Sunday, August 31, 2008

"some assembly required"

We had Linda's college friends and our kids and son-in-law over on Saturday and we needed to feed corn on the cob and burgers to about ten people. Our son pointed out that our current grill was pretty much unsafe: as he put it, there were flames where there shouldn't be flames. So we made a quick run to buy a new propane grill. There were floor models, but we figured why buy those dented, rusting models probably assembled by some young teenager who doesn't know a wing nut from a hazel nut.

It was getting on toward five thirty when we set about assembling the grill. Linda decided to pile some charcoal in the old grill to cook the corn. Our crack team of assemblers got to work and, around step five, the corn was done. Then, as we were winding up step ten or so, Linda decided to put the burgers on the charcoal. By the time the corn and burgers were done, we were putting the finishing touches on the new grill. Right before we went in to eat, we hooked up the propane and test-fired the new grill. Perfection. Just a bit too late for this weekend's big meal.

Anyhow, no matter. We'll be ready next time, and we can wheel the old grill to the street on the next big "anything goes" trash day. Anyhow, the best part was, the kids were home, some good friends were gathered about - the hamburgers had just a touch of pink in the middle, just as I like them; the corn was sweet. As close to a perfect day as I need.

Friday, August 29, 2008

W.O.F. 27

In the rare event where I find myself in an arcade with games, I gravitate to the skee-bowling. You can give me a room full of the latest 3-D video games with surround sounds and awesome graphics, but I'll take the simple pleasure of a bunch of pockmarked, out-of-round wooden balls clunking down in front of you once you feed your token in the slot. And, one-by-one, winging those balls up the alley toward the targets, where you try to score the "50" in that skinny little tube area in the upper middle. Inevitably, most fall down into the "10" range.

A couple weeks ago, at the county fair, I was drawn to the skee bowling attraction and waited while people who were clearly addicted to the pastime would pump quarter after quarter into their alley in pursuit of a personal best score. A 150 gets you a prize; some higher score like a 240 or something gets you one of those supersized stuffed animals probably made for 17 cents in some Asian country you have barely heard of.

Anyhow, as I waited, I noticed the girl in front of me used a technique that was working pretty well for her. She would bank the ball off the side of the lane and it would wind up pretty much in the center.

When my turn came, I tried this technique, calculating angles of attack and of reflection, and lo and behold, I amassed a mighty score of 160. Lights flashed and I felt pretty darn special. The lady gave me a choice of a small stuffed green space alien or a blue lizard-like stuffed animal. I chose the latter - probably made in Sri Lanka for three and a half cents - and it becomes my Weird Object for this week. Here it appears in the habitat of our back yard.

I scored the 160 on my very first game. Having scaled these heights so early, I retired and relinquished the lane to the next skee bowler.

Have a great Labor Day Weekend!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Late Summer Odds n Ends

Lots of things never made the blog, but should have. So, this post is an attempt to clear out some of the items that have not made it here yet, but which should while summer is still upon us.

First, we attended our first ever Quniceanera, the Hispanic event where a girl's fifteenth birthday is celebrated in high style. This was the daughter of a former Pastor, and they came back to hold the event in the church. First, a ceremony, much like a wedding without a groom. There was a court of honor, 14 boys and 14 girls, dressed up like, well, check the picture up above. Then a service, with presentations of symbolic gifts. A dress - the adornment of a princess - a cross, a necklace, earrings, coins (prosperity, success in wealth as well as knowledge and skill), a scepter (authority and responsibility for her life), a doll (represents the last things a girl hands down to her younger sister - if she has one), high heeled shoes (becoming a young lady). After this, there's a waltz, starting with the Quinceanera and her dad, then the whole Court of Honor, several of whom got some quick box step lessons, I'm thinking.
And after all this, then the piece de resistance, to use the wrong language entirely. The celebratory meal - and it was wonderful.

It was pretty much fascinating to me. I mean, as far as I know, the big "rite of passage" for a "wasp" in the suburbs like me was getting that driver's license. I imagine this event is similar in some ways to the bar/bat mitzvah. It is kind of neat to spotlight someone and recognize her maturity and - if not full adulthood - at least her coming of age at a decade and a half.
Second, a couple afternoons at the beach. Ok, it's Lake Erie, and not Ocean City, but hey, the sun was out, it was hot and the water was plenty warm, you can't see the opposite shore, and the overall effect was close enough. There was the smell of SPF 30 in the air, the sound of 80's hits on the obligatory transistor radio about 30 feet away, kids excavating holes in the sand. It was great to do the whole beach experience for a day.

A friend of ours says people usually fall into one of two camps - you're either beach people or mountain people. I guess I tend toward the trails-into-the-woods type; that's what I really like. But I am married to a beach lover, so it's fine to hang out on the hot sand with her for a day or two.
I love how everyone in this picture is just sorta lost in their own thoughts about the beach,
or their place in the world, well, except maybe those two in the middle

The first week we went up there, we were hoping to see our son and three friends emerge at the mouth of the river. They had canoed down this river in segments and only had one small segment left, bringing them to a spot adjacent to the beach by nightfall in their estimation. Well, here's the hitch. They couldn't come up with a canoe this year, so they took paddles and inner tubes. This, plus the fact that as you approach the mouth of a river, you lose any semblance of a current, of which there wasn't much of one anyway, so these four guys on tubes, trying every technique they could think of, got nowhere. They got out after a couple hours, finding a house and some people who took them back to their car back upstream. Meanwhile, we waited, and I walked over to the cove where I expected them. At least I got a nice sunset to watch.
See any inner tubes? No. You do not.

The next week, we just went up to the beach without any stressful attempted rendezvous with our Lewis-and-Clark party.

And then, third, last night was BAT NIGHT. Sorry, I have no pictures. I was upstairs when I heard a scream from my spouse. Coming down to see what the big deal was, I found out a bat had buzzed her and she had shut it into the kitchen. I will use her description of the story. And reader beware: I think she may have been writing just a tad sarcastically about me and my contribution to the bat extraction at one point. Trust me when I say that holding the door is a very precise task demanding a rather sophisticated skill set. I have seen a case where a window is opened, a bat flies out, and another one flies IN. One must be ever at the ready, with the stealthy reaction time of a jaguar. Anyhow, her story:

Well, there is nothing like sitting at the computer in the evening and seeing a dark shadow pass by on the wall. Yep, a bat was flying around the dining room. I have no idea how it got in. I jumped up and it went into the kitchen so I quickly closed the door. I called for Ben and he decided to go out the front door, open the back door and hope that it would fly out.
Well, it didn't. So I put a clothes basket over my head, (I know. Great image there.) and cautiously went into the kitchen. I spied it hanging upside down from a cabinet above my stove. Groooossssss!!!! So I got a tennis racket and its holder and a flat board and sneaked up on it and trapped it in the space so as not to hurt if of course. It appeared to be sound asleep as it did not move at all. Then I had Ben slip the board under the racket. The thing didn't move or squeak until we nudged it onto the board. Then it fluttered and made a noise. We both jumped, but we did not lose our grip and kept him, the bat, sandwiched between the racket and board. And yes, of course, I did scream, but hey, at least I helped trap him.
So I took the bat and its racket outside, released the board and screamed again as the bat flew away, and I ran for the door, which my knight, Ben, was holding open for me. Whew! Not the way I wanted to end the night, but at least it's gone. And now I will be off to bed and hope not to dream or think about the thing. Ewwww

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Goodbye Beijing

I am going to miss my nightly dose of the Olympics. For one who seldom watches television, I have put in quite a few hours watching the various athletic competitions. Today, for example, I really got into the gold round of men's volleyball, USA versus Brazil. I will probably go four years now without watching a single serve, kill , or spike, but I was totally into it today.

Then there's the weird stuff. A team of women, for example, tossing hula hoops around, catching them, kicking them over to others. Who made this "sport" up? I mean, it was spectacular, the precision with which the women could toss these things around while doing flips and somersaults and so on. It was great entertainment. I'm not persuaded, though, how this ranks as a bona fide sport, while softball is being retired from the Games.

There is a lot to remember from this one. Baltimore's own Michael Phelps bringing home eight golds. That Jamaican Bolt guy (great name!) leaving the others to not even eat his dust, as the dust had settled by the time the silver medalist shot by. The platform diving. The acrobatics - thrills of victory, agonies of de feet missing their mark.
This Olympics bridged a lot of summer for me. We watched the opening ceremonies at my sister's house back East. I watched much of the first week with my son, way too late into the night. Watched most of this past week pretty much on my own, occasionally hollering for my wife to come in and see some amazing feat of athletic prowess.

I tend to be like most others and root for my own country. But I also get a kick out of it when some obscure country comes up with a medal. I love the nations that send six athletes over. You can bet that country, all 35,000 people or whatever, is sitting in pubs or community buildings or neighbor's houses and rooting on their people like they're family, if they have television.
And then there's the big significance of the games, even though I know it's pretend. Yes, in the real world outside the "bird's nest", Russia is flexing its muscle in Georgia, and people are still at war here and there. But for a couple weeks, it is nice to believe in the ideal of the spirit of the Oympic games - fair and just competition, pure ameteurism with no reward except a medal around your neck (ok, and for the Michael Phelps types, a million-dollar likeness on the Wheaties or Corn Flakes box and a few other endorsements, and never having to work again in your life if you don't want to...but he's a bit of an exception, eh?) I enjoy suspending disbelief and going with the program for two weeks, before returning to harsh reality.

Anyhow, the Olympics will now be replaced by....national conventions of our two political parties. I'm sorry, but although I realize the future of our nation depends more on the next President than on the American Olympic Sand Volleyball team (but, man weren't they good???), yet somehow I don't have the same level of interest to tune in to the endless posturing and pandering. Perhaps we could just put Obama and McCain up there on the balance beam and see how far to the left or right they really fall.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Signs of the End...

...of summer. Not some apocalyptic vision or anything. Just some things that happen around here that signal that the times they are a-changin' (in spite of 90-plus degree days) and summer's days are numbered.

First, out pop the daily morning glories. They don't show up 'til late in the game. I equate them with the onset of cooler weather.
Second, peaches. We have a friend who has had a bountiful harvest of the fruit and he's been foisting it off on any who express enthusiasm for them. I say "foist away", although it is not that easy to keep up with them - the trick is to eat or freeze them fast enough that they don't end up as compost.
Third, these guys and their cousins the locusts take over the noisemaking.
The noise of young humans is abated as large yellow vehicles take them away to big brick buildings for much of the day. That leaves these guys to practice their art of noisemaking. Humans now seem to reserve much of their noise for Friday or Saturday nights, where they gather in stadiums to watch adolescent humans battle to take a pointy ball toward some H-shaped poles stuck in the ground.

..yet, for others among us, the dog days of summer continue unabated...

Friday, August 22, 2008

W.O.F. 26 One More from the Fair

I'm still clearing out my pictures from last week's County Fair. They have this old barn full of old timey farm and home devices, some marked, some not. This thing was not. So, what do you all think it is? Looks sort of like those ice cream makers I featured a few weeks ago. All ideas are welcome, as I am fairly clueless! (And I didn't tinker with it, so I'm not sure what actually happens when you crank' er up. I'm wondering if that bowl-like basket part, or something that was once in it dangling form that pipe in the center, would spin around.)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

RIP Compaq nx9010

Yep, I lost an old friend at work today. Recently, it had not been able to keep up with me so well. It would take longer than ever to obey some command I'd give it. And, as with most of us as we age, its memory was faltering. I'd gently touch it and gaze at it hoping for some sign, some indication that it was still following me. But, alas, it looked blue. Blue with messages you don't want to hear or see. You could tell, the poor thing had lost its drive - a hard pill to swallow.

Yep, the ol' Compaq laptop gave up the ghost, and there I was at my desk, fumbling for something to do or say. The IT guy swooped in like an orderly, taking it away to his lair, promising nothing, hoping against hope. He'd call me. I waited.

He tried to revive the Compaq. Failing that, he tried a transplant, swapping the hard drive with one from another computer. I hear he gave it his best shot. Heroic efforts. But there I was in my office, staring at a patch of desk that had not seen daylight since 2001, and somewhere in a dank IT office, surrounded by its peers in various states of disarray, the ol' Compaq was flatlining.

I found little things to do, managing some paperwork, making some phone calls, filing things away, answering some questions. At one point the AA asked me about something, and I said I'd go Google it, and she said "no you won't; you can't". Wow. Powerless and resourceless in my own little domain. Stuck in a prehistoric world of books and notes on legal paper, suffering from "lefty's knuckle" - you know, those ink stains we used to get from writing southpaw.

Eventually the call came. The other computer that matched mine had been loaded with new software to make do for me until a new laptop could be ordered and obtained. I could be up and running, but alas, the hard drive in the ol' Compaq was probably not salvageable. Good thing I had learned not to save anything exclusively on that thing - aside from some pictures that are embedded in some documents on the server, anyway. I am left with the memory of its memory.

So now I can click away on an imitation of my ol' Compaq. I know it's not the same because I can read all the letters on the keypad, and don't have to guess at m and n and a few other well-worn ones like I did before.

Spending most of the day without the computer was an interesting experience. I had to guess at what emails may be floating around there in cyberspace. I had to call and actually talk to people. I had to think about the order of files in physical space in my office. Dragging files to new locations involved opening drawers rather than moving a mouse around. And deleting files involved a real trashcan or recycling box.

I'll miss the ol' Compaq, but maybe I will try to not get quite as attached to the next one - I'll try to take my eyes off Windows on occasion to gaze out a real window.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fair Chickens

Chicken blog mania continues.

I think I've got it out of my system.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

W.O.F. 25: technology marches on

From the County Fair (see blog below for more from the Fair):

This engine...

Drives this belt...

allowing this circular blade to cut the wood and make board lumber out of trees.

Watch your fingers!

All the Fun of the Fair

There is something about that annual County Fair. Maybe it's the smell of woodsmoke as the old-timey craftsmen ply their trade. Maybe it's that distinctive aroma emanating from the cow barn or the horse barn or the swine barn or goat barn. Maybe it's hearing the roosters let off indiscriminate, random crows. Maybe the smell of the zesty artery-pluggers being prepared in trailers all over the midway. Or the look of the crowd, the bark of the carneys, the dime-a-dozen stuffed animals being won all over the place. The trinkets on the counters. The kids in snazzy Western dress leading their 4-H projects off to an auction or a skills presentation.

Yeah, I think it's the kids. For a week, there's a bunch of kids who are NOT playing video games (well, maybe later at night, in the camper...), or listening to hip hop, Disturbed, or Miley through tune-the-world-out earbuds, or playing in hyperscheduled organized sports, or texting messages, or hitting the mall or lifestyle center. No, they're talking in little groups, or combing out their calves for the show, or feeding that pen of rabbits, or sweeping the stall.

It's a different world at the Fair. The Fairgrounds becomes a little city, sort of like the Olympic Village. There's food, and shelter of sorts (sometimes with the owner bunking in a hammock alongside the livestock), commerce on the Midway, neighbors and a lot of neighborliness, sights, sounds, and smells. Like the buzz and smell of the chainsaw as the guy turns a stump of wood into a bear or an eagle. And, like at the Olympics, there are ribbons being handed out for jobs well done.

I was raised a city kid, but in those two hours or so that we spend at the Fair every year, I can go very much country.

I took some pictures of various odd objects around the Fair. Those would be reserved mainly for Friday postings. But here's a brief tribute to the animals that make the Fair fun for a lot of the fairgoers, this blogger included.
The guy with the chainsaw and one of his works.
A sideshow with five performing dogs, all rescue dogs,
including this Frisbee-catching border collie.

The cow barn, 2004

Night-time at the Fair, 2004

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Late Summer Overload

We seem to be cramming in what we can as the summer days dwindle. We're just off a wonderful week back east, and now our son is home a mere ten more days before heading off to enjoy his senior year at college. And later today we pick up a French teenager who will visit for about three weeks in a foreign exchange program. Fortunately, he knows a lick or two of English because I am the former French student in our family and my French is tres mauvais.

Anyhow, here is a look back at the week spent back east, with these random views:
A very old bridge, once the most formidable bridge in the east, that used to carry traffic along the National Road (now US Route 40) in western Maryland, near Grantsville. The bridge no longer carries traffic aside from horse-drawn carriages. The new Route 40 bridge is just south, and farther south is the I-68 crossing.
A couple butterflies hanging out at Sideling Hill - I didn't even notice the second one at first.
Fells Point in Baltimore - a fun and historic waterfront district with various specialty shops, and excellent oven baked pizza! We met some friends down here and had a great evening.
The relatively new World War II Memorial in Washington. Very well planned - it blends right in, although it is right in the center of things between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
Looking at the Lincoln Memorial from the WWII Memorial.
..and then looking back from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
...and then looking up to The Man himself.
We all thought this view from the side portico of the Lincoln Memorial was sorta cool in an artsy way.
A statue at the Vietnam Memorial. And the memorial indeed does create an atmosphere of awe and silent respect.
If you are trying to get around in D.C., use this - the Metro. It beats driving in D.C., which was clearly not laid out for the 21st century automobile.
Visited my Dad and sister, and when you visit my sister's family, you get up close and personal with these gals, featured prominently on my sis's blog.
And on the drive home, a cloudburst while the sun shone, and a gorgeous rainbow out the back window. A fitting finish to a great trip.

Friday, August 8, 2008

W.O.F. 24

Greetings from sunny Maryland, which we leave tomorrow. We are at my sister's house, where I just successfully installed a new internet card for this rather ancient computer.

Anyhow, we took a trip to D.C. yesterday, and among the other sights, we took in the sculpture near the Hirshorn (sp?) art museum. Here is a rather odd (but I like it) piece that I will include as my weekly W.O.F.

What is it, you say? It's whatever you see it to be.