Friday, April 21, 2017

Biological Weapon of Mass Destruction

Like good Catholics and other similar faiths, we abstain from all meats except seafood on every Friday of Lent and a few other holy days within. Our garbage is picked up early Friday mornings. These two seemingly unrelated events created one of the worst biological weapons ever known to man, at least from my point of view.

On a Friday a couple weeks back, I made my famous salmon cakes for our Friday Lenten supper. Since the garbage had already come early that morning, I made sure to bundle up the salmon skin in an empty plastic bag, stick it in the household garbage and carry that out to our garbage can out beside the garage that gets emptied by a garbage truck every Friday morning. I certainly didn't want any salmon skin stinking up our house.

A couple days go by and we have another full bag of garbage. On my way to do an errand, I open the door of our minivan to allow our youngest daughter to climb into her seat while I take the full bag of garbage and add it to the outside can. Knowing full well it would stink, I held my breath as I lifted the lid, stuffed the new bag of garbage inside, shut the lid and got a few paces away before resuming normal breathing operations. As I was buckling up the youngest in her car seat, I was hit with a wave of rotten smelling seafood. I quickly hopped in the car and took off hoping to let the area clear out while I ran my errands.

However, for the rest of the day, whenever I got into the minivan, the stench was so overpowering that I would gag and cough until I could get the engine fired up and the front fresh air blowers on high.  I thought it would eventually air out and dissipate but the next day it was even worse than the first. I bought some activated charcoal which I spread in a big dish on the floor and bought one of those vent clip on air fresheners. I put a fan blowing the air onto the charcoal thinking that eventually it would filter out the odors. That evening, it still smelled just as bad or worse so I went nuclear. I bought one of those Christmas tree deodorizers that hang from the rear view mirror in the scent of vanilla and a tub of this odor absorbing paste that people put in their house after a fire to rid it of smoke smells. By now, the scent of vanilla and spring rain (scent of the clip on air freshener) were so overwhelming when I came out of my meeting last night around ten o'clock, that I could smell my car 20 feet away with the windows closed! I opened the door and despite the air fresheners, I could still smell the stench of rotten salmon! After turning the blowers on high, I drove home the five minutes it takes but by the time I got there, all the chemicals had seared my nose and gave me a headache. I woke up several times in the night and could still smell those smells.

So on day four, I opened the garage door and let the garage air out for a bit before I ventured inside but still I was gagging the entire time it took for me to back the car out into the driveway. (Which is why I skipped breakfast.) I first power washed the entire outside of the car and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day wiping down every interior surface of the van and shampooing every seat, carpet and headliner. Still, I would get whiffs of the rotten salmon smell over top of all the cleaning chemicals. I'm thinking of just setting the sucker on fire and pushing it down into the ditch.

My wife gets home and starts smelling a spot in the back of van and then proceeds to tell me how five days ago when she was out with some of her friends, they spilled some food in the back of the minivan but she had cleaned it up well and there wasn't any stain. I replied that it couldn't be that because this smell, smells exactly like rotten seafood. My wife said she had spilled octopus..... I still gave her the benefit of the doubt since one day had gone by after the spill and I hadn't smelled anything until the following day. The octopus had also been cooked so it hadn't been raw.

I started sticking my nose deep into the seats and carpet around the van and couldn't really smell anything but the overwhelming smell of cleaning chemicals until I got to the rear cargo area where the octopus spill had happened and there, it definitely smelled like rotten salmon... or as I now knew, rotten octopus. I started removing trim and was able to finally lift up the carpet in that area. The carpet itself is really thin and not made of absorbent material but adhered onto the backside is about an inch or a really dense, very absorbing foam and it was saturated with that liquid stink. Gagging, I ripped the absorbing foam from under the carpet and threw it away. Almost immediately things started smelling better. I soaked the thin carpet in that area with more carpet cleaning/deodorizing chemicals and put a fan along with the previously mentioned odor absorbing paste in a tub underneath the carpet to get it dried out again and hopefully odor free. I'll have to find some sort of replacement foam to patch back into that area eventually but at least that seems a bit cheaper than the alternative of just going out and buying another minivan.

My wife did apologize for not telling me about the spill despite two days of me telling her about the horrible smell and an entire day spent detailing the interior of our minivan, not to mention the $50 odd dollars I have spent on various deodorizing products over the last week. I think she was getting back at me for leaving the sunroof open on her vehicle during a light shower one evening awhile back. The moral of the story however is that one doesn't have to go very far to create one of the most potent biological weapons known to man, especially if like me, they like eating some octopus now and then.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Scrap Wood

I love woodworking but unfortunately, I only have a half stall of a a two and a half bay garage to do my work in. My wife won't let me park all the cars outside permanently but does allow me to park them outside during the day if I'm making a lot of sawdust. So I must drag my equipment out in the mornings and put it back in the evenings.

Somethings however, are not conducive to constantly moving around and thus tend to accumulate in corners as evidenced by my pile of scrap wood seen above. Believe it or not, I had about five half sheets of plywood behind that pile that I had completely forgotten about. Even if I had remembered them, it would have been easier to drive clear across town and buy another sheet than to unpile all that wood to get to the sheet of plywood and put it all back. One day while reading a magazine, I saw a solution to my problem.

The solution was to build a scrap wood cart on caster wheels so I could wheel it out, walk completely around it and see if I have what I need. Back in February when it was 70 degrees out for a couple weeks (much warmer than it has been since), I celebrated by putting that cart together using two new sheets of plywood (before I discovered the five half sheets behind my pile) and some electrical conduit pipe. It has room on the back for full sized sheets of plywood and plenty of bins for smaller items.

As I put my stash of leftover boards into my new cart, I was amazed at how much I had accumulated over the years. Fortunately I barely had enough room for it all and I was able to push it back into the corner again. I now have a mission to try and come up with projects to use up some of those extra materials to get it down to a more manageable size. Now if it would just warm up again so I can get back into the garage.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monastery Falls

My dad in the hole at the top of Monastery Falls
My parents took to kayaking when I was a young kid. When I grew older, they would take their kayaks to a local lake to practice rolling and when they were through, they would sometimes let me paddle it around. Eventually, they paid for lessons up in Wisconsin and those lessons took part partly on the Red River, home of Monastery Falls, so named for the monastery built on the shore of the river overlooking the falls.

It has a six to eight foot drop at the beginning in a very narrow channel that prohibits paddling. At the base of the first drop was a massive all consuming recirculating hole in the water which ate lots of boats and took the lives of more than one person. In fact, the week before I went over the falls for the first time, a local boy fishing upstream and fallen into the river and met his death in that hole. As the water fall widens out, it goes over a few smaller ledges before plunging off the final eight to ten foot drop at the very end into the pool near the monastery. It was very intimidating to a fourteen year old boy learning to kayak for the very first time.

I lined my kayak up with the slot that partitioned the top of the falls and paddled for all I was worth. In order to get through the large hydraulic hole at the bottom of the falls, one had to get enough speed ahead of time for there was no room to paddle once you were actually in the falls until you were in the hole. I did my job well and plunged through the hole with speed to spare. In fact, I did my job so well that my speed caused me to inadvertently eddy out and the point of my kayak speared a crack in the rock.

Instantly I was spun backwards and almost tipped over. Not yet knowing how to roll the kayak, I plunged my paddle into the rocks at the bottom and pushed my way back upright as the water now hurtled me towards the large drop at the bottom. I could see all my fellow classmates and instructor looking at me slack jawed as I tipped over backwards and disappeared out of their sight into the churning waters below.

Somehow I managed to stay upright and paddled back to the eddy at the base of the lower falls, exit my boat and clamor up the rocks to watch my next classmate attempt the falls. I acted nonchalantly as possible when they started peppering me with questions trying to act as if it was no big deal that I had almost died in a falls that had already claimed one person that week.

We spent all afternoon there and I would run the falls several more times, all more successful than my first attempt. The hydraulic hole would eat none of our boats that afternoon. In fact, it was such a pleasant day that we all took turns jumping into the middle of the falls, below the hydraulic hole and swimming down the last and largest drop at the bottom where there wasn't a hole to contend with. I've never been back to the Red River or Monastery Falls but I'll never forget that day.

My dad going over the bottom drop of Monastery Falls

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Pinto

While scanning pictures awhile ago, I came across this one that reminded me of something I had forgotten about, my dad's Ford Pinto. My earliest memories of vehicles on the farm all revolve around this Pinto. It was always a beater of a car in my mind and I can't remember it ever being new though I suppose it was. The back hatch leaked like a sieve until my dad eventually duct taped it "permanently" closed and was driven for many years like that. Other memories are:

Going over to my grandfather's farm for Thanksgiving and forgetting to take the stick of butter we brought along inside. It melted and forever more the car always smelled like rancid butter on hot days.

The Pinto, flawed as it was, had one of the most reliable engines I've ever experienced in a car since. It would start under any temperatures and you never had to crank the starter. It everything was frozen solid, the Pinto would start up. In fact, after sitting behind the shed on the immediate right for a handful of years growing up in weeds, my dad eventually sold it to someone looking for a donor motor. My dad trickle charged the battery and it started right up even then.

Once, while trying to get through a rather deep mud puddle in a gate entrance, the Pinto slid sideways smashing into a post on the passenger side and caving in the front quarter panel. Years later, while sliding into our driveway one snowy, icy afternoon, my dad gunned it to prevent from getting stuck and hit the frozen pile of snow thrown up by the road grader caving in the driver's side front quarter panel. After that, it looked matched on both sides.

Rust eventually got the Pinto which is why it was sitting out behind the shed for a number of years. The drivers seat rusted through the floor pan and sat on the lines routed underneath. The brake lines also rusted out. The fellow who bought it for the engine, requested it delivered so my dad drove it 10 miles through the back gravel roads without brakes to deliver it.

My dad nicknamed it Verge. Not sure why and he doesn't remember or won't admit to why. I've named every car I've ever owned because that is what my dad did.

I'm not sure what is happening in the picture. I'm guessing my dad came home from some project due to the ladder and bucket nearby. He probably took a load in and came back to find my dog Ted laying in the back of the car like it was his doghouse.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pennywise On a Shelf

It will take some background so I'll start at the beginning. Years ago, in an attempt to stave off useless presents at Christmas time, my brother and I declared a truce. We still give each other gifts for birthday but don't during Christmas. Then we both got married. Although not agreed upon or even discussed, we have been buying small presents for each other's spouses that border on the simple to a gag gift. This year I bought my sister-in-law a pair of pug (dog breed) socks since she has a pug dog at home. She in return gave me Pennywise the Clown.

Decades ago when I read a lot of fiction, I was a big Stephen King fan and read all his books. I even had them all in my collection. After I gave up reading fiction to just read non-fiction, I have made an exception for any new book published by Stephen King and will still read (and collect) them. After my brother got married to someone who was also a Stephen King fan, I loaned my collection to her for reading. She really liked the book IT which features Pennywise the Clown and so she found this doll and gave it to me for Christmas this year.

When I got the gift, I wasn't sure what to do with it at first so it just stayed in the back of our car until we got back home to Iowa. As we unloaded the car, I set it somewhere and forgot about it. The kids found it and were creeped out by it which inspired me. When they were asleep, I moved him like the Elf on a Shelf craze going around. The next day they would hunt for Pennywise until they found him. After a few days, I hid him above the bathroom vanity lights and then forgot about him. The kids didn't find him and they too forgot about him. Until last night.

Our youngest 4-year old daughter was stalling from going to bed and when we asked her to go brush her teeth, her answer was she was too tired. Some threats later it changed to she was scared. Finally she went but was crying while brushing her teeth. When I finally went to see what she was so scared about, she pointed at Pennywise. Oh yeah, I had completely forgotten about him. The oldest daughter got out of bed with all the commotion and saw Pennywise too. We got both back in bed and I made a mental note to put him in a new location after the girls were asleep.

Later, I heard some silent sobs coming from the bedroom of my 10-year old daughter. I went inside to see what was the matter and she said she was scared that Pennywise was going to get her while she slept. I should have seen this coming since she still believes in Santa and Elves on Shelves but didn't. So I had to reassure her I moved Pennywise around and that he was an inanimate object and couldn't move on his own. After a few minutes of discussing when I moved him around the various times, she was reassured enough and went to bed. Pennywise moved to his new location above our china cabinet seen in the above photo.

This morning while at the bus stop, my oldest told me Pennywise was almost like an Elf on the Shelf except that I moved Pennywise and the Elf on the Shelf moved by himself when all the kids were asleep! I love childrens power to believe things.

[I have had this post in draft form for a couple months and since writing this, my daughters have taken to hiding Pennywise for me. The last time I saw him was a week ago when I found him underneath my easy chair. He disappeared shortly there after and I haven't seen/found him since.]