" after she asks a question and she trying to get us pumped up but we aren't buying it. It's very awkward.

Face it. This sucks but we are getting through it. IT IS NOT FUN eating chicken and lettuce 24/7. Stop telling me it is. Shut up and give me some fries.

I'm eating more chicken than Frank Perdue. (Although there really isn't any evidence that he actually ate chicken, is there. He just looked like one. ) . Last night I broke down and had a cheeseburger for the first time in two weeks. Of course the moment I took the first bite I got a phone call. It was like have your sister in law call during a romantic moment at home. It was just me and my cheeseburger and then it wasn't.

Even with the burger, I made my point goal but dinner was over half the points for the day.

I must say it is working. Officially I lost 12 pounds in two weeks although I think it is closer to 8-10.

I'm only sticking to the "regular" points - I have never used the bonus points (yet). And I'm getting 2-3 bike rides of 30-60 minutes in every week.

This week I also discovered shrimp. Shrimp is low calories, low fat and good. I may stock up on that again this week. First I made kabobs:

Shrimp, pineapple, canned whole white potatoes, sweet onions and red pepper on each skewer, spray with pam and sprinkle Cajun spices on them. Grill on low for about 12-15 minutes. I figured a point per skewer.

Then I just grilled onions, red pepper and shrimp on the stove. Nine 31-40 count shrimp is 2 points.

On to anther week of skim milk and 1 point English muffins.