Friday, December 2, 2016

'Tis the Season for Elves


The few of my long time readers still around will remember that I did the trip of a lifetime over 16 years ago. I took a month long trip down the Grand Canyon from impounded cesspool to impounded cesspool, i.e. from Lake Powell to Lake Mead. I actually only spent three of those weeks on the water but those three were enough that I never wanted to return to reality. In fact, the company I boated with offered me a job and it took every fiber of my being to turn it down and to return to what was comfortable and known. Still, rarely a day goes by that I don't think about that trip and many times, my mind keeps returning to a side canyon along the way called Elves Chasm.

It was a very unassuming canyon that to my untrained eye looked just like all the rest. It is a short steep hike up from the river to the main falls seen above. It is a beautiful sight for sure and this is where the large majority of people turn around. A handful of guides and a handful of the more fit passengers continues on past this point but it wasn't for the faint of heart. You end up walking on a six inch wide ledge a hundred feet straight up from where I took this picture where one stumble or misstep would most certainly mean death. Fortunately there is a wall to lean on and keep your balance away from the open void below for the half dozen feet of the worst exposure but my knees quivered the entire way. We lost a couple passengers at that point, not to a fall but due to a weakening of the desire to see the hike through and they returned downhill to the boats.

The next obstacle didn't have the serious repercussions to life but did have some on my humility. We came to a large overhanging rock blocking our path. A couple of the guides hung onto various points of this rock and leaned backwards over the void to shuffle around the nose of the rock to the other side. If one was extremely confident in your hand strength and willingness to not let a fly make you want to scratch your nose suddenly, this was the route you could take. For the rest of us, we were forced to crawl underneath the rock in the fourteen inches of space so parched from lack of water, that the "floor" was six inches of powder. We had to reduce ourselves to mere snakes as we wiggled, groaned and furrowed our way through the dust underneath the rock overhang and out the other side.

Yet again we were met with another insurmountable point. We were in a shallow cave with no were to go but the way we came. However, if you were tall or had a very healthy vertical leap, one could reach through a small opening in the top of the cave, grasp hold of a perfectly shaped rock for a hand, and hoist yourself through the opening. I was tall and just barely had the strength to so so along with two of the guides and one other passenger whom we had to pull up through the opening. The rest remained there for our return.

We game once again to a large rock blocking our path twenty feet up from the jagged rocks below. This one required long arms to reach around the rock to a crack and use a fist jam belay to walk yourself around the nose of the rock to a small ledge on the other side. Safely around, we came to a jumble of house sized boulders that blocked our way save for a small door sized gap. We walked through the opening. We were in the "Green Room" and could see the "Weeping Wall." As tradition dictated, nobody said a word as we found a place to rest our legs while our eyes wandered.

The green room was where Elves Chasm finally boxed us in with a twenty foot tall rim of rock on the three sides around us. Years of Mother Nature's finest erosional work was on display for the water of Elves Creek has created a flat spot on top of the rim so the water could drip over evenly all along the rim. Below the rim was a green mass of ivy full of bright scarlet monkey flowers, yellow columbine flowers and fluttering hummingbirds sipping nectar. It was a magic elixir and I drunk deeply with my eyes. I can sometimes close my eyes and see it now though those visions are faded and worn and I'm no longer quite sure I can trust my memory.

I don't know how long we were there but I knew with others waiting for our return beneath the opening in the roof of the shallow cave and back at the boats, that we had to go back. It was only after I lowered myself through the opening of the shallow cave and was making my way back to where I had to change back into a snake to slither underneath the overhanging rock that I realized that I hadn't taken a picture. The one thing that might have kept my memory from turning into a well worn synapse that it is now. Even if the vision is worn, I still feel the peace and pleasure that I felt that day so long ago.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

No Tip For You

I consider myself a good tipper because I've been fortunate and I like to pass it on to those perhaps less fortunate. Those that receive tips are generally working minimum wage jobs or less and are providing with me a dining experience so I don't have to cook or do dishes myself. Occasionally I have tipped in other situations like to the fellows who moved me into this hot on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year. In all cases, they have provided a service and done it in exceptional circumstances or done it exceptionally well. But this one has me scratching my head wondering if he was just being an ass or if I am just out of touch.

My daughter participates in school reading challenges which (much to my delight) aren't much of a challenge to her since she reads more than the required amount each day. The teachers get burnt out holding these challenges so they don't occur very often, maybe once or twice a year. As her reward, my daughter gets a certificate for a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.

Despite living next door to one of the largest Pizza Hut franchise owners in the country, I really don't care for Pizza Hut pizza anymore. I prefer to just make my own at home. But because my daughter won the award, I felt obligated for her to redeem her certificate so I ordered her free personal pan pizza along with one for the other daughter and one for the rest of us at full fare. Even with the free pizza, I was still paying almost $24 which I felt is quite high and perhaps another reason why I prefer to make pizzas at home for a tiny fraction of the price.

Normally we have always ordered at one of their sit down restaurants nearby but due to hard times, it went out of business since the last certificate my daughter won. So this time I ordered from a place downtown that is strictly a delivery or pickup location. There is no dining in option there. They slid the pizzas to me on the counter and I handed them my credit card to pay. The worker gave me a receipt to sign which included a line for a tip.

I didn't give a tip. I have never given tips in situations like this where I'm picking up takeout and the person behind the counter didn't provide any service to me other than take my money and give me the product. Had they delivered the pizzas, I would have gladly tipped generously and in a restaurant where they not only wait on me but I use their resources for clean tables, dinnerware, restrooms, etc., I would have tipped. But I have never tipped when I have picked up takeout food and have never had anyone say anything to me until this time.

The man told me snidely when I handed back the signed receipt, "I should have made you cook your own pizzas."

Kind of in shock, I just chuckled as if he made some sort of clever joke and walked outside with my daughter and pizzas. But as I drove home, the more his words stuck in my craw. I thought I was doing him a service by ordering two other pizzas (at full price) that I really didn't want and didn't have too in order to redeem the certificate. However, I realize that as someone who doesn't go out much or pay others to perform services for me, perhaps I am out of touch with reality and it is expected to pay for takeout food these days.

What say you my readers?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Redemption


I had two tasks for Thanksgiving, smoke the turkey and cook the pie. Ever since my brother gave me the best birthday gift ever and got me a smoker, big enough to smoke about four turkeys at once I might add, I've been smoking our families Thanksgiving turkey. Warm out of the smoker, smoked turkey is excellent but eating it cold the following days as a sandwich are to die for. This year I chose mesquite wood to smoke the turkey with and honestly, my palate is just not that sensitive or it really doesn't make a difference, but I've yet to meet someone who could tell what wood I used to smoke the turkey, only that it is smoked. Because Thanksgiving was down on the farm this year, I smoked the turkey on the Tuesday before since Wednesday was forecast for rain. It actually rained on me Tuesday while I was checking the progress of the turkey and was sunny on Wednesday. You just can't trust a weather forecaster. I like to smoke the turkey ahead of time though because the hour long drive down to the farm is not conducive to keep a turkey warm and it allows us to keep some of it cold to enjoy alongside the warm turkey. Did I mention cold smoked turkey is the bomb?

The pie was baked the day before and when it came out of the oven, I suspected something was off. It was too blonde looking but since I had cut back on the amount of cinnamon and nutmeg that I had used a week before when cooking one, I thought perhaps that was the reason why. However when we tucked into the pie, I quickly found out the problem. I had forgot to put in the brown sugar. It was like eating plain squash custard which when combined with ice cream wasn't bad but it was fairly bland to eat by itself. Since that pie is now digested thoroughly, I decided to cook another one yesterday to redeem myself. This time was to be the culmination of all my experimenting to make the perfect pumpkin pie. Instead of using flour when rolling out the crust, I used chocolate graham cracker crumbs. I used our homegrown and canned Hubbard squash for the filling along with brown sugar this time and cutting back on the spicing as I did the last time. I dislike heavily spiced pumpkin pies where you can't taste the pumpkin. The result, heaven! Redemption!

After our Thanksgiving dinner, we do what we always do. While others are sleeping over football or pushing each other over Black Friday deals, we always go for a hike. This time we went to a local State Park where I learned to swim some 35 years ago at that beach in the background of the below photo. My daughter couldn't believe that anyone would be dangerous enough to learn to swim in a lake instead of a swimming pool. "There are fish in there," she said! After our hike to settle the turkey, we did our other tradition and liberated a red cedar tree from it's earthly toil in a road ditch on the way back to the farm. We hauled it home and it is now decorated up as our Christmas trees. With some green food coloring in the water, they green up nicely from their brownish winter slumber and the smell is so Christmas to me. Now while others frantically prepare for the holidays, I do all my shopping online and stay out of the public until the new year when most come back to their senses. I plan on reading my thick tomb of a book in front of many a crackling fire until then... and perhaps keep up on my blogging.


Friday, November 25, 2016

Upgrade


Ever since I first started computing with the above picture computer, one thing has been sure, computers go obsolete. Actually I still have the above pictured computer and it still works. But it has the computing power of a cellphone that has been dropped off a hundred story building and run over repeatedly by a herd of elephants chased by a string of steamrollers. It sits in my basement waiting for some day when I would like to dust it off and display it in some fashion.

My everyday computer, while more powerful, hasn't been supported software wise by Microsoft and others for several years. It runs Windows Vista, which I hated from day one and still to this day. It is a platform no longer supported which means if something happens, you are SOL. Many software developers no longer write their software to work on Vista since it is no longer supported. I can't update my web browser to the latest because of the OS and thus website are starting to no longer load correctly or even work on the old versions of web browsers.

As old computers tend to do, it has also become arthritic in its age. Often, it now requires multiple boots to get it up and running with everything running (that can still run) and even then, it takes about 15 minutes to boot up completely. There are corrupted files everywhere which means that sometimes the computer will freeze up now and then. A clean install of the OS would solve all those things but that takes me back to the beginning where they don't support the OS anymore.

So it was time to get a new computer. It looks just like the older one but is running Windows 10 which is supported OS. I had a laptop that had Windows 7 on it and absolutely loved it however in the dead of the night, Windows somehow started putting Windows 10 on it. It of course hung up and became a door stop for almost a year before one day I sat down and figured out how to get it to finish the install. Since I had written it off, I poked around and actually found that I liked Windows 10.

Thus far, the swap has been relatively painless compared to other times. When I got my last computer, I made the decision to save everything that I cared about on a separate hard drive than the OS. This makes it much easier to find thing and back them up. I opt for a cloud based backup software that takes care of it automatically. So when I got my new computer hooked up to the internet, I simply logged into my online account, switched my subscription to my new computer and told it to restore the files. With all my pictures and music, I have around 400+GB of stuff backed up. It has been working on it for about five days now and is about half way done. The one drawback is that they throttle down the connection a bit so a whole bunch of people restoring their computer don't bring the entire system down. However, the computer is still absolutely functional while waiting so unless I need some particular picture or song, things work out great.

Right now, my old computer still occupies the place of honor on my office desk and the new one is sitting off to one side. I've been using the new one a few days already and as I find some odds and ends, like how to transfer my iTunes favorites over to the new computer, I have to switch and grab the appropriate file. When I get to where I think everything is running fine on the new computer, I'll swap it for the old one and let the old one sit on the floor nearby for a month or so to make sure. When I'm sure, I'll probably grab the hard drives out of the old one and stick in the new one as backup just in case they are ever needed and send the rest of the computer to computer heaven at the recycling center. I'm guessing computer heaven will end up someplace in China.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Let There Be Light

I don't have a picture because I'm too embarrassed at all the junk in our utility room so you'll just have to use your imagination. In getting prepared for some winter projects, I knew that I needed to fix the lighting situation in our utility/laundry/storage room. It consists of about one fourth of our basement but only had three lights. Each of the lights were pushed up against a air duct or a beam so that you got some light but mostly you just got dark shadows. I found myself pulling out my cellphone and using it as a flashlight to find things just so I didn't have to go back upstairs to get a real flashlight.

So with the local home improvement store having a 11% Rebate going on, I loaded up on light. I ended up getting a half dozen 5 inch can lights and two industrial looking sconce lights for the wall underneath the ducting. I also got LED bulbs to put in everything. The sconce lights are for the utility side of the room where there is no space above to put a can light, or even a ceiling light. I put them on the wall on either side of the central HVAC unit so I can see the water heater and breaker box better. I also have some shelving by the breaker box for storing household repair stuff that is temperature sensitive like leftover paints, spackles, caulking, etc. Now I can easily see what I have.

The six can lights I strung in a line from one end to the other with one of them going into an alcove where the laundry machines are. I wired them all up using new wire and after turning off the switch, made the final connection to the wire that came from the light switch that had previously gone to the first light in the old series. I turned on the switch and nothing happened. I got out my electrical tester to find out where I had gone wrong but it showed there was no power to the switch and I hadn't done anything to the back side of it. I started checking outlets and all of them were dead. I flipped and reflipped breakers but none had tripped and nothing worked.

Cussing under my breath, I started taking the cover off the first light from the switch to check the wiring when I noticed the outlet that had gotten replaced during my last electrical fiasco. It was one of those GFI outlets per code in basements these days. It had been behind the door so I hadn't seen it right away to trip my memory. Sure enough, the light was not on which meant that it had been tripped. I'm not sure why it tripped but I suspect that I must have bumped it with a tool or my leg while I was working in that area to attach a junction box for the sconce. I pushed the reset button, turned on the light switch and light shown forth.

My basement is well lit now. I went from three poorly placed 8 inch can lights with CFL bulbs to six 5 inch can lights running LED bulbs and two sconces running LED bulbs. I also used daylight temperature bulbs which is a whiter light but is nice when you are hunting for things in the corner of the basement. 

Now that I have light, my first plan is to add some more storage for our excess kitchen gear. With our small kitchen and both of us loving to cook, we simply have no place for all our kitchen gadgets or utensils. When you need ten ramekins for a dessert, they are nice to have but where to store them. Right now, they are balanced on our large storage shelves along with our plastic storage totes but they collect dust and I'm afraid that someday they will be knocked onto the floor. We also have other stuff like canning gear, extra coffee pot, rotisserie, etc. that get used a few times a year but spend their time in boxes on the floor. My solution is to buy some cheap upper kitchen cabinets from the home improvement store and mount them to the wall in a corner with nothing and put all the fragile unboxed kitchen stuff there. The rest of the boxed items can go back on the now vacated shelf to free up some floor space. I will get some pictures of that as I get those projects done and I can narrow in the focus of the picture so not to show all the other junk packed away.