Archive for October, 2017

Halloween Through the Ages

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

A recent facebook post reminded Alice and me how busy we might have been this time of the year, 25-30 years ago. Halloween was Steve’s favorite holiday. For him, I don’t think it was so much the candy, but instead the opportunity to come up with a distinctive costume, and then show it off. He started off like most other children, donning a costume made of cloth and mask. One of the earliest we can remember was made possible by Grandma and Grandpa… Steve was an authentic Laplander:

The next year, it was to be a witch:

Then we started getting creative. Steve was always front and center in the design of these unorthodox costumes. I made the structural parts work, and when I told him something would just not work, he was cool about it and we revised until the possible just peeked around the corner. The following year he decided that a mailbox would suit him. Oh, the mailbox had to have a door that opened, a slot for seeing through, and a flag:

Steve had an unusually large vocabulary throughout his school years. One of his nicknames was “walking dictionary.” He filed that idea away until an October rolled around. We enlisted Alice’s sewing skills this time:

The next year Steve decided to be a lamp. It was mostly a sewing project, because in addition to a lampshade, complete with gold tassels, he wanted a sleek gold pedestal for his body. The lamp needed to have a working light with a switch that he controlled from inside. Alice worked so hard on this project that we forgot to take many pictures of it. This is the only one we could find:

Our most ambitious project of all followed. Steve decided to be a pop can. We surveyed various cans, and settled on Pepsi for its distinctiveness, and also the relative simplicity of the graphics. We bought a can, drained the contents, and cut the can apart and laid it flat. We then inscribed a precise grid on the can in pencil. Then we got some cloth, and thumb tacked it down to a wooden frame. We then installed thumb tacks at precise locations all along the frame, and wound string on the tacks to produce a grid on the cloth. Starting with cell 1A, we painted what was in the square on the flattened pop can. We enlisted the help of the neighbors to complete this project. My job was to make the frame out of thin, bendable, strips of cedar. Steve insisted on a pop top, and a cardboard cutout simulating a geyser of pop. The results were pretty cool:

The Fuel Stop From Hell

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

Alice, Franco and I recently returned from a 10-day RV trip. Part was spent visiting my parents in Milwaukee, but most was on the road to and from Kentucky. Make no mistake about one thing… an RV is a truck, and a big truck at that. We “dingy” tow our car behind the RV when we travel as well. Dingy towing means you install a special steel frame on the front of the car, and attach it to a tripod steel towing bar which plugs into the trailer hitch socket in the back of the RV. The car rides behind the RV with all 4 wheels on the ground. There is an important caveat to this method of towing… you can’t back up. You must unhook your car before you can safely back up.

So our 29′ RV is really a big truck, with the added bonus that it can not be easily backed up.

I’d enjoy stationing myself on the side of the road sometime near a gas station off a major highway. I’d like to watch the faces of RVers who are also dingy towers. As they are pulling up to the gas station, I’d enjoy watching them during the 1 or 2 seconds they have to assess the fueling station facility before they decide to pull in or go past. Because once you pull in, there is no backing out.

I should also mention that large truck stops are golden for diesel burning RVs. Semi trucks (who can back up) are given great islands for fueling. They have a lot of real estate on both sides of the pumps. Using this real estate, the trucker can line up properly with the pump, and add diesel fuel to tanks on both sides simultaneously. They can then pull out and turn whichever way they want to resume their trip, or park for a while. Diesel burning RVs can use these same facilities and seldom seem to have any difficulties. These truck stops also have gas pumps, but these are often designed for cars, who are the main customers. So they need to be scrutinized before they are used by gas burning RVers.

On our recent trip, we had several great fuel stops, and one bad one. The attached picture shows the best fuel stop we had. It was a Krist ™ gas station in Crystal Falls Michigan. We had had to pass up several gas stations before stopping at this one, and I’m glad we did. Look at the nice approach they gave us, and the easy exit. No hassle. I would have spent $10 per gallon of gas to use this place.

Our bad fuel stop was earlier the same day. We chose an exit because there were several big chain truck stops advertised. The one we chose had a terrible approach, requiring an almost 90 degree turn to line up along side the pump. The exit had plenty of room, however, so we decided to chance it. The place turned out to be quite busy with cars filling up also. I aimed for the pump at the end of the island, made my turn, and realized that I did not have enough room to complete the turn without running into the pylon protecting the gas pump. Alice got out and directed me, but we determined we’d missed it by an inch or so.

There were lots of other folks trying to use this pump island, so I had to move quickly. I started by unhooking the safety chains and the electrical cord between the two vehicles. Then went to work on the tow bar. Because I’d made such a tight turn with the RV, the pins on the tow bar would not budge. I had to start the car, and with it still hooked up, let out the clutch just enough to move the car forward and turn the wheels just enough to relieve the tension. Then with the clock ticking, I pulled on the pins and got the bar unhooked. Alice drove the car to a parking spot while I backed the RV up, straightened it up, and pulled up to the gas pump. After filling up, we pulled out onto the road and started the process of reconnecting the RV and car.

As I looked down the road, there was no easy place visible to turn around. This could also trap us, but we continued hooking everything up as the cars and big trucks drove past us. After we were again road worthy, I walked Franco down the road a ways, and found a driveway that was perfect for our turnaround. We piled back into the RV, and with a full tank of gas, brought it around. It turns out we exited the “enter only” driveway, which seemed to irritate a trucker trying to enter, but so be it. We were so happy to be back on the road after the fuel stop from hell, that one disgruntled trucker couldn’t bring us down.

Adopt-a-Bucket List

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

My mother-in-law, Faye, has been gone for nearly 30 years. I still remember her beautiful smile, and how much she loved her grandson. I also remember her telling me several times how she would have liked to have gone to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. I seem to recall suggesting that she look for a bus trip that would take her down there. Her husband, Bill, seemed to want to have nothing to do with making that trip, and Faye often said it was “no fun to go alone.” So that was that. Faye died and she never was able to fulfill her dream.

I have a habit of bringing my Google ™ calendar up frequently, and looking for gaps. Days are filled in with this or that meeting, but especially near the end of the month, gaps can appear that are asking for adventure. This month we took advantage. We try not to miss an opportunity to visit my parents, who are 92 and 90 years old, and currently living near my sister in Milwaukee. So the first leg of the trip would be to drive the RV while towing our car to Milwaukee, which is plenty of mileage for a pair of 60 somethings and a dog. But where to go after that? The gap in the calendar was up to 2 weeks long. We decided to honor Faye and drive down to Kentucky and visit Mammoth Caves.

As a surprise to Alice, I found a picture of her Mom on my computer and downloaded it to my phone. When, after a long day on the road, I saw the sign announcing the entrance to Mammoth Cave National Park, I pulled off.

“Why are we stopping here?” she asked me.

“I’d like to get a picture,” I told her.

I pulled out my phone and found the picture and showed it to her. We both had wet eyes when I took the shot. Faye had perhaps not been able to make the trip during her lifetime, but we felt good about honoring her on this one.

We stayed at the park campground. No electricity or water hookups, but great proximity to the visitor’s center. One of the rules at this campground was pets may not be left unattended. We understood the importance of this rule, so Alice and I took turns doing cave tours. One of us stayed behind with Franco, while the other took the tours. We stayed 4 nights and did all the tours we felt were within our capability. I do have to admit I took my phone out several times during my time underground, and brought up Faye’s picture to show her the inside of the caves. I felt her wonderful spirit each time I did it.

As I think back, I wonder if I couldn’t have done more to make the trip to Mammoth Caves possible for her. Had we have been at a different stage in our lives, I think we might have. At the time when she would have been able to do the trip, we didn’t have much extra money, had full time careers, and a son to raise. Still, after seeing the place with my own eyes, I do wish I’d have been able to facilitate the trip for her. I think she would have loved it.

Might Want To Rethink It

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Safety First! That’s my motto. Hearing protection, eye protection, steel toed boots, chainsaw chaps, I have them all and use them religiously. I did enough damage to my ears during the rock and roll & fireworks part of my life that my hearing gets extra special care now. I’m a believer.

A couple of changes lately have made me examine my routine. My eyes have changed such that bifocals don’t help that much, and I take my glasses off several times each day. I set them down and do whatever I have to do. Sometimes I put them back on, and sometimes I forget. Most of the time, if I forget, I can think back to what I was doing, and locate them easily. With increasing frequency however, I have trouble locating them. Perhaps I’m more easily frustrated than I used to be, because when I have to stop what I’m doing and look around for my stupid glasses, I get upset. I decided it was time for a solution.

I looked around online for some sort of way I could keep my glasses attached to myself and not have them on. I figured we’d evolved technologically since the days when a loop of string went behind the head, and little rubber feet attached to the stems of the glasses. Surely we must have, because I’m not the only one with this problem. If we have evolved beyond those days, my research did not uncover anything interesting. So I wound up buying one of the old fashioned eyeglass holders, and tried it out.

They worked pretty well to a point. I could take my glasses off and they’d land on my chest, ready when I needed them the next time. I did notice when they were on my chest attached to the lanyard that the glasses made a shelf that caught a surprising variety of things. Also, the glasses lanyard often fouled with my hearing protectors, causing some grumbling and untangling. It was not a perfect setup, but I was working with it and felt I might be on to something, at least until this morning.

This morning, it was cool enough in the house that I decided to start a small fire in the kitchen stove. I could use the fire to fry our breakfast pancakes, and it would heat up some of our water to boot. I got the layer of wadded up paper established in the firebox, some kindling, and was ready to put the hardwood on top prior to lighting the whole thing off. I have gone through this procedure many thousands of times.

The piece of wood I selected was too big, so I grabbed my little 4# sledge and small splitting maul, put on my hearing protectors, and went to work. Note that my glasses were attached via lanyard and dangling on my chest. I got 3 or 4 good hits in, and the wedge end of the hammer was sinking in nicely when something smacked me in the face… hard!

I stopped and felt my nose. Blood. I assumed that the firewood had split and one piece had bounced up into my face, but the intact piece was lying on the floor. My glasses were lying on the floor. I picked them up, went inside and cleaned myself up a little. Then I noticed that one end of the eyeglass lanyard had come loose. Aha.

While I was swinging my hammer, the glasses must have bobbed out into the range of my 4# sledge, gotten tangled up in the sledge on its downward swing, and diverted the hammer to my right cheek. Ouch. I have a pretty good bruise going at this point, and my cheek is really puffing out. The eyeglass lanyard has been removed and the whole process is in rethink mode. I think I’d rather lose a pair of glasses now and then than hit myself in the face with a sledge hammer.