Saving Memories

While I don’t have any exact numbers, I feel safe in assuming a large percentage of the video cameras sold are purchased by new parents.  When you are expecting, you buy a camera and record all the “firsts”, and “seconds” and anything you can capture and preserve.  The idea is generally to share with other family members and to look back to the “good ole days” once the kids are older and less likely to smile at peek-a-boo.DSC00649

A lot of the current video cameras contain a hard drive or use some form of flash media.  But some still use tape, like my old camera did.  Various sources state that if properly stored these tapes should last 15 – 20 years (one even saying up to 50 years).  DON’T BELIEVE THEM!!!  While I may not understand “proper” storage, I know that all of my tapes, whether they were rewound or not, have issues.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Luckily about five years ago I went through all my tapes and converted them through iMovie to an external hard drive.  Unfortunately, that hard drive failed.  About two years ago it showed as “Not Recognized” by my MacBook.  So, thinking my digital videos were lost, I broke out the tapes again to go through the arduous process of re-converting all the videos.

I dusted off the old camera, hooked up all the Sony specific wires and started to watch the video of my oldest son’s first day of school.  There were gaps between the fuzzy, blurry mess of colors that showed a clear picture and even had some discernable sound, but for the most part, the video was garbage.  I tried a second tape and experience the same thing.  A third, a fourth – the tapes apparently were not “properly stored”.

My focus turned back to the hard drives.  The external drive was actually a two drive unit (500 GB each).  They were SATA drives and thinking the drives might be okay and that the controller in the housing might be the cause, I ordered a SATA drive cradle and attempted to access the files via its USB connection.  (Amazon is amazing – I ordered the drive around 10PM on Friday night and it came to the house by Noon the following day!!)

My problems continued.  My MacBook could see the drive but not the files.  I researched files recovery options and downloaded a tool to read corrupt files.  It ran for a really long time and finally came back with “recovered” files.  The file structure was familiar – iMovie Projects and Events.  The file extensions were .dv files and .mov files – looking good.  I tried to view one and, nothing.  An error message stated that the files were not valid movie files.  I tried a couple other recovery applications and tips from my research but still, no luck.  This was going from ugly to uglier!

Good things come to those who wait?

Recovery of the files became a pet project (aka point of contention).  I would sit down at my desk, see the hard drives and the cradle and think “Hey, I have a few minutes, let me try this again”.  I’d set it up, get to the “recovered” files and again, get the error that they were not really movie files.  I would fire up iMovie and try to open them but it would not recognize them either (so much for fooling the program).  I would research corrupt movie files and burn up my free time reading about programs to recover files (similar to what I had already done) but nothing unique for my situation, for files that you can see, you can identify but you can’t open.

Finally, after going through this process for several iterations, spanning several months, I had a thought to research the external hard drive a little more.  I found that others had experienced similar issues as mine with the LeCie drives.  It appeared that the power supply for the drive unit had an issue that would power the drives but not enough to keep them spinning at a rate that was sufficient – causing them to error as “not recognized”.  And, to add to that , the drives were striped RAID 0 so trying to read either of them individually was not going to work.

One suggestion that I found was to open the unit, supply power to the drives from a separate power source and then use the hard drive unit (for the RAID controller) to get to the data.  Sounded like a great idea except for one crucial element – I tossed the external hard drive guts at some point thinking it was faulty (and due to my frustration with the entire process).  So, I searched ebay and found a new unit for $50.

A funny aspect of this story that really has nothing to do with the video recovery.  When I received the email from ebay saying I had won the hard drive (which was not a surprise since I did the Buy it Now option) it offered to show me other items from this seller.  I clicked the link out of curiosity.  Of the items that it could display (about half were blocked requiring confirmation that an adult was logged in), I was appalled to see a variety of topless men posing for calendars and magazine covers.  It appeared that the seller I just purchased an external hard drive from was into some alternate lifestyle media.  Fear took over the disgust running through my brain.

I received the replacement drive, opened it up and plugged in my hard drives.  At first it did not recognize the drive.  Maybe it was my drives after all?  I reluctantly plugged in the drives that came with the replacement drive (covering my eyes from what might pop up).  The external drive was recognized!!  (and there were not files on it!!).  I swapped the cables again to my drives and this time it came up.  All of my videos were there AND I could open them!!

I think he’s going to make it!!

So now we have our memories.  We have hours of video of the boys when they were babies and other events from the past decade plus.  It will take a while to go through it all but I am making backup copies of them as I go so we don’t lose them again. So far it has been great – we had a “viewing” with the family the other night and the boys laughed heartily at the videos of themselves as babies.  Now I can’t wait to show them to their prom dates!!

Please take my advice- backup your memories!  Make sure they are stored “properly”, don’t lose them.  Data can become corrupt.  With storage at great prices, make a couple of copies and store one somewhere that it is safe (offsite – at someone else’s house or a safety deposit box – or use online storage!!).  Trust me, you don’t want to have to go through all the hoops I did to be able to reminisce with the family.

My son won’t sit near me and I am Thrilled!!

My son doesn’t want to sit near me.  He doesn’t want to ride in the car with me.  He hardly notices I am even there.  And I am thrilled!!IMG_8303

I mentioned in my tryouts post that my oldest tried out and made the JV Volleyball team.  This has been a great experience for him, and for us.  Where he was traditionally a quiet, very reserved type he has come alive with stories from practice and goofing off with the team.  He has really come out of his shell and it has been great for his attitude and demeanor.  Not to mention getting a lot of exercise and being involved in a sport for the first time in a while.

But perhaps most notable is his independence.  He has confidence and he is willing to branch out on his own.  We have been able to attend all of his games so far and it is great to see him being part of the team, even though as the youngest member of the group he is sitting on the bench most of the time.  He is determined and focused during warmups and assumably during practice, while so far during the limited game time he gets he looks pretty nervous.  That is to be expected.

After the JV games the JV squad is expected to watch and cheer on the Varsity team.  Rather than coming to sit with us, he hangs with the team and takes part in the cheering and chants.  He gives us a glance here and there and at times has passed along a quick “thumbs up” but is otherwise content to hang with his team.  And we think this is wonderful.

For away games he rides to and from the game on the bus, even though we are there and could give him a ride home.  He enjoys the camaraderie on the bus with the JV and Varsity guys having fun.  Granted, it means we drive from the school we are visiting back to the High School just to pick him up but it is good for him to participate and feel involved.  And the team seems to be a good group of guys- the Varsity guys  even cheer for him when he goes in.

So for now, when he avoids us at games, we are happy.  This experience has caused him to open up more to us and added a level of confidence to him overall.  He talks more to us at the dinner table and has a lot to say whenever he gets our ear.  In many ways it has made us our relationship better, and that can’t be praised enough.  It has been a great experience all around so far.

Tryouts are Trying Times

With the beginning of the school year has come fall sports tryouts.  We aren’t very good at staying uninvolved or uncaring around tryouts.  We get a little too emotionally attached to what our kids want.  I admit it- guilty as charged.  So going through the tryout and selection process isn’t easy for our household.  Thank goodness it doesn’t happen too often.TryoutsToday

This year’s tryout angst started in August.  Our oldest was trying out for volleyball.  As an eighth grader, since they don’t offer volleyball at his Middle School, he was able to tryout for JV at the High School.  We have been thrilled that he was willing to attempt this – it really shows his maturity and willingness to break out of his comfort zone.  But with it comes the anxiety of what to do, will he make it, what if he doesn’t – how will he take it.  And so on.

Luckily for us he made the JV team and has been happily participating in practices 4-5 times a week since.  It has been a little struggle keeping up with the schedule and communication but between what he hears and what we gain from a steady email stream with the team mom, we make it work.  It is great to see him passionate about the game and to have his “thing” to do.  Plus he is making friends for next year’s transition to high school.

Last year my youngest tried out for the Middle School soccer team.  As a 6th grader and with over 50 kids trying out for 22 slots, his chances were slim.  He didn’t make it but was okay with that.  In Spring he went through the tryouts process for his club travel team as they merged from two teams to one – he made the cut and was thrilled to be playing with a lot of his friends for the coming year.  He worked hard over the Summer, doing weekly workouts with a training coach, attending pick-up games with kids who were on the Middle School team and attending a couple of camps.  He put in a lot of time to fulfill his goal of making the Middle School team and we supported that effort with our time and money as well.

Middle School tryouts came the first week of school and this year around 70 kids came out.  The coach maintains all previous players so he had 18 returning players who already had spots.  Even with an expanded roster, there weren’t many slots to fill.  With a little more than a one in 10 chance of making it, he did not.  He was a little upset but has been dealing with it well and still loves the game and playing with his club team.  He’ll try again next year.

Throughout tryouts the boys have learned a lot.  They have learned about working toward a goal with both of them dedicating much of their Summer to camps and training.  They have learned about performing under pressure.  To some degree, they have learned how to deal with disappointment.  And how to deal with parents who are just as excited, nervous and even disappointed as they are at times.

It probably doesn’t help them when we get so attached to their success.  It adds to the pressure and while commiserating with them may be helpful to some degree, all of us wallowing in what we think should have been doesn’t change the past.  I realize we should be strong and perhaps in being strong we should be somewhat benevolent in seeming disenfranchised.  But that is easier said than done.  We want our kids to succeed and we are invested in the outcome of any endeavour they determine worthy of their effort.  We can just try to suppress our concern as best we can and hope they can deal with their parents during trying (or tryout) times.

Sport of a Different Sort

Most of us would probably agree that telemarketing calls are annoying. calltransferimgThey typically come in the middle of dinner or while you are watching a show or simply not wanting to talk to a total stranger about some offer they have for you that will likely get you into something you don’t want at all. Obviously if I wanted to look at timeshares in Orlando I would book a trip to do so myself. But over the course of the past few years I have started to have fun with these calls (much to the chagrin of my wife).

Part of the “plot” is to keep the telemarketer on the phone as long as possible. It is purely economics – if the telemarketers are tied up on the phone for long periods of time and not getting sales, eventually the telemarketing companies will have to do something else because they are losing value in the practice. Granted, most people simply hang up on them to thwart their business but that allows them to go to the next potential victim. I see my benefit to keeping them on the line as one to save the next person who may fall for their trick (insert wife’s eye roll here).

One of the earlier, and most enjoyable, instances I recall was a call from a man offering trips with some travel club. He was offering a cruise and a trip to Las Vegas. I told him I wanted to do the cruise to Vegas. He clarified there was no cruise to Vegas, they were two different things. I insisted on the cruise to Vegas!! Frustrated, he hung up.

Another was less fun but funny because my oldest was with me and really got a kick out of it. it was with an older woman from Hilton. She was offering a trip to Hawaii with golf and accommodations for simply touring the timeshares. I told her we had done one of these “free” trips before and the airfare was a considerable cost. She told me she couldn’t help with the airfare but kept selling me on the trip. I let her talk but finally told her “Fran, we’re done”. She kept the pitch coming and I reiterated “Fran, I don’t want this to get ugly. We are done.” It took one more time to repeat it (with my oldest laughing all the while) and finally she let it go.

My tactics improved as I got a call at work on my cell phone stating I had won a Mercedes and several thousand dollars. I put the call on speaker to let my co-workers listen in. I even told the guy I was in the office of my attorney but he kept on going. I had him getting into it for a while – we talked about getting the local media to cover the story and when he wanted my home address I told him I would prefer to have my new car delivered to work so all my friends could see it. The call ended when I asked the scam artist to sing a song to me – he mumbled some derogatory terms and hung up.

In the past week I have had a couple of opportunities. One was with the Windows Technical Support Department. I have gotten this call before and knew what to expect, although this time I recorded it (YouTube post). I had these guys cussing me out in the end. I also got a call on the 4th of July about some online coupon deal. We were watching the World Cup when the call came in. I told the guy we could make it easy (he could stop now) or we could make it hard (I could keep him on the line for half an hour). I also mentioned we were watching the game – he caved and asked the score then thanked me and went about his business.

The boys have been entertained by these events and my response. I’ve devised ways to get them incorporated into it as well. We have a few skits for the next opportunity. For example, if we get a call from the Windows Technical Support scam again we are going to role play a father and son where the son has been downloading bad files (the ones the scam artists are trying to get me to clean up). The father is going to “slap” the son on the call for downloading the bad files (my youngest is going to play the role of Tommy the son). I state this here partly to make sure it is known ahead of time in case the scammers call the cops on me!!

Of course with this comes a lesson in knowing when to say when. With this “fun” I am having with these telemarketers, we don’t lose site that they are people, they are doing a job and while I don’t have much sympathy for those trying to scam me, the message of being a good person still persists. The boys know that we still attempt to be courteous and fair. I give any telemarketer the opportunity to end the call and warn them of what we plan to do. If they ignore those warnings, then we are still not free to be ugly, but we can tie up their time and have a little fun.

Perhaps my approach is a little mean. I can see where some might consider it so. But most of it is intended to be humorous and a little fun (and it makes me feel like I am getting back at the system). I believe both my boys have a decent sense of humour and I think that will help them in life. Not that following in my footsteps of giving telemarketers “the business” is the best way to show that sense of humour, but it is one option to “express yourself”.

A Sterling lesson in Ownership

The boys mentioned Donald Sterling tonight – something about him enjoying the spotlight (not sure where they got that from but seemed like a good opportunity for a lesson). While I do not condone the comments Sterling made to his mistress, I had to understand how the NBA had the authority to take away his team. If he was an “owner”, how could they just strip away his property. In trying to explain it to the boys I realized how little I understood about it myself. I first tried to explain it to the boys using an analogy they could understand.Ownership

My oldest bought his Xbox One with his own money (for the most part). So I asked him, would he want to have someone tell him he couldn’t own it anymore? Then I realized something – that is something we as parents could do. We could, due to some misbehavior, restrict his use of his own property because he lives under our roof, is within our care and is our responsibility.

So, I asked rhetorically to get the boys’ feedback, is the NBA playing the role of Sterling’s parents?  It seems, through my light research, that Sterling (and all owners) are beholden to the NBA based on agreements they sign to be owners. So the “owner” monicker is a little misleading. It is more like owning a home when you are actually in debt to the bank for 20-30 years. You are an owner in title but in reality, not so much.  They boys had little to add.

So it would appear that we are teaching our children a life lesson through the punishments of taking away things that they “own”. Ownership is at times theoretical, whether it is an NBA team, a mortgage or anything that can be taken away by another due to agreements, laws, debt or eminent domain. So in some ways our punishments are actually life lessons. Isn’t that what we hoped they would be (rather than meaningless reactions to bad behavior)? So for those of you who have taken away the TV, game system, iPad or telephone, congratulations. You are teaching a lesson in the way the world works.

In this together (like it or not)

4 of usWe aren’t fools.  We realize there will be many moments where we get the cold shoulder.  Where the boys are not into hanging out with their old, stupid parents.    We know the day will come where they want their independence and solitude.  But we do what we can to keep that from happening too soon and to make sure the impact of it, the depth of it, is as minimal as possible.

This afternoon my youngest came to me to see if he could stay home during his older brother’s volleyball tournament.  He noted that his older brother had stayed home for several of his soccer practices.  I considered it for a minute.  He did have some homework to catch up on (more on that in a minute) and he would have missed volleyball anyway if his soccer game had not been rained out.

I told him no, he had to go and support his brother.  I noted that his brother has attended a lot of soccer games and tournaments in the past couple of years, as well as two of his four Middle School musical performances in the past three days.  He said okay, didn’t even fight it a little, and attended in good spirits (although with his nose buried in a book most of the time.

This evening the shoe in many ways was on the other foot.  My youngest had a book report to complete (one that was late and therefore required him to put in more than the usual effort to make sure what goes in is his best, since it will be penalized for being late).  It seems his busy schedule of musical practice and soccer practice has set him back in his school work a tad.  As such, we needed to create an environment for him to focus.  That meant my oldest had to stop his video game play and also had to turn off the TV – nothing major and he didn’t really fight it but still, a sacrifice to be made for family harmony.

It is actually my wife who has set the rule that we all join in together for these types of things.  She grew up in a family that supported one another and went to each other’s events.  As an only child, I never had that type of situation to build from.  But is has worked well.  There is no fighting the suggestion we all go to soccer games an hour or two away.  We try to accommodate everyone’s wants to meals and things to break up any boredom (ala the ipad or a book) but we are used to doing things together and so far, even the teenage years haven’t caused that to change.

Doing these types of things together, whether it is attending sports events or daily meals, is essential to keeping up the communication between us.  Communication is key to knowing what they are doing, what they are going through, what they are thinking.  Knowing those things helps us guide, direct, react and understand.  And how GI Joe used to say, Knowing is half the battle!!

Bites of Responsibility

Well, it’s been four weeks with the puppies.  Twenty-seven days to be exact.  Twenty-seven nights of interrupted sleep.  We aren’t regretting it but it has been trying at times.  The puppies are more like babies than we would like to recall.  But they are getting better about house training.  They generally let us know when they need to go outside (which isn’t always welcome when it is fifteen degrees out).  And they are getting big – when we got them they weighed 14 pounds.  This past week they weighed in at 20.4 and 21!!

For the boys, it continues to be a learning experience.  I don’t think they are regretting it either but at times I am not so sure.  The nibbling on their feet in the morning, the jumping up on them as they watch TV in the evening, the constant “attention” seems to wear down on them at times but they are learning.  We have been watching episodes of the Dog Whisperer and that has helped them learn to stand their ground, defend their space and establish their place in the pack.  It is a slow process and so far the boys seem to be considered more like toys to the puppies than fellow pack members.

But where the boys lack the tolerance for having their socks chewed (while still on their feet), they make up for in helping with the dogs.  They help make sure they get out in the mornings and maintain the peace while we are getting ready.  They help in the evenings with feeding and again, making sure the dogs get out even with soccer practices and the normal family activity schedule.  They help to entertain the dogs in the evening so we can keep them exercised and hopefully tired when it is time for bed.  Tired puppies and good puppies, as my youngest often comments “they are good when they are asleep”.

So aside from having two adorable puppies to play with, chase around when they swipe a shoe or sock and clean up after, the boys are getting a healthy dose of responsibility.  They are learning to stand their ground, establish their place in the pack’s pecking order and realizing that getting dogs (their wish for a long time) is not all fun and games.  Perhaps most importantly they are learning to love and care for a being that is dependent on them- that is a lesson that will carry forward as they get older.

Dog days of Winter

I am still not asking “What have we done?” but that is probably because I am too tired to think.  But then I sit and look at the cute (because she is sleeping) puppy under my left arm as I type this and realize there are benefits.  After several years without a dog, we have become dog owners again and like several other things in our life, we didn’t go small or easy.  We got two puppies at the same time.

The Proclaimers had their song “I’m Gonna Be” where they say they will walk 500 miles and 500 miles more.  Well, we didn’t walk but we did drive 1000 miles for these pups.  The story goes like this- we had finally come to the decision to get a dog.  We realized that our schedules are not going to free up any more in the near future.  The boys are getting old enough to help.  We aren’t going to suddenly have more free time at home (which was the biggest obstacle, making sure the dogs were not home alone too much) but we did realize through some basic planning adjustments we can get someone home early enough.  So we decided to pull the trigger.

A close friend knew we were starting to look and she had a neighbor who helped transport dogs from shelters to foster homes.  She let us know when puppies were making their way through our area.  The second alert of puppies being hosted by her neighbor included pictures – they were, of course, adorable.  We arranged to go see them when they made it to her house late on Saturday night.

There were eight puppies in the litter.  We played with them all.  Some were a little too rowdy, some a little too disinterested in us.  We bonded with two and started to discuss dogs instead of a dog.  Why not?  Would two really be that much more work than one?  (Ok, you can laugh now)

We shared our interest and the lady who was transporting said that these puppies were on their way to foster homes in Rhode Island but they can typically transport them back down if adopters are found along the way.  We really wanted to take them home that night but that wasn’t “officially” an option (within the rules).  We completed the online forms for the organization in charge of the adoptions (Save A Lab) and contacted them with our intent.

During the following week several emails went back and forth.  On Sunday it was looking like we might not be able to get the puppies – the organization said they were being adopted in Rhode Island, they already had people interested in them and they were steering us to puppies available in Virginia.  We were persistent and became more entrenched in our decision for these  two puppies as the obstacles stacked up.  Guess I am just a little hard headed.

Things turned our way mid week.  The other interested party backed out.  We were approved for adoption and we had our two choices.  But, they were not willing to arrange to transport them back to VA.   If we wanted them we would have to go to Rhode Island to pick them up.  We prepared for a road trip.

On Saturday, February 1st, my oldest and I headed North.  We drove up I-95 through Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey (passing MetLife stadium where the Super Bowl would be played the following day) and through New York where we got to see the Manhattan skyline.  We stopped for dinner in Connecticut on the edge of the Yale campus.  We arrived in Rhode Island after eight hours on the road.  My oldest did a great job serving as navigator on the iPad and made the comment that night “that didn’t seem that long”.  It was a good trip – a little traffic in New York but otherwise uneventful.

The next morning we picked up our puppies.  We had a travel crate for them to ride in and set out from the foster home around 10:30 AM.  They fussed for the first thirty minutes and then settled in.  Around 3 hours into our trip they woke up and we stopped to let them pee.  With all of the warnings about Parvo, we took precautions and set out a sheet for them to go to the bathroom on so they wouldn’t pick up any germs from the ground.  It was quite a process.

Things probably couldn’t have gone better.  The puppies slept for the next several hours.  We took the New Jersey Garden State Parkway to avoid Super Bowl traffic and kept moving.  The puppies slept through our anticipated stop at hour 6.  Traffic around DC slowed us down a little but they didn’t notice.   A little after hour 7 they started to stir but we were now about an hour from home.  We kept moving and after a little over eight hours we were able to introduce them to their new home.

Maybe we are crazy for getting puppies right now.  Maybe we are crazy for getting two puppies right now.  I would agree driving 1000 miles to get them is crazy.  But after a week of this life “adjustment” I think we are going to be okay.  They are going to be good dogs and I anticipate we will be good dog owners.  Just as they are the central focus of our lives right now, they too will probably be the focus of the next few posts so stay tuned for more crazy!

Homework review, sort of

Going over the Rubric for his book report (while he watches his brother play video games, only half paying attention to me):

Me: “So, you have your cover?”

Him: “Yes”

“Your Timeline and Journal entries?”


“Four pictures and a map?”


“A Letter”


“Souvenirs and Mementos?”


Me: “Have you referenced all the pictures?”

Him: “What?”

“Your pictures, have you stated where you got them?”

“I have a bibliography.  So, yes”

“Are you ready for the oral presentation?”

He looks at me with a sheepish smile, “Of course I am”.

He doesn’t lack confidence, that is for sure!!

Spark some interest

IMG_5312 by LoveHouse RadioOne of the best things about the holidays is spending time with family. I particularly like when we get to hang out with “the cousins” – that would be my nieces and nephews, all in high school now (my two are the youngest of the group and we tend to not see them for hours at a time when they are playing with the cousins). It is always fun to play games (we spend a lot of time playing video games when we are together), sports and hearing what stories they have to share of friends and school.

It is also fun to do something new with them – they always seem up for trying out some of my wild ideas. This past Thanksgiving, based on suggestions from a business associate, we tried to do fire art using burning steel wool and an open camera shutter. In short, you take steel wool, put it in a whisk on a string and light it on fire. Then, you keep the shutter of your camera open for 20-30 seconds and it records all the sparks flying off for that time period. Pretty cool results.

But that isn’t the best of it. The really cool thing is the time together and the fact that everyone is interested in helping out, in getting it setup and working through our “troubles”. With our failed attempts (apparently you have to use very fine steel wool, mine was too rough for our first try at Thanksgiving) we worked together, “ideated” and in the end, everyone was curious to see the results.  Everyone seemed to have some ideas and was willing to help each other support them and fill the roles (flashlight holder, fire starter, fire slinger, etc.).  By Christmas we were able to make our fire art!!

With the holidays being focused on family and get togethers (as well as the meaning of the season), this only amplified that feeling. Even with our failed attempts to light the wrong grade of steel wool we found alternatives using a flashlight to draw images in the air. My brother-in-law did a mean snow man!!  Some even found the flashlight alternative better than the flames!!  (and the flashlight can be done indoors where it isn’t so cold!!)

So find ways to incorporate some fun, creativity and most of all, togetherness in your family get togethers. Focus on the togetherness and the rest will fall into place. And if you come away with some really cool pictures…all the better!!