Monday, September 25, 2017

Get Your Clamp On


I was working on a project of making a miniature version of an apothecary chest and had a particularly hard time getting everything pressed together nicely as it had been during the dry assembly process. I think partly it was because there were so many pieces that I got them mixed up at some point and between the time I cut the joints, dry assembled the thing, took it apart and then started gluing it, all the moisture from the rains made the properly sized joints a bit snug. As a result, the front didn't end up as flush as I would like it to be which means I will have to do more sanding than planned but I think it will be alright. It also meant that I needed a lot of clamps to get everything pulled in tightly.

Fortunately over the years I have collected a fair number of bar clamps at auctions and garage sales and used probably 2/3rds of them just on this one operation. When I was done, it reminded me a bit of a porcupine and was a reminder that one can never have too many clamps when building stuff out of wood.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Getting Hit Below the Belt

The forecast for yesterday morning was for scattered thunderstorms to pass over us without much accumulation of rain. I don't have enough fingers to count up the times this year that has been the forecast and we have received not a drop of rain. But due to a sick child during the early morning hours, I had plenty of time to hear the rain falling and at times really hard to know we were getting a pretty significant rainfall. We received an inch of rain last week, the first such amount of rain since May 1rst this spring. But this sounded like more. I was guessing two inches but it was still too dark to see the rain gauge.

It is too late for the crops and has been for a long time. Farmers around here have already been in the corn fields for a week, an unheard of early start thanks to the premature death of their crops. Early yield tests are showing corn has been making 30 to 50 bushels per acre. Compare that to last year when corn was producing 240 to 260 bushels per acre. Right now, it is just about harvesting what little there is to reduce the amount of planting expenses that went into it this spring. In just about every other facet of life, is someone was told that they would only get 12% of their salary for the entire year, it would be utter devastation. For farmers, it is the facts of life and not only due you take that 88% reduction in your salary, but you double down and put in another crop next year.

Although it was still raining yesterday morning when I couldn't wait any longer, I went out in my bare feet to check the rain gauge. Being lazy and not wanting to have to clean my glasses, I left them inside as well. When I got over to the rain gauge I was dumbfounded because I couldn't see the water line at all. There wasn't a single drop of rain in that thing! I figured it must have cracked and touched the glass tube only to have some water slosh off the top. I had been wrong. It wasn't empty but was clear full and running over. It's only a 3" rain gauge but that has been the first time in years, perhaps a decade that we've gotten that much (how much I still don't know yet) rain in one storm.

As I surveyed my yard in the early dawn light, I could see a puddle of water, the first puddle I have seen all year and what a gorgeous sight it was. All those cracks that extended down 18" were now sealed up and the dirt had swelled and filled in the huge cracks along the sidewalk and driveway. Water was actually flowing through my reinforced entrance to my driveway culvert (worked like a charm!) and was flowing out the bottom of my newly installed retaining wall and all the way down to the ditch by the road in the bottom of the valley. Another thing I haven't seen happen since last year sometime.

While it was nice knowing that we are finally getting some rain which is a start, (we were over 20" short since last fall) to perhaps see us over winter, it was a real gut punch for the farmers. Not only do they have minimal crops to harvest, but if this keeps up, they will have to destroy their fields to get what little they have out. When you mud out a crop (named for the wheels of the equipment digging deep muddy furrows into the field), it compacts the soil and it takes two to three years to undo the damage which is a further reduced yield in those tire tracks.

Hopefully this storm isn't a sign of a trend that will continue the rest of the fall. There is still plenty of time for harvest if our typical dry fall starts today and run for the next six or seven weeks. Then the pre-winter rains can come and soak the ground really good for next spring and we can start over again. We'll just have to wait and see since obviously the weatherman can't be trusted.

(Since I wrote this yesterday, I have learned that we got somewhere between 5-1/2" and 6" of rain. A sign of how dry it was; an hour later I was working out in my lawn and the ground was still firm to walk on.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Living With Bats

I love watching bats at night fly around in the evening twilight catching all those bugs that would otherwise try and suck my blood. This year, the bug problem hasn't been a problem so they have no water in which to breed in. Also related there aren't any birds around either since water is not to be found anywhere close by. But back to bats and my love for them, WHEN they aren't flying inside my house.

Three days ago, I had one of my spells where no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get to sleep. I got up and tried this and that and kept returning to bed only to watch the clock roll past one, two, three, four and five. As it rolled past five, I could feel my body finally wearing out and sleep descending on me. I knew I had to get up shortly but even a little over an hour and a half of sleep might be the difference between barely functional to totally crazy. As sleep enveloped me, I jumped three feet out of bed to the bloody murder screams coming from both of my daughters. Thinking some deranged lunatic was chasing them down the hall with a long knife, I hustled out of the bedroom and quickly ascertained that it was a deranged lunatic but a blood thirsty bat that was going to suck the life out of them.

I shushed them down, shut all the doors I could and spent an hour doing a sweep of the house but could find no bat. I bid anymore sleep an evening and suffered through the rest of the day. That evening we had a party to go to and took our oldest daughter with us while the youngest stayed home with my mother-in-law. When we got home late, I found the tennis racket that I still keep just for this occasion had moved but everyone was in bed and there were no signs of the bat. I learned the following day they had seen it again but it was still nowhere to be found.

My oldest looked up somewhere on line that they can only live 24 hours without food or water so I assumed that I would only find a bat carcass sometime in the future at this point. I didn't see him the rest of the day and we put the girls to bed that night with assurances that the bat was long since dead. The oldest closed her door just in case but the littlest one wasn't so sure. A half hour later as my wife and I were enjoying a peaceful evening, the littlest one came running out saying she had seen the bat. I assured her it was just her imagination and she cuddled with my wife on the couch. Our plan was to wait for her to fall asleep and transfer her to her bed. Fifteen minutes go buy when all of a sudden I see a bat come up the stairway, circle through the living, dining and kitchen  before diving back downstairs. Unfortunately the little one saw it too.

I did another fruitless search for the creature but he wasn't flying around and with a 1001 nooks and crannies to hide in, I gave up and just shut all the doors in the house hoping that I could get him trapped in one room where I might deal with him. The little one of course wouldn't be sleeping in her room that night so we made a pile of blankets beside our bed and she slept there only after she verified that the door was locked.

Day three dawns and life was progressing through morning almost towards noon when I heard the bloody murder scream again. This time I spotted the bat right outside my office inside the basement flying this way and that. I grabbed my tennis racket, opened up the basement walkout door and tried to shoo the thing outside. It instead crawled behind a framed picture on the wall. I took the picture off and again tried to shoo it around but it crawled into my bookcase. I shoo'd it out of the bookcase and I could see that getting it outside was a lost cause. I started taking swings and on the fifth or sixth attempt (those things never fly in straight lines), I clipped it enough that it landed on the floor.

The funny thing about bats is that they can't take off from a floor. They don't have enough power or lift to do so which is why they roost on ceilings or in places up high. So now I had a bat scrambling across the floor seeking shelter and the thought of four screaming girls who are afraid of them causing havock to my life until the poor thing finally died of starvation or thirst. So I did the only thing I could think of in the second or two I had left before it crawled into someplace I couldn't extract him. I put the poor guy out of his misery.

The young one immediately came down to see the bat up close and I took a picture of it to show the oldest as evidence that it is no longer among the living. Both were satisfied that it is gone and the days of cries of fear whenever they had to walk down the hallway or fetch something downstairs are over with, for now. We used to get the occasional bat at our old house and I had thought this was the first one we had here in the five years that we lived here but my oldest reminded me that we had one when we first moved here and I faintly remember that episode. So if the law of averages works out, I probably have another three to five years of peace again before the next bat enters my life.

Monday, September 18, 2017

WHEN not IF

As I followed the fellow swerving onto the shoulder and across the center line driving 15 miles under the speed limit which was only 35 mph, it seemed like an excessive amount of caution for a mid afternoon drive across town with the kids still in school and most people still at work. I had an epiphany of sorts. Two decades ago, I would have assumed the fellow had an all night bender and was drunk driving. It wasn't a rare event but it didn't happen too often. I remember a time when I followed a fellow five miles who kept swerving from one ditch to the other ditch. Lucky for him they were very shallow ditches and we met no oncoming traffic on his way into town where he finally made it up a side street. These days, I would have called on my cellphone and had the police waiting for him upon his arrival.

Times have certainly changed. The swerving and very slowly driving fellow I was following wasn't drunk. I knew that because I could see the cellphone held up to his ear the entire way into downtown. By my count, he committed four traffic violations by failing to use his turn signal and caused one other driver to slam on their brakes hard when he started to proceed from a stop sign into the path of an oncoming car. He also figured it out and hit his brakes three feet into the intersection.

On my way back to the edge of town, I fell in behind another car also driving slowly and failing to use any turn signals because, you guessed it, I could see the phone held up to their ear. Up ahead, a car was coming down a side street, drove through the stop sign by ten feet and ended up with her bumper two feet into our lane. The car ahead of me still yakking on their cellphone never noticed. I however did and slowed down because there was oncoming traffic and it was a tight squeeze now that my lane had been reduced by two feet. As I slowly went by, the young lady in the car was looking towards the direction I was heading and of course talking on a cellphone. Just as I was directly in front of her, she hit the gas and started going, assuming without looking that I was already past her. I wasn't. I saw the car coming out of my peripheral vision and hit the gas while she finally saw me blocking her entire windshield and hit the brakes. I waited for impact but it never came. She must have missed me by inches.

What gets me is that I see this kind of thing DAILY. It isn't a rare event like seeing a drunk driver of decades past. The streets have become a jungle. Our state finally took a stand enacting a new law this summer than bans texting or use of social media while driving but unfortunately doesn't ban the use of calling or talking to someone while driving. It worries me because there isn't a lot I can do to defend myself. I already assume that anyone at an intersection can turn in any direction because most people don't use turn signals, impaired by cellphones or not. The only way I can prepare is to make sure I have good insurance to take care of me WHEN someone yakking on a cellphone plows into me, not IF. I often wish people used more common sense and this is another one of those cases.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Dam


I live in a small rural town sometimes referred to as the City of Bridges since the city straddles the river in my blog header and there are 4 traffic bridges, one pedestrian bridge, one railroad bridge and one maintenance bridge above a dam that crosses between the sides. As I walked along the river the other day, I noticed that the latter bridge was being worked on or more accurately, some of the dam gates that control water levels was being worked on. As a result, the pool above the dam seen above was probably a good 12 to 15 feet below normal and the river was essentially freely flowing under the gates instead of over the top.

I've lived near this dam my entire life and I can't recall a time when I've been able to see the river freely flowing or the intakes to the hydro electric plant below. It made me want to grab a kayak and float that section of the river although I may have been shouted at. I probably certain I would have had to duck to get underneath the opened gates as well. Alas I settled for just taking some pictures and watching the work on the gates for awhile before continuing my walk.


Bonus feature: Below is a film clip from my great grandfather's film collection showing this very dam under construction almost 70 years ago.

video

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Just when you've heard it all....

While waiting for kitchen quotes to roll in, which is like waiting for pigs to fly, I got a message from a neighbor up the street saying she is moving and wants to sell her house. Would we be interested? We've actually really liked her house since we moved into this neighborhood and have been in it several times. We've joked that perhaps we might buy it to ourselves if she ever decided to sell. Although it still doesn't have a kitchen like what we want, it does have other things that interest us and I think we could get the kitchen we desire much easier and without any additions. 

It is assessed higher in value than ours by around what I thought might be the cost of adding onto our kitchen. I asked her what she wants for her house and she promised to get back to me after thinking about it. (I don't think she thought we would be interested and caught her by surprise.) Perhaps if the price comes back to something affordable, perhaps we might end up just changing houses instead of adding on.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Bank Bistro


Perhaps a year ago, we saw this restaurant showcased on a local PBS show about ingredients that are grown around our state. We made a note to visit it sometime and then forgot about it until recently when we saw it once again on the same show. Since it happened to be a holiday weekend, we called and they were open so we made reservations and hit the road.


It was only an hour and a half drive, about the same as driving to the urban jungle, so we didn't mind. The town itself is largely dead town with only residential places showing any life. There was a gas station and post office but other than that, everything but the bank was boarded up and deserted, including the silos above. They just grabbed my fancy so I had to take a picture. If this were a thriving town, I might have made an offer on them and turned them into a unique mansion.


The two partners of this restaurant bought a bank and literally turned it into a restaurant, leaving all the bank details in place. There are only maybe a dozen small tables in the entire place so seating was very limited and it filled up immediately upon opening which made be extremely glad for our reservation.


The concept of this restaurant amazed me. It was essentially served tapas on steroids family style. So instead of getting little appetizers, you got enough to go around the table but still served tapas style, i.e. they came as they were ready and not all at once. As a result, they might make up three or four meat and cheese platters seen above and send them out to three different tables and then start working on the next round. Their menu only had about twelve items to choose from so the chances of having multiple orders of each item were high. My favorite on this platter was the spice meat on the lower right with the wedge of mustard seed laced cheese right next to it with one of the pickled red tomato looking peppers all on toasted bread. One of the more unusual but very tasty things on the platter was the pinkish pile in the upper left. It was feta cheese creamed together with beets. I had never thought to do something like that but man it was out of the world good. The little squares of fruit pate were also unique and tasty.


Our first dish was actually lamb ka-bobs with a tomato sauce served with toasted points and a cucumber sauce. It was so delicious that we forgot to take a picture. Above, our third dish was shrimp scampy that we spooned up onto our toasted bread pieces and ate. It tasted as good as it looks.


Our final dish was the dish shown on our local PBS show that got us interested in going to this place, pork belly tacos with pickled red onions on top among other things. They were great as well but definitely not as much of a delight to my taste buds as the meat and cheese platter which we mainly just ordered for the kids but they refused to touch. In the end, they mostly just ate the toasted bread while the rest of us at everything else.

It was worth the stop and we now have another place to stop on date night. The only problem is that there is nothing here to do after eating except drive back home or onto another destination.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Mini Project


This past spring, I was cleaning up my shop and found a scrap of fir lumber from some previous project and decided to make something from it. I looked online awhile and finally settled on some airplanes for my girls to play with. I had intended it to be a summer project for them where they could spend some scorching hot day inside painting them and then more hours/days playing with them. However, other pressing projects and eventually the scorching hot weather itself drove me out of the garage and into the house.

Now that the cool mornings and seasonable afternoons have come back to our area, I have been able to spend more time out in the garage and in-between other projects, I did some work here and there and finally finished them, at least as far as I'm going to work on them. The finishing part will be left up to my daughters to complete as they desire.

The fir was miserable to work with for some of the intricate details. The plane on the right splintered badly when I went to drill out the holes for the engine cylinders to the point it was unusable. I tried two more times on scrap pieces of wood before getting a successful one and then cut off the nose of the plane and glued the scrap on. Once painted, it won't be noticeable anyway.

The planes are based off Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis plane. I had fun working on them and it was challenging figuring out how to drill off-perpendicular holes on it with my limited tools. I ended up using a good chunk of the fir making jigs as I did making the planes. However now that fall has arrived, they are hiding out in my garage until perhaps Christmas time unless they get found first.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Kitchen Remodel: Part 10

When I last wrote something on this project, we were still trying to make contact with contractors. Eventually we made contact with four of them and they all agreed to quote the project and get right back to us. Two months later I hadn't heard a word from any of them. So I spent another morning trying to contact them all again and see what the progress was.

Contractor One said a buddy's house burnt down and so he had been working on that right now but will get to our quote soon. (Reading between the lines, we are not important to him and he will get back to us when he has nothing better to do.)

Contractor Two didn't answer the phone so I left a detailed message which has promptly been ignored.

Contractor Three answered but said they aren't doing remodeling right now and are thinking about getting out of the remodeling business. They will keep our project on their list if they make a decision about which way to go. (Reading between the lines, they will go which ever way pays the best and currently home additions aren't paying the best.) I'm puzzled why they even came out and took a copy of the plans if they weren't interested in doing additions. Even more troubling, this one was my favorite of all that I talked too.

Contractor Four didn't answer the phone so I left a detailed message which has promptly been ignored.

Contractor Five was contacted a couple months back and was interested in quoting the project and promised to call right back when he got to his office. He never called back and my phone message a couple weeks later has been ignored for the last six weeks. (Reading between the lines, he wasn't really interested but couldn't tell me so.)

So I am at a loss right now of what to do other than wait and keep making the occasional phone call. to the three contractors who haven't yet said no, but only one of which has responded to tell me his buddy was more important. These five comprise all the contractors in town (and surrounding area) that do more than just odd job kind of work.

I have always heard for any major project you are supposed to get at least three quotes. My past experiences and my current experience all lead me to believe you are lucky if you can get one. What a sad state of affairs.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Alice In Wonderland


I suppose every small city has one of these but ours has a children's play group that puts on performances a few times a year. The only requirement besides being talented is that you must be younger than 16 to perform. This fall, the production was Alice In Wonderland and it was definitely the best of the ones we have seen. The lines are all spot on memorized and the acting skills were excellent, even for adults. This was also one of the larger productions as there were probably close to 100 kids acting in this play. Of those, I probably knew a good dozen of them by name and I'm sure I would recognize even more of them without their costumes and makeup on. My oldest daughter now wants to join the group so perhaps the next time, she will be up on stage.

My wife and I use to go to all the plays until we started having and raising kids and then we only went to a select few. Now our girls are getting old enough to sit still for an entire performance and enjoy the show. More so than I can say for some adults. Rant follows:

Why is it that those that sit in the middle of long auditorium rows are the ones that have to get up and leave the most often. This was a two hour play with a 15 minute intermission in the middle so it was more like two fifty minute chunks. Still, one lady (whom I know) had to get up and leave no fewer than five times in those two hours and of course return which meant ten passes through 50 feet of people trying not to step on toes, spill food or drinks.. Assuming she had a legitimate reason for doing so, with open seating, why hadn't she sat on the end? When the show ended, she immediately started rushing down the aisle pushing past people until she got to my back. I of course was standing and politely waiting for those people between me and the end of the row to exit before I follow. She started tapping me on the shoulder saying she needed to go but my only recourse was to sit down in a seat to let her by but that would only gain her one spot since everyone between me and the end of the row was standing and slowly making our way out. So I ended up just ignoring her and kept on standing so she was forced to wait her turn. We got to the end of the aisle and turned towards the exit and she immediately started pushing past people from behind in her haste to make it to the exit but kept getting caught behind others and much to my delight, I still made it out of the theater before her and didn't rudely push anybody. Turned out she only wanted to take a picture of her daughter who was in the play (playing a background flower) but since all the actors/actresses were standing in a long line outside, anybody who wanted to do so could at their leisure.

Other than that one blemish, it was a great experience.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Fly Iowa


Every year our state picks a town for an event which gathers together plane enthusiasts for a weekend and this year, our humble little town was chosen. My house is only a couple miles from the airport as the crow flies so it has been a busy weekend looking up at the sky. Although we still aren't getting any rain, the skies have been overcast due to the hurricane further south which has been creating overcast skies. The air show portion of the event kicked off with skydivers, some carrying smoke generators and one carrying the American flag. All made it look easy when landing but I'm sure it isn't nearly so.


I've never been to an airshow so when the first plane took off, rolled sideways and went "sliding" down the runway as seen above, I was mightily impressed and very glad my feet were firmly planted on the ground.
 

Later, the same pilot would fly upside down and cut a string with his tail that four people on the ground were holding vertical at the end of 20 feet long poles.


Then he came back and cut one only ten feet high with his wing in another power slide move. I still have a hard time breathing just looking at the picture.


It's hard to convey motion of an airplane with a picture, which is why I'm sure they use the smoke generators during their performance. Still, with hundreds of pictures, the ones that convey the most motion are the ones in which you can see from the smoke trail they changed direction.


During the entire performance of this bi-plane, he never flew in a straight level line until he was coming in for the final landing. I would be thoroughly dizzy and probably puking if I was riding with him in the passenger seat.


There were other bi-planes and single winged/single engine planes but once you've seen one, you've seen them all. I guess there is only so much a plane can do. Still it was worth watching and eventually a twin engine, twin smoke generating plane flew at the end of the show.


Like the others, the most impressive pictures were of it changing directions....


... which it did frequently.