Rural Life in the UP of Michigan Some stories about life on 160 rural acres in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

January 22, 2023


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 10:24 pm

What does a Bomb Cyclone have to do with plywood? Read on.

In December of last year, we experienced a weather event that I’d not heard of, called a bomb cyclone. What it meant for us was a lot of snow and wind. The event lasted for several days. You’d have your driveway looking pretty good one day, and the next morning it was worse than it was before you’d started. It was cold, windy, and the visibility was poor. The woodstoves were hungry.

My woodpiles are west of the house near the garage/workshop. The woodracks I use for the house’s heating fires are all the way around on the east side. I’d carry the wood in my arms from the outdoor woodpiles to the woodracks. I’ve done it this way for years.

The bomb cyclone dropped so much snow on us that I had to slog through the drifts with armloads firewood. After a couple of trips, my 70 year old body cried uncle. I needed more wood to make it through the night however. I came up with a short term solution. I’d carry the firewood to the much closer west entry of the house and pile it on the table. This solution got us through the worst of the weather, but I found that it worked really well. I could make firewood trips twice as fast with minimal drift-slogging. So I adopted the strategy longer term.

Alas, the table in the west entryway of our home had other uses, so my new firewood storage system was causing some tension. I started looking for a better solution, and came up with an idea. We had a small dresser in the west entryway that we used for storing hats, gloves, scarfs, and other odds and ends. The entryway also has a closet for keeping coats, boots and jackets. The closet has a high shelf above the coat rack. I proposed buying some small sturdy totes for the contents of the dresser. These we’d keep on the closet shelf, and replace the dresser with a woodrack. Amazingly, my plan was approved.

A trip to the Habitat Restore ™ and the dresser was gone. I decided to build the woodrack out of 1/2″ plywood, so on the same trip, I stopped by the lumber company and told the clerk I wanted 2 sheets of 1/2″ AC plywood.

“AC?” she asked, looking puzzled.

“Yes,” I answered, somewhat surprised by the question.

“$120,” she said.

“Yikes!,” I thought, as I handed over my credit card. Even the guys that loaded me up seemed impressed by the choice I’d made.

Before cutting, I left the plywood sheets in the workshop for some extra time in order to build up my courage. You can bet I measured twice before I cut once when it came time to process the plywood.

It took me part of 3 days to finish the woodwork, and as of this writing, I’m about to apply the finish. Then I can move it to its new home and fill it up with firewood.

4 shiny Craftsman ™ totes line the shelf in the closet, and they are filled with the hats and gloves that previously lived in the dresser. I do have a few scraps of plywood left over, but I did pretty much use up the whole two sheets on the project. So if anyone asks you what $120 worth of plywood looks like, this is it.

January 19, 2023

Firewood & Gardens

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 8:31 pm

My news feed serves up lots of articles about health. How to eat, how to think, how much to exercise, etc. The exercise genre has been especially active lately, with lots of studies showing the benefits of keeping active. Long ago, the experts suggested that strenuous exercise needed to be counted in hours per week to be effective. Then research began to show that less strenuous exercise could be helpful in shorter bursts. Then less strenuous exercise for even a few minutes a day worked as long as it added up some hours per week. We’ve evolved from jogging to walking. I’m wondering if the next piece I read will suggest putting the Doritos ™ on a higher shelf, and doing a few reps with the bag before devouring it.

Like many people, I own a recliner chair, and it is one of my prize possessions. The only time the recliner and I interact is when I’m taking a break, and having that relationship with an inanimate object means we’ve grown close over the years. When the leg rest goes up, the stress level goes down, and we become one with the universe. Sitting in my chair, I wondered why so many of us seemed to need to have a health scare before being willing to exercise regularly.

Even though I’m a believer in exercise, without the right motivation, I think the recliner and I might just melt into one lump. I credit our habits of heating with wood and growing much of our own food with this motivation. First thing on a winter morning, I get between 1 and 3 fires going depending on the outside temperature. This involves carrying chunks of firewood here and there; getting exercise. Firewood racks need to be filled when they get low, forcing me outside while the recliner softly calls my name from the next room. The fires need to be tended throughout the day. During the summer, I’m often out in the woods with chainsaw and bulldozer working on the next year’s woodpile. Many calories are consumed by our decision to heat mostly with wood.

Likewise the gardens. It can be hot outside, and nice and cool in the recliner. But there are chores, especially in our greenhouse garden. So I hoist my carcass upright, don my watering yoke, and haul bucket after bucket from the pond to the garden. “Thank-you” the little carrots say to me. Sometimes I listen to the carrots, but other times I’m hearing recliner sounds.

My philosophy is to just try to keep going, making sure to get the blood moving at least a couple of times a day. Besides the muscles, I try to exercise the old brain too. I make efforts to embrace new experiences, try new foods, meet new people, etc. We humans seem all too prone to relax when the opportunity presents itself, to the detriment of our health. I’m sure there are good evolutionary reasons for slacking, but I’m pretty sure these reasons have developed during times with fewer recliners in our homes. Especially as the decades pile up, along with the aches and pains, the temptation to rest also piles up.

Perhaps if exercising were more like playing the slot machines, we’d all be better at it. In front of a slot machine, when the screen starts whirling the icons around, your heart starts beating in anticipation. Then, you won! Yay! Carrying buckets of water to thirsty carrots just doesn’t seem to pack the same punch. Smart phone developers, how about creating an app that rewards exercise similar to the slot machine rewards. It might be the next killer app.

December 30, 2022

The Trip

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 6:48 pm

This trip has been in the works for months, but if you get right down to it… decades.  I can’t remember when I first became fascinated with the Amazon River.  I’m 70 years old now, and I know it has been all my adult life, probably into my adolescence, and possibly earlier.  The garage/workshop I built 27 years ago had one wall framed to make room for a large wall map.  The map was so big I had to use wallpaper paste and brushes to install it on the drywall.  It was the first and last time I ever worked with wallpaper.  The main purpose for the map was for me to look up from my workshop projects, observe the Amazon River, and plan my trip.

I think it was one of the Tristan Jones novels I read many years ago that talked about his Amazon trip.  He sailed his small sailboat to Peru and hired a truck driver to load and haul his sailboat from the Pacific Ocean, up and over the Andes.  Tristan and his partner had many trials and tribulations to get their little sailboat to the river, and all the way out to the Atlantic.  Whatever it was that piqued my interest, I made a vow to myself to visit someday.

One suggestion I have for you is, if you don’t want your life turned upside down, stay away from the Vacations To Go website.  I don’t remember what possessed me, but back in June of 2022, I visited the web page and looked around.  I had nothing concrete to look for; I was just browsing.  It was there I learned that a round-trip from Florida down to Brazil, and up the Amazon to Manaus was possible.  The first trip I found wasn’t suitable in my opinion, but once I knew what I was looking for, I browsed a little harder, and found a Holland America ™ cruise that looked pretty good.  It is one thing to find something you like, but quite another to market it effectively with your life partner.  One of my colleagues at the university gave me some much-appreciated advice, “timing is everything.”

So, I waited for what I thought would be a good time (it was hard to wait) and sprang the idea on my long-suffering wife.  She was initially skeptical, and for good reason.  Covid 19 was winding down, but was still very much a concern.  Crowded cruise ships were the initial incubators.  They pack you in like sardines.  And that is once you make it to the ship.  The flight from the UP of Michigan was even sardinier.  The plane is made of metal, much like a sardine can.  Given a sufficiently large can opener, you could serve the whole plane up on crackers.

Somehow, after wearing her down, she agreed to the trip, and so the adventure began.  We’ve traveled over the years, and being the detail person I am, I usually make the plans.  The first step was to book the cruise.  Since it was late June and the cruise didn’t depart until mid-November, I figured I’d have the pick of the rooms.  Wrong.  The only cabin in our price range was an ocean view on deck 2.  We both prefer a balcony room, and especially on this trip, with the Amazon flowing by, I hoped we’d be able to figure something out.  Alas it wasn’t to be, so I booked the ocean view room. 

Next on to the flights.  Due to covid-19, we’d saved up some frequent flier miles, so I went to the travel section of our credit card site, and looked for flights that would fit our schedule.  Booking flights online involves a lot of going back and forth on the web pages.  I distinctly remember clicking on the “2 passengers” icon at the beginning of the process.  I must have backed out of that place in the process, and, unbeknownst to me, the “2” reverted to the default “1”.  I kept moving not having noticed.  Once I had everything just the way I wanted it, and I clicked on the BOOK icon.  The cost was 70,000 miles, which I thought was pretty high for 2 people, but this was a trip to the Amazon after all.  After booking and receiving the itinerary, I congratulated myself on having an important piece of the puzzle finished.  As this whole process worked its way through my subconscious however, something just didn’t feel right. 

The next day, I dug out the itinerary and noticed that I was the only one listed, and come to think of it, they never did ask me for Alice’s name. We’ve booked many flights together from this web page, so maybe they just assumed…?  Having slept on it, I decided to call the travel agent, and learned that I had only booked the flight for me.  Our trip was scheduled for just before Thanksgiving and the return a week before Christmas, so I was naturally worried that due to holiday travel, Alice may not be able to get the same flights as me.  The travel agent was very kind and patient, and for another mere 70,000 miles, I got us booked on the same flights in both directions.  Whew!  Dodged that bullet.

Attention web developers, I’d like to make a suggestion.  If you’re developing an application that allows people to book flights, and if the user starts by choosing 2 guests, please make a note of that fact.  Because if this poor user navigates back and forth at the site such that the system wants to revert to the default of 1 guest, lights should begin to flash, horns should sound, and a drop-down should appear asking if you are sure you want to change from 2 to 1 guest.  If yes is selected, “Are You Sure?” should show up, followed by additional yes or no buttons.  Only then (once the choice is notarized) should the system be allowed to change back to the 1 guest default.  **END OF RANT**

All of this transpired some months before the cruise began, so research continued to prepare for the trip.  Neither of us had been on this long a cruise before, so we figured we could use some help.  Boy is there help out there, if by help you mean a lot of YouTubes.  I watched many of them and found a mixture of useful and useless information.

For example, with our room being an ocean-view, we figured we’d like to spend a large portion of our day on deck in the sea air.  Due to covid, we were concerned that the seating provided by the cruise line might be a vector for the disease.  Some hundreds of clicks later, I came upon the Helinox folding chair, which is made for backpackers and other folks with limited space.  I liked what I saw and ordered one to be sure it fit our needs.  I decided on the chair with the broad feet, because some reviews suggested that the normal pointy feet sunk in such that the seat no longer sat above the sand.  We tested our first chair and gave it a passing grade, so we ordered a second one.  These chairs are a marvel of engineering btw.  Our only comment is it sits low enough to the ground that it can sometimes be hard for a couple in their 70s to get out of the chair while maintaining an air of sophistication. 

We also figured our anemic UP of Michigan skin might require some shade, so we ordered one backpacker sunshade for the two chairs.  This clever little device clips onto both chair uprights and opens up to provide a surprising amount of shade. 

Although the chairs were light and compact, it was becoming clear that we might not have much room for clothes if we continued this trajectory.  I also needed to pack my exercise mat for my daily sit up routine, and my snorkeling gear.  By the time these items were assembled and tested in the suitcase, it was becoming clear that we’d better work together to ensure it would fit on the plane.

We learned that older ships like our Holland America Volendam often had very few power outlets in the cabins, and of those there were often no USBs.  We also learned that the cruise line may confiscate consumer grade surge protected power strips because they cause problems for the ships’ electrical system.  Capitalism surged (ha!) in to fill the gap as usual, and we were able to find and purchase a non-surge protected power strip with 3 AC and 4 USB ports that was “cruise approved”.  And so the preparations proceeded. 

I am not a flashy dresser, and I cannot remember the last time I bought a shirt.  I became convinced through my reading that long sleeves in the tropics were a good precaution against malaria infected mosquitos.  There were lots of cheaper long sleeve tropic ware shirts out there that were reasonably priced, but my experience has taught me that my long arms would probably not fit into these “normal” long sleeved shirts.  I’ve done battle with too-short shirtsleeves in the past, and the sleeves always seem to have won.  So I decided on the LL Bean tall shirt, which was more expensive, but fit pretty well.  So far, the battle between the sleeves of this shirt and the wearer has been a draw.

Alice also ordered many things for the trip.  We were not sure about availability of disinfecting wipes and hand sanitizer, so she got some single-use sizes, in addition to fresh sunscreen and insect repellent.  As the weeks went by, improbably large sized piles of things began to accumulate in the corners of our house. 

Several weeks prior to departure, I contacted our Vacations To Go travel agent and asked if it was possible for an upgrade from our ocean view cabin to one with a balcony.  My timing was good because he said a program was running at the time, and I jumped on it.  Notice I didn’t say “we.”  As Alice and I have grown together over the decades, it has become hard for us to surprise each other.  For me, a challenge can often make the outcome sweeter.  So, I took the initiative of booking the upgrade but not mentioning it to my travel partner. 

If you’ve ever truly surprised someone, you know that the hardest part of is the waiting.  I had thought that I’d spring the situation on her once we got on the ship, but we’re required to attach room tags to our luggage at the cruise terminal, and the room numbers on the tags did not match up with what she believed to be the real situation.  So I made her a little card explaining the upgrade, and decided to present it to her at breakfast the day our cruise departed.  Then the waiting began…  On many occasions, the opportunity to spill the beans presented itself, but I stayed strong.

When we committed to the trip, it seemed so far in the future that it wasn’t even worth thinking about.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that time is not linear after all.  Particularly if one stays busy, which we did with firewood, gardens, equipment breakdowns, etc.  In what felt like the blink of an eye, we found ourselves in the month of November, with the reality of the trip staring us in the face.  Leaving your home for an entire month can be a daunting proposition.  You often don’t even realize everything it takes to keep a homestead operating until you have to explain it to someone.  We are fortunate to have good neighbors who were willing to help us out.  I was most worried about our plucky little Chickadees, who we’ve fed during the winter months for years.  I’d made one large sunflower seed feeder out of a 4″ by 4′ chunk of plastic sewer pipe some years ago, and it has worked well for us.  Our small commercial feeders run out of seed after a day or so, but the big one goes for days.  I decided to make a second big one out of some left-over pipe from our building project last summer.  Between the two big ones and the two smaller commercial ones, I figured my little feathered friends could last 3 or 4 days between feedings with no problems. 

As a side note, while working on the new feeder, I did some research on Chickadees.  The little guys eat a LOT of sunflower seeds, and I assumed that there would be little bird bodies littering the snowbanks if the seed ran out while we were gone.  Researchers learned that even birds with access to unlimited seeds got only about 20% of their food from the feeder.  The rest they find in nature.  Studies have also shown there is no significant mortality difference between birds with access to seeds and those without, as long as the temperature stays above 20 degrees F.  At 10 degrees F the death rate for non-feeder birds is double that of the feeder birds.  So we humans really do make a difference to the birds when cold weather sets in.

We asked one neighbor to come on Saturdays to feed the birds, water the plants, and make sure the house hasn’t blown up.  We asked the other neighbor to come on Tuesdays just to feed the birds and check on the house. 

Before we knew it, the day before we were to leave arrived.  Our flight departed the Houghton County Airport at 7:20 am, so we set the alarm for 5:00, got everything ready, and tried to sleep.  You only get a few bucket list opportunities in your life and it can be hard to quell the excitement.  Before we knew it, it was time to rise, shine, and point the car toward the airport.

The flight to Fort Lauderdale, Florida was typical.  I’m 6′ 3″, and the seats in modern aircraft are not designed with tall-person knee comfort in mind.  But there is always spider solitaire to play, good books to read, and naps to take. 

I’ve always been a pretty good traveling nap person.  One reason I like window seats is I can rest my head alongside the bulkhead and doze off.  This trip was full of promise in the nap department, because we got up so early, and were a bit excited the night before.  I looked forward to doing some sleep catching up in my window seat.  What I didn’t anticipate was the lack of oxygen.  Alice and I both wore masks on the plane, and it is something we’ve grown used to during the covid years.  I found when I attempted to relax and nap on the plane that the mask made it difficult to get enough oxygen, so just as I was drifting off, I’d wake up and gasp for a breath or two, then try again.  After several attempts, I abandoned the effort and stayed awake. 

Other than that, the miles melted away and we were soon at the airport looking for the transportation provided to our hotel.  I like puzzles, and enjoyed the challenge of locating the shuttle to our hotel.  We were told to proceed to “area 5” outside baggage claim, so with enough gear for a month at sea, we trundled out and looked around.  There were lots of cars, buses, taxis, and people, all attempting to accomplish their slice of travel.  As we stood outside blinking in the Florida sunshine with palm trees waving above our heads, a picture slowly started to emerge.  We struck out in what we hoped was the right direction, and watched for fellow passengers that might also be heading for area 5.  We managed somehow, just like millions of people before us, and soon found ourselves on a shuttle bus heading through the streets of Fort Lauderdale.  After a couple of stops, the Crowne Plaza hove into view.  We were grateful to be able to check-in, because while we’d been sitting most of the day, we were both pretty tired.  Our normal food and water intake had been disrupted by the trip.  It was a couple of weary travelers that checked in and their hauled gear over to the elevator. 

Our room was nice but expensive.  The restaurant on the premises was the same.  We ordered room service for supper, and took it easy the rest of the day.

In the morning we had a sit-down breakfast where I presented Alice with the card explaining our upgraded room on the ship.  She was surprised and delighted… two outcomes I’d hoped for. 

Around that time, I realized that I had misplaced one USB cable I needed to charge my Bluetooth keyboard and my headphones.  So I ventured out on foot onto the streets of Fort Lauderdale looking for the correct cable.  My first stop was an auto parts store that happened to be open early that Saturday morning.  They had cables, but not the one I needed.   The indifferent clerk suggested a CVS a block down, and I luckily found what I needed there.  If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to do this writing using my Bluetooth keyboard. 

Our check-in for the cruise was 11:30, and we were told to be down in the lobby with our gear at 10:00 to wait for the shuttle to the pier.  The system was well organized, and we met and chatted with some interesting people while waiting for the bus.  I was grateful that the Volendam was one of the last drop-offs of the journey, because it gave me the opportunity to look at the different ships and the dock facilities.  I’ve long been interested in the standardized container method of shipping goods around the globe.  I’ve watched many videos online showing the process of loading and securing the thousands of containers on the massive ships, guiding the whole enterprise into port, and the unloading process.  Keeping track of which container contains which goods, getting these containers either shipped out by truck or rail, or storing them in stacks for later shipment was such an interesting dance.

Soon it was time to say goodbye to our driver and pick up our luggage.  At that point, there was a guy on the dock that was helping us be sure our bags were labelled for our room, then we went inside and started the check-in process.  I’d installed an app on my phone called Verifly, which allowed us to upload our vaccination records in addition to our required covid tests.  At the first stop in the check-in process, I just had to show the agent the app on my phone and we were waved through.  Next, we had our passports checked, pictures taken, and room cards issued.  We then made our way into a large waiting room where I expected to be seated for a while.  Surprisingly, they called us onto the ship around 11:30, and made our way up to our room, which would be our new home for the next 28 days.  We both liked it a lot.  There was a nice little balcony, and although small, the room had everything we needed.  Trips taken in our motorhome have trained us how to work together in long narrow spaces.

Our balcony overlooked the port, and I had an enjoyable several hours watching the port activities.  We live in a quiet corner of the globe, so all this activity was interesting for me.  The system for loading the ship’s stores was of special interest.  Pallet after pallet came off semi-trailers, and were fork-lifted into a doorway in the ship’s side where they disappeared. 

Eventually darkness began to roll in, and we cast off our mooring lines and headed for the open ocean.  Let the adventure begin!

At Sea

The Volendam is an older ship, and as such, smaller than the modern mega cruisers.  We learned that first night at sea that this ship rocked more than the bigger ones we’d experienced.  It was not an unpleasant motion.  In fact, we both felt that the motion at night was there to rock us to sleep.  Neither one of us felt queasy during the entire voyage, even on the most active days. 

The first two days of the cruise were “at sea” days, meaning we were en-route to a destination.  We liked at sea days because our only job was to enjoy the ship.  Especially those first few days, we found it made sense to walk around and learn where things were located. 

Tai Chi

Every cruise I’ve been on has provided a daily sheet that details the events offered by the cruise company for that day.  The sheet often comes the night before, and we both like to look it over to see if there are things we might be interested in.  Early in this cruise we noticed a listing for 7:30 AM called Tai Chi for Everyone.  Alice has done Tai Chi for years, but I’ve never made time in my life to learn it.  It seemed to be a good opportunity for us to start our day off, so we both joined.

What we liked from the beginning was the lack of fuss with this class.  There was no sign-up… you just showed up at the appointed time (or as close to it as you could come).  The instructors were all employed as “entertainment hosts;” a thorough explanation of this job we never did receive.  We believed they were possibly dancers or other types of performers attached to the ship.  The job of Tai Chi instructor seemed to rotate between 5 of these folks.  They all worked with us to learn a particular sequence of Qi Gong Tai Chi.  Different styles of teaching abounded, but there was no pressure on us.  We spent a half hour together during most at-sea mornings following the prompts of our instructor for the day. 

My interaction with this ancient art varied from minute to minute.  Most of the time I was trying to get my body to achieve some semblance of the movements the instructor was demonstrating.  The majority was spent adjusting arms, legs, and spine into the “flow” from one pose to the next.  Now and then, it worked out and I felt like the time-elapsed videos we’ve all seen of plants springing out of the ground, sending up shoots, and producing flowers.  Often, however, I felt like a clumsy oaf barely able to keep from falling as my feet went one direction, torso another, and arms flailing to split the difference.  I have renewed respect for folks that manage the movements with fluidity.  Doing so on the deck of a ship that is moving through choppy waters adds to the challenge.

The secondary benefits were of getting to know the exceptional people our instructors all were.  The same cruisers seemed to come to Tai Chi in the mornings, and as we struggled together, we also bonded.  My experience with humans is that we tend to stick to our routines when given the option, and that we miss out on many opportunities by closing ourselves off in this way.  As I get older, I’m learning that opening up a bit, for example, taking a Tai Chi class, is worth the risk. 

Being on time for this morning class was a bit harder for me than it was for Alice.  My habit was to walk a mile first thing each morning.  Deck 3 of our ship had a promenade that went right round the ship.  A plaque explained that 3 ½ trips equaled a mile, so I got up early, snuck out, and did 4 laps.  I then returned to the room, laid out my mat, and did 250 sit ups.  Only then could I get dressed and head up to deck 8 where the class was held.  Over the course of the cruise, we attended most of the classes, met some very nice people, and maybe even learned a little bit of Tai Chi.

The River

As the days went by, we developed a pleasurable routine.  Ship life makes routines easier than shore life in my experience.  Meals are at a set time, announcements from the cruise director and captain at a certain time.  We had a TV in our room, and mainly used it to put up a screen that showed a map with the ship’s location, ship’s time, and current ship’s speed.  The TV told us we were inching closer and closer to that right turn we were to make up the Amazon River.

The place where the river and the Atlantic Ocean meet is called the Barra Norte Sea.  We noticed how the character of the ocean changed when we arrived.  Instead of the clear blue waters of the Caribbean and Atlantic, the water was murkier with numerous islands and shoals.  Our ship turned west, and we had to watch our clocks as time zones were crossed.  Then the day came when we were well and truly sailing on the Amazon River.

I found a table in the pool area on deck 8 with a window.  I parked in a chair, squared my shoulders, and sat without much movement for about an hour.  I remember becoming emotional as the undeniable fact that the water our ship was floating on was fresh, and was the output from one of the great rivers of the world.  The dream of experiencing the Amazon was fulfilled right in front of me.  I was overwhelmed.  And we had several days of new views of the river as we made our way upriver to Manaus, where we were scheduled to stay for 2 nights.

Shore Excursions

Cruise ships have 2 states during a voyage.  The ship is either at-sea or in ports of call.  At-sea days are usually relaxing.  Those that are interested have many options, like playing Bingo, learning to play Mahjong or Bridge, listening to talks in the theater, etc.  Of course, the old standbys of spending at-sea times in one of the many bars or the casino are also available.  We’ve given this a lot of thought, and have come to the conclusion that bars and casinos are pretty much the same the world over, experiencing the Amazon River right out your door is unique.

The cruise company offers Shore Excursions at most ports of call.  For a sum of money, subject to availability, you can be paired with a local expert, transported to a location deemed special by that expert, and given an experience in that location.  Just as there are options for things to do on board the ship, there are many types of shore excursions.  Some involve learning new skills, some watching local artisans ply their crafts; some hikes, boat rides, zip lines… you name it.

Typically, once the cost of the cruise is considered, we’ve had the feeling that we’ve spent a lot of money for the experience, and hope the spending is behind us.  Enter the wiley cruise industry.  “You’ve spent a lot of money to get here, and for a few dollars more, you can ratchet up your enjoyment…” the logic goes.  And they are right.  So in most ports of call, we tend to book an excursion, assuming there is one offered that interests us. 

Besides hiking a trail in a steamy equatorial rain forest, we get to interact with folks that live in this part of the world.  We also get to meet fellow cruisers and establish relationships that would be less likely otherwise.  We’re given the opportunity to spread the wealth a bit.  Even though we’ve paid the cruise company between $50 and $100 per person for the excursion, we also feel the need to reward our tour guides for a job well done.  I would say that most of the time, they do indeed do a good job.  The insights we gain on our excursions should be and are rewarded.  We feel in many cases that the few bucks we provide at the end of the tour make a difference in the lives of these folks.

The experiences are all over the map.  A low for me was our ship anchoring in the Amazon River, where we were tendered ashore to view a supposedly authentic Amazonian village.  As we stepped ashore, there were numerous locals, many young children, holding various living animals; some birds, snakes, small caiman, etc.  Their hope being we’d want to take a picture and give them a couple of bucks.  I personally was repulsed by the idea of rewarding the capture and imprisonment of these creatures for the pleasure of cruisers, so I did my best to walk past all this.  It seemed that wherever I went, I was greeted by Portuguese speaking natives hoping for a selfie and a few bucks.  I don’t blame them, but it also just wasn’t my cup of tea.  Every attempt to find someplace to be alone in the natural beauty of this port bore no fruit for me, and eventually we just tendered back to the ship.

On the other hand, trips that involved bus rides that allowed us to observe of the way folks live were of interest.  The manicured lawns of high-end hotels are pretty much the same the world over, but run-down buildings in which people had small businesses were of interest to me.  Especially when we got a 2-second look at them as we drove by in our tour bus.  My imagination had to fill the gaps, which made the views more interesting.  Once one went by, another look at a house with small garden, chickens, roadside stands, people walking on the side of the road came into and left our view.  My brain worked overtime trying to piece together how these folks were navigating the ocean of life.

I also liked the trips where we boarded a catamaran and taken someplace where we could swim and snorkel in the ocean.  I have the unmistakable feeling of reentering the womb of the earth when the ocean is holding me up.  The taste of saltwater in my mouth and nose is both foreign and sought after by me.  Given the chance, I like to stretch my body out in the water, and move through it with the various swimming strokes I’ve learned over the years.  My pleasure comes from leaving terra firma behind and becoming aquatic for a time.  I’m also aware that the ocean I’m swimming in is connected to waters that sharks and all manner of predators inhabit; some of which might be licking their chops seeing a gangly old guy splashing around above them.

This cruise has reinforced my belief that the extra money for shore excursions is worth it.  The purpose of a cruise for me is to experience things I can’t otherwise, and shore excursions offer me that opportunity.

Iced Tea

I admit to an addiction… a day in my life is not complete without a nice glass of iced tea.  I’ve been making our iced tea for decades, and have a recipe that meshes more or less perfectly with my expectation.  Which is why I have a lot of trouble with the machines in the ship’s buffet that dispense some goo consisting of syrup and water, which they call iced tea.  Having experience with this supposed iced tea, I decided to bring along a 1 quart Stanley ™ thermos, and 28 1-quart iced tea bags.  This took up valuable space in the suitcase, but I didn’t regret it for an instant.  I would regularly go up to the buffet and fill my 1 quart thermos with hot water from the machine.  I’d put in a teabag and set my timer for 20 minutes.  When the timer went off, I removed the lid, took out the teabag, and stuck the lidless thermos in our little refrigerator.  Next trip to the buffet for a meal, I’d grab a couple of lemon slices and some sugar.  These were added to the thermos of tea.  I did forget to bring along a jar for holding the brewed, sweetened, and lemoned tea, so went down to one of the ship’s shops looking for a vessel of some sort to hold the ready-to-drink stuff in the refrigerator.  I found one and made the mistake of looking at the price.  $35 for a water bottle.  Yikes!  Chalk that up to experience. 

But having a glass of decent tea to drink each day was well worth the effort.


How safe are cruise ship passengers on shore?  I do tend to read lots of articles about cruising in my news feeds, and have never heard about a passenger being abducted, injured, robbed, or killed.  And with the thousands of cruisers going ashore every day, it must be safe, right?  I noticed the extra security provided for us on two occasions, once in Parintins, and the other in Belem.

The main shore excursion in Parintins was a tour by “triciclo.”  It was a two seater with a rudimentary roof over it, in front of a bike frame.  Each triciclo had a peddler, few of whom spoke English.  We’d be peddled to an attraction, and the English-speaking hosts would have us dismount and listen to their talks.  Then we’d return to the triciclo and resume the journey.  The whole trip lasted about an hour I think.  There were police at every intersection managing traffic for us, and a police presence throughout the tour.  Were they there just for traffic control?

In Belem, our tour was a boat ride to an island where we took a guided hike through the rain forest.  It was a fairly long boat ride with some interesting sights along the way.  Our boat travelled near shore for much of the trip, and we could use our binoculars to look at the riverfront homes along the way.  I didn’t spend much time looking behind the boat on the journey to our hiking destination.  When we returned to the boat from the hike, I noticed that a police cruiser boat was tied up next to ours.  There were several serious looking camo-clad folks aboard.  When we left the dock, they followed us the whole way back to our cruise ship. 

In both cases, the equipment and personnel required to provide this security was not cheap, and I wonder who paid for it?  The people of Brazil benefit from the tourist dollars spent in their communities, so it would be in their interest to see to it that nothing happened during our outings.  The cruise line would also suffer financially if a passenger was robbed or injured.  Someone sees enough sense in escorting our trips with security to pay for it.

How Much Things Cost

If you decide to take a cruise, my advice to you is to make your peace early with the cost of things.  A glass of wine that costs a few bucks back home will be quadruple that on the ship.  They do not allow you to bring your own.  If you make the mistake of bringing along your own alcoholic beverage, they say they will impound it during the cruise and return it at the conclusion of the trip.

Even though you’ve paid a lot of money upfront for the cruise, there are additional costs.  For example, Holland America ™ charges $17 per person per day for “crew appreciation.”  This money is presumably shared among the crew that help to make the trip more enjoyable.  I think it is a nice loophole for the cruise line to exploit.  Rather than paying these fine folks a living wage, they will make it mandatory for you to show daily appreciation for their efforts.  On a 28 day cruise, this expense piles up.  I think I read somewhere that you could opt out of this expense. 

Since we brought 2 phones, a tablet, and a laptop along, our internet expense for the trip was $400.  This was for 4 discrete devices, but was not the “fast” satellite internet package.  The claim was you could actually stream video with the fast package.  We decided we could so without streaming video for 28 days.  It was hard.

Souvenirs are also pricey.  At one of the seminars onboard the ship, we were told that bargaining was expected. At an outdoor stand, a couple of items I was interested in cost $10 according to the clerk. I asked her if this was her best price. The limits of her English language skills being reached, she asked her neighbor to translate for us. She went down to $8, and I agreed. Then she tried to substitute one item I’d chosen for a smaller (cheaper) one. I think we both came out of that transaction happy with the outcome.

In general, when we travel, we repeat the mantra, “we’re on vacation.”  The normal rules of life do not apply then, and, when you think about it, that is one of the reasons we travel.  The idea is to broaden horizons, and lightening the load in your wallet is an inevitable consequence.

Cruise With Old People

There were a lot of old people on this trip.  Although it wasn’t a stated criterion in the literature describing the outing, it made sense to us once we got onboard.  Younger people, especially with children, would probably find it prohibitive to take a trip of this length.  There is school, work, and the cost to consider.  Most of us old timers are retired, have a few bucks stashed away, and have grown-up children that are probably happy to have us out of their hair for a month.

A rumor circulated that the average age on this cruise was 77.  The number seemed high, but not implausibly high when we looked around at the people coming and going.  There were many advantages to traveling with a group of mostly older people. 

The first was food.  Older people seem more prone to have a schedule in their minds, and to stick with it.  Once the busy time at the buffet was determined, one could be strategic about meal times and avoiding the long lines.  This trip we’ve learned that the times the buffet opens for meals was the time we older folk showed up.  We weren’t busy bungee jumping, rock climbing, or running a marathon, so eating was one of the enjoyable things left for us.  As the days developed, we tended to set our watches by the opening of the food lines.

Our ship had a system at the buffet I’d not seen before.  Instead of having the food and serving spoons available under a sneeze guard, there were servers that asked what you wanted, then scooped the food for you and hand you the plate.  Looking up the line of such a system, the similarity to seagulls swooping in to snatch a mouthful was striking.

So if one planned mealtimes an hour or so after the line opened, one could avoid most of the long lines.  It could be easier to find a table, although the strategy broke down here a bit.  We older folk seem to like to linger at the dinner table long after the food has been consumed.  There were numerous between-table conversations, in addition to folks reading, checking their phones, playing cards, doing watercolors, etc.  So while being clever might make the wait in line shorter, we sometimes had trouble finding a place to sit.

As I age, I wonder what is in store for me as the decades pile up.  At home, I’ve observed a few of the people around me age, and decline.  When there are over a thousand old people you’re living cheek by jowl with, you get a view of all the age groups in a single day.  There are laughers and grumpers, spry and crippled, alert and aloof, tech savvy and non tech, etc.  Keeping my eyes open I saw what seemed to work well for folks and what worked less well, and what might be in store for us as the decades pass.

Most of the guests aboard our ship were in couples.  The cruise line encouraged this with their pricing.  The price for the cruise, already high, was a double-occupancy price.  If you wanted a room for yourself, it was possible, but the cost was much higher than half the double occupancy one.  We spoke to a solo traveler that tried to get friends to come along, even offering to help them pay for part of the cost, but in the end wound up traveling alone.  So most of the social interactions we had have been with couples.  Some couples got on famously, some barely, and many gradations between.  This brings me to a revelation I had.  On a catamaran trip to a snorkeling event, we sat next to a couple that had been married several years more than our 48.  They were tender with each other, looked out for one another, and didn’t mind showing it.  My philosophy of life is to try to look at life’s blessings rather than on life’s disappointments.  Interacting with all these couples, some with more years together, and some less, I realized that the greatest gift in my life is having a partner to share the beauty with.  Someone to be trusted to be kind when I’m fragile, be careful with me when I’m careless, and wise enough to leave me alone when I need some space.  I’ve come to understand that not everyone is so blessed, but that each of us is blessed in his or her own way.  I look forward to many tomorrows, facing them hand in hand with my partner.   


I’ve noticed that with some folks, they’re enjoyment is comparable to how little their life changes compared to their life at home.  The same foods are consumed, same routines for showering, dressing, etc.  As I think about it, we all probably feel that way to some extent, especially as we get older.  We’ve fine-tuned our routines, know what works and what doesn’t, and lean on our routines for our psychological health.  The problem is that there are likely ways that things could be improved, and unless we mix things up a bit, we’re not exposed to new ways of thinking.  This is where travel comes in.  It is hard to take a long trip and not be exposed to new things.  Some might argue that is the purpose of traveling. 

We decided when preparing for the trip that we could not bring enough clothes to last the whole trip, meaning doing some laundry onboard was inevitable.  When I packed my suitcase, I brought along sufficient clothing for 8 days, assuming I changed every day.  Three of four days into the trip, I realized that supplies were getting a little low.  In my other life, when the piles dwindled, some magic occurred, and they’d return to the dresser clean and folded.  We must have left the magic behind on this trip, however.

Bar laundry soap is purchasable, and we brought a bar along.  My response to the three-day clothing dwindle was to choose a couple of days of underwear and socks, put them in the little tub in our bathroom, and get to work.  I first ran water with the drain plugged until there was enough warm water to wet the first batch.  Then I rested the cloth on the side of the tub and rubbed the laundry bar over the entire item on both sides.  I’d move it into the pool of water next to the drain and agitate with both hands.  This was the most energy intensive part of the process.  I’d then wring the item out and set it aside until I’d done the same to all the other items in my laundry basket.  Then on to the rinse cycle. 

After the wash water was drained out of the tub, I closed the drain again and chose the first item to be rinsed.  I’d lay it out on the bottom of the tub and use the shower wand to thoroughly soak it with warm water, flip it over and do the other side.  The piece is once again agitated by hand, wrung out and set aside.  This process is repeated for the rest of the load.  Now comes the drying cycle.

I laid one of our provided beach towels out on the floor and arranged as many rinsed clothes as possible in a single layer.  I rolled the towel up tightly, and walked on it a couple of times.  I usually did a 2-towel load, so I set the first rolled towel aside, and lay out the second towel and continue with the rest of the load.  Once both loads were rolled up and walked on, I let them sit for around 15 minutes.  I then extracted the wet towel from the mostly dry clothes and hung them up on hangers somewhere in the room where they’d dry. 

This process took about an hour and needed to be repeated every 3 days or so in order to keep up.  Alice commented that she never gets out of breath when doing laundry at home, but noticed I was breathing heavily at the end of the cycle.  I’ve come away from all this with a renewed respect for the work our automatic laundry facilities do for us at home.  In that environment we just toss things in one machine, go away for a while, then transfer the load to another machine, and about an hour later, fold and put away.  I doubt I’ll keep doing my laundry manually, but I know that I can do it if I have to, and have renewed appreciation for the machinery that does so much of the work for us.


As we approached the port city of Manaus, Brazil, the fact we were nearing a city of 2 million became clear.  Numerous pieces of plastic trash were seen floating in the water.  The river traffic also increased, with all manner of watercraft available for inspection.  The intent had been for us to dock at the port and then walk ashore.  We were told that the floating dock that had been in place to accommodate our vessel had sunk, so we needed to position ourselves offshore and use the ship’s tenders to travel ashore.  I arrived early the first day and walked the streets for an hour or so, just to get the feel of the place.  It felt busy.  Lots of street vendors, some busy with their phones and some actively hawking their wares.  I was mostly able to walk and observe, which was my objective. 

After the walk, I found an empty bench in a well-used park near the river port.  Manaus sits on the Rio Negro near the point where it joins the Amazon.  The building in front of me was a bustling place where bus tickets were sold, with buses are coming and going on 2 sides of the park.  Cars zoomed past, and motorcycles zoomed past faster.  So much activity required some time for me to process.  The bench where I sat was cool and in the shade, and once I sat quietly for a bit, I blended in with the scenery enough that I was mostly left alone.

There were hustlers all around me.  One guy seemed to oversee the taxis that were lined up on the street near the park.  He was adept at picking the prospective riders out of the hordes of people walking by.  Not much escaped his watchful eyes.  Down the sidewalk a bit was a pair of women with a fruit cart.  It appeared to me to be a heavy-duty wheel barrow that had been modified to have a large tabletop on which various kinds of fruit were piled.  The two women were busy bagging what looked like small lemons, all the while chatting with each other.  When one of them needed a break, she sat down while the other continued.  My opinion of them was one of practiced efficiency. 

Further down the street, I saw 3 other similarly modified wheel barrows, all with energetic people shucking corn, bagging fruit, and chatting back and forth.  Were they all part of the same operation?  It was still quite early in the day, and these folks had what looked to be a prime location for their businesses. 

Mixed in with the fruit and veg vendors was a family of 3 selling bottled water.  The three appear to be husband and wife and a little boy of about 5.  The little boy had lots of energy.  When a pigeon or two dared to land nearby, he enthusiastically chased them away.  Sometimes he picked up and chucked a round nut that had fallen from one of the many trees in the park.  His aim was poor, but he gave the nut a toss at the pigeons just the same.  He regularly ran over to his Mom, who seemed to be the brains and energy of the operation.  He also paid a visit to his Dad now and then.

Their water operation consisted of an unmodified shopping cart with a Styrofoam cooler inside, and a bottle of water perched on top.  No signage, no price.  Mom chatted regularly with her neighbors the fruit/veg merchants.  She made no sales.  She did not attempt to engage the passersby.  Dad just sat on a park bench like mine.  His little boy ran up and tried to interact with him, but Dad just stared out into space.  Mom came over now and then, and he turned his head when she spoke, but either remained silent or answered with a word or two.

While it was still early in the day, the fruit/veg merchants were making a few sales.  It happened to be a day that Brazil was playing in the World Cup, so foot traffic was probably less than normal.  There were bright yellow shirts on many Manauins showing their loyalty to the Brazilian soccer team.  Many of the businesses in town closed during the game.

Mom seemed to be doing her best to stick close to the shopping cart, but no interest was shown by the passersby.  Dad stayed on his bench looking out at the world without moving his head.  It looked to me like his eyes weren’t seeing his wife or son, the people on the street, or anything.  He was lost in his own world. 

I couldn’t help but wonder what was going on with him.  I suspect drugs.  He was a good-looking man, strongly built, but with little visible comprehension of the world around him.  My belief was this shopping cart was the sole income for this little family, and that he was contributing nothing. 

I was close enough to see Mom walk over and suggest they move their operation since they hadn’t made any sales.  Dad didn’t answer.  My gaze wandered a bit, and a few seconds later when I looked their way, I saw they had packed up and were moving their cart.  They were waiting for the light to change at the busy intersection.  Mom making sure the little boy didn’t run out into traffic, and holding onto the handle of the shopping cart.  Dad along for the ride.  What will become of that little boy?

After returning to the ship for some food and a rest, Alice and I decided to make a trip to the city together.  As we got off the tender, the biggest downpour of rain of our whole trip happened.  We both had decent rain-gear, and once the deluge cleared up a bit, we decided to brave the weather and walk.  We’d both heard about the Manaus Opera house, which was built during the city’s rubber heyday.  We had a general idea of where it was, so we walked and took in the sights and sounds.  Eventually we spotted the opera house.  It was huge.  We walked around and found that guided tours were available, although they were almost done for the day.  We were lucky enough to get 2 tickets for one of the last the English tours that day.

I was not enthusiastic about the tour at the beginning, but I must admit I was blown away.  In its day, this place was amazing, but it had also been well cared for, and still hosted many performances.  Our guide was young and enthusiastic, and happy to answer all our questions.  Our tour took us to one of the box seats on the second floor, and when we went inside, we were treated to a string quartet and female singer rehearsing for a performance.  The acoustics of this old hall were amazing.  I didn’t want to leave.


So the trip continued.  Some at-sea days, some stops at ports.  Ocho Rios Jamacia stands out in my mind.  We hadn’t found a shore excursion we liked for that stop, so we decided we’d get off the ship and just walk around.  We cruisers stuck out like a sore thumb while walking ashore.  People aggressively tried to get us to take their taxi, buy their wares, tour a sanctuary, etc.  As soon as we walked by one group and made it clear we were not interested, another group saw us and pounced.  We reached the point that it felt better to walk back to the ship than stay and try to get a feeling for the place.

We were both concerned about the length of this cruise, but both had to admit that we never felt it was too long.  The experiences we had were satisfying, the folks we interacted with onboard and off were interesting.  But like all good things, the end came.  It was time to pack up and put our labelled luggage out in the hallway before bed.  In the morning we had some breakfast and waited for our disembarkation group to be called.  We then found our luggage, waited in a long but fast-moving line for customs, and boarded a bus for the airport.  News of bad weather swirled all around us, but out flights all worked out, and we arrived back at our local airport on time, located all our luggage, loaded up the car, and headed home.  We took about 600 pictures, several videos, and did some writing during the trip.  This essay is the product of all that effort.  I hope you enjoyed reading it.

March 30, 2022

Lost Drivers

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 7:21 pm

We all know how useful GPS is for us, especially that last mile or two of an unfamiliar journey. That cheerful voice patiently moves one ever closer to the destination, and understands one-way roads and all the other hazards confronting we unsuspecting travelers. GPS does have one flaw that has bitten me, probably bitten you, and really bit a couple of guys I met on the road today.

As I was returning from the sugar bush this afternoon after a couple of hours of boiling, I noticed a vehicle stopped about half-way up our road. Our road is not heavily traveled. The mailman goes by six days a week, and the UPS truck less often. Other than that, we have some curious locals, hunters during deer season, and little other traffic. Our road is hilly and not paved, and it does not go anywhere that you can get to more easily using other routes.

I continued walking down the road towards our house and kept my eye on the stopped vehicle. As I got closer I got the feeling that it was coming towards me, but very slowly. Closer yet, and I determined the vehicle was backing up. When I was almost on top of them, I figured it out. It was a large white van (fairly new) that was towing a trailer with an older jeep-like vehicle on it. It became clear to me that the two drivers attempted to tow this trailered jeep up the hill with their 2-wheel drive van, and made it oh so close to the top. So they had to back all the way down the hill, which, to the driver’s credit, was done slowly and accurately. Getting off that narrow road by even a little bit can get you stuck as quick as you can say Jack Robinson.

I had a chat with the guys and I learned a bit about them. They lived in Chicago and had the job of picking up this jeep locally, and delivering it to Florida. My guess is their GPS felt our road saved them some mileage, so it sent them up the steep muddy slushy road. The poor guys were helpless in this situation. They seemed competent drivers when the road is paved and clear, but had no clue how to navigate our Copper Country back roads.

I told them they could back up into my driveway and try their luck leaving our road the other direction. My new friend didn’t think that would work for him. We decided that my plow truck might be the answer. So I pulled out onto the road, and, using my tow-strap, helped him hook up to my pickup; a beefy F250 4WD. The plan was to pull him to the top of the hill so he could continue on his way to Florida. After laying on the slushy ground for a while, we found a place on his van to hook my tow strap, hooked him up to the pickup, and off we went. When I got him to the top of the hill, he asked me to take him farther, which I did. I found a place in the road that had a bit of a down slope so he could get a start. Then I drove to the blacktop, parked, and motioned for him to come on ahead. I didn’t want him to stop at the stop sign if possible, so I looked for traffic before I motioned him along.

He made it around the corner and I gave him a thumbs up as he headed south down the Pelkie Road. I imagined a couple of things as I watched them drive away. First, please Mr. GPS, don’t send us down another road like this one ever again. And second, how and why do people live way out here? Being from Chicago, I’m pretty sure they had never imagined a road like the Cemetery Road in late March, and am pretty sure they never wanted to see another one.

October 2, 2021

A Different World

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 9:09 pm

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars for living where I live. The natural world around us is balm for my soul. The seasons keep me on my toes. The birds, insects, and other critters are constant reminders that I share the planet with a vast and fascinating diversity of creatures. I’ve done some traveling, including one trip that involved driving a rental car in Los Angeles rush hour traffic. I always enjoy seeing new things, but am also always eager to get back home and see what’s changed while I was away.

This summer Alice and I decided to tackle some projects around the house that have needed to be done for a long time. When we were more ambulatory, having the laundry facilities in the basement, kitchen on the first floor, and bedrooms and bathroom on the second floor was just fine with us. Using the stairs multiple times each day kept us in shape. As the decades went by though, we’ve become concerned about the real possibilities of a serious fall on the stairs. The home system that had served us so well for so long was reaching the end of its useful life.

So we embarked on an ambitious project. We’d build on an 8′ x 12′ addition to the first floor of our house. In it we’d put a bathroom and laundry facilities. We’d then move our upstairs bedroom downstairs, and have most of the essentials on one floor. We had the great good fortune to know a father/son contractor team that had time in their schedules to do the building. “I can pour the footings and basement floor,” I offered. “I have a cement mixer.” I was looked at with a mixture of skepticism and amusement, and was told to have at it. “Uh oh.”

I was also lucky enough to have a neighbor that was a wizard with his mini excavator. It took some doing to get him out here because his services are in constant demand. But eventually he came out with his machine and dug the hole. We’d decided to make the foundation the same depth as the part of the house it was attached to, so we were putting a full basement under our little addition. The hole was dug with all the numerous problems attending such events. Then I went to work producing the trench in the bottom of the hole that would become the base for the addition’s footings.

I had things just about where I wanted them so I could start setting forms when we had a big rainstorm overnight. The next morning when I looked into the pit, I almost cried. My lovely trench was covered up on two sides by cave-ins. This was wet sticky clay, which I knew from experience would require serious effort to remove. I was again lucky enough to know of two brothers in their 20s that were looking for work and were stupid enough to say yes. We spent several days in the pit bailing water and shoveling out clay:

The cave-in

Eventually the weather moderated, the pit dried out, and with the help of two wonderful neighbors, the footings were poured.

Footings done. The door is installed so the block layers can escape the fortress they build

Contractors then came out to lay the block, then my neighbors came back to help pour the basement floor. It all came out beautifully.

As a result of all this activity, I was responsible for making sure the materials necessary to get the job done were chosen and trucked to the site. The other worlds I’m referring to in the title are the places one has to go in order to make these arrangements. The cement block factory with big trucks, fork lifts, and noisy machinery, and gravel pits. For someone whose hearing is compromised by overly loud birds chirping, these places represent the antithesis of our rural hideaway. But they are important. If you don’t have good gravel around the drain-tile of your foundation, leaks will happen and frost heaving can occur. If you have too few or the wrong kind of cement blocks, the foundation wall could be weak. And on and on. As I drive through the country and see miles of suburbs with rows and rows of houses, all of which have footings, drain-tile, and crushed rock doing the same job for them as for me, I wonder at the magnitude of the effect we are having on the planet so we can live in comfortable homes.

The addition as of late July

Now when I see big trucks rumbling down the road with loads of gravel, I can no longer feel superior. I too am a willing consumer of the technology, and very well understand the necessity of the work they do. Without them buildings would fall down and roads would crumble. And I have to admit that when I pay my $35 for a pickup load of gravel, I get a thrill every time the end loader comes rumbling up. It has a bucket big enough to bury my 3/4 ton pickup and me with it. The operator scoops up some gravel in a tiny corner of his bucket, and shakes it into my truck, which transforms from tall and proud to squatting down on all her springs. The sound it makes and the rush of wind makes me appreciate the power we’ve been able to harness to make our lives better.

September 20, 2021

Oh Wow!

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 8:58 pm

Last night I woke up around 3:00 and had trouble going back to sleep. I did what I often do… I grabbed my tablet and resumed reading my current book. This one is called, The Cosmic Landscape by Leonard Susskind. This is not the kind of book you have trouble putting down even if you are sleepy, so it seemed perfect for some reading while the mind was trying to settle down.

I ordered The Cosmic Landscape after watching a YouTube ™ in which Leonard Susskind was interviewed. He had such a clear way of explaining things, and seemed like a pretty nice fellow. So I went to Amazon ™ and bought his book then and there. I’ve been reading it for some time now and am just a bit over half way through. I will admit it has been a bit of a slog now and then, but I’ve hung in there with him, and boy am I glad I did.

My main reason for choosing this book is because it promised to explain string theory. I’d heard this before, but had not yet encountered the writing that explained it to my satisfaction. I’ve long thought that we are multi-dimensional creatures that have evolved with 3 dimensional senses. This gives us the illusion that there are only 3 dimensions, but string theory predicts there are 9 (plus one for time). Thinking about the complexity of moving from 1 dimension (a line) to 2 (a plane) to 3 (a cube), I had trouble wrapping my head around what 4,5,6 dimensions must be like. We believe that a tesseract is the shadow of whatever 4 dimensions looks like, but as near as I have been able to figure out, no other clues of dimension 4 have presented themselves.

Leonard Susskind is an original discoverer of string theory. He has also spent his life as an academic, and it shows in his writing. He has a knack for explaining things, and uses language to keep the reader interested. I’d just made it part way through his chapter on string theory when I was starting to get sleepy. But the content was interesting. He talked about how strong these strings were, and how long they could become. For a string that holds subatomic particles together, it can be long indeed, spanning the entire universe.

I like to think we exist inside bubbles. They are invented and maintained by ourselves, and the purpose for them is to have a model of the universe at hand. Instead of having to figure out any new piece of information that we encounter, we file it inside the model if it fits. If it doesn’t, we often toss it, because it is dangerous to start messing around with our model.

As I was reading the chapter about strings, I could feel some excitement, as though a breakthrough was about to happen. It was almost like pieces of a lance are swirling around in my head, and at some point, the lance assembled itself and pierced my bubble. I had a glimmer of what strings might be and how they work together to stitch our universe together. I had an “Oh Wow!” moment.

I suppose we all get them now and then, but I can say I cherish these moments every time they come along. I get them in the Grand Canyon sometimes, and at art museums. Music sometimes does it for me. It seems to happen when the current model is no longer adequate to explain something, and a hole gets pricked. The light from outside comes shining through for a brief time before the hole heals itself. I wonder if the bubble got a little bigger because of the event, or if it just patches itself and resumes as before. I hope it gets bigger, because that is what I think growth is. If you don’t look at things from a new perspective now and then, you’re doomed to just relive the same series over and over.

I now have another Oh Wow! behind me, and am eagerly anticipating the next. I’ll see you in the 4th dimension.

September 7, 2021

I Declined

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 6:19 pm

I recently received an invitation to a party commemorating the 50th anniversary of my high school graduating class.  I politely declined.

My time in middle/high school was, for me, the worst episode of my life.  For whatever reason, although I wanted to have friends, I didn’t have any until around my junior year.  I tried hard to make friends, much like an overly zealous puppy, but never seemed to make any breakthroughs.  The niche I managed to fill throughout most of my middle/high school career was as the object of bullying and ridicule.  This was mostly a daily occurrence for me.  I was repeatedly slugged in the arm, and humiliated in front of other students.  I continued to try to hang out with the guys bent on making my life miserable.  They seemed adept at tossing a crumb of friendship my way often enough to keep my hopes up, and then using their power to grind me into the dirt.  The adults running the school, along with my parents, where no help. 

There does appear to be a couple of kinds of people in the world; those that enjoyed their middle/high school careers, made friends, and eagerly anticipate reconnecting with these old friends every so often, and those that would just as soon forget the whole experience, and all the people that worked so hard to build themselves up by trashing the weaker among them.  I throw in my lot with the latter.

I’ve often wondered, what is in it for them?  It must take a lot of time and energy to bully others.  Does the bully get pleasure from the event, even though it is repeated over and over?  I came up with one possible answer, one that surprised me and might surprise you.  Adolescent years are in place to prepare children for navigating the adult world.  That world is populated with people of every personality type.  A fact of life is that throughout one’s existence there will be people with power over you.  How you react when that power is wielded, whether fairly or not, can be a factor in your success in life.  Maybe the people like me, little naïve puppies, need to be hardened up so they can navigate the world of adults; a role the bullies played. 

If asked the question, “How do you evaluate your current mental state?”, I’d have to say my mental state is good.  I am confident, feel capable, have taken good care of myself, and feel the work I do is appreciated within my community.  Every person alive was given a set of genes, over which he or she had no control, usually a set of parents, again outside their control, and a cohort of peers.  Each of these has a strong effect on the shaping of a person’s character.  Although my middle/high school years were miserable, like it or not, they did contribute to my development.  And assuming I am content with where I am in life, can I honestly say that the character shaping events that led to today’s Ted were bad?  Unnecessary? 

Any one person’s life is a complicated jumble.  Throw into the mix other people who may be your social subordinates, equals, or superiors, and the complications climb up the chart.  The challenge appears to be, embrace your life’s experiences, because they made you who you are, and try to be a mentor to others if at all possible.  Perhaps the greatest gift you can give to someone is an example.

February 20, 2021


Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 9:04 pm

Is it socially acceptable for a grown man to shed tears when a rover successfully lands on Mars? Reasonable or not, that is what happened. Since that historic landing, I’ve been probing my own mind to try to understand why I cried. I came up with a few ideas.

First of all, the past 4 years have been very hard on me. I am trained as a scientist, and believe that the scientific method is the best way we have of discovering the truth. And if that belief is a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10, then I would give a 9+ to the notion that if one is armed with the truth, one has a much better shot at success in life. For the last 4 years, that whole system seemed upside down. It seemed that anyone with a catchy opinion could post it on social media, and that opinion could compete successfully with the facts brought forth by competent scientists.

Of the last 4 years though, the final one just about did me in. Epidemiologists have long understood how Corona Viruses spread, and how best we can slow and eventually stop the spread in a low-tech way. A simple face mask and social distancing can and does slow virus transmission almost to a stop. For some reason, though, reasonable people saw these two simple solutions as weakness and a threat to their freedom, and as a result many refused to be careful. The result has been the United States, with some of the greatest minds in the world, and unparalleled resources, has had very high transmission and death rates, and a lingering pandemic. It seems the best we can hope for is a quick rollout of vaccine to grant immunity to sufficient numbers of people that the virus’ transmission rate will drop low enough that it will become scarce enough for us to return to normal.

Knowing all this, I’ve felt that a consistent message from our elected leaders could have made a large difference in our transmission and death rates. Unfortunately, the message was, what appeared to me, the opposite of rational. This method of thinking and action is so counterintuitive to me that I constructed a shell to keep out the constant barrage of bad news. I kept a peephole in that shell, hoping for some good news through the avalanche of bad, but even that peephole started to close off.

Then we had the inauguration of a president that believes in science. We had confirmation of people to advise him that are competent in their fields, rather than unconditionally loyal to their boss. The peephole started cracking open.

The Mars rover Perseverance has been planned and under construction for some years. Her launch had to happen during the pandemic, because the alignment of our two planets was favorable for the trip during that time. Had it not been able to launch then, a long delay would have ensued before another window opened. Somehow, with so many things shut down, the launch happened 7 months ago, culminating in a recent successful landing on Mars. The rover package entered the Mars atmosphere at more than 20,000 miles per hour. It’s heat shield endured severe punishment as the little craft sank toward the planet. As it was streaking across the sky, tiny rockets were orienting the craft towards a safe place to land, all the while going slower and slower. At the correct moment, a huge parachute opened which further slowed the decent. Then the chute was cut free and a sky crane fired its rockets and lowered the rover to the surface of Mars on tethers. Once on the ground, the tethers were severed, and the sky crane flew away so as to not damage the rover. Oh yes, since it takes a radio signal several minutes to reach Earth from Mars, and then several more minutes back to Mars from Earth, the system had to do all this autonomously.

When the touchdown happened and word of the success reached JPL, the room erupted in cheers (albeit masked cheers). That was when my shell cracked open and the tears started to flow. Just look what we can do when we trust experts. When we work together. Imagine what we could do?

February 14, 2021

Missed a Minus Sign

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 9:33 pm

I started as a student at Michigan Tech in 1976, finished being a student in 1982, went to work for them in 1984, and retired 22 years later. That was a lot of time spent around campus. Mid-winter MTU has a unique tradition: Winter Carnival. Some weeks before the event, student groups are given a theme, and they plan and execute ice sculptures, some small and some epic. I never participated in the making of an ice sculpture, and rarely walked around to see them, unless I happened to be on my way somewhere across campus. But one ice sculpture still sticks in my mind after all these years.

There were two categories of sculptures; the ones I described above, and the “one nighters,” where the participants couldn’t start their sculptures until a certain time in the afternoon the day before winter carnival officially started, and had to be done the next morning. The one I remember best was a one nighter.

There were only 3 objects in this sculpture. One a pharaoh on his throne, one an engineer prostrate before the pharaoh, and one a pyramid. The pyramid caught your eye first, because it had its point in the ground. The pyramid was upside down. The caption on the piece had the engineer say, “Forgive me oh pharaoh, I missed a minus sign.”

This great memory came flooding back the other morning. I still try to walk twice each day, which is a habit I’ve held onto since our dog Franco died in September of 2019. Our dogs loved and deserved their morning and late afternoon walks, and I benefited from them too. The main difference now is there is no dog, just me.

I typically just throw on my Muck Boots ™, Carhartt ™ jacket, hat and mittens, and do my morning mile in my pajama bottoms. This works well for me for much of the winter, but I’ve found if the temperature is much below the 20s F, that my thighs get cold enough that they start stinging. Those pajama bottoms just don’t hold in much heat. So before I suit up for my morning walk in the winter, I check the temperature.

In the old days, this was done by looking at a glass tube filled with mercury. Our modern thermometer is a digital one with a transmitter outside that feeds the temperature in to the device. When the temperature is in the single digits below zero, the minus sign is large and obvious; right next to the digit. But when the temperature gets into the double digits below zero, the minus sign changes to a less obvious part of the screen.

So once I had the wood stove fires going the other morning, I looked over at the screen to see the temperature. It was 12. I concluded it was cold enough for me to break out the Sorels, Canada Goose Jacket, but not cold enough for long underwear and wool pants. Pajama bottoms were good enough for me! Head, hands, and torso were all adequately warm on the walk, but the pajama pants were surely not working as well as they should have. I should have been fine at 12 degrees, unless of course, like the poor engineer in the ice sculpture, I missed a minus sign.

August 31, 2020

A Spare House

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin0 @ 4:10 pm

In the world of breakfasts, there is one clear winner for me. POEC, or hash brown potatoes, plenty of onions, eggs, and Cholula ™. This favorite breakfast of mine is so far in the favorite column that I have to ration it. If I have POEC one morning, I make myself have some sort of cereal the next morning. Otherwise I would weigh many more pounds than would be healthy for me. On oatmeal mornings, I resign myself to the fact that I’ll likely be hungry again by 10:30. That is ok though, because today’s mediocre breakfast in an investment in the potential for a great breakfast tomorrow. I’ve learned I can wait for a day if I need to.

Living the rural life has its drawbacks. One is the reliability of the electrical grid. Our provider is the Rural Electrification Association, or REA. We fondly joke with one another that REA really stands for Repair Every Afternoon 🙂 We pay some of the highest rates for electricity in the country, and for good reason. The densely (in every sense of the word) packed one mile section of the road we live on has exactly 3 houses on it. This means the REA has to maintain a mile of poles and wires for 3 customers. It amazes me that they are able to pull this off at all.

The other morning dawned bright in terms of breakfast prospects, but overcast in terms of the weather. Then it began to rain hard. I do like the rain, even when it causes me to have to readjust my work outside sometimes. This morning’s rain brought with it a power outage. I was just getting organized to put together a POEC breakfast when the lights went out. It dawned on me in a horrified realization that I depended on electricity for my cherished and hard won breakfast. Nooooooo! Power outages can take hours to turn around, and I was poised to make my breakfast right now.

As I contemplated the horror of a cereal morning, I realized I had a spare house, and one that was particularly designed to be self sustaining in situations just like this one. Our motorhome. Hope rose in my soul. We can yet pull this one off. I gathered my ingredients and utensils, and slipped out the door. I did notice a puzzled look on Alice’s face, but there was no time to explain. The clock was ticking, and my stomach was demanding relief.

Once out there, putting the breakfast together on our propane stove top was a snap. After all, I’ve been practicing this particular chore for some decades now. After disappearing out the door with odds and ends, I reappeared about 20 minutes later with a skillet of piping hot POEC. Sometimes when you have to work for something the results taste all the sweeter.

Last night during another stormy time, the power went out yet again. The sauna was lit and I was darned if I was going to miss that weekly ritual. So I got myself ready and entered our lovely attached sauna room. After sweating for a while, I started wishing I had some water to throw on the rocks, but also to rinse off the sweat pouring off my body. What to do? Aha, the spare house to the rescue. Walking outside without the benefit of clothes (not as unusual as one might think in this neighborhood), I carried the sauna bucket into the RV, turned on the pump, and filled up with lovely clean water. The steam for that sauna was especially sweet, although the shower at the end was a bit on the cold side. Still, it was once again the spare house to the rescue. I think everyone should have one.

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