Mongo Feeder

January 31st, 2018

If you’re gathering statistics on the number of smiles/laughs generated (SLG) by non-humans in the Soldan household, Franco the German Shepherd wins. We did get a smile this morning from an unidentified mouse that moved a lot of Franco’s dog food from his dish to the cupboard where we keep the granulated sugar. The little guy piled it right against the door, so it spilled out when the door was opened. Franco ate it thinking it was some sort of bonus. It was actually his all along, and the potential loss could be considered a punishment for not guarding his food dish effectively.

In terms of SLGs per gram of body weight, I’d have to go with the Chickadees and Nuthatches that populate the little forest just west of our house each winter. They fly up to the feeders strung from the tree branches, seize a sunflower seed, and then fly someplace private where they can open their prize and swallow the insides. A Chickadee’s body weight is such that, it can land on a zip tie (one of natures natural building blocks, right along side of duct tape) sticking out of a bird feeder, and barely bend it. A zip tie is not designed to be sturdy when cantilevered out past a bird feeder, but these little guys do not fear landing on them, grabbing a seed, and then flying off.

Alice and I are not big travelers, but we do enjoy getting away now and then. On a recent trip, we visited Escanaba for an EMS conference, then spent 2 days in Milwaukee visiting my parents, and finished up with 3 days in Chicago visiting the Art Institute and pigging out on Chipotle. During our summer trips in the motorhome, we bring Franco, who is happy as long as the RV is moving down the road. In the winter, it isn’t as practical to bring him, so we usually board him. The Chickadees have to depend on the kindness of our neighbors. I have 3 sunflower seed feeders up, and they last about 1 1/2 days. This means that our little SLG per gram winners run out of food unless our neighbors stop by and fill the feeders. We hate to ask them, and a better solution was needed.

I use mostly tube feeders for my birds. Bigger birds tend to leave them alone because the feed hole is so close to the perch that they have to do gymnastics to get any seeds. Squirrels can get to them, and until we found the good quality plastic globes to protect them, we lost a lot of seeds to the squirrels. So I had this idea to capitalize on the tube feeder concept, but make it big enough to last several days during our winter trips.

I thought about tubes, and found that I had a chunk of (unused) 4″ plastic sewer pipe. It seemed like the tube part of the big feeder was solved, and all I had to do was figure out how to meter the seeds out without them all falling on the ground at once, and how to hang the thing in the tree. Enter Google ™. I appear not to be the only one looking for a squirrel-proof large feeder for small birds. The design I found was on the “instructables ™” site, although I’m sure there are many others out there. I added a couple of windows about 6″ up from the bottom so I could see when the seeds are running low without taking the whole thing down. For perches for the little birds, the author specified tie wraps, Which I have to admit I was skeptical of. His logic was sound, however. A sturdy perch gave a resourceful squirrel an avenue to attack the seed tube. So I used tie wraps.

The resulting feeder was finished, filled, and hung just before our January trip. The results were good, although I do see quite a few unopened seeds on the ground below the feeder. The blue-jays, squirrels, and Juncos seem not to mind cleaning these up. Our little Chickadees flit on and off the feeder all day, generating a smile whenever we see them.


January 12th, 2018

Click here for 25k movie

We humans live most of our lives indoors. If Alice and I wanted to improve our inside experiences, we’d probably not live where we are. A second rate apartment on 5th Avenue in New York contains more luxury that we could ever hope to achieve in our humble home, no matter how hard we worked at it. We understand and acknowledge this. But the outsides…

Our two German Shepherds have done something for me that I can’t imagine anything else doing… they’ve gotten me outside at times of the day that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Tonight, for instance. Franco needed his evening walk, so I dutifully donned boots, jacket, mitts, and hat, and headed out the door. Oh yes, it was 8:00 and long dark this time of year, so I also put on my headlamp.

I would not have known that the perfect snow was falling had it not been for Franco’s bladder. I don’t think I’d be exaggerating if I were to suggest that I have to be careful about getting too interested in the snowflakes tumbling into the beam of my headlamp. With my head tilted back so I’m looking straight up, I fear that if I let myself go, I could lose my vertical orientation and tumble to the ground. There is nothing in my life experiences that seems even remotely like these snowflakes on a perfect evening. The movie I’ve added to this post gives a small idea what it’s like, but really, I wish I could take you all outside on a night like this, strap on a headlamp, and allow you to behold the wonders of a snow fall.

The Glade

January 11th, 2018

I was waiting in line at Econo Foods the other day. The fellow in front of me put down a $20 and ordered some Powerball and Mega tickets. He got $4 change. It is entirely possible I was reading something into this, but I pretty firmly believe that I saw this fellow smiling with anticipation when the clerk handed him his tickets.

The news lately has had a story each night about how high the powerball and mega-millions jackpots were. One article I saw said the odds of any one ticket being a winner were about 300 million to one. To give you a sense of proportion, the odds of any one of us being killed by a meteorite are estimated to be 1 in 1.6 million. Yet when we read a story about someone buying the winning ticket at a 7-11 ™ somewhere in rural Florida, we can just imagine ourselves in the story. All our troubles would be over!

As I was walking Franco the other day, I snapped the picture at the top of this post. It is a row of trees I planted some decades ago. My idea was to separate the pond from the road with a screen of trees. Each of the little guys I planted came from somewhere on our property. They were dug by me with a shovel, hauled to their new home in the wheelbarrow, planted, and given their first drink of pond water. They were watered regularly during the dry years, but their roots are now deep enough they can go it alone.

The story of me planting these trees is not as interesting as the powerball winner in Florida, but I would suggest it is more true to life. So many of us want to write a best selling novel, a hit song, star in a high grossing movie, or yes, win the powerball. Few of us will be able to enjoy any of these fantasies, but it doesn’t stop us from dreaming.

If I could take a young person aside and get them to listen to me for a sentence or two, I’d suggest to them that it is the good habits that you cultivate, and the little things you do and then regularly reinforce in your life that will pay the best dividends. It is tempting to wish upon a star, but planting and watering a little tree will likely pay off better in the long run.

DCW’s Mantra

December 28th, 2017

DCW’s Mantra

One Day at a Time
Stay in the Moment
Do the Next Right Thing
Never Give Up

Some years ago, I attended an Emergency Medical Support (EMS) conference in Marquette. As an EMT, I am required to attend training sessions and submit proof of them when I recertify with the state every 3 years. The keynote speech of this particular conference was given by EMS advocate and emergency physician Dennis Whitehead. Honestly, I remember very little about his talk, but I do remember the second to the last slide in his presentation. It was titled DCW’s Mantra and had only 4 lines of text. He explained that this short list has helped him in his life.

I am not fast with pen and paper, and Dr. Whitehead very fast with his mouth. Before I was able to copy the whole thing in my notebook, he had moved on to his last slide, which said something like, “Thank-you, Questions?” Doc got a deserved standing ovation for his talk that day, and I was left with an incomplete mantra in my notebook. What to do?

After his talk, Doc was quickly surrounded by well-wishers with questions. His laptop on the podium was unguarded. From my seat front row/center, I walked up to the podium, found the back-arrow button on his computer, punched it, and beheld the second to the last slide up on the screen (sometimes it pays to know how to run PowerPoint.) I sat back down, finished copying the mantra, and then hurried to my next class.

When I got home, I transcribed those powerful words onto my computer, printed them out, and posted them on the bulletin board next to my computer screen. They have been there ever since. Not only has this simple wisdom helped me, but I’ve shared with others too. Over the years as other family and friends needed some encouragement, Alice and I have sent the mantra along and received thanks.

Recently one of our dear friends had a medical issue and Alice sent her an email which included the mantra. Her husband transcribed the text onto a sheet of paper and taped it on the closet door along with some artwork from other well wishers. If I were in a hospital bed, that is the sort of thing I’d like to look out and see. It is sometimes hard to know what to do in situations like these, and those few simple words might provide a clue.

I was so pleased with the good that Alice’s email had done, that I searched and found Dr. Whitehead’s email address, and sent him an email explaining how his words had helped in my life and others’ over the years. Here is his response slightly edited:

Hi Ted:

A great pleasure to hear from you. I’ve given many talks over the years to EMS groups and emergency physicians, and I’m always delighted to hear something I once said had “good legs” and helped others. I’m gratified to learn this was one of them.

You made my day. Maybe we’ll run into one another sometime. Happy New Year to you and yours.


Saying Goodbye

December 15th, 2017

A friend posted a sad one on Facebook the other day. His beloved dog had to be put down. The sadness was just dripping off the few words that went along with the closeup picture of his dog’s face. I felt it in my gut.

I’ve had to say goodbye to 3 pets that way, a dog and two cats. It has been said you can be a dog person or a cat person, but not both. I do like both, but if I had to choose, I’d take the dog every time. I remember the day when I had to day goodbye to our German Shepherd Panzer. The poor old guy couldn’t use his strength to lift up his rear end. The vet and our family decided it was time to end this, so that is what we did. Panzer trusted me to carry him to the table in the clinic, and we looked at each other while the vet was busy finding a vein. I put my hand by his nose, and he sniffed, knew it was me, licked my hand, and was gone.

These are sad thoughts, but important ones. Panzer lived a life that had meaning for his family. We still grieve after 15 years of absence. We’ll all face a day when we can’t get up, and when that next elusive breath will be hard to catch. Did we live a life that meant something to the people around us? The time to think about it is not at the end of your life, but right now. Try to spend every day being a person that will be missed when you are gone.

How I Adjusted

December 2nd, 2017

This morning did not start well. As I was preparing a breakfast for myself, I turned on NPR news, as is my habit. I learned the Senate passed their tax reform bill at about 2:00 this morning with 51 votes. This vote follows on the heels of a affirming vote on a similar bill in the House some weeks ago. We can next expect the two bodies to work together to forge a version of this bill that both can agree with, another vote, and a signature from a willing president.

In a few sentences, I’ve described the process of transferring a large amount of money from the middle class to the wealthiest among us, with the promise that the transfer will spur such tremendous economic growth that the taxes generated will pay for the additional trillion plus deficit spending over 10 years.

This 500 page bill was negotiated in secret by the party in power, and provided to the members of the senate 2 hours before they were to vote. The copy was so poor that parts of the hand written changes were cut off in the photocopying process. It was one of the most shameful examples of our public officials jamming an unpopular bill through that I’ve witnessed in my 65 years.

I had a couple of choices on how to proceed with my day. After enjoying the breakfast that I made, I thought about some advice I gave my son when he went away to college. “Spend as much time as you can with exceptional people.” Some pretty unexceptional people had managed to put a dark slant on my morning, so I became determined to turn that around.

In my youth, my parents, bless them, saw to it we had a World Book encyclopedia in our home. When we had questions about most anything, it was a good place to start. To this day, I am thankful my parents were progressive enough to understand the importance of a purchase like that on a limited household budget. Today, if you can afford the cost of an internet connection, you can do so much better than that encyclopedia of 60 years ago. I’d recently listened to a Freakonomics ™ interview with Larry Summers, so I turned to Youtube ™ and looked up some of his speeches.

I don’t know if his macro-economics distracted me from my depression, or if the message he spoke so eloquently did, but spending an hour and a half with Larry Summers today did the trick. I know, as I’ve probably known all along, that there are lots of smart, capable, and good-hearted people out there that can do the right thing if called upon. I hope that this terrible tide in our political lives will change for the better as it always done in the past. I hope for the day when rational discourse and debate in our lawmaking bodies will replace the vitriol that currently reins.

While I’m waiting for that day to come, I plan to spend some more time learning about and listening to people like Sarah Cheyes. This award winning NPR journalist covered the war in Afganistan until she resigned in 2002, and started a cooperative in Kandahar to help local farmers find an outlet for their produce, thereby giving them an alternative from the opium poppy crops they have found so lucrative. Sarah learned Pashto to better enable her to work with her new neighbors to improve their lives.

I think it is inevitable that we’ll be exposed to villains and heroes in our daily walk through life. And it is probably inevitable that the villains will often make the most noise. When it happens, I’ve decided to seek out the heroes wherever I can find them, and if I can find a clip on Youtube ™ where I can listen to their words and watch their eyes, so much the better. I’m ready to call it a day, and I hope for a better tomorrow.

Why Did I Change?

November 18th, 2017

At a social event today, a friend of a friend asked me a question that sincerely seemed to interest him. “Why did you become a vegetarian?”

The answer to that question is pretty simple. I was about 20 years old, and had been thinking about my diet for quite some time. Then this thing made the news, where consumers were concerned that the price of beef was being manipulated, and suggested a consumer boycott of beef for a week. This sort of thing appealed to my hippie sensibilities, and I joined in.

In those days, I ate a lot of Burger King Whoppers. It was summer, and my travels often took me by the Burger King on Logan St. in Lansing. The window of the van was down, and oh how the smell of those flame broiled chunks of beef used to waft into the Dodge with me. I stuck it out though. When the week was over, I didn’t go back to beef. I’ve been sticking it out for 45 years now.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation all day. The question that wasn’t asked, was why had I remained a vegetarian all these years? No beef, pork, poultry for 45 years? That is a little tougher to answer, but as I walked around with my thoughts today, I did come up with something.

One of my neighbors and good friends raises a pig a year for meat for his family. This little guy has a pretty good life. He has a spacious pen full of clean straw. He can go outside whenever he wants. He has plenty of food and water. And this little guy also has human interaction. When I walked by his pen, he stood on his hind legs with his front legs on the pen wall, and begged to have his ears scratched. He looked as though he enjoyed the process. He seemed to get plenty of this sort of attention from the family that was raising him.

The children in this family understand something better than I ever did. They know where their food comes from. They understand that when their pig has to leave, that he’ll return in paper wrapped packages that go into the freezer. When they have some bacon, they’ll think about their pig.

I am capable of many things, but what this family accomplishes with their farm animals I just could not do. I have not been able to convince myself that my taste for bacon is worth exchanging a life for.

My guess is that my neighbors don’t save much money by raising their yearly pig, compared to what they would pay in a grocery store. That is because pig raising on an industrial scale is much more efficient than it is on the scale of a small farm. That efficiency translates to not much of a life for the pigs, however. Piglets are separated from their mothers very early, and kept in separate pens. Since the outside is full of dangers for them, they are usually kept inside. Their food and water arrives automatically, and their waste removed by conveyor. When the correct weight is achieved, they are shipped off to the slaughter house, and that is that.

So I guess if I would have been asked why I’ve maintained my vegetarian diet all these years, the above would be part of the answer. Surely, I feel, we can consume the food we like without being cruel to the animals that provide it. If all pigs were treated like my neighbor’s is, I still wouldn’t eat meat, but I think I’d feel better about the whole thing.

Halloween Through the Ages

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

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

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.