Archive for August, 2012

West Virginia Part 3 (Fallingwater)

Monday, August 27th, 2012

There is no denying that Frank Lloyd had an eye for beauty. Both Steve and I have looked at his work over the years, and decided we’d like to see one of his more picturesque homes, named Fallingwater, near Pittsburg, PA. Since Steve and John were living within a couple of hours drive of it, we decided to make the online reservations for the next day, and make the drive. We reconfigured the rental car so Franco could lay down in his dog crate when it was taken apart, and Steve, Alice, Franco and I headed north.

This part of the country is very scenic, and we chose not to travel the main highways on the way up there. It was a pleasant if somewhat long drive. When we arrived the first thing we observed was the huge and well laid out parking lot. This place was used to handling crowds! I dropped Alice and Steve off near the visitor’s center, and drove around the parking lot until I found a place to park with some shade for Franco. Then I hurried over to the visitor’s center. We knew our group number, and waited for it to be called over the intercom.

When our number was called, our group was directed to walk down a path to meet with our tour guide. After introductions, the guide asked us all where we were from. One of the young women in the group said she was from Michigan. I asked her where, and she said the Lansing area. “Do you have pets,” I asked her. She looked at me somewhat quizzically and said yes her parents did. “Then you probably know about the family business, Soldan’s, right?” I asked. “YES,” she said. “My mom buys all our dog food there.” Yet another example of how small the world really is.

Our tour guide was very good, and we all thoroughly enjoyed the tour, asking numerous questions as usual. One of the first questions the tour guide asked after where we were from was, “How many of you would like to own this home?” I shook my head no and she asked why. I told her, “I doubt I could maintain it.” She told the group I was right and she seldom go that answer.

After the tour I got to thinking about this house, and what a story it makes. Wright was an enigmatic character, and this structure seemed to be a good example of how genius, arrogance, and perseverance often combine to make some wonderful art. Mr. Wright’s vision for this structure was advanced beyond the engineering and materials capabilities were at the time. According to this Wiki article, the cantilevers were under-engineered, and even when Mr. Wright’s on site construction engineer doubled the amount of structural steel in the main cantilever, the slab sagged about 7″ and was near collapse when it was stabilized using modern techniques and materials.

We headed back south after a walk with the dog, and stopped at an Indian restaurant in Morgantown, PA on the way home. Back on the highway, we were nearing our destination when I saw an ambulance in my mirror. I pulled the vehicle over to the side of the road, and must have struck an bungee cord that was lying there. The metal hook in the cord stuck in the tire tread, and the other end of it beat the side of the car over and over until I managed to get the car stopped.

Steve managed to pull the end out of the tire, at which point it began to hiss ominously. Fortunately we were close to an exit, so we drove off the highway slowly, found a gas station, parked, and proceeded to change the tire.

We had to remove most of our stuff from the car in order to get at the spare tire and jack. We put Franco’s crate on the parking lot near the car, and Alice proceeded to try to coax Frank to take a walk while Steve and I were busy with the tire. Frank would have none of it! I believe he could sense the tension in the air, and the only place of security known to him at this point was his crate, and by golly, he was going to stay there.

We quickly got the tire changed, and reconfigured the car once more to accommodate the flat tire in addition to the rest of our travel gear. Then it was on to home for the culmination of an eventful trip.

I’ve never had something like this happen with a rental car, so wasn’t too sure how all the details would work out. I am happy to report that both Enterprise Rental Company, and State Farm Insurance worked with us well and fairly. Although we had to pay the deductible we were glad the rental car would be fixed to everyone’s satisfaction.

The next morning we headed back toward home, and made it to Charlotte, where we planned to meet Mom and Dad for dinner around 5:00. We were old pros at driving and parking the RV by now. We had a nice dinner, a good night’s sleep, and a good trip the rest of the way home. The drive was about 2,100 miles. We learned that even with the trouble with the lights at the beginning of the trip, and the damage to the rental car near the end, that if you are flexible and react when a monkey wrench gets thrown into the gears, you can still have a wonderful trip.

West Virginia Part 2

Friday, August 24th, 2012

Tuesday morning Steve came by and picked me up for the short drive to the car rental place in Elkins. I’d reserved a SUV so we’d have room for Franco’s crate. We got an almost new Dodge Journey that was black… not the best color if you want the dog to stay cool. This was the first SUV I’ve ever driven, and I wasn’t impressed. The seats were configurable, but there was barely enough height for the dog crate. Compare that to our Pontiac Vibe, a small hatchback with plenty of room for the crate, 3 passengers, and some cargo space to boot. The SUV sure knew how to consume the fuel too. I will say they managed to put a cup holder in just about every orifice of the car’s interior, though.

On Tuesday after picking up the car, we decided to lay low and catch our breath. After two intense travel days, I was shot, and Alice was content to spend some quiet time at our lovely campsite. We met with the guys several times, including a very nice dinner at their place.

We made plans to visit two of the local attractions on Wednesday while the guys were working. The first was Seneca Rocks, a scenic area about 50 miles from Elkins. Once we found “downtown” Seneca Rocks, we looked around for some lunch, and came up short. We determined we’d forgotten Franco’s leash, so stopped at a local store named, “Yokums” as I recall. For $3.50, I got a 4′ nylon web leash with the cheapest clasp I’ve ever seen. The first time Franco pulled on the leash, it bent open. I bent it back with my Leatherman. The second time the clasp broke, so I cut it off and tied the leash to Franco’s collar.

Next we looked around for the trail to the peak. We parked in a likely spot and I walked Franco while Alice walked up to the park visitor’s center. She came back in a few minutes to confirm that the trailhead we’d parked next to was in fact the trail to the top. It was a lovely hike on a beautiful day. We encountered one dog coming down that nearly pulled over the woman trying to hold him back. He really wanted to greet Franco. I put Franco on one side of me and held the dog away with my non-leash hand until the woman could catch her breath. Her dog didn’t have an ounce of malice in him… he was a big, curious, young dog that hadn’t learned how to walk nice yet. We had a nice visit and let the dogs sniff each other, and then continued along our way.

We made it to the top in good shape, to find that the viewing platform was taken by a young couple with two dogs. Not wanting to complicate things, we sat on the rocks to the side of the platform and waited for them to finish. One of their dogs was a beagle that was very interested in meeting Franco. The woman walking him allowed him to get close, and this dog put on the most interesting submissive show I’ve ever seen. Franco seemed puzzled, preferring to play I think. This dog left nothing to the imagination that he wanted no trouble with Franco.

We spent a few minutes drinking in the marvelous view, including some fairly ominous looking rain clouds in the distance, and then headed down. On the way down we met a young family making the climb, who seemed interested in meeting Franco. Two of the children scratched his ears while I kept watch, and the little girl on Dad’s shoulders began to express an interest too. She was probably 3 years old and as cute as a button. Dad let her down and she reached up to pat Franco’s muzzle. It was one of the cutest things I’d seen all day.

We just made it back to the car when it started to rain. Other groups were beginning to arrive for the climb, and we felt a little sorry for them as they broke out the trash bags, made arm and head holes, and then headed up the trail.

We next drove to Davis where we found a restaurant. Franco had a rest in the car while we walked up the stairs to the Sawmill Restaurant, and took advantage of their sandwich bar. Our waitress was a real sweetheart. She told us it was her parents and grandparents that had recently purchased the motel/restaurant, and were fixing it up. After a nice meal we drove over to Blackwater Falls for the short walk down to the overlook. Shown in this picture are the modified leash, and our ever present poop scoop.

After the hike to the falls, we drove back to the campsite, cleaned up a bit, and took the guys out for dinner at a local Elkins Restaurant. Then home for a good night’s sleep to prepare for a big trip the next day. Steve and I had long been interested in Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture, and one of his best known homes called, “Falling Water” was within driving distance from Elkins. So that was the plan for Thursday.

West Virginia Part 1

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Alice and I packed up the motorhome and headed out for a quick visit with our son and partner. We left early on Sunday, August 12 and drove the 500 or so miles to Lansing. The day before the trip, we were feeling pretty good about things. We were mostly packed and were just leisurely working through a list of details during the day. Around dusk we decided to move the motorhome to our turn-around and hook up the car so we’d be ready to just start up and hit the road in the morning.

We’re getting pretty good at hooking up the car. I do most of the actual hooking, since the parts are all pretty heavy, and actual grease might get on your hands if you’re not careful. Alice consults her checklist and makes helpful suggestions when I forget something. We were at the end of the checklist, the item of which reads, “test the car lights.” I started the motorhome and ran through the procedure. Turn on the lights, turn them off, pump the brakes, left and right turn signals, etc. I looked in the mirror and Alice was just standing there. I called her over. “Did the lights work,” I asked. “I was waiting for you to start,” she said. Uh-oh.

No lights. None. It was getting dark but I grabbed my tester, and found no current of any sort at the socket the car plugs into. Shoot. Now what? We unhooked the car and put it away and planned our next strategy. By the time I got inside, we’d decided to check into rental cars. It would have to be something big enough to handle the dog crate, so we settled on a smallish SUV, booked it, and took off the next morning.

On the plus side, the motorhome is much easier to drive without the car being towed. The trip to Lansing went fine. When we got there, we got settled in my parent’s driveway, and then took Mom and Dad out for supper. By about 9:00 I was too tired to stay awake, so we said goodnight, set the alarm for 4:30, and hit the hay.

In the morning, we unhooked and started down the road for West Virginia. Leaving as early as we did got us through Lansing, Ann Arbor, and even Toledo with minimal traffic. There were cars, but no serious delays. Once on the Ohio Turnpike, the miles just seemed to evaporate. It is surely one of the most boring roads in the world, but the service plazas are really great. You can get something to eat, get some fuel, walk the dog, and park for a while if you are so inclined. I really think the model they use in Ohio should be copied across the land. If you’re going to be on the Interstate, it is comforting to know you can get most of what you need at these convenient places.

Once in Pennsylvania, we headed south on 79. We could tell we were getting closer to West Virginia when the hills started to rise. A little past Bridgeport, we exited 79 onto 33 east, and made the short drive to Elkins, our destination. We filled up with gas at the local gas station and drove to our RV park in the Monongahela National Forest. A big two days for sure, but we were parked for a while in a very lovely place (on top of a hill, of course.)

Let The Harvest Continue

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

This morning when Alice headed for work, I was tasked with some garden chores. My first one was to scour the summer squash/zucchini section. There were some whoppers hiding under the leaves. I picked what I could find and brought a full shopping bag into the house. Next I tackled the tomatoes.

Again this year, we put in more tomato plants than we had room for. It is hard to imagine in the spring when those tentative little green slips are placed into the ground, that they’ll turn into 6+foot tall monsters by August. Their branches have reached across to their neighbors, making ninja skills necessary to get to the back of the row to liberate the ripe ones.

Liberate I did this morning. I carried another bag full of ripe tomatoes, including some truly big ones. Then began the ritual dance of cleaning, cutting out the stems and bad spots, blanching to remove the skins, slicing, and stacking onto the trays of the dehydrator. The dehydrator filled up well before the tomatoes were used up, so I walked back out to the garden and picked some ripe peppers, an onion, and got a couple of stalks of celery out of the refrigerator. I chopped up everything but the tomatoes, added some oil to the frying pan, and sauteed the lot. While the lovely smells were filling the house, I blanched the rest of the tomatoes to remove the skins, sliced them up, and dumped them into our biggest pot. When the sauteeing was complete, I mixed it all together in the big pot and let it simmer on the stove for a couple of hours.

It always amazes me how sweet tomato sauce is when it is made with real tomatoes. Alice and I took turns tasting the mixture as it cooked down. When it was ready, I spooned it into 4 pint containers, labelled them, and put the lot in the freezer. The way the tomatoes are growing this year, I predict I’ll have to make a similar batch in the next few days if we’re to keep up.

After supper, Alice processed the beans and peas she’d picked last night. These were also frozen.

Earlier in the day, I started a gallon of blackberry wine from the 3 quarts I bought from our Mennonite friends in Pelkie. This batch is in the phase where the native yeast that came in on the fruit is all killed. The tablet I use to do this job lasts for only 24 hours, so tomorrow I’ll add the wine yeast and watch the bubbling commence. After about 5 days of this, I’ll transfer the batch into a glass bottle where it can bubble away for a couple months or so. Then it is bottled and stored for a couple of years.

What a great time of the year… when the hard work of the summer is starting to bear fruit. All this work will really pay off in some exceptional food and drink later on.

Buckwheat and Compost

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Alice and I have two 5 gallon pails with lids that we keep in the entryway of the house. The purpose of these buckets is to accept kitchen scraps. We keep a 1/2 gallon stainless steel bucket in the kitchen into which goes all our organic kitchen waste. When it gets full, it is emptied into the 5 gallon pails in the entryway. This system works well until the two buckets in the entryway fill up. This happened yesterday.

The full buckets of “slop” go into our compost tumbler which is located out near the greenhouse. This device takes our garbage plus yard waste and sawdust, and produces the most lovely compost you’ve ever seen. The bottleneck in this system is I can only empty the compost drum when I have a place to put the compost. If I just dump it on the ground, weeds riot in there and pretty soon only the rototiller can break it up again.

Fortunately this time the buckwheat started blossoming about the same time the buckets filled up. We only garden in half the area each year. The other half is planted in buckwheat, which I till under when it starts to blossom. The current crop of buckwheat is the second this year. So it worked out that I emptied the compost drum today, and got two heaping wheelbarrows full, which I distributed to the outside garden. I then tilled the buckwheat halves of both gardens. The soil looks very nice again.

The ripe tomatoes are starting to come, and what a nice time of the year it is. I’m not immune to going out to the greenhouse, grabbing a fresh warm tomato off the plant and eating it like an apple. What a lovely burst of flavor a fresh vine ripened tomato gives us. It tastes so good, I think, because we get used to the tomatoes that agribusiness feeds us for the rest of the year. We hope to dry our first batch in the next day or so. Dried vine-ripened tomatoes are so sweet and good. I’m salivating as I write this.

Big Log

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

I spent much of today on the sawmill. It has been sitting neglected for much of this summer, and was therefor cranky about starting. I had to take off the air cleaner and pour gas into the carburetor about 6 times until it finally ran on its own. It was a sunny day but not to warm, and it was windy too. Wind can be two-edged when working on the sawmill. If it is blowing just the right way, the sawdust leaves the log and escapes away from the operator. I’ve had days when I’ve had to quit because of so much sawdust in my face when the wind blows just the wrong way.

I got a bunch more 2x4s done for the garden expansion project today. I’d say another good 1/2 day on the sawmill and the rack will be empty of logs. If I calculated right, I should have enough of everything for the new garden fence once these logs are sawed up.

Oil Bath

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

I changed the oil on the motorhome the other day. The preceding day I’d disinfected the water system, and greased the chassis. Having experience crawling under my pickup, where there is a lot of room, I was surprised by how much skooching was involved under the much lower to the ground motorhome. I was able to get the front end greased with a minimum of trouble, because most of the zerks were reachable from outside. The few that I couldn’t reach, I had to slide under a short ways to get. I was feeling pretty good about myself, when I glanced toward the back of the machine. I didn’t measure it, but I’d estimate the drive shaft was about 1 mile long. Interspersed along its length, every foot or so, was a u-joint with a grease fitting on it. And the shaft ran up the center of the frame, forcing me to get completely under the machine and crawl the length of it on my back. (OK maybe it wasn’t literally a mile long.)

Once I’d completed the drive shaft, I figured, “How hard could the oil change be?” I decided to wait until the next day to find out.

I positioned my trusty aluminum drain pan, the oil filter, and channel locks that are all veterans of numerous oil changes. None had experienced the grandeur of a 7.4 liter chevy engine that takes 7 quarts of oil though. I climbed into the driver’s seat and started the engine, and let it run for a couple of minutes. I’d been told this helps churn up any sludge so it will more likely drain out with the oil. I shut the engine off, crossed myself, and climbed under.

I pushed the pan under the oil pan, grabbed the channel locks, and gave the drain plug a tug. There was very little room under there as I’ve said, with the added bonus that the exhaust pipes, which are roughly the size of an average road culvert, were quite warm because some bonehead had just run the engine. Warm pipes aren’t a problem in and of themselves, except that they descend and cross right where the oil pan lives.

I gave another tug, thinking I’d forgotten my lefty-loosey-righty-tighty rule. Nope, I’d had the direction right, but the thing was really on there. After a long spell of tugging, the drain plug came out, and a lovely stream of warm dark brown oil began flowing out of the engine and into the waste oil pan. I carefully set the drain plug where I could find it, and skooched over to the oil filter.

I got my new oil filter ready by slathering the rubber gasket with some used oil. I was smart enough to put a rag in the pile of equipment that was under the RV with me, so I carefully cleaned off my hands, set down the new filter, and grabbed the old filter. A twist with my hands did nothing. I moved a bit so I could get a better angle. I was pretty pinned under there when I tried it again, but it soon became clear that this filter wasn’t finger tight. I came out and walked to the place in the garage where I keep my oil filter wrench. This tool has been with me since my first vehicle; a 1973 Dodge van. I don’t use it often because I install my oil filters properly, such that they can be removed without a tool. This tool had gotten me out of some jams in the past, though.

I crawled back under, repositioned myself for maximum torque, and went back to work. It took several tries, but the old filter finally came loose. Pinned under there though I was, I was able to remove the wrench, set it down, and move the waste oil pan right next to my face so that the oil in the filter compartment would drip into the pan and not on the ground. As I loosened the old filter, drips did indeed accumulate and fall as intended.

I was feeling a bit smug, pinned to the ground with my arms wrapped on very warm exhaust pipes. It takes several spins to remove an oil filter. Spin I did, and I guess my mind must have wandered, because, “spooch!” the filter came off, slipped from my grasp (oil is slippery) and fell into the waste oil pan. A dollop of oil leaped from the pan and into my face. It reminded me of the times the baby would puke on me when sitting on my lap. Your instinct was to throw the baby off you and scream, but neither are allowed. So you smile and say to yourself, “gosh, someday this will be a good topic for a blog post.”

I grabbed the rag and got most of the oil off my face, then continued with the job of installing the new oil filter. Once done I pushed all the tools over to the side of the RV, came out, and put things away. My eager destination was the shower, which shined me up as good as new.