I figured out that the finish on the desk is lacquer, which is good for a couple of reasons: first, it is a finish that stays on the surface of the wood, so when I get it off then the wood won't have much or any residual remnant of the previous finish. Second, it responds well to chemical finish strippers, so it is supposed to come off fairly easily. I haven't done a lot of refinishing like this, so I'm not sure how easy "fairly easily" is supposed to be. So far, I've been working on the drawer faces: a round with the stripping solvent brushed on, left for 15 minutes — then scraped off with some of the finish coming with it. But there's still a good bit of lacquer remaining after. So once I got all of the stripping chemicals off, I went back over it with lacquer thinner — a different solvent altogether — and a rag, wiping and rubbing until the remaining lacquer was removed. This was pretty effective: 3 out of 5 drawers are now fully-stripped. I plan to hit the other two with another round, maybe Thursday. But it takes a good bit of hand strength and elbow grease to use the lacquer thinner, so I may try doing multiple passes with the stripping solvent on the larger pieces. It looks like there's a decent chance my timeline for refinishing the desk may move up by a month or so, which leaves me only about a month! (It also means the chairs are second-priority for now.)
Jack and Molly brought home their annual school photos yesterday, so this morning I got to put them in my frames in my study. I borrowed a practice that my father did (which I didn't know about until after he died): in his office at work, he had frames with my school photos and my sister's, and every year he placed the new one in front, keeping the older ones behind it — sort of an archive of the year-by-year changes in his kids. I have 4 or 5 now for Jack and Molly, and it's so fun to look back at the previous years' photos each time I update them. It's something I forget about through the year, even though I often enjoy the displayed picture; but it's becoming one of my favorite yearly traditions.
The Ford minivan is still shutting down intermittently, even after replacing the computer. The day after we picked it up, Marcie called me to tell me it had cut off on her twice. So we've traded cars for a while, and I'm trying to figure out if there's a pattern to it. It seems like there may be something related to the transmission in it: the shut-offs usually happen after the engine has been revving, then levels off. It's like it's trying to down-shift, but the engine stalls instead. It will re-start immediately — even while it's still rolling (invariably it shuts off when going 30 or 40 mph), shifting down to neutral and cutting the switch off, then re-cranking it will fire it right back up. Sometimes it will cut off again within a few minutes, and other times it will go a day or more before shutting off. But it also happens almost always when I've been driving it around for a while. I stopped by to talk to the mechanic about it, and he agrees that it's a real head-scratcher. We can't really afford right now to put more money toward trying to get it fixed, so I'll be driving it (and re-starting it in neutral) for a while, I guess.
I continue to love my new bike, and enjoy riding it to work as well as for exercise. The bike I rode before was a Trek road bike that I've had since I was a Senior in high school, and I've always loved it too; but I can't ride a road bike comfortably anymore. My friend Matt is a pretty hard-core bicyclist, and he was looking for a good steel-frame bike as a second road bike; he's going to buy my old Trek. I'm sad to let it go, but I'm really glad that it is going to someone who I know appreciates it and will give it a lot of use.
We celebrated the twins' fourth birthday last week. It's the first birthday of theirs that I can remember where they were really excited about the presents; I guess it's all downhill from here. As they grow up together, it's interesting to watch how they interact. Most of the time they get along so well — better, I'm sure, than most non-twin siblings do — but sometimes they so obviously get under each others' skin. A single friend was over for lunch recently, and one of the twins was fussing about wanting to be alone; my friend commented that she had never thought about what being alone meant to twins. It puts it in a whole new light! So now they are four, going to preschool three days a week, and constantly doing and saying things that look and sound older. They still love to snuggle with their daddy, though, so that ain't nothin'!
I think the new iPad Mini looks neat, but I can't really picture how I would use one. I don't use my (first generation, full-size) iPad for a lot of typing — my big fumble-fingers can't quite make adequate use of the on-screen keyboard — but I do a fair amount of other things that seem to require the larger size. I suppose if the main reason someone wanted a iPad was for watching movies and videos and playing games, the new Mini might be the perfect size. It seems like it's about the same size as things like the personal Nintendo things. I could be wrong, though; I've been pleasantly surprised more than once with how well an app that I'm used to for iPad translates down to my iPhone.
Jack and I have been talking about an idea that Apple needs to put to work. The more recent versions of all of the iDevices — iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, even Macs — can stream video and audio content to a TV using the Apple TV; they call it AirPlay. All of those devices can also do multi-player video games using Apple's GameCenter, which is a sort of social network. With GameCenter, I can play games with Jack, each of us on a different device, but playing against each other. So we were thinking, they should connect GameCenter and AirPlay, so that you could play multi-player games and stream the video to your TV. Maybe they could even split the screen to show the views of multiple players, kind of like they do for Mario Cart. Who needs a video console when you have your iPhone or iPod, an Apple TV, and multiplayer streaming?
There are a lot of kids in our neighborhood, and Jack and Molly have started playing with them often. This is a first for them, and I'm so glad for it. It wasn't that our neighborhood in Tennessee didn't have kids, but there weren't many on our block, and it seemed like families moved in and out of the neighborhood pretty frequently, so there wasn't much of a chance to build friendships. Plus, neither of them were quite old enough to say, "sure, go ride your bike around the block without me." This neighborhood doesn't have much through-traffic, and the kids play near our home anyway. Both Jack and Molly are starting to spend their afternoons more like what I remember from my own childhood: come home from school, hurry to finish homework, then head out to play with other kids on the block until dinner time.
I finished up book two of the Lemony Snicket novels with Molly on Sunday afternoon. It was pretty good, and I like how they've built in some clever ways of teaching kids new concepts in these books. I started #3 of the Harry Potter books with Jack last night. We made it clear to him, though, that we would probably wait a few months after #3, before starting into another. Marcie and I both think they get very dark after the third one, and he's just not quite ready for that; some of the more intense parts of #1 and #2 made him have a little trouble getting to sleep, so how much more will the others? There's so much darkness in the real world, and he's racing toward it more every day. I don't feel the need to rush him into it in his imagination too.