October 13th, 2019

Some nights I wake up in the middle and can not easily go back to sleep. So I’ll often get up and crack a book. The other night I was nearing the end of Brian Greene’s “The Elegant Universe.” I was downstairs in my recliner, tablet on my lap, and slogging away at yet another few pages. This book was not light reading for me. I often only made it a couple of pages before I had to put it down and do something else for a while.

This night I was wide awake, and the literary juices were flowing pretty well. I got through quite a bit of the book when I had a revelation. Gosh, these things don’t happen very often, but when they do, they sure do perk a person up.

“The Elegant Universe” attempts to explain string theory to physics novices such as myself. The author goes to a lot of trouble talking about the math involved, and the fact that the 3 dimensions we are used to dealing with in our daily lives are joined by 7 more in string theory. While math exists to explore these additional dimensions, we are helpless when we try to visualize more than the normal three. On and on Brian Greene would work through the concepts that were barely at the edge of my comprehension.

A couple of concepts finally made sense to me that night. First, that black holes, as far as we know, have only a few attributes, and once they are known, black holes with the same attributes are identical to each other. Second, there is no size requirement for a black hole. All that is required is for matter to be packed densely enough. And third, I made the intuitive leap that we are living inside a black hole. That our universe is a string in a larger universe, and that the many strings that make up our universe are all universes in themselves. That when a black hole forms, the matter in contains compresses to the point where it tears the fabric of space/time into a new dimension where a new universe is created. Whew!

After that I was able to fall asleep, and by morning, the revelation adrenaline that had pumped through my veins that night had settled down somewhat.

My mind veered away from black holes and towards system 1 and 2 thinking. That concept came from a previous book I’d read called, “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. He suggests that we humans prepare a model of the world (system 1) which we hold in our brains, and when a decision needs to be made, we consult the model. This requires a minimal amount of energy. When we determine our model is not sufficient, we have to up the energy our brain uses, and “learn” something new (system 2). We are better at this when we are young, but pretty pathetic at it as we get older. We dislike spending the energy, so we live our lives inside our system 1 model, and avoid situations when we have to learn new things.

Slogging my way through “The Elegant Universe” made me realize why it was so difficult to get through very many pages of the book at a time. And it also made me understand where the revelation came from. Unless we make the considerable effort to learn new things, insights will escape us, because all the insights from the system 1 world model we’ve constructed have all been worked out. But if we make the necessary effort to exercise the system 2 side of our brains, the revelations should follow.

With knowledge doubling every 12 months or so, it can get discouraging enough that we just throw up our hands and say forget it. Let’s just live inside the comfortable model we’ve built up over our lives. Or we can keep going, especially in the fields that interest us. I vote for keeping going.

Tonight’s Walk

September 25th, 2019

As is my habit, I went for a walk after supper tonight. Even though the days are getting noticeably shorter, I decided to splurge and hike back to the maple syrup operation. Once I made that commitment, I realized it couldn’t be a long walk, because I’d failed to bring along my headlamp.

It is still warm enough in late September for me to go on walks without shoes. All too soon, shoes and boots will be required, but for now, I exchange the little cold for the much appreciated sensation of feeling the earth beneath my feet.

As I was walking, I started doing the math, and decided I must have made this hike at least 500 times since I started on the maple project 10 years ago. One constant for the vast majority of these walks has been the company of our dog Franco. He was just a puppy when he started hiking out with me. Tonight Franco didn’t join me.

Late Monday afternoon, after a full day helping me mow the lawn and chasing the wheelbarrow around the yard, Franco faltered and had to lay down to catch his breath. I sat with him in the sunshine for an hour or so. He tried to get up after that, but only made it about 10 steps before he fell over on his side. We brought his crate outside, lifted him in, and dragged it inside the house, where we put it in his special corner. He and I sat there for another hour or so while he fought for his breath, until, at last, he gave up the battle and lay still.

Watching my loyal friend reach his end with his typical dignity provided me with a life lesson I’m still digesting. I tell myself he had a very good life. He was with us from the day we brought him home from Wisconsin at about 8 weeks old, until this past Monday. He could run, swim, and get drinks out of the pond, but his favorite of all was chasing his ball/stick. He almost always had something in his mouth which he’d drop near me, then back up and watch expectantly. Up until the end, he would play this game for about as long as I held out.

Life goes on, this too shall pass, time heals all wounds; all these things wind around one’s mind when an important mooring line parts. They sound trite, but are nonetheless true. For now, I know I am wiser to have cared so deeply for another creature and sat by his side when he left. I plan to take many more walks and think about all these things.

What I Miss From Work

August 21st, 2019

One consequence of working at Michigan Tech and living 20 miles away in Elo, has been, I didn’t get to know many of my neighbors. Our social circle was pretty centered in the MTU community. That began to change when I retired, and has steadily improved as I’ve become more involved in the local community through the fire department.

My neighbor on Lake Avenue is a good example. We now regularly share a breakfast table in downtown Tapiola on Monday mornings. As we’ve gotten to know each other, some good stories have emerged. He was blessed with the gift of music from an early age, and was also blessed with parents that nurtured his capabilities. He was one of the few children that didn’t need to be coerced into practicing the piano… he played because he loved it.

He has been fortunate to be able to follow his avocation through his work and for his own pleasure throughout his long life. But like so many of us, the tsunami of technology washed over and around him, and many of the modern tools available to musicians and composers were beyond his technical capabilities.

If I say so, one thing I was pretty good at throughout my career as an IT professional at MTU, was my ability to understand the computing needs of a wide range of people, and bridge the gap for them so they could become more productive with the help of computing technology. My greatest satisfaction was to get folks up to speed and self sufficient with computers. I can credit myself with many converts to the computer realm over my decades at Michigan Tech.

My neighbor had a large traditional upright piano in his house that he wasn’t using. He came up with the idea of donating the big heavy piano to the high school music program, and replacing it with a smaller used electronic keyboard. As luck would have it, this keyboard was pretty old, but new enough to have MIDI in and out. I decided to dust off my old skill set, and see if I could do some gap-bridging again. I ordered the necessary cable and some MIDI recording software, hooked everything together, and… it didn’t work. After explaining how easy and wonderful this new technology would be, I had to admit I was stumped. I came back several times, tried everything I could think of, and still nothing. As a last ditch effort, I ordered a new cable. Success!

The next challenge was to learn the recording software well enough to teach my pupil, and get him to the point that he could use the tools to compose a piece. I figured if he could get one under his belt, he’d be hooked, and my work would be mostly done. Well, today the stars aligned, and we put a piece together. It had 4 acoustic channels chosen by my friend, and even a singing part. And it came out great! As the pieces started coming together, I felt a lump growing in my throat. Just as the computer has helped me do the writing that I enjoy, my friend may now be able to commit his musical ideas onto a MIDI file so the rest of us can enjoy them too.

What else do I miss about work? Frankly, not very much 🙂

A Straight Back

August 9th, 2019

Earlier this summer, Alice and I made a trip to the Grand Canyon. This trip was timed to be after maple syrup and before the gardens. We were barely able to shoehorn it in this year, but we did it. The purpose of this trip, like the one in 2018, was to say goodbye. The 2018 trip was to say goodbye to my Dad, who passed away in early April 2018. Mom died in November of 2018, so this was her trip.

This year Alice came along, and we followed a routine for the days we were there. After an early breakfast in our hotel in Tusyan, we drove in to the park and spent the morning hiking and sightseeing. Then there was lunch at the Maswik Lodge Cafeteria, and back to the hotel for a rest. Then we’d ride the Tusyan bus back to the park for several more hours of visiting, some supper again at the Maswik, then we’d catch the bus back to the hotel.

On two of our mornings, we headed up to a part of the park called Desert View, that I’d seldom visited before. On one of my hikes with Brother Gerry, we had the Desert View Watchtower in view up on the rim for much of our hike along the river. But I hadn’t really visited the area much until this trip.

The watchtower was designed by Mary Colter, who had built many iconic structures in the Grand Canyon and other national parks. As part of our visit, we learned a little about this remarkable woman and her beautiful work; all done during a time when architecture was traditionally a man’s profession.

soaking in the art with a straight back

The watchtower is a 3 story structure with stairways leading up to each floor. My favorite floor was the first floor, and I was lucky enough to often have the place to myself. The other tourists would walk up to the first floor, shown in the above picture, look around a bit, and then immediately climb up to the next two floors. Once done, they’d often climb down and back out into the sunshine. This left me a lot of time to sit on the bench and soak in the artwork.

I have to admit that I’ve often thought that Native American traditional artwork looked kind of childish. There was no real perspective or shading to denote depth. But during my hours sitting and contemplating the work, I came to a much different conclusion. Let’s say I wanted to celebrate the marriage of a beloved daughter to a fine capable man. Or that I wanted to permanently chronicle a bumper crop of corn and squash that would feed my family with some to spare. I am an ancient Native American without access to brushes, paints, canvas, or other tools that we now take for granted. My responsibility was to find pigments in the materials close at hand, find a suitable wall to accept my work, and then allow my heart to sing on that rock wall. What would I come up with?

The answer is I would not have come up with anything as wonderful as what I saw at Desert View. Granted these were not ancient paintings, but were executed by Native American artists in the 1930s. They were based on traditional Hopi works.

As I sat quietly and allowed my mind to settle down, the work came alive for me. The wonder of the stars, the comfort of a good harvest, and numerous symbols whose meanings were not clear to me, but contributed to the stories living and breathing on this circular space.

I don’t know if I’ll be fortunate enough to return to the Grand Canyon National Park, but if I do, Mary Colter’s Desert View Watchtower will be near the top of my list for another visit.

pop pop pop

August 4th, 2019

My father-in-law often used the Finnish word “hanki” (pronounced hung-gi) to describe a crust on the snow that is solid enough to walk on. Since I don’t know of a comparable word in English, it is the word I use for that purpose.

This maple syrup season, we had a great hanki. Maple trees need below freezing nights and above freezing days for their sap to run. This season we had a lot of snow, and it got very cold at night; cold enough so whatever the sun melted during the day froze solidly enough at night that I could often dispense with the snowshoes.

I use army surplus aluminum alloy snowshoes that are tough as iron, but are a bit of a pain to put on and take off. So if my judgement says the crust is sufficient to hold my weight, I cheerfully head out with my muck boots ™ and buckets to gather the sap. And this worked very well for most of the season.

On one particular gather near the end of the season, I wasn’t paying attention and stepped on the snow where I shouldn’t have. My left foot went through the hanki and my knee said “ouch!”

My left knee has been a problem child for some decades now. About 20 years ago, I tore the medial meniscus and had to have about 1/3 of the meniscus removed. The knee has been a little fragile since then, and about 10 years ago it began to hurt enough that I started wearing a knee brace on it during the day. As long as I use my head, I can do most anything I want to do without any pain.

After the crash through the hanki, my knee started popping with every step. It didn’t hurt, but I was concerned enough about it to tell my doctor about it during my annual physical. He told me that if it didn’t hurt it was probably just a slight misalignment issue, and that the joint was popping back into place each step. “Will it get better,” I asked? “Probably not,” he said.

The other day I was working on firewood for the maple syrup operation, and my knee twisted while I still had weight on it. The noise it made was not the normal “pop,” but instead “POP!” “Oh darn,” I said. I took a few steps, and I’ll be darned if the popping sound had gone away. It reminded me of the old movie trick where someone gets hit on the head and develops amnesia, and the only thing that gets their memory back is another hit on the head. I find it ironic that not only was I working in the woods with the therapeutic pop happened, but I was working on maple syrup wood. The knee saga had gone full circle.

I do have to say the popping sound has not gone completely away, but is seems much diminished to me. Maybe if I’d give is a good wack with a sledgehammer, it would quit popping altogether.

An Eggy Batch

July 29th, 2019

Each summer we use half our garden space for gardening, and sow the other half in buckwheat. This grain grows quickly with luxuriant foliage and has a tiny root system, which makes it a very good green manure. Once the buckwheat has blossomed, I rototill it under, wait a while, and till it again a few times until it is ready for the next sowing of seeds. I usually get a couple of crops per summer, and sometimes 3. The next season, we garden the previous year’s buckwheat side, and buckwheat the previous year’s garden side. We’ve been doing this for years with good results.

Between green manure crops this year, I took the opportunity to empty the compost drum. It is always a good moment, because we’ve been feeding the drum with kitchen scraps, pulled weeds, and other organic stuff for some months, all in anticipation of having a batch of rich black compost to feed the garden. When I dumped the first wheelbarrow load out, I noticed a lot of white specks in it. I’d not seen the like of it before. Then I remembered the egg shells.

A neighboring farm in Pelkie has been providing local eggs to our community for a long time. This Mennonite family worked hard and had thousands of birds until some bad luck hit them. The barn where their laying hens were located caught fire and was a total loss. So our local Tapiola community got together and put on a fundraiser pancake breakfast for them. Alice and I learned about this fundraiser at a July 4th parade meeting a few days before the event. We asked if they needed help, and they said they did, so we showed up at 6:00 am with our sleeves rolled up.

The event was well attended and we were glad we came. We were busy the whole time mixing pancake batter, baking sausage, and moving food from the kitchen to the serving area. We raised a nice chunk of money to be put toward a new barn, and went through a lot of eggs in the process. Pictured here is the woman that made the scrambled eggs for us. We kept all the egg shells on a paper bag. At the end of the event, Alice and I were given the egg shells, so I dumped them in the compost drum when we got home, and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

It turns out that not every egg got broken. After about 6 weeks of tumbling around inside the compost drum, one egg was discovered intact. It was discovered by me as I was spreading the compost in the garden prior to rototilling. I gathered up handfuls of compost from the wheelbarrow and tossed them out onto the garden. When one handful hit the ground, I heard a pretty loud POP, and smelled a smell that no one should ever have to smell. I thought about it later on, and figured I had been lucky. As I was grabbing that handful, I could have ruptured the intact egg when it was close to my body, and the contents could have sprayed all over me. I might have had to take a tomato juice bath just like the dog when he gets skunked.

As it was I was kind of ripe when I came in from that project. What with the compost, some peat moss I also spread, and various other tidbits. Ted-the-farmer looked and smelled the part. As I explained to my ever patient spouse, it could have been worse.

It’s a Beautiful Thing

July 23rd, 2019

My friend suggested I stop by the store in Tapiola and look at a recent delivery.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” he told me.

And he was right. Not only was it lovely as it came off the truck, but it was even nicer burred in the ground and hooked up to the building. It was our new septic tank.

1,500 gallons with manholes, all in a row like ducks marching toward the lake. This will be the core of the septic system in our new firehall. Our volunteer fire department has been saving for this dream for decades now, and this summer we are making significant progress. If things continue to more forward, we should be inside by the time winter rolls around.

While a septic tank might not be everyone’s idea of beauty, it surely is to some. Which makes me think about art museums and the eclectic mixture of items on display. Alice and I have visited Chicago many times, and every chance we get, we try to visit the Chicago Art Institute. It has a little of everything, although now that I think about it, I don’t recall seeing any septic tanks. I must have a word with the curator 🙂

Objects of art in museums take many forms, from paintings to hang on walls, to vessels that hold liquids, to furniture for sitting on or storing things. We enjoy surrounding ourselves with beautiful things, some of which have a purpose, and some that are just pretty.

The most beautiful thing to someone who’s house is on fire is a firetruck coming in the driveway. Someone who is sick probably likes the look of an ambulance outside her window with lights flashing. One person’s beauty is another person’s every day item. And who is to say which is right? The important thing, in my opinion, is to seek out and enjoy beauty wherever you find it.

I Guess I’m a Farmer

July 17th, 2019

One advantage to living in this rural part of the UP of Michigan is my acquaintance with farmers. Folks that make their living off the land are a special breed, and I’m privileged to be friends with some of them.

In my professional life, I was able to control many of the variables that could affect my success. My farmer friends also have that luxury to a certain extent, but the weather, that unpredictable ally/enemy, is mostly beyond control. There are strategies available to prepare for the weather, but when the weather rolls over, about all a farmer can do is hope for the best, and roll up his sleeves in the aftermath. A special breed of folks is attracted to this profession, and a still more special breed manages to stick it out.

This maple syrup season tested my mettle. When I made my first trip to the sugar bush to look things over, I saw that one of my 4 firewood sheds had been destroyed by the snowload. The other 3 had survived because they were full of wood. The empty one just couldn’t take the strain, so down it came. Even though the maple sap was running, there was still a lot of snow in the woods. I hang the buckets on my trees in two positions, 2′ and 3′ above the ground. I alternate between these two positions as I move around the trees year-by-year to keep the trees healthy. The 2′ positions often meant the top of the bucket was below the snow line. This made hanging and gathering the buckets challenging.

Good sap weather is below freezing nights and above freezing days. From the day I tapped until I pulled my buckets about 5 weeks later, I had good sap weather every day except 2. On those two days, the daytime weather stayed below freezing, so I was able to stay inside and bottle syrup. I normally get several more days like this during the season, but this year the sap just ran and ran. So I gathered and boiled, day in and day out. I thought I had plenty of firewood, but as the days went by, the firewood evaporated from my piles.

Many of my sap days were above average production. From my 70 taps, a good day would be 25 gallons of sap. It takes me about an hour to gather, but my little evaporator can only boil about 5 gallons of sap per hour. So 25 gallons means 5 hours of boiling. There is no tubing or other labor savers in my little operation. Buckets collect the steady drip drip drip of sap, and repurposed stainless steel milk pails (5 gallon capacity each) are used to move the sap from the buckets to my collecting barrel. With all the snow I was on showshoes much of the time, but sometimes if the weather was cold enough, I could walk on the snow crust without too many mishaps.

Above average days would sometimes throw the whole system into a panic. I had several days with 50+ gallons of sap. My storage barrel is only 55 gallons, and I like to empty the barrel of the previous day’s gather, and rinse it out, before I start gathering the next day. Some days I couldn’t do this because the buckets were close to overflowing. When there was no room for more sap and the buckets were getting full, I had to roll up my sleeves and spend more hours tending the evaporator.

Then there was the ice. On very cold nights, if sap is left in the buckets overnight, I can get several inches of ice on top of the buckets. The deal I’ve made with the trees (yes I talk to my trees) is if you give it to me, I’ll boil it. Many syrup producers throw out their ice believing that the ice contains less sugar, and therefor is a bonus, since the liquid sap that is left is sweeter and requires less boiling. Towards the end of the season, the barrel was mostly full, the trees were really producing, and I had to make a hard choice. The top 25% of the barrel contained ice, and I really needed that space, so I grabbed my hand sieve and strained the ice as best as I could, tossed it on the ground, and continued through the storage barrel until there was nothing but clear sap left. Sorry trees.

For 5 weeks this continued, day in and day out. I did my best to keep up, but was steadily losing ground. My philosophy of not storing sap more than 24 hours went out the window. It was coming so fast I didn’t have the luxury of completely emptying the barrel every day. Sometimes 3 days went by before I found the bottom of the barrel, and then wham! One more gather and the thing was full again. The syrup was coming out of the woods in 1 gallon glass jars and being stored in the refrigerator until I could get it bottled. I was running on the ragged edge of a knife blade, and still the run continued.

When the sap started turning yellow after a few warm nights, I pulled my taps and called it a season. After the last quart jar was filled and sealed, I counted up the year’s take. Seventeen gallons! My previous high was 13 gallons, but this record will surely stand unless I upgrade my equipment.

Since the season ended in mid April, I’ve sat down and attempted to write about it several times. My butt was so thoroughly kicked by the 2019 maple syrup season, that I couldn’t seem to collect my thoughts enough to put a coherent story together. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever write again. My respect for my farmer friends went up several notches this year. My season only lasts for 5 weeks, but these guys go year round. It their luck holds out, they can make some money. If not, they just roll up their sleeves and put in the extra effort to salvage what is salvageable. My hat is off to them.


March 10th, 2019

Remember in the old days when you wanted to use a word you don’t use very often, but it was just the right word? You could marry a good speller, as I had the good fortune to do, or, you were doomed to try to look it up in a book… a book called a dictionary. This is not a small book either. Ours, the one we still have but hasn’t seen the light of day for some years now, came with our Encyclopedia Britannica. It is a large format book in 3 volumes. And words like “pneumatic” were especially problematic. You knew how to say it, but how is it spelled? You look all through the “NEW”s, and nothing shows itself. You often wound up choosing a different word because of that P stuck at the beginning.

Now we can just start typing, and by golly, a decent stab at it usually gives you the correctly spelled word. Writing should be writing, and weight lifting should be weight lifting. You shouldn’t have to haul out a heavy book when you are trying to write, at least I don’t think so.

Lately GMAIL ™ has been helping me with more than spelling. I start typing a sentence, and it cheerfully suggests a completion of the sentence for me. If I hit the TAB key, if fills the rest in, and often even puts the right punctuation at the end. I often find myself liking much of what it suggests, and when I consider the effort to type out exactly what I had thought about, vs the suggestion that is almost the same, I will choose to let GMAIL ™ do the writing for me. GMAIL’s ™ suggestions are often more cheerful that what I had had in mind, which makes me wonder whether it is trying to make the world a more civil place. I hope it succeeds.

Back to the topic of pneumatic tires. I have a lot of them. Besides the ones on my cars and trucks, there are bikes, a riding lawnmower, rototiller, wheelbarrow, etc. Tires filled with air make my life easier. While it isn’t quite as obvious with cars, a low wheelbarrow tire can be a real downer. They stand tall and proud until you get a load in them, and then you have to push twice as hard. Wheelbarrow manufactures do everything they can to obscure the low tire until it is too late. The thing is loaded, and the tire is pneumatically low. It needs some air.

I’m fortunate to have a good air compressor in my garage/shop. When I pop on the right attachment, I can put up to 110 psi into just about any tire I own. It is effortless and very satisfying. There is just one problem though. Not all tires take the same air pressure. My plow truck takes 75 psi, while the car takes 32 psi. My bike takes around 70, and the riding lawnmower does take air, but I have absolutely no idea how much.

Now I’m sure the engineers that design tires are very smart people. I know this in part because when they construct the molds that tires are made in, for the writing on the tire to be legible, they have to make the numbers and letters backwards in the mold. Not just anybody can do that, and I’ll bet these engineers have degrees from institutions of higher learning.

However, the people that decide what gets printed on the tires must have been hired off the street at below minimum wage. They often have the manufacturer of the tire in big bold legible letters. With a wheelbarrow full of sand and a half flat tire, you can walk right up to that tire and know in a minute that it is a BF Goodrich or a Firestone. Information I would suggest is completely useless in the current situation. In a slightly smaller font, but almost as prominently displayed is the size of the tire, in a code that only tire salespeople understand. It reads something like P235/75R15. This string of useless gobbledygook can also often be read in the standing position.

But to determine how many psi of air to put into the tire, one has to read the tiniest most inaccessible print on the whole bloody tire. You have to get down on your side, put some spit on your finger, and rub it along where you think the magic number is located. The spit makes the raised lettering stand out and able to be read more easily. You know when you’re getting close when you see words to the effect of, “not intended for highway use.”

“Great,” I think to myself. “I was just about to wheel this barrow of sand over to the highway and start passing cars with it.” In the tiniest font, often upside down and on the other side of the tire you started looking first, because of course you wouldn’t print the max psi on both sides, there it is, the number you’ve been looking for. “Inflate to 20 psi. DANGER, do not over-inflate!”

“Yes, I know I shouldn’t over-inflate! That is why I’ve been lying in a mud puddle for the last half hour looking for that tiny number!”

Not that I would ever qualify for the lofty position of pneumatic tire engineer, but if I did, I would insist that the manufacturer of the tire, the tire size, and all the rest of the nonsensical gibberish on the side of the tire be relegated to a one point font, and in big white letters would be the words, “Inflate to 20 psi max.”

Buying a Refrigerator

February 17th, 2019

On my infrequent flights, I often am glued to my window as we are landing. Down there are row after row of houses. I think I could fairly confidently say that each one has at least one refrigerator in it. I never gave that concept much thought until Alice and I were sitting in the boarding area for our flight to Miami at O’Hare Airport in Chicago.

One of our fellow passengers was engaged in a lengthy loud verbal battle over a refrigerator. This woman summers in Chicago, but winters, to the best of my recollection, near mile 66 in the Florida Keys. This woman, like many of us, uses a smart phone to communicate. Unlike many of us, she speaks in a very loud voice on her phone, and often puts the phone on speaker.

There is little in the way of entertainment available when you are waiting for a flight, which is perhaps why this woman chose her method of communication. Maybe she was hired by the airline to keep us all occupied while we waited for our flight to board.

This woman really needed a refrigerator, had ordered one, and had arranged to have it delivered later in the day after she arrived from Chicago. The store that she bought it from attempted to deliver the fridge that morning, when she was, of course, still in Chicago. She read them a loud riot act for some time for daring to mistake the delivery time. This went on for some time. I would characterize her behavior as bridge-burning, in that if she ever tried to buy something from that store again, they would likely call the police on her.

Once that call was completed, we thought we might be able to return to whatever it was we had been doing, but we were wrong. She was determined to order another refrigerator. I felt as though I was in the midst of an Agatha Christie novel plot, where thread after thread was explored, until the right one finally exerted itself. We (I say we because by now, this was a group effort) called numerous places looking for a fridge, and for some reason, none of them worked out. We thought we had it once, but the people doing the delivery only offered to drop it off in the driveway. Rats. A couple of places had clerks that seemed not to speak English. Several did not deliver at all. We were rooting for her to strike gold, but every path she took led to a dead end.

Which made me think about all those houses I see from the airliner window. Did every refrigerator in the houses visible from the air come at such a high price in terms of loud phone persistence? If so we are probably talking more hours of effort expended in ordering and getting the thing delivered than were necessary to build it in the first place.

I was sitting next to her as we were getting ready to board, and we struck up a conversation. That was when I learned she summered in Chicago. I told her we lived north of Chicago about 400 miles, and gave her some idea of the cold and snow we encounter.

“Is it really that bad?” she asked me.

“I don’t remember saying it was bad,” I told her. “We like the seasons and the challenges they bring.”

She looked at me skeptically.

“And,” I thought to myself, “we have a perfectly functioning refrigerator waiting for us when we get home.”