Solar Power Struggles

My brother had solar panels installed on his house by SolarCity about 3 or 4 years ago now, right near the beginning of the new leased solar panel trend. In the past, you had to buy a solar panel setup outright, often at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars outlay. Even with tax credits and electric savings, you wouldn’t see a return on your investment for years. But the new solar panel leasing allows you to get panels on your roof for a low monthly fee. You don’t own the panels, but maintenance is taken care of by the vendor and, in our case, we’d save about half off our utility bill.

This seemed like a good deal so we contacted my brother’s salesman, but because of a number of distractions we never followed through. Earlier this year, I saw something from Google about going solar where I could enter my information and several different solar companies would contact me about their services. I did and heard from one, Vivint. They gave me their pitch, which outlined what’s involved and how much we would pay.

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Daily Carry 2017: What’s In My Pocketses?

I’m fascinated and inspired by looking at how other people organize their days and their lives, including what they carry around with them on their persons or in their bags. There’s a whole genre of blog posts and even web sites dedicated to the concept. I like them because it sometimes gives me ideas of useful tools or gadgets that can help me more productive or just ready for what comes my way.

So here’s what I’m carrying about on my person1 in 20172.


I prefer a carabiner as my keychain because of the ease of getting keys on and off but I had one too many cheap carabiners come apart over the years. So I decided to go with something sturdy, which is in fact an actual climbing carabiner. This is the Black Diamond Screwgate Carabiner ($11). What makes this better is the locking gate that screws up tight and doesn’t unscrew on its own, even being jostled in your pocket. It’s a bit bulky, but not too much and its size allows me to put plenty of keys on it without crowding. And, bonus, if you need to belay off a building unexpectedly, you have a carabiner.

In addition to my keys, I carry on my keychain a Verbatim TUFF ’N’ TINY 32GB USB Flash Drive ($13). I’ve carried for almost four years now in my pocket every day. It’s built to withstand dust, water, static electricity, and the constant jostle of your keyring. You never know when you will need to transfer important files from one computer to another or someone will need to give you a large file that’s too big to email. If you’re a little geeky, you could set up an encrypted disk image on it and keep a password-protected backup of your most important data, like all your passwords. Because it’s encrypted, even if you lose the drive, you’re not at risk. If I were buying today, I might look at a newer product that’s similar, the Verbatim 32GB Store ’n’ Go Micro Plus Flash Drive ($16), which has a rubberized to provide additional protection.

Also on the keychain is the True Utility TU246 TelePen ($10). This has proven itself over and over again. I’ve been in many situations where I need to sign something or write a note and there’s no pen around. Not any more. This great little pen is always handy, writes very well, and is comfortable in the hand. It has saved the day many times for me in the year I’ve owned it. You can also impress others with your preparedness when you pull it off your keychain and hand it over.

Battery and cable

Given all the gadgets we walk around with these days, staying charged can be a challenge. However, I do find that my iPhone 7 Plus keeps a pretty good charge all day for me in normal use, since I often plug it in when I’m in the car or at my desk. However, sometimes I’m out all day or we’re on vacation or I’m with someone whose phone battery is running low. That’s when having a backup battery comes in handy.
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Worst Mortgage Refinance Ever

At the end of January I finished the most arduous and stressful consumer experience of my life: refinancing my mortgage. When people would tell me that going through a refinance was difficult, I assumed it was normal difficult. Maybe for them it was. For me, it was an epic journey, like Frodo and Sam crawling through Mordor to Mount Doom, half-dead and expecting to be done for with every step. My Mount Doom was my mortgage and my Sauron was Freedom Mortgage.

I started this process in March 2015. Between that date and August 2015, I tried to close three times, but each time encountered sloppy errors in the paperwork made by their employees: spelling errors in my name, failure to include all parties, forgetting necessary documents. Once we got to the date of closing and I even had my certified check with closing costs in hand when they cancelled.

By then I was falling behind in my mortgage due to late fees and other issues and so I suspended the process until I felt ready to proceed again. I contacted Freedom again in March 2016 and everything proceeded until June when I was then told we couldn’t move forward because I had more than one late payment in the past year… Yes, due to their errors!

So I came back in September and once more encountered problem after problem. I was told one thing and then a week later told something else that contradicted it. Their several employees I had to deal with squabbled among themselves about who had responsibility for particular areas and even disagreed about necessary steps I had to take.

Each person I talked to gave me seemingly arbitrary demands for paperwork. One said I needed this document, another said I didn’t. And every time I talked to someone new I had to go through the same rigamarole of fixing mistakes in their records. For instance, they had a phone number for me that had been disconnected for 10 years in the system. Every time I talked to someone new, I had to tell them to take the old number out. This happened right up to the closing despite me correcting them a half dozen times. I even had the closing signing agent show up at my door unannounced because they had given her the old number.

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The $500 Drip

Last week, we started hearing a constant drip, drip, drip from the bathroom faucet.1 It wasn’t even a slow drip, but a quick one that I knew was wasting a lot of water.

So on Saturday, I wanted to go to Home Depot to get some replacement parts, but first I needed to determine whether it was the hot faucet or the cold one and what kind of faucet it is (compression, ball, cartridge, etc.). So I tried turning off first the cold water supply valve and then the hot one to see which one caused the drip to stop.

The cold water faucet was the culprit, but I couldn’t turn off the the hot water supply. I put as much torque into it as I dared, but it wouldn’t completely close. That would be bad if I ever had a real leak, but it wasn’t of immediate concern, so I left a message by email with our plumber. Then I put that aside and I took out the old cartridge from the cold faucet and headed to the Home Depot…

…where I was confronted with the wall of faucet parts. I need to let you in on one important detail: Before we bought our home it was renovated by a flipper, which means they used the least expensive “contractor special” parts available for everything, faucet included. So as I stared at all the replacement parts, I had no clue which to choose. I stood there for 20 minutes, comparing the original cartridge in my hand to every possible one I could find that looked similar. Finally, I just picked the one that looked the closest, although they weren’t identical, and prayed for the best.

I got home and put the new cartridge into the faucet, put everything back together and it fit!

Except the faucet was backwards. By which I mean when you turned it to the “on” position, the water stopped and when you turned it “off” the water flowed. It turns out I’d purchased the cartridge for the hot water faucet, which of course is reversed. But the drip had stopped! At this point, I wasn’t making another trip back to the Depot of Homes and so I just ordered the cold water version on Amazon.2 We could survive with a backward faucet until Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the plumber got back to me and said he’d come by on Monday. That morning, as I cleaned out the cabinet under the sink for him, I noticed some of the items were wet. That was my next bad omen, but I was willing to take a trip up “de Nile” and pretend it was condensation or something. When he showed up, I explained why the faucet was backward and he had the professionalism not to laugh at me outright or shake his head at my idiocy. He did have a few choice words for the renovator/flipper’s PVC pipework under the sink, but he assured me he’d sweat the broken valve off quickly and put a new one in its place.

I went off to my office to work until he came to find me a bit later. It turns out that the drain stop was the source of the leak under the sink and while he was trying to fix it, the thing broke off. Normally, he’d have some bits and bobs of old faucet sets in his truck and he’d just pop one of those in there, but his less-than-brilliant assistant had cleaned out the truck. So now we’d need to buy a whole new faucet because you can’t just buy the drain stopper bit, and off he went to the plumber’s supply store.

Which means that the leaky faucet I’d fixed and whose (second) replacement cartridge was still on the way from Amazon was going away anyway. Meanwhile, after the plumber got back getting the new faucet in and dealing with the original Franken-plumbing took a couple more billable hours.

So here I am with a shiny new faucet, a replacement cartridge fresh from Amazon ($10), the other replacement cartridge the Lord knows where in the trash somewhere, and a bill for plumbing work for $450.

But no drip!

  1. Yes the bathroom. We are seven people in a small ranch-style, single-bathroom house.
  2. Because now I had a part number and manufacturer, which I didn’t have before.

Dyeing Easter Eggs, 2016 Edition

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We had our traditional Holy Saturday activity of dyeing Easter eggs. As the family has grown it has become a bigger and bigger production. Apparently, waiting for the eggs to dye sufficiently is too much for them to do at the table, so in between they would go outside and literally run around. Thankfully, it was a decent day. Not exactly warm out, but they went in shirtsleeves and long pants.

My new job, 2016

I’m happy to announce that my weeklong unemployment has ended and I have a new position. On March 14, I will start as the new Director of Community Engagement with Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the primary pro-life education and advocacy public policy organization in the Commonwealth. This is a new role for them and I will be responsible for advancing the mission of MCFL through the delivery of programs, services, and events related to grassroots advocacy and increasing the number of active donors to and supporters of MCFL’s work, as well as diversifying the demographics of supporters. The primary means will be through online media, such as web sites, email, social media, et al, although traditional media are part of it.

I’m very excited to be able to work for an organization that works for a cause that I can be passionate about.

It’s funny how it came about, too. On the same day I received the bad news about my old job, a friend was having a conversation with the president of MCFL, who was telling him that she wanted to create this position. When she was asked for the profile of the sort of person she wanted, she mentioned me by name. Later that day, when I told my friend about my circumstances, he immediately put me in contact with MCFL and off we went. Must be divine Providence.

I’m joining SQPN as it’s Managing Director

I’m happy to announce that I have joined the fine folks at the Star Quest Production Network (SQPN) in their Catholic new media ministry work and have been named Managing Director/Chief Operating Officer.[1]

I’m looking forward to helping Fr. Roderick Vonhögen and everyone at SQPN to advance the mission by creating even more new, wonderful content and growing the audience and community surrounding our shows. Stay tuned for all the great things that are coming and follow everything we’re up to at and the SQPN Facebook page.

I’ve been a part of the SQPN community for a decade now, going back before it even existed. I remember listening to those first episodes of The Catholic Insider with Fr. Roderick chronicling the last days of Pope St. John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. I also remember listening to Fr. Roderick outlining his pre-SQPN vision of a future network of Catholic media professionals creating first class content to serve a large audience with a variety of interests.

In 2010, I learned that SQPN might be interested in coming to Boston for its Catholic New Media Celebration, its regular gathering of the community surrounding the podcasts that it produces. Working for the Archdiocese of Boston’s newly created Secretariat for Catholic Media, I brought the idea to my boss of officially inviting them to partner with us to put on the CNMC. It went off great and many people still tell me it was the best one. As just one measure, we’re still seeing the fruit of seeds planted that weekend coming forth today. Then we invited them back again in 2013 for another phenomenal experience.

I do want to acknowledge the great shoulders I stand upon in my new position, including Greg Willits who helped found SQPN with his wife Jennifer and Fr. Roderick back in 2005 and Steve Nelson who picked up where Greg left off with a lot of the organizational work and putting together several CNMCs in his tenure.

The future of SQPN and Catholic media in general is pretty bright. We’re going to take some time to pray and think about our roadmap for the future, but in a general sense look for us to continue to what has worked well, while also expanding into areas that show great promise, like video. I hope you all will join us and give us your support.

  1. This is a part-time professional position and I will also be continuing my full-time work as Director of Communications for the Matthew 13 Catholic Collaborative in Walpole, MA.  ↩

My big news: I’m leaving my job


So this is big news.

In the coming weeks – we’re working on the exact timing– I will be leaving my position with the Archdiocese of Boston as Creative Director of New Media and Producer of The Good Catholic Life radio program. In the near future I will be taking a new position as Communications Director in the new Walpole/Sharon parish collaborative, comprising St. Mary Parish in Walpole, Blessed Sacrament Parish and School in Walpole, and Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Sharon. This is an exciting new role in parishes as part of the Disciples in Mission pastoral plan for the Archdiocese and I think it shows a great commitment to and realization of the importance of good communications as part of evangelization. Fr. Chip Hines, who I have known for several years and with whom I co-host The Good Catholic Life on Fridays, will be the new pastor of the collaborative when it stands up on June 3.

At this point, I do not know what the effect will be on the Archdiocese’s efforts in new media. I hope that they will continue to innovate and lead in this area as we have done for several years now.

As for the radio program that I produce, engineer, and sometimes co-host, The Good Catholic Life, I expect we’ll have an announcement about its future very soon and will post that when we do.

I know that I and my colleagues built something special over the past four years. We strove to make the Archdiocese of Boston a leader in Catholic new media and I am gratified by the many people who have acknowledged that we did. My hope had always been that we would enable the Church to tell her story in this new medium, to engage with people on the digital continent, and to help others to do the same. I’ve had a chance to meet and work with some amazing and dedicated people over the years and I’ve formed some relationships that I hope continue for many years to come. I have a heavy heart announcing this change, even as I look forward to a new opportunity, continuing to serve the Church.

This new role in Sharon and Walpole is very exciting because I hope that with the good people of those towns we can create a new model for how Catholic parishes and schools can best communicate the Good News using all available media to current parishioners, inactive Catholics, and those who do not know Jesus Christ.

The role of communications director, as I envision it, is not just an administrative function. I will have responsibility for how the parishes and school communicate both to parishioners and those outside the parish through all forms of media: web, social media, bulletin, mailings, email, perhaps even podcasts, video, and apps. And this communication is not just informational, but primarily evangelical. What is the Church, if not a giant communication entity? “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) The New Evangelization is about preaching the Gospel in new forms and new ways both to those in the pews and those not in them. As the first (so I’ve been told) parish pastoral collaborative communications director in the archdiocese, I have the exciting task of formulating just what this means and to create new models for how best to accomplish it.

Anyway, since Walpole and Sharon are not far from our current home, Melanie and I won’t have to move and we can continue to put down roots where we are. While my commute will be a little longer than it is now (it could hardly be shorter unless I worked from home), it won’t be very much longer. It will certainly still be shorter than my epic commute between Peabody and Braintree before we moved five years ago.

As I said, I can’t tell you my exact date of departure yet, but I would appreciate any prayers you can offer for me and my family and the Archdiocese during this transition.

photo credit: pamhule via photopin cc

St. Anthony come around, a Kindle is lost and can’t be found

My lost Kindle that was found

“OK, Google… Siri? … St. Anthony?!”

I don’t know what it is with me and Kindles. I am now on my third Amazon Kindle after having broken my previous two through various means of cracking the screens. And then tonight, I thought I’d lost my couple-months-old Kindle Paperwhite.

I hadn’t put the Kindle in my bag at the end of the day today as I usually do. I was in a hurry and had already packed everything up when I noticed the Kindle sitting on the desk, so I shoved it in my jacket pocket and went home. When I stopped for gas, I took it out again to read while I waited and then left it on the passenger seat. My second and last stop before home was at the convenience store to pick up milk and eggs.

Then when I got home, I couldn’t find it. There was the usual cacophony at my arrival followed by the unusual need to immediately sit and eat dinner because I was so late tonight. While I was clearing the dishes after, I couldn’t figure out what I’d done with my Kindle. It wasn’t in my coat or by the front door. I went and searched my car, front and back, and even under the seats. I searched the darkened driveway.

I finally figured I must have dropped it at the convenience store, either in the store (I really thought I hadn’t put it back in my coat pocket, though), or worse, on the ground outside the car.

So as soon as we got the kids to bed, I headed out again, driving back to the store where I quizzed the clerk (no luck) and the guys in the pizza place next door (no luck). As I walked out of the pizza place, dejected now because of the loss of yet another Kindle, I said a prayer to St. Anthony. No sooner had the prayer ended in my head than I got to my car door and what did I see? Well, if you see the photo accompanying this post, you’ll see what I saw. There on my car’s roof, right above the driver’s side door, was the Kindle.

Had I left it there and driven all the way back to the store with it on the roof? Had someone found it in the convenience store while I was in the pizza place and put it there for me? Or did an angel sent by St. Anthony drop it there? I’ll never know for sure, although the first option seems as miraculous as the third.

In any case, as soon I picked up the Kindle the bells at the Congregational church across the street began tolling its bells. At 8pm? That can’t be coincidence. Whatever the reason, I took it as divine reassurance of an answered prayer.

Such prayers aren’t spells or incantations, but I believe these little events are faith boosters–little gifts that reassure us that God is with us, loves us, and is concerned about our life’s little anxieties. And that St. Anthony is on the job.

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