I’m looking into various methods of borrowing some money to have our kitchen updated. From some of the stuff I’ve looked at online, it appears that Maryland is one of only a handful of states that require a free credit report to be issued upon request by law, which is pretty nice. (The national law thing they just passed doesn’t take effect for my side of the country until September.) Step one of the process is going to be cleaning up the credit reports. Step two will be paying somebody $7 for a credit score, so I can then estimate out what a monthly payment will be.

I’m still on the fence as to what approach makes more sense—a home equity loan or a line of credit. The loan is a fixed-rate, immediate payment deal, while the line of credit is a long-term, variable rate bag of money that can be spent willy-nilly, and then after 10 or 15 years comes due. Trouble is, I don’t want to suffer through a hike of 15% interest rates on $20K down the line- personally, I’d rather pay for something fixed that I can bank on.

Next is a call to the accountant to make sure that we can actually use this as a deduction (I’m not sure, but the convoluted way we file taxes makes me think that we deduct.)

Then, I have to shop around for some lending institutions to see who’s got the best rate and who will play ball with us fairly. BoA is basically out—they have enough of my money as it is. I have to dig out the info on our initial lender tonight and see if I can go through them again.

After signing away our firstborn children, we can then sit down with the kitchen people and actually rehab something. This would be HUGE for the Lockardugans, because our current kitchen flooring consists of flattened Dell computer boxes. And that’s an improvement.

All of this makes me very nervous-I hate bankers about as much as I hate going to the doctors’, because of the legal complexities involved. Too many stories of “hidden fees” and “legal fineprint” worry the shit out of me. I don’t want to sign away something we’ve worked too hard and too for, and I especially don’t like signing over a chunk of our house. I’ve spent some time looking for tips about the process online so that I don’t steer us into a bad corner, but my fears of screwing it up sometimes paralyze me into inaction. So this exercise is more about staring down the big bad monster than it is about running and hiding (or merely doing nothing at all.)

On deck for the next Big Adult Move is life insurance, and concurrently, a will of some kind. If I get hit by a bus, I want my wife to get the house, not the State of Maryland. Again, the specter of Large Legal Documents makes me shiver in dread, but I’ve been putting it off for too long now (I was thinking about this as Jen and I flew over the dark Atlantic on our way back from Ireland, and quickly turned my attention back to the showing of In Good Company. A brief sidenote: American Airlines shows the same films BOTH WAYS across the Atlantic. Thanks for that, shitheads) and it needs to be done.

Date posted: June 30, 2005 | Filed under house | 2 Comments »

Bad baby Names
This is a hoot.

Date posted: June 30, 2005 | Filed under humor, shortlinks | Comments Off on Bad Baby Names

Due to a fierce electrical storm yesterday, there will be no Ireland trip update today. We got home from work to a house with no power, and as my bride has already mentioned, it was not restored until the wee hours of the morning. (I have a vague recollection of the transformer blowing, and another foggy memory of the lamp next to my head snapping on. I had no idea the BGE guy was outside clomping through the backyard, however.)

Todd and Heather stopped by work yesterday with the kids, so Nate and I sat and played house for an hour or so while the triplets were fed and changed. Heather looks great (sorry I didn’t mention it to you, girl) and the kids have grown dramatically since the last time I saw them. I even got to meet Emmett for the first time (he hadn’t been sprung from the Big House the last time we visited.) I also got to huff the top of Calia’s fuzzy head for about two solid minutes—there’s nothing better than fresh baby smell to put a smile on your face. To quote Dooce: MMMM, BABY HEAD.

Declan's hands

Today I picked up that G3 from Craigslist and brought it to work for some formatting: a 350mhz/firewire unit with low mileage. It should be good for the time being until I can get something better on the desk—we spent more dinero in Ireland than we thought, so July is going to be pretty tight. Tonight I have to Frankenstein it together with the G4 to get a working unit up and running.

Date posted: June 29, 2005 | Filed under general | 1 Comment »

There’s all this crap on the news about shark attacks this week. Does anybody remember four years ago, when there were all kinds of hysterical reports about shark attacks? Something else happened, and we forgot all about it.

Date posted: June 29, 2005 | Filed under history | 3 Comments »

Good news from the wilderness: There’s a G3 tower in baltimore for sale for $100, which should be an acceptable stopgap measure for the expensive dying G4 until I can afford a Mini or something better.

* * *

Jen and I finally pulled the trigger last night and drove to the local Select Comfort store, and bought (well, charged) one of those “sleep number” beds. Hopefully, it’ll be here in four or five days, and we’ll report back to you on our “sleep number”, like you really give a shit what that is.

* * *

Finally, in the interest of turning our credit cards into slags of smoking plastic, I’m going to be picking up an air conditioner this week (probably tonight) to cool the office down so that we might actually be able to work in there. Coming back to Baltimore from a week of good Irish weather has been rough.

Date posted: June 28, 2005 | Filed under geek | Comments Off on Minor Updates.

From Cobh, we drive back north and through Cork again to get out into the Western countryside. Stopping off in the town of Kinsale, we explored the back streets and the restaurant district to see what the town offered. Based on looks alone, its reputation as the gourmet center of Ireland is well-deserved. There are foo-foo gourmand cafes, Indian, Chinese, and sushi restaurants, one-named vanity restaurants, and of course, a handful of pubs throughout. It’s got lots of little sidestreets with tiny shops and cafes tucked into back alleys, and it felt a little bit like Rome, which is a good thing. There is no first hand recommendation, though, because we weren’t hungry and didn’t eat anything. Sorry.

Kinsale storefront

There are a bunch of historical sites to look at west of the city, starting with the Timoleague Friary on the coastline. Windy, twisty roads lead to a small inlet town with a huge ruin at the center. Jen and I explored the site for a good hour or two, after visiting what are arguably the wettest public restrooms in Ireland. (Taking a leak while watching water run freely beneath the soles of my sneakers wet. Yummy.) Timoleague is HUGE. Lots of rooms within rooms, filled with headstones. The possible creep factor was diminished by the sound of the grade school kids next door playing soccer at recess.

Jen exploring

We had a light snack after exiting, and continued down the road to check into a hotel for the evening. YES, we wimped out on our third day. At this point, though, sleep was a rare and precious commodity, and we figured sleeping in a quiet hotel room was better than being in somebody’s spare bedroom.

After dealing with our bags, we jumped back in the car with a locally-supplied map and started hunting down things to see. First on the list was the Dromberg Stone Circle. Jen and I joked about Stonehenge, and how we were both expecting Druids to be burning fires and chanting, or bolts of lightning to shoot from the sky, or (my personal favorite) a circa 1974 Robert Plant singing The Immigrant Song while smoke blew through his leonine hair. (Then I joked that Jen would get struck by lightning in a Rock Star Pose and be surrounded by chanting Druids while singing The Immigrant Song. I would be filming all this like a music video.) In reality, it was a foggy circle of rocks in a swampy field; not much to look at. I suppose we should have known better when we saw the “Visitor’s Center”: and abandoned trailer surrounded by broken glass and weeds. “STONE CIRCLE” was painted roughly on a fencepost with an arrow pointing down the pathway. Robert Plant was nowhere in sight, and I didn’t see a single fucking Druid, just a German family who found it funny to climb on the rocks and take pictures. Still, it was cool, and meditative, at least.

Ahhh, Ahhh AAAAAAAAAAhhhh….. AAHH! Ahhh, Ahhh AAAAAAAAAAhhhh….. AAHH!

Dromberg Stone circle

Next, we started hunting down castles in the area, beginning with Salem Castle. The maps all gave approximate directions with no instructions, so it was up to us to use the power of deduction to find them all. Along a narrrow, twisty road, we happened upon a sign, and followed the driveway up to a stable. A small Jack Russel/mutt mix came out to greet us, and we scratched his belly while we scoped the place out. It looked like somebody had built a house onto the side of the castle and then stopped before finishing everything, so it was kind of creepy. From what we could see, the owners were gone (A sign out front spoke of a B&B and guided tours) so we nosed around the driveway, said goodbye to Rover, and left quietly.

Salem Castle

Next was Coppinger’s Court, another castle that appeared vaguely on the map. After a trip down a very bumpy farmer’s driveway and close encounter with a large black dog, we backtracked in the mud and found another one-lane road, finally getting close enough to the castle to take pictures. It sits in a farmer’s cow pasture, on marked private property, so we took pictures from the road and marveled at its size. It’s covered in bramble and vines, so it looks like it’s got a Dan Haggerty beard, and that makes it hard to photograph.

Coppinger's Court

Pleased with our success, I turned the Opel around and headed back up the hill slowly. We were startled to see a herd of cows spill into the one-lane road in front of us and mill around, unconcerned by our presence. Soon, a farmer chased the last one onto the road, waved to us, and shooed them all up the road towards the barn. We followed and passed the last of them as they turned up a leafy driveway.

Traffic Jam

Next up was another landmark we couldn’t find (I can’t remember the name), and finally Castlefreke, a huge ruin east of town that showed up on all the local literature. Finding it proved easy enough, but huge signs erected around the grounds made it impossible to explore, as were the ruins of the local abbey. This was annoying, as all the pictures sort of led us to believe we could get in there and poke around. We contented ourselves with shooting some pictures of the gatehouse to the local manor home, now part of a cow pasture (and home to a very horny heifer), and headed back to the hotel for some dinner.

Mansion gatehouse

At the hotel bar, we met a barkeep named Stephen, who kept us entertained and answered all our initial questions about Ireland. (Housing/land is as expensive there as it is here. Budweiser and Coors are considered microbrews and are VERY popular in Ireland. Harp is sort of dying out and hard to find in the East. Beef is extremely expensive in Ireland, as are fresh vegetables.) He treated us to a new (to us) shooter, the Baby Guinness, which consists of Tia Maria topped with Bailey’s, and agreed that the fellow on keyboard serenading the lounge was “fookin’ awful”. We also met a fellow from here in Baltimore, who was attending a family reunion, and talked with him for an hour or so about the sights we hadn’t seen yet. One of the things we learned was that our plan to bypass the Ring of Kerry to see more historical sites was in error: several people told us The Ring was one of the highlights of any trip to Ireland. However, we were seeing some of the best of the non-touristy places in West Cork, which made us feel a little better.

Leaving our friend a worthy tip, we stumbled back upstairs and collapsed into bed, pleasantly squiffed.

Next: Rosscarbery to Lismore, or: Finally, some craic.

Date posted: June 27, 2005 | Filed under travel | Comments Off on Trip Log: Part Four.

It’s 7:53. Jen and I were both awake a full hour early, laying in bed together and trying to wish away Monday morning. Having three days to basically fuck off before returning to work was good; it would have been better if Baltimore wasn’t a hot sweaty armpit and we hadn’t just returned from the land of sunny 60° weather. (Waaaah waaaah waaaah.)

I love my wife for many reasons, one of which is that she made coffee this morning, another of which is that we both took a groggy minute to write about the impending sense of doom we’re both feeling. (Imagine two adults in an empty room, sipping coffee and typing on laptops. It looks like a spread from a high-concept design magazine, except for the piles of unopened mail, dust bunnies, and socks laying around us.)

The lawn is finally mowed, the garden has been partly weeded, and we moved the dining room table back where it belongs. Jen’s raised bed is out of control. We have a tomato plant that’s 6′ high. Other than that, we’ve been deliciously lazy: a vacation from our vacation. Last night, my bride treated me to a dozen crabs and a couple of Coronas, and that made Sunday night a lot brighter.

More trip updates are forthcoming; I took yesterday off.

Date posted: June 27, 2005 | Filed under life | 1 Comment »

Kilrush to Cobh.

After a reasonably successful experience booking our own lodging, we decided to try having the Irish Tourism Office do the work for us. In Kilrush, we found the local representative in a tiny one-room storefront with a nervous representative at his desk. Explaning our situation, he swung into action and got on the phone to book us a room. Unfortunately, the first set of numbers he dialled were all busy, which threw him off. He began a humorous cycle of dialling, getting the busy signal, hanging up, getting up out of his chair, apologizing, sitting down nervously, and dialling again. We quietly browsed the shelves of thcochkes watching the proceedings, trying to be as unmenacing as possible. Eventually, he made it through and we got a room booked in Cobh for the evening.

After a stop at the gorcery store for bread, Nutella, apples, water, and cheese, and a stopoff at the B&B to return the key I had left in my pocket, we got on the road and headed south on the N20.

On our way through the countryside, Jen spied a ruin in the middle of town that we stopped to take a look at. It turned out to be the Buttevant Friary, unmarked on our maps and invisible unless spied from the road. Outside, it was surrounded by a cemetery and backed by a dairy pasture. Inside, it was a quiet, peaceful shrine to the damp gravestones it contained. We stood and marveled at the scenery and shot pictures for a long while, then kept going. Late in the afternoon, we reached Blarney.

Swampy gravesite

The first view of the castle from the grounds is magnificent; a long pathway over a wide stream leads up to the base of the castle, and continues up around the hill to the entrance. 7€ gets you on the long twisty line through the castle, up windy spiral staircases and to the roof, where a spectacular view of the surroundng fields and trees surrounds the building. On the way up to the front of the line, the queue is essentially standing over the machicolations (essentially, holes in the floor that extend out and overlook the outside wall, so you can throw rocks on the heads of the guys trying to bust into your house) and realizing that it’s a long way down. The Blarney Stone is inside one of these machicolations, so one has to sit down and lean out backwards over the abyss to reach it.

Blarney sign

At first, as Jen and I climbed all four zillion steps, we were a little concerned that we’d be hanging our asses over the edge to kiss a damp rock by ourselves. (Based on our experience at the Cliffs of Moher, it was evident the Irish have a completely different viewpoint on public lands and liability issues: if this were America, there would be fifteen-foot high chainlink fencing around the entire site. That kind of hands-off laissez-faire is refreshing.) Thankfully, there’s a nice old Irish man there to make sure one doesn’t fall all ten stories onto the rocks below.

She's full of Blarney

After fuflfilling the obligation of our heritage, we explored the rest of the tiny rooms of the castle and climbed back down.

Cork is one of the larger cities in Ireland, and as such, is more congested than the average town. Given that a major highway in Ireland proved to be a two-lane country road, driving through Cork was more like navigating a suburb of Baltimore. Crowded and confusing, but nowhere near the congestion of, say, D.C., or the insane speed of, say, the Taconic Parkway, or the utter confusion of Columbia, Maryland. For the most part, the Irish believe in helpful signage and reasonable traffic planning.

Cobh is a smaller seaside town, famous as the resting place for many of the casualties of the Lusitania disaster, and as the final port of call for the Titanic. It’s also got some of the smallest streets I’ve ever driven on: because it dates back to the beginning of time, there’s one lane for two cars. The houses are carved into the side of the cliffs, so finding a particular address is a challenge.

We stayed in an older B&B, a rowhouse under the giant cathedral in the center of town. Our room turned out to be a tidy, tiny third-floor attic room with a TV, shower, and two of the creakiest beds I’ve ever tried out. At least the view was spectacular. We got some dinner at a tiny cafe and fell asleep to an Irish crime drama starring a man with the best porn moustache I’ve seen since the Edge.

Cobh town

Tomorrow: Back through Cork…again!

Date posted: June 25, 2005 | Filed under travel | Comments Off on Trip Log: Part Three.

Lego Journal
I would have killed for this as a 10-year-old kid.

Date posted: June 24, 2005 | Filed under other, shortlinks | Comments Off on Lego Journal

Private Warriors
Inside the outsourcing of Iraq.

Date posted: June 24, 2005 | Filed under politics, shortlinks | Comments Off on Private Warriors