My Clock: A Christmas Story

I love clocks. I love everything about them: I love how they look, I love how they sound, and I love the idea that I can actually know what time it is for even a second, because I have absolutely no time sense.

I don’t know how to describe it, actually. They’re just fascinating to me. At the risk of sounding like a lunatic, I catch myself gazing at them. Every time my mom’s cuckoo clock goes off I try to get the kids to see it and they just roll their eyes at me. I absolutely view “going to the clock aisle at Target” as a valid way to kill 30 minutes. My memory is pretty poor in general, but I still remember taking apart my first alarm clock. It was powder blue with like the old style bell on the top. I still remember what the grease felt like on the cogs.

As much as I enjoy modern clocks, mechanical clocks are vastly cooler than electrical clocks. There’s just something…steampunk about all those tiny gears. It’s endlessly fascinating to me that something can be so precise and detailed using only technology that we knew about a hundred years ago. It feels like magic.

So when you put all of this together, there is one type of clock that is the biggest, awesomest, granddaddy of them all (you see what I did there?): the grandfather clock.

I have wanted a grandfather clock for as long as I can remember. My grandma has one and it is just the absolute best. The sound is definitely part of it; those Westminster chimes give me chills.

Last year I decided that the only thing I wanted for Christmas this year was a grandfather clock. I thought maybe I could coordinate everybody, pool money, find someone to haul it, possibly find a clock repair person if necessary. However, as Christmas got nearer, and I started looking at used clocks online, it was a little overwhelming. So many choices. How do you know which ones are good and which ones aren’t? What if you drive to all over the midwest and all of the clocks are broken or something?

So I decided it was all just too much and grandfather clocks needed to just remain in the realm of dreams. Unbeknownst to me, Sara had already been contacting people and, long story short:

(Bonus audio on that video is because I told Alex you can count the chimes to tell the time…he made it to 19!)

It’s been about a week and I have not gotten tired of the chiming yet. Never has a clock been so fussed over. As soon as I get home I check to see if I missed it just chiming or not. I have fiddled with the pendulum several times to adjust the clock speed faster or slower, and I check it against my watch nearly every time it chimes to see if it needs further adjustment. I mean, obviously the newness will wear off at some point, but as of now my only regret is that the chime is not louder!

So that’s how I came to own a grandfather clock, and to have all of my wildest dreams suddenly come true!


In which I use that one semester of electrical engineering I took

Many years ago, we upgraded to a keypad lock on our door. Not even kidding: it revolutionized everything about my life. Since we live in the city and I take the train to work, there are a lot of days when I could just stroll right out the door with no keys, free as a bird. I cannot stress how awesome of a feeling that is. I mean, I guess it doesn’t SOUND that great, and I probably wouldn’t have thought so either, until I did it. So I guess you’ll have to take my word for it: it was awesome. And that’s on top of the regular bonuses, like being able to let someone in if you’re not there or knowing that if there’s some weird situation where the kids are dropped off and we’re not home, they can always get in the house.

I think that was really my first infatuation with the idea of a “smart home”, but let’s be honest: I write science fiction. I have really been dreaming of a smart home for basically my entire life. Sara can attest to the amount of brain space I have dedicated to thinking about smart home integration. Spoiler alert: it’s a lot.

Sara on the other hand is not so sold on it, which means that I have had to sneak in pieces here and there, whenever I can. 🙂 In her defense, these things generally tend to be expensive, and usually what you get for that money is the ability to say, “wow, that is so cool!” So, you know, to SOME people maybe that is not worth it. I will let SOME people speak for themselves.

Since we moved to the new house, the main problem I have been facing is what to do about the front gate? Our fancy keypad lock doesn’t do a whole lot of good if you can’t get to it (and by extension, my dream of not carrying my keys was dead).

My first attempt was to buy a keypad or smart lock for the gate. No matter how many times I looked into it, I just couldn’t find something satisfactory. Most smart locks assume the interior part is going to be inside your house, and is therefore not waterproof. There are a few locks that would work but 1) they are expensive, and 2) in addition to buying the actual lock, I would probably have to weld a plate onto the gate or something to attach the lock to. So it wasn’t going to be cheap, especially if I had to hire someone to do it.

In other words, a non-starter.

Eventually I had an idea: what if instead of changing the lock at the gate, I was somehow able to put something inside the house that could tap into the buzzer system? I couldn’t unlock the gate per say, but if I could mimic pressing the buzzer button I could still open it up remotely.

My first go involved using a MIMOLite controller, but the problem was it required a smart hub to communicate with. I was fairly confident I could get it done, but it was going to cost about $140ish. Cool, but not cheap.

I thought about this off and on for probably 6 months, occasionally doing more research, until one day I strolling through a DIY smart home website and I discovered the Sonoff 1 Channel Inching /Self-Locking WiFi Wireless Switch. This thing was almost too good to be true: instead of paying $140, I could rig up my gate buzzer for about $6 (I ended up spending another $6ish for a long micro USB power cable, so lets call it $12).

The first thing I needed to do was to figure out how the buzzer worked. It seems a little overly complicated, but with the help of some time and some good internet detective work, i was able to figure things out.


Once I had that, it was just a matter of hooking up the switch. The best part about this is that it is completely non-invasive. Honestly, if you lived in an apartment building you could probably hook this into your system no problem.


The long and the short of it is when the relay receives a signal over wifi (via the free sonoff app), it simply closes a circuit. The relay has a mode that allows it to close for a short period of time before releasing, which is all we need to trigger the buzzer.


Et voila! Works like magic! See for yourself:

You can even incorporate it with Google Home, which would allow you to open the gate with voice commands, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Now that this is done, I don’t really know if I have any more “smart” integrations to do, although I’m sure I can come up with a few if I put my mind to it. I can only hope they will be as cheap as this one turned out to be!

That time I opened up my toe

It should go without warning, given the title of this post, but this one is not for the squeamish. If terrible injuries and incredible bad luck being visited on your favorite blogger do not appeal to you, perhaps sit this one out.

Way back in the middle of summer, I had to run some compost outside. I keep my Birkenstocks by the back door for just such an occasion, so I grabbed the pail, slipped my feet in there like a pair of old gloves, and trotted outside.

These Birkenstocks. They have been a part of my life for more than 20 years. They’ve outlasted relationships, outlived pets, and generally served me well. However, since they were replaced as my primary sandals, they’ve clearly been spoiling for a chance to get a little revenge.

See, as I was coming back inside, they caught on the lip of the stairs, tripping me. I mostly recovered, except I clipped the very teensiest, tiniest, tip of my toe against the stair, just enough to catch my big toenail on the lip and flip it up at a 90 degree angle.

I didn’t know what to do, so I ran inside. Alex was the first to greet me. “Daddy opened up his toe!!” he cried excitedly. I was…not as excited.

The thing is, you don’t realize how important your big toe is for walking until you can’t use it. It was *extremely* difficult to walk to and from work, and by the end of the day I was in a lot of pain; not just from the toe itself, but my whole foot would ache from using various muscles I was unaccustomed to using as I tried to keep my toe from touching anything as I limped along.

The even worse news was this happened shortly before we were scheduled to leave on our multi-week Yellowstone vacation, a vacation which involved a LOT of planned hiking. Luckily for me I recovered just in time…the first day I was able to walk somewhat regularly was also the first day we planned to have a long hike (well we planned on a two mile hike, but we accidentally went on a four and a half mile hike! So good thing I was somewhat healed up!)

Caring for my toe consumed me for nearly the entire duration of the trip until the toenail finally fell off altogether near the end. You wouldn’t think losing your toenail would be a positive, but at that point I was ABSOLUTELY DONE with that toenail, and losing it made everything instantly that much better.

The whole thing has obviously weighed heavily on Alex’s mind, as he has periodically asked me things like, “Dada, can you open up your toe again? I want to see inside.” Just the other day, months after the incident he randomly said to me, “Remember that time you opened up your toe, but the only thing inside was blood?”

I don’t know what he expected to find inside…a pot of gold? Candy? A handy little pocket for carrying spare change?

Sorry to disappoint.

In fact, my gross toe became such a thing, that while we were on vacation we came upon the most over-the-top, artificial, sugar packed cereal ever to grace this green earth. Upon seeing it, Evelyn said, “That looks grosser than your toe!”


Well, reader, I will let you decide. Which looks grosser? Feel free to vote in the comments.


(You knew there was going to be a picture, right? I mean, you had to know it was coming…)

Happy Halloween!


Apple Picking, 2018









The Race

Another year, another 5k in the books! And as usual, the face paint game was on point:


Unfortunately we were really too busy to do much in the way of practicing this year. I think we only managed a few, and never more than about 2 miles. So that’s why it was a bit surprising that I got a personal record! 34:37 this year; SIX WHOLE SECONDS better than last year. 🙂

I think it just speaks to how much healthier I am overall than I was even a year ago, to be able to improve my time with almost no practice. In fact, I’m proud of the entire family for being able to run sub-35 minute 5ks at the drop of a hat!  (And if you’re wondering if I sprinted ahead at the last minute and beat Sara by 13 seconds, yes. Yes I did.)

Two years ago, Oliver ran 32:57 and won his age group. Unfortunately we didn’t see that coming, and left before his name was announced. If you remember the story from last year, he ran even *faster* (29:13), only to be beaten by a different kid named Oliver!


We later found out that the Oliver who won was actually riding a bike! So our Oliver DID win his age group for a second year in a row, and he missed out on his moment of glory a second time!

This year he somehow improved by several minutes once again, throwing down an amazing 27:13! Unfortunately, he also jumped up an age group, which means he’s competing against 14 year olds, and he only came in 17th in his age group.

Sorry buddy. You did run your heart out though, and beat your parents by a landslide.


Alex has been insisting that he was going to run this race. Usually he can make it about…half a block maybe? So we were all set to have him do the kids’ dash. He waited all day for it, and was super excited. He lined up and Sara and I got ready to take the inevitable adorable pictures, when…he just didn’t. He wouldn’t go. Just stood at the starting line watching everybody else run.

Eventually Evelyn picked him up and ran down to the finish line, where he received a medal. “I’m really proud of my metal!” he confided to Sara the next day.

As long as everybody is happy.

Afterwards we were all quick to replenish those calories we had so carelessly wasted running around for no reason…


I guess that’s another one in the books!

In which I get shot

…sort of.

Spoiler alert, it was a pellet gun, not a real gun! Don’t want to bury the lede here; I am fine and well!

So it’s a Monday afternoon at about 6. I’m walking home from the train as I do most every day, and I’m just around the corner from home.

I hear a “THWIIIIP” and something hits me in the side. It hurts, kind of, but mostly I’m just surprised. My first thought is, “Someone just shot me with a rubber band.” I quickly scan the street but I don’t see anybody. I’m craning my neck, trying to see my side. I keep double checking because it’s starting to hurt and it kind of seems like I should see a mark or something on my shirt but I don’t see anything, which is confusing. I scan the street again and the high rise across the street. There are people walking everywhere, but nobody looks suspicious.

Finally, I decide somebody shot me with something so maybe I shouldn’t be standing around on the sidewalk like an idiot, and I hurry home.

As soon as I got through the door I picked up my shirt and was very surprised to see a decent amount of blood. Sure enough, the pellet (I presume now it was a pellet or bb gun of some kind) hit me and made a tiny little hole where it went through my shirt. I hadn’t seen it because it was more around my back.

Alex ran to greet me as soon as I came in the door, so unfortunately he saw it. “Did somebody bite you at work, daddy?” he asked.

Now, it’s kind of funny to say I got shot, but obviously I didn’t really got shot and it makes me a little uncomfortable for anybody to say that I did. A lot of people in Chicago, and the U.S. at large, really do get shot, and I certainly don’t want to equate this with that.

That being said, it was a pretty decent wound and everybody I showed it to was pretty horrified. (I debated about adding a picture to this post, but honestly it might be kind of gross. So if you’re that kind of person and you want to see it, it’s on you to click through.)

In any case, I didn’t tell the kids I got shot because that would panic them. I just told them I “got hit by something” and had to go to the doctor so it didn’t get infected. I think we might have finally gotten them through the emotional trauma of me getting mugged, so that is the last thing I need them thinking about. In other news, CAN BAD STUFF PLEASE STOP HAPPENING TO ME NOW???

I really didn’t want to call the police, and I really didn’t want to go to the Emergency Room, but I was persuaded to do both. I kept apologizing to the police, like, “I know you guys have real crime to deal with,” but the police seemed to say reporting it was the right thing to do.

As far as the ER…what a wretched, wretched place. I guess I was more imagining the children’s ER, which is what I have more experience with. The wait was going to be EIGHT HOURS! Everybody was very angry and aggressive. After waiting 30 minutes to even check in, I was ready to get the heck out of there. If it wasn’t for the slight chance that the bb might still be in me, I would have just gone home and slapped a bandaid on it. Honestly, the thought of digging it out with a pocket knife seemed more appealing than hanging around in that ER for 8 hours.

Sara kept trying to talk me down, but honestly the only thing that kept me there was the looks on the total strangers faces in the ER when I showed them my wound. The immediate, universal look of shock and horror kept me in place. 🙂

Luckily for me, they cleaned it and poked around in it in triage, and they didn’t feel anything inside there. In retrospect, at the time I thought I heard the sound of something metal hitting the sidewalk, but I looked around and I didn’t see anything. So it most likely was not still in me, but it’s the kind of thing you want to be sure about, you know? So I ended up being home in time to read the kids a bedtime story.

Now, the unfortunate part about all of this is that this happened right next to my house. I have to walk by that corner twice a day. The only way to avoid walking by there is to instead walk down the street where I got mugged.

I know this was most likely a random act of a stupid kid, but why me? There were tons of people on the street at that time, why was I singled out? This has never happened to anybody else I know; what is this curse I’ve fallen under? Why is the universe so random and capricious?


Okay, got it out of my system.

Listen, I’m fine. It doesn’t even hurt anymore. It’s just a thing that happened, a blog post to be written. It sucks. I’m not happy about it, but after I heal up the only lasting effect will be a tiny hole in a tee-shirt I got for free. To be honest, getting shot by a kid with a bb gun is the one thing that is MORE likely to happen in Indiana than in the city of Chicago.

(Still wouldn’t mind if stuff would stop happening to me, though.)